Gwyn Sproule is focused on village’s economic diversity

Gwyn Sproule is focused on village’s economic diversity

Over five terms on Cumberland Council, Gwyn Sproule has shifted her agenda from saving trees to growing the village’s commercial base with light, green industries along Bevan Road. And she wants to see the wastewater treatment project to completion

 

What does an immigrant from England with a degree in Greek and Latin who became a hippie tree planter in British Columbia 42 years ago do for an encore after nearly two decades on the Cumberland Village Council?

For Gwyn Sproule, her agenda for a sixth term on council is quite a bit more pragmatic than it used to be.

“I was all about saving trees in the early days,” she told Decafnation. “My goal now is all about diversifying the village’s tax base, mainly attracting light industry and creating jobs.”

The village budget relies heavily on residential property taxes, so a recent building boom in the Coal Valley Estates subdivision has helped village finances. But Sproule says commercial development is needed for long-term balanced growth.

She hopes to promote light, green industries for some lands along Bevan Road that are already properly zoned. Hancock Timber Resource Group owns the properties.

And Sproule recently learned that funds are available for infrastructure and technology projects from the BC Commission of Innovation. She hopes the village can use those funds to help attract high-tech companies.

“It’s galling to me that young people have to go away to get jobs,” she said. “Vancouver Island is well placed to develop its own economy in green industries. We could create real jobs, with living wages.”

FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates, go to our Elections 2018 page

Cumberland also holds the first option on methane gas from the nearby landfill, which Fortis would capture and refine. The village could then use the gas as a power source for some of that light industry, or sell it as fuel for buses and trucks.

The village already has two small industrial areas closer to its downtown and next to residential areas.

One of those, along Royston Road, is home to the Muchalat Group that builds modular homes. They are currently building 30 self-contained housing units and five shelter spaces for the City of Port Alberni at an estimated cost to the province of $7.4 million.

Sproule was the driving force and co-founder of the Cumberland Community Forest Society. She lives along the forest lands and would invite the new forester to tea every time the property changed hands — Dunsmuir then Weldwood then Hancock — which is how she got the inside information about their logging plans.

“I was a troublemaker in my early days. I really believed I could take on everything,” she said.

She recalls the first fundraiser for the society was a plant sale and dance at the Elks Club.

Sproule also served on the original board of the Comox Valley Lands Trust.

But the candidate also has other objectives for her next term that include continuing to develop the village’s safe walk-bike network. She’s happy to have the water treatment project completed and hopes to see the wastewater project through to a similarly successful conclusion.

And she continues to work on her most personal project: keeping alive the memories of Cumberland’s industrial days, its coal mines.

She has recorded hours of interviews on audio tape with the village’s oldtimers and miners before they passed on.

“We need to keep our history alive. It’s the reason why Cumberland exists,” she said.

She regularly speaks to groups and teaches classes on the history of the mines and Chinatown. She does walking tours of the mine sites, and advocates for the preservation of the last remaining concrete structures marking the mine entrances.

Sproule taught primary school in England before moving to Canada in 1976 to live in an old gold mine shack and plant trees in the Cariboo where she met the camp cook, her future husband. She moved to Cumberland two years later.

Her first visit to Cumberland was to attend the Renaissance Faire in 1978.

Sproule’s history of settling on Vancouver Island in the 1970s is one of the stories in the new anthology Dancing in Gumboots, just released by Caitlin Press Inc.

 

With much drama, CVRD denies 3L Developments

With much drama, CVRD denies 3L Developments

With tension thick in the boardroom, with accusations of lies and corruption, slander flying back and forth, and despite 3L Developments’ last-minute tactic through Mano Theos to salvage their Riverwood subdivision, the application to amend the Regional Growth Strategy failed on a 6-4 vote

 

Tomorrow: In moments of high drama, directors reveal themselves

It took a dramatic three-hour board meeting fraught with accusations of lies, corruption and slander, unruly citizens standing and shouting from the gallery, several points of order and a last-minute, desperate power play, but the Comox Valley Regional District finally denied, with a 6-4 vote, an application by 3L Developments to amend the Regional Growth Strategy in their favor.

