All Candidates Meeting - Follow-Up Q&A from Candidate for the Office of Mayor, James
Port McNeill, B.C. October 4th, 2022 - Not all questions submitted by the public were heard at the September 28th All Candidates Meeting (recording here.) The candidates have the opportunity to reply to the submitted questions in writing, and it's our pleasure to share those replies with you as they become available.
Here are the replies to the suite of questions from candidate for Mayor, James Furney.
Municipal and SD85 All Candidates Meeting Questions
Summary of Answers – James Furney, Candidate for Mayor
What is your stance on the Old School, tear down, re-purpose, tear down and rebuild or other-wise?
Politicians are famous for kicking the can down the road, and the Old School is a testament to years of that behavior. A decision will need to be made that is not popular with everyone – especially the sentimental ones of us.
The Old School is in such condition that it’s time to decommission it. We don’t need further expensive surveys to know that the time for a renovation or repurpose is long past.
In 2015 the Town had a survey done on the building that validated its poor condition and thereby its unsuitability for grant monies. Renovations and repurpose require asbestos and environmental remediation to the studs and foundation. Project management soft costs include but are not limited to complete mechanical (HVAC) engineering and upgrades, electrical engineering costs, architectural costs, design and programming requirements, meeting code requirements and seismic upgrades, all of which is made exponentially more difficult fitting into the shell of an old space. Couple those processes with the skyrocketing cost of materials and inflation, and we have ourselves a generational tax burden specifically tied to that site.
After the 2015 survey, in 2016 and 2018 the conversation continued getting kicked along the road without any real acknowledgment that this building was in fact coming to the end of life. The facility is also situated adjacent a creek with access over two creek crossings with restrictions, and the property is flanked by private land, so it’s sub-optimal as a community showcase location for a new build when we have better views and access in other locations.
As mayor I would pursue the opportunity for the property to be sold, with caveats and zoning for development in line with the vision we see for that part of our community.
o Port McNeill Harbour serves a vast area of this island, the Islands and the mainland. What is your plan to make our harbour better for all commercial users?
The harbour needs to be utilized to its full capacity. Currently our main wharf head for service and delivery adjacent the ferry terminal has been in disrepair due to two weak pilings for over eight months. All commercial traffic that needs the crane is bypassing our community and there is no deep-water vessel servicing. Keeping on top of maintenance and repair is critical in functional marine infrastructure and feasibly.
o Will you lobby to accommodate and attract live aboard boaters? Why, why not?
I would open up the discussion again. The bylaw was put in place to maintain a clean, safe harbour, and it’s been taken to a no-liveaboard stance. There are mechanisms to ensure that waste and safety concerns are taken care of, and liveaboard boats are insured. There are healthy liveaboard communities up and down the coast we can look to for guidance and in mitigating the issues of concern. In this time of a housing crisis pressure can be eased by the thoughtful inclusion of liveaboards.
o Are there plans to extend the harbour? If so, which portion, municipal or small craft, and how do you see this being managed or financed?
There are no current plans to increase the harbour footprint, however we could better utilize what we have within its boundaries, including renewing the small sand beach near the boat launch that many families used to enjoy.
The Community Forest Reserve has been saved. How do you envision community forest funds being used now and into the future?
I don’t feel it’s responsible to hold this in reserve for some “what if” circumstance of the future, for instance a major project or infrastructure. The Town has immediate needs that may not qualify for funding that this can be put towards, and this money can also be used for 50/50 funding opportunities. Thoughtful planning and engagement processes are needed for deciding the future of these funds, and for our vision of a livable town.
What is your experience in understanding and/or managing public finances?
I’ve spent four years as the Area C Representative for the Regional District of Mount Waddington, learning about the regional aspects of fiscal management and how we’re collectively allocating our funds at that level. I’ve taken great interest in fiscal prudence in our town and optimizing finance, and have concern for the health of our town finance with the current levels of inflation. I’ve also sat on the Board of ICBC, which managed a significant portfolio of public funds and a budget of 1B dollars, and own and manage a business which is subject to the ebbs and flows of the economy.
