The newly minted Port Alberni City Council met for their inaugural meeting on Monday evening and there were some surprises.
A crowd of more than 60 people who spilled out into the hallway watched as Douglas and each of the six councillors swore their oaths of office before local justice of the peace Maria Stilinovic.
City clerk Davina Sparrow was the first to officially address Douglas as “Mayor Douglas” when she invited him to make his inaugural address to the city.
“I believe that Port Alberni is a city on the cusp,” Douglas said. “Through trade, technology, seniors care, education and tourism we can become a model of rural prosperity and sustainability.”
Douglas praised former mayor Ken McRae for his courage and energy and vowed to continue the same direction forward. He also thanked former councillor Kenn Whiteman for his contributions to council.
Council’s first priority will be an independent strategic planning session, where they will set specific targets and measures of success. “In three years, when the city returns to the polls, they will ask if we kept our promises and achieved our goals,” Douglas said.
The five-year financial plan is the first significant order of business council will be grappling with in the new year. The results from an Ipsos Reid survey about the city will serve as a backdrop to the budget discussions.
“We will be striving to implement a realistic sustainable financial plan that will allow us to meet or obligations, deliver core services, and achieve strategic goals and objectives,” he said.
Public engagement is key, said Douglas, who promised “coffee with council” and town hall meetings as ways to accomplish it.
Council needs to continue diversifying the Valley’s economy with tourism, small business, education and health services to resuscitate Alberni’s flatlined economy. Forestry will always be a mainstay, but “…we must support efforts to move into the new forest economy and also into the growing opportunities in seafood.”
Opening up the waterfront for residential, commercial and recreational interests — a cause Douglas championed as a councillor — is also part of that plan, as are working closely with the Tseshaht, Hupacasath and Maanulth nations.
The economy won’t improve overnight, but old challenges require new ways of looking at them, Douglas said.
Sustainability, which as a core value, is high on the agenda. The recycling program with the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District was a good start, he said. The city wants to add a kitchen and yard waste collection to the menu, as well as pursuing heating homes and facilities using biomass, he added.
The Valley’s infrastructure is aging and needs to start to be shored up now, Douglas said. The city has applied for federal funds to upgrade its sewage facility, and talks continue with Catalyst about obtaining their sewage lagoon.
Alberni will continue to participate in the Alberni Valley Water Study with Beaver Creek, Sproat Lake and Cherry Creek. And discussions with Catalyst continue about using their pipeline to access a backup water supply from Sproat Lake.
Douglas also remains committed to developing an industrial truck route through the city to alleviate commercial truck traffic in the city core.