PORT McNEILL—Candidates for Port McNeill mayor and councillor position faced the public — and, in some cases, the music — in a lively and sometimes humorous all-candidates meeting hosted by the Chamber of Commerce at the Community Hall last week.
Current councillors Shirley Ackland and Gaby Wickstrom, squaring off for the mayor’s job, were joined on stage by moderator Jon Lok and council hopefuls Jason Clarke, Shelley Downey, Jay Dixon, Aaron Frost, Graham MacDonald and Alannah Nicols before a nearly full house in the Oct. 29 event.
The evening quickly identified Port McNeill as a small town seeking an infusion of business, industry and resources while also trying to retain the relaxed, close-knit atmosphere that provides appeal to current residents.
The evening began with Lok acknowledging outgoing Mayor Gerry Furney, who steps aside as Canada’s longest current-serving elected official with 39 years as mayor and 46 overall, combined with his previous stint as councillor.
Ackland, who served as Furney’s deputy mayor during the recent term, appeared to be the stay-the-course candidate. “I truly believe slow and steady growth is what wins the race,” she said. “We don’t want to create a boom-and-bust economy we’ve seen in other resource communities on the Island and across the province.”
Wickstrom took a position opposite Furney’s when she said establishing reserve funds in good years to leverage against future infrastructure needs was a fiscally responsible course.
The council candidates provide a mix of experience and youth, and offered a range of priorities. Downey and Frost have both previously served on council, and Downey used her opening remarks to “thank Gerry Furney and his cohorts of the day who had the vision to create a community,” while also noting the Town’s infrastructure is aging and its population declining.
“We have the potential to craft a new vision,” she said.
Frost, whose grandfather, Stu Robinson, was one of those cohorts of Furney’s in the late 1950s and who preceded Furney as Port McNeill’s first mayor, said he has lived here “through good times and bad. Port McNeill will always pull through.” Frost said economic growth is critical to entice the community’s youth to remain.
Clarke, a newcomer to the political arena, called for engaging youth in small projects around town to provide a sense of pride and investment in the community. Nicols called for the construction of a recreational facility including a pool and meeting rooms to serve as a community centre, as well as year-round tourism. MacDonald, a self-employed businessman who has been intimately involved in non-timber forest products marketing, said the Town’s future economic focus should be in the growth areas of the marine industry and tourism.
Each of the candidates fielded questions from the public, including one asking if they were able to think “outside the box” to create opportunities utilizing existing resources.
“Burn the bloody box,” Dixon, principal at North Island Secondary School, said to applause. “We need to encourage innovation and invest in those small visions. Our students, our seniors, have wonderful ideas, and we need to encourage those.”
Robert Short later asked what the candidates planned to do about the Town’s garbage bylaw, in light of the number of unsecured garbage containers — and number of “problem bears” put down for coming into town for a free meal.
Before the panel could respond, Bryce Casavant strode to the microphone.
“I just wanted the community to know I am the new Conservation Officer,” said Casavant, who was attending off-duty and out of uniform. “And I echo those remarks.”
Wickstrom noted bear-proof containers have gradually been introduced over the past two to three years, and that current council is constructing a new bylaw that should help alleviate the problem.
Ackland agreed, while noting the available bear-proof containers currently available are fabricated in Alberta.
“We were thinking we could get in touch with Jay, and maybe the school could provide something,” she said with a sly nod to Dixon.
“We could have a prototype under design, at a lower cost than they do,” he responded without missing a beat. “However, they’ll be branded with whatever business name wants to sponsor them.”
“Now, that’s outside the box,” Lok noted from the moderator’s podium.
“What box?” Frost asked to general laughter.
Port McNeill council candidate statements appear on Page 14. Mayoral candidate statements were published in the Oct. 23 Gazette, and can be found online at www.northislandgazette.com, following the Election 2014 link at the top of the page.