Thursday, June 30, 2022

Leaving the Blueprints in the office for the next Mayor: Lee Brain's State of the City Presentation

Prince Rupert residents whether in the Lester Centre, or watching through the live stream provided on the City of Prince Rupert website went on a tour with Mayor Lee Brain on Tuesday night.

A time travelling event that took them back to when it all began in 2014 and then a glimpse into what the Mayor believes could be the future, as long as successive councils stay the course following his departure this fall.

Tuesday brought the final State of the City presentation, a follow up to the Rupert 2030 presentation of 2019 before COVID brought a quick end to mass gatherings and vision making celebrations.

The night was a three part exercise, a review of he many pieces of infrastructure work required and the challenges and financial burdens that come with it. 

As well the evening provided for a glimpse to the future, if the blue print from the Mayor is followed through, the night capped by a Question and Answer session with the city's top elected official.

The evening began with an introduction from Chief Financial Officer Corinne Bomben, who first invited Chief Alex Campbell to the state to provide the welcome for the evening.

"I stand here on behalf of the nine tribes of Lax Kw'alaams and Metlakatla BC to welcome you all  in this beautiful land where we can have a good discussion, a good meeting, fun time.  

Getting to know one another, we say to each and every one of you right now, You're welcome the mat is rolled out, thank you"

The CFO then turned the night over to Mayor Brain for what would be a two hour plus session.

"This is about eight years of work culminated to a new vision for Prince Rupert and we're going to do an update tonight on pretty much every single thing that has happened in this community. 

I promise you there's something for everybody in this presentation tonight. I have taken the collective consciousness of the entire town and poured it into this presentation this evening. 

And if it's not thee, in the Q and A you can certainly tell me that I missed something." -- Mayor Lee Brain opening his State of the City Presentation on June28th

Trying to cram eight years of municipal history into two hours seems like a tall order, but the mayor took his best shot at it, starting with his arrival in office and the immediate realization of the troubles of Watson Island, the city's industrial site which through its revival as part of the Legacy Inc mechanism would be part of the narrative for much of the night.

Many of the talking points of the infrastructure themes have been delivered at Council Sessions over the course of eight years, so there wasn't a lot of new material in the first hour of the show that hasn't already been shared for those who follow our Council observations on the blog with some regular dedication.

But for those who only keep up with things through the public events, the night would be somewhat of a reveal of what the Council has been up to since 2019.

As it was back in 2014, the challenges remain largely aging infrastructure and a need for money, lots of of it to address them.

"In 2014 when we got elected this community was basically on the verge of bankruptcy, I remember the first three days on the job, myself and the City Manager at the time, Bob Long did two twelve hour days. 

We went through absolutely everything and basically we were a year or two away from the books basically folding up and the province taking up" 

The narrative of those times one of 90,000 dollar a month Watson Island burn rates, legal complications from the former pulp mill site, no direction for the city, massive infrastructure challenges and no vision for the community.

"Folks in my generation or younger,  have never really known Prince Rupert in really a successful state. There's the heyday of Rupert and folks in the older generation will always talk about you know how great things were and the fishing and all that stuff. 

But folks in my generation we just woke up one day in high school and the community was already collapsing, our friends left town, their parents lost their jobs, people lost their home, and by the time I graduated high school which was in 2003, it basically felt that there was no hope and you should just leave community and go to university and do something else.

So for us, in our generation, Prince Rupert doesn't have the same you know nostalgia I would say. So when I became  Mayor, you know part of that was to try to get the whole community to come back together again and say it's time for a new vision, it's time for a new pride. 

And the Council and city staff and community partners coming together, and over the last eight years we've really turned the ship to a brand new direction, we're not talking about the mill anymore which is great and we're talking about the future now" -- Mayor Lee Brain

Those observations set the stage for a review of the genesis for the Hays 2.0 blueprint vision and its evolution,  the Mayor noting of the creation of the key elements of ReBuild Rupert, ReDesign Rupert, creation of economic opportunities and branding and sustainability themes. 

