All Candidates Meeting - Follow-Up Q&A from Candidate for the position of Councillor, Leighann Ruel
Port McNeill, B.C. September 30, 2022 - Not all questions submitted by the public for the All Candidates Meeting were heard at the event! 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 Councillor Candidate Leighann Ruel.
Municipal and SD85 All Candidates Meeting
Summary of Publicly Submitted Questions
Leighann Ruel's Responses
- What is your stance on the Old School, tear down, re-purpose, tear down and rebuild or other-wise?
The topic of what to do with the old school building is a polarizing issue. I must admit, I have a bit of a soft spot for this old building (I worked out of it daily for a decade). However, its future needs to be decided. It is vital that community consultation play a significant role in this process, because whether it stays or goes, it will come with significant costs.
It is time to invest in our community. I can see the possibilities that a multi-use recreation space would hold for our community. My vision would see this building removed and replaced. While the cost would be higher to remove and rebuild, we would have the opportunity to create a planned and purposeful community space.
This is a large piece of property that could encompass many of the communities needs and wants in one central location. I envision two purpose-built facilities that are anchored by a “park” like central outdoor space that provides connection to a new seniors’ care (bathing centre) & recreation facility that includes, different levels of housing options for seniors. The adjacent facility would include a recreation space with flexible configurations to create large or small meeting rooms and a kitchen facility for community activities and programs, such as a childcare service, multi purpose rooms for community groups, workshops, trainings.
The outdoor space would fulfill our recreation aspirations, such as a skate park, playground, adult fitness, covered performance stage and picnic area while anchoring these new facilities. Working with business owners, connection to the museum and downtown core could be provided with an access lane from Campbell way, this would provide space for community connections of all residents.
·- 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?
Will you lobby to accommodate and attract live aboard boaters? Why, why not?
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?
With the housing shortage in Port McNeill, I am not opposed to exploring live aboard options, however the community and environmental impact as well as the existing infrastructure needed to support full time live aboard options would need to be explored in greater detail before I would be able to definitively answer this question.
I will admit at this time I am not overly familiar with the workings of the harbour, it is my understanding that there have been significant upgrades to the harbour in recent years, with this being said I would be relying on the Harbour committee and the harbour users to bring forth recommendations for improvements, then council would look at prioritizing these improvements within the scope of the harbour budget and the availability grant. In regards to expansion, I am not aware of plans for expansion or whether this would be possible as we are generally landlocked. I feel this would however be determined by a needs assessment completed over a few boating seasons and would then be financed in part by provincial and federal funding grants, users fees and municipal funds set aside for harbour improvements.
- The Community Forest Reserve has been saved. How do you envision community forest funds being used now and into the future?
It is my understanding that the Community Forest Funds are to be reinvested back into the community. I envision these funds being allocated to different community project and infrastructure upgrades as both needed or prioritized both short and long term, with a percentage invested for future projects. We have seriously neglected our roads and sidewalks and this has lead to accessibility issues that need to be addressed, it is time to invest in small projects that have been pushed aside but that really do impact the daily lives of our residents.
- What is your experience in understanding and/or managing public finances?
I don’t have experience managing public finances, but I have been reading up on the municipal finance act. I do coordinate a multi million dollar program and sit on a governance board of a large non-profit provincially funded agency. I have successfully operated 3 personal businesses over the past 30 years and I can understand balance sheets, and participate in preparing an operational budget, but honestly this is why we have a financial officer, an auditor and financial systems in place.
- New councils often come with new ideas. Demonstrating your knowledge of Town Finance, how would go about funding the most significant change you are suggesting?
This would of course depend on the project and the funds allocated during the budget planning process. I understand that taxation revenues and fees are generally the largest source of income for municipalities that come from various taxes and fees paid by individuals and businesses.
The second is the non taxation revenues such as the community forest, grants and other monetary transfers to local governments. These include conditional grants that are dedicated to specific purposes, while other grant opportunities may be uses for priorities identified by local governments.
I feel that it is essential for council to be knowledgeable in the grant application process and be ready for opportunities as they present themselves.
I have written and been successful in many large proposals.
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?
