The subtle tension that has been simmering behind the scenes between Mayor John Douglas and Port Alberni city council is now a public visceral dislike.
City councillors voted down a seemingly innocuous request by Douglas to attend a meeting in Ottawa with federal officials prior to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting that same week.
The trip would have cost an extra $1,000 and would have resulted in raising the profile of the Alberni Valley, linking with other communities on the Island, Douglas said.
The request served as a lightning rod though for a storm of personal criticism that was aimed squarely at Douglas.
“How do I know what you are going to say there that isn’t 100 per cent accurate,” Coun. Jack McLeman said.
McLeman took issue with recent news reports in which he said Douglas openly questioned council’s decision to stall investing $500,000 into improvements at Canal Beach.
The criticism was “unprofessional”, Coun. Hira Chopra said. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but a ‘no’ vote didn’t mean we don’t trust you.”
Meetings in Ottawa are a waste of time, Chopra added. “How many years have we gone? We go and what did we achieve?”
Some of council has a history with former mayor Ken McRae but they’ve still shown integrity for Douglas, they say. “I’m a friend of Ken McRae’s but I still showed you respect as mayor. I support you on some things and not others,” Chopra said. “But I never stabbed you in the back.”
Coun. Dan Washington voted in favour of Douglas’s motion. The remaining councillors voted against, some begrudgingly. “I was close to saying yes but not after what you said,” Coun. Cindy Solda said.
Earlier, Coun. Rob Cole said he couldn’t support the motion because of Douglas’ past and present conduct. Audience member Neil Anderson asked Cole to elaborate on the point and Cole declined, touching off a scolding from Anderson.
“I want explicit facts, not innuendo,” he said. “If you have a problem in this council then you better damn well get it sorted out.”
After the meeting, Douglas said the issue has its roots in the past.
“I’ve never had a vote of confidence from the three incumbents since I’ve been elected mayor,” Douglas said, referring to McLeman, Chopra and Solda. “They’ve used their influence to thwart decisions, like the one about the beach, over the past two years.”
The last election may have come and gone but there’s still a hangover from it, he said. “The incumbents have been reluctant to accept me as mayor and constantly refer to former mayor Ken McRae,” he said.
“People have varying resistance to change and I find this council to be highly resistant to it. It was that way when I was a councillor and that’s why I ran for mayor.”
Pining for the past is going to compromise the future, Douglas said. “What they’re really reluctant to do is move the Valley into the future. And if we’re not careful we’re going to sit, it will pass us by and then we’re going to wonder what happened.”
When asked how the issue can be resolved Douglas replied, “an election.”