Ucluelet’s candidates for mayor, from left, Mayco Noel, Randy Oliwa, Kevin Cortes and Bill Irving smile together after presenting their platforms to the community on Oct. 3. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Ucluelet’s mayoral candidates respond to concerns at forum

With Dianne St. Jacques not seeking re-election, Ucluelet is headed for change.

With Dianne St. Jacques not seeking re-election, Ucluelet is headed for change as the town elects a new mayor on Oct. 20.

READ MORE: Ucluelet mayor will not run for re-election

The four candidates hoping to replace St. Jacques, Kevin Cortes, Randy Oliwa, Mayco Noel and Bill Irving, made their case for why they should steer that change during a forum held last week where they were each asked what changes they would implement first if elected.

Noel cited a new regional water source, central medical hub and new school for the region as the key projects he would pursue along with a zoning amendment that would allow property owners to build detached secondary dwellings.

“Creating more rental units for this community’s members with measures in place to protect the neighbourhoods from short term rentals,” he said.

Noel said he would launch a pedestrian traffic committee to promote foot-traffic and that new signage is needed to direct drivers to their destination.

“Our neighbourhoods often have lost tourists trying to find their accommodation,” he said adding the “bottleneck” in front of the Co-op could be de-congested by guiding travellers off Peninsula Road before they reach it.

He said the new parking lot the district has planned for Ucluelet’s downtown core must be completed and equipped with public washrooms and sidewalks.

Randy Oliwa said his first step would be to review council’s procedural bylaw to ensure effective teamwork.

“It’s basically the rule book. It’s how council decides to operate as a team,” he said. “It’s not just how we operate our meetings, it’s how we function as a governing body.”

He said his second priority would be to change the way council receives development applications, so that they have enough time to review information before making decisions.

He said Ucluelet’s mayor and council currently receives their Tuesday night regular meeting agendas on Friday.

“It actually only gives us a little bit of time to make a critical decision or get up to date on something that’s been potentially on the books for several months,” he said. “This isn’t right and it doesn’t allow us enough time to make an informed decision.”

Kevin Cortes said he would establish an affordable housing committee.

“Affordable housing is a huge issue in our community and, presently, we have no board or committee to address that,” he said.

He said he would pursue reducing the speed limit in town from 50 km/h to 40 km/h and work to install speed bumps around Ucluelet’s schools.

He said he would initiate “informal coffee house style” meetings, scheduled quarterly, to promote engagement between community members and council.

“We’d present, in common language, what we’ve done over the last three months, explain why we’ve done what we’ve done, take questions, take ideas, take concerns and move that forward,” he said. “The whole idea is to be inclusive.”

Bill Irving said he would focus on interacting with the community, and suggested potentially resurrecting the district’s former Dispatch newsletter.

He said affordable housing must be a key focus of council and spoke to his work with the Tofino Bible Fellowship, which received federal funding to create a roughly 55-unit affordable housing complex in Tofino.

READ MORE: Tofino receives $500,000 for housing project

“I’ve got a lot of experience with that and I think it would be a big bonus in working through the Ucluelet opportunities,” he said.

He added business retention and promoting Ucluelet’s harbour would also be key priorities, if elected.

Signage and Nuu chah nulth language

The candidates were asked how they would build relationships with neighbouring First Nations and whether they would support including the Nuu chah nulth language in local signage.

Randy Oliwa said Ucluelet has taken a multi-phased approach to its signage and said he was “absolutely in favour of having First Nations’ languages included on new and updated signs that he feels are needed.

“I feel that now it is time that we help visitors and newcomers find those local businesses and free parking areas and our other local attractions that are not on Peninsula Road,” he said.

He said he has participated in community-to-community forums with neighbouring First Nations during his ten years on council and found them effective at building relationships.

Kevin Cortes said he was in favour of adding Nuu chah nulth languages to signage around town.

“I think that’s important for all communication levels and I think it’s important at a respect level for the people who came here first,” he said.

He added frequent communication and consultation is needed between Ucluelet and its neighbours.

“I think they would be dealt with in the same way that you would deal with the District of Tofino and the ACRD, on an equal level playing field,” he said.

Bill Irving said Ucluelet should take a leadership role in reconciliation rather than depend on provincial and federal governments for direction.

He said his administration traveled to First Nations governments and spoke as a delegations.

“We established that kind of protocol relationship that is so important,” he said.

He added meeting with neighbouring nations is vital and that the Ucluelet First Nation has expressed interest in developing a community forest like the one Ucluelet and the Toquaht First Nation have partnered on.

READ MORE: Profits rain over community forest partners

He spoke to increasing the visibility of First Nations’ culture within Ucluelet.

“I think there’s a lot of that history that visitors really love to see,” he said adding Little Beach is an important Provincial Heritage Site.

