By RYAN KING
– with files from Jaymie L. White and Rosalyn Roy
Residents across the province will choose their next Town councillors on Tuesday, Sept. 28. Channel-Port aux Basques has eleven candidates vying for six seats.
Candidate Terry Ingram declined to be interviewed for this article.
Mark Andrews has lived in Port aux Basques for most of his life and is running for municipal election for the first time. He is focusing on serving as a strong voice for town residents, with no particular issues on his radar to tackle should he be elected.
“The police force is a big issue. It would be great to have some more members in town. I know they’re short right now. So yeah, that would be an outstanding issue for everyone, I do believe,” said Andrews.
Andrews believes that by keeping an open mind he will keep the town open to opportunities.
“I would definitely like to say that I don’t want any missed opportunities for the town and I would have a strong voice for this town. And the thing is an open mind with every issue and everything that comes across the board on the council. council is put there by the people, so I believe that the council should work for the people.”
Jerome Battiste has served four terms on council and is seeking a fifth because he enjoys working for the people to help the town move forward. This experience on council has afforded Battiste the knowledge of what issues the town faces.
“I’m familiar with the issues, which include affordable housing, paving more streets and dealing with different government agencies to get funding for various projects,” said Battiste.
A pressing matter for Battiste is the housing crisis in town, which he believes will require approaching the government for funding.
“One issue is the affordable housing. I would like to move forward on this project by applying for more funding from different government agencies.”
Chester Coffin has been on council for over 23 years. He is running for re-election because there were things that never got done due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coffin noted that a major issue with the town is the number of police, which will be addressed with further talks with the police commissioner. He noted that the lack of police officers in the town ties into the issue of rising vandalism and the inability of police to catch those responsible.
“This is a major thing,” said Coffin. “That’s one of our big things right now.”
Also, on the agenda for Coffin is beautifying local beaches.
“We’re trying to beautify all that beach, especially Grand Bay beach. I mean that’s one of our main things we’ve been trying to do now for some number of years. And now people have gotten used to it. We get just as many people on Grand Bay beach as you get in Cheeseman’s Park.”
Gwen Davis has lived in Port aux Basques for over 20 years. Originally from Mary’s Harbour, she worked for that town as an administrative assistant and as acting town manager. While she may be new to running for council in Port aux Basques, she does have municipal government experience.
“This is something I wanted to do for a very long time, but I didn’t have the time to put into it in the past, which is why I didn’t take it on, but now I feel that I do. And we’ve had some changes in our life with my son going to university and whatnot, and I have the time to put forward now,” said Davis.
Regarding issues that the town is facing, she noted that the number of police officers in the town is a concern.
“The number I guess is the first thing that comes to mind, because I do understand that we’ve had some issues with staffing and whatnot recently. It would certainly be an issue because it concerns all of us,” said Davis.
It is not just the RCMP that is understaffed. Davis is focused on healthcare too.
“I’m aware that living in rural areas will always present challenges in regard to our health care. Having to travel for specialist appointments alone can be difficult enough, especially for those who have to travel often. The expense of travelling back and forth to larger hospitals is enormous, not to mention hazardous given the less than favourable driving conditions we are faced with in winter months. We have a beautiful facility with the necessary equipment and highly qualified staff, so I see no logical reason to outsource simple procedures such as ultrasounds. We have to fight to keep our services or else what will we end up with down the road? The same goes for the RCMP staffing ‘situation’ for lack of a better word. These services are vital to our community, and we shouldn’t accept this.”
Melvin Keeping has worked for the town of Port aux Basques for 36 years, including 7 years as the Recreation Director/Facilities Manager, 29 years as the Town Manager, and the last four years as councilor. He’s seeking re-election, “simply because I love my community.”
Keeping said that there will be many issues for the new council to tackle.
“There are a number of pressing issues with the town that’s going to have to be dealt with over the next four years,” said Keeping. “One of my issues was the Grand Bay Bottom/Grand Bay Area sewer outfall system. The federal government were implementing plans. That had to be addressed, and we moved on that, Phase One, and we’re getting ready. We’ve got approval for Phase Two, so I want to be there to see that through and continue moving the project until the sewer outfall and that whole area, the Grand Bay West area is taken care of.”
Housing for seniors is another pressing issue for Keeping.
“It’s been four years, and we did get the approvals in our first year, but because of the lack of funds, what we had received wasn’t enough to do the project as we had planned,” said Keeping. “Lobbying efforts over the last three years have paid off because the project that was a million is well over two million now, and we’ve got to go ahead now to move forward, and through federal and provincial lobbying and efforts and meetings in St. John’s, which I was a key part of. I was chair of the economic development committee, which was one of their items that had to be dealt with, and hopefully before this fall, we’ll be starting some of the groundwork.”
This has been Jim Lane’s first term on council, and he is running for re-election because of unfinished business. One item that will be addressed by council during its new budget will be town taxes.
“Council has done a lot of work in the last three years. We were able to work very hard to, you know, not have tax increases for residents,” said Lane, which is part of why he wants to continue serving on council. “You know, to keep working on the tax levies. To try our utmost to ensure that it is affordable for seniors, and everyone really.”