The tension was already thick in the cramped CVRD boardroom when Kathleen Pitt stepped to the podium to speak in favor of the 3L application, and then her animosity toward the board took the atmosphere to a whole other level.

Pitt attacked the board for fumbling 3L’s bid to build about 1,000 houses in the Puntledge River triangle, near Stotan Falls, suggesting there were “back room deals” and said directors told “lies” and insinuated widespread “corruption” at the CVRD.

When Pitt referenced a human rights violation by a director not at the board table, Cumberland Director Gwyn Sproule called for a “point of order,” suggesting the comments crossed over into slander. Area A Director and Board Chair Bruce Joliffe paused the meeting and Pitt eventually apologized.

But the dramatics were just getting underway.

Speaking against the 3L application, Lisa Christensen accused 3L of bullying and other nefarious tactics to force the CVRD into approving their Riverwood subdivision. That caused a man in the gallery to stand, point at the speaker and shout, “This isn’t slander?”

Joliffe stopped the meeting again to tell everyone to “calm down.” The man grabbed his coat and left the room, and not long after that Pitt also left with other 3L supporters.

The board eventually got down to business and the gallery quieted down, temporarily.

On the table were reports from the CVRD Technical Advisory Committee and the 3L Steering Committee that both recommended the board deny the 3L application at first reading. You can read the reports here or here.

But 3L had also asked the board to postpone first reading and extend the timeframe for considering their application by around six months. Company spokesperson Mark Holland said the company had applied in 2014 when certain studies on traffic and environmental concerns weren’t required as they are in 2017. 3L has not completed these studies.

That’s when Alternate Area C Director Curtis Scoville brought a sharp focus to the board discussion.

Scoville said it sounded like the board was discussing two separate issues: one, the application by 3L to amend the RGS to create a new settlement node; and, two, a desire by some directors to review and update the RGS.

“Shouldn’t we treat these two separately?” he asked.

Alana Mullaly, the CVRD’s Manager of Planning Services, responded that the key difference between Scoville’s two issues was that an RGS document would be reviewed when the board felt key principles were no longer valid, that it’s goals weren’t current or that the community no longer shared a value expressed in the RGS.

But, she said, the CVRD’s Regional Growth Strategy is the only RGS in the province that allows applications for amendment from a private third party, such as 3L. In the other regional districts, only a member municipality — for example, Comox, Cumberland or Courtenay — could apply to amend an RGS.

Comox Director Barbara Price then made a motion to approve the staff recommendation to deny the 3L application.

But before the board finishing discussing the motion and called for a vote, Courtenay Director Mano Theos suddenly announced he had “new information from the applicant.”

That surprised everyone because it was the first indication from Theos that he had such information. He was seated directly in front of the 3L owner and representatives, about three feet away.

Theos asked the board to allow 3L spokesperson Mark Holland, a Vancouver urban planner hired by the company just days before the meeting, to speak.

Holland told the board that if it proceeded to a vote on first reading, as per Price’s motion, without first considering 3L’s request for a postponement and extension, then 3L would withdraw its application entirely. He said the company didn’t want to be judged on 2017 requirements when they had applied in 2014.

The gallery, which by that time comprised mostly 3L opponents, rose back to life with rumblings of delight: “Perfect, withdraw,” and “exactly what we want.”

After much more discussion, Erik Eriksson voted with Larry Jangula, Mano Theos and Ken Grant to oppose the motion, but the six other directors voted in favor.

3L Developments can still reapply to amend the RGS, but they have a narrow window to do so.

The CVRD is itself in the process of amending the Regional Growth Strategy to no longer allow private party applications to amend the document. That will bring the Valley’s RGS in line with the province’s other regional districts.

That amendment could pass as early as next month.

 

Rural area candidates discuss various regional issues

Rural area candidates discuss various regional issues

The last in a series of in-depth voter information pages published today. 

dropcap]R[/dropcap]ural area candidates seeking to represent their electoral areas on the Comox Valley Regional District board answered a series of questions for a page that published today on this website. It’s the last in a series of pages giving candidates the opportunity to share their thoughts on election issues in their own words. Decafnation has previously published Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland candidate pages this week. 

