Why is the Town of Comox fighting so hard and spending so much money to thwart the Mack Laing Heritage Society from presenting evidence during a BC Supreme Court trial to decide whether the town can vary the terms of the famous ornithologist’s gifts to the municipality?
The Comox mayor and council members are determined not to allow the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) to present evidence in BC Supreme Court about the future of Laing’s heritage home.
And they’re spending tens of thousands of taxpayers’ money to keep the society’s information out of court.
At the Town of Comox’s second Supreme Court appearance in mid-April, Justice Douglas W. Thompson suggested the town work with MLHS lawyer Patrick Canning and the BC Attorney General’s office on an agreement by May 28 that would grant intervenor status to the society with “no restrictions whatsoever” on the evidence it could introduce into the proceedings.
Justice Thompson suggested the consent order as an alternative to taking up more court time on this preliminary issue.
But the town would not agree. It has rejected every attempt by Canning to find an agreement.
Frustrated by the town, the MLHS has since filed a requisition to restart its Application for Standing in the fall Supreme Court session that begins in October.
A standing status would give MLHS equal footing in the ultimate trial with the town and the AG ministry.
FURTHER READING: Read all of Decafnation’s stories about Shakesides here
The consent order would have brought the society’s Application for Standing, which began in March, to a conclusion and the court could have moved on to the merits of the case.
The Town of Comox has petitioned the court to vary the terms of Laing’s trust, including the right to demolish the famous ornithologist’s iconic home, called Shakesides.
The society wants a forensic audit of the Laing financial trust. They also want to present a business plan for future use of Shakesides.
The failure to reach agreement means a third Supreme Court appearance just to decide whether the MLHS can present evidence regarding the town’s arguments for varying the terms of Laing’s trusts.
Coupled with a two-day minimum trial period, pre-trial work and at least three court appearances on the society’s legal standing, the town is racking up enormous legal costs.
The town has not released information about how high it anticipates the legal fees to reach, but some observers speculate it could reach $100,000.
When Decafnation asked each council member and the mayor why they are willing to spend so much money on lawyers to bury the MLHS’s evidence — money that could be used to live up to the terms of the Mack Laing trust — they all declined to comment because the matter was “before the court.”
Nor would councillors talk about related issues that aren’t before the courts.
Asked if council should form a new citizen advisory committee to study possibilities for Shakesides now that the financial trust has almost quadrupled, the mayor and council also declined to comment.
The town is relying on the citizen committee’s contested conclusion that Shakesides isn’t worth saving. Two committee members wrote a dissenting opinion.
But at the time, the town contended there was only $70,000 in the trust.
Since then, the town has admitted to charges by the MLHS, individuals and other organizations that they spent Laing’s money inappropriately and have added back nearly $200,00 into the trust.
Had the citizens committee known there was more than $260,000 available for complying with Laing’s trust, they might have come to a different, perhaps even unanimous conclusion.
The committee was seriously misled about the finances of the Laing trust.
Yet not one council member has publicly asked if the matter should be reconsidered before spending additional tens of thousands of dollars with a Vancouver law firm.
Now a third BC Supreme Court day will be consumed by a debate over whether the Justices should consider nine affidavits totalling 500 pages of evidence compiled by the MLHS.
Two Justices have already said the “armful of evidence” makes “an arguable case and it should be heard.” The Justices have said, “There are serious issues at stake; it’s been 36 years; and, the vindication of a will.”
Apparently there are many questions the town does not want the MLHS to ask in court. They’re spending a ton of tax dollars to prevent it.
Makes you wonder why. What is the Town Council afraid of?
PHOTO: Bob Wells and his wife, Michelle
Bob Wells says he has the experience and consensus-building skills that the City of Courtenay needs in its next mayor. He asks voters to look at his accomplishments, not the rhetoric of his opponents.
For Courtenay mayoral candidate Bob Wells, the 2018 election should be decided on a single issue: proven leadership experience.
