Candidates & Decafnation collaborate to inform voters

Candidates & Decafnation collaborate to inform voters

Your vote on Oct. 20 does more than elect someone to a municipal council. It shapes the future of your community. Our special pages this week will help you make more informed choices


Comox Valley voters will do more than choose their mayors, municipal council members and rural area representatives in a little more than two weeks. By selecting specific candidates voters will indirectly influence policy, and shape the direction of their communities for the next four years.

It’s a heavy burden on those who cast ballots. And it should not be done in haste or based on popularity, flashy signs or any criteria other than an informed choice of who best mirrors each voter’s values and vision.

But with so many new candidates running for office this year, how you know them well enough to earn that precious X on your ballot?

Candidates are knocking on doors and speaking at several all-candidates meetings closer to Election Day. But that’s not enough.

Decafnation has conducted in-depth interviews with as many candidates as possible, dating back to a year ago when the first candidate announced he would contend for the Courtenay mayor’s chair. And we have more profiles to publish this week. You can find them all on our Elections 2018 page. But that’s still no enough.

Decafnation has gone a step further. We have invited all candidates to engage in a comprehensive Question-and-Answer dialogue on a wide range of topics and given them considerable space (500 words) to discuss each question.

We framed most of our questions broadly, so candidates would could explain how they would approach issues at the policy or legislative level. We think the responses show which candidates have a strong vision and which do not, which candidates have a deep understanding of the bigger picture and which candidates have the depth and strength to lead us through the next four years.

Almost all the candidates in Cumberland, Courtenay, Comox and the regional district’s electoral areas participated. You might find it interesting to note which candidates chose not to participate.

We have prepared special pages on Decafnation that feature all the candidates’ responses sorted by the questions and alphabetically by the candidates’ last names. that makes it easy to compare your municipality’s candidates and factor their responses into your decision-making.

The Courtenay page will roll out first, later today (Oct. 2), followed by Comox on Wednesday, rural regional directors on Thursday and Cumberland on Friday.

The candidates have graciously collaborated with Decafnation to help you become a more informed voter. We hope you find the pages useful.

And then, vote.

Advance polls open on Oct. 10 and Oct. 17, but also on other dates in selected places. Check the home page of Decafnation for a complete listing of where and when to vote early, and beat the rush (we hope) on Election Day.


Alex Bissinger campaigns with no strings attached

Alex Bissinger campaigns with no strings attached

CFB Comox Engineering Officer Alex Bissinger would focus on better planning, maintaining infrastructure and create more activity opportunities for young people in a town that has usually catered to seniors. She would add a voice for sustainability and not be fooled by consultant’s reports


Complex technical reports from staff and consultants often make municipal councillors eyes glaze over, but not Comox Council candidate Alex Bissinger. Her eyes light up.

Bissinger, 31, has a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Ottawa and heads up the engineering department at CFB Comox. She’s responsible for planning and maintaining the 19 Wing’s infrastructure, and directs a staff of 14 project managers, drafters, GIS technologists and procurement employees.

She took the civilian post as CFB’s Engineering Officer a year ago, a post the base had left vacant for 10 years. Since moving to the Valley seven years ago, Bissinger worked for the crown corporation Defence Construction Canada before taking her new job.

Bissinger recently purchased a house in Comox, where she hopes to raise children someday. She volunteers as an English tutor (she’s fluent in French having lived in Montreal) and recently joined the Valley’s newest Rotary club, “the young one.”

“I live off adrenaline. I enjoy being busy,” she told Decafnation.

Bissinger describes herself as approachable, but pragmatic. As an engineer, she’s trained as a problem solver.

“I’ll know what I’m reading in the studies and reports,” she said. “Nobody will pull the wool over my eyes.”

FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates, go to our Elections 2018 page

She’s attracted to elected office because she can make a contribution to small community decisions.

For example, Bissinger wonders why the town didn’t include bike lanes in the recent redevelopment of Robb Avenue or along Lazo Road at Point Holmes.

“There could have been a more engineered solution, something was missed or forgotten,” she said. “There’s a few extra things like that we could do to make the community better.”

While Bissinger would focus on planning and maintaining the town’s infrastructure for core services, she would also add a voice for considering sustainability.

She was impressed that Campbell River employs a Sustainability and Long Range Planning Manager, who spoke at the recent Sustainability Forum, and thinks that could be a good idea for Comox.

Bissinger is going on a wheelchair tour of the town next week to experience first-hand the challenges faced by people with mobility issues. She hopes to formulate some ideas that she can take to council.

Bissinger would also like to create more activities for teenagers in Comox.

