PHOTO: Bob Wells and his wife, Michelle
Bob Wells says he has the experience and consensus-building skills that the City of Courtenay needs in its next mayor. He asks voters to look at his accomplishments, not the rhetoric of his opponents.
For Courtenay mayoral candidate Bob Wells, the 2018 election should be decided on a single issue: proven leadership experience.
With several multi-million dollar infrastructure decisions facing the city over the next several years — water, sewer and solid waste projects — Wells says voters should put their trust in his accomplishments, not in his opponents’ rhetoric.
“Whether it’s business or community service, I excel at what I do,” he told Decafnation. “It’s what I’ve accomplished that separates me from the other candidates.”
Wells points to his leadership on the Comox Valley Regional District’s water committee, which he chairs. The committee has approved a $110 million Comox Valley Water Treatment Project to upgrade water quality for about 45,000 residents of Courtenay, Comox and some adjacent areas.
“There wasn’t consensus at first about how to meet the health department’s requirements,” he said. “But I was able to build that consensus and move things forward.”
Wells also notes his work on the Courtenay Youth Music Centre board that saved the non-profit by “turning it around” financially, and delivering a favorable resolution to the Maple Pool controversy, which was a campaign issue for him in 2014. Although he concedes the latter was something “council did together.”
He mentions his involvement in Rotary, Start Up Comox Valley, Dawn to Dawn and Island Music Fest.
“And as vice-chair of the regional district, I’ve helped shape the agenda, and I’ve been effective at utilizing that opportunity,” he said.
He says it’s this depth of experience that sets him apart from opponents David Frisch and Erik Eriksson. All three announced mayoral candidate have served one full-term on council.
“In the first 30 days, the mayor will face decisions on water treatment and sewage pump station issues,” Wells said. “I’m ready for these challenges, Frisch and Eriksson are not.”
He said with more experience, Frisch would make a great mayor in eight years.
Wells feels unfairly criticized for what some have called an erratic voting pattern. Wells admits he’s a “swing vote,” but insists he decides his vote on “what’s best for the community.”
“I’m not strident in my perspective like some others,” he said. “I haven’t already made up my mind. I take time to investigate both sides. The community is more divided than that.”
And the candidate says he fully respects differences of opinion.
“As mayor, if council voted for something, I would run with that,” he said.
On housing issues, Wells says as mayor he would steer the city toward a strategy for increasing the stock of rental units, which he thinks will require partnerships with other agencies and developers.
He’s argued for homeless coalition funding, supported the inventory of city-owned properties and personally volunteers for Habitat for Humanity.
Wells believes he takes a holistic view of the community. More information and feedback results in better decisions and a capacity to enlist support, he says.
But on election day — Oct. 20 — Wells says voters should ask themselves “who’s proven they can get things done.”
“Honestly, if I didn’t see a big divide there (between him and the other candidates), I would support one of them,” he said. “There’s a lot coming down in the next four years, and the city needs someone with proven experience and collaborative skills.”
PHOTO: Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird at Tarbells on Dunsmuir Avenue
Around the world, the criteria for how to spend public money has shifted toward achieving a community’s social and economic values, in addition to getting the best value. The Village of Cumberland is leading the way for Canada, along with Comox resident Sandra Hamilton
Comox Valley governments spend more than $100 million every year to purchase goods and services. The criteria for deciding from whom to make those purchases has been historically based on the most fiscally responsible option.
But in other parts of the world that way of thinking has shifted toward spending taxpayers’ dollars more strategically. Specifically, to not only get the best value, but to also provide social benefits.
It’s a concept called social procurement, using dollars the government was going to spend anyway to drive social change and economic development.
Canada has lagged the rest of the world in adopting social procurement, but not the Village of Cumberland.
Cumberland is the first Canadian municipality to incorporate a social procurement framework into its purchasing policy.
