Wendy Morin, a substance abuse counsellor with the John Howard Society and a co-founder of the Comox Valley Girls Group, is running for Courtenay City Council. She would focus on housing, social issues and the environment
A founding resident of Courtenay’s Tin Town live-work neighborhood hopes to bring her social consciousness and long-time connection with Comox Valley youth to the City Council.
Wendy Morin, a lifelong resident of the Valley, will launch her campaign at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 9 outside of the Tin Town Cafe.
The youth and family substance use counsellor at the John Howard Society believes voters will find her 20-year experience in advocacy, collaboration, creative problem-solving and relationship-building an asset to the council.
Morin, who thought about running in 2010 and again in 2014, thinks the current City Council has made good progress in her primary areas of interest: social issues, the environment and affordable housing.
“But we’re losing some of them now,” she said.
Bob Wells, David Frisch and Erik Eriksson are running for mayor and at least two will lose their council seats. Rebecca Lennox, the lone woman on council, is retiring, a fact that Morin laments.
“When we have more women on council, we’re better represented,” she said.
Morin is the co-creator of the Comox Valley Girls Group, which has provided training for young women, from age 12 through 21, about how to deal with societal pressures and learn skills for healthy living.
The program operates under the umbrella of the Comox Valley Transition Society. During its 20 years, Morin estimates that more than 400 young women have been helped to navigate their way through the challenge of adolescence.
She hopes to engage more young people in municipal affairs through council outreach initiatives, as well as those who are marginalized through social inequality and feel disempowered.
“I want to help create a city that’s livable for everybody,” she said. “A city where nobody is left out of decision-making.”
But she also has views on a variety of specific issues.
Morin worries that the Valley has become unaffordable for young families. She supports diverse housing options that include promoting secondary suites, carriage houses, tiny homes and urban infill with incentives for developers.
She supports transitional and supportive housing.
She would like to use her council platform to promote neighborhood hubs “whether that’s a community school or center, cafes or coffee shops, parks or farmers markets.”
Morin opposes the 3L Developments proposal to build a new 740-house community near Stotan Falls because it’s a contravention of a core tenet of the Regional Growth Strategy to have sustainable long-term growth and infrastructure.
“And it (3L’s Riverwood proposal) would just abandon a plan (the RGS) that’s not that old,” she said. “Water, sewer and road infrastructure is just going to come back to the city eventually, and cost us more.”
Morin is the first and, so far, only candidate that supports the elimination of plastic bags. She would recommend more opportunities for community food gardens, green building and protections for forests, riparian areas and estuaries.
Attracting innovative businesses and clean industries tops Morin’s list of economic development objectives.
She supports adopting a social procurement policy similar to Cumberland’s to “offset taxation and improve the social wellbeing of the community.”
Morin supports alternative modes of transportation to slow down growing traffic congestion and make it easier for those who cannot drive vehicles.
She opposes a bridge at 21st Street that “made no sense.”
Morin says the Courtenay Airpark “seems to be valuable,” because it supports economic development, tourism and health care. She knows of nurses who travel to remote places.
“I respect the Official Community Plan process,” she said. “I would support continuing to implement it, no abandon it.”
The city’s OCP states council’s support for the airpark, its commitment to protect it and encourage it to expand.
Morin would advocate for a social planning position at the city. The position would coordinate the activities of an existing volunteer committee to improve the social health of the city, and offset hidden costs to taxpayers.
“If we improve food security, housing and access to health services, we benefit from economic spin-off and cost savings,” she said.
Judi Murakami wants City Council to focus on senior women’s poverty, arts and culture, revitalization and removing blight and protecting green spaces. Plus, she’s prepared to put in the time to make important decisions
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated for the correct spelling of Judi Murakami’s name
Judi Murakami wants to use her education and professional experience to help the Courtenay City Council coalesce around some common goals, something she believes they desperately need to do.
She decided to run for office in January, after meeting with Mayor Larry Jangula, who she says told her the council was not working well together.
That shows up, she says, in the failure of the city’s strategic plan to even mention schools and education, green spaces and arts and culture, and is short on specifics.
“For example, the plan talks about growing the economy, but how?” she told Decafnation. “It doesn’t say.”
FURTHER READING: Read about other Comox Valley candidates
Since moving to the Comox Valley 10 years ago, Murakami has been a tireless volunteer, including a seven-year stint hosting the local cable TV program, Comox Valley Stories.
