Public reaction to Port Alberni’s civic election was mixed after people had time to absorb the results.
John Douglas supplanted incumbent mayor Ken McRae for the top chair. Three returning city councillors are Hira Chopra, Jack McLeman and Cindy Solda, while new councillors are Wendy Kerr, Rob Cole and Dan Washington. Washington also served one term from 1999-2002.
Resident Carolyn Jasken, outspoken online, thought the mayors’ race between Ken McRae and John Douglas was a toss up, but expected something different in the elections for councillors.
“I thought there would be more of a changeover on council because of the coal issue and the community’s stance on it,” the straight talking Jasken said.
“Four of the people I voted for got in and three didn’t,” she added.
The upcoming budget discussions should be a priority for the new council. “I’d like to see them balance the books while maintaining core services,” she said.
And Catalyst Paper not paying its taxes or moving is always going to be a threat so council needs to continue diversifying the Valley’s economy in the event that something drastic happens, she said.
While Douglas beat the man to be the man, you can’t replace what or who Ken McRae knew, Jasken said.
“He (McRae) has a lot of contacts and knows a lot of people at a time when we need someone in those positions,” she said.
Douglas is a good man who campaigned hard during the election.
“But he’s going to have to get up to speed and start making contacts,” Jasken said.
Sandy McRuer, who ran a Facebook discussion page about the election, hopes McRae will stay in the game. “He’s still a great asset,” McRuer said.
Dave Oscienny, Myron Jespersen and Kevin Wright are some of the names McRuer would like to have seen on council. “Myron especially would have been a nice addition,” McRuer said.
Most of the councillors who won were born and raised in Port Alberni, he said.
“Someone said to me the next day that ‘Port Alberni protects its own,’” McRuer said. “It implies mistrusting people from outside, and that people in the Valley need protection, and I don’t think those are good things.”
Voters had a real appetite for change early on in the election, Chris Alemany said. “The sheer number of candidates spoke to that,” he said. “It was the right time in the election and people went for that.”
Regarding the election results, Alemany was surprised to see Douglas win by the margin he did. “I thought it would be closer than that,” Alemany said (Douglas won with 2,556 votes to McRae’s 1,794).
Council needs to take a position on coal and articulate it as strongly as possible to government, but what that message is remains to be seen, Alemany said.
“I think there may be a shift in how they’ll approach the issue given the makeup of the new council,” he said. “I’d like to see some clarity on that as soon as possible.”