It’s just three days before the majority of voters will choose Comox Valley mayors, councils and school trustees, and the silly season is in full swing. Here’s what’s going on …
This story was updated at 7.30 am Oct. 16
Many voters have already cast their ballots for mayors, council members, rural area directors and school district trustees, and advance voting for the Oct. 20 election continues tomorrow, Oct. 17, at various locations.
Meanwhile, here’s some of what’s been going on in the various campaigns.
— People in Courtenay have reported receiving robocalls from the pro-life organization, Campaign Life Coalition, urging support for incumbent Mayor Larry Jangula, who recently participated in an anti-abortion rally.
Jangula told mycomoxvalleynow.com reporter James Wood that the mayor’s pro-life beliefs shouldn’t be an issue in a municipal election. But Jangula also said his beliefs influenced the decisions he makes as an elected official. “Of course they do,” he told Wood.
FURTHER READING: Decafnation’s recommendations for mayors and councils
— The BC Conservative Party appears to have gotten involved in local government elections this year. Two Courtenay residents have reported to Decafnation that they received calls urging voters to support just three candidates: Tom Grant, Murray Presley and Brennan Day.
Decafnation contacted Dick Clancy, a Conservative Party campaign manager and the face of the Comox Valley Taxpayers Association, who was on his way to Alberta. Clancy said the CVTA wasn’t behind the calls and had no knowledge of whether the Conservative Party was making them. He called the reports of calls, “Weird, that’s a new one on me.”
— At the Comox all-candidates meeting Oct. 12, sitting council members Maureen Swift and Russ Arnott, who’s running for mayor this year, tried to punt Comox air quality issues to the Comox Valley Regional District. Asked about banning wood stoves, Swift said the issue was best handled at the regional level.
Swift and Arnott said Comox banned backyard burning 10 years ago, but the CVRD issues 400-500 burning permits a year, suggesting that Area B residents might be a bigger cause of the town’s air quality issues.
But back in 2008, Arnott lead a protest of several hundred people in favor of allowing fires at the CVRD’s Goose Spit regional park, which resides in Area B. The CVRD had proposed banning fires at the park completely. With Arnott’s leadership on the issue, fires are still allowed at the park in specified locations and only with wood supplied by the CVRD parks department.
— Courtenay mayoral candidate Bob Wells has reported that someone supporting Larry Jangula is knocking on doors in East Courtenay telling people that Wells has dropped out of the race. Jangula has denied any involvement.
— Terrance Purden has, in fact, dropped out of the Area C school board trustee race, but it’s too late to take his name off the ballot. Purden has said he’ll resign the office if he’s elected. Purden had taken a position against the province’s curriculum on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).
— Somebody has vandalized Courtenay council candidate Judi Murakami’s campaign signs. Many of her signs have been reversed and the blank backside covered with the message, “Vote for Jesus, we need a miracle.” It’s not funny to Murakami who paid for the signs to benefit her bid for a council seat.
— Cumberland mayoral candidate Eduardo Uranga has challenged incumbent mayor Leslie Baird to a one-on-one debate, an offer Baird is not likely to accept. Nor should she. Uranga personally attacked Baird in the recent Cumberland all-candidates meeting — some people have suggested it was bullying — which may have further lessened his slim chance of unseating the popular 28-year veteran of public service.
— There’s a rumour going around on social media that Bob Wells and I are related. It’s not true, at least as far as I can determine. Wells took his wife’s family name; it used to be Le Masurier. He changed it, I guess, because he got tired of spelling it and pronouncing it 20 times a day. I can relate to that. But when I moved back to the Valley in 2015, Wells told me he thought we might be related. I had never heard of him before that day, so I checked with my sister, who is the genealogist in our family. She could find no intersection between the two Le Masurier families.
Most new candidates for six town of Comox council seats would do more to require that developments include an affordable housing component, while sitting council members say affordability is being addressed with a 90-unit building on Anderton
During an all-candidates meeting last Friday, Comox council and mayor candidates separated themselves on two key issues: affordable housing and how the town should manage growth.
About 400 people jammed a Comox Recreation Centre meeting room Oct. 12 to hear the candidates answer questions that included amalgamation (mostly opposed), air quality (mostly for it) and preserving heritage (incumbents steered clear of Mack Laing, newcomers did not).
After all the candidates reaffirmed that they love the Town of Comox, they quickly disagreed on how the town is addressing its affordable housing crisis.
FURTHER READING: Go to the Decafnation Elections 2018 page, and got here to read our recommendations
Asked how Comox should address affording housing, sitting council members Russ Arnott (running for mayor this time), Maureen Swift and Ken Grant said the 90-unit apartment building going up on Anderton Avenue was addressing the town’s housing issues.
