The anti-tax wave turned into a progressive tsunami in Courtenay; Long undercuts Jangula; 48% of Cumberland voters cast a ballot and a woman of color will contribute her world view to the regional district
This article was updated to correct the vote totals on the Cumberland referendum
As the Comox Valley awoke this morning, stumbled into the kitchen and stared vacantly out the window at a spectacular sunny late October day, were people thinking about the whirlwind six-week election campaign that ended last night?
Or were they still stoned from too much Legalization Day celebrations? Hung over from too much Election Night joy? Or, just seeing a yard full of maple leaves begging to be raked up?
Well, over here on Nob Hill, at the international headquarters of the Decafnation, we were thinking about what voters were thinking. What the election results mean, and what they don’t mean.
We did notice that of the 22 mayors, councillors and regional directors elected yesterday, Decafnation recommended 18 of them.
But in our own decaffeinated stupor this fine morning, these random thoughts passed through …
— Did Harold Long split the non-progressive vote and derail incumbent Larry Jangula’s bid for re-election? Jangula finished second to mayor-elect Bob Wells by 438 votes. Harold Long got 1,165 votes.
Long and Jangula feuded over a pact that Long says the pair made four years ago. Long would support Jangula in 2014 if Jangula supported Long in 2018. Long says Jangula reneged on the deal and Long ran anyway.
FURTHER READING: Detailed election results here
— The Comox Valley Taxpayers Alliance tried to rally the fiscal conservative vote, but did it actually show up? The CVTA endorsed six candidates for council and Jangula for mayor. Mano Theos was their only candidate to make the cut.
But looking at the mayor’s race, Jangula and Long captured 3,677 votes, more than Wells and Erik Eriksson, who received 3,597. A mere 80-vote differential.
On the other hand, Courtenay voters — where the CVTA exclusively focused their “taxes are too high!” message — elected a nearly unanimous progressive council. Theos is going to feel a little lonely for the next four years.
So, what to conclude? Jangula probably had individual popular support. Long cost him the election. But overall the efforts of the CVTA, despite all the money they spent on full-page advertising, didn’t make a difference. It may even have triggered a counterproductive effect by rallying progressive voters.
— We were surprised that Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird’s opponent got even 229 votes.
— It’s a cliche, we know, but every vote does count. Incumbent Roger Kishi missed re-election by 2 votes. And the Comox Valley lost an important voice of diversity.
— We don’t think there’s a provision for recounts in municipal elections. Why not?
— Which community had the highest voter turnout and which was the worst? It was no contest. Cumberland had a 48.0 percent turnout the highest in the region. The Comox Valley’s worst was the rural electoral areas at 28.7 percent.
Courtenay had a 37.1 percent turnout and Comox had 40.4 percent. Campbell River did the worst of all at 25.4 percent. Qualicum was the best regionally with 58.9 percent. Parksville had 43.5 percent and Nanaimo did well at 40.3 percent.
— How did mayors fare compared to their elected councillors? Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird got 83.25 percent of the vote, the highest of any Comox Valley candidate. No village councillors got a higher percentage, but Vickey Brown topped the polls with 63.6 percent.
Mayor-Elect Bob Wells got 40.56 percent of the vote, and five councillors grabbed a higher percentage of the vote. Will Cole-Hamilton topped the city polls with 48.6 percent.
Comox Mayor-Elect Russ Arnott received 61.8 percent of the vote. Two of his council members got more, including Alex Bissinger who topped the polls with 63.9 percent.
— In a move that will benefit the entire Comox Valley, Cumberland voters gave their Village Council approval to borrow up to $4.4 million to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant by a substantial margin: 1,011 to 316.
Voters really had no choice because the village has to upgrade its operations for face potential fines from the Ministry of Environment for being out of compliance with provincial standards. But the strong “yes” vote gives the village extra leverage in obtaining grant external funding and lowering the amount it has to borrow.