And it’s the first Canadian government body to receive certification from Buy Social Canada, an organization devoted to “bringing socially driven purchasers and social enterprise suppliers together … to generate social benefits to communities across the country.”
The village can already point to several community improvements directly attributable to social procurement. And Cumberland’s success has reverberated up and down Vancouver Island, across the province and into eastern Canada.
But for Cumberland Financial Officer Michelle Mason the blessings of leading a nation have come with a bit of a burden. Since the Village Council adopted social procurement in November of 2016, she has been inundated with calls from other B.C. and Canadian cities, including Toronto and Vancouver, seeking information about the policy.
“Most often, the first question is: What is this?” she said.
To answer that question, Mason has also travelled widely around the province making presentations about Cumberland’s nation-leading policy as more communities start to realize the benefits of social procurement. She recently addressed the annual convention of the B.C. Government Financial Officers Association.
The importance of Mason’s role in educating other municipalities about social procurement has inspired a group of Island mayors to envision a Social Procurement Hub that would take her work to the next level.
FURTHER READING: Island mayors work together to create Community Benefit Hub
Cumberland leading Canada
While living in Scotland in 2012/2013, Cumberland Councillor Jesse Kelter observed the Scottish government wrestle with the idea of leveraging public spending to create community benefits. She was there with her husband, who had a temporary work assignment, and her children.
She remembers reading the newspapers about the debate and thinking, “this is about building better relationships with our suppliers, making it more than just a business transaction about price,” she said. “It’s about building a better community together.”
Her understanding of how social procurement could work for local government came from a conversation she had at a Christmas party with Sandra Hamilton.
Councillor Jesse Kelter
After Kelter was elected to public office in the fall of 2014, she posed the idea of adding social values into the village’s purchasing policy during the council’s 2015 Future Priorities session.
“It was an easy sell to council,” she remembers. “And staff were very receptive.”
Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird was on board immediately. She had taken a similar idea to an unreceptive council in 2011 .
It took another year and some outside expert help from Comox resident Sandra Hamilton to help draft Canada’s first social procurement framework, but it all came together when the village updated its purchasing policy in November of 2016.
“Sandra played an initial role early in the development of her social consulting business,” Baird said. “And we were fortunate staff was so supportive. It took all of us coming together to make it happen.”
Hamilton, a United Kingdom native now living in Comox, is Canada’s first social MBA and a public sector social procurement consultant working with all three levels of government.
Scotland has since become the world’s first country to make social procurement a law.
What is social procurement?
The Village of Cumberland has a special page on its website devoted to its social procurement policy, where it introduces the concept this way:
“Social procurement leverages the public procurement process for goods and services, to advance positive economic, workforce, and social development outcomes. Social procurement blends financial and social considerations in public sector purchasing ….”
That’s a lot of words, but the rationale is simple: provide social value for the money a government spends. It’s an invitation for suppliers to advance a community’s social and economic goals through the tendering and procurement process.
FURTHER READING: Village of Cumberland’s social procurement website page
Mayor Baird puts it more directly.
“Our major suppliers are not from Cumberland, so our village doesn’t benefit from the volunteering, sponsorships and all the other wonderful community services they donate in their hometowns,” she said. “So what we’re doing is leveraging our spending to receive some of that community benefit.”
How it works in practice
When evaluating bids for a Village of Cumberland contract, staff and elected officials consider the usual criteria of quality, price and environmental issues, but now add a fourth component: social.
Bidders must meet certain social values determined by the Village Council. They include a living wage evaluation and apprenticeship opportunities for residents of the village who are at-risk youth, aboriginal people, women, newcomers to Canada or retiring veterans and people transitioning into new careers.
Community Benefit Clauses (CBCs) valued at between 5 percent to 15 percent of the total contract may also be added. You can read the list of goals that a CBC should address here.
The Sutton lane multi-use path project
When the local J.R. Edgett company won the contract for separating wastewater and stormwater pipes along Dunsmuir Avenue, it discussed possible CBCs with village staff.
