Graduating woman enters the world

Graduating woman enters the world

Isfeld senior influenced by strong women

Editor’s note: Today is International Women’s Day



The person I am is greatly influenced by the women I want to be. The people and places where I’ve seen acts of femininity, strength, controversy, and attitude, have shaped who I’m becoming.

I’d like to say I’ve already done a lot of growing, and that I’m emotionally and mentally developed for a teenager. This is partly because of the impressive amount of purposeful women I’ve surrounded myself with.

Kiley Verbowski, the one who showed me femininity doesn’t belong in a box, allowed me to be less stressed about not having long hair and a petite body. My mother, who has occupied her time with sports into her 50s. My sister, whose intelligence and can-do attitude is something I always aspire. Frida Kahlo, an early feminist who taught me, alongside Dr. Claire, that it’s okay to be a sexual woman, or alternatively, an abstinent one.

But these are other people, not me. So I ask, what have I done to be a strong woman?

As a graduating woman, how do I know I can make it in the real world? I’m far too full of insecurities to dive into the many new things heading my way with any kind of confidence. The lack of courage is at a point where I don’t even feel sure if I can call myself a woman.

I feel too young and unaccomplished to have that status. I relate being a woman to a strong and independent type of person, a person I feel I’m not yet.

And still, these insecurities feel almost natural. Just because I’m young and naive doesn’t mean I’ll be stuck that way for long. Learning will be a full time job after I graduate, and that goes the same for all my classmates, regardless of gender.

I feel excited to surround myself with new women, to learn more about them and myself. Women unlike the homegrown island girls I’ve spent my whole high school career with and feel judged by and whom I judge. I’ll get to grow to be confident in a different way, and feel empowered by my friends.

I can take on my own part of the world and have the stamina to challenge what I disagree with. I will be ready to deal with the unavoidable oversexualization of my body and workplace sexism.

My attitude is positive and realistic. Struggle is inescapable, so all I can do is look forward to bringing a personal touch to everything I do.

Sarah Nuez is a senior at Mark Isfeld High School and a contributor to the Comox Valley CivicJournalism Project. She may be reached at


FURTHER READING: The importance of strong women; Beyond #MeToo, with pride, protests and pressure


Water bottling project raises aquifer concerns

Water bottling project raises aquifer concerns

This article has been updated to include a statement from NDP MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard.


There’s a new water controversy bubbling up in the Comox Valley, and once again the province has dumped another problem on local elected officials.

The B.C. government has approved a controversial groundwater licence for a water extraction and bottling operation on a two hectare property on Sackville Road in the Merville area. They did it despite a strong objection from the Comox Valley Regional District and without public consultation or regard for community concerns.

“The province does this all the time,” said Area B Director Rod Nichol. “We have to clean up the mess and look like the bad guys.”

Nichol compared the water extraction issue to the recent Raven Coal Mine battle and myriad less high-profile issues, such as highway development.

About 200 people attended the CVRD’s Electoral Areas Services Committee meeting Monday (March 5) to protest and urge the CVRD to deny the water extraction applicants a necessary zoning change. The property is current zoned rural residential and would need to be zoned light industrial.



Instead, the committee unanimously endorsed a staff recommendation to refer the rezoning application to various agencies, CVRD committees and K’omoks First Nations. The intent is to build a baseline of data about the source of water (aquifer 408) and how a water bottling operation might impact agriculture and other existing users and potential long-term effects on the surrounding watershed.

NDP MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard emailed this statement to Decafnation:

“I can understand the concerns of Merville residents, as water is a precious resource for any community. My understanding is the ministry performed a detailed technical review of the proposal and noted no concerns about aquifer capacity. I’ve also been reassured that existing well users would get priority in a drought. The project still needs CVRD zoning approval though, and as the local MLA I will be monitoring the situation closely.”

The applicants

Christopher Scott MacKenzie told the committee 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”

A protester disrupted MacKenzie with concerns about how neighbors’ drinking supplies might go dry. He replied that dry wells would be “hit and miss,” and that people “would just have to understand it.”


FURTHER READING: Alkaline water: beneficial or bogus?; Quackwatch


MacKenzie and Heynck have recently moved to the Valley from Ringenberg, Germany, and took out a building permit to locate a $14,613 mobile home on the property.

MacKenzie is the son of the late Keith MacKenzie, who served as president of the Courtenay Fish and Game Club after retiring as carpentry foreman from Candian Forces Base, Comox. His tours of duty included a stop in Germany.