New councils often come with new ideas. Demonstrating your knowledge of Town Finance, how would you go about funding the most significant change you are suggesting?
I believe a penny saved is two pennies earned. Anyone who’s run a budget knows that if there is no extra coming in, you have to slow down on what is going out.
LAND USE & DEVELOPMENT
The Town of Port McNeill owns waterfront land at the end of Beach Drive, known locally as Hoy Bay, what is your vision for this land, what should be done with it?
This parcel of land was given to the town at way below market value with the intent that it would be a park and enjoyed for future generations. It offers biodiversity and public access, and it take visionaries to keep these types of places as parks.
What are your thoughts about recognizing Indigenous Rights and Title where it overlaps with vacant municipal land?
The Federal and Provincial Government have significant work to do in land management. On a municipal front, we share a lot of public resources and services with Indigenous neighbours, and that is where we should focus. I plan to keep building those relationships and learn how we can create healthier communities together.
The issue of vacation rentals (Air BnB, for instance) was deferred during the rezoning process, in favor of maintaining the current Bed and Breakfast bylaw. What is your position on vacation rentals in Port McNeill?
This is a complex issue. We need all the housing stock we can get; I think it’s important to keep the community as full of residents as we can. However, this issue also needs advocacy at higher levels, it’s not as simple as it first seems. Provincially there are barriers to landlords which discourage people from renting when bad tenants get in, or limit landlords ability to equitably finance improvements in rental spaces between tenants. Balancing this equation is key, and I plan to try and do this for our community and engage in the larger conversation.
There are distinct users for Air BnB’s, for Hotel dwellers, for campers. Recognizing these users and what they bring to our economy is also important. If we are going to prioritize tourism, we need to service each of these users without compromising the ability of our residents to access a home. Building capacity in the stock is key.
Do you view short-term rentals as a business? To what extent or end can people participate in commerce out of their own home?
Short term rentals generate income, and are therefore a viable business. Home business should be encouraged with the caveat that you should not impact your neighbours in doing so.
What is your perception of the status of the resource sector and how do you think that relates to community planning?
Forestry is practiced with the intent that the trees will grow back and generationally their family will have the opportunities to also work in the forest as part of a sustainable industry. Areas being logged now were being logged by my father in the 1950’s. We have to be cognizant of the impacts of the boom-and-bust cycle of some aspects of specific resource sectors, and plan for sustainable, affordable community development backstopped by good, diverse business and opportunity.
For the incumbents, Re: urban chickens, can you explain the position you took during the bylaw rezoning process and your position on urban chickens if re-elected?
Much in the way home-based business can be managed and mustn’t negatively impact your neighbours, backyard chickens need the same consideration. No attractants for wild animals, no smells, no noise are key considerations in making community livable. If we can find mechanisms to ensure this management is done, there may be a place for this mechanism of food security in rural communities. But if the fowl are foul, then no.
Please explain what you think went wrong in the conversation around re-zoning this year?
Given the space allotted for this question, I would prefer to ask “What went right...?”
What are your ideas to increase recreation opportunities in Port McNeill? Specifically, are you in favor of increasing staff resources dedicated to recreation, like has recently been done in Port Hardy, and what is your vision for affordable development of recreational infrastructure?
In 1978 a recreation director was hired by the Town of Port McNeill. The result was the immediate exodus of volunteers, and that ground many of our community events to a halt. When one person at the table is on wages, others are less enthusiastic to give their time for free. Where our energy should be focused is on fully supporting those volunteers and community groups that drive public recreation.
What are your thoughts on having a waterfront park and gathering place geared to children and families?
The old sand beach in the harbour is an example of good, sustainable development. I’m all for free activities for families, and we should focus on promoting the natural elements of our community such as the harbourfront, and providing safe places for recreation.
HR, ADMINISTRATION, GOVERNANCE
Do you think the Town of Port McNeill's communication strategy with its residents is adequate? If not what kind of changes would you like to see occur?
I’d like to see more person-to-person engagement, and responsiveness encouraged from the Town to people who call in regard to their comments, questions and concerns. The opportunity to speak to people one-on-one is key in making people feel connected.
