Tofino will elect a new mayor and two new councillors on March. 6. (Westerly file photo)

Tofino will elect a new mayor and two new councillors on March. 6. (Westerly file photo)

Tofino councillor candidates talk town’s biggest issues

‘What do you think is the biggest issue facing Tofino right now and how do you plan to address it?’

Tofino will elect a new mayor and two new municipal councillors on March 6. In an effort to keep the community informed of their choices, the Westerly News will be asking each candidate a question and publishing their answers in the newspapers leading up to the March 6 byelection. For this week, each candidate was asked ‘What do you think is the biggest issue facing Tofino right now and how do you plan to address it?’ Responses were limited to a maximum of 300 words. The mayoralty candidates’ responses can be found here. Below are the responses from Tofino’s seven candidates for councillor: Lindsay Whitefield, Ali Sawyer, Cathy Thicke, Jacky Challenger, Chris Heisterman, Stephen Ashton and Zak Cross. The order they appear was selected at random.

Lindsay Whitefield

There are currently many important issues facing Tofino, but if I had to choose one as the most pressing, it would be the Water Treatment Plant.

Without it we cannot continue to support the current rate of growth Tofino is experiencing. The cost associated with this project is far beyond what residents can reasonably support through taxation. To move forward with much needed developments such as affordable long-term housing, and improved recreational facilities, Tofino needs to ensure that we can meet the demand these developments will have on our water supply. In order to make sure the amazing individuals and families that make up our community are able to and want to stay here, these developments are critical, and directly tied to a robust water supply.

I have seen hard working, devoted Tofino families who do want to stay, end up moving away because they are unable to support their growing families in our community, and I would like to be a part of solving this dilemma.

Working with my fellow councillors and district staff I will continue to pursue creative and effective solutions to solve these extremely important issues.

Together we are better.

Ali Sawyer

That’s a tough one. Everyone living here has different experiences and expectations, and so to one person housing will seem like the biggest issue, while to someone else, the sewage plant or parking or daycare will be more important. Everything is interconnected. When we talk about building, we talk about water shortages. Commercial development, staff housing, people living in their vans, bylaw, community outreach programs, tourism.

We are lucky to have so many strong voices on council, and they are all champions of these issues and are working and will continue to work towards solutions, and I look forward to being a part of that.

Our green spaces and environment, and how we manage them. I don’t believe that this is our biggest issue, but I do think it is the most under voiced. While we are focused on solving the big problems, we can’t forget about what gives this town that feeling that we love, of being so close to nature, seeing it every day and knowing that we have something special.

I will work to ensure that when we are talking about new developments or rezoning applications we are looking at protecting tree coverage and undergrowth as much as possible, preserving our shoreline and beaches and trails. There is a reason that so many of us found our way here over the years and decided to stay, and if we lose that, it will not come back.

Cathy Thicke

I have had many phone calls and beach conversations in the last week. The main concern that I have heard is the sense that tourism is causing our community a burden. There are three main issues; the lack of funds to do the infrastructure upgrades needed ( water and sewer), the less tangible but very real sense of being overrun by shear numbers of people, and the lack of community say in Tourism.

Two suggestions to deal with this:

1. Determine the carrying capacity of our town in terms of water, sewer, and hospital volume. Look at the metrics and determine the numbers we can adequately bear. Hold a follow-up community conversation with this information, and make adjustments to to what we can do sustainably, based on the numbers.

We are a town of 2000 taxpayers, servicing often 10- 15,000 tourists per day in peak season, and we cannot continue the increase in numbers without understanding our carrying capacity and how this impacts the community residents.

2. A community-driven “Tourism growth management strategy”, as was first proposed in 2017 by Councillors Baert and myself. It was passed unanimously and remains a resolution of Council.

Jacky Challenger

Underlying many of the issues that I hear from community members is that they want to feel confident in their quality of life. This past summer was challenging and made obvious some of the consequences of exponential growth in tourism without the foundation of support for our community. Some of the most common concerns include housing, over-tourism, parking, recreation, daycare and environmental concerns. If we don’t learn to manage these, they will only become more difficult and will drive some of our valued community members and families away. To be able to address many of these issues our community is facing, some foundational infrastructure is needed first.

