The protocol agreement, the future of the logging industry and the fate of Port Clements’ small elementary school were all on the minds of Port voters as they gathered in the community hall Thursday (Nov. 10) to listen to their council and school trustee candidates.
Mayoral candidate Cory Delves, who received a round of applause before he even started speaking, told the audience that he had originally planned to run for council. He ran for mayor instead after it looked like no one else was stepping forward to challenge the current mayor, Dale Lore.
Port has gone through a lot in the 18 years he’s lived here, he said. But one fact remains: more than 60 per cent of the village’s work force relies directly on Tree Farm Licence 39 operations for employment.
Mr. Delves, who works for TFL owner Cascadia Forest Products, said that means forestry issues are extremely important for the little town. And while island communities may want to work together on these issues, the people who represent Port must make sure the interests of Port come first.
“This community has been good to me,” he said. “I want to be part of the decision-making and I want to do what’s best for the community.”
Mr. Lore then addressed the crowd, telling them that in the three years since he was first elected mayor, the community has almost completely erased its debt and has money in the bank. Port also – after much consideration and effort – signed the protocol agreement with the Council of the Haida Nation, opening up a regular channel of communication. Most recently, he said, Port representatives met with Education Minister Shirley Bond in an effort to save the town’s elementary school by moving it into the proposed multi-purpose complex. That effort looks like it will result in a win-win agreement for the village and the school district, he said.
Mr. Lore was the only candidate during the evening who directly mentioned the month-long blockade of TFL 39 operations earlier this year, which put many Port residents out of work. The blockade was a direct result of the provincial government’s failure to respect a Supreme Court decision, he said. And while Mr. Lore said he had nothing to do with the decision to set up the blockade and in no way encouraged it, he did support it once it was underway.
“I believe it was the right thing to do,” he said.
As for the future, he said Port must work at developing an alternative source of electrical power, and at gaining control over a wood supply. With power and wood, the town should be able to develop industry that could tie in with the new container port being built in Prince Rupert, he said.
“We need to diversity, desperately,” he said, adding that the village cannot remain dependent on the major licencees.
Residents Betty Stewart and Jack Miller asked several questions about the protocol agreement. Both candidates said the agreement was a good one.
“I have read it and basically in a nutshell I believe what it’s saying is we all agree to work together,” Mr. Delves said. “I think that’s a good thing.”
“There’s nothing in there detrimental to our community,” Mr. Lore said, adding that the document is not legally binding and Port can get out of it any time.
Mr. Delves was asked whether he is “the company man”, to which he replied: “I work for a living, and I happen to work for the major licensee… I have beliefs different from the company. I would describe myself as more of a family man.”
Ron Haralson, who at one point was going to run for mayor himself, asked the two candidates whether they are committed to having local timber processed on the islands.
Mr. Lore replied that local control, local processing and selling the islands top quality wood in niche markets may be an answer. Mr. Delves noted that Cascadia, which bought the TFL from Weyerhaeuser just a few months ago, is already taking a different approach and has been selling logs locally, some to the O’Brien’s pole plant and even single logs to carvers.
“Cascadia is certainly open to local sales,” he said. “If it’s good business for them they’re certainly not opposed to doing it.”
Chris Bellamy said that he has lived here for 15 years and wonders why Port has to scramble for donations towards recreation facilities, in contrast to company towns like Kitimat. Would it be easier to work from the inside or the outside on this issue, he asked the candidates.
Mr. Delves said it would be easier working from within. Weyerhaeuser, he said, made several donations during its time, including to the multi-purpose complex and to the bowling alley in Skidegate. The current manager, he said, would like to make smaller, more visible donations like perhaps uniforms for soccer teams and help with travel expenses. As well, Cascadia is a brand new company which is still putting its policies in place, he said.
Mr. Lore said it appears Cascadia spends more money on ads telling islanders the land use plan won’t work than it does on community donations.
“As for the future, I don’t expect Cascadia to be around long enough to donate to the communities,” he said. “I think it will be local control and local ownership within the next 12 months.”
Travis O’Brien wanted to know where the two candidates stood on mandatory drug testing for council members.
Mr. Lore said the idea had been tossed around and eventually dismissed during mayor Glen Beachy’s time, and that he didn’t think drug abuse was a big issue among council members. In the bigger picture, he said, council is concerned about illegal drugs, especially crystal meth, and has worked to make sure there is more of an RCMP presence in town.
Mr. Delves said he would have no problem with mandatory drug testing, although he also didn’t think it was much of an issue on council.
“Travis, if you’ll hold the bottle, I’ll pee in it,” he said, to much laughter from the crowd.
Then it was on to the seven council candidates who appeared at the meeting. The eighth candidate, Urs Thomas, couldn’t make it, although he passed along a message that voters can speak to him any time at his Golden Spruce Motel.
Speaking in alphabetical order, the candidates introduced themselves. Wally Cheer told the voters he has lived in Port for 14 years and works at Edwards and Associates. The concerns which motivated him to run include division in the community, council’s lack of action on the tourism front, and the shrinking working forest.
Derek Hoenen has lived on the islands for eight years, in Port for one year, and works for Edwards and Associates. He’s a member of the volunteer fire department and the loudest cheering dad on the soccer field. He decided to run after he was forced to seek work off-island earlier this year, he said, and saw what conditions are like for forest industry workers in other areas.
“I realized this was one of the greatest places to work and raise a family,” he said. He would like to make sure others have the same opportunity to make a living in the forest industry, he said.
Gerry Johnson said he has made a living from the forest industry for 43 years (he currently works for the Council of the Haida Nation Forest Guardians) and has served on Port council for 24 years. He said believes Port and the forest industry both have a bright future. Twenty years ago he worked on council to help establish an industrial park, he said, and now every lot has been sold. Council’s current goal, he said, is local control of some logs, and a power source, and like the industrial park project, it will eventually happen.
“The next three years are going to make it or break it for Port,” he said. “I want to have a good vibrant logging industry. I really believe in the small business… As for big business, they’ll take care of themselves and they always have.”
Casey Lapka, owner of Shipshape, said she has invested everything she has in Port Clements since arriving here three years ago. She started up a new business at a time when people said it was a bad move because the town was dying – “I didn’t believe that then and I don’t believe it now.”
She said she thought council could do a better job at promoting the community for tourists, and that she was sad to see people moving away because there is not enough work.
“I’ll do everything I can to make this town work,” she said, gathering huge applause after saying that she is getting married soon and would love to see her kids someday going to the same school her fiance attended, Port elementary.
Wendy Quinn, who has lived in Port a long time and been on council before, said Port must work with other communities on the islands. There are only 5,000 people here, she said, and they must cooperate to make any government listen.
Mrs Quinn also said that she is not particularly interested in the proposal to move the elementary school to three classrooms in the multi-purpose complex, saying it make more sense to put high school grades in the existing school to pump up student numbers.
Brock Storry said he was motivated to run by the changes he’s seen in Port since moving here in 2001. An employee at Edwards and Associates, he said he really liked Port but was surprised during the course of moving when the government agent in Queen Charlotte asked him why he would choose to live there.
“I want to stop people from making these comments about my town, that’s the long and the short of it,” he said.
Roy Woolverton, who is semi-retired, said he moved here three years ago after buying a summer home here 25 years ago.
He said land claims must be settled before businesses will invest here. His other concerns were tsunamis and local power. Port is pretty much tsunami free, he said, but the rest of the islands may be at risk and Port may be called upon to shelter other islanders if one strikes.
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