Can a family of four live in the Valley at $16.59 per hour?

Can a family of four live in the Valley at $16.59 per hour?

A new study says $16.59 per hour is a minimum “living wage” for families of four in the Comox Valley (two working parents). But the study assumes people can find housing at 30 percent of their gross income, and it doesn’t consider the plight of single parents

 

The Comox Valley is one of the least expensive places in the province to live, according to a new study by a British Columbia advocacy group that encourages employers to pay a living wage.

It’s a claim by the Living Wage for Families Campaign that would surprise most people trying to find affordable housing here. Especially single parents.

And yet, if the group’s data is accurate, it still requires two working parents to each work full-time and earn a minimum wage of $16.59 per hour to support a family of four in the Comox Valley.

That’s $5.24 per hour higher than the current minimum wage of $11.35 And When B.C.’s minimum wage increases to $12.65 on June 1, it will still fall short by $3.94 per hour.

FURTHER READING: Living Wage for Families website

B.C. Premier John Horgan has vowed to increase the province’s minimum wage to $15.20 by the year 2021. But even that is already lower than the current living wage requirement in most areas of the province, according to the study.

So the questions are: how accurate is the Living Wage for Families Campaign study, and does it apply to single people or single parents?

Did it consider the Comox Valley’s lack of affordable housing, or the low vacancy rate and high rental rates that exist here.

The Living Wage for Families Campaign estimates of a living wage in selected B.C. communities

If two parents both earn $16.59 per hour and work full-time (35 hours according to the study), they could afford to pay about $1,500 per month in housing costs. The study assumes paying roughly 30 percent of gross income on shelter.

Two bedroom units in the Comox Valley renting at $1,500 per month are difficult — maybe impossible — to find.

According to a quick check of for-rent ads on Internet sites and Comox Valley property management listings put the range for two bedroom units in multi-floor apartment buildings at between $950 per month and $1,250 per month. And only one or two had vacancies.

Two bedroom small houses rent for $2,000 per month and up, if you can find one.

So Comox Valley families of four would find it difficult to live on even the study’s living wage estimate.

And it’s worse for single people.

A single parent with two children earning $16.59 per hour and paying 30 percent of their gross income for housing could only afford $755 per month. Good luck with that in the Comox Valley.

Having to pay $1,000 or more for even basic housing means a single parent family would have just $900 or less left over each month for hydro, food, taxes, transportation and clothing.

For many single parents this study’s living wage sounds more a survival wage.

But here’s the real tragedy.

The B.C. government will raise the minimum wage to just $12.65 on June 1 of this year, and then to $13.85 next year, to $14.60 in 2020 and finally to $15.20 in 2021.

By that time, the Comox Valley’s living wage will have gone far beyond the $16.59 it’s estimated at today.

And the government’s plan separates out farm workers and liquor servers (bartenders, waiters and anyone who serves liquor) for lower minimum wages than other working people.

FURTHER READING: B.C. minimum wage fact sheet; Minimum wage by province

So it’s no surprise that the B.C. NDP government has been criticized by labor unions and other worker advocacy groups for moving too slow on increasing the minimum wage.

Among Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories, only five had a lower minimum wage on April 1, according to the Retail Council of Canada.

About 20 percent of British Columbians earn less than $15 an hour. Nearly half of those are university and college graduates over the age of 25.

Low wages and rising housing costs trap people in poverty and closes off avenues of upward mobility. In turn, that deepens the divide between rich and poor and keeps people from ever getting a foothold into the middle class.

Addressing the minimum wage issue requires unraveling a complex web of economic factors, including the shortage of affordable housing.

In the absence of a significant increase in the minimum wage, B.C. should make funding the construction of affordable housing a high priority.

Doing so will both stimulate job creation and sales tax revenue, and reduce the housing cost burden that keeps families trapped in poverty and frustration.

Random related facts

Due to the Comox Valley’s demographics, we have a high percentage of residents paying more than 50 percent of their gross income on housing. Many of them are elderly.

