Tofino municipal debate lively, well-attended

EDITOR’S NOTE: At Tofino’s election debate for council candidates on Thursday evening, not everyone got to put their oar in on every issue. Drawing names and questions, organizers ensured everyone got several chances to voice their opinion – plus they got opening and closing statements. Sometimes they stayed in the safe end of the pool – answers on additional industry for Tofino tended to cluster around higher-education initiatives, for example. And every candidate seemed to find a way to be positive and supportive on the topics of reconciliation and arts and culture. We are hitting a few highlights here.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

The need for affordable housing, and for housing for seasonal employees drawn here for the tourism trade, struck a chord with Counc. Dorothy Baert, who recalled that as a single parent in Vancouver, she found the stability of cooperative housing helped her think “bigger picture.”

“I get this need and I am very committed to working on it. I can’t explain to you why, entirely, in the last number of years nothing has happened with that, but believe me, I intend to put real muscle behind this,” she said.

Incumbent Duncan McMaster said he heard last week that 35,000 Canadians are homeless. “One missing piece of that puzzle is affordable housing, so we’re not

alone,” he said.

A new federal plan to give tax breaks for investing in affordable housing could help, he said. Another boon could be municipal breaks to encourage higher density construction – multiple stories, more units, a housing fund that provided property tax subsidies for rentals, he said. For Greg Blanchette, affordable housing is a campaign pillar.

“I put afford housing as my top priority,” he said, citing that a few years ago, 45% of tax bills were being mailed to out-of-town addresses – and that number has inched up to 48% of the district’s tax bills, the “wrong direction” for Blanchette.

For addressing staff housing, Blanchette said a municipal campground for workers could be part of a solution.

Marty Kukler, the youngest candidate at 33, said affordable and available housing had been an issue for him personally, as he lived in his car for a summer because he had a job but couldn’t find a place.

“I think this is probably one of the biggest issues,” he said, citing two families sharing a one-bedroom place – and kids who need a normal amount of space for growing up.

SEWER/WATER On sewer and water challenges, Al Anderson said there’s lots of work to be done at all levels, including staff, consulting and engineering.

“The main job of council is to push harder to get it done,” he said.

The Liquid Waste Management Plan has stalled from a “major setback” with some early work needing to be redone, bad data collection necessitating data being taken again, Anderson said.

Gurmail Aujla said the federal government is starting to use funding (or withholding it) “as a method of pushing us to get this done.”

“There’s been a lack of foresight here … hopefully council will have more foresight on trying to meet basic water needs before (being) forced to,” Aujla said.

Cathy Thicke said CAO Bob Anderson told her there are couple different ways Tofino needs to tackle the water problem, the demand side and the supply side.

“We need to change how we use water … we may not need to go to Kennedy Lake,” Thicke said.

Thicke said as far as a sanitary sewer system goes, the numbers she has heard for putting one in range from $5 million to $8 million. She noted houses in town used to have septic fields.

As far as water goes, the problem with water is not a lack of it, said Ray Thorogood.

“The problem is there is no capacity to hold it here,” he said, adding that water pours over the dams.

The district needs to look at another reservoir, with additional holding capacity on this side of the peninsula.

Going to Kennedy Lake has been pricetagged at $18 million, Thorogood said.

“We don’t have it at this time,” he said. “Whatever’s going to happen with our water and or our sewer, is going to cost money.”

COMMUNITY HUB

On the need for a community building similar to the Ucluelet Community Centre, Ray Thorogood said Tofino can’t afford it right now and he doesn’t see it as a priority.

“It will come one day, but not in the next term,” he said.

The Tofino Community Hall needs to be renovated so the community can get more use out of it, he said.

Cathy Thicke said she would also like to see a new community hub, “but we need to figure out what we want.” Thicke said, citing sewer system also. She suggested partnerships with other organizations like the library and the tourism centre. The current district office is a crowded fire-trap, she said.

Marty Kukler said he believes waste management and affordable housing and renovating the Tofino Community Hall should be first.

Dorothy Baert said she loves that Tofino has repurposed buildings and moved things around, but she’s not sure if the district can get a new building in the “near future.”

Community ownership and engagement will be critical with any new buildings, she said, citing the Tofino Community Hall building is a “scandalous example of not meeting needs,” a mistake not to be made again.

MULTIPLEX Asked about the West Coast Multiplex, the candidates were generally lukewarm in their support -but not Gurmail Aujla.

Aujla said he loves to play hockey and he is excited and supportive of the Society raising funds for the project, as it would be a “huge benefit” to local young people.

“If they raise the money, we will support it,” but it’s “going to be in the wrong place,” said Duncan McMaster, adding that he wants one IN Tofino, FOR Tofino.

Greg Blanchette said he’s neutral on the Multiplex.

“More power to them,” he said. If Multiplex organizers are able to raise the money with independent initiative, maybe Tofino could support it with transportation out to the Long Beach-area facility, since there’s already talk of a shuttle to bring people to and from the beaches, Esowista and Ty Histanis, he said.

“It might fit nicely into an expanded municipal recreation plan,” he said.

Al Anderson said it’s the council’s role to support and help facilitate community efforts made possible by a group of citizens. The planned Multiplex might be expensive to run, and there will be competing need, but he wishes the project the best and hopes the District can support it, he said.

MINING There wasn’t any overt support for mining in Clayoquot Sound.

Ray Thorogood got the question first.

“I understand rights have been given to companies to do extraction, the First Nations are on board (and) supportive of it,” Thorogood said.

“If it goes ahead, my concern is with the aesthetics .. If we see the top of Catface cleared off, I’m not supportive .. if it’s out of view and it creates jobs, possibly,” he said.

Duncan McMaster, who admitted he had a career of mineral extraction, took a stance not in favour of mining in the area.

“I tend to think I’m becoming a NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) on this,” he said, adding that although the “mining company hasn’t done anything wrong (in their application),” it could damage tourism and the jobs will be lucrative but shortterm, he said. While it is beyond the jurisdiction of the District of Tofino – and he does like having copper wires making things work – “for once, I would prefer it in somebody else’s backyard,” McMaster said.

Greg Blanchette said it wasn’t about mining, but the WHERE of the mining.

“I’m not against mines, we all use metals,” he said. But that said, “Clayoquot

Sound is probably the most inappropriate place in North America,” for a mine, he said, because of the heavy rainfall. He cited the recent Mount Polley dam break that led to a tailings spill after heavy rains in Northern BC.

“It’s a no-brainer for me,” he said.

BOOKS Moderator Jennifer Steven, president of the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, kept the evening lively and light, popping in a question about what book the candidates were currently reading.

Dorothy Baert -“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed.

Gurmail Aujla -enjoys fiction. Al Anderson – Margaret Atwood’s “Stone Mattress,” and “The Swerve” Cathy Thicke – Daniel James Brown’s “Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.”

Ray Thorogood – not currently reading any books, but an avid reader of authors Vince Flynn, Brad Thor and James Patterson.

Duncan McMaster – “War Without End,” and “Charlie’s War” and Naomi Klein’s new book.

Marty Kukler – news articles lately about federal government and politics.

Greg Blanchette – “Imperial Canada,” a book about why Canada is home to much of the world’s mining industry, and The Walrus magazine.

jcarmichael@westerlynews.ca