Electoral organizations are usually seen in bigger cities but Alberni First co-chair Darren DeLuca believes that it’s time to bring the cohesiveness of a united group of candidates to Port Alberni.
To that end, the electoral organization approached a variety of candidates prior to the nomination period for the 2014 municipal election and chose four to endorse in Port Alberni: Huu-ay-aht executive director James Edwards, incumbent councillor Jack McLeman, mortgage broker Sharie Minions and former Parks, Recreation and Heritage recreation programmer Ron Paulson.
Minions said that she joined Alberni First because she “liked the issues that they were in favour of” as well as their focus on job creation.
She also stressed the importance of having a team she felt she could work well with, something that Edwards also believes.
“My experience throughout my career is that you can accomplish more with partnership with likeminded people,” he said.
McLeman said he joined Alberni First based on their support for his prior positions on council and their focus on working with “candidates who would work cooperatively to make some changes in the city.”
Paulson said that he’d thought of running for council previously but one of his concerns was “making sure that there were quality people on council that I could work with and I wanted to get aligned with that…I was looking for people who were very professional and extremely business like.”
Professional and team oriented individuals were exactly what DeLuca was looking for.
“We’re all just trying to get a good quality council in place. I think we’re all very disappointed with the last council, I think that was just a mish-mash thrown together so we’re trying to be more proactive this time.”
While residents have expressed concerns as to who is behind the group and what sort of influence they’ll have over their candidates when they’re elected, DeLuca doesn’t see it as an issue.
“I think there’s a small group that’s expressed some concern [but] I don’t think they’re valid at all,” said DeLuca, adding that he thinks that they’re “making something out of nothing.”
He also places doubts on their motivations for questioning Alberni First.
“These are people who are campaigning for other candidates who are saying that. That’s straight up politics.”
The organization, which is co-chaired by DeLuca and Chris Duncan, has 100-plus members, of whom “15 or 20 are sort of actively working to help those people get elected that we’re supporting.”
The rest of the membership is largely made up of friends and family living within Port Alberni who signed up in order to get Alberni First the required 50 members to get onto the ballot.
Alberni First’s platform is two-pronged, with both regional and local initiatives.
While the regional initiatives such as improved Highway 19 access, the Steelhead-Huu-ay-aht LNG facility, the transshipment hub and regional airport improvements aren’t under the city’s jurisdiction, DeLuca says that the city brings political support to those issues and can help investors see that Port Alberni and the surrouding region has “a political climate that supports development, that’s progressive, that wants to see the region grow.” Also that through board positions on the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District the city will have influence over what happens in the region.
Alberni First is also focusing on city issues, including replacing the Echo Aquatic centre pool, finding alternatives and funding for a Roger Creek crossing and the possible creation of a district municipality in the region.
The district municipality is a big issue for the group, DeLuca said. “It’s been sort of whispered about for a long time but no one’s willing to put it on the agenda and debate it in front of the people and our candidates are willing to do that.”
Detractors of the district municipality, including Beaver Creek and Cherry Creek residents, have expressed fears that increased taxes will outweigh any benefits.
That would mean those communities would join with the city.
However, DeLuca thinks that the benefits of having a larger tax base and more streamlined administrative and city services will outweigh the greater tax burden on the outlying communities.
“I think there’s great opportunity there, there’s great advantages for our region, for our population to be 25-28,000 in the city rather than 18,000.”