My understanding is that this piece of property was gifted (sold under value) to the town to be used as a park and recreational space. I believe it should remain this way. This area and the trail system between Beach camp the end of mine road is well utilized by residents. I would like to see the trail system expanded to include more trail spurs and promoted as a recreation area for residents and visitors, with parking encouraged at the Beach Camp end of the trail head to avoid parking issue on Beach Drive.
- What are your thoughts about recognizing Indigenous Rights and Title where it overlaps with vacant municipal land?
Honestly, today I am surprised that this is actually a question. We absolutely must recognize and respect the rights and title of Indigenous peoples. We are guests on their unceded traditional territory. This is not only respectful, but also in the spirit of reconciliation and collaboration as we build trust in relationships and partnerships. This includes working in partnership to create land use agreements and gaining permissions for proposed developments on Indigenous land.
- 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.
I am not opposed to vacation rentals in Port McNeill, but I do feel that this is an issue that should be looked at from many perspectives. There are many types of vacation rentals. The traditional Air B&B were homes that were rented out short term and were maintained as the owner’s primary residence or was a secondary unit on the property. This has changed over the years. With the housing crisis this is an issue many communities in BC are challenged with, but it is happening. We need to look at the ways that it impacts the community and the benefit that it can offer to the economy of our community. I would propose creating a business category and requiring properties to operate under a business licence, and possibly creating a surcharge on residential taxes for these properties.
- Do you view short-term rentals as a business? To what extent or end can people participate in commerce out of their own home?
Yes, I view short term rentals as business and as such would require a business license. I also believe that people have a right to participate I business opportunities out of their homes, as long as it is not negatively affecting the daily lives of residents or the community at large and respects the adjacent properties and noise bylaws.
- What is your perception of the status of the resource sector, and how do you think that relates to community planning?
Port McNeill is a resource-based community and was founded on forestry, my perception is that the resource sector in our region is healthy and making concerted efforts to shift towards sustainability. Port McNeill has been relatively stable in terms of job creation and resource sector jobs, however we seem to be gaining new residents daily.
Community planning around housing, infrastructure that allows for manageable community growth, daycare, recreational opportunities need to be a priority so we can maintain an healthy community that support not only our primary economy of forestry but our secondary economies such as retail, personal care services, restaurants, health and educational services and tourism.
- 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? For the others, what is your position on urban chickens in Port McNeill.
I am not in favor of urban chickens; this is large part due to lot size. I do not feel that our lots sizes are large enough to accommodate chickens in a way that it would not impact neighboring properties. I am also concerned with the maintain factor and the ability for the town to monitor bylaw compliance. As much as I can see the benefit raising chicken can have for children and for the vision of food security, I however would not be in support of urban chickens.
- 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?
I would like to see a more collaborative approach to recreation in our communities. We have a lot of passionate people about different activities and it is time to collaborate and create a solid framework to advance opportunities all residents in a variety of recreation areas. This includes parks, playgrounds, trails, adventure type activities and organized activities. We need a town square type feel a space that can be utilized by all of the community. I would absolutely be in favor of a paid recreation coordinator – this has been suggested in the past and has been a vision of mine for a long time. A coordinator could pull together community resources and create a collaborative approach to recreation, offer activities and programs for children, youth, teen, adults and seniors.
Utilizing the resources, we have in community. This has been difficult in the past as we have many recreations spaces all owned or operated by separate identities that are all struggling with maintenance and upgrades (such as the pool, curling club and area, scout hall and the Lion’s and Community Hall) I would like to see collaboration agreements made that would encourage the use of existing facilities.
I feel that the climbing wall needs to be removed from the school if the school district will not train facilitators to supervise this activity or open it up for community members to complete the training required to operate the climbing wall. This was funded by community donations and should be open to the community. It could be a great economic driver and run as a non-business to support other recreation opportunities.
- What are your thoughts on having a waterfront park and gathering place geared to children and families?
Most may know that I am 100% in favor of a park, playgroup and gathering space. I would love to see it at the waterfront as I feel this is a central space for both residents and tourists alike – however location needs to suit the needs of the community and if it makes more sense to be located else where – such as the old school property then it will be decided on by the majority.