“It’s a remarkable First Nations site and I think there’s a discussion there that has to happen,” he said.

Mayco Noel said many issues facing Ucluelet are facing its neighbours as well and that solutions would be best found through regional collaboration.

“We need First Nation involvement to help solve them and that’s including water, housing, daycare, healthcare and transportation,” he said. “Our issues are similar and we need a regional approach to solve them and creating trusting relationships is key.”

He also expressed support for more signage and First Nations languages.

Attracting professional services to Ucluelet

The candidates were asked what professional services they would pursue bringing to Ucluelet and how they would attract them.

Kevin Cortes said Ucluelet is already home to “great professionals’ citing emergency responders like RCMP, the Volunteer Fire Brigade and BC Ambulance Service who are important to retain.

He pointed to dentists and veterinarians as two key professionals in need locally and suggested Ucluelet send delegations to schools to attract young dentists and vets by using Ucluelet’s natural beauty and laid-back lifestyle as a lure.

“That’s an approach we could certainly take,” he said.

Bill Irving spoke to the importance of retaining the professionals who help Ucluelet’s harbour hum.

“We have an incredibly unique harbour,” he said. “Those are professional people and if we lose those that is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get back…We need to be very vigorous and keep those kind of professionals here.”

He added seniors services and medical professionals are also needed and that Ucluelet’s business community should be consulted to find potential space.

He added Ucluelet should be aggressive in amalgamating its emergency services in a central hub within a tasunami-safe zone.

“That’s another group of professionals that we’ve built up in this community and I think we need to make sure they’re retained,” he said.

He added Ucluelet must lead the project and spoke to the new police station in Tofino and said the RCMP had set their own agenda in its design.

“That building is, I’ll say interesting, to say the least and we just don’t want to be forced into that kind of scenario,” he said.

READ MORE: New Tofino detachment moves ahead

Mayco Noel said there is a clear need for additional child care services, senior support services and health care providers in general.

“Building a new central medical hub will assist in attracting these professionals as our centre will be able to accommodate new services and perhaps even take some of the pressure off the Tofino hospital. This would be a win for the entire region,” he said.

He added builders must also be focused on and that the district’s planning department needs to offer applicants clear, consistent information to avoid building delays that affect builders.

He added the current housing supply must be increased and said restaurants are struggling to hire servers and cooks.

“We cannot increase our workforce without housing options for these people,” he said, again pointing to secondary dwellings as part of the solution.

“Restaurants cannot open as we have no place for additional workers, immediate options are within the existing property owners…I believe that the immediate solution to our housing is with secondary suites.”

Randy Oliwa agreed that professional services are lacking in Ucluelet and said big goals should be a seven day a week clinic, new health hub, notaries and expanded Service BC hours.

“We just seem to get by,” he said.

He said Ucluelet formerly hosted dentists in the municipal hall.

“I would like to have that conversation again with the dentists and other healthcare providers regarding what their requirements are and potential contributions,” he said.

He added there could be vacancies or opportunities to be found once the process starts.

“Through the discussion process and the discovery phase, we’re going to find solutions to those gaps. So let’s bring the discussion forward and work together to solve these issues.”

Attracting business, including tax incentives

The candidates were asked how they would attract businesses to Ucluelet.

None of the candidates seemed eager to offer tax incentives to entice new businesses.

“I think the reality we’ve found is that Ucluelet sells itself in many ways just because of the uniqueness of the community and also the freedom, the stress free freedom that people find when they come here,” said Bill Irving. “People move here with less expectation of wealth in exchange for lifestyle, so I think there’s a nice balance that Ucluelet has developed. I think we need to promote that and encourage that because I know from talking to professionals in the city they’re looking for that.”

He said keeping communication open with businesses will help Ucluelet zero in on what they need to provide.

“We have to be very aggressive in talking to the businesses, knowing what they need and going after it,” he said.

He added higher levels of government are spending large on ocean and environmental research and noted the former Coast Guard lands at Amphitrite Point could become a “fabulous” research centre.

Mayco Noel suggested Ucluelet’s best source of new business was in the forum’s audience.

“Largely, in this community, I find that the people that are opening up new endeavours are entrepreneurs that already exist in the community,” he said.

He said a strong Chamber of Commerce and business community is a key to spinning success into more success through mentorships and open discussions.

“We have the same struggles when we’re starting off so, I think, we need to help each other out better,” he said.

He said opportunities around the airport should be explored with the ACRD to investigate the potential of adding industrial businesses around that area.

Randy Oliwa said that every option should be explored to attract businesses, but added that, “Ucluelet is best served by supporting existing, already established businesses.”

He said the Chamber of Commerce needs support and touted the chamber’s success with its Ucluelet Business and Employment Retention and Expansion program.