The Mayor also revisited the hiring of Larry Beasley and his group who over the course of one year delivered the Rupert 2030 vision presentation which as the Mayor described it,  is now the framework for moving forward as a community.

The Challenges facing the city focused mostly on infrastructure needs, the list an expansive one which has been chipped away at over the last eight years, though one which remains a fairly extensive to do list for the next council to keep up with.

 "So far since 2015 we've raised about 100 million dollars for infrastructure development for the community and it's our 100 percent most significant challenge. 

The truth is we should have started this program a while back in the seventies. We should have started saving for water, we should have started saving for waste treatment, we shoulda, shoulda, shoulda. 

But the truth is we're here now and we're basically starting from scratch with no reserves, no savings and a really challenging situation for us."

"So here's where we're at, this is the truth the honest truth of it all, is we're at a 600 million dollar infrastructure deficit, so we need 600 million bucks and I'll get into how much we need right now, later to really get on top of  things ... I think it's important that this community really feels the weight of what the situation really is here, that really has nothing to do with politics and has everything to do with making sure we actually are successful for the long term future"

The Mayor observed of the challenges of the roads in the community, the path ahead for development of a pilot project towards wastewater solutions, water infrastructure and the long process and challenges related to the water dam completion, the landfill completion and how it will benefit the community, as well as the expansion for recycling themes.

The plans for the new Public Works Building, the process for the new RCMP detachment,  the plans for a new Fire Hall and the challenges of Housing and how the topography and nature of the land in Prince Rupert,  finds developers approaching development in the city with caution owing to staffing issues and the lack of serviceable land to develop  on.

Mr. Brain also noted how other issues such as Child Care also are important to the community as the lack of both housing and child care is impacting on attracting new residents to the the North Coast.

Money, or the lack of it for the community loomed large at the core of the presentation, the Mayor with comments of note of a provincial government that won't loosen restrictions and purse strings as strident today, as they were eight years ago.

"What does this all mean, we need cash. I'm just going to say this straight now cause as you probably know I ain't running for re-election again and I think that this town just needs to hear this. 

So we need, we need 200 million dollars injection into this town right now. We need a bag of money to fall from the sky and it needs to fall into this community and that number needs to be 200 million dollars, at minimum it needs to be 100 million dollars, we need to catch up.

Because, right now with the limitations of taxation and the municipal financing model which I'll get into later, with the fact that everything is grants and applications we're just not going to catch up. 

It's just not happening and we need a magical thing to happen and we are working on a major plan right now with that and we've been lobbying heavily with the province and the Feds.

Letting them know that if you want that port to go, you need to invest in the actual community, cause all the grants are going into that port infrastructure and the community is not getting it and that just has to happen" 

The need for more money and the need to increase the city budget made for the mayor's overview of how the city has been held back from what needs to be done.

Mr. Brain observing how the current challenges are not a civic budgeting issue, but one of neglect by the other levels of government.

"You know, people blame us, we don't know how to budget, no that's not what this is, this a town that was neglected and it collapsed and its dealing with a massive infrastructure deficit and to raise that kind of capital we're not even going to get to taxes on that at this point ... so we need cash"

The financial challenges segment of the presentation  perhaps had MLA Jennifer Rice feeling as though a bit of a bullseye was on her for the night, with the Mayor pointing to some provincial policies that are holding the community back from destiny. 

"Why don't we have cash, why well we don't have cash because we're not allowed to collect cash actually.  The Provincial Government stops us from collecting money from the industries. 

And it is absolutely frustrating that we have a handcuff on the community, that we can't grow this community because we have a handcuff that has been placed on it from us"

Those comments set the table for what has been an eight year talking point for the Mayor and Chief Financial officer over the unjust nature as they see it of the Port Property Tax Act that has been the subject of many commentaries during Civic Budget planning periods.

The Mayor recounted his efforts with other communities to try to have the Province see the city's point of view on the long running irritant for City Council and staff members and the lack of success that has been realized from those efforts.

