Candidates offer views on future of Port Clements

  • Jan. 7, 2011 5:00 p.m.

About 30 Port Clements residents turned out Monday night to hear from the four candidates who would like to become the village’s newest council member. Whoever wins the Jan. 15 by-election will serve for less than a year, but that didn’t stop voters from closely questioning the candidates on a variety of issues, ranging from how the town can attract more residents, to whether municipal taxes are too high. None of the four candidates have been on council before, although two have experience working for the village. Brian Blair, Port’s former public works superintendent, said he was motivated to run by concerns about the water system. He said he had started a project to address aging water pipes on Tingley Street, which contain asbestos, but the project has not moved forward. He’s also worried about Northern Health’s decision to order the village to add chlorine to the water, saying Port’s system was not designed for chlorine and it could end up breaking down the concrete pipes, exposing asbestos. Kazamir Falconbridge, a former public works employee, told the audience that he grew up in Sayward, a logging town on Vancouver Island much like Port. The town struggled after MacMillan Bloedel shut down some operations, but has now transformed itself, thanks to the efforts of the mayor. “There is lots of hope,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be an overnight change.” Mr. Falconbridge also said that if elected, he will be out talking to all the people he can, by phone, by survey, by knocking on their doors, or by holding community meetings, to find out their opinions and accurately represent them. Ian Gould, a logger who grew up in Sandspit and has lived in Port for the past 19 years, said he has one main concern and that is the long-term viability of the village. The future of Port is closely tied to the logging industry, he said, and there is a lot going on behind the scenes right now where Port needs to have a strong voice. Evelyn Robinson, who has lived in Port for three years, said she does not have any major concerns and is running because she believes it is important to get involved. She volunteers with the community hall society and the community gardens, and said residents should be taking their ideas and criticisms to the public council meetings rather than the coffee shop. Asked how the community could attract more people, the candidates offered very different ideas. Ms Robinson said it seems the town needs more businesses, and that she would get people together for a brainstorming session to come up with ideas. Mr. Blair said Port’s relatively cheap property prices should appeal to seniors, and that the town has overlooked the potential of Masset Inlet, a spectacular attraction for both residents and visitors. Mr. Gould, a director on the Misty Isles Economic Development Society, said Port will need some kind of industry in order to be prosperous. Port is well-positioned as the closest community to the islands’ remaining timber supply, but will have to work hard to make sure it can realize benefits from this in the future. Tourism is also important, he said, but will never be the whole answer because of the expense of getting here and the shortness of the season. He cautioned against publicizing low property prices, saying that Sandspit has experienced a surge of Americans buying vacation homes, resulting in no gains for the town’s population or services. Mr. Falconbridge, meanwhile, said Port should not be trying to attract more seniors because there aren’t enough medical services available. Instead, the village should concentrate on getting help from the federal and provincial governments to attract a manufacturing plant, such as a toy or furniture company, that would use local wood and create jobs. The protocol agreement with the Council of the Haida Nation, signed by the village in 2004, is always a hot topic in Port and Monday night was no exception. The candidates were asked what they think about the agreement and whether it is doing anything for the town. Mr. Falconbridge responded immediately with a critique of the CHN, saying that according to the CHN constitution, the Haida want to own the islands and print their own money. “Basically, they’re a paramilitary organization,” he said. The CHN wants to be the only political party on the islands, he said, but only Haida citizens can vote in CHN elections. Mr. Falconbridge said he has no problem with different cultures but “I do have a problem with any government that wants to be a communist or fascist dictatorship.” Mr. Blair disagreed. “They’re not a threat, not in my mind they’re not,” he said. He added that Haida citizens have their own opinions on issues and not all of them agree with positions taken by the CHN. Mr. Gould said there may not be a lot of benefits to the protocol agreement, but that’s not a good reason to reject it. “There’s not much to be gained from it, but there’s a lot to be lost by just tearing it up,” he said. Mr. Gould said Port should use the agreement constructively to bring information about forestry issues out into the open, and that the village also has the power to make sure the federal and provincial governments know that there is not necessarily unanimous support for the CHN on every issue. Ms Robinson said she would have to learn more about the protocol agreement before responding. Candidates also voiced different opinions in response to a question about whether a gold mine would be a good industry for the town. A company had been interested in developing a gold claim near Juskatla in the 1980s, but the project was opposed for environmental reasons and never went anywhere. Mr. Falconbridge said a gold mine is “absolutely” a good idea. Port should take advantage of any mining opportunities and should also try to get companies interested in exploring for minerals here. The provincial government’s strict environmental standards mean that nothing would be approved that was an environmental disaster, he said. “Maybe we have palladium here,” he added. “Maybe we have one of those rare elements they’re working really hard to find.” Mr. Gould said many were opposed to the original mine proposal because it would have had a life of only eight to 10 years, resulting in short-term jobs and no long-term benefits. Unless that changes significantly, he would have the same concern today. The candidates were all on the same page when it came to supporting small business. Gloria O’Brien of O’Brien Road and Bridge Maintenance, the town’s biggest employer right now, told them it feels like she doesn’t get much support from local government. “We feel that we’ve been failed, so, I wonder what your opinion is on small business and whether you feel you have a role to play in protecting small business,” she said. The candidates all responded positively, saying the O’Briens and other local businesses deserve full support from council. The by-election will be held Saturday, Jan. 15. Voting takes place from 8 am to 8 pm in the seniors’ room at the multi-purpose complex.