¶ Over 110 companies and organizations across BC, employing more than 18,000 workers and covering many thousands more contracted service workers, have been certified as Living Wage Employers. These include Huu-ay-aht First Nations, Vancity, the United Way of the Lower Mainland, the City of Quesnel, the City of Port Coquitlam, Urban Solar and PARC Retirement Living. In 2017, the City of Vancouver certified as a Living Wage Employer, and eight other local governments in BC have living wage policies.

During the City of Seattle’s minimum wage debate several years ago (they implemented it), Tom Douglas, owner of 14 restaurants in Seattle, emerged as voice of reason. He voluntarily raised the pay of all his employees to $15 per hour.

Why? As he told National Public Radio, “The more you put dollars into people’s hands to be spent, I’m sure it probably would be healthy for the economy.”

In other words, doing the right thing and taking good care of your employees makes business sense.

It could make sense for British Columbia, too.

 

Farmers: reject Merville water bottling operation

Farmers: reject Merville water bottling operation

PHOTO: Merville area residents and others attend a public forum last week about the water bottling proposal

The Mid-Island Farmer’s Institute asks the CVRD to decline a rezoning application and to urge the B.C. government to rescind a water licence for a bottling operation in the Merville area

 

The Mid-Island Farmers Institute has asked the Comox Valley Regional District board to reject a water bottling facility on Sackville Road in Merville.

The farmers also want the regional district to ask the Ministry of Forestry, Land, Natural Resources, Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) to rescind the water licence granted to the Sackville Road property owners, Christopher MacKenzie and Regula Heynck.

The regional district didn’t issue the water licence and has no authority to rescind it. But the CVRD can deny a rezoning application that is necessary to allow water bottling as a principal use on the property.

The provincial agency approved the controversial groundwater licence for a water extraction and bottling operation on a two hectare property in the Merville area despite strong objections from the CVRD and the K’omoks First Nation.

“We believe that this licence was issued without a thorough understanding of the aquifer and the impact that water extraction would have on neighbouring farms and home sites,” board members of the farmers organization wrote in a letter to the regional district board of directors.

“The rezoning application is not in line with the CVRD’s own Official Community Plan and will negatively impact neighbours and road infrastructure,” they said. “The fact that the licence was granted despite objections from the CVRD , objections from the K’omoks First Nation, and the lack of any public consultation brings serious doubt to the legitimacy of such a decision and the operation must not be allowed to go forward.”

FURTHER READING: Water bottling project raises aquifer concerns

MacKenzie told a CVRD committee last month that he originally drilled a well for domestic purposes. But after his wife, Regula Heynck, insisted on testing and discovering the water had high pH levels (alkaline), the couple envisioned a viable family business.

MacKenzie claimed the alkaline water has health benefits and is “something the community needs … it’s really unique”

But farmers in the Merville area believe the bottling facility would draw too much water from the aquifer and affect their crop production. The licence allows MacKenzie/Heynck to extract 10,000 litres per day or 3.65 million litres per year.

The Mid-Island Farmer’s Institute wants the Ministry of FLNRORD to rescind the licence and “declare a moratorium on the issuance of water bottling licences on BC’s aquifers until a full review is conducted on the current and future demand for this water from BC’s farmers.”

The farmers also want the CVRD to “apply for a Water Reservation over the aquifer to ensure that the water is only used for Comox Valley community needs,” which could only be lifted if “the CVRD’s Agriculture Watershed Public Advisory Committee has determined that there is sufficient water for current and future needs of the CVRD community.”

The next CVRD board meeting is Tuesday, April 24. But the matter probably won’t be addressed again until the Electoral Services Committee, which makes recommendations to the board on rural rezoning applications, meets on May 14.

 

Supreme Court rules in favor of Mack Laing Heritage Society

Supreme Court rules in favor of Mack Laing Heritage Society

The Mack Laing Heritage Society has won a major legal battle to force the Town of Comox to honor trust agreements with the famous naturalist

 

AB.C. Supreme Court judge has facilitated an agreement so the Mack Laing Heritage Society can present its evidence in a case that will decide the future of the famous ornithologist’s iconic home and clarify the status of his trust agreements.

In a hearing in Nanaimo this week (April 17), Justice Douglas W. Thompson asked lawyers for the town and the B.C. Attorney General’s office why they objected to the court hearing the “armful of evidence” submitted by the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS).