— Courtenay voters also approved a non-binding request for City Council to undertake a study of Valley-wide governance reforms all the way up to amalgamation. It will be interesting how this study evolves, if at all, because Cumberland and Comox haven’t expressed interest. The vote was 4,734 yes to 1,494 no.
— Vickey Brown, who stepped down as a school trustee to run in the Cumberland municipal election, topped the polls, besting re-elected incumbent Jesse Ketler by 44 votes. Brown previously sought a council seat in the 1990s and lost by just 10 votes, a 54-vote turnaround.
— Erik Eriksson was the first Comox Valley candidate to announce his campaign. Just over a year ago, incumbent councillor Eriksson said he was running for mayor, a move criticized by some as starting the campaign too early. But it did force other mayoral hopefuls David Frisch — who later dropped out to re-run for council — and Bob Wells to announce their intentions just four months later.
Eriksson finished last in the four-way race for mayor. Was it because he announced so early? Did he ruffle too many feathers with his council colleagues by refusing to abide the chamber convention of referring to each other as “Councillor Hillian,” etc., and using just their first names?
Or did he lose progressive supporters by voting with Jangula, Theos and Ken Grant on 3L Developments proposed amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy? While the optics of Eriksson’s action may have cost him support from anti-amendment voters, he did it to continue the consultation process, including a public hearing.
Eriksson’s fears materialized when 3L filed a multi-faceted lawsuit just three days before the Oct. 20 election, essentially alleging that the Comox Valley Regional District didn’t give their proposal fair consideration.
— It’s interesting that voters convincingly supported Edwin Grieve in Area C, despite being banned from 3L discussions at the CVRD board table because a human rights tribunal found he made ethnically insensitive remarks about a 3L executive. Voters apparently believe Grieve has learned from his mistake and subsequent discipline and were willing to give him another chance.
— For the first time, a woman of color will represent a CVRD rural electoral area. Arzeena Hamir, who defeated incumbent Rod Nichol in Area B, was born in Tanzania, East Africa, moved to BC in 1973, served as a CUSO volunteer in Thailand, where she’s fluent in the language, and spent time in India doing field research for a Masters degree in sustainable agriculture that she earned from the University of London, England.
— Finally, more than half of the Comox Valley school district board of trustees were elected by acclimation (four out of seven). Why is there so little interest in the school board? (Full disclosure, Decafnation did not profile school trustee candidates or survey them on education issues. Nor were we able to profile every mayoral and council candidate.)
WHO DID YOU ELECT?
Here are the latest preliminary results from Civic Info BC. A * preceding a candidate’s name indicates an incumbent. Decafnation will update results as they become available. Boldface type indicates elected candidates.
COURTENAY: 7,372 votes cast; 37.1% turnout of eligible voters
COMOX: 4,392 votes cast; 40.4% turnout
CUMBERLAND: 2,892 votes cast; 48.0% turnout
CVRD: Voter turnout per electoral area not available; 28.7% overall
Bob Wells: 2,950
Harold Long: 1,165
*Larry Jangula: 2,512
Erik Eriksson: 647
Will Cole-Hamilton: 3,556
Melanie McCollum: 3,213
*David Frisch: 3,182
*Mano Theos: 3,149
Wendy Morin: 3,044
*Doug Hillian: 2,827
Tom Grant: 2,738
Jin Lin: 2,626
Brennan Day: 2,338
Murray Presley: 2,316
Starr Winchester: 2,154
Deana Simpkin: 2,095
Judi MuraKami: 1,559
Kihoshi Kosky: 1,436
Penny Marlow: 1,325
Darwin Dzuba: 436
Russ Arnott: 2,715
Tom Diamond: 1,626
Alex Bissinger: 2,807
Partick McKenna: 2,748
Nicole Minions: 2,654
*Maureen Swift: 2,613
*Ken Grant: 2,472
S. McGowan: 2,242
Chris Haslett: 1,877
Don Davis: 1,605
Ron Freeman: 1,603
*Leslie Baird: 1,138
Eduardo Uranga: 229
Vickey Brown: 883
*Jesse Ketler: 839
*Gwyn Sproule: 763
*Sean Sullivan: 602
*Roger Kishi: 600
Ian McLean: 536
Eric Krejci: 480
Daniel Arbour: 1,385
Jim Elliott: 803
Arzeena Hamir: 852
*Rod Nichol: 740
*Edwin Grieve: 987
Jay Oddleifson: 601
*Janice Caton: Acclaimed
Kat Hawksby: Acclaimed
Tonia Frawley: 2,162
Randi Baldwin: 1,128
Sarah Howe: Acclaimed
*Sheila McDonnell: Acclaimed
Michelle Waite: 1,050
James Derry: 338
*Ian Hargreaves: 1,141
Terence Purden: 268
Comox Valley voters have a terrible record of turning out to vote in municipal elections, yet who we elect to our local governments has a more direct and impactful effect on our daily lives. Let’s turn that around this year
Comox Valley voters go to the polls tomorrow, Oct. 20, to elect mayors, councillors, rural regional district directors and school board trustees.