He said an economic development committee should be created to explore successful examples in other communities.

He added he is “not a big fan” of tax incentives.

“There’s only one pot of money and it always eventually falls on the existing taxpayers,” he said adding Ucluelet is doing well thanks to the Barkley Community Forest funds and incoming taxation revenue from Air BnB properties.

“Ucluelet is actually in a very positive place right now.”

Kevin Cortes said working with the Chamber of Commerce is key and that current businesses need to be supported before energy is spent on attracting new ones.

“My issue, of course, would be trying to support the businesses that are already here. Lot’s of businesses can’t staff because of affordable housing,” he said. “I would like to see a program set up to help existing businesses before the town expands further and further…My concern is the bubble in the middle where the working class can’t be supported by the staff that’s here now.”

West Coast Multiplex

The candidates were asked how they would support the proposed West Coast Multiplex facility, which passed through a 2012 referendum where residents voted to support covering the facility’s operating cost, up to $450,000, through property taxation.

READ MORE: Tofino and Ucluelet at odds over ice rink

Mayco Noel said he would support the referendum.

“My role as mayor is to ensure that we honour the referendum of 2012 to cover the annual operating cost up to $450,000 for the region,” he said. “The multiplex continues to have support from the region. It would be my job to ensure that we continue to support this group…I would love to see an ice arena with the benefits it would bring to the region.”

He added though that additional money should not be granted.

“I do not believe we have the funds, nor would it be appropriate, to support the multiplex from tax dollars with other pressing issues in the community such as housing and the need for a central medical hub,” he said. “Until those topics are addressed my level of support for the multiplex is by supporting the referendum.”

Randy Oliwa agreed that the referendum’s results should be respected.

“It was the residents that by way of referendum that supported the $450,000 operating fund for it and as an elected official and member of council I have an obligation to uphold the decision until I hear from the community that the support is no longer there. I haven’t heard that yet,” he said.

He spoke highly of the West Coast Multiplex Society, which he touted as being led by committed and passionate individuals.

“Let’s not discourage ideas, lets encourage ideas and people with passion that have an optimistic outlook,” he said.

He noted that he himself had voted against the project in the referendum, but said he has come around on it since then after meeting with hockey parents, society members and seeing their work.

Kevin Cortes was the only candidate to call for another referendum to be held.

He noted the referendum was held in 2012 and the community’s needs have changed since then.

“I would be looking at putting another referendum out,” he said. “We do have other pressing needs that should be addressed in our community as we move forward…It’s not that I’m against the multiplex, but I think we really need to take a strong look at what the actual costs are going to be and how we’re going to support it.

He added Ucluelet must also make sure the entire region will support the project and questioned whether Tofino’s incoming new council will still back the project.

Bill Irving spoke to driving to Port Alberni with five hockey players at 3 a.m.

He said the multiplex Society must be encouraged and supported and expressed confidence that the society will be able to adapt to the community’s concerns.

“I think it’s very important to support people who put in such hard work and have changed their plans several times. I think that’s crucial,” he said. “For me, the first step would be to sit down with the society as a council and say what do we need to do to support you rather than presume anything…I’m very supportive of people who stick their neck out and [I’m] very supportive of that communication so that we’re all on the same page working together finding solutions.”

Supporting youth

The candidates were asked how they would encourage youth engagement in the community and help local kids participate in activities and events.

Randy Oliwa said both youth and seniors need better public transportation options and spoke to Ucluelet’s efforts to become an Age Friendly Community.

“It’s strollers to walkers,” he said. “What benefits our seniors can benefit our youth and everybody in between.”

He said there are programs currently operating within the region.

“They just need funding,” he said. “So, let’s get creative with our resort municipality funding that we have and let’s utilize that to benefit our local youth and our local seniors and our entire region.”

Kevin Cortes said the lack of transportation to get back and forth is a regional issue that should be handled by working together with neighbouring governments.

“Then we can get rid of a lot of transportation issues,” he said.

Bill Irving spoke about the potential for Ucluelet getting a new school and said the district must be active in ensuring access to the gym is not lost.

Mayco Noel said youth are also struggling to feel they have a voice in the community and should be encouraged to participate.

He said several youth delegations had presented to council over the past four years.

“I always found that there’s no filter when they speak about what’s going on in the community and that’s sometimes refreshing,” he said.

He said youth need to be encouraged to join Ucluelet’s Recreation Commission.

“At this time there is no youth that are on the committee and we definitely need to have that voice,” he said.

Improving transportation

The candidates were asked how they would tackle Ucluelet’s lack of public transportation.

READ MORE: West Coast transit pilot soaring

Kevin Cortes reiterated that transportation must be created through regional collaboration.

Irving added Highway 4 must be upgraded.

