Q&A: Mayor Dennis Buchanan proud of how Alert Bay handled COVID outbreak

·4 min read

The Gazette chatted with Mayor Dennis Buchanan about how leadership handled the COVID-19 outbreak last year, and what’s ahead for Cormorant Island.

How was 2020 overall?

Certainly not what I expected of my term as mayor. But even though we had the cluster outbreak here, the cooperation we had with the Whe-la-la-U Area Council, the ‘Namgis First Nation, and everybody on the island, I think it went quite well.

Surprisingly last year, even with COVID-19, we still did have quite a few tourists from around B.C., because you were allowed to travel in B.C. Not as many as normal, but we were pleasantly surprised.

What does Alert Bay have planned for 2021?

For the size of community we have, we’ve lost a lot of our tax base over time — we no longer have the Department of Transport radio station, the fisheries office is gone and of course we lost BC Packers, and then the fuel docks closed up. So we really rely on grant money to get projects done. Last year we got a grant to finish a section of sewer line and improve drainage for people down the hill. Next we’re hoping to get grant money to repair the town square. There’s been some storm damage to the sea wall and the corner of the town square is starting to sink.

Do you have thoughts on other new industry that could come to town?

One of our big issues is internet connectivity. In the past we’ve had people move here to work from home, and they’ve left because the connectivity is not good enough. We’re trying to get movement on that, and I’m certainly looking forward to Connected Coast coming in. [A project to install fibre optic cable around Vancouver Island and up the coast.]

What are you proud of accomplishing as mayor?

Completing the sewer project and drainage, and certainly the work that was done during COVID-19 . We [‘Namgis, Whe-la-la-U and the village] did videos that really helped get information out. We were also very glad for help from the province, the health authorities, the RCMP and so many more organizations.

For our first emergency of that nature, I thought it was very well handled. It’s a kudos to everyone on the team, Shannon Alfred the head of our local Emergency Operations Centre, as well as the tri-leadership, the staff and also the citizens. I would have to say that 99 per cent of people jumped on board with the recommendations we were making. We did it not only to protect the citizens here on the island, but so nobody here would possibly infect people on Vancouver Island.

It seems to have worked; the next case on the North Island wasn’t for several months.

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What does being a North Island politician mean to you personally?

I’ve always been a firm believer that if you’re going to live in a community, you should be involved in one way or another. I spent some time on the ambulance and on the fire department. Volunteering is to try and make life better for everybody in the community. You know, if everybody got on board and did some volunteering, whether it’s just picking up garbage or keeping to the trails clear, it’s better for the whole community. So I look at it as being a volunteer, not a politician.

Let’s talk fish farms. What do you want to see happen for the industry?

That for me is a really tough question to answer. Because the ‘Namgis definitely are opposed to the fish farms, and I know it employs a lot of people here on the island. There are a number of ’Namgis First Nation people who work with the fish farms. Certainly if they close all the fish farms up here we’re going to lose employment.

We’ve already lost a lot of employment when the fishing industry in Area 12 basically shut down. We used to have a fairly substantial fishing fleet here, of seiners, trollers and gilnetters. So a lot of younger people have left the island to look for work elsewhere. We do have some employed in the forest industry, and Orca Sand and Gravel which has certainly helped, and the rest like I say there’s quite a few at the fish farms. I think the fish farms in a lot of ways have certainly cleaned up their act. I would hate the see the job losses.

Anything you want to say to the community?

I’d like to thank everybody on Cormorant Island for their assistance in helping quell the outbreak here, and thanks for continuing to wear your masks around town. And that they feel free to come contact me if they have ideas or suggestions.

Zoë Ducklow, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Island Gazette