She has a masters degree in applied behavioral sciences with a focus on organizational development, and worked as a safety advisor for the Vancouver Island Health Authority training staff how to better manage aggressive behaviors.
Before retiring, she also did quality assurance work with the BC Ministry of Health.
Murakami thinks that knowledge and experience will benefit the city by helping the council focus on its four most important issues.
At the top of her list is senior women’s poverty.
“Rising house prices in Vancouver and Victoria have moved up island,” she said. “We don’t have any affordable housing for low-income seniors, particularly women.”
She points to the three-year wait for a vacancy at Kiwanis Village as a symptom of the problem.
Next, Murakami would make arts and culture an economic pillar of the city.
“The city should create a budget for arts and culture, not make these organizations come cap in hand every year for funding,” she said.
She believes the city could do more to market Music Fest, CYMC, the art gallery and The Sid. She envisions maps with walking tours, and more city-sponsored events to promote the arts.
Murakami wants the city to take more aggressive action to revitalize its core areas.
She specifically refers to the vacant lot at England and Cliffe, the site of the old Palace Theatre, which has sat empty for years.
“It’s an eyesore in the heart of downtown,” she says. “The private owners are not being incentivized to do anything … they’re not being fined or taxed enough to get moving.”
She wants to identify that site and other blighted areas and encourage property owners to speed up improvements.
Finally, Murakami wants the city to better protect and enhance green spaces.
She applauds the city for forgiving taxes on the Kus-kus-sum site while Project Watershed raising the funds to purchase the property.
“But waiving property taxes for two years isn’t enough,” she said. “Council should get on board and approve a sizable grant for the project.”
Murakami believes the Comox Valley is a “charity driven” community.
“People consciously go out of their way to attend events and support local causes,” she said, noting that the Valley is one of few communities to support a YANA (you are not alone) organization to help families that must travel to access medical treatment for children.
Murakami says there’s another important reason why voters should choose her on Oct. 20: She’s got the energy, qualifications, time and commitment to serve on City Council.
“I won’t just show up to meetings,” she said. “I’m prepared to put in the time to read and understand the reports and issues that come before council, and ready to make important decisions.”
Murakami sees the role of a councillor as a two-way street.
“It’s a dialogue with people to understand their concerns,” she said. “I’m always learning from people.”
FURTHER READING: Visit Judi Murakami’s Facebook page
Working in an Alberta ministry office taught City Council candidate Deana Simpkin that it’s easier to get things done from the inside. She wants to densify and revitalize downtown, meet growth head-on and keep taxes in check
EDITOR’S NOTE: his post was updated on July 5 to correct that 16 (not 19) additional staff were hired and one staff was reclassified.
Having spent 20 years advocating for the developmentally disabled and also several years in the Alberta Minister of Culture’s office, Courtenay council candidate Deana Simpkin learned that it’s easier to get things done from the inside.
While she’s proud of her advocacy work, she had a greater impact on developmentally disabled children like her daughter, and their families, while working for MLA Lindsay Blackett. Simpkin helped change the system to smooth the transition when a DD child turns 18.
Despite that provincial-level accomplishment, Simpkin says she’s always been more interested in municipal politics. And now, after eight years in the community, she’s ready to get involved.
Simpkin and her family moved to the Comox Valley from Calgary in 2010 to be closer to her parents, who made a stop at CFB Comox in the 1950s and retired here in 1990. She and her husband bought the former Billy D’s restaurant on Fifth Street and rebranded it last September as the High Tide Public House and seafood restaurant.
She’s been active in the community ever since, serving as president of the Courtenay Rotary Club, the Downtown Business Improvement Association and currently as vice-president of the Comox Valley Economic Development Society.
“I think I’ve earned my stripes,” she told Decafnation. “And along the way I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge about Courtenay.”
INTERESTING FACT: Simpkin’s name is pronounced “dean-ah” not “dee-anna.” She’s named after Dean Martin, her mother’s (a singer) favorite performer.
She hopes to help densify and revitalize the downtown core and to steer the city toward proactive measures to deal with its inevitable growth and housing issues.
And she wants to use her accounting diploma and business experience to “keep taxes in check.”
“A lot of people are worried, both business and residential,” she said. “There’s no big industry in the Valley paying for infrastructure.”
She points to the recent hiring of 16 additional city staff and one reclassification at a cost of about $2 million as an example.
“What are those people doing? If they’re not doing anything, then that’s a concern,” she said. “And where is the money coming from? I heard they’re taking it from a reserve.”