“We’ve got one way in and out of here and it’s got to be safe,” he said.

Mayco Noel suggested plans are in the works and that BC Transit is looking at a regional solution.

“In the very near future we will see before us a regional BC Transit system of some sort. They’re talking to the players, they’re talking to the ACRD. It’s not a Ucluelet thing. It’s going to take all parties,” he said. “It could end up being something where it’s a referendum like our multiplex where [you’re asked] ‘Are you going to be ok with another $200 on your property tax that helps fund that,’ and I don’t think there’s anybody in the room that’s going to be objecting to that.”

Oliwa spoke to Tofino’s Summer Shuttle program.

“It’s an existing system, and much like an existing business, the easiest route is to partner with something that’s established and currently operating and successful. That’s usually your best bang for your buck. It may not be the end all solution but it would get us going,” he said.

He said such a service would fill a clear need while long term solutions were hashed out with B.C. Transit.

“We have the ability to do something for the 2019 season,” he said.

He added Ucluelet’s walkability should also be improved so that locals and visitors can walk around town comfortably.

READ MORE: Regional transportation talks continue

Transparent governance

The candidates were asked how they would ensure open and transparent governance, if elected.

Bill Irving said a steady stream of information should flow from the office to the community.

He committed to keeping regular office hours for community members to have access and said committees should be struck and reinvigorated to “work with people and encourage communication.”

Mayco Noel said the district has done well to be transparent over council’s last term.

“Maintaining transparency is done by performing all decisions and discussions in public, which we do,” he said, acknowledging some closed meetings are necessary for legal issues to be discussed. “I believe we are transparent, but people want more.”

He suggested council meetings could be videotaped to allow more members of the public to watch their elected leaders make decisions, but noted setting that up would cost money.

He committed to being more active on social media.

Randy Oliwa pledged to launch ‘Mayor Mondays’ to engage with the community.

“It is my first commitment as your new mayor,” he said. “My belief is that the mayor should be readily available to the community by providing a consistent and open door policy and invite the community to meet with them regularly.”

He said the invitation was not for developers or special interest groups.

“This is down to earth, back to basics, local government where every resident should feel welcome to come sit in your public building, you’re the ones who paid for it, and bring forward not only your concerns and your issues, but your ideas,” he said.

Kevin Cortes said he would continue to be the “open book,” the community knows him to be.

“As mayor, of course, you have to be a little more guarded to answering questions, but not to listening,” he said. “It’s all about being open.”

He said he would host informal “coffee house style” talks between council and the community for concerns to be raised and ideas presented. He said it is important for residents to have an opportunity to ask questions and get answers.

“There’s enough people in the community that if there’s a concern they can come up with ideas,” he said. “I’m just one citizen. I’ve got my ideas of what I want, that doesn’t mean that’s what everybody wants. Open transparency for me is having the community be involved at pretty much all stages.”

Leading a novice council

With only one incumbent amongst Ucluelet’s ten candidates for council, each candidate for mayor was asked how they would handle their council’s lack of experience in the next term.

Mayco Noel said he has heard much discussion around the community about the lack of experience among council candidates and said that he himself was like “a deer in headlights” when he first joined council in 2014.

“It takes time to get used to the council chamber. You usually sit on your hands and the next thing you know, it’s over. But, there’s critical information that I found that I would have found more handy to know upfront,” he said.

He said outgoing councillors should meet with new councillors to bring them up to speed on policies and processes using a “team-approach.”

“The council that are leaving, they have a lot of value to bring to the new council and I think that [conversation] needs to happen formally, not in the Co-op Grocery store,” he said.

Randy Oliwa said when he first joined council 10 years ago, he was handed a box of information with no dialogue.

He said he would work with staff to develop a workshop for new councillors to learn about their new role and what staff is doing.

“I’m going to work with the council so that they have a nice transition, unlike what I experienced when I was first elected,” he said.

Kevin Cortes said collaboration would be his key strategy and that he communicates with many people in his role as the community’s Harbour Manager.

“I have the skills to lead. I have the skills to follow. I’ve worked with the district. I’ve worked from the inside out,” he said.

He added that, if elected, he would be one of the new faces as he is the only mayoral candidate with no council experience.

“I think I could lead from that position as an equal, not from the top looking down,” he said.

Bill Irving said councillors are always learning.

“I always look at a new council member who has proven themself to the community, gets voted in, has skills and talents that are ready to go, you learn on the job,” he said.

“Even after decades as a mayor and council member you’re always learning and if you aren’t you’re falling behind. So I just see a pool of new people, tremendous creativity, opportunity, uniqueness and the mayor just needs to make sure that they’re able to focus to get things moving along from success to success.”

READ MORE: VIDEO: Advanced Voting Day in Ucluelet

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