"They haven't moved on that, there's some reasons I probably shouldn't say it publicly, but this challenge the Port Property Tax Act is the number one reason why this community is stuck, we are stuck, we are not allowed to be free.

Our one legislative right is taxation, that's the only mechanism we are allowed to have under the Local Government Act and the Community charter is to collect money through taxation ..."

The Mayor then presented a graph that highlighted the city's frustration with the policies that are in place  by the province. The result one which see Port assets depreciate, that take away taxation values for the city to assess and the city loses tax revenue from those facilities .

To highlight how he views the policy as unfair the Mayor noted of who in the community bears the largest burden from them.

"That burden has gone on to the residents, the residents pay astronomically more taxes than small business and all of these guys together. 

And so I'll give you an example of why the Tax Cap is very unfair legislation. 

If you see this white line here, in 2018 we had Pembina and AltaGas coming online for the community, two propane facilities, both of which do not qualify for the capped taxes, they don't qualify for that. 

We control that rate, that rate is abnormally large because we have to make up the difference of this ... they pay more, those two industries alone than all the other port industries combined basically.

So we now place the burden on them, we place the burden on our residents ... small business pays almost the same as the major industries in this community.

This is highway robbery, sorry, that's what it is, it's eight years of me trying to solve this problem with our staff and we're getting nothing from the province on this. 

It's  a provincial government issue, they need to be lobbied and this community needs to let them know that this is not fair"

Towards what he hopes will be a solution the Mayor noted of the coalition he has forged with other communities to try to get their message across to Victoria to address the issue, with hopes of creating a Rupert only solution that will remove the burden from City Council towards its challenges

"The next Council is going to be dealing with that, and I hope the next council after that's not dealing with that. 

But until this problem's solved, that's why we can't have the water, that's why we can't get the roads, that's why we can't get moving.

So, I'm not here to dump on the industries it's not necessary the industries fault I just want to make sure that that's clear. 

Because we wouldn't be moving forward as a community without the port growth OK, we wouldn't be and we need their investment we need their growth and they are going to help us. 

And I'll explain at the end the rainbow of how we're going to all fix and the clouds are going to part and the town is going to sail off into the sunset,. But you need to know the reality, that's the reality!"

While the Province took the bulk of the Mayor's frustrations on the night, as the night moved towards its end later in the evening, the Mayor revisited those comments during his Watson island update, offering up a few olive branches to the North Coast MLA, noting of the past work of Jennifer Rice on behalf of the community.

Towards his look at the infrastructure issues, much of the material on those themes have made for much of our archives of the progress for Major projects.  

You can start to catch up on the Major Projects here and with our Council discussion page.

The Second half of the night was dedicated to realizing the vision program of a few years back and the goal of Rupert 2039 and beyond. The Fun stuff as the Mayor often refers to the litany of big idea projects that would transform the landscape of the city if they were to reach the finish line.

The main theme for that element revolved around partnerships and the combined work ahead to realize many of the projects and initiatives for the community will come to realization.

The Mayor revisited many of the themes of three years ago and the delivery of the vision plan in 2019, providing updates on how some of those elements are moving forward.

He revisited the creation of the Gateway District that should the plans move forward see a mixed use environment of commercial and residential themes and community amenities. 

An area that the Mayor christened as the New Downtown.

"The future of downtowns is not retail, the future of downtowns for small communities like ours is experiences. So that's what we need to focus on now, you go downtown to do something to bring community together. To gather people and then the retail shops around that will be more successful"

The vision off the Marina District hasn't shifted much from 2019, though the Mayor noted of the progress on the Third Avenue East extension which he highlighted as one opportunity for development in the years ahead. As well he hinted as to a wider investment in the area with the Pattison group showing some interest according to the Mayor

The evolution of the Waterfront at Rotary Park was also part of the recap, Mr. Brain providing the latest notes on the plans for a new Airport Ferry at that location, the partnership with the province and Kitkatla for marine development and the ongoing work to transform the CN Station into the new home for the Wheelhouse Brewing company, a project which is finding supply chain challenges that is pushing back its completion date.