As part of the Public Works committee, Lane is proud of the work he’s done over the last four years and wants do more, including beautification and increasing tourism.
“We’ve realigned a lot of things within the workforce, with regards to the Bruce Arena. We’ve obtained a real fair amount of government funding to be able to do the work that was needed now. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done.”
Lane wants to see things through.
“I’d like to spend the next four years working on these items,” shared Lane. “If I win, it’ll be great and I’ll enjoy it. If I lose, that’s fine too. I mean, that’s a people choice, so I’m very glad that there’s a lot of people running.”
This is Stephen Osmond’s first time running for council. He believes that he will bring a new perspective since he was a rotational and seasonal worker before settling back home.
“I can offer a different perspective some others cannot, as I have lived on both sides of the fence, so to speak, and know the pros and cons of each,” said Osmond.
One issue Osmond will tackle is the difficulties individuals face establishing businesses in town.
“Since I’ve been running, the first thing I’ve noticed is that a couple people have been telling me that they tried to set up some businesses here, successfully in the end, but they said the town was a hindrance, not a help,” shared Osmond. “According to them, two different people, two types of businesses, and not related to each other or working together, nothing like that. And it was the same response, that the town was a hindrance, not a help. It makes no sense to me.”
Also concerning Osmond is the conditions of town sidewalks.
“The sidewalks need addressing up there in a few areas of town. That’s just minor stuff, just fundamental stuff needed, which is commonplace for small places like this. Budget-wise, stuff like that takes time so that’ll be the other things, just minor repairs of sidewalks and stuff like that.”
Rene Roy is the Sales Director and Editor-in-Chief of two community newspapers and a print shop. He is also an active volunteer firefighter and sits on the board of the Port aux Basques and Area Chamber of Commerce. Roy, who is from East End Channel originally, has written a few letters to council since he moved back home about six years ago. He believes strongly in offering a fresh perspective to help make his hometown a better place.
“I’m from Port Aux Basques, I don’t think many people realize I was born here, and for me, being able to serve my town and having the opportunity to make it better for everybody, not just myself, I think it’s very important, and I think a new voice could be very crucial in that.”
There are a several important issues that Roy hopes to get the chance to address in council if he is elected.
“I feel that maintenance of sidewalks and roads, of course, are important, but for me, accessibility is extremely important. I think it’s a very important issue and I’d like to definitely tackle that,” said René. “Any new sidewalks that come have to be designed better and built better for people not just with mobility issues but also parents with strollers. Nobody likes not being able to get around and the design of some of our sidewalks is prohibitive.”
Roy wants to explore different opportunities to help overcome some of the larger issues, like policing.
“I think the Town would benefit greatly from its own Municipal Enforcement Officer. Tickets or fines that the officer issues would increase revenue to offset the cost of their salary and free up the limited police force we currently have by taking nuisance bylaw complaints off their plate,” said Roy. “This is something I’ve thought for years could work, and I realize that there are finances to consider but as a small business owner we always find a way to make it work. When we need a piece of equipment we find a way to finance it because without it we can’t succeed and really the bottom line is we have to find more creative solutions instead of just throwing in the towel and saying, ‘We can’t.’ I believe that we absolutely can.”
Todd Strickland is from Port aux Basques, works as a Licensed Practical Nurse, and has volunteered as a fireman for 19 years. He has been on Council for 8 years, and he is running for re-election to ensure the town is a great place to grow up in.
Affordable housing for seniors is a pressing issue for Strickland.
“We’ve had a lot of roadblocks along the way, but there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel, so I definitely would like to see that through,” said Strickland. “To put it there was one thing, but we wanted to put it there at a low cost to the town and at no cost to the people of Port aux Basques. So we’re still fighting that battle, and from what I can gather, things are looking up.”
Another priority for Strickland is making sidewalks more accessible.
“I know we have done some work, but of course we can always be better. The unfortunate part of it, again, is that some of the sidewalk work is not cheap work. To get the funding, and to get the government grants to cover some of this is not easy coming. Of course, we’ve been doing the best with what we have, but there no doubt that we could do better, and there’s always room to improve. So I’m hoping we’ll have more of our sidewalks and access trails more accessible to more people in our community.
Warren Willis, CD, CCPA(Ret’d), has lived in Port aux Basques for 11 years, and has retired from the Canadian Armed Forces after serving for 25 years. He is new to running for council, and wants to be more involved in the growth of the community.
“I think it’s important work to do and I would like to be a part of any changes that should happen in Port aux Basques from now on,” said Willis. “What I’d like to do is be a part of making the town a little more prosperous. We’re a port town and we should be bigger and we should be better than what we are right now. So I want to be a part of any changes that can happen for the prosperity the people of Port aux Basques. It’s a great little town.”
Also making it easier for businesses to establish themselves in Port aux Basques is a priority for Willis.
“I don’t want to be a roadblock to progress. So if a business wants to come to town, I want to enable them to get up and running. It’s hard enough to start a business. Usually the first year in any business startup is very rocky and difficult to start up and I don’t want to be a roadblock to anybody trying to start up a business in Port aux Basques.”