HR, ADMINISTRATION, GOVERNANCE
- Do you think the Town of Port McNeill & communication strategy with its residents is adequate? If not what kind of changes would you like to see occur?
I acknowledge that there is no perfect communication method, living in the world of social media is amazing but not everyone uses or has access to social media, so I appreciate that we still have a printed town log, and I enjoy the (newer) format. I am, however not loving the new website and do not find it user friendly – so I believe that could be improved on.
I am a huge fan of the new area signage and can see this being beneficial to get community messages relayed to the public – This would be fantastic to also have this type of signage in a central community space.
- 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?
I have the ability to work cooperatively within a group even if I don’t always agree with the perspective. In fact, I can do this very effectively. I have training in conflict resolution and management, and I am able to set aside my personal preferences to focus on the bigger picture. Council needs to be committed to being the voice of the people and it will be that voice that I hear when making decisions at the council table.
- What does & being the face of Port McNeill mean to you and how do you see yourself encouraging positivity and development in our town?
I take this role very seriously and understand how to engage and interact respectfully and professionally. I love this community and this what I intend to focus on during this term.
- What is your commitment to this council? Will you run for another office during your elected term?
I will not be seeking another office during my term as councillor.
- What is your plan to address the Health Care crisis we are experiencing in Port McNeill?
I acknowledge this is not an issue that can be fixed at the municipal level but our ability to advocate does – I feel that Gaby and the council have done an amazing job to date advocating for the needs of our community. I see the need to build supports with in the community such as housing, childcare and recreation that addresses the needs of employees but also creates the lifestyle that will assist with the recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals. We need to maintain sustained pressure on Island Health to create better working conditions and HR policies for those that live in our region and continue to advocate for our needs.
- How aggressively will you compete within the region to get more health infrastructure specifically in Port McNeill, like a bathing centre?
This needs to happen! As a community and as council we need to aggressively advocate and seek funding options to create better services for seniors including not only a bathing and personal care centre, but housing options – there are several areas within the community that have been identified for expanded senior facilities.
- What are your thoughts on our daycare crisis and what steps are you going to take to improve it?
To be honest – this is my area of expertise and I have many plans and ideas to create and improve childcare within the community – but it honestly starts with the community…society has to see value in the service. There is a song lyric that say “you don’t know what you have until its gone”
The loss of a large childcare facility has had profound impact on the families of our community and will have significant long-term implications for our community if those childcare spaces are not recovered. Reliable and accessible childcare services is required for a healthy local economy – to allow our work force to work.
Where do we go from here to enhance childcare services for our community? There are 3 main factors that have led to the childcare crisis in Port McNeill, and these issues are not unique to Port McNeill.
I understand the issues in childcare. I have been actively working in childcare for more then 30 years including managing Huckleberry house for more then a decade and was a founding partner of Little Stars.
I am also an instructor at North Island College in the Early Childhood Care & Education program for the past 15 years training many of the ECE’s both here and in Port Hardy.
There is work actively being done to develop a community childcare plan. With the recent transition of childcare to the Ministry of Education portfolio, BC will be seeing changes to the delivery of childcare services – and as you heard at the candidates meeting from Trustee Paul Cann there are already steps being taken to address the care needs for school age children.
There is significant grant opportunities for investment in childcare infrastructure that we need to take advantage of as a community.
North Island College and SD#85 also have a dual credit option for Early Childhood Education that I would love to see utilized in the region to address some of the issues with staffing shortage.
It also means exploring other childcare options such as home-based childcare and working with agencies such as Pacific Care to support people seeking to create home based childcare programs and supporting existing childcare operators and valuing the work that they do within our community.
What are a couple steps that Port McNeill has or can take towards reconciliation?
· Show through actions the commitment and intent for the process of reconciliation.
· Land acknowledgements
· Respecting rights and title of indigenous peoples
· Honouring protocols
· Learning the truth and history of our local indigenous bands
· Seeking to understand the impacts of trauma
· Respecting and valuing diversity
· And recognizing the privilege afforded to us as a result of colonization