At the time, the village was trying to build a BMX bike jump park next to its skate park. Edgett offered to utilize anticipated down time of equipment and labor already onsite for the pipeline project to provide the fill and finish the jump park.
When Edgett was also hired to build a new bike lane for mountain bikers to travel safely from the Cumberland Recreation Institute parking lot down to the main entrance into the MTB trails, they also contributed to the building of trails in the Cumberland Community Forest.
Councillor Kelter and CFO Mason point out that the policy is not prescriptive to suppliers. They are allowed autonomy to be creative about offering a community benefit, but must meet at least two goals to be considered.
“It’s like we say, here are our goals, tell us how you can help us achieve some them without affecting your price,” Mason said. “Vendors know their business better than we do, and they’re creative.”
Mason said sometimes a company needs temporary employees for the job, so they offer to hire qualified Cumberland residents. Or, the company is from Vancouver and they have to rent apartments for their workers, so they get credit for what they’re already doing.
Benefits for community and contractors
Council members and staff worried that fewer vendors would bid on Cumberland projects after the social procurement policy was adopted. It turned out to be a needless worry.
The village’s last tender for its new water supply UV treatment plant attracted eight bidders, considered a healthy number by Operations Manager Rob Crisfield.
The main concern expressed by the construction industry is for consistency in the Request for Proposal process. Adding a social component to the RFP means a five to 10 page document, which can be daunting to suppliers.
The Island Social Procurement Hub would address this issue, and Financial Officier Mason has been working on creating competitive bidding templates to make it easier on vendors.
But Mayor Baird says social procurement policies are really protections for local contractors against globalization.
“All governments are open to global bids when the spendf reaches a certain dollar level,” she said. “But what will a vendor from far away do for our community?”
Baird speculates that social procurement policies have spread so quickly throughout Europe and Australia because it’s a “means of protecting our own workers.”
Before helping Cumberland write its policy, Sandra Hamilton worked as the director of marketing for The Vancouver Sun, and owned and published BC Woman Magazine.
But when she later acted as the business manager for John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, her mind was opened to the potential for social procurement. She was engaged in the Vancouver Olympics effort to include social criteria into its purchasing policies.
“For example, we awarded the floral contract to a company that offered to train inmates at the Women’s Transition Society Prison as florists during their contract period,” Hamilton said. “Half of them are still working as florists today.”
That’s when it clicked for her. Why not add social values into all taxpayer contracts, and align procurement with each government body’s policy objectives?
Hamilton has since earned the nation’s first social MBA and has helped draft both B.C.’s (Cumberland) and Alberta’s (Fort McMurray) first social procurement policies.
FURTHER READING: Sandra Hamilton’s website
She now speaks across the country, and is recognized as one of the nation’s leading social procurement experts. She was Canada’s nominee to speak about social procurement at the World Trade Organization (WTO) symposium in Geneva last February. In March she spoke on the topic at the Canadian Construction Conference in Mexico.
On a local level, Hamilton was the project lead for the FEED initiative through North Island College to get food grown by Comox Valley farmers into local institutions, such as the Comox Valley Hospital.
“Tax dollars drive our economy and shapes out communities,” she said. “But governments are still procuring and buying like they did 30-40 years ago — that’s the change I’m driving for.”
The City of Victoria, Town of Qualicum Beach and City of Campbell River are working together on a pilot project to design and develop a standardized approach to adding social value into infrastructure projects.
The Social Procurement Hub will soon solicit for an employee to travel the province sharing information from Cumberland and other governments and helping municipal governments to establish their own policies.
FURTHER READING: The United Nations global review of sustainable public procurement
PHOTO: Jesse Kelter presents resolution B76 at the 2017 UBCM conference.
Vancouver Island mayors are working together and with the construction industry to ease the transition to a new local government procurement process that includes the achievement of a community’s social and economic goals with a community benefit hub
While the Village of Cumberland was the first Canadian municipality to implement social procurement, the program is spreading quickly to other BC cities.