Two of the electoral area candidates, Ron Nichol in Area B and Jay Oddleifson in Area C, chose not to respond.

You can jump to the Election 2018/Rural candidates’ page by clicking this link. The page is also available from the main menu: topics – politics – Cumberland Candidates Respond, or by clicking one the pages at the top of Decafnation’s home page.


Cumberland candidates talk about the issues

Cumberland mayor and council candidates competing in the Oct. 20 municipal elections discuss a variety of topics in a page published today on this website. It’s the third in a series of pages giving candidates the opportunity to share their thoughts on election issues in their own words. Decafnation has previously published Courtenay and Comox candidate pages this week. A page devoted to rural regional district directors will publish tomorrow.

Only one council candidate, Eric Krejci, chose not to respond.

You can jump to the Election 2018/Cumberland candidates’ page by clicking this link. The page is also available from the main menu: topics – politics – Cumberland Candidates Respond, or by clicking one the pages at the top of Decafnation’s home page.


Comox candidates explain their positions on a variety of issues

Candidates for Comox Town Council and mayor explain their positions about a variety of topics in a page published today on this website. It’s the second in a series of pages giving candidates the opportunity to share their thoughts on election issues in their own words. A Courtenay candidate page published yesterday.

Both mayoralty candidates, Russ Arnott and Tom Diamond, responded to the survey. But not all council candidates responded, just the new challengers. Incumbents Maureen Swift and Ken Grant declined to respond. 

You can jump to the Election 2018/Comox candidates’ page by clicking this link. The page is also available from the main menu: topics – politics – Comox Candidates Respond.


Courtenay candidates take on taxes and other issues

What do the 16 candidates for Courtenay City Council and the four candidates for mayor think about tax rates, air quality and amalgamation?

In the first in a series of four special Election 2018 pages published today on Decafnation, the candidates have shared their thoughts and positions on these and a variety of other topics in their own words.

Decafnation invited candidates to respond to nine questions and allowed them up to 500 words to answer each question. Some chose to respond in a long and detailed fashion, while others opted for brevity. Readers can easily compare the candidates as their responses are sorted by the questions and alphabetically by the candidates’ last names.

Readers will have to weigh the significance of the absence of four candidates. Two mayoralty candidates, Erik Eriksson and incumbent Larry Jangula, chose not to respond, as did council candidates Tom Grant and Jin Lin.

All other candidates graciously responded with thoughtful responses — some candidates said they spent considerable time on the project — in order to help you become a more informed voter.

You can jump to the Election 2018/Courtenay candidates’ page by clicking this link. The page is also available from the main menu: topics – politics -Courtenay Candidates Respond.

Similar pages featuring Comox, Cumberland and regional electoral area candidates will publish later this week.

And don’t forget to vote Oct. 20.

 

Ron Freeman sees new Comox businesses, low taxes

Ron Freeman sees new Comox businesses, low taxes

Ron Freeman, a former pastor and Habitat board member, wants to attract young families and a greater variety of new businesses to Comox, meanwhile keeping taxes as low as possible

 

Comox Town Council candidate Ron Freeman hopes to look back on his first term in four years and see that he accomplished his two main goals: to keep taxes low and continue revitalizing the downtown core.

“Fiscal responsibility is the key,” he told Decafnation. “People in Comox don’t complain about taxes because the service is good, especially snow removal.”

Freeman, a retired pastor who now works part-time as a commissionaire at CFB Comox, says a two-plus percent tax increase each year would be acceptable.

“But we couldn’t go lower than that and keep the services people are expecting,” he said.

Freeman says he wants to attract new businesses to Comox to broaden the appeal of the town’s business district. He would consider tax incentives to encourage commercial investment.

“We need to send the message that we’re open for business, and make it easy for them,” he said.

To get that ball rolling, Freeman would involve citizens and current business owners to create a strategic plan for attracting new businesses. The plan would lay out how to go about it and what types of new businesses people want in Comox.