People have said this year’s election is historic because there are so many open seats on the Courtenay and Comox councils. People have said the Courtenay election pits former council members, those who have served in the not-so-recent past, against a wave of younger newcomers anxious to make their mark on a blossoming city.
But the truth is that every election matters. Every election is important. Every municipal election has an impact on the future of our communities and the Comox Valley as a whole. Who will elect has a direct effect on our lives.
Democracy works best when everyone participates. Not everyone can run for elected office, but everyone can vote. When voters don’t turn out, they get a government that doesn’t fully represent them. Sadly, Comox Valley voters have a poor record of voting in municipal elections.
In 2014 only 31 percent of eligible voters turned out in Courtenay; 41 percent in Comox, 41 percent in Cumberland, 31 percent in Electoral area A, 27 percent in Area B and just a meager 19 percent in Area C.
Decafnation hopes more voters turn out this year. Ask your friends if they’ve voted. Tell them where to vote and when. Use social media to generate excitement about voting among your Facebook or Instagram community. Talk about the candidates today so that others might vote tomorrow.
Remember, it’s acceptable and strategic to only vote for the council candidates you really love. You don’t have to vote for six in Comox and Courtenay, or four in Cumberland.
Decafnation has recommended candidates in all but the school board races. They are pictured above, and here’s a handy list to take to the polls with you.
Courtenay: Mayor Bob Wells, Councillors Melanie McCollum, Will Cole-Hamilton, Wendy Morin, David Frisch, Doug Hillian and Deana Simpkin.
Cumberland: Mayor Leslie Baird, Councillors Jesse Ketler, Gwyn Sproule, Roger Kishi and Sean Sullivan.
Comox: Mayor Tom Diamond, Councillors Nicole Minions, Alex Bissinger, Patrick McKenna, Stephanie McGowan, Maureen Swift and Chris Haslett
Regional District: Area A, Daniel Arbour; Area B, Arzeena Hamir; and, Area C, Edwin Grieve.
Who are your favorite candidates? Whoever they are, go vote for them tomorrow.
Courtenay’s year-over-year tax increases compare favorably with surrounding municipalities. So what’s all the fuss about? Maybe the answer lies in the city’s transparency — or lack of it
There’s been a lot of debate this fall about taxes in the City of Courtenay. Some people say they are too high, that low-income people are being driven from their homes and seniors are choosing between taxes and food.
Other local government observers have said the problem isn’t the amount of taxes collected, but the lack of transparency about how and why increases were needed.
The city made itself a target of this debate about a year ago when, in a single meeting, the City Council approved the hiring of 16 new employees and promoted another to a management position.
It was a dramatic move bound to attract attention from fiscal conservative voters. Some would say the optics were terrible. If the city had hired three or four new people over a multi-year period, it might not have drawn such a negative response.
A group calling itself the Comox Valley Taxpayers Alliance (CVTA) has since purchased full-page ads in The Record newspaper to criticize the hirings, Courtenay tax increases in general and to specifically call out the most progressive council members.
