Courtenay is growing into a bigger city and Melanie McCollum’s budgetary and finance experience can help guide the city through decisions on transportation and housing that will have long-lasting impacts
Courtenay City Council candidate Melanie McCollum has had a couple of fairly recent “aha” political moments.
The first moment came while knocking on doors in support of David Frisch’s 2014 council campaign, something she was initially reluctant to do.
“It was an eye opener for me that I actually enjoyed the process of talking about issues with people on their doorsteps,” she said.
The second occurred to her in 2016 while sitting through one of many School District 71 board meetings about the controversial proposal to close Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary, which serves the area where she and her family live.
“I asked myself, how have I — as an adult and parent — not attended a school board meeting before?” McCollum said.
Those moments created a thought in the back of her mind of some day running for office, but it did not become an active thought until this year.
“I’ve got space in my life now,” she said. “And the city is entering … growing into an interesting time, and the growth that Courtenay is currently experiencing means that the decisions made by the new council are going to have long-lasting impacts”
McCollum moved to the Comox Valley from Victoria in 2006, originally settling in Union Bay and later moving into Courtenay. She grew up on Gabriola Island with her politically active parents, and worked on a friend’s mother’s MP campaign while in Victoria.
She believes her education background and professional experience could help have a positive impact on the city’s future.
McCollum has a undergraduate degree in geography, focused on urban planning, and a post-degree diploma in accounting. She’s worked for the past 11 years at North Island College, currently as a financial analyst.
She takes a fresh perspective on the city’s status, a way of imagining it that might escape people who have lived here much longer.
“Courtenay is a city in transition,” she says. “From a small city to a bigger city.”
McCollum points to myriad traffic issues and transportation infrastructure needs as evidence that municipal government must recognize this transition-in-progress.
She points out there is no safe route for high school students to ride bicycles from West Courtenay to either G.P Vanier or Mark Isfeld high schools. And once on Lerwick, right-hand bike lanes turn into right-turn lanes, which makes it risky to cycle there.
“Thirteen-year-old kids may want to ride their bikes, and not wait for mom or dad to pick them up, it seems reasonable to provide that as a safe option” she said.
The bus stop on lower Ryan Road, serving a large residential area, causes pedestrians to navigate the most dangerous, and accident-prone stretches of roadways in the city without a sidewalk.
McCollum would like to see bump-out crosswalks, similar to what Robb Road residents petitioned for in Comox, so pedestrians can be more easily seen.
“There’s a political will on transportation infrastructure to prioritize modes other than vehicle traffic,” she said. “We should add these considerations when making infrastructure decisions.”
Bringing transportation infrastructure up to date is “the crux of not being a small town any more,” she said.
McCollum’s other key issue is to create an environment that encourages developers to build a wider variety of housing and to solve the city’s need to create more urban infill density without building tall apartment buildings or sprawl on the edges of town.
She envisions financial incentives to build a style of housing within walking distance to downtown that provides just enough space for a family, includes some outdoor space and doesn’t cost a fortune. She thinking of something like townhouses or row houses, a style in between condo towers and single-family homes.
The “missing middle” housing is a problem that urban planners across North America are grappling with in large and small cities.
McCollum thinks there are council-level actions that could make it profitable for builders to fill this gap. She mentions lower development costs and other incentives to build the right kind of housing in the right locations.
And she notes that greater density living in the core would have a positive impact on downtown businesses.
McCollum said she would help develop housing strategies so that the city was prepared when the federal and provincial governments offer financial supports to solve the nation’s housing problems.
“It’s important to be ready, have a plan, know what we want, so we don’t miss any opportunities,” she said.
The City of Nanaimo recently missed out on a significant grant because council was undecided about supportive housing, which McCollum supports.
McCollum hopes voters will recognize how her budgetary and finance skills can benefit the city, but she also stresses her pragmatic and calm approach to issues.
“I don’t have to agree with someone to have an interesting conversation,” she said. “That’s how you get to good decision-making.”
And she’s quick to point out that the city should have more than one female voice on a council of seven members.