But all the challengers said the council could and should do more to ensure developments include a mix of housing types and price ranges.
Alex Bissinger argued for more multi-family units. Don Davis lamented the mall owners didn’t convert its top floor into apartments. Stephanie McGowan reminded voters that 40 percent of Comox residents spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing and 20 percent spend more than 50 percent.
Patrick McKenna said council should encourage developers to build lower-priced units with “affordability” covenants. Nicole Minions would press for more townhouses and collaborations with developers for affordable units and partnerships with organizations like Habitat for Humanity.
Mayor candidate Tom Diamond said it takes five months in Comox to get a permit for secondary suite. He said that’s too long. And he said the town should take a longer-term housing view in its Official Community Plan review next year.
Asked how the town should deal with growth, several candidates turned the discussion back to housing issues.
McKenna said he liked how the town was handling growth, but added, “What I don’t like,” he said, is that 90 units are being built with no covenant for affordable housing. “Nobody asked. Affordability has to be top of mind of staff and council.”
Nicole Minions said housing prices have grown by 40 percent recently, and council hasn’t done enough to collaborate or fast track multi-family units. Don Davis should the town should consider building up and remove its height restrictions.
Mayor candidate Diamond said some developers have abandoned Comox for other communities that have less red tape delays. Arnott said the town requires 10 percent of a development’s value in land or cash, but didn’t say how the town should use this housing reserve.
Asked about preserving heritage, McGowan said the town has lost many heritage sites and would like the new council to find an alternative to the court application to demolish Shakesides, naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home.
Minions agreed, saying the council could do a second look on Mack Laing and find a win-win. “These (Mack Laing Heritage Society) are good people trying to do what they think is right,” she said.
Bissinger said there was an “amazing opportunity” with the Mack Laing property, while Davis pointed to other Valley communities, like Cumberland (Jumbo’s Cabin) that have preserved historical buildings. Chris Haslett said a fresh set of eyes with new council members might find a reasonable solution.
Incumbent Swift said she was proud the current council has addressed the issues after 36 years. Incumbent Grant didn’t address the Laing issue, and talked about a heritage designation into the town’s zoning bylaws.
Mayor candidate Arnott said the town has protected the Filberg property and tried to save the historical house near the Comox Golf Course that was torn down for a condo development. Arnott said the builder will use some of the old building’s material and called that a “win-win.”
Mayor hopeful Diamond said Hamilton Mack Laing should be celebrated, and that his trusts with the town were an opportunity for pride in the community. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to put Comox on the map,” he said.
Candidates Daniel Arbour and Jim Elliott positions seem similiar
By Norm Prince
Area A candidates Daniel Arbour and Jim Elliott are on a four stop tour of the Comox Valley Regional District’s (CVRD) Area A, with scheduled meetings in Denman Island, Royston, Hornby Island and ending up at the Union Bay Hall at 7:00 pm on Oct.15.
Saturday’s Royston meeting had over 50 citizens in attendance, giving up part of their sunny afternoon to listen to and question both candidates. There was a twist to this all candidates affair, the moderator was ill, and there was no one willing to take his place, so both candidates were running the show, alternating recognizing questions from the floor.
From the opening statements, two things became apparent, especially if you read the responses to Decafnations’ questions to Rural Directors. Elliott has been busy with research and has answers to those questions he wasn’t able to respond to in the survey, and there are very few differences in their positions on many of the issues. That was pointed out more than once from members of the audience trying to decide who to support on Election Day, Oct. 20.
While many of the questions raised were specific to Area A, there were some Regional wide issues raised for candidate’s positions.
Development in the Comox Valley was raised more than once, both candidates supported the CVRD’s decision around the development at Stotan Falls, with both calling for developers to be paying the bills on the necessary infrastructure, and not passing those costs off to the local citizens.
Elliott said that in “all his years working for the CVRD, he never saw taxes go down after a new development went ahead.” Around the same issue, both called for the protection of watersheds, though they did have different approaches, Arbour would spend the time working with Island Timberland, moving them toward no logging in regulated areas, while Elliott indicated that the CVRD should write bylaws to protect the watersheds.That seemed to be Elliott’s line in the sand, watersheds need to be protected, and if necessary, he’d stand in front of logging equipment to insure the protection of those areas.
P3 projects were raised as part of the failed referendum over a sewer system to replace the septic fields that populate all the communities in Area A. Neither of them supported the concept, but indicated that the CVRD should work with the Union Bay developers to expand their sewer service, and should continue to work with the K’ómoks First Nation in the development of their Area A properties.
Again, the positions were very similar, and both agreed that there had to be a reasonable costed solution for the sewer system. Neither one of them wanted to see the sewer outfall in Baynes Sound.