Not all ideas and priorities move forward. How well would you work with Council to get 1 or 2 ideas moved forward that aren’t your favourite? How would you personally determine which idea gets precedence over all the other worthy ideas?
The mayor is the last vote, and we listen and respond to community and council. Collaboratively, as council we ought to sit down and learn from each other at the outset what the other councillors visions are. There are many ways to align visions and ideas when you use your ears and mouth in the 2:1 ratio in which the creator provided them.
What does "being the face of Port McNeill" mean to you and how do you see yourself encouraging positivity and development in our town?
The face of Port McNeill is made of every person in this community. It’s Anna at the gas station greeting people every morning. It’s Kim caring for your cats and your liquor needs. It’s Berni making sure your mail gets to you. Those people are the faces of Port McNeill and representing them is an honour.
What is your commitment to this council? Will you run for another office during your elected term?
What is your plan to address the Health Care crisis we are experiencing in Port McNeill?
I am an advocate for localized hiring practices and local learning opportunities. We’re seeing a disconnect of people living in community having to work elsewhere due to agency and travel nurse rules, and we’re seeing centralization of hiring portals and HR in other regions where our own youth are applying for jobs here and not having their applications reach the right “hiring portal” to get them hired into their home communities. We need to push for systems change, to allow people who want to work here, to work here.
How aggressively will you compete within the region to get more health infrastructure specifically in Port McNeill, like a bathing centre?
The North Island needs to complement our neighbouring communities and not compete with them. And yes we need a bathing centre, the two points of this question are not necessarily tied.
More seniors are aging in place, and there is very little housing available here that is suitable for seniors to transition to (i.e. single level, small yards, etc). What will you do to support seniors housing?
This is a complex question. We need to review our zoning and ensure that complexes, adjoining patio homes, and other uses are permitted. Creating more single-family lots, for instance, isn’t helpful for seniors. We can encourage development if we have good zoning and the demographic information prepared for potential builders.
What do you think about investing into the large bubble demographics of seniors?
If this question is about demographics and housing, I think that can be managed. For instance, I support multi-use housing with accessibility considerations, versus a seniors-specific build. Where generations can blend as needed for socialization and support.
What do you think the number one actionable solution to Port McNeill’s housing crisis is?
Be flexible with zoning.
What are your thoughts on our daycare crisis and what steps are you going to take to improve it?
One solution: I’d advocate for the schools to be used 12 hours a day instead of 5-7hours on average. CUPE has solutions in other school districts that we can model a solution after. I’m open to exploring the innovative ideas that are out there, without unduly competing with the great existing childcare services people are offering in community.
What are your thoughts on the current values of tax businesses are paying in our community?
I would say our business community has increasingly struggled over the years with out-of-town shopping, sourcing goods elsewhere, and internet purchasing. Lately we’ve come through a pandemic and a labour strike. We need to be competitive in our approach and ensure the Towns needs are financially met while we support our businesses through moderate taxation, and shopping and sourcing local.
What is the number one thing that Port McNeill can do to attract business?
Keep our dollars North. We need to get out of the way of entrepreneurs and not let bureaucracy get in the way. This might be through good zoning and moderate taxation.
We can also support our Chamber of Commerce and other grassroots organizations who know the needs of business and have a mandate of supporting them and have lost most of their municipal support in recent years.
September 30th is Orange Shirt Day. What are a couple steps that Port McNeill has or can take towards reconciliation?
Indigenous communities have asked us to participate in bearing witness to the current and historical inequities that have impacted communities. We need to foster a mutual understanding and learn together in order to take steps that are meaningful for everyone.
The Mayor has the important duty of overseeing the day to day operations and working closely with the Chief Administrative Officer. If elected, how often would you be in the Town Office, how much time can dedicate to the job?
It’s not about oversight, it’s about accountability. It’s about someone in leadership being held accountable when things go wrong, and applauding the efforts of others when things go right. If elected, I will be in the Town Office as needed, responsive to the circumstances as they arise, and prioritizing time spent for the betterment of the Town – which all come back to accountability and partnership between staff and leadership. It’s a team effort.