It was a full house at the byelection town hall in Port Alice, with residents grilling potential candidates for the vacant village councillor position by asking tough questions and demanding answers.
The candidate’s opinions on the curtailment of Neucel Specialty Cellulose and the future of Port Alice, as well as their perspective and approach to the tourism industry, were particular topics of interest at the Feb. 16 event which was held in the Larry Pepper Room.
“This is an information session, so it’s about gathering information so you can make your decision on who you are going to support. It’s not the time or place to state opinions or anything like that,” said the moderator at the beginning of the meeting.
Each of the four candidates, Susan Mohler, Warren Beatty, Bruce Lloyd, and Angela Yunker, then gave a brief introduction as to who they were and why they were running.
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One of the first questions they were asked was where do they see the future of the village without the mill running.
“Tourism has got to start happening, we need to have a better attitude about that,” said Mohler, who retired to Port Alice with her husband roughly four years ago. “People need to start coming here and spending their money here. If you build it they will come. That’s how we ended up here, that’s how a lot of us came here.”
Beatty, who is currently the HR Manager for Neucel, answered with, “There’s a lot of opportunity visitors or people who have lived here in the past, but without the infrastructure to support tourism its hard to build your future on that,” adding, “We have to look at things realistically — We have a lot of opportunities here, but we have limitations because of where we are at.”
Lloyd, who has previously served four terms on council, said he was pro-tourism. “We can do a lot better, but I don’t see myself being a spearhead on the tourism front — There are people in our community and on our council that are more talented in that,” he said, adding, “I would never impede it or naysay it.”
Yunker, who is a stay-at-home-mom of four children with over a decade experience in the tourism industry, was the last to address the issue. “I believe we are a hidden secret here and I believe we need to let people know who we are and where we are — so I’m fully for tourism,” she said, adding, “I believe if you have the demand, the job creates itself.”
After some discussion about the Doug Bondue Arena, youth employment, and the Port Alice Volunteer Fire Department, the topic circled back to Neucel.
“Knowing our present situation, can you describe what you see for Port Alice in five years, with or without the mill running?” a resident asked, echoing one of the earlier questions.
Mohler was the first to tackle the topic, responding, “I think in five years things are going to be better regardless of whether the mill opens up again or not,” she said. “I have spoken to so many people that want this place to be a better place. I think there has been a shift to move us in that direction.”
Beatty spoke about the importance of industry to the village. “In five years — with the mill running Port Alice will flourish — in five years without the mill running, Port Alice is going to be a shadow of itself,” he said, adding, “If the mill doesn’t start you have an industrial lot and we have to think of ways to attract someone that will use it, as opposed to letting it sit and rot. Tourism is going to be great for a little bit of time, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough to generate the kind of activity we need to keep families here.”
Yunker addressed the importance of communication, stating that, “In five years I’d like to see the community thriving — I believe this is a people’s town so we need new ideas from the people about where they are going. Other communities have lost their mills and they are still thriving. We need to reach out to them and see what made them a success.”
Lloyd was last to address the topic, stating, “What I’m saying, in essence, is yes we need that industry. I’m hoping we will have the mill in the future, but if not we have to look at other things.”
Advanced voting began on Feb. 14 and general voting is set to take place on Feb. 24 between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. and will take place at the municipal office. Registration for voters will take place at the time of voting.