With several multi-million dollar infrastructure decisions facing the city over the next several years — water, sewer and solid waste projects — Wells says voters should put their trust in his accomplishments, not in his opponents’ rhetoric.
“Whether it’s business or community service, I excel at what I do,” he told Decafnation. “It’s what I’ve accomplished that separates me from the other candidates.”
Wells points to his leadership on the Comox Valley Regional District’s water committee, which he chairs. The committee has approved a $110 million Comox Valley Water Treatment Project to upgrade water quality for about 45,000 residents of Courtenay, Comox and some adjacent areas.
“There wasn’t consensus at first about how to meet the health department’s requirements,” he said. “But I was able to build that consensus and move things forward.”
Wells also notes his work on the Courtenay Youth Music Centre board that saved the non-profit by “turning it around” financially, and delivering a favorable resolution to the Maple Pool controversy, which was a campaign issue for him in 2014. Although he concedes the latter was something “council did together.”
He mentions his involvement in Rotary, Start Up Comox Valley, Dawn to Dawn and Island Music Fest.
“And as vice-chair of the regional district, I’ve helped shape the agenda, and I’ve been effective at utilizing that opportunity,” he said.
He says it’s this depth of experience that sets him apart from opponents David Frisch and Erik Eriksson. All three announced mayoral candidate have served one full-term on council.
“In the first 30 days, the mayor will face decisions on water treatment and sewage pump station issues,” Wells said. “I’m ready for these challenges, Frisch and Eriksson are not.”
He said with more experience, Frisch would make a great mayor in eight years.
Wells feels unfairly criticized for what some have called an erratic voting pattern. Wells admits he’s a “swing vote,” but insists he decides his vote on “what’s best for the community.”
“I’m not strident in my perspective like some others,” he said. “I haven’t already made up my mind. I take time to investigate both sides. The community is more divided than that.”
And the candidate says he fully respects differences of opinion.
“As mayor, if council voted for something, I would run with that,” he said.
On housing issues, Wells says as mayor he would steer the city toward a strategy for increasing the stock of rental units, which he thinks will require partnerships with other agencies and developers.
He’s argued for homeless coalition funding, supported the inventory of city-owned properties and personally volunteers for Habitat for Humanity.
Wells believes he takes a holistic view of the community. More information and feedback results in better decisions and a capacity to enlist support, he says.
But on election day — Oct. 20 — Wells says voters should ask themselves “who’s proven they can get things done.”
“Honestly, if I didn’t see a big divide there (between him and the other candidates), I would support one of them,” he said. “There’s a lot coming down in the next four years, and the city needs someone with proven experience and collaborative skills.”
PHOTO: Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird at Tarbells on Dunsmuir Avenue
Around the world, the criteria for how to spend public money has shifted toward achieving a community’s social and economic values, in addition to getting the best value. The Village of Cumberland is leading the way for Canada, along with Comox resident Sandra Hamilton
Comox Valley governments spend more than $100 million every year to purchase goods and services. The criteria for deciding from whom to make those purchases has been historically based on the most fiscally responsible option.
But in other parts of the world that way of thinking has shifted toward spending taxpayers’ dollars more strategically. Specifically, to not only get the best value, but to also provide social benefits.
It’s a concept called social procurement, using dollars the government was going to spend anyway to drive social change and economic development.
Canada has lagged the rest of the world in adopting social procurement, but not the Village of Cumberland.
Cumberland is the first Canadian municipality to incorporate a social procurement framework into its purchasing policy.
And it’s the first Canadian government body to receive certification from Buy Social Canada, an organization devoted to “bringing socially driven purchasers and social enterprise suppliers together … to generate social benefits to communities across the country.”
The village can already point to several community improvements directly attributable to social procurement. And Cumberland’s success has reverberated up and down Vancouver Island, across the province and into eastern Canada.
But for Cumberland Financial Officer Michelle Mason the blessings of leading a nation have come with a bit of a burden. Since the Village Council adopted social procurement in November of 2016, she has been inundated with calls from other B.C. and Canadian cities, including Toronto and Vancouver, seeking information about the policy.