The core issue

The province has already approved a groundwater licence that enables MacKenzie/Heynck to extract 10,000 litres per day or 3.65 million litres per year. But the CVRD must approve a rezoning application to permit “water and beverage bottling” as a principal use on the property.

Alana Mullaly, the CVRD manager of planning services, said the province has jurisdiction on what happens below grade. The CVRD has jurisdiction over what can happen above grade.

She said denying the rezoning application would not cancel the provincial groundwater license.

Without a zoning change, MacKenzie/Heynck cannot conduct water bottling operations as the principal use of the property.

But it’s unclear whether a denial of the rezoning application would mean only that they could not construct a bottling facility on the property or that they could not operate a commercial enterprise from the property even without a physical structure.

The CVRD opposed the water extraction application made to Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) on the basis that it was inconsistent with the Rural Comox Valley Official Community Plan Bylaw No. 337, 2014, and the zoning bylaw.

There are environmentally sensitive areas surrounding the property, including many farms and Agricultural Land Reserve areas that rely on groundwater.

Area C Director Edwin Grieve warned that aquifers eventually get pumped down and he wondered what effect that would have on the water supply for nearby farms. He noted that climate changes have caused Portuguese Creek to dry up in the summer.

Grieve said the applicant deserved due process and that the gathering of more information is important.

But Grieve also said earlier that “we could save the applicant a lot of time and money and deny it now.”

What’s next

CVRD staff will refer the rezoning application to a number of agencies, First Nations and its own relevant committees. Not date was set for staff to report to the CVRD board.

If the application passes through the Area C Advisory Planning Commission, then the CVRD would hold public hearings.

In the meantime, people can express their views on the proposal to Tanya Dunlop, senior authorizations technologist, at


Valley farmers discuss ALR

Valley farmers discuss ALR

Mid Island Farmers Institute leading the way

By Chris Hilliar

Despite a rainy blustery night, 35 farmers and interested folk showed up at the Merville Hall on Jan. 17 to discuss how the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and Commission (ALC) could be revitalized.

And discuss they did – for a full two hours. Problems and solutions were duly recorded and will form part of a submission to provincial Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham.

The Mid Island Farmers Institute hosted the meeting with President Arzeena Hamir facilitating. Arzeena is co-owner of the local Amara Farm. She has a Masters Degree in Sustainable Agriculture from the University of London, England, and was recently appointed by the province to sit on a nine-member independent committee tasked with revitalizing the ALR and ALC.

“The assumption,” she pointed out, “is that the ALR system is broken.”

Little wonder, the ALR is now 45 years old, its legislation has been adulterated and watered down by special interests over the course of 10 successive governments.

The ALR was originally created by the Dave Barrett NDP government in 1973 when the province was losing prime agricultural land at the alarming rate of 6,000 hectares per year. The ALR enjoyed high public support with a survey in 1997 showing that 80 percent of British Columbians considered it unacceptable to remove land from the ALR.


FURTHER READING: B.C. Public Attitudes Survey, 2014; Share your ideas with the Ministry of Agriculture


Fast-forward to 2014 and a B.C. public attitudes survey revealed that 44 percent of British Columbians had heard little or nothing about the ALR.

But, attendees at the Farmers Institute meeting had clearly heard about the ALR and were quite aware of its benefits and shortcomings.

The designation of farmland into the Agricultural Land Reserve is contentious as some potentially excellent farmland is currently left out of the ALR and some poor quality land is currently held within the ALR.

Some expressed concern about non-agricultural uses of ALR land and the commission itself also came under fire for lack of enforcement, lack of transparency and political interference in its decision-making.

It also became apparent that the economics of farming are not easy on Vancouver Island.

Transportation, both on and off the Island is costly and the loss of the Island railway has affected farm prices and delivery. The small farmer with fixed costs faces an uphill battle against the big food corporations who can discount transportation costs with the result that imported food is often cheaper than locally grown food.

Housing for farm workers is also a problem both here and elsewhere in the province.

The high price of land is preventing young people from starting to farm and exacerbates the problem of succession planning for older farmers.

Some expressed concern that the purchase of land by marijuana growers will drive up land prices and food farmers will not be able to compete.

An added complication is how the province designates land as farmland, which has implications for taxation. Some felt that agri-tourism should not be allowed to be 100 percent of farm income to achieve farm status.