FURTHER READING: Courtenay candidates discuss taxes
Several conservative candidates have jumped on this “high taxes” bandwagon as the basis of their campaign platforms and to win the support and endorsement of the CVTA.
But how much have taxes increased in the City of Courtenay? And how do its increases compare with neighboring municipalities?
Courtenay’s year-over-year tax increases were 1.7 percent in 2014, 3.2 percent in 2015, 4.0 percent in 2016 and 2.0 percent in 2017.
In Comox, tax increases for the same years were, 2.8 percent, 2.7 percent, 3.5 percent and 3.4 percent.
In Cumberland, the increases were 1.0 percent, 4.5 percent, 5.5 percent and 5.0 percent.
In Campbell River, the increases were 4.3 percent in 2016 and 5.6 percent in 2017.
In Nanaimo, the increases were 3.8 percent in 2014, 2.3 percent in 2015, 1.3 percent in 2016 and 4.2 percent in 2017.
In almost every year in all five municipalities, the year-over-year taxes collected for general municipal purposes were higher than the Canadian Consumer Price Index.
But Courtenay tax increases compare favorably with its immediate neighboring municipalities.
So what’s the fuss all about?
Dick Clancy, the spokesman for the CVTA, sat down with Decafnation to explain why his group has focused on Courtenay and not Comox or Cumberland.
Clancy maintains that the city used surplus funds to pay for the 16 new hires, and when you add in the money they took out of reserve funds to balance their budget, the tax increases in 2017 and 2018 were more like 6 percent.
Clancy couldn’t provide detail for his calculations during our meeting, so Decafnation sought an expert analysis from a retired B.C. city chief administrative officer (CAO), who is not a member of the CVTA.
Our source analyzed it this way:
Without new hires the city requires tax increases in the period from 2018 to 2021 of 5.9 percent.
But the proposed budget increases taxes during that time by 9 percent. The city budgeted a tax rate 3.1 percent higher than actually required by expenditure increases.
The total value of the new hires was equivalent to about a 5+ percent tax increase in 2017, but the city didn’t want to pass that along to taxpayers. So it used surplus funds in 2017 and 2018 to balance the budget, as a one-time solution.
But the city needed an ongoing funding solution for the new hires so it budgeted excess tax increases over the next 4 years to smooth out the impact and cover the cost of the new hires. And Courtenay’s budgeted increases aren’t out of line with neighboring cities, towns and villages.
Also, there’s nothing illegal or uncommon about such financial manoeuvres in municipal governments when they are discussed and explained in open meetings.
But it appears that the Courtenay City Council worked out this solution during in-camera meetings, and has never fully disclosed the nature of those deliberations. As with most cover ups, this lack of transparency has jacked up criticisms and suspicions.
The CVTA seems to have inside information that the budget details were discussed during in-camera meetings, but Clancy denied it. The alliance did endorse incumbent Larry Jangula for mayor and incumbent Mano Theos for council.
By law, councillors have a duty to respect the confidentiality of in-camera meetings and may be personally liable if leaking the substance of a closed meeting results in a liability for the municipality.
Discussions in closed meetings are limited to selling or buying land through expropriations and legal matters, such as lawsuits.
But the B.C. Ombudsman says municipalities should record minutes for closed meetings in at least a much detail as open meetings, including a detailed description of the topics, documents considered, motions and a voting record.
Most importantly, the Ombudsman says local governments should “have a process in place to regularly review the information produced at closed meetings. Information that would no longer undermine the reason for discussing it in a closed meeting should be released as soon as practicable.”
Based on these best practices, Courtenay could release the minutes of any discussions about the hirings and subsequent budget discussions during closed meetings.
And it’s a principle that Cumberland, Comox and the Comox Valley Regional District should also adopt.
The Ombudsman goes on:
“Local governments should strive to release as much information as possible as often as possible, in order to demonstrate their commitment to the principles of transparency and accountability and to receive the benefit of a more informed, engaged and trusting public.”