“Most often, the first question is: What is this?” she said.
To answer that question, Mason has also travelled widely around the province making presentations about Cumberland’s nation-leading policy as more communities start to realize the benefits of social procurement. She recently addressed the annual convention of the B.C. Government Financial Officers Association.
The importance of Mason’s role in educating other municipalities about social procurement has inspired a group of Island mayors to envision a Social Procurement Hub that would take her work to the next level.
FURTHER READING: Island mayors work together to create Community Benefit Hub
Cumberland leading Canada
While living in Scotland in 2012/2013, Cumberland Councillor Jesse Kelter observed the Scottish government wrestle with the idea of leveraging public spending to create community benefits. She was there with her husband, who had a temporary work assignment, and her children.
She remembers reading the newspapers about the debate and thinking, “this is about building better relationships with our suppliers, making it more than just a business transaction about price,” she said. “It’s about building a better community together.”
Her understanding of how social procurement could work for local government came from a conversation she had at a Christmas party with Sandra Hamilton.
Councillor Jesse Kelter
After Kelter was elected to public office in the fall of 2014, she posed the idea of adding social values into the village’s purchasing policy during the council’s 2015 Future Priorities session.
“It was an easy sell to council,” she remembers. “And staff were very receptive.”
Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird was on board immediately. She had taken a similar idea to an unreceptive council in 2011 .
It took another year and some outside expert help from Comox resident Sandra Hamilton to help draft Canada’s first social procurement framework, but it all came together when the village updated its purchasing policy in November of 2016.
“Sandra played an initial role early in the development of her social consulting business,” Baird said. “And we were fortunate staff was so supportive. It took all of us coming together to make it happen.”
Hamilton, a United Kingdom native now living in Comox, is Canada’s first social MBA and a public sector social procurement consultant working with all three levels of government.
Scotland has since become the world’s first country to make social procurement a law.
What is social procurement?
The Village of Cumberland has a special page on its website devoted to its social procurement policy, where it introduces the concept this way:
“Social procurement leverages the public procurement process for goods and services, to advance positive economic, workforce, and social development outcomes. Social procurement blends financial and social considerations in public sector purchasing ….”
That’s a lot of words, but the rationale is simple: provide social value for the money a government spends. It’s an invitation for suppliers to advance a community’s social and economic goals through the tendering and procurement process.
FURTHER READING: Village of Cumberland’s social procurement website page
Mayor Baird puts it more directly.
“Our major suppliers are not from Cumberland, so our village doesn’t benefit from the volunteering, sponsorships and all the other wonderful community services they donate in their hometowns,” she said. “So what we’re doing is leveraging our spending to receive some of that community benefit.”
How it works in practice
When evaluating bids for a Village of Cumberland contract, staff and elected officials consider the usual criteria of quality, price and environmental issues, but now add a fourth component: social.
Bidders must meet certain social values determined by the Village Council. They include a living wage evaluation and apprenticeship opportunities for residents of the village who are at-risk youth, aboriginal people, women, newcomers to Canada or retiring veterans and people transitioning into new careers.
Community Benefit Clauses (CBCs) valued at between 5 percent to 15 percent of the total contract may also be added. You can read the list of goals that a CBC should address here.
The Sutton lane multi-use path project
When the local J.R. Edgett company won the contract for separating wastewater and stormwater pipes along Dunsmuir Avenue, it discussed possible CBCs with village staff.
At the time, the village was trying to build a BMX bike jump park next to its skate park. Edgett offered to utilize anticipated down time of equipment and labor already onsite for the pipeline project to provide the fill and finish the jump park.
When Edgett was also hired to build a new bike lane for mountain bikers to travel safely from the Cumberland Recreation Institute parking lot down to the main entrance into the MTB trails, they also contributed to the building of trails in the Cumberland Community Forest.
Councillor Kelter and CFO Mason point out that the policy is not prescriptive to suppliers. They are allowed autonomy to be creative about offering a community benefit, but must meet at least two goals to be considered.
