Campaign speech to the Chamber of Commerce

I’ll be speaking fairly quickly, and there may be people at the meeting who can’t hear well from where they are sitting. So here it is in print.

Hello everyone, thank you for being here.

I am running for city council in this election because for me, it is the next step. Over the 35 years I have lived here, I have been a professional forester, a nature tour guide, and a columnist for the AV News. I have served on the City’s Planning Advisory Commission, and the board of Tourism Alberni Valley. I started the Alberni Valley Politics Facebook page and helped start the Friends of the Burde Street Beaver Ponds Facebook page too. They now have 930 and 680 members respectively.

On the cards I’ve been handing out is a phrase which describes my issues: Reconciliation, Restoration and Resilience. Here’s how these words fit into my campaign.

Reconciliation means working with the local First Nations toward mutually beneficial relationships, in an atmosphere of trust and openness. The recent walk on Orange Shirt day was a special day for me because I saw people of all ages and nationalities coming together with open hearts and walking in solidarity together. That was big. We need more of that spirit.

By Restoration, I mean the restoration, and renewal of city infrastructure, that is replacing old water-mains before they fail, installing a storm water system so that our current system isn’t overburdened and our sewage lagoon doesn’t overflow. It means repaving our streets at a faster rate. It also means restoring a mature forest in our Community Watershed, China Creek so that we are confident in the quality of our water supply. And it also means restoring the three fish creeks that flow through Port Alberni, to habitat that encourages the salmon to build back their numbers. We should not accept that what has happened to them as the price of progress.

By Resilience, I am thinking about what is coming at us in the future. We live in uncertain times. Whether it be droughts, natural disasters, financial crises, heat domes, pandemics, supply chain issues, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, or something else, we need to be prepared.  This means planning and building our infrastructure to withstand more fluctuations, producing more of our own food in this valley, making our health care system robust and not permanently in crisis mode, ensuring our transportation networks are intact, our buildings energy efficient, and able to accommodate increasing numbers of people coming to our community.

I also have issues I want to talk about.

First, there is some good news.  The Burde Street Beaver Ponds, appears to be on its way to some sort of resolution. A year after the announcement of over a 1000 housing units around the ponds, no formal application has been submitted.  It looks like the property around the ponds themselves will be left as is. But there is still uncertainty about the creek that empties them and flow into Roger Creek, an endangered salmon creek.

Housing, particularly low-cost housing, is a critical issue. But in my mind there is ample room for infill. There are vacant lots and decrepit buildings all over the city, some vacant for years. The biggest stumbling block is timely building permits.  We need a simpler process and more staff badly.

The Somass Mill property is a thorny issue because there is great uncertainty about the cost of removing contaminated soil from the property. Until it is resolved nothing will happen there. If the costs turn out to be prohibitive, I am open to leaving it as an industrial site but with a harbour walkway along the edge of it. But here are two other preferred options to explore first.

Finally the update of the Official Community Plan, or OCP is a very important strategic document for the city. There is an OCP for every Electoral Area and municipality in the Regional District. Ours is the oldest, by far. It’s 15 years old. Everything from housing strategies to environmental protections is covered in it. Port Alberni is a very different place now compared to 15 years ago. The updating process underway, needs to continue in the next term.

My time is probably up. I want to thank you for listening to my thoughts and ideas for Council in the next term if I am elected. Good night.

What I know about the Somass Mill site

What I know about the Somass Mill isn’t enough. But I have misgivings. I am talking about the five properties totalling 43 acres the City of Port Alberni bought for $5.3 million. The intention was to sell off most of the properties keeping part of it as public waterfront access and Park. The rest would be a mix of retail on the ground floor with living areas above.

Part of the deal is that no primary sawmilling can be done there for 5 years. I know first hand, that the San Group is interested in this property. So I wonder if the popular rumor, that the San Group wants to build a pellet plant qualifies?

Recently, I went on a walkabout there with Chris Alemany and others. He is advocating restoration of the Dry Creek estuary. That is a third option. Several mayoral candidates, a CHEK TV crew, two former senior employees from the mill, and citizens were there. The third option is to recreate the Dry Creek estuary that this site is built on.

What I learned is that the city hired a contractor to conduct Phase 2 technical contamination assessments on the site (See the link for a better idea of what that is.). As part of a due diligence investigation, the City conducted this assessment before the decision to purchase the mill was made.

Jim Rutherford was the Environmental Co-Ordinator of the Somass Mill site for many years before retiring. He learned about the purchase at the same time as the rest of us back in August of last year. Because he felt that he was likely the only staff person from the old mill able to discuss this issue with city staff, he asked for a meeting with Tim Pley and others. At that meeting, he was shown where the assessment samples were taken and showed them the location of key contaminated areas that were not discovered by the consultants. However the purchase had been completed at that time.

