Letters provide new revelations in the ongoing Mack Laing saga

Letters provide new revelations in the ongoing Mack Laing saga

Two documents have recently surfaced that indicate the Town of Comox had discussions with the Comox Valley Natural History Society about creating a natural history museum in the home of Hamilton Mack Laing. The letters also indicate the society’s interest to take on responsibility for developing a park on Laing’s property.

You can read the letters here, and here.

The letters, written in 1979 and 1981, provide proof that Laing participated in getting assurances that the Town of Comox would carry out his last wishes if he bequeathed them his house, the bulk of his work as a naturalist and a significant amount of money to finance the endeavors.

Laing was an honoured figure in the CV Natural History Society and his caretaker nurse was Alice Bullen, also a member of the society and a Town councillor at the time. The letters show that Laing knew of the society’s communication with the town and supported it.

Up until now, the Town of Comox has claimed that all records and accounts of its dealings with Laing and his representatives have disappeared.

Laing was prolific naturalist, photographer, writer, artist and noted ornithologist, whose work from the Comox waterfront since 1922 earned him worldwide recognition.

Laing lived a Walden Pond lifestyle on several waterfront acres along Comox Bay from 1922 until his death in 1982. Laing was lesser known than Campbell River’s Roderick Haig-Brown, but to serious ornithologists, his work was more important.

When Laing died, he left the bulk of his work to the Town of Comox, and also his waterfront property, his second home (named Shakesides), and the residue cash from his estate “for the improvement and development of my home as a natural history museum.

But 35 years later, the town has done nothing to satisfy his last wishes, and the money Laing left to finance his legacy would have been used for other purposes.

One of the important revelations from the documents unearthed from Laing’s papers preserved at the B.C. Archives is that the town may have competed for the trust, or at least convinced Laing that they were the best holders of his trust.

That may be cause for the B.C. Supreme Court to regard the town’s breach of Laing’s trust as something more serious.

The Town Council voted unanimously this week to try to break Laing’s trust with an application to the high court that argues the trust is “no longer … in the best interests of the town.” The council wants to use Laing’s money to tear down his house and build a viewing platform on the site.

The town’s councillors obviously have little regard for heritage or respect for one of the community’s most famous former residents. Laing’s work and his home have received more support from outside the town.

An independent and nationally recognized heritage consulting firm says that the former home of the naturalist — known as “Shakesides” — is of national importance and should be saved for its historic value and for the enjoyment of future generations.

The chairman of Heritage B.C., a provincial agency committed to “conservation and tourism, economic and environmental sustainability, community pride and an appreciation of our common history,” believes the heritage value of Shakesides demands that Laing’s former home should be “conserved for … future generations” and that the Town of Comox should “use the building in ways that will conserve its heritage value.”

Heritage B.C. has offered its assistance, at no charge, to the Town of Comox, for the duration of the process to repurpose Shakesides, and pretty much guaranteed the town a provincial grant through the Heritage Legacy Fund Heritage Conservation program.

The two letters were discovered by Kate Panyatoff, a former president of the Mack Laing Heritage Society. She was doing research for the Comox Valley Nature’s Cultural and Heritage Group, which plans to publish some of Laing’s work.

Note: This article has been updated from the original post.

On electoral reform, Trudeau disappoints us, once again

On electoral reform, Trudeau disappoints us, once again

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau scuffed his once-shiny political image again yesterday by discarding yet another campaign promise.

In his first throne speech after the 2015 federal election, Trudeau boasted triumphantly that Canada had seen the last of its whoever-gets-the-most-votes-wins voting system. But he didn’t present a clearly defined alternative. He just promised to change the system before the 2019 election.

A few months ago, Trudeau surrendered the grandiose commitments he made to environmentalism during the campaign and at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris by approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline that promotes Alberta’s dirty tar sands oil and potentially fouls the Salish Sea.

So, was Trudeau nothing more than just another politician who will say anything to get elected? That’s how opposition parties will portray him now.

It’s more likely we’re seeing a naive young prime minister who may not have expected to win the election and now, faced with the reality of delivering on his campaign promise, has butted heads with the impracticality of reaching national consensus on altering a fundamental democratic right in less than four years.

