Four strong contenders in Harbour Grace mayor’s race

By Mark Squibb/September 9, 2021

Residents of Harbour Grace will have to choose their next mayor from amongst four contenders.

Current mayor Don Coombs, who has served on council served for seven terms, six of those as mayor, is one of those four candidates.

“It was a difficult decision, a family decision,” said Coombs. “We’ve accomplished some things over the last three-and-half, four years, but there were other things to finish, and in the last three weeks to a month I started to get a lot of calls from individuals and groups who wanted me to lead the team, so I sat back with my family, and I reflected on it all.”

He attributes to former Harbour Grace MHA Alec Moores the words, ‘The sun will come up and Harbour Grace has to be ready for the sun,’ and Coombs said the sun is shining in Harbour Grace right now.

“We have to say we’re open for business, and that sun is shining, and hopefully the sun will shine on me on the 28th,” said Coombs. “We still have financial issues we have to deal with, but the opportunities for Harbour Grace are not next year or next month, they’re now.”

Coombs said he was glad to see so many put their names forward, both for council and for the mayoral position.

If elected, Coombs said, he wants to meet with local businesses to discuss how they can grow the town.

As to the town’s financial struggles, Coombs said he would like to see a five-year plan put into place.

“We cannot operate on a day-to-day basis and continue for the next four years, we have to have a vision, we have to know where we want to go, and we have to put a plan place to get there,” said Coombs. “We have to work as a team, and that team has to be Team Harbour Grace.”

Coombs, who continues to work with the Health Foundation and volunteer with the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils, amongst other organizations, extended his thanks to councilor Kevin Williams, who is not running for re-election.

Meanwhile, also on the mayoral ballot is former mayor Terry Barnes.

He served as mayor for one term and as deputy mayor for the term before that. Barnes beat Coombs out of the mayor’s chair in 2013 and was then beat out by Coombs in 2017.

“I decided a couple of months ago to put my name forward again this year, because I have a lot of great ideas that I think will help move the town forward,” Barnes said. “It takes up a lot of your time, but my kids are all grown up now, so I feel that I have the time to put back into it again.”

He would like to see the harbour made more accessible for businesses and would like to see the town promote itself more to attract new business.

“Right now, we don’t have a lot of business here,” he admitted, adding that more business means more infrastructure opportunities and a larger tax revenue.

With a little advertising, he thinks the town could attract those new businesses.

“The Town of Harbour Grace used to be the capital of Newfoundland before the big fire,” said Barnes. “There was a lot of industry in this town one time.”

He added there are a lot of things the town could capitalize on to attract businesses and tourism, including its historic link to Amelia Earhart.

“Competition is good,” said Barnes. “The other three candidates are friends.”

He said that whichever candidate wins, he hopes all four will remain friends the morning after election night.

Also running is Deputy Mayor Sonia Williams.

She has served the past two terms. Williams said she began considering running for the mayor’s chair midway through this past term.

“I’m getting good support, I feel positive,” said Williams. “Nobody puts their name in there certainly to be defeated. So, the worst thing about it that anyone who is defeated loses out, and there’s four good people who are running for this position. So, I’d like to wish them luck, but I want to be in that seat at the end of the day.”

Williams said there are many businesses that have closed over the years, and she would like to see the town offer incentives like tax breaks to encourage new businesses to move into those old buildings and start fresh.

Water and sewer work, she said, would also be a priority.

“There’s areas in town that still don’t have water and sewer, so I’d like to see water and sewer done,” said Williams. “In this day and age, it’s important that all residents have water and sewer.”

Williams’ other priorities include road work, including the completion of Harvey Street (which is contingent on government monies) bringing a grocery store back to town, and increasing tourism.

Williams said she is running on her record, which includes a lifetime of volunteering in town.

“I was born and raised here, and doing things for the betterment of this town is my life,” said Williams.

Finally, councillor Kathy Tetford is also in the race for the mayor’s chair.

“I think the time is come, and I think we need some good leadership to bring our town forward,” said Tetford. “Our town has been going down, since the moratorium really, back in ‘92, Harbour Grace has had just loss, loss, loss, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any turnaround. But it’s my belief that Harbour Grace can come around.”

Tetford has served on council for many years, but first started with the town as an employee.

“I was an employee for 18 years, an accounting clerk, and in 1997 my position was made redundant, so I ran for council in an upcoming by-election, and I was elected, and I’ve served every term since except one,” said Tetford.

The term she missed was when she ran for mayor and lost to Coombs in 2005.

Tetford wants to see the town invest heavily in tourism.

“I think we need to put a whole lot of money into tourism,” said Tetford. “Our history here is phenomenal, and probably second to not many. And I think that’s where our focus has to be.”

Tetford hopes to bring strong leadership to the role.

“I think sitting in the chambers as a councilor, you can accomplish so much, but as mayor you can lead in a certain direction, you can bring your council together,” said Tetford. “And we’ve had a divided council this past four years, which hasn’t been any help to where we need to go. We need a council that has the same goals in mind. You can be diverse, but you also have to come together as one to get things done.”

When asked about that division, Tetford chalked it up to personalities.

“If you’ve been watching meetings, you ‘ll see that it’s a 4-3 vote or a 3-4 vote,” said Tetford. “I don’t know what causes it, I only believe it’s personalities. That’s all that I can attribute it too.”

Tetford also said that bringing a grocery store back to Harbour Grace is one of her biggest priorities.

“We’re a community here without a grocery store,” said Tetford. “We’re just under 3,000 people, and I know Carbonear is just a six kilometer drive down the road, but there are a lot of seniors and a lot of low income people that don’t have transportation that depend on having a grocery store in the center of town that they could walk to, or catch a ride to with their neighbors. Harbour Grace is lacking that. And that’s a big, big deal to me, a very big deal.”

In fact, Tetford and other residents have tried to persuade a grocery store to set up shop.

“What we have done is we’ve put together a package of all that Harbour Grace was, and all that it can be, and forwarded it to the owners of different grocery chains,” said Tetford. “We did get a couple of nibbles, but nothing that was concrete.”

The next option, said Tetford, would be to offer incentives to a local entrepreneur to start up a grocery store of their own.

Completing water and sewer is another major concern of Tetford’s.

All four candidates mentioned their desire to see Water Street revitalized, while Williams, Coombs, and Barnes specifically mentioned dredging the harbour to make it more accessible for marine craft.

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