“It’s like we say, here are our goals, tell us how you can help us achieve some them without affecting your price,” Mason said. “Vendors know their business better than we do, and they’re creative.”
Mason said sometimes a company needs temporary employees for the job, so they offer to hire qualified Cumberland residents. Or, the company is from Vancouver and they have to rent apartments for their workers, so they get credit for what they’re already doing.
Benefits for community and contractors
Council members and staff worried that fewer vendors would bid on Cumberland projects after the social procurement policy was adopted. It turned out to be a needless worry.
The village’s last tender for its new water supply UV treatment plant attracted eight bidders, considered a healthy number by Operations Manager Rob Crisfield.
The main concern expressed by the construction industry is for consistency in the Request for Proposal process. Adding a social component to the RFP means a five to 10 page document, which can be daunting to suppliers.
The Island Social Procurement Hub would address this issue, and Financial Officier Mason has been working on creating competitive bidding templates to make it easier on vendors.
But Mayor Baird says social procurement policies are really protections for local contractors against globalization.
“All governments are open to global bids when the spendf reaches a certain dollar level,” she said. “But what will a vendor from far away do for our community?”
Baird speculates that social procurement policies have spread so quickly throughout Europe and Australia because it’s a “means of protecting our own workers.”
Before helping Cumberland write its policy, Sandra Hamilton worked as the director of marketing for The Vancouver Sun, and owned and published BC Woman Magazine.
But when she later acted as the business manager for John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, her mind was opened to the potential for social procurement. She was engaged in the Vancouver Olympics effort to include social criteria into its purchasing policies.
“For example, we awarded the floral contract to a company that offered to train inmates at the Women’s Transition Society Prison as florists during their contract period,” Hamilton said. “Half of them are still working as florists today.”
That’s when it clicked for her. Why not add social values into all taxpayer contracts, and align procurement with each government body’s policy objectives?
Hamilton has since earned the nation’s first social MBA and has helped draft both B.C.’s (Cumberland) and Alberta’s (Fort McMurray) first social procurement policies.
FURTHER READING: Sandra Hamilton’s website
She now speaks across the country, and is recognized as one of the nation’s leading social procurement experts. She was Canada’s nominee to speak about social procurement at the World Trade Organization (WTO) symposium in Geneva last February. In March she spoke on the topic at the Canadian Construction Conference in Mexico.
On a local level, Hamilton was the project lead for the FEED initiative through North Island College to get food grown by Comox Valley farmers into local institutions, such as the Comox Valley Hospital.
“Tax dollars drive our economy and shapes out communities,” she said. “But governments are still procuring and buying like they did 30-40 years ago — that’s the change I’m driving for.”
The City of Victoria, Town of Qualicum Beach and City of Campbell River are working together on a pilot project to design and develop a standardized approach to adding social value into infrastructure projects.
The Social Procurement Hub will soon solicit for an employee to travel the province sharing information from Cumberland and other governments and helping municipal governments to establish their own policies.
FURTHER READING: The United Nations global review of sustainable public procurement
PHOTO: Jesse Kelter presents resolution B76 at the 2017 UBCM conference.
Vancouver Island mayors are working together and with the construction industry to ease the transition to a new local government procurement process that includes the achievement of a community’s social and economic goals with a community benefit hub
While the Village of Cumberland was the first Canadian municipality to implement social procurement, the program is spreading quickly to other BC cities.
The City of Vancouver expects to adopt its policy before the end of this year, and the City of Victoria has been moving toward full-scale social procurement since 2015.
And Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps has been a major player in a group of eight Vancouver Island mayors who have been meeting every quarter for the past two years. And they have worked closely with the Vancouver Island Construction Association.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps
One of the results of their work was to develop a proposal for a Social Procurement Hub.
“What we’ve heard from industry is that they want a coordinated approach (to social procurement),” she told Decafnation in a telephone interview. “They want predictability and consistency in the tendering process.”
The hub would provide templates for municipalities to use in their procurement process, as well as education and expertise for municipal staff as the public sector pivots to community benefits.
