Candidates running for election in the City of Port Alberni wait for an all-candidates meeting to begin in the ADSS Theatre on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. The meeting was organized by students. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

ELECTION 2022: Students at ADSS ask hard-hitting questions in all-candidates meeting

VIDEO: Alberni students ran meeting with city council candidates prior to mock election

Students from the ADSS Social Justice 12 class pulled no punches as they questioned candidates running for mayoral and council seats for the City of Port Alberni on Oct. 4. The event was held at the ADSS Theatre in front of students and more than a dozen members of the public.

The event began with singing from Nuu-chah-nulth singers; afterwards four student speakers laid out the format for the hour-long event. Candidates were given 25 seconds for an introduction then students asked questions that were predetermined by students and ADSS staff. If candidates ignored the time limit on their profiles or answers the microphone was taken away.

The first question was directed at incumbent mayoral candidate Sharie Minions, asking how difficult it has been to run for re-election with negativity directed at her on social media. “People tell me not to take it personally, but it is personal because I care about the decisions we’re making for this community,” she replied.

Students also asked candidates to stand if they supported the trucker convoy in Ottawa, which elicited some noise from people in the audience. Michelle Bisaro, Wendy Kerr and Seva Dhaliwal all stood.

Candidates were asked why they decided to run for council, what their volunteering track record is, how they would work for positive change in the city if they do not get elected, and their opinions on a number of Indigenous and reconciliation matters, including asking for concrete examples of how they would foster good relations with Huu-ay-aht, Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nations.

A question asking them to name other candidates they would vote for garnered many answers about privacy, although some candidates answered. “I can work with anyone but nobody has business in my voting booth or my bedroom,” John Douglas said.

Graham Hughes said he would vote for Dustin Dame and Terry Deakin, while Dame said he would vote for Hughes, Deakin and Deb Haggard.

Candidates were asked whether they owned a business in the city, whether they lived within city limits (Todd Patola, Cindy Solda and Haggard all live outside of Port Alberni: Patola in Coombs and Solda and Haggard both in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District). Solda was asked about running for both the city and ACRD in Beaver Creek and how she would juggle the jobs if she is elected to both governments.

During the final five minutes of the meeting students posed a number of “yes or no” questions to candidates, asking them to stand or stay seated depending on their answer. Questions ranged from whether candidates grew up in low-income families, whether they plan to address homelessness issues and whether they support high density housing in the Burde Street ponds area.

The final question was if they didn’t support high-density housing in that area, where would they support high-density housing. Answers ranged from “according to the Official Community Plan (OCP)” to infill areas, vacant lots, empty buildings to Johnston Road and 10th Avenue.

Joshua Dahling had a previous work commitment out of province and did not participate. He was told he could not participate remotely due to poor wifi in the auditorium. Mayoral candidate Tom Verbrugge mixed up the date for the ADSS event and said afterward he regretted missing the high school students’ all-candidates meeting. He said he offered to speak with the Social Justice 12 class if they wanted to hear his views, but class instructor Anne Ostwald said the meeting was for the public and Verbrugge also missed submitting his bio in time.

Patola said after the meeting that the fast pace of the hour-long meeting “keeps you honest.” Solda said the strict time limits for answering questions “keeps you on your toes,” and that she appreciated the students’ efforts.

The student-led meeting was the first of four all-candidates meetings to take place in the Alberni Valley. Three meetings led by the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce were planned for Oct. 4 (ACRD and SD70 school trustees), Oct. 5 (first half of city council candidates, alphabetically) and Oct. 6 (second half of council candidates plus both mayoral candidates).

Students at ADSS were scheduled to hold a mock election between 8:30—10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 6, with results to be released after polls close for the general election on Saturday, Oct. 15.

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