And, to no surprise, some suggested the recent government approval of the Site C Dam on the Peace River would set a precedent for the B.C. government to not protect farmland.

But it wasn’t just problems that were raised at the Merville meeting, there were lots of solutions too.
Someone suggested that the province should buy large farms that come on the market and then lease parcels out to young prospective farmers. They also suggested a Farmers’ Co-op could be established to provide low-interest funding for farming and that the province could help offset costs associated with the Water Act.

Insurance companies need to start recognizing the replacement value of farm buildings not just the assessed value and some felt there should be rewards and incentives for organic certification.

The crowd was also reminded that we could learn from other cultures. Many European countries have a very different style of land use where everyone, including farmers, lives in small villages surrounded by extensive open farmland with no domestic dwellings consuming large amounts of valuable food growing area — surely a stark contrast to the monster homes we sometimes see sitting on prime farmland in BC.

The Mid Island Farmers Institute has just started to compose their submission to send to the Provincial ALR committee.
If you have a comment that you would like to make to the Mid Island Farmers’ Institute you can contact them at:

Chris Hilliar is a Citizen Journalist for The Civic Journalism Project. He may be contacted at


With PR, everyone has a voice

With PR, everyone has a voice

Former Valley resident shares her NZ experience

Editor’s note: Katie Betanzo was raised in the Comox Valley and New Zealand. She’s a former editor of The Breezeway, the now defunct award-winning student newspaper at G.P. Vanier High School. Betanzo moved to New Zealand in 2001 and now teaches media studies and English in Auckland. She’s agreed to write a series of articles over the next year about how proportional representative government works in her adopted country. This is the first of those articles.



It’s been a long time since I took Politics 101. It was 1996, the year of the first MMP (mixed member proportional) election in New Zealand.

And while I have banished much of the content of those university lectures to the attic of my mind, I remember one story clearly: that of Sir Bob Jones and the 1984 New Zealand national election.

Jones, a business tycoon, wanted to bring down the right-wing government. But instead of throwing his weight behind the major left-wing party, he founded an ultra-right-wing party that won 12 percent of the votes and no seats.

But he succeed in splitting the right-wing vote. That helped the left-wing Labour party form a government with just 42 percent of the vote, and 59 percent of the seats.

This was possible because of the rules of the first-past-the-post electoral system (FPP).

Jones was not left-wing — far from it, in fact. But he could not abide the ultra-protectionist policies of the right-wing Muldoon government. By openly supporting the left-wing Labour Party, whose neo-liberal economic policy was right up Jones’ alley, Jones would have gained little.

Before New Zealand’s electoral reform and conversion to proportional representation, minority parties gained as high as 20 percent of the vote, but won only one or two seats. These MPs languished on the back benches of the opposition, effectively powerless, and the voices of the people who voted for them reduced to inconsequential protest votes.

Fast forward 33 years. In the general election of September 2017, the National Party won 44 percent of the vote, but could not form a government.

This is a good thing made possible by New Zealand’s electoral reform.

Effectively, 55 percent of the population voted for a center-left or left-wing party. Opinions differed about just how left we were willing to go, but that’s reflected in the wide choice of parties and policies. We now have a center-left coalition government, and in the spirit of compromise, we will please some of the people some of the time.

CBC, Wikipedia and Facebook tell me that British Columbia has a minority NDP government. We Kiwis are not strangers to that concept, although coalitions between like-minded parties are more common than minority governments.

The thing is, though, under a proportional system, there would have been no question of Clark forming a government. The Liberals and NDP would each have had 35 seats, and the Greens with 15 would hold the balance of power. (The remaining two seats would either have gone to the largest of the minor parties, or been split between Liberals and NDP — MMP is a tricky beast.)

In a later column I plan to talk about the pros and cons of different types of proportional representation, from my obviously biased perspective. However, it’s worth facing one criticism head on: uncertainty.

In an FPP system, forming a government is pretty straightforward. The party with the most seats is in charge. Under MMP, any group of parties able to command the majority of votes can form a coalition government.

For most elections, this is straightforward: many smaller parties go into the election campaign having already declared which of the major parties they are willing to work with. However, in the event that an undeclared centrist party holds the balance of power, negotiations can take a while.

Case in point: our most recent election. Election Day was Sept. 23. The government wasn’t formed until Oct. 19. There were plenty of disgruntled people following the formation of the government, as I imagine there were in BC following the last election.