Open burning and wood stoves were also raised as problems, and while both agreed that there had to be some changes, neither one called for a ban on wood stoves. Both agreed there had to be curb side pickup of garden waste to control the yard burning, both admitted that they had to conduct further research around the issue of industrial burning.
On the issue of residential wood burning, they both supported the replacement program in place, and felt that through education and retrofitting older homes, there would be less wood stoves in use. Both referred to replacement programs, but were thin on details.
Both Elliott and Arbour wanted to see the Island Corridor protected, with options to develop as a trail system for both pedestrians and bicycles. Though Arbour didn’t rule out a rail option in the future as the Island’s population grows.
Plastic pollution in Baynes Sound was raised, and here the positions were somewhat different to get the same result. Elliott was very clear that the shellfish industry had to take responsibility for the pollution, and if they didn’t, the CVRD should bring in Bylaws forcing them to take responsibility for the clean up. Arbour looked at the problem as “a canary in a coal mine” and if we didn’t take care of the Sound, we’d lose those shellfish jobs. He’d work with the industry and First Nations through the CVRD.
Problems with the new hospital were raised, but both of them indicated that they didn’t have the expertise to come up with a solution without more research.
As the meeting wrapped up, both candidates were pushed to come up with some differences in their approaches. Both had just outlined how they’d organize at the grass roots level to listen to their constituent’s concerns.
Arbour pointed out his success on Hornby Island, and Elliott, his experience stick-handling the water agreement in Union Bay. They outlined the difference as being one of approach to the issue, with Arbour saying he always looked for ways to bring people together,” and had to “be pushed really hard” to lose that focus. Elliott’s approach was more to taking a stand, persuading the group to his position. Consensus waters down the solution to any problem.
Lasting almost 90 minutes, the meeting ended on a sour note.
Members of the audience raised the issue of negative statements being sent via emails and statements by door knocking supporters of candidates. Both candidates quickly supported each other, indicating that any messages sent out would be signed by them, and from their accounts. Both stated that they couldn’t control what others said, but anything they organized hadn’t focussed on any negative statements about the other candidate.
Norm Prince lives in Royston and a contributor to the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project.
There’s a youth movement in Comox Valley politics and Decafnation supports it. Former council members have had their chance. It’s those who must live with the impact of decisions tomorrow who should have the opportunity to make them today
Unlike the federal and provincial political scene where parties and candidates start positioning themselves months, even years, before Election Day, candidates for local government often don’t announce until the filing deadline.
That gives most candidates only six weeks to make their appeals. And because all-candidate forums tend to occur in the final days of the campaign, voters have to make up their minds quickly.
Decafnation has tried to complement the Comox Valley’s private news media this year. We’ve published profiles of most candidates based on in-person interviews. We have not merely published their press releases.
And most of the candidates have collaborated with us, sitting for interviews, responding to our questionnaires, taking our follow-up phone calls. Those interactions have played a crucial role in determining which candidates Decafnation recommends today, the first day of advance voting.
FURTHER READING: Read our candidate profiles and other elections stories here
Some observations about our recommendations.
We have generally supported qualified younger candidates because the future belongs to them. They are the ones who will have to live with the decisions our local governments make today.
We were surprised by the number of former Courtenay City Council members from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s who have tried to make a come-back. Decafnation appreciates their former service, but respectfully suggests they had their turn. It’s time to let go.
We’re encouraged by the number of youthful candidates seeking office this year. Even the Town of Comox has four under-40 candidates. This level of civic engagement bodes well for the whole Comox Valley.
Decafnation realizes that some readers won’t agree with all of our choices. So we’ll say it again: persuasion is not our objective. We only hope to stimulate thought and civil debate.
We admire and congratulate everyone who’s stood for election. It takes courage and a love of community.
Now, here are our recommendations.
Decafnation will offer its recommendations for mayors, council members and regional district rural directors tomorrow, on the first day of advance voting in the 2018 municipal elections. But persuasion is not the objective
A gradual decline in daytime temperatures, the return of drizzling skies and a knock on your door by strangers handing you brightly colored brochures can only mean one thing: the fall election season is baaaaack.
Decafnation has met with most candidates running in this year’s elections for council and mayor positions, and tomorrow — the first day of voting at advance polls — we will offer our recommendations.
There is some debate within the journalism profession about the value of political endorsements. Research on the topic is almost non-existent, but some years ago the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that a measly 11 percent said media endorsements played “somewhat” of a role in their voting decision.
But of that 11 percent, about a quarter were mistaken about which candidate their newspaper had actually endorsed.
So, why endorse candidates?
Decafnation has no delusion that people will change their opinion of the candidates after they read our recommendations. Persuasion is not the objective.