Simpkin said once she’s elected and get answers to those questions, “then maybe it will all make sense.”
But she thinks the council and staff haven’t done enough to convince her and others that the hires were necessary.
“I feel like council needs to give more direction to staff and communicate better with the public,” she said. “A lot of people think staff are running council.”
She says she is not a member of the Comox Valley Taxpayers Association.
Simpkin also hopes to spur a revitalization of the downtown area by encouraging more people to live in and around the core. Young people, single people and young couples want to live close, she says, and more downtown housing would help businesses expand and improve.
She says there is no way to achieve that or to create affordable housing generally without decreasing development costs. She envisions property tax breaks and other incentives to encourage developers to build more affordable houses.
“It’s a big ugly circle,” she said. “If there’s no incentives or lower development costs, then all those extra costs go down to the consumer. The builder can’t lose money.”
Simpkin says Campbell River recently offered a long-term tax break for builders of new homes.
Simpkin says she can work well with the other people on council, although four seats are open. And she’s staying out of endorsing anyone in the mayor’s race “… for now.”
The recent paddle board convert believes she can make a positive difference by working within the City Council.
FURTHER READING: Interviews with other candidates on our politics page.
Comox mayoral candidate Tom Diamond has a strong vision for a vibrant town facing massive growth pressures — a future by design, not by default
Tom Diamond loves the Town of Comox. He’s lived there for eight years, and thinks it’s a well-run municipality. But he would like to see the town led toward a more vibrant future.
So Diamond is running for mayor in this fall’s election.
During a Saturday morning interview over coffee outside The Grind on Beaufort Avenue, Diamond talked about his strong vision for Comox, and why the town’s unavoidable growth pressures make it so important.
“Massive growth is upon us, the whole Comox Valley. We can’t escape it,” he told Decafnation. “But with a well-defined vision, we can plan for it and manage it.”
Diamond points to the town’s default residential zoning, which makes every development project a one-off discussion, or fight. Some projects are stalled for years as a result.
“That’s fine in a slow-growing environment,” Diamond said. “But we can’t afford that anymore.”
FURTHER READING: Tom Diamond for mayor
Diamond’s campaign platform is based on developing a clear community vision, and making zoning decisions ahead of time.
“The council doesn’t know what the right thing to do is without a community vision,” he said. “With a plan, we’ll know when the right development comes along, and we can choose wisely.”
Diamond sees the Oct. 20 municipal election as a referendum of sorts.
“Are the people of Comox interested in a plan for the future, one that creates a vibrant downtown, attracts 21st century jobs and housing with a range of styles and affordability?” he said.
“I think so.”
Diamond has a masters in clinical psychology (counseling) and a Ph.D in organizational psychology (organizational development, human resources).
He’s worked for the U.S. Navy, several universities in administrative and teaching roles, a consulting group specializing in health care and as an independent psychologist.
Diamond was serving as Director of Academic Affairs for Walden University in Vancouver, when his family decided to seek a quieter lifestyle. They moved to Salt Spring Island, which proved to be too quiet.
FURTHER READING: Brain Fitness Center
The settled in Comox in 2008 as a happy medium. It offered a slow pace, yet had more opportunity for his family.
He’s gotten back into counseling since moving to the Valley, especially in the areas of biofeedback and neurofeedback to improve sleep and focus, reduce anxiety and recover from concussions.
His “brain fitness center” is called BrainiGo.
Vision for Comox
Diamond would use his experience in building strategic plans and forming collaborative teams to create a community vision that won’t get steamrolled by out-of-control growth.
He envisions a revitalized downtown core with a walking promenade from a more formalized seafood market on the docks up to Comox Avenue, lined with locally-owned shops and restaurants. He sees an expand marina, perhaps accessible by small cruise ships.
He sees a Granville Island-style public market, a community swimming pool and a safe network of pathways for non-vehicular traffic.
Diamond wants to encourage and attract technology jobs that will draw younger people to the town, and maximize recreational opportunities to keep them here.
“There are already a lot of younger, working families here that are underserved,” he said. “One priority will be to incentivize a wider variety of housing styles and price ranges.”
In Diamond’s vision, Comox not only keeps, but enhances the beauty of its coastline, and retains a small village feel within the downtown area.
The key, he says, is a “vision-led town council, rather than slowing everything down.”
Why mayor, not a council position?
Although he’s not held elected office before, Diamond says the mayor’s role is the right fit for his skill set and the motivation behind his campaign.