“For example, why do I have to go to Courtenay to buy shoes?” he said.

Freeman thinks “touristy type” businesses would succeed on the waterfront, such as paddle board and small boat rentals, and electric bicycle rentals. And he would like to add a jazz festival into the town’s summer events calendar.

But Comox residents would have to support the local businesses, so the “streets don’t roll up at 6 pm.” He envisions some type of education program and council members acting as ambassadors.

The candidate also hopes to help the town attract young families. Keeping down the cost of housing would be key, he says, but he also want to provide more amenities for the younger teen age group, like a drop-in centre, such as The Link in Courtenay.

Freeman was one of the original board members of the Comox Valley Habitat for Humanity, and he’s concerned about the affordability of housing in Comox. He says allowing more secondary suites has helped, but he’d like to find other solutions.

He supports homeowner vacation rentals because it helps people afford their mortgage and brings new people to Comox and “keeps them circulating through town.” Someone he knows had vacationers from France who now hope to move here and start a business.

Freeman moved to the Valley in 1999 from Sidney. He came to pastor at the Living Hope Christian Fellowship church, that had a membership of four couples and a single person when he arrived. When he retired in 2013, the church had grown to 160 members.

He has a bachelor of theology from a seminary in Regina, Sask.

On the subject of Shakesides, the heritage home of naturalist Hamilton Mack Laing, which the town wants to take down and replace with a viewing stand, Freeman says that’s the best that can be done at this point. He has talked with current council members about the issue, but not anyone from the Mack Laing Heritage Society.

He wants voters to know he’s “approachable, and I’m open and honest.”

“We all have things we’re passionate about, but I like the idea that when all is said, something gets done,” he said. “We’re all different, we all have a place and we must respect each other.”

Freeman says he would bring “respectful dialogue” to a seat on the town council.

 

Candidates & Decafnation collaborate to inform voters

Candidates & Decafnation collaborate to inform voters

Your vote on Oct. 20 does more than elect someone to a municipal council. It shapes the future of your community. Our special pages this week will help you make more informed choices

 

Comox Valley voters will do more than choose their mayors, municipal council members and rural area representatives in a little more than two weeks. By selecting specific candidates voters will indirectly influence policy, and shape the direction of their communities for the next four years.

It’s a heavy burden on those who cast ballots. And it should not be done in haste or based on popularity, flashy signs or any criteria other than an informed choice of who best mirrors each voter’s values and vision.

But with so many new candidates running for office this year, how you know them well enough to earn that precious X on your ballot?

Candidates are knocking on doors and speaking at several all-candidates meetings closer to Election Day. But that’s not enough.

Decafnation has conducted in-depth interviews with as many candidates as possible, dating back to a year ago when the first candidate announced he would contend for the Courtenay mayor’s chair. And we have more profiles to publish this week. You can find them all on our Elections 2018 page. But that’s still no enough.

Decafnation has gone a step further. We have invited all candidates to engage in a comprehensive Question-and-Answer dialogue on a wide range of topics and given them considerable space (500 words) to discuss each question.

We framed most of our questions broadly, so candidates would could explain how they would approach issues at the policy or legislative level. We think the responses show which candidates have a strong vision and which do not, which candidates have a deep understanding of the bigger picture and which candidates have the depth and strength to lead us through the next four years.

Almost all the candidates in Cumberland, Courtenay, Comox and the regional district’s electoral areas participated. You might find it interesting to note which candidates chose not to participate.

We have prepared special pages on Decafnation that feature all the candidates’ responses sorted by the questions and alphabetically by the candidates’ last names. that makes it easy to compare your municipality’s candidates and factor their responses into your decision-making.

The Courtenay page will roll out first, later today (Oct. 2), followed by Comox on Wednesday, rural regional directors on Thursday and Cumberland on Friday.

The candidates have graciously collaborated with Decafnation to help you become a more informed voter. We hope you find the pages useful.

And then, vote.

Advance polls open on Oct. 10 and Oct. 17, but also on other dates in selected places. Check the home page of Decafnation for a complete listing of where and when to vote early, and beat the rush (we hope) on Election Day.