Port Alberni mayoral incumbent Sharie Minions will be facing one other candidate in the 2022 municipal election.
Some residents will recognize new candidate Tom Verbrugge from his racing days, as he has raced in the Thunder in the Valley drag races and the Island Offroad Racing events at Woodward’s Pit. Verbrugge was born and raised in Port Alberni and has lived in the Alberni Valley his whole life. He got his start in the logging industry in 1969 planting trees for MacMillan Bloedel, and when the logging industry saw a downturn in the mid-1990s, he opened the Christmas tree farm “Tom’s Trees” on Airport Road. He has been operating this tree farm ever since.
Verbrugge says he is running for mayor because he doesn’t like the way that the current city council has been spending money. Although he says he has “a lot of respect” for the current and past councils, he wants to see change.
“I think we need to be more fiscally responsible,” he said. “I felt the only way to do this was to get involved.”
At the top of Verbrugge’s list of priorities is a new aquatic centre for the Alberni Valley, along with a new marina facility with a four-lane boat ramp and “ample parking” for boat trailers.
“It’s absolutely imperative that we ditch the boats and the trailers crossing the highway at Clutesi Haven Marina,” he said.
Other priorities include the cancellation of the proposed quay-to-quay walkway, bringing drag racing back to the Alberni Valley and looking at an extension of 10th Avenue to Ship Creek Road, or alternatives to facilitate safe industrial truck movement through the city.
While Verbrugge doesn’t have any experience in municipal politics, he says he is learning as he goes.
“I’m in this because I want to see changes,” he said.
Verbrugge is up against incumbent Sharie Minions, who is just finishing up her first term as mayor after a previous four years on city council. For Minions, the decision to run again was a difficult one. Her first term as mayor included a number of challenges and tragedies, from a Western Forest Products strike to the COVID-19 pandemic. Negative social media has also had an impact on her mental health throughout her term.
But Minions feels that the city has taken some significant steps in the right direction over the past four years, and she didn’t want to see that work erased.
“Ultimately, I feel like we have really started the community on a path that is stronger and more progressive,” she said. “We have so many critical projects started right now—it’s a really exciting time.
Over the years, she has seen populations rise in other Vancouver Island communities while Port Alberni’s population has declined. She feels the city is starting to turn a corner, with new residents choosing Port Alberni for its lifestyle instead of its affordability.
“I feel so privileged to be in this role,” she added. “It really is an honour to lead the community you were born and raised in.”
For Minions, her top priority for the next four years is waterfront redevelopment and access. But she is also focused on quality of life and bringing vibrancy to the community, with projects like the redevelopment of the Somass Lands and the city’s train station. She also wants to work with higher levels of government to bring more childcare spaces and housing to the Alberni Valley, as well as more mental health and addictions support.
While Minions also wants to see a new aquatic centre, she feels it is “unreasonable” to ask city taxpayers to fund the full cost of the pool.
“It needs to be a regional initiative,” she said. “The [Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District] has taken the lead on that, and that’s certainly what I’ve been pushing for. I won’t accept city taxpayers paying 100 percent of the cost.”
The election will be held on Saturday, Oct. 15. For city residents, voting will take place at the Alberni Athletic Hall from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Advance voting days are set for Oct. 5 and 12 at the Echo Centre.