Decafnation doesn’t recall any Comox Valley government ever voluntarily releasing the minutes of a closed meeting as the Ombudsman suggests. Members of the public can request the release of minutes from closed meetings, and also seek them through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
If Cumberland voters approve up to $4.4 million in borrowing to bring the village’s treatment plant up to provincial standards, it will help to acquire grants and free up funds for a new fire hall
Cumberland voters have an extra and important box to check on their municipal ballots this year. Besides picking a mayor and four councillors, residents will decide if the village can borrow money to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant.
This doesn’t seem like a controversial topic, one that might be expected to get an overwhelming “yes” vote from all but the grumpiest taxpayers.
Consider the benefits:
— An upgraded plant would discharge clean water into Maple Lake Creek and ultimately the Trent River.
— The village’s plan is affordable, less than half as expensive as the previous South Sewer Project proposed by the Comox Valley Regional District.
— The project is scaled for two decades of population growth and designed to meet increased Ministry of Environment standards.
— And, the most compelling argument of all, the village has to do the upgrades regardless of Saturday’s vote. Their wastewater treatment has been out of compliance with provincial standards for more than a decade. If Cumberland doesn’t act soon, it could face million dollar fines on top of the inevitable costs to upgrade.
But the project did become controversial this summer when a group of residents opposed the plan and defeated the village’s Alternate Approval Process, which would have achieved consensus without a referendum on the ballot.
REFERENDUM: Are you in favour of “Wastewater Upgrade Project Loan Authorization Bylaw, No. 1084, 2018” to authorize the Village of Cumberland to borrow up to $4,400,000, including interest, over a period not exceeding 20 years in order to finance the construction of an upgraded lagoon wastewater treatment plant? YES or NO
The opposed residents were supporters of the village’s Fire Department and its quest for a new fire hall. They feared that project would get lost if they supported borrowing for the wastewater plant upgrade.
According to Cumberland Councillor Jesse Ketler those differences have been resolved and she hopes the referendum will pass comfortably on Saturday.
Ketler told Decafnation that a decisive showing of public support in the referendum vote actually makes it more likely the village can obtain grants and other external funding for the upgrades. That would reduce the amount the village had to borrow, and in turn make more funds available for a new fire hall.
The village hopes to pay for the $9 million wastewater project with 73 percent of the funding from grants. The other 27 percent would come from the development cost charges (DCC) the village has accumulated and only $1.2 million from borrowing.
Ketler said it would be a win-win-win for the fire hall, the wastewater treatment plant and the environment if the referendum passes.
Cumberland currently uses lagoon aeration and settling to treat its sewage. The non-disinfected effluent is discharged into Maple Lake Creek, the Trent River and ultimately into Baynes Sound.
The proposed upgrade expands the lagoon aeration capacity, removes phosphorus, uses a “fish friendly” disinfectant and then “polishes” treated water to remove organic contaminants such as pharmaceuticals.
Village staff has estimated a total cost (capital construction and 20-year operating costs) to taxpayers of between $310 per property per year to $49 per property per year. The high figure assumes no grant funding, which Ketler says is unlikely.
The BC Ministry of the Environment sent enforcement notices in 2017 and again in 2018 warning Cumberland that it’s out of compliance with provincial regulations and faces possibly large fines.
“We need to develop an environmentally-sustainable method of treating the liquid waster,” said Mayor Leslie Baird. “This solution is the result of nearly two years of planning by community volunteers, technical experts and agencies and moving it forward will address a significant issue in our community’s infrastructure.”
16 candidates for six Courtenay City Council seats answered questions from the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce last night in front of a full house at the Sid Williams Theatre. Taxes and amalgamation were the hot topics
It took more than an hour, but the candidates for six seats on the Courtenay City Council finally got down to the two nitty-gritty issues that have defined the 2018 municipal election: taxes and amalgamation.
After the candidates gave their opening statements, they were asked to describe their best attribute, how they prepared themselves to sit on City Council and how they would handle dealing with different points of view once elected.
Then came the real questions.
The candidates were asked how they would strike a balance between revenue and services.
