Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions prepares to deliver her first annual address on Dec. 2, 2019 in Port Alberni City Council chambers. (SUSAN QUINN/Alberni Valley News)

Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions prepares to deliver her first annual address on Dec. 2, 2019 in Port Alberni City Council chambers. (SUSAN QUINN/Alberni Valley News)

First year as mayor a ‘whirlwind’, says Port Alberni’s Sharie Minions

Annual address points to strategic plan, reconciliation as key focuses for 2020

Port Alberni City Council’s last year has been a “whirlwind,” says Mayor Sharie Minions.

With one year as mayor under her chain of office, Minions said teambuilding among council members, completion of the reconciliation report and creation of the first strategic plan for this council since its members were elected a year ago were worthy accomplishments. Both documents give council a plan for moving forward, she added.

“We believe both these documents will guide us forward as we develop the future of our community. The driving force behind our strategic plan is a simple goal: to improve the quality of life of all the residents of Port Alberni. We believe it will take bold steps and a clear plan to transition Port Alberni toward a stronger future.

“The next phase of our community will likely look different than in the past. While this is exciting in some ways, we recognize that with change comes a certain level of discomfort. We want you to know we recognize this discomfort and we want to continue to hear from you as we continue to work through our strategic plan,” Minions said.

“While feedback is not always easy to hear, we know that we will make better decisions and ultimately build a stronger community if we work together.”

She said progress is not without its challenges: the city needs to diversify its economy while recognizing its roots in forestry. There are also critical socio-economic issues that need to be dealt with.

“If people don’t have the ability to earn a livelihood we know they won’t choose Port Alberni to invest in,” Minions said.

“We’re really proud to be seeing new industries developing in our community, whether it be the cannabis industry, the tech industry, aviation, seaweed cultivation—that’s a new one for us—value-added forestry, tourism, seafood processing or others. These industries represent our opportunity to build a strong, balanced, diversified economy.”

Small business is enjoying a resurgence, with many storefronts that were empty a year ago now filled with businesses. It’s a step toward revitalizing the traditional downtown core, she added.

Minions said housing continues to be another challenge, but council has helped bring a number of housing options to the area. She acknowledged the mental health and addiction issues that continue to affect numerous aspects of life in the Alberni Valley, and said council would continue lobbying higher levels of government for assistance.

Minions also talked about Port Alberni’s position among its Vancouver Island neighbours, some of which seem to have left Port Alberni behind. “Over the last decade we’ve watched other towns on Vancouver Island experience rapid growth. At times it’s felt like we’ve fallen behind, but we now have the unique ability to not only learn from their successes but also learn from their mistakes as we shape the future of Port Alberni,” she said.

Minions brought up the current challenges the forestry industry is facing, from the nearly six-month-long strike between Western Forest Products and their employees, and the early winter curtailment that Mosaic Forest Management announced. “Port Alberni was built on forestry. So when the industry struggles, we all feel that pain,” she said.

She met in early December with Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson in Victoria; just one way council will continue to lobby higher levels of government to step up and help the forestry industry in the region, she said.

As they enter the second year of their term, Minions said she feels “incredibly optimistic” about Port Alberni’s future. “the challenges we face will not disappear overnight, but with hard work, persistence and key partnerships, I believe we are moving toward a stronger, even more resilient Port Alberni.”

The annual organizational meeting was also an opportunity for council to announce which committees they will be sitting on as council representatives in the new year. Minions and Deb Haggard will be the city’s reps on the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District board for 2020. Cindy Solda was the second director for the city last year.

Minions said the change will give Haggard an opportunity to learn more about how the regional and city governments work together.

“We will all benefit by sharing this role around and having more members of our council understand and respect regional governments,” she said.

She said Solda played a valuable role as ACRD director, especially with her years of experience at a time when many council members were new. “Cindy was given the position because she had experience on the board which was a huge asset to us getting started,” Minions said.

“But at the time we had several councillors express not only interest in the role but also a lot of interest in gaining a more extensive understanding of regional governance,” Minions said.

“In my four years on council, I always wanted an opportunity to be on the board, and felt without the opportunity I was missing the chance to build relationships and understand a system that represents such a critical piece of our community.”