The shift of the midtown area from City Hall to Five Corners towards a more residential focus, with the city looking to shift from its current commercial footprint toward some of their housing ambitions.

"What we want to do with these areas, like Marina District, Midtown, New Downtown. 

Is we want to create themes, districts, so that when you go there you have different lighting, different flags that hang from the pole it makes you feel like you're actually in a different location in the community. 

So think about it this way, this is a vision that's emerging ... the way we look at it is, is how do we emerge from a vision like that. 

So we have the plan and the policies and the rules in place to enable this to happen. 

So if you can imagine now the Marina district and you can imagine the Gateway and you can imagine Midtown, and you can start to imagine how this community is going to actually look long term."

The Mayor observed on the recent rebranding of the city logo and the plans from Tourism Prince Rupert to create signage and imagery to realize many of the city's vision themes. 

Addressing the look of the downtown core and the nature of the physical state of the buildings made for part of the overview, the mayor noting of the challenges and obstacles towards achieving their goals for a better look for the community.

A look at how some of the downtown streets will be revitalized, with a focus on an incremental concept as to how Second Avenue could see a new look in place once the volume of trucks transiting to the Port has ended with the new truck corridor opening.

A look at how they are planing for more recreation and parks, and the city's recent work on revising policies and procedures to serve the 2030 vision made for another element of the presentation.

"So, anyone that says that City Hall is closed for business, you know that was 2012 folks.  

Time to update your mind that we're now actually open for business, we're selling properties, we're doing all sorts of stuff now.

The policies are in place to enable the vision to become reality"

The ongoing work on attracting residents and the city's partnership with communities stakeholders also made for a short focus.

The challenges towards realizing all of those opportunities came full circle for the mayor, who provided notes on the city's efforts to find new revenue streams, noting of the potential from the Northwest BC Resources Benefits Alliance and how money is hard to gain from the province.

"We've got to keep working on this. But there are challenges to getting this done, because we had a pandemic and all governments spent beyond their means and in the pandemic and money that might have been there is no longer there"

The inherited situation of Watson Island and and how the City is now making use of it through the Legacy mechanism provided for a significant element of how the city visualizes the future for the industrial site.

"I won't lie I have cried over this island before, the previous mayor called it a hell hole he was not wrong, you know the first four years of the term was basically us with this Island ... We had to do a lot to manoeuvre this community out of the two legal situations that we were in.  

We were very creative and very aggressive as well and we took control of the situation and we got those legal battles done

And then our team, with Richard Pucci, Corinne Bomben and Bob Long, we actually invented, we invented a new reclamation process that the province is now  adopting on how to clean up a brownfield site.

So what we're doing is one site at a time, we're going to do assessments on ... before the challenge with Watson Island was that everyone thought you had to clean up the whole island and then you can get development ...  as we move along we do one thing at a time we invented that and that's a process the province is adopting and moving to other brownfield sites"  

How Prince Rupert Legacy generates revenue was also part of the Mayor's overview, with the Mayor speculating as to the volume of revenue it could bring.

"Prince Rupert Legacy holds the Island for us, collects lease payments from Pembina and as you can see there's lots of other room and opportunity and I think over time we can get six proponents maybe even more  on the Island that could generate I believe the ten to twenty million you would need to run the community.

Now the thing about the opportunity with Watson Island is we collect lease payments and taxes from the  Island,  it's a double dip for us. 

Now previously they were going to try to sell Watson Island for five million bucks, well if you had a marine export industry on here, you'd get capped and you'd maybe get a few dollars, but then you'd be stuck.

Us owning this island is one hundred percent what is saving our butts right now as a community, and it's thanks to City Staff, Council's vision and working with the province ... what was once our burden is now our opportunity"

The Mayor also observed as to the interest that the Watson Island site has been to the community.

"So, what I'm asking from the community right now is some patience basically, I hope you're seeing the building blocks coming together, how it all kinds of fits ... See the forests I guess what I'm saying from the just seeing the trees.

