Port Hardy’s All Candidates Forum that was held on Saturday night (Oct. 1) was a quiet one, thanks in part to it being on Zoom and not in person.
Hosted by the Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce, no reason was given as to why the forum was held online as a webinar instead of in person where residents would have had the ability to meet the candidates face to face and have a conversation.
The District of Port Hardy has seven seats at the council table to fill, and the meeting kicked off at 6:30 p.m. with one minute opening speeches from the candidates.
Mayoral candidate Pat Corbett-Labatt was the first to talk, introducing herself and explaining her background. “I’ve been a councillor for the District of Port Hardy for the past eight years, and I’ve served on a wide variety of portfolios. My experience as a councillor and as a college instructor has given me a [good understanding] of what council can and cannot do, as well as advocating and lobbying for our community. I’m a listener and a connector.”
Incumbent councillor candidate Janet Dorward was next, noting she has served two non-consecutive terms as councillor for the district, and she has used the time “to continually learn about how to do this important job better, and I feel I’m more and more effective in this role as I gain experience. I’m someone who can absorb information and listen to all sides of a discussion before arriving at a decision. I’m also able to let go of previously held beliefs if new information comes to light.”
Councillor candidate Dennis Dugas spoke after that, stating it has been an honour and a pleasure to work for the district over the last eight years as a councillor and as the mayor. “Our successes are all based on a council that worked together very strongly, dedicated in their commitment to serving the community, but not only that, our staff and employees did the same.”
Mayoral candidate Athena Guy spoke next. “I was strongly encouraged by quite a few of my peers to run for mayor and make a difference, and I feel like I can say things from the people’s voice versus just the businesses voice… As much as we have a lot of policies, statutes, acts and regulations that we need to follow, it would be really interesting to know what they are saying… If I’m chosen to represent the voice of the people as well as the voice of the businesses, [then] I can give a clear understanding of what these statutes, acts and policies are saying and how they are effecting us everyday.”
Councillor candidate Jamie Keamo was given the mic, stating his lengthy background as a paramedic and as a former supervisor at the Port Alice pulp mill. He said his reason for running for office is to “see Port Hardy attract businesses and to see us attract medical staff at all levels to keep our medical facilities open 24/7.”
Councillor candidate Fred Robertson introduced himself after that, thanking the residents of Port Hardy for the privilege of serving on council for the last eight years. “The more people we have actively involved in our community, the stronger we are,” he said. “I believe being on council is about leadership, and I believe leadership is about listening. I hope I have achieved both in my time on council – it is through listening we will establish our priorities for the next four years.”
Councillor candidate Marilynn Salski spoke of her 35-year work background in Port Hardy and said she’s a new face to council with new ideas. “The district is in financially good shape, it’s had good management [from] mayors and councillors, but we are going into a financial period and I’m running for fiscal sustained responsibility. Plan now, maintain infrastructure, build resiliency, and a vibrant community will emerge.”
Incumbent councillor candidate Treena Smith said she’s grateful to be running for another term in Port Hardy. “I love it here, I’m passionate about my hometown… I was born and raised here, my mother was born and raised here, my mother’s mother was born and raised here, and her mother was born and raised here… I have the experience, understanding, and energy for the work that needs to be done to make Port Hardy more safe, more desirable to live, and if we plan and do right, more beautiful.”
Incumbent councillor candidate John Tidbury spoke about his longtime ties to the community, noting his extensive volunteer background. “I bring a wealth of experience to the table, I have been on town council for over 20 years with 10 years serving on the Mount Waddington Regional District.”
Councillor candidate Brian Texmo stated he’s a local businessman and athlete who’s wanting to “bring my experience to the table in business, youth sports, and everything that I’ve gathered living in Port Hardy my entire life… to help make decisions that effect all of us in a great way.”
With the opening speeches out of the way, Elizabeth Aman-Hume, executive director of the Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce, moved into pre-selected questions from the BC Chamber of Commerce’s municipal election package.
The first question asked was what council can do to increase housing in the community.
Dorward said council met recently with provincial ministers and their staff about housing needs and council has identified parcels of land that would be suitable for development should the government come through with funding, Dugas said council and staff are looking at ways of dealing with the issue by reducing the amount of red tape as much as possible to help development happen, Guy said we need to know exactly what is going on as people apply for permits and are given the run around about what they need to do, Keamo said he wants to see available land developed for multi-housing options, Robertson said council brought some motions to UBCM to help with housing in Port Hardy and are looking at ways for the district to become its own developer, Salski said the population is falling due to lack of affordable housing options, Smith said the district needs multi-housing options and will be successful obtaining it by working together, Tidbury said there’s no easy solution but all different kinds of housing is definitely needed here, Texmo said he’s heard complaints about municipal regulations for zoning, building permits, fees and processes and he wants to help fix that, and Corbett-Labatt said council has been actively working on the issue and the district has some land they can develop.