Three choices have been described so far: the San Group’s pellet mill, the mixed use of storefront with apartments and/or condos above and a walkway on the waterfront, or complete restoration of the Dry Creek estuary. All of them hinge on what lies beneath and what it will take to remediate the site.

Some thoughts on Housing

I’ve been boning up on housing. It’s complicated. From high end to bottom end, there are shortages. But the need in the low end is most serious. But we don’t really know how bad it is. We don’t keep up-to-date statistics. Scot Smith says the last Canada Mortgage and Housing survey was about a year ago and doesn’t include all the private rental suites in town. But we know it’s tough to find a place, and expensive.

Yet we see buildings going up all over the place. According to city statistics The value of building permits has shot up from $16 million as the average for a year to $80 million. A new seniors home is about to be built, and one is about to open.

But even with all the new housing coming on line, prices are prohibitive for those living on fixed incomes, single women with children and lacking skills, those with disabilities and so on. So we see their desperation and despair on our streets and in shelters. The number of homeless from the latest survey a year or so ago is around 200.

I believe the Province is acutely aware of the issues and is working on them in their plodding, bureaucratic way. Consultation, and consensus takes time. I want to be part of bringing rent prices down and and rental vacancies going up, and will be looking for ideas and opportunities to do just that.

Why am I running?

Good question. Every time I think about it, I come up with a different answer.

When I was a young man out of high school in Ottawa, and working at the Experimental Farm (hoeing weeds, believe it or not) I remember meeting a young guy who said he wanted to be a Politician. That was the last thing I wanted to be. My, how we change!

I’m running because Port Alberni is my home, despite growing up in Ottawa. It’s been 35 years since a freshly qualified young forester moved to town, me his wife. All our friends are here. And there is something about this valley that tells me it could be a self-sustaining community in many, many ways.

I’m running because I’m retired. Not having children, my wife and I have time to devote to our passions, mine being a greater interest in politics, working toward restoring damaged ecosystems, rivers and creeks; and more personal ones like birding, gardening, and being a Freemason.

I’m running because I’ve found myself in a position where this is the next step. After my career, I had operated a local tour company conducting day-trips and nature tours. I wrote an outdoors column for the AV Times, and then for the AV News, and since Covid, posted posts here in my blog. When the news conference hit a little over a year ago that The San Group was proposing a huge development around the Burde Street Ponds, I was aware of what was coming, but not the scale of it. It seemed like it had to be me that said something, so I stepped up.

Things have changed on the proposed development in the past year. The city is still waiting for an application, an application that will take months to assess. It has an eight-month backlog (as of a couple of months ago) of other permits ahead of them. An official from the San Group called a couple of days ago, to say that because they have a huge new mill in Langley that is taking all their time, they are not in any hurry to do anything. This is what they say. So the issue isn’t urgent by any means anymore, but isn’t going away. It was clear to me that they still plan to “make money from the property” as it was expressed to me.

So I’m running for council as the next step. And this city needs to have an environmental advocate on council. In this time of uncertainty, with war, famine, floods, disease, and large refugee populations on the move, we need to prepare for the future, not to pretend that it’s steady as she goes in this little valley.

That’s why I’m running.


PS. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be talking about election issues in more posts. Questions? I’m happy to answer. Scoldings? Not so much, but I’ll listen.

Councillor McRuer?

After a fair bit of dithering, I have decided to run for City Council.

I believe there should be a voice on council for the environment. Important decisions about the future of the city will be made during the next term. And I am all about sustainability, restoration, and community resilience.

A vital part of community resilience is creating sufficient, adequate homes for people. This housing has to be durable, with low energy requirements for indoor climate control, not something that will get us through the next two or three elections.

I also believe we have the ability to build this housing without resorting to sacrificing the beautiful woodland environment of the Burde Street Beaver Ponds.

At the risk of irking the current Councillors, I would say that environmental concerns are not high on their agenda. There are so many dire warnings out there in the voices of the climate scientists, in the storms, droughts, disease, and pollution that I’ve lost track. We need someone with a greater sense of urgency who will address the business of council with this perspective. I will do that.

If elected, I also want to try to do my bit to create a more accountable council. Having spoken a few times to council, and watched meetings I have noticed that councillors seem loath to express opinions. It may be their desire to maintain the appearance of an open mind. I don’t know. But if I am elected, I will be calling for a recorded vote on a regular basis. This will give the public a better idea of how our elected officials feel about the motion at hand.

I want to thank all the people who have put their names on my nomination papers. It may sound trite. But you have no idea how much this support means to a person sticking thier neck out and running for office for office for the first time. Thank you!