The hub got a boost when Cumberland Councillor Jesse Kelter put forward a resolution at the 2016 meeting of the Association of Vancouver Island Coast Communities to advance social procurement in the local government sector, and to create a hub for education and expertise. It passed overwhelmingly. And was subsequently supported at the province-wide Union of B.C. Municipalities.
Victoria has commited $50,000 for two years to fund the hub and the town of Qualicum Beach is applying for a $50,000 provincial grant.
The idea behind the hub is to prove the concept of social procurement works in a wide variety of geographic locations.
“It’s a two-year incubation period,” Helps said. “We’ll find out what’s working, and what’s not working with industry, and adjust.”
The hub would be administred and located in Victoria, but with satellite offices in Qualicum Beach and Campbell River.
Helps said the mayors group hopes to put out a contract for one hub employee who will work with industry and local governments to learn, share experiences and move social procurement forward collaboratively.
The group’s next meeting is in July at Qualicum Beach.
Comox resident Sandra Hamilton, one of Canada’s leading experts on social procurement, has been advising the mayors group.
FURTHER READING: Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps’ task force action plan on social procurement; City of Vancouver working paper on social procurement
PHOTO: Sand castle building, Tribune Bay, circa 1978. For a gallery of Bob Cain’s photography, click here.
Photographer Bob Cain has documented life on Hornby Island for nearly 50 years, capturing the people, events and rituals of island living in black and white, and going mostly unnoticed. Now he’s sharing his voluminous archive with the world.
The advent of the 35mm camera in the 1940s and the ensuing popularity of documentary photography that followed inspired a whole generation of baby boomer photographers.
For example, Bob Cain, of Hornby Island.
But like most who found a creative outlet in photography during the ‘60s and ‘70s — thanks to smaller and more affordable high-quality cameras — Cain’s work never attained the notoriety of well-known photographers like William Eggleston or Annie Leibovitz.
He was never published in (the now defunct) Life Magazine.
Nor was his archive of ten thousand photographs discovered posthumously in a storage locker, as happened to the work of Vivian Maier, a Chicago and New York City nanny.
No, Cain’s photographic work has mostly gone unnoticed by the world, as have the millions of other images recorded by the big wave of baby boomer photographers.
Unnoticed by the world, but not on Hornby Island, where Cain, now 74 and retired, has spent the last 46 years documenting the lives of his friends and neighbors and the ordinary rituals of life on a small island. On Hornby, Cain is famous.
Cain is Hornby’s de facto Photographer Laureate.
But now, the rest of the world can view and enjoy Cain’s photographic collection in its entirety.
At the prodding of his son, Fraser Cain, and a growing sense that something must be done with his large and still growing archive of prints and negatives — for historical reasons if nothing else — Cain has created a website filled with his photographs, writings and other memorabilia.
FURTHER READING: A Bob Cain gallery; Photos from Hornby Island
Photos from Hornby Island is an expansive and rambling website, and low on graphic design glitz. It feels more like a personal album of memories spanning nearly 50 years of life on one of British Columbia’s most eclectic Gulf Islands than a high-falutin attempt to scream “fine art.”
Helliwell Park, 1972
As it turns out, that’s one of the whimsical charms of the website and also of Cain’s photographs.
The website spans an impressive 1,114 pages (as of May 22) and nearly 10,000 photographs broken up into 69 categories. Not even the famous Henri Cartier-Bresson consumes that much cyber real estate.
Cain photographs show the people of Hornby Island and how they live in glorious black and white, captured in a deceivingly simple style, as if the viewer was peering in, unnoticed.
But in every image there’s also a sense of the photographer.
Cain’s unique vision subtly makes his presence felt in every image. It might be a touch of humor created by how the scene was composed or the reality of a tableau completely unaffected by the existence of Cain’s camera.
Photos from Hornby Island also includes images from Cain’s travels and much of his early work around Vancouver in the 1960s. There are also writings, postcards, advertisements and cartoon strips that he has created.