We are going to work out of this situation we are in and not only are we going to work out of it but we're going to be one of the most successful small communities in all of Canada. 

Like no community has this opportunity ... we are lucky that we have this and this is saving us right now"

From that the Mayor moved towards a Cole's Notes version of the recent Prince Rupert Port Authority APM, providing a shortlist of projects that are underway and in the planning stages and how they will bring growth to the community, observing that he sees a trajectory for the population of 19,000 residents for Prince Rupert by 2027.

CityWest and its growing partnerships, many of them with Indigenous communities also made for a focus the Mayor noting how it had been a sleepy company for a while but now with the Connected Coast project the city owned enterprise is poised for growth and through its entrepreneurial focus could deliver revenues for the community.

How the city makes use of the Legacy Corporation also received an expanded review, the Mayor noting of its structure and holdings.

"Legacy is a wholly owned company from the City of Prince Rupert, the Board of Directors is just our senior management team. It has no staff, it has no operations it just holds land for us and it holds Lot 9, it holds Lot 444 which is across from Seal Cove and it holds Watson Island and it collects lease payments.

It gives us flexibility as a community to generate revenue outside of the constraints of the municipal financing situation with the local government Act and things like that. 

So Legacy is a kind of like a holding company and now we've transferred a bunch of subdivisions to it on housing and we're going to make housing  development as well"

As well the Mayor offered an answer for some who have questioned the nature of some of the out of public view elements of the development and use of the Legacy instrument.

"There's some questions around transparency people say right well what's going on with Legacy, what are you guys doing with that   ... 

Just so you're clear, every financial statement of this company is on the internet, published on our website you can see the income it makes, it's third party audited there's nothing crazy going on with it other than we're using it as a tool to make sure you're not having to pay massive taxes to do the things we need to do ... 

Remember we have a six hundred million dollar deficit, you cannot do that with taxes so without Legacy we can't offset and to the big builds and the big spends that we have to do that's what offsets it.

So if it means you know some people questioning transparency versus saving the town well I'll choose saving the town over that"

The Mayor's Presentation highlighted some of the previous uses of the monies from Legacy towards major infrastructure like the water dam and how the city's use of the financial instrument has reduced the burden on tax payers.

Many of the themes that make for the 2030 Vision plan checklist which have shown some progress have been chronicled through our archive page here.

As the presentation closed in on its second hour the Mayor noted of the work on the Vision Stewardship Council and ongoing relationships with area First Nations and community stakeholders towards the vision of co-managing the future of the community.

The final notes on the evening presentation period provided for this year's Big Announcement, that of Peace in our time of sorts with the District of Port Edward.

After over a decade of strained relations at times, Mayor Brain and Port Edward Mayor Knut Bjorndal were at centre stage at the Lester Centre with proclamation of better times ahead.

"We haven't crossed the t's and dotted the i's and that's coming We wanted to make sure that the community knew that we have solved what I believe is a forty year issue between Port Ed and Prince Rupert.

If you remember at the Hays 2.0 presentation we did beat up on Port Ed little bit about the revenue challenges and things like that on the Ridley Island Tax Sharing agreement But what we wanted to announce tonight that we've come up with a framework to move forward together

Among the areas of progress for the two communities include:

Agreement of Ridley Island Tax Sharing

Agreement on mutual aid for fire protection, water agreements

A Joint Development plan for the region for areas such as Diana Lake, and new recreation opportunities in the District for a range of opportunities that had been hampered by the past issues 

For his part Port Edward Mayor Knut Bjorndal paid tribute to Mayor Brain and the staff members for both communities in creating the agreement for the communities.

"It's a credit to your leadership that's brought this all forward, it's also the credit to the staff at Port Edward and Prince Rupert they worked an enormous amount of time putting these things together, 

You and I don't get into that kind of fine detail at the end of the day we put the big picture together and let the rest of the people fill in the blanks, because if the blanks at the end of the day, if they aren't right it kills you.

