It’s been nearly a decade since Russ Hellberg retired as Port Hardy’s mayor, but he’s in the race again because the the town needs him, he said.
“I’ve decided to get back in and run for mayor I know I can offer good leadership and lead the town towards positive growth, because that’s what it needs right now,” said the 70-year-old who was mayor from 1993-2002.
Hellberg said he has a basic plan to bring growth to Port Hardy.
“It’s fairly simple: you talk to existing businesses and find out what the problems are and quite often you’ll find it’s things the town can help with,” he said.
“Things like lobbying a senior government, changing our bylaws or fee structure that would allow them to grow.”
Hellberg said his time away from politics has convinced him the biggest issue facing Port Hardy is, in a word, uncertainty.
“People want to know the jobs are there, that the town is moving ahead to handle future challenges,” he said.
“Right now the town is uncertain and unable to see a direction that things are going in — they’re looking for someone to trust and move them forward and they don’t have that now.”
However, Hellberg’s plans for economic growth do not include the deliberate luring of more industry to the Port Hardy area.
“The stats show that doesn’t work,” said the former Canadian military jet fighter pilot. “I could talk to people and say, ‘Here’s Port Hardy’ and point out the positive attributes of Port Hardy but it’s never very successful to try and tackle a company cold to get them to come, but there are other ways of making it possible.”
Hellberg said the key is developing relations with senior levels of the provincial government.
“Get Port Hardy’s name out front so when something does come up they say, ‘Oh, I remember that guy.’”
Still, that doesn’t mean local government shouldn’t do all it can to make Port Hardy more attractive to new business.
“When the mine left, there was doom and gloom and I said, ‘No, we’ve got a bright future but we have some real holes in our infrastructure,’” said Hellberg.
“We had dirty water and that’s when I went out and established the first triple P (public-private partnerships) in B.C. for water and sewer and I brought in Epcor,” he said.
“All of a sudden our town went from having a real black mark to positive all the way across.” But at the core of the town’s future success is realizing where its strength lies, said the former mayor.
“I think the one thing we have to remember is Port Hardy is a resource town and it’s no use trying to paint it as anything else so we have to look after our resource sector,” he said
“The nice thing is if we have a strong resource industry, then tourism naturally gets strong because people are happy.”