The early years
Growing up in the small community of Marpole — a city squeezed between Kerrisdale and Richmond, near the Vancouver airport — Cain took his first pictures with his mother’s Baby Brownie camera, and later with the more advanced Brownie Hawkeye given to him as an inducement to keep delivering the soon-to-be-defunct Vancouver Sun-Herald.
When the family moved into a new house in Marpole that had a fully functional darkroom in the basement, he started to get serious about taking pictures. He and his brother taught themselves how to develop film and print photographs, as well as 8mm and 16mm reversible movie film.
His first real job in the photographic world came in 1967. He worked at Focus Prints in Vancouver making azos, which are black and white line negatives of copy sent over by a number of ad agencies.
But when, in his late teens, Cain discovered celebrated photojournalists such as Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, he moved beyond amateur photography.
“One of the most stunning photo books was by Larry Clarke, “Tulsa,” which greatly influenced my direction,” he said.
But it’s hard to put Cain into any specific category.
“If I take your passport photo, I’m a passport photographer. If I do your portrait, I’m a portrait photographer. Wedding photographer? Fine art copier? If I spot a tree I like I’m an Artist photographer,” he said.
“I’m just a photographer who can take photos that an insightful editor might publish or I see recordable images on the street.”
Moving to Hornby
“I moved to Hornby for a variety of reasons. I didn’t need to get out of the city,” he said. “What I did need was to get away from my job.
“I was managing a photographic outfit (Focus Prints) and we were getting very successful. I was working 12 to 16 hours a day and beginning to dislike photography. I owned a house in North Van and hardly got to see my wife and new baby (Fraser),” he said. “My marriage was suffering. I had to get away to renew my marriage and renew my love of photography.”
After spending a year building his house on the island, Cain worked for the highways department for five years, then spent many years operating a backhoe business, all the while doing passport photos or shooting weddings for Hornby residents.
FURTHER READING: How I discovered Hornby
“I moved here in 1972 and used all my learned skills to try and capture whatever I could of this island society,” he said. “I wasn’t the only photographer here but I was the one that pursued the craft (and the art) the most. So, in effect I became the island photographer.”
Cain also started submitting news photographs from Hornby to the Comox District Free Press in the late 1970s.
(Disclaimer: I was the editor of the CDFP, the “Green Sheet,” and published Cain’s first photo of an airplane crash in 1978. And I encouraged him to send more, which he did for many years. Cain has included on his website some of our often humorous correspondence — sent via snail mail and written on manual typewriters.)
How he does it
Cain’s first serious camera was a Nikon F and three lenses brought back from Japan by a former girlfriend who was Japanese. He has continued using this camera for weddings and portraits until just a few years ago.
His favorite camera, however, is a Leica M6, which he still uses today.
“I have two exquisite lenses for this beautiful camera,” he said. “I also still have a Rolliflex, a 4×5 camera and a 6×9 camera. The darkroom on Hornby is still functioning … but not for long, as I’m slowly accepting the transition to digital.”
But Cain is unlikely to give up the wet darkroom, with its smell of Kodak chemicals, anytime soon.
“There is something restful and comforting about working in the darkroom with the dim light of a safelight,” he said. “I still get delighted when the image in the developer starts to appear.”
Can always carried a camera bag, and says he still does, so he’s ready to shoot anything that interests him.
“I think my eyes have turned into viewfinders,” he said. “I see compositions everywhere.”
What’s next for Bob Cain
When he turned 65, “and the government started sending me money,” Cain notified the Island that he was no longer doing passport photos, portraits and “most of all, no more weddings.” Too many family dynamics, he says, that bordered on assault.
Cain says he will continue to take new pictures until his last breath.
“I’ve already begun to distribute the negatives and contact sheets of any personal and private work to the people involved,” he said.
He hopes his remaining Hornby Island photos will find a home in a museum’s archives.
“Although I’ve had an offer by a collector to appraise my collection,” he said (perhaps whimsically). “Could be worth a lot of money.”
FURTHER READING: The Photography of Bob Cain