The City of Vancouver expects to adopt its policy before the end of this year, and the City of Victoria has been moving toward full-scale social procurement since 2015.
And Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps has been a major player in a group of eight Vancouver Island mayors who have been meeting every quarter for the past two years. And they have worked closely with the Vancouver Island Construction Association.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps
One of the results of their work was to develop a proposal for a Social Procurement Hub.
“What we’ve heard from industry is that they want a coordinated approach (to social procurement),” she told Decafnation in a telephone interview. “They want predictability and consistency in the tendering process.”
The hub would provide templates for municipalities to use in their procurement process, as well as education and expertise for municipal staff as the public sector pivots to community benefits.
The hub got a boost when Cumberland Councillor Jesse Kelter put forward a resolution at the 2016 meeting of the Association of Vancouver Island Coast Communities to advance social procurement in the local government sector, and to create a hub for education and expertise. It passed overwhelmingly. And was subsequently supported at the province-wide Union of B.C. Municipalities.
Victoria has commited $50,000 for two years to fund the hub and the town of Qualicum Beach is applying for a $50,000 provincial grant.
The idea behind the hub is to prove the concept of social procurement works in a wide variety of geographic locations.
“It’s a two-year incubation period,” Helps said. “We’ll find out what’s working, and what’s not working with industry, and adjust.”
The hub would be administred and located in Victoria, but with satellite offices in Qualicum Beach and Campbell River.
Helps said the mayors group hopes to put out a contract for one hub employee who will work with industry and local governments to learn, share experiences and move social procurement forward collaboratively.
The group’s next meeting is in July at Qualicum Beach.
Comox resident Sandra Hamilton, one of Canada’s leading experts on social procurement, has been advising the mayors group.
FURTHER READING: Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps’ task force action plan on social procurement; City of Vancouver working paper on social procurement
Canada has evolved over the years, our voting system hasn’t
By PAT CARL
I walk a great deal. It’s my exercise. While walking, I sometimes meet my neighbours.
They are older couples, mothers pushing babies in their prams, students on their way to school, bicyclists and runners. Some are dog walkers and, when encouraged, I pet the dogs and talk with their owners.
The other day, I spoke with one man out walking his dog, with whom I’ve talked before. He asked me how my retirement was going.
“I don’t feel retired,” I said. “I’m busy with a local group getting the word out about the referendum to change our voting system coming up in November, so I’m pretty busy.”
Just as I said this, a woman with her dog came up and stopped. I thought she knew the man I was talking with and was stopping to say hello. Slow on the uptake, I didn’t realize until a bit later that he didn’t know the woman at all.
Maybe the man sensed what was about to happen and that’s why he didn’t even say goodbye as he scurried away. He knew somehow, as I didn’t, that I was about to get an ear-full. It went something like this:
“My friends and I want to know what the question is going to be,” she said. “I get that proportional representation is fairer than first-past-the-post. But that’s not enough for me and my friends. We like things the way they are. Some of my friends are Conservatives, but I’m not. But I agree with them. Just because first-past-the-post isn’t fair, well that’s not enough.”
Fairness isn’t enough.
I admit I got stuck right there, but she continued.
“We think the question should list all the different types of proportional representation and put first-past-the-post on the list too and then everyone votes and whichever type gets the most votes, then that’s what we’ll have. But just saying that proportional representation is fairer than first-past-the-post isn’t enough for me and my friends. Fairness isn’t enough.”
I had difficulty getting a word in edgewise because the discussion was less a conversation than a lecture. Besides, I really don’t think quickly on my feet. That’s one of the reasons I write, so that I can carefully consider my thoughts and consider carefully how I express those thoughts.
Consider this: Canada, like all Western democracies, is governed by the rule of law. In turn, the rule of law governs our voting system, the way we select those who govern the provinces and the country.
