Lack of jobs an issue at Port all candidates’ meeting

  • Nov. 7, 2008 12:00 p.m.

The lack of jobs in Port Clements and whether the village council can do anything to bring more employment to the village was a hot topic at an all-candidates meeting held Tuesday night (Nov. 4). Members of the public asked several questions about the recent layoff of workers from Western Forest Products and its contractors. The workers’ last day was Oct. 31 and the company has not announced a back-to-work date. “With this recent shutdown… is there anything you can do to keep the community working?” asked Jessica Storry. Incumbent mayor Cory Delves responded that council will be trying to employ as many laid-off workers as possible when it puts new decking and rails on the wharf. But beyond trying to give short-term work to locals, there is probably not much council can do. Global economic forces are behind the layoff, he said, and those forces will affect the islands whether there is local control of the forest industry or not. Gerry Johnson, the man running against Mr. Delves for the mayor’s position, said he has given much thought to the employment question over the years. In the short-term, council does not have many options, he said. But for the long-term, the village needs to start working on getting more control over the forestry resource. Logs are leaving the islands that could be processed at Port’s mills, he said – a situation which would stop if the community made a strong stand to Victoria. He also likes the idea of starting a vocational school on the islands which could train young loggers and resource workers, and take advantage of older workers’ expertise. The candidates for council also addressed the employment issue, with most saying they did not know what could be done. “The reality is, we’re right in the middle of some really tough times,” said Cam Traplin. “Council is not an employment agency… We’ve got to suck up and tighten our belts a little.” Another member of the public, Dennis Reindl, said that Western Forest Products and the Council of the Haida Nation are both major forces when it comes to the future of the forestry industry, and questioned whether that presented any conflict of interest issues for the two mayoral candidates. Mr. Delves works for WFP, while Mr. Johnson is employed by the CHN. Mr. Delves responded that he has worked for four different companies during 20 years at the same office in Juskatla, and that his loyalty lies with the village and not with whatever company happens to hold the Tree Farm Licence. There might be random occasions when his job would conflict with the mayor’s role, but he said that speaking out about issues that affect the entire community is not a conflict of interest. Mr. Johnson, who also has a long history of employment in Juskatla, said he agreed with what Mr. Delves had said. He told the audience that he has worked for just about every major employer on the islands and has been mayor of Port for 12 years, and that his advocacy on behalf of the village had cost him his job at one point. As for his current employment with the CHN, “I’ll guarantee you, when I take the oath as mayor of this village, I will not put that in jeopardy for any job.” Randy O’Brien asked candidates whether they thought the village should withdraw from the protocol agreement Port signed with the Haida Nation in 2004, saying the agreement has been an “embarrassment” and is not effective. Naureen Hughes-McMullon and Greg Stewart both said they did not know much about the issue and would have to find out more. Wally Cheer, a member of the current council, said he has not seen much cooperation or communication as a result of the agreement, but that he was willing to give it another chance. Mr. Delves said he believes the agreement has some weaknesses and should be revisited. One problem, he said, is that Old Massett and Skidegate are not signatories, although all the non-Haida communities have signed it. “I think it has some good potential but we haven’t seen that potential to date,” he said. More on this meeting in the Observer’s election special on Thursday.

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