1. Sewage – A wastewater treatment plan should be a priority as a responsibility to our community and to the environment.

2. Water – Tofino is awaiting the results of a professional study that will provide further data and information on our water supply. Once we have this data, we can make better, informed decisions in regards to development.

These issues are well known and solutions are in the works already by the current council and district staff. If elected to council, I would advocate for these to be addressed as diligently as possible and in the meantime, support solutions for tourism management through education and awareness, parking, diverse housing options and recreation.

Chris Heisterman

The Proposed Sewage Treatment Plant is the biggest issue we currently face. This project is mandated by higher levels of government and Tofino runs the risk of being fined if we cannot complete it. This is/will be the largest strain we have on district funds going forward. I think every Tofitian agrees that we should not be pumping our sewage unchecked into the ocean.

Because of the enormity of this project, it really can effect everything. We need to be diligent/efficient so this project does not take away from other important priorities. Priorities like: housing, water supply, recreation, day care, arts, culture, and other environmental concerns.

The only way to address this issue is to work together as a community. I know that sounds like political jargon. Hear me out.

Unfortunately, we are at the whim of higher levels of government on this issue. Tofino needs to able to prove a united approach. Only then will federal and provincial government listen and give us more opportunity.

Being united will help us communicate our needs:

-higher levels of government understanding that the small population of Tofino can’t assume the most risk for such a large project/mandate

-more funding/grants

-permission to use MRDT (hotel tax) to support this project

-not being fined if we are unable to complete this project

I plan to unite council, district staff, environmental groups, business leaders, and concerned citizens so that this project is addressed effectively.

Stephen Ashton

Livability and quality of life are the most important issues facing Tofino. Councillors, upon being sworn in should take an oath that could be something like “At first, do no further harm to the life of a local”. Then measure any further by-laws or policies around this oath.

Our biggest threat to our community is locals moving away and more empty homes being used as vacation rentals. In Tofino, almost 50% of homes are owned by non-residents, people who do not live here. Whether that home is used for a vacation rental or left empty most of the year, it hollows out the fabric of a community. Local residents and families living and working year round in our community are our greatest asset.

Council has the ability to identify the issues most affecting residents. Further increasing taxes can force residents and families to leave for more affordable communities. The Covid crisis has allowed us time to re-evaluate what is important to us as individuals and as family. Governments at every level have shown that change can happen at a very broad range. It is this belief that gives me hope and is why I am running for council. Please Vote.

Zak Cross

I believe that Tofino has a number of big issues it currently faces.

The most pressing is probably the relationship with tourism, and the most important is undoubtedly Tofino’s affordability. Although these are distinct issues, they do have a lot of overlap and ideally can be resolved in tandem. As a councillor I would definitely support initiatives to slow down commercial development in order to allow Tofino to “catch up” and ensure we maintain our balance. I would also support taking a closer look at Tofino’s infrastructure costs and create policy to ensure the burden is equally shared.

It’s important that the people visiting this area are contributing to its most basic costs.

Potential ideas could be using the MRDT or pay per use services like parking and/or public showers to offset costs. I think its important to remember that tourism has brought many benefits to this town but left to grow based on demand it will not be sustainable.

Another focus needs to be on housing. Both on the need for long term and also in managing the use of residential properties commercially. Housing affordability is important for sustainable communities.

We need our older residents and our children to be able to afford to stay.

I support the concept of the Tofino Housing Corporation to help and although I believe that government has a role in promoting more affordable housing I would also like to see more support for private development and incentives for those who can afford to provide more long term housing. Making provisions for tiny homes could be a progressive way of increasing density.

I would also support the current initiative to create a split assessment for property values as a means to help with the effect that vacation rentals are having on affordability.

READ MORE: Tofino’s councillor candidates lay out their motivations for running

READ MORE: Tofino to ask for leeway in mail-in voting restrictions for March byelection

READ MORE: Tofino officially pegs March 6 for municipal byelection


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