I look at Prince Rupert and Port Edward, I grew up in Prince Rupert I still have a great love for Prince Rupert ... you know if we keep having squabbles we can't move forward to move forward and Lee is 100 percent right you have to take a conciliatory approach ... you gotta look for the common good and I think that's what Lee has done

With the presentation that you made today about Prince Rupert, I can say that my forefathers came here about the same time yours did a hundred years ago, but we have to move forward from the original vision and to move forward you have to have a living document vision that gets you somewhere and that  people buy into it, I bought into this when you first made this presentation I thought was pretty unique."

Noting of Mayor Brain's upcoming departure from the political scene, Mr Bjorndal quipped he now will have to train a new Mayor of Prince Rupert.

The third element for the evening, was exclusive to the  Lester Centre audience, with the live stream coming to an end shortly after the peace declaration between Port Edward and Prince Rupert.

For the next council the blue prints will be in the office, whether the Mayor's vision will be that of whomever succeeds him in office is to be determined following the Fall municipal election in October.

As it should be, the decision of the electors will hold the final say as to whether the blue prints become an active document or end up down the City Archives.

The full overview of the State of the City can be viewed from the City's YouTube archive page.

Over the next few days we'll dive a little deeper into the scope of the various elements that made up the Mayor's final State of the City presentation.

Check back through your Canada Day weekend for the collection of thumbnail sketches from Tuesday night's community review and look to the future.

And if the busy three day celebration is too packed with social events, click onto the blog on Monday morning to review our archive of notes and our look at the Mayor's showcase finale to his time at the helm of civic government.


  1. It's rather surprising to read that when first elected in 2014 mayor Brain considered that the city was close to bankruptcy and going under provincial administration, considering that he had inherited from his predecessor an agreement with Exxon over Lot 444 that added $17 million of discretionary funds to the city's finances. That money made a lot of things possible, including pay top-ups for some.

    1. The previous administration was too afraid to make a decision and tabled that decision. It was mayor brain and the new council that conducted the public hearing (Dec 3 2014) and subsequently passed the deal, inheriting nothing but more indecisions from a previous administration who couldn’t get the job done. It was $18 million by the way.

    2. The initial agreement to allow Exxon (WCC LNG) to investigate Lot 444 was from July 2014 to July 2016. Upon the transfer of the title from the City to Legacy, a $1 million non-refundable deposit was paid. That happened by Nov 2014, before the new council took office (see NCR 26 Nov 2014; NV 3 Dec 2014). Why Jack Mussallem's council did release the terms of agreement until shortly before the 25 Nov 2014 information meeting is a mystery.

      The new council (which took office two days prior) held the required public hearing on 3 December 2014, and subsequently approved the rezoning of Lot 444. The next day it issued its first media release, noting that it had made a "courageous move". Under the terms of the agreement made by the previous council, Exxon then paid another $17 million to Legacy in increments.

  2. One thing that stands out to me is the mayor's speech did not include his work in championing health care in Prince Rupert. Nothing so much on work with specific built seniors housing which is needed as existing is failing. He didn't mention policing and crime in Prince Rupert, maybe because crime has risen and he hasn't taking action.

    Bylaw enforcement was not mentioned. Why would he just look around the community and his take on bylaw enforcement is oblivious. I am embarrassed when I speak to people from out of town about the state of our community.

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  4. The PPTA is not going to change, so time to move on.

    Diversification has taken place in the Heavy Industry Class ( Watson Island) but it took a lot of capital and a lot of time.

    Recreation and non profit tax classes have grown in our community, but that will not address the tax gap.

    This city needs to focus on attracting light industry and business sectors to our city to reduce the burden on the residential tax base.

    A nice to have in the presentation would have been new business licenses by class. How many has our city seen year over year for the past five years? That would have been a pulse check on the state of the local economy.

    Not sure why this wasn't included, especially considering we have so many entrepreneurial minds at City Hall.

  5. So who is the Milburn Pennybags of Legacy Inc?
    The Chief Administrative Officer, The Corporate Administrator or The Chief Financial Officer?