There’s a brilliant explanation of our election result here. It involves a group of politicians trying to buy a pie (we are Kiwis, after all). By applying the analogy to BC, it’s very simple to see that Clark would not have been able to “buy the pie” with her share of the seats; the Liberals and NDP would both have courted the Greens.

Still, in the eight elections since MMP was introduced in New Zealand, this sort of protracted wrangling has happened only twice. Situation normal is to cast your vote knowing you are supporting a coalition that will be headed by a major party on the left or right. The Greens will only ever form a coalition with Labour; the Act party (far-right neo-liberals) can’t abide Labour. Pretty simple.

In 1993, the final FPP election here, only 31.5 percent of votes cast were for the National Party, which formed the government with 50 percent of the seats. Eighteen percent of the votes went to the left-wing Alliance party, which gained only 2 percent of the seats.

Since 2002, all governments have been coalitions commanding 50 percent or greater of the seats in the house, as well as 50 percent or greater of the popular vote.

As rule by the people, for the people goes, I think we’re on the right track.

Further reading: The road to MMP; from the website, New Zealand History


‘Organic’ now means organic

‘Organic’ now means organic

New bill provides clarity for consumers


The New Year is a time for new resolutions and if eating better is on your list, the government of B.C. has made the process just a bit easier.

In 2018, the province of British Columbia will enact Bill 11, a regulation to prohibit farmers, ranchers, bakers and other food processors from using the term “organic” on their labeling, unless the product is certified by a third party.

For the consumer, the new regulation means more market clarity. It ensures that ‘organic’ really means organic.

For the farmer and food processor, the new law means committing to certification or switching to a new adjective to describe their food.

“Consumers deserve to get what they’re paying for”, says Carmen Wakeling, President of the Certified Organic Association of B.C. and co-owner of Eatmore Sprouts in Courtenay. “The organic movement is built on transparency and until this regulation came into place, the marketplace was anything but transparent”.

When is “organic” not organic?

Before the passing of Bill 11, any producer could call their product “organic” without that product being inspected to ensure it met organic standards. 

Apart from needing to be pesticide-free, organic products are inspected to ensure that there is no contamination from genetically engineered (GE/GMO) inputs, have good soil health practices, and for animal producers, have animal welfare standards that ensure the animals have access to the outdoors and a healthy environment.

All of these rules were written by farmers and are part of the Canadian Organic Regime (COR), which governs organic practices across Canada.

Previously, growers in B.C. didn’t have to follow that regime or be inspected. They could label their product organic without any justification.

For instance, not only must egg producers feed their hens certified organic, GMO-free feed, they must have a minimum square footage per bird with enough roost space, and must ensure that the henhouse has enough light available during the day that would permit someone to read a newspaper inside. Birds must be given access to the outside and farmers must prove that their chickens actually do go outside.

Mariett Sluyter, of Whitaker Farms

Consumers are often surprised to hear how much animal welfare is imbedded into the organic standards.

“When we started, we thought we had a strong handle on what was organic, like many people using the term organic practices. It turns out there were areas we were not noticing,” says Mariett Sluyter, owner of Whitaker Farm in Merville, BC. “Having a set of standards to uphold helps us hold true to our values.”

Problems for small farms

But not everyone is pleased with the new regulations.

For small-scale growers who earn less than $10,000 a year, the approximate $400-$500 cost of certifying can seem onerous.

I’ll probably never certify,” says Erin Inness, a grower on the Sunshine Coast. “I meet every single person who buys food from me in person, so I always tell them if they want to see what I do they can come to the farm.”

For farmers who can’t afford to certify, they can speak directly with their customers and use other labels on their produce, such as non-sprayed, sustainable, or natural.

Implications for the Comox Valley

The changes in labeling regulations will certainly have implications for the Comox Valley.

A search of Facebook found a number of small farm businesses selling “organic” eggs and other products. Unless the farm is purposely operating at a loss, certified organic eggs can’t be sold under $7 a dozen due to the cost of feed.

But where the implications will be most felt will be with bakeries. Currently, at least four bakeries in the valley are selling “organic” bread products, which are uncertified. Although they may contain organic flour, some even list canola oil (genetically engineered) as an ingredient.