“The town has kind of catered to seniors,” she said. “There’s not much for the teen group.”

She would like to see a skate park and a pump or jump park.

Bissinger would try to address the affordable housing issue in Comox in a variety of ways.

She would make the process of creating a coach house less technical and more straight forward. She would launch an education program for homeowners to create basement suites: a step-by-step guide and a Landlord 101 workshop.

But she would also make Comox more attractive to builders and investors by eliminating unreasonable demands in the permitting process, such as “changing the goal posts,” requiring extra studies after plans have been approved and other delays.

At the same time, Bissinger wants to protect what ALR land exists within the town’s boundaries, and encourage more local food production.

“We should have community gardens, especially somewhere downtown,” she said. “Gardening is good therapy for seniors and recreation for people living in condos; it can bring young and old people together.”

Bissinger would also like the council to start monthly public access sessions, where council members can just chat with people.

“I love to talk with people,” she said.

Bissinger said voters will get what they see with her.

“I come with no influences. No strings attached,” she said.

Roger Kishi adds a different view to local government

Roger Kishi adds a different view to local government

Roger Kishi, a Japanese-Canadian directing housing programs for urban Aboriginal people in the Comox Valley, hopes to continue his passion for affordable housing in Cumberland and across the region. And he wants to finish the village’s several major infrastructure projects


Roger Kishi has a passion for affordable housing. It’s his day job as the director of Homeless & Housing Programs for the Wachiay Friendship Centre, and one of his main areas of focus for a third term on the Cumberland Village Council.

Since moving to the Comox Valley in 2000 from North Vancouver, Kishi has worked at Wachiay, which provides supports and services to the urban Aboriginal population.

Kishi himself is a fourth generation Japanese-Canadian, and currently the only non-caucasian elected official in the Comox Valley. He hopes voters will elect other candidates of diverse ethnicity this year.

“We bring a different perspective to local government,” he told Decafnation.

Kishi enjoys the complexity of issues that a council member must understand and handle, and making an overall contribution to how the community functions.

He’s proud of initiating the Comox Valley’s only off-leash dog park in his first term. It’s not only well used by people from around the Valley, but it’s now home to pet-related events.

And the village has added nearby skate and jump parks, all part of the parks master plan.

FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates, go to our Elections 2018 page

He points to other accomplishments with his council colleagues like the redevelopment of six blocks of Dunsmuir Avenue, part of a larger project to separate the village’s stormwater and sewer systems.

He notes the village’s gateway improvements that include roadside landscaping and treed medians. It was funded by the Comox Strathcona Solid Waste committee because Cumberland hosts the region’s main landfill and recycling location, which impacts roads and other infrastructure.

Kishi is particularly pleased with the successful outcomes of a village initiative to install water meters at every household, and at no cost. It was paid for by provincial grants.

He said the meters were not a money grab, but a conservation measure. They have pinpointed leaks in the system that were wasting immense quantities of water in some cases and simply made people aware of their consumption.

“Since the meters have been installed, our water consumption has gone down 40 percent,” he said. “That’s a success for our long-range water plans; we now have the capacity to expand.”

The village has recently added UV treatment to its drinking water, twinned pipes from its dams and drilled an auxiliary well to supplement its water security.

Kishi said villagers like the independence of having their own water system.

“It’s part of our historical nature: We look after our own,” he said.

The village also faces another large infrastructure project over the next four years: it’s wastewater treatment plant. The Ministry of the Environment has ordered the village to provide a higher level of treatment or face potentially large fines.

Kishi said council hopes to fund a large portion of the $9 million project with grants, but also needs voter approval from a referendum on the Cumberland ballot this fall to borrow $4.4 million to get construction underway.

“We have no choice,” he said. “The treatment plant has to be upgraded and we will have to borrow money.”

Kishi said the village has an affordable housing plan, they just have to implement it now.

Council can control how a development is done by using zoning and through housing agreements. In the latter case, for example, the village may trade variances for parking or setbacks the developer wants for a greater number of units priced at, say, 20 percent below market value.

“With housing agreements, we can make sure there is a mix of housing, that it’s not all single family houses,” he said.

Kishi said the Stoneleigh Estates development, currently underway in Coal Valley Estates, will provide 84 units of multi-family housing, which was entirely sold out in pre-construction sales.

Kishi said the village is building capacity to deal with its growth issues.

They have recently hired a manager of development services, a new senior planner and an economic development officer on a fixed term contract. His job is develop a plan to sustain the community’s economic future, and is looking at creating industrial lands.