Almost every candidate for elected office makes a promise they don’t or can’t keep. Some are outright liars, like Donald Drumpf, who will say or do anything to fool people in order to get their votes.

Consider the U.S. Republican Party, which campaigned for years to repeal Obamacare without any idea of what to do next. Now they’re scrambling to create a replacement health care plan that doesn’t implode on them.

But I prefer to believe Trudeau had honest intentions. He’s just learning that it’s easy to criticize something; it’s more difficult to devise an alternative that transcends criticism.

He made a foolish promise because there’s no clear-cut better alternative to the popular vote. Proportional representation encourages partisanship. Ranked-choice voting, sometimes called a preferential ballot, is prone to electing people nobody really wanted.

Had the popular vote decided the U.S. presidency, Americans would not have elected Donald Drumpf. So what’s not to like about that?

Perhaps the greater problem with Canadian governance lies within the political parties, and specifically the rule that requires block voting. Members who exercise independent thought and vote outside the party line are cast off into political limbo. That makes individual candidates a secondary consideration to party policy for voters in Canadian elections.

I’m with the millions of Canadians who are more concerned about Trudeau’s flip-flop on climate change and protecting the environment than cancelling a divisive national debate over electoral reform.

But there’s a lesson in this for voters. One we never seem to learn. Be wary of any candidate without detailed plans behind their promises. That candidate is bound to disappoint.

If we Vote-By-Google this spring, the Green Party would win

If we Vote-By-Google this spring, the Green Party would win

When people start suggesting that highly paid writers such as myself – rumored to be in the high single digits! – start writing about British Columbia’s spring provincial election campaign, we do what any other sane person would do: hide under our desks until those people go away.

Well, that’s what we used to do before they invented Google. Now, whenever I want to avoid writing by wasting a lot of valuable time, I call up Google. I Google recreationally, or casually, you might say. With No Strings Attached. In other words, I Google without any meaningful commitment.

I don’t know why, but suddenly, in an era when a U. S. president promotes his executive orders on Twitter, this seemed an appropriate method to research a piece about the upcoming election.

I discovered, for example, that there really is such a thing as a “good politician,” because Google (Canadian version) returned 50.9 million hits for that phrase. Unfortunately, this is the Year of Trump, so I got 51.8 million hits for “bad politician,” perhaps signaling a negative trend in governance.

However, the results for “straight shooter” (8.78 million hits) encouraged me by crushing those who speak with a “forked tongue” (572,000 hits). I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the fact that the phrase “we’re here from the government, and we’re here to help you” tallied a pitiful 94,600 hits.

But did you know that someone out there has already searched with almost every adjective you can think of in front of the word “politician?” … Someone who may be eligible to vote.

We apparently think our politicians are less “sleazy” (351,000 hits) than “silly” (614,000), and, even more surprising, “intelligent” (821,000 hits).

British Columbians might consider saving ourselves a lot of time and expense by dispensing with political campaigns altogether and just decide the spring provincial election by the number of Google hits each candidate receives. It would be kind of like online voting.

If we switched to Google-voting, local NDP candidate Ronna-Rae Leonard would crush her Liberal opponent, Jim Benninger, by a vote of 1,530 to 1,400.

But both the B.C. Liberal Party (497,000 hits) and the B.C. NDP Party (457,000) would lose to the B.C. Green Party, which tallied an astonishing 11 million hits.

Google-voting wouldn’t out well for NDP leader John Horgan, however. He would lose to Liberal Christy Clark by 14 million to 463,000. However, once again, the Green Party tops the polls. Green leader Andrew Weaver collected 18.8 million hits.

On a positive note, “Elect Justin Trudeau” snagged 26.6 million hits, more than doubling the vote for “Elect Kevin O’Leary.” Although, when you search for O’Leary’s self-imposed nickname, Mr. Wonderful, he turns in a respectable 13.3 million. But, thankfully, not enough to win.

I have no idea what this means, but there appear to be more “goofy” Liberals (354,000 hits) than “goofy” NDPers (127,000 hits).