Consumers who are still unsure of whether a product is certified or not are encouraged to ask business owners first. If a satisfactory answer isn’t obtained, a complaint can be made to Emma Holmes –the new Organic Extensionist for BC Ministry of Agriculture at (604) 556-3087 or

Arzeena Hamir is a Citizen Journalist for The Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at


Record’s error went beyond omitting a disclaimer

Record’s error went beyond omitting a disclaimer

The Comox Valley Record, our local newspaper, drew widespread criticism last week by turning over its Dec. 12th front page to an advertisement that looked like a news story. The “advertorial” was sponsored by a development company at war with some residents and the Comox Valley Regional District.

But it wasn’t the newspaper’s real front page. It was what the industry calls a “wrap” — an advertisement that mimics the look of an actual front page, but is, in fact, a fake front page. The special outrage in the case was caused by the paper’s failure to label it as advertising.

In response, people have left a long thread of mostly angry comments on the Record’s Facebook page, where publisher Keith Currie apologized for “inadvertently” failing to include “identifying markers, making it easily recognizable to the reader as an advertisement, and not editorially-produced journalism.”

Most people aren’t buying his mea culpa.

Reading the paper’s Facebook page thread, it’s obvious that people believe the newspaper intentionally left off a typographical element that would have identified the two-page groan by a Fanny Bay company, 3L Developments, which is frustrated that it can’t bend the will of the CVRD planning department.

Angry readers seem to think the developer flashed his cash so the publisher and advertising manager would look the other way when the page went to press without a prominent disclaimer identifying it as an ad, not a news story.

It’s a believable theory, but a hard one to prove.

As someone who has spent 50+ years in the newspaper business, I can assure you that advertisers sometimes do pressure advertising sales representatives to omit disclaimers. I can also verify that all newspaper employees know — or should know — the absolute rule that requires paid content to be clearly identified as such.

That said, humans make errors, and this could have been one.

But the problem in this case is that the focus on an omission of a disclaimer misses the most troubling aspect of this fiasco.

The more serious error committed by the Record was that it published the advertorial on its fake front page at all.

In the long, slow decline of printed newspapers, the search for new sources of advertising revenue has led to the selling of its most precious real estate: the front page. It started with banner ads across the bottom and small ads at the top.

The selling of the front page has escalated into fake front page wraps. These are usually recognizable advertisements for retail businesses. They’re ads just like the ones inside the newspaper. But for a higher price, the newspaper will put them on a false front.

Even such esteemed newspapers as The Los Angeles Times do it.

The 3L Developments fake page falls into a different category, however, because it mimics a news story. Whether to publish it on the cover of the newspaper should have included ethical considerations — and rejection.  

Why? The 3L Developments advertisement bemoans its plan to develop 495 acres along the Brown and Puntledge rivers, including the popular Stotan Falls. The controversial project has already triggered several legal actions.

And the content of the advertorial includes disparaging remarks about the actions of an elected official and an unverified quote from a CVRD staff member.

By placing the advertorial on a fake front page, The Record unfortunately gave the impression that 3L Developments’ version of the situation was factual, without the scrutiny that a legitimate news gathering organization would require.

3L Developments may be able to support every word in its advertorial. That isn’t the point. Although, there’s no indication so far that the Record conducted any independent fact-checking.

Knowing the topic is so controversial and legally complex, the Record committed a serious error in judgment by giving the advertorial such prominent placement.

The omission of some words identifying the article as paid advertising content is trivial by comparison.

But before we’re done roasting the Record or any other publication that publishes advertorials on fake front pages or elsewhere, let’s take a moment to reflect on the slow breaking down of the historical wall between advertising and news.

Have you opened a web page recently and seen a fake news (aka “sponsored content”) post like this: “How I made $2,000 a week working from my Comox Valley home!” Or, “How I achieved financial freedom working just four hours per week?”

These are just the reinvention of print newspaper and magazine ads that, for example, tout formulas for losing weight without diet or exercise, or how people can improve their eyesight to see in the dark.

Presenting advertising in a quasi-news format has made the wall between actual journalism and paid content so paper thin that it is almost invisible to the unwary reader. And that only benefits advertisers.

Marketers have discovered that inserting paid content that looks like news next to real journalism can boost the credibility of their products.

It does something else, too: it drags everybody down. Most people aren’t completely fooled by the paid content, but the work of serious journalists gets tainted by association.

The editors who mentored me in my early journalism career pounded home the notion that acting ethically was just as important as how many words per minute I could type.

In a world where the term “fake news” gets thrown around indiscriminately, some people no longer feel bound to think and act ethically. Sadly, that’s going to sully real journalism for everybody else.


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