Comox mayoral candidate Tom Diamond has a vision

Comox mayoral candidate Tom Diamond has a vision

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.”

Background

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.

 

Melanie McCollum sees a city in transition

Melanie McCollum sees a city in transition

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”

Background

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.”

Transportation

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.

Housing

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.

 

Bob Wells touts “proven experience” in mayoralty bid

Bob Wells touts “proven experience” in mayoralty bid

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.”

 

Cumberland leads Canada, uses existing purchasing to impact society

Cumberland leads Canada, uses existing purchasing to impact society

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.”

Sandra Hamilton

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.

Sandra Hamilton

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.”

What’s next

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

 

Cumberland UBCM resolution set the stage for a social hub

Cumberland UBCM resolution set the stage for a social hub

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

 

Is Fairness Enough?

Is Fairness Enough?

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 pat.carl0808@gmail.com.

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