Decafnation thinks of itself as a good citizen. We engage in civic affairs. We care. Nearly every week of the year, we offer commentary on topics ranging from how to fix our sewerage and traffic problems to why Justin Trudeau should keep his shirt on.
Wouldn’t it seem odd to suddenly have no opinion whatsoever about the most important event of all: electing our local governments?
But first, let’s be clear about something. Most of the time, Decafnation is me, one person, although Decafnation does have an informal advisory board and a few infrequent contributors.
These endorsements are based on my private meetings with the candidates, one-on-one interviews with them and my own unique vantage point of having covered the issues and the candidates.
I have also reached out for input from leaders of community organizations and other people I respect, including many whose views often run contrary to my own. In that sense, the endorsements are a collective effort.
Decafnation’s recommendations are meant to stimulate interest and debate, and perhaps to help you crystallize your own thoughts, whether you agree or disagree with our choices.
Most importantly, we’re cheerleading for the democratic process and what local elections are really all about: good governance.
With a background in both corporate retail and the nonprofit sector, Patrick McKenna believes he would bring a unique perspective to a first term on the Comox Town Council. He’s focused on affordable housing, the arts and community safety
Patrick McKenna is an outgoing community theatre actor who has forsaken the corporate retail world for the demands of a nonprofit, and he loves to joke around in conversations.
If you ask why he’s running for a position on the Comox Town Council, he might say something like, “Because Hugh McKinnon is stepping down,” or “Because 13,991 Comox residents didn’t want to.” (There are nine council candidates this year out of a roughly 14,000 population.)
But don’t let the fun-loving facade fool you. For McKenna, a Town Council seat would not be a pastime or a hobby.
“It’s a serious job, to have the people’s confidence entrusted to me,” he told Decafnation. “And that’s how I would approach it.”
The candidate has four areas of focus for his first term, which he’s gleaned from conversations with town residents: affordable housing, arts, culture and heritage, safety and sustainability.
It’s not surprising that affordable housing tops his list.
McKenna came to the Comox Valley in 2003 as the first store manager of the Courtenay Home Depot, where he had a 28-year career before taking a similar position with Target when it opened in the Driftwood Mall. He’s now the executive director of Habitat for Humanity for Vancouver Island North.
“I want to ensure that young families can live here,” he said. “And let’s make sure people who are already here can live here, too, and that their children can return to Comox, if they want to.”
McKenna sees many people getting priced out of the market as demand increases and property values escalate, a situation he doesn’t see changing any time soon.
“Growth is a function of where we live,” he said. “People want to live here. I don’t see a correction coming yet.”
But he does think the town could hold developers “a little more accountable,” and be steer them toward including affordable housing units in their plans.
McKenna doesn’t know if the town had a housing agreement with the 90-unit Broadstreet development on Anderton Aveune to dedicate a certain number of unit to rent below market rate. He hopes one exists.
“It’s staff’s and council’s job to have the mentality to get more affordable housing in Comox,” he said.
McKenna said when Habitat approached the City of Campbell River to build 10 houses on a piece of property, the city asked if they’d like to build 11 units, which they would allow with a covenant that they would remain affordable housing forever.
“A lot of municipalities don’t want to slow down developers, and so they’re afraid to ask for social benefits,” he said. “But Comox keeps building single family houses and that doesn’t help people trying to get it or move up.”
McKenna would like to see a continuum of housing developed in the town; some supportive, some transistional, and more affordable.
“Single family houses aren’t going to solve our problem,” he said.
And it’s also no surprise that McKenna wants the town to increase its support of arts, culture and heritage.
McKenna has been a prominent figure in the Comox Valley amateur theatre scene. He’s even formed his own theatre company, Three Legged Dog Productions.
“The town spends $2.2 million on parks and the arts gets $70,000. We need to change that,” he said. “I’ve got a bleeding heart for the arts.”
McKenna would like to Comox become more like Chemanius where the theatre is the centerpiece of the town. He points to the vacant Lorne Hotel property and muses that it would be a great location for a community theatre.
He likes what the town has done recently to improve Marina Park with a splash park and allowing semi-permanent food trucks. He’d like to see a farmers market, and more use of the sail buildings.
He thinks council was trying to create a community space for people to congregate.
When a town has gathering places, McKenna says people get to know each other, and feel safer.
“Parts of Courtenay feel unsafe, the rise of crime, drug use, homelessness,” he said. “We need to guard against that.”
McKenna grew up in Nova Scotia, the youngest of seven brothers and sisters who all went to university.
During his long experience in corporate retail, McKenna became good at analyzing numbers, a skill that has helped him in the nonprofit world where every dollar must be spent with specific intent. And on the town council, he would make sure money was invested in projects that further its core mission.
And he thinks his private and nonprofit sector background gives him a unique way of looking at things that would benefit the town.