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Industrial waterfront development, Indigenous issues on table as NDP leader visits Alberni Valley

Port authority pitches floating dry dock, Indigenous leaders discuss housing, residential schools
Jagmeet Singh and Gord Johns meet with the Port Alberni Port Authority board on Tuesday, Jan. 24. (PHOTO COURTESY RIEL MCGUIRE)

Economic development on the waterfront was one of the main topics of discussion during a recent visit to Port Alberni, B.C. by federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

Singh was joined by Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns as he travelled to Port Alberni’s waterfront on Tuesday, Jan. 24 for a chance to see some of the new opportunities for economic growth. Johns said there are a number of “incredible” initiatives on the waterfront that are building economic resiliency in the Port Alberni region, which has seen many ups and downs over the years in the forestry and fishing sectors. Some of these initiatives include Coastal Restoration Society choosing Port Alberni as its Vancouver Island hub, the opening of The Dock+ food hub and the creation of Uchucklesaht First Nation’s Thunderbird Spirit Water.

But Singh’s visit on Tuesday mainly focused on the potential for a floating dry dock. The Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA) has been pursuing this project for more than five years. Singh had a chance to meet a number of project stakeholders on Tuesday, including the PAPA board and members of Canadian Maritime Engineering (CME).

READ MORE: Port Alberni Port Authority marine cluster continues to grow

“We wanted to brief [Singh] on the floating dry dock so he could fully understand the concept, the importance of it,” explained Johns. “The demand is significant. This builds greater economic security, plus economic linkages in Canada, and creates jobs in Canada and coastal communities.”

Currently, the project is in a bit of a limbo as PAPA waits for the province of B.C. to roll out its new shipbuilding strategy, which will recommend a number of strategic actions for the government to support robust, sustainable and innovative shipbuilding, ship repair and other marine industries in B.C.

The province already funded an economic study for the floating dry dock back in 2019 which showed that such a project could potentially draw “hundreds” of primary and secondary shipbuilding and metal fabrication jobs.

READ MORE: Province puts up $50,000 for Port Alberni floating dry dock study

“We’re all anxiously anticipating the arrival of [the strategy],” said Johns. “This is the top economic development opportunity in the Alberni Valley.”

Because the floating dry dock will be a “large investment,” said Johns, the port authority will need both provincial and federal partners to make it work. “We want to make sure the federal government is understanding the full value of a project like this for our region,” he said. “We’re hoping we can generate the federal government’s interest to be a partner and we can get this rolling.”

Johns and Singh also met with Nuu-chah-nulth leaders on Wednesday, including elected councillors for Hupacasath, Huu-ay-aht and Tseshaht First Nations, as well as Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president Judith Sayers.

“The meeting we had was small,” Johns said, but they discussed a number of important issues, including housing and homelessness, infrastructure and government policy and laws that require consultation.

They also discussed the impact of residential schools, said Johns.

“If the government can find money to build those schools and run them, then they need to find the resources to remove them and build places that are going to support the healing of the people who where impacted in communities,” said Johns.

READ MORE: Island First Nation asks for healing centre at site of former residential school

This was Singh’s fourth time visiting Port Alberni since he became the leader of the NDP in 2017 and his seventh time in the Courtenay-Alberni riding. He started his visit with a meeting in Courtenay on Monday evening, then travelled to Qualicum Beach for a healthcare roundtable before heading to Port Alberni.

READ MORE: Jagmeet Singh calls for ‘systemic change’ for policing during Port Alberni visit

“It’s unprecedented for a leader of any party to spend so much time in our region,” said Johns. “It shows his commitment to working on our issues.”

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Jagmeet Singh meets with Nuu-chah-nulth leaders in Port Alberni on Tuesday, Jan. 24. (PHOTO COURTESY RIEL MCGUIRE)

Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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