In the end, however, this Google- voting system might not work.

While the concept of “voting” is encouragingly strong (178 million hits), it might come from a worrisome number of illiterates. If you misspell the word “vote” by adding an extra letter “o”, it takes an extra 62 “Os” until Google cannot find any more results.

Finally, in a triumph of man over ape, the phrase “Elect George” returns 69.9 million hits, while “elect Curious George” only swings 347,000. So there’s hope.

New design, features launched on Decafnation

New design, features launched on Decafnation

The Decafnation officially launches a new look and added features today. We’re most excited about the new Photography page, which will feature candid, historical images of some Comox Valley person(s) or event every week and the story behind the picture. Readers can help identify the people and add their own related stories and memories through the comments section. You’ll also notice a stack of toggles on this page, which we call Social Studies that will change throughout the week. Just click the caramel-coloured icon to open the content. Let us know how you like the new Decafnation. And don’t forget to “like” us on Facebook.

We’ve start the Photography page off today with four historical images, including Dave Hardy at his home in Cumberland and pictures of some unidentified singers at a Renaissance Fair and some early youth football players. Share these posts with your friends by clicking the Facebook icon to help us add meaningful information to these photographs.

In the photograph at top: Molly Guilbeault getting ready to start her shift at the Leung’s Grocery lunch counter.

The mistrust of government begins at home

The mistrust of government begins at home

The strong undercurrent of government mistrust that shades the American landscape is something relatively new to Canadians. But the recent Comox Valley Regional District open house on the HMCS Quadra sewer line replacement shows how and why that mood is changing.

The open house meeting should have been an opportunity for citizens, bureaucrats and elected officials to communicate in a collaborative manner that resulted in some positive meaningful action.

Instead, the HMCS Quadra meeting erupted into a vitriolic condemnation of the CVRD’s lack of transparency on this project. You can read a report of the meeting here.

It’s a sad commentary on the openness of local government in general that this expression of anger and frustration surprised no one at the meeting, including the presenter, CVRD Senior Engineer Marc Rutten, who appeared to accept the citizens’ mistrust as routine.

Throughout the contentious meeting that at moments threatened to spin out of control, Rutten never once acknowledged the possible veracity of a citizen’s concern. But why would he? The project’s details were presented as a fait accompli which “are too far along in the process to change now.”

Rutten couldn’t have done a better job of fostering distrust in the regional district.

If governments don’t genuinely want input from citizens, especially those directly affected by a specific project, then why invite them to a meeting on the pretence that their input might matter? It’s disingenuous and elevates people’s rage. And it creates mistrust of government. People start concocting conspiracy theories to explain what might seem like simple logistic solutions to CVRD staff.

Open house public meetings are usually held before finalizing a project’s details. For example, the CVRD presented several options to Royston and Union Bay residents at an early open house on the South Sewer Project, and residents picked their preferred one.

But the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission and CVRD engineers have turned a deaf ear to public concerns about its sewerage system planning, which has caused widespread suspicion, mistrust and anger.

Some of the blame for perpetuating government mistrust lies with elected officials who make these decisions but intentionally avoid the open houses they know will be contentious. Their absence forces staff to take all the heat.

Sewage Commission Chair Barbara Price and Courtenay director Bob Wells made token 15-minute appearances at the beginning of the open house, while everyone looked at informational posters and mingled with coffee and cookies in hand.

But they both left before the serious work of the question and answer period began. Why didn’t they stick around and absorb the public reaction to their decisions?

No other members of the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission showed up at the HCMS Quadra public meeting. Even the CFB Comox representative, Major Marc Fugulin, was absent.

The lack of good watchdog journalism in the Comox Valley contributes to the mistrust of local government. Not one reporter attended the question and answer period. And no local media has reported on the meeting.

Without a public watchdog to hold elected officials accountable, governments naturally adopt a less communicative and responsive attitude.

Elected officials are, after all, volunteer public servants. Most of the time they are sincere about achieving the common good. But the public needs to know if and when apparent altruism cloaks a personal agenda or a conflict of interest, or when governments steamroll projects over powerless citizens.