The next question was about mental health and addictions. What is council’s priority in dealing with the issues downtown?
Guy said the community needs to come together and use First Nation healing techniques to help those in need, Keamo said we need to stop turning a blind eye to the problems downtown and this issue is his number one priority, Robertson said there are community support programs in place but a lack of affordable rental housing is accerbating the issue, Salski said solutions to the problem will require everyone working together, Smith said it’s a complex issue and there’s no perfect or easy solution and it will require collaboration from everyone to fix the problem, Tidbury said offering services at Stink Creek Park is not the answer and the government needs to get more involved, Texmo said there needs to be enforcement and he’s not afraid to have hard discussions about the issue, Corbett-Labatt said various groups have been working together with council so the district can move forward, Dorward said the problem seems to have gotten worse due to the recent eviction of tenants from an apartment building and there needs to be short term and long term planning in place to help people with recovery, and Dugas said council needs to address the issue and there’s an open house on the subject coming up in the near future.
The third question was what kind of tax relief policies would the candidates introduce to help out businesses.
Dugas said people don’t like taxes but he’s very proud of how the recent council has kept taxes as low as possible, Guy said we need to know what the policies are actually saying in order to implement tax relief, Keamo said he’d like to find ways across the board to give businesses some breathing room from taxes, Robertson said our level of taxation is similar to other jurisdictions in B.C., Salski said as a small rural community we don’t have the ability to cut taxes more than they already have been, Smith said the recent council has been mindful in keeping taxes down as much as they can, Tidbury said council had implemented tax reduction as much as it possibly could to help businesses, Texmo said he needs to get on council first to be able to understand the issue more but he really wants to see local businesses thrive, Corbett-Labatt said council has tried to keep taxes as low as possible for everyone, and Dorward said she’d work to support local businesses in advocating for fair changes they need in order to be successful but lowering taxes would be pretty tough.
Resident questions were next on the agenda (specific questions from residents about Stink Creek Park were submitted directly to the candidates so they can reply by email), and the first question was why is the indoor swimming pool still closed.
Keamo said he doesn’t know why the pool is still closed and he wants to see it reopen, Robertson said the pool is not open because it doesn’t work at the moment and council’s in the process of having it fixed by sometime in 2023, Salski said the pool needs to reopen and it needs to be maintained, Smith said council has been trying to get the pool repaired and will in the future be working on building a new one, Tidbury said he thinks the pool will be open again in a year, Texmo said he doesn’t know why the pool is closed and he wants to use his background to help find solutions to get the pool open again, Corbett-Labatt said reopening the pool is a high priority and council will make sure it happens, Guy said she wants to see voting records for why the pool’s in the condition it’s in and she wants to see the pool’s financial records over the past five to seven years, Dorward said the pool is a high priority and all the financial records regarding the pool are available at the municipal hall upon request, and Dugas said council has worked to get the pool project finished and it’ll hopefully be open next year.
The next question was whether the candidates would be interested in adding active transportation to the Official Community Plan (OCP).
Robertson said council has created an active transportation study and is blending it into the OCP, Salski said the idea makes sense and they have the opportunity and the land to do it, Smith agreed with Robertson that council is currently working to put it together for the community, Tidbury said active transportation will likely be enhanced in the new OCP, Texmo said recreation is a huge priority of his and he’d like to dig for more grant funding for it, Corbett-Labatt said they can move forward and look for grant funding for active transportation, Guy wondered how long the active transportation plan will take and how long residents will have to wait before it’s accomplished, Dorward said she’s been advocating for a trail from the beach to the town and hopefully they can find support to make it happen, Dugas said he’s in support of active transportation and will be working with various groups to make it happen, and Keamo said he’s in favour of a trail that would connect the town to the beach.
The North Island Gazette asked what is one project or initiative the candidates feel Port Hardy needs the most, and how would council go about financing it.
Salski said she’d like to see the local skatepark enhanced, Smith said finishing the OCP is her top project of choice, Tidbury said there isn’t just one important “thing” for Port Hardy, Texmo said he wants to see lights installed back at the baseball field, Corbett-Labatt said she wants supportive housing for people who are vulnerable in the community, Dorward echoed Corbett-Labatt’s supportive housing idea and added she wants to see a new mine established, Dugas said the district’s strategic plan that’s already underway is his pick, Guy said there’s a lack of disconnect between local government and community members and that needs to be fixed, Robertson agreed with Dorward about wanting a new mine, and Keamo said he wants to see a lacrosse box built in town.
After that, the All Candidates Forum came to an end with brief closing speeches from the candidates thanking everyone for attending.
Voting day is Saturday, Oct. 15.
See below for the full video of the All Candidates Forum