Eight of the 16 candidates responded that Courtenay taxes were too high and that city spending was out of control. The other half either defended the city or took no strong position on the issue.
FURTHER READING: Go to the Elections 2018 page
Brennan Day came out swinging with the harshest criticisms of the incumbent council, and tried hard to position himself as the hard liner on financial issues, promising to “take a hard stand on hard issues.”
He said lowering taxes didn’t have to mean cuts in services. It meant doing things more efficiently.
“We’ve got a $130,000 horticulturalist and $90,000 gardeners,” he said
Day said from watching hundreds of hours of council meetings online, he’s noticed “scope creep” at council. He said the current council wasn’t “focused on bottom line issues.”
Day also said council “meetings put you to sleep.”
Incumbent Doug Hillian said everyone would love for their taxes to never go up. But Courtenay shares the bulk of Comox Valley policing costs, he said. And the alternative to having sufficient staff to run the city is to contract those jobs out to the private sector.
“Then watch the user fees go up,” he said, noting this was the experience in communities that have gone that route.
Murray Presley said the last five years of tax increases were higher than the cost of living. He suggested there other ways of providing services that were more cost-effective, but he didn’t mention them.
Melanie McCollum said municipalities by law have to balance their budgets, and reducing taxes would mean cutting services.
McCollum has compared the average Courtenay taxes per household with Campbell River and Nanaimo and found the city is “on par” with those municipalities. And, she said Courtenay’s budget seems in line with inflationary trends.
Tom Grant said Courtenay does not have a balanced budget. He said it has huge surpluses of $5 million, and paid for last year’s hiring of 17 staff from those surpluses and reserves.
“People are paying taxes for services that they’re not getting,” he said.
David Frisch said it wasn’t true that the council used reserves to pay for staff. And he defended city spending because Courtenay has an “infrastructure deficit.”
“The core of the town is old, such as water and sewer,” he said. “We’re fixing things.”
Deana Simpkin said the tax rate was not sustainable, and that she believed it was possible to streamline expenses and keep the city running smoothly. That was a sentiment repeated by Judi Murakami, Penny Marlow, Jin Lin and Mano Theos.
Theos said small business are paying three times the tax rate of “regular residents,” and warned that trend would lead to job losses.
Will Cole-Hamilton said he would take a long-term view, and lower taxes by curtailing urban sprawl with infill and densifying the city core. Sprawl forces the city to invest in expensive infrastructure that negates the additional tax revenue it gains.
“With densification, we get all the tax revenue with little expense,” he said.
Candidates were then asked if voters said “yes” to the non-binding opinion question on the 2018 ballot, would they implement the findings of a governance study suggested in the question.
The ballot questions reads: OPINION QUESTION (non-binding): Are you in favour of conducting a study, in partnership with the Province of BC, to review the governance structures and policies of the City of Courtenay and other local governments within the Comox Valley to consider the feasibility and implications of restructure? YES or NO
All the candidates said they would do the study if voters asked them to, but few thought it should take a high priority.
McCollum said the question was difficult to answer because the study hasn’t been done and the outcome isn’t known. Additionally, she pointed out that Comox and Cumberland are not participating by asking their voters the question, nor would they probably participate in any future study.
Doug Hillian said the province was unlikely to undertake the study without participation from Comox or Cumberland. He suggested Comox might change its mind, however, when their population hits 15,000, classifying them as a city instead of a town, and forcing them “to pay their fair share of policing costs.”
Presley said he has advocated since 1996 for amalgamation, so he was in favor of doing the study to get the facts.
Cole-Hamilton said a study might not lead to major projects, but it might point to smaller efficiencies. He said Courtenay could “be the leaders in the Comox Valley” for better planning among the different jurisdictions.
Starr Winchester agreed that “baby steps” could be taken with provincial assistance, and that a governance restructure is needed.
The highlight of the night might have come during Kiyoshi Kosky’s wrap-up speech when he referred to himself as a “delicious apple” that should appeal to voters.
The event was hosted by the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce.