Port Alberni’s new city council offered an unusual opportunity for their fellow election candidates during a committee of the whole meeting that discussed common issues overheard throughout the campaign trail.
Six unsuccessful candidates from the 2018 municipal election joined city council during a committee of the whole meeting on Monday, Dec. 17. Council candidates Chris Alemany, Aaron Brevick, Michael Moore and Todd Patola and mayoral candidates John Douglas and Kevin Wright had many of the same concerns. A common issue was the “disconnect” between council and the public.
“People felt disconnected from how city government works,” said Moore. “They don’t see a real-world engagement or change in their existence, in their day-to-day life. A guy gets his lawnmower stolen, he doesn’t want to know about the crime policy. He just wants his lawnmower back.”
Brevick echoed this sentiment, admitting that he ran for council “four years too early.”
“I’ll be the first to admit fault,” he said. “A lot of it is understanding how these processes work.”
Douglas said that accessibility could be improved by making meetings “less formal,” suggesting a “coffee with council” forum that takes away the podium.
“[People] don’t feel comfortable coming into a setting like this,” he said.
Mayor Sharie Minions agreed that council can sometimes “lose sight” of the community’s issues. “I agree that meetings like this are too formal,” she said. “We need to figure out other ways to engage people.”
She suggested social media as one alternative, although not everyone has access to social media. Council will be starting a trial in the new year where council meetings will take place in the afternoon, instead of the evening. Minions wants to see how this will affect engagement.
Many of the other concerns expressed by candidates were interlinked: housing, crime and Port Alberni’s struggling economy. Alemany described Port Alberni as being in “an in-between place.”
“We’re in a transition from our traditional resource-based economy to something else, and we’re not there yet,” he said. “How can we…transition our economy into something that’s more sustainable?”
Wright said that Port Alberni is struggling with “third-generation unemployment” that started in the 1970s. “I really feel that economic stagnation is one of the biggest issues that we’re having in the community,” he said. “A lot of people are feeling opportunities aren’t there for them.”
Wright said that the city should be focussing on economic opportunity and new businesses, especially businesses that are “relevant to the community’s abilities and skill-set.”
Current councillor Ron Paulson said that changing the town’s image should also be a priority. “People are absolutely sick and tired of us being known as a ‘stinky old mill town,’” he said. “That change of image comes from within. We need to get ourselves talked into shedding that stigma.”
Council candidates suggested opportunities like a cultural centre on Johnston Road to immerse visitors and an industrial park or zone outside of the community’s urban core. Alemany also said that Port Alberni’s waterfront is an untapped potential, specifically citing the closed Somass Mill. “That’s a huge opportunity that I think we have to seriously look at as a community,” he said.
Minions said one of her biggest goals is to build a strong strategic plan and follow it over the next four years.
“Once we build that plan, I want to see our council have that plan guide our next four years, and not divert from that unless it really makes sense with the change in the community and changing needs,” she said.
A planning session for the city’s Strategic Plan will be coming up in the new year.