“I have a lot of big picture experience and that combined with my leadership and collaborative skills, makes me a better candidate for mayor,” he said. “I want to encourage people to get involved in shaping their town.”
He readily admits that his vision for Comox reaches high and will take time to achieve. But without that kind of thinking, he says the growth that is coming our way will bulldoze us.
“I believe the people want a future by design, not by default,” he said.
Courtenay is growing into a bigger city and Melanie McCollum’s budgetary and finance experience can help guide the city through decisions on transportation and housing that will have long-lasting impacts
Courtenay City Council candidate Melanie McCollum has had a couple of fairly recent “aha” political moments.
The first moment came while knocking on doors in support of David Frisch’s 2014 council campaign, something she was initially reluctant to do.
“It was an eye opener for me that I actually enjoyed the process of talking about issues with people on their doorsteps,” she said.
The second occurred to her in 2016 while sitting through one of many School District 71 board meetings about the controversial proposal to close Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary, which serves the area where she and her family live.
“I asked myself, how have I — as an adult and parent — not attended a school board meeting before?” McCollum said.
Those moments created a thought in the back of her mind of some day running for office, but it did not become an active thought until this year.
“I’ve got space in my life now,” she said. “And the city is entering … growing into an interesting time, and the growth that Courtenay is currently experiencing means that the decisions made by the new council are going to have long-lasting impacts”
McCollum moved to the Comox Valley from Victoria in 2006, originally settling in Union Bay and later moving into Courtenay. She grew up on Gabriola Island with her politically active parents, and worked on a friend’s mother’s MP campaign while in Victoria.
She believes her education background and professional experience could help have a positive impact on the city’s future.
McCollum has a undergraduate degree in geography, focused on urban planning, and a post-degree diploma in accounting. She’s worked for the past 11 years at North Island College, currently as a financial analyst.
She takes a fresh perspective on the city’s status, a way of imagining it that might escape people who have lived here much longer.
“Courtenay is a city in transition,” she says. “From a small city to a bigger city.”
McCollum points to myriad traffic issues and transportation infrastructure needs as evidence that municipal government must recognize this transition-in-progress.
She points out there is no safe route for high school students to ride bicycles from West Courtenay to either G.P Vanier or Mark Isfeld high schools. And once on Lerwick, right-hand bike lanes turn into right-turn lanes, which makes it risky to cycle there.
“Thirteen-year-old kids may want to ride their bikes, and not wait for mom or dad to pick them up, it seems reasonable to provide that as a safe option” she said.
The bus stop on lower Ryan Road, serving a large residential area, causes pedestrians to navigate the most dangerous, and accident-prone stretches of roadways in the city without a sidewalk.
McCollum would like to see bump-out crosswalks, similar to what Robb Road residents petitioned for in Comox, so pedestrians can be more easily seen.
“There’s a political will on transportation infrastructure to prioritize modes other than vehicle traffic,” she said. “We should add these considerations when making infrastructure decisions.”
Bringing transportation infrastructure up to date is “the crux of not being a small town any more,” she said.
McCollum’s other key issue is to create an environment that encourages developers to build a wider variety of housing and to solve the city’s need to create more urban infill density without building tall apartment buildings or sprawl on the edges of town.
She envisions financial incentives to build a style of housing within walking distance to downtown that provides just enough space for a family, includes some outdoor space and doesn’t cost a fortune. She thinking of something like townhouses or row houses, a style in between condo towers and single-family homes.
The “missing middle” housing is a problem that urban planners across North America are grappling with in large and small cities.
McCollum thinks there are council-level actions that could make it profitable for builders to fill this gap. She mentions lower development costs and other incentives to build the right kind of housing in the right locations.
And she notes that greater density living in the core would have a positive impact on downtown businesses.
McCollum said she would help develop housing strategies so that the city was prepared when the federal and provincial governments offer financial supports to solve the nation’s housing problems.
“It’s important to be ready, have a plan, know what we want, so we don’t miss any opportunities,” she said.
The City of Nanaimo recently missed out on a significant grant because council was undecided about supportive housing, which McCollum supports.
McCollum hopes voters will recognize how her budgetary and finance skills can benefit the city, but she also stresses her pragmatic and calm approach to issues.
“I don’t have to agree with someone to have an interesting conversation,” she said. “That’s how you get to good decision-making.”
And she’s quick to point out that the city should have more than one female voice on a council of seven members.
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.”