As a young colony, Canada inherited the rule of law governing its voting system from Great Britain. Not only did that rule of law include the overarching system informally called first-past-the-post, but it also included legal guidelines that, for all intents and purposes, restricted the vote to wealthy white men,
As a country matures, what is defined as legal changes. Some countries develop values that are fairer. For example, Canadian voters now come from all ethnicities, voters include women as well as men, and, while many of us voters have barely two cents to rub together, lack of wealth no longer prevents us from voting.
I think we can agree that Canada, as a nation, and Canadians, as its citizens, are overall more concerned about values which acknowledge human rights, justice and equality than we were even 100 years ago.
And what is justice and equality but fairness when you boil it down to its essence?
While Canada and Canadians have changed, our voting system hasn’t changed since first-past-the-post was adopted. First-past-the-post does not match what we value as a society because, dare I say it, it isn’t fair.
We teach our children in kindergarten to be fair – to share their toys, to play nice in the sandbox, to give others an equal chance, to listen when others speak. All of these guidelines teach our children to be fair. Why don’t we expect the same of our voting system?
While fairness may not be enough for some people, it’s a damn good start.
Pat Carl is a member of Fair Vote Comox Valley and a Citizen Journalist for The Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at email@example.com.
Comox Valley governments agreed to follow the Sustainability Strategy in the Regional Growth Strategy, but some are doing better than others. Learn the pertinent questions to identify candidates that value sustainability at a public forum this Thursday, May 24 in Courtenay.
Not all Comox Valley voters know about the Comox Valley Sustainability Strategy (CVSS) that our four local governments adopted in 2010.
The CVSS provides a detailed framework to meet eight important goals that reflect the visions contained in Official Community Plans and the Regional Growth Strategy.
To make sure voters know about these goals and the pertinent questions to ask candidates seeking office in the Oct. 20 municipal elections, three community organizations have teamed up to stage a public forum at 7 p.m. this Thursday, May 24, at the Rotary Room of the Filberg Center in Courtenay.
The Comox Valley Council of Canadians, Imagine Comox Valley and the Global Awareness Network hope the forum will raise the profile of sustainability in this fall’s elections.
Some Comox Valley governments have done better than others in following the CVSS. Some haven’t done well at all.
The public forum on Thursday will remind candidates (incumbents and announced candidates have been invited) of the CVSS goals.
And it will also arm voters with the right questions to identify candidates who value sustainability and are committed to working toward the CVSS goals.
REGISTER TO ATTEND: Click here, because space is limited
Helen Boyd, one of the forum organizers, said voters should ask for more accountability on sustainability from their elected officials.
“We want to empower voters on the (Comox Valley) Sustainability Strategy,” she said. “And we want candidates to champion some of these issues.”
The eight goals of the CVSS address housing, ecosystems (natural areas and parks), local economic development, transportation, infrastructure, food systems, public health and safety and climate change.
Kathie Woodley, of the Council of Canadians, said sustainability and climate change should be major factors in government planning.
“We have a clear, integrated, long-term plan already designed,” she said. “If elected officials commit to following it, there’s a clear path to a prosperous and sustainable future.”
At the forum, five local speakers will make presentations on a range of issues that relate to the CVSS, and then answer questions from the audience. There will also be an overview of the sustainability goals in the Regional Growth Strategy.
Admission is free, but the organizers ask people to register through Eventbrite because space in the Rotary Room is limited.
FURTHER READING: Comox Valley Sustainability Strategy
For Will Cole-Hamilton, local government is something people do together, not something that is done to them. He hopes to join the Courtenay City Council on Oct. 20 to address “available” housing and other issues.
Will Cole-Hamilton remembers when he first realized that local government isn’t “something that happens to you.”
Cole-Hamilton, who will seek a Courtenay City Council seat in the upcoming Oct. 20 municipal elections, was a teenager in Newmarket, Ont. when his parents and friends opposed a city plan to widen their street for better traffic flow. It meant cutting down many beloved maple trees that lined their street.