Justice Thompson then pointedly asked the Attorney General’s representative how she could fulfill her obligations as a “defender of public trusts” without all the information in the case.

And he asked the town’s lawyer, of the Vancouver-bassed Young Anderson law firm, what questions the town did not want MLHS to ask in court.

By the end of the five-hour court session, the town’s lawyer and the AG’s office had agreed to grant intervenor status to the MLHS with “no restrictions whatsoever” on the evidence the society can introduce into the proceedings, which will be held in late May.

It was a major win for the MLHS and a defeat in round one for the Town of Comox.

FURTHER READING: Town of Comox confesses: we misspent Laing’s money; Link to all Shakesides stories

The town has petitioned the court to vary the terms of the Mack Laing trusts — there are three — in order to demolish Laing’s heritage home, which he willed to the town, and use the money Laing also left for purposes other than those the acclaimed naturalists intended.

The MLHS had sought official standing in the case. “Standing” meant that the society could introduce nine affidavits totally about 500 pages of evidence that purport to negate the basis of the town’s petition, and, if successful, could have recovered its legal costs from the town.

Local builder Bunker Killam, who rented Shakesides for the first nine years after Laing’s death, sets up croquet in the front yard. Killam said the house was in good condition while he lived there.

By granting the MLHS intervenor status with “no restrictions,” Justice Thompson has cleared the way for the court to consider all of the society’s evidence. But if MLHS succeeds in defeating the town’s petition, it will not be able recover its court costs.

MLHS President J-Kris Nielsen said, “”Had we been offered this deal months ago, we would gladly have taken it. All we wanted was the chance to present the evidence we have collected from a wide array of sources and individuals, together with the historical facts from these sources, seen through different eyes, plus ask questions in order to get answers from town officials.

“The justice recognized the value of these different documents early, and made it clear that he did not see why this information should not be at the disposal of the court?,” Nielsen said. “Now our 11 affidavits and 120 or so exhibits are fully vested in the upcoming Supreme Court Hearing.”

According to Nielsen, the “genius of Justice Thompson” showed up in the last half hour of the April 17 court session, when he maneuvered the proceedings around with “carrot and stick tactics” to bring about a conclusion, surely saving a full day of court time from playing out.

“It was all done with one question (to the Town of Comox and the AG representative),” Nielsen said. “What question is it you want the society NOT to ask?”

Asked if he cared to comment on the outcome of the court session, Comox Mayor Paul Ives said, “Not really — the matter has been adjourned to the week of May 28 in Nanaimo.”

There could still be a mediated settlement in the case if the town decides to cap its incurred legal expenses — speculated to be heading toward $75,000.

And it’s still unclear whether the MLHS, or other community organizations or individuals, could file civil lawsuits against the town for breaches of trust.

Background of the case

The town has petitioned the court, under a specific section of the Community Charter, to vary the “terms applicable to money held in trust if a municipal council considers the terms or trust to no longer be in the best interests of the municipality.”

MLHS wants the court to see painstakingly detail how the town has misspent Laing’s money, disregarded the intention of his three trusts over a 36-year period and misstated facts to the court corroborated by its own documents.

The town passed a resolution 32 days after Laing’s death in February of 1982 to rent Shakesides and several months later, in August, started spending the rent money and interest earned on Laing’s cash gift on items beyond the scope of the trust agreements.

One pressing issue is whether the town can demolish Laing’s home, which he gave to the Comox community for the purpose of establishing a natural history museum.

But MLHS also wants the court to order a forensic audit of the Laing trusts.

MLHS contends the town has misstated the amount of cash Laing left them after his death in February of 1982 and that the trust today should be worth up to nearly $500,000.

Can Shakesides be restored?

According to Guerdon “Bunker” Killam, a developer and home builder, who lived in Shakesides for nine years, from 1982 to 1990, the house was in good condition when he moved in and he continued to improve it during his tenure.

Killam said Shakesides is “a very well built small house in excellent condition.”

But during the town’s 36-year stewardship, the house’s conditions has declined. The town even rejected an offer by MLHS to provide free labor to install a waterproof covering over the leaking roof until the court is settled.

Meanwhile, a number of Comox Valley businesses have added their names to the list of those willing to donate time and/or services to renovate Shakesides.

According to Gordon Olson, a friend of Laing in his latter years, Lacasse Construction has committed to donating some work to restoring the house. Comox Valley architect Tom Dishlevoy will donate some design work, and Three Oaks Flooring will donate labor for refinishing the house’s wood floors.

Masonry trades people and window specialists have also made commitments.

 

 

Managing urban deer is a local problem, not a provincial one

Managing urban deer is a local problem, not a provincial one

Provincial ministry confirms: province has no legal responsibility for managing urban deer. Comox Valley elected officials ignore problem while Oak Bay and Haida Gwaii take action

 

[dropcap}Q[/dropcap]uestion: What do the City of Oak Bay and the islands of Haida Gwaii NOT have in common with the Comox Valley?

Answer: They have recognized the problems caused by an excessive quantity of deer and have taken actions to reduce their deer populations.

The Comox Valley has done nothing.

Meanwhile, the federal government will spend $5.7 million over the next three years on a program that will eradicate deer from six islands in Haida Gwaii, and
Oak Bay will spend $40,000 on an experimental program to put some of its urban deer on birth control.

But Comox Valley governments have allowed their urban deer populations to expand, partly because elected officials cling to the erroneous notion that managing the animals is a provincial responsibility.

A Comox Valley Regional District representative has told Decafnation that deer are a provincial problem, and Comox Mayor Paul Ives repeated this misinformation on Facebook recently.

So Decafnation contacted the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Resource Operations and Rural Development. Here’s what they said:

“According to section 2 (1) and 2 (5) of the Wildlife Act, all wildlife is owned by the government, but no right of action or compensation exists against the province for death, personal injury or property damage,” a ministry representative wrote via email.

“So, while the province owns the deer, it has no legal responsibility for managing urban deer populations toward objectives established by local governments.”

But the province encourages local governments to develop detailed deer management plans, and it partners with local governments to facilitate and develop socially acceptable urban deer management solutions.

FURTHER READING: Ottawa spends $5.7 to eradicate deer in Haida Gwii; Oak Bay to issue deer contraceptives

If any Comox Valley municipality developed a deer management strategy the province would provide technical advice, regulatory authority, necessary permits, specialized equipment and other management tools.

And, in 2016, B.C. launched an urban deer management program, which provides $100,000 each year to help fund community-based urban deer management projects.

The funding follows up on the province’s pledge – made at the 2015 Union of BC Municipalities annual convention – to set aside annual funding for urban deer mitigation. The province is helping to fund Oak Bay’s program.

That makes it clear that local governments must initiate strategies to manage its deer populations, and the province will help with resources and funding.

So why are Comox Valley governments ignoring this problem?

Gardeners lose thousands of dollars worth of plants to the voraciously hungry deers, and spend thousands more on fencing and other methods to deter them. Farmers have lost crops. Motorists have collided with deer.

Deer attract dangerous animals. Deer make up about 95 percent of a cougar’s diet, and are lured into the urban area by the easy prey of unwary deer. The area conservation officer reports frequent cougar sightings in the Valley.

Letting the deer population go unchecked raises the risk of spreading Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. While reported cases of Lyme disease are not as prevalent here as in the Lower Mainland and other areas, a high density of deer means more ticks and a greater risk.

What Oak Bay is doing

The city recently put radio collars on 20 does to track their movements and better understand the deer population. The next step is to administer an immunocontraceptive vaccine, Zonastat-D, either by hand or via a darting rifle.

While the current version of the drug remains effective for up to 22 months, scientists are working on a vaccine that would work for up to seven years.

What’s going on in Haida Gwaii

Deer were introduced to the Haida Gwaii archipelago in 1880 by the B.C. Game Commission. They have since spread to all of the region’s 200 islands.

“The deer don’t have any predators so there’s no real control for their hyper abundance and they’re beginning to damage the ecosystem in an almost irreparable way,” a Parks Canada resource management technical told CBC news.

Professional sharpshooters have been hired to kill the deer and train young islanders to assist in the eradication.

The deer meat will be distributed for hot lunch programs throughout Haida Gwaii.

Who to call

If individual deer are an immediate threat to human safety, the Conservation Officer Service will respond. These instances should be reported to the RAPP line (Report All Poachers and Polluters) 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP) or #7277 on the TELUS Mobility Network.

To encourage local governments to develop deer management programs, call Comox Town Hall (339-2202) , Courtenay City Hall (334-4441) or the Comox Valley Regional District (334-6000).

 

Mayor criticizes the focus of mayoral candidates

Mayor criticizes the focus of mayoral candidates

Mayor Larry Jangula says the candidates’ focus on their political careers, not city business, has caused discord and promoted electioneering

 

Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula has accused the three incumbent council members seeking to replace him of “electioneering” during City Council meetings.

Jangula says Erik Eriksson, David Frisch and Bob Wells should focus on city business, not their political careers.

“I have already seen signs of electioneering at our council meetings and it is causing a distraction,” Jangula told Decafnation in a written statement.

“Not to mention that it is most unfortunate that these councillors are focusing on their political careers and not on city business, especially at this time of year when important matters like budgets, taxes and service fees are being decided,” he said.

It’s unusual for incumbent council members to challenge a sitting mayor, unless decisions or personalities have caused a major disagreement. It’s open season, however, if the incumbent mayor is retiring.

But Jangula says he hasn’t decided whether to seek re-election.

“My energies are being focused on the issues that impact the community and the taxpayers,” he said. “I will decide at a more appropriate time if I will be seeking re-election and I have no further comment on this matter at this time.”

No obvious disagreement has occurred, although some council members have privately criticized Jangula’s handling of meetings, especially citizen presentations. Jangula got embroiled in a social media firestorm last year over an email reply to a citizen that was widely regarded as condescending and sarcastic.

It’s more likely the three candidates suspect Jangula will step down and are jostling early to build support.

“I am very disappointed that members of my council have decided to start their campaigns in March, a full eight months before the Oct. 20, 2018 municipal election,” Jangula said. “One of the mayoralty candidates, Erik Eriksson, actually started last October, a full year prior to the election.

But Eriksson says the long lead time gives voters a chance to evaluate candidates.

“I announced my intention to run for mayor one year ahead of the election for two reasons,” he told Decafnation. “One is to give people lots of time to evaluate my readiness to serve as mayor.

“The other reason (as I’ve been telling people on the doorstep) is there’s a lot of doors to knock on. ”

Jangula also criticized council members not running for mayor but who are already supporting a colleague.

“I am very concerned when certain councillors are publicly endorsing other councillors for the position of mayor, which is already causing disharmony and discord at our council table,” he said.

Council member Doug Hillan last week announced his support for David Frisch’s campaign.

Frisch, however, rejects the mayor’s criticisms, and says he is focused on city business.

“I have been working for changes to improve housing affordability, transportation options, and downtown vitalization since I was first elected 3 1/2 years ago,” he said. “My focus on council remains the same and my run for mayor echos these principles.”

In regards to council member’s distractions, Frisch said it’s possible that his positions are gaining more attention now, and “that bothers other members of council.”

“But disagreement is nothing new. In fact, disagreement is the foundation of a full discussion and council is the place where issues are debated and, ultimately, decisions are made,” he said. “I look forward to being a leader who understands this and doesn’t shy away from difficult issues or attempt to silence or discourage views which oppose my own.”

Councillors Mano Theos and Rebecca Lennox have not responded to Decafnation’s enquiries about which of the three mayoralty candidates they might support.

Wells said his candidacy for mayor has not distracted him from making effective decisions.

“I can only speak to my focus on getting things done,” he said. “I respect the mayor and city councillors and I think we work well as a council even when we disagree.”

Wells told Decafnation that since being elected in 2014, he has “worked hard to learn as much as I could to make the best decisions possible and will continue to do so.”

“I have not found announcing my candidacy for mayor to be a distraction for me to make effective decisions,” he said. “As someone that loves budgets this is my favourite time of year, and I’m compelled to be prepared and engaged at all meetings.”

FURTHER READING: Erik Eriksson’s website; David Frisch’s website; Bob Wells website