After his dad made a presentation at the city council, the city made the street less wide, saved the trees and traffic flowed better than it had before.
“That’s when it hit me, government is something you do with other people,” he said from the board room of his wife’s family law practice on Fifth Street. “It’s not something that’s done to you.”
Cole-Hamilton is a lawyer himself — a graduate of Dalhousie Law School — but he hasn’t practiced in several years. Not since he left his Vancouver research practice to start an arthouse video store and an organic grocery store.
Cole-Hamilton moved to the Comox Valley in 2012 with his wife, Shannon Aldinger, and their two children for a less stressful quality of life. They reside in the Puntledge Park area.
“We had two criteria, close to a courthouse and a ski hill,” he said.
He now prefers to run his wife’s office, which leaves him time to coach soccer, run a elementary school chess club, serve on the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association, volunteer for Imagine Comox Valley and Elevate the Arts and engage with Comox Valley Families for Public Education.
He’s running for election this fall because the city is at a point where many large, and long-lasting decisions have to be made, and half of the council is leaving — three incumbent council members are giving up their seats to compete for the mayor’s chair.
FURTHER READING: 2018 municipal elections, who’s in, who’s out; Cumberland mayor encourages citizens to seek public office
“It’s a change election,” Cole-Hamilton said. “Courtenay is growing fast and the decisions we make in the next few years will determine the shape of the city for years to come.
“And it just happens to be the right time in my life.”
Cole-Hamilton ranks “available” housing as the most serious issue facing the city.
“The city obviously needs more affordable housing, and the recent announcement for supportive housing is wonderful,” he said. “But there is a dire need for simply available housing.”
Out of control housing prices in the Lower Mainland and Victoria, along with the Comox Valley’s natural attributes, has created an influx of population greater than our capacity to build housing.
He said School District 71 has trouble hiring new teachers because of the housing shortage, and some of his wife’s family law clients who are separating are strained going from one house to two.
Cole-Hamilton sees part of the solution in creating higher density within the city, building more compact housing on smaller lots, especially around the downtown area.
To achieve that goal, he would remove some of the barriers to building.
Among them: allowing a higher ratio of housing square footage to lot size, more compact houses, varying the rule of two parking spots per housing unit, smaller set-backs and reducing development cost charges to drive the range of housing types the city needs and where they need it.
He sees an examination of putting four houses on a lot instead of three, and using vacant lots, carriage houses and all other available space to create housing.
Cole-Hamilton believes that a higher density in the Courtenay core is a better deal for taxpayers.
“It makes sense to in fill and plug into the existing infrastructure; that’s less infrastructure required per housing unity,” he said. “And if more people live closer to downtown, that supports safety on the street and business vibrance, and perhaps they’ll only need one car, which supports public transit.”
Cole-Hamilton is also targeting transportation as one of his campaign issues.
“Where we live and how we move around must dovetail together,” he said. “Transportation is normally thought about in terms of cars, but some are too young, too old to drive or suffer a disability and can’t drive.”
For those people, the motor vehicle is not their first choice of transportation, or even an option.
But people who have to drive for work also benefit from more frequent and accessible public transit and more widespread and interconnecting bike lanes.
“It’s a connection that’s not always drawn,” he said. “But when there’s fewer people in cars, it makes it easier and more efficient for people who have to drive to get around.”
He also supports raising the profile of sustainability in this election, and promoting the idea of leveraging tax dollars to create social benefits. His sister works on social procurement issues for Oxfam in England, and he sees the work that the Village of Cumberland has done in this area as a positive benefit.
Cole-Hamilton believes the existing City Council has been moving in a good direction on housing, transportation and other issues. But with so many councillors running for mayor, “someone has to step up.”
Like his parent, Cole-Hamilton sees local government as something people do for themselves.
“I believe that I have the skills, experience and dedication to make a lasting contribution,” he said.