In his day job at Wachiay, Kishi has been doggedly working for 10 years to build Braidwood in Courtenay, which will offer 35 units, 28 of which are bachelor suites that will rent either at the income assistance level of $375 per month or at 10 percent below market rate. The other six are one-bedroom units.

Wachiay and its partner M’akola Development Services, of which Kishi is also a board member, were the only responders to a Courtenay RFP willing to take a risk on building Braidwood.

“I’m sticking it out to make sure we get people into Braidwood,” he said.


Maureen Swift provides continuity for new council

Maureen Swift provides continuity for new council

Maureen Swift would create an off-leash dog park, more housing and more waterfront enhancements in a third term on Comox Council. And she thinks residents get good value for their taxes


Maureen Swift finds the evolution of a community like Comox both fascinating and challenging, which is why she’s seeking a third term on the Town Council.

In recent years, the town has become much more vibrant, she says, with tap houses and breweries popping up and increased numbers of people moving back or settling here for the first time. And with so many existing business owners reaching the retirement age, there is going to be even more opportunities for change.

Swift wants to help council deal with the issues that come with increased population, and to establish a reasonable growth rate. The Town Council will have at least four new members with new ideas, and Swift thinks she can provide some necessary balance and continuity.

In a third term, Swift also has a few goals of her own.

One of them is to create an off-leash dog park. She says there are a surprising number of households with dogs, and they have to travel to Cumberland to let them run. She envisions repurposing a portion of an existing park.

FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates, go to our Elections 2018 page

She wants to continue to enhance the Comox waterfront with a rebuilt and expanded pier, some retail outlets and maybe a seasonal fish market.

The recent improvements of a splash park and food trucks have been a success, she says, as have the two rental buildings, known as the “sail buildings.” Swift says they are used for everything from birthday parties to celebrations of life.

“As people move into smaller homes, they need a gathering space,” she told Decafnation.

Swift would also like to see some housing initiatives.

The town has already approved tax incentives for builders who include a residential component with developments in the downtown core, but Swift would like to see the town make the permitting process “a little bit easier.”

“We don’t own the land, so we have to wait for an idea or proposal to come to us,” she said.

There are about 90 new market rate rental units coming online on Anderton Avenue and four stories of new condos with underground parking next to the Comox Golf Course that will help densify downtown.

But she would like to see the completion of a stormwater management plan for the northeast corner of the town, near the Airport, so it could be developed, possibly for new industries.

The town donates $30,000 each years to the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness and collects an affordable housing fee from developers that goes into a fund.

“The fund is there, we’re waiting for opportunities to present themselves,” she said. “We want organizations to come forward.”

Swift says she’s keeping an open mind about the reevaluation of the Courtenay-Comox sewage system, and where sewer pipes should be located.

“There are so many factors, the cost, the environment, we’ll see what the options are,” she said. She sits on the Public Advisory Committee that will have review options by CVRD staff sometime next year.

But she says she didn’t see the need for elected officials such as herself to sit on the public committee because she already sits on the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission.

Swift thinks a ban on single-use plastic bags is inevitable because “the world is changing in that direction.” But she’s less certain about banning wood stoves.

“I need more information on wood stoves,” she said. “We have to look at what is cost effective versus what makes sense for the rest of the community.”

One of Swift’s other goals, if she’s re-elected, is to improve the quality and quantity of wayfinding signage within the town.

She envisions more informative signs to help people find the town’s network of trails, parks and other amenities.

Swift has supported the town’s application to the BC Supreme Court to alter the terms of famed naturalist Mack Laing’s trusts. She’s proud that this council has finally taken on the issue after 36 years. Laing died in 1982, but the town hasn’t addressed the trust agreements until now.

“Once the court case is settled, we’ll see what we do,” she said.

She thinks the town faces some financial challenges with the province downloaded some burdens to local government. Her goal is to maintain the level of service and the condition of its infrastructure assets.

“Overall, Comox residents get good value for their taxes,” she said. “Our parks are well maintained, our roads are in good shape and we’re not overstaffed.

“We can’t afford to cut,” she said.


Nicole Minions takes a long-term view on Comox

Nicole Minions takes a long-term view on Comox

Nicole Minions is one of four under-35 candidates seeking election to Comox Town Council. She hopes to bring developers back to Comox to create a broader mix of affordable housing choices, introduce sustainability initiatives and increase public engagement


For Nicole Minions, being elected to the Comox Council means an opportunity to help shape the town as a livable community for future generations.

“I have three children, one is just a year old, so I’m looking at the town with a long-term perspective,” she told Decafnation.

She’s one of four under-35-year-old candidates seeking office this year in Comox.

Minions, who moved here from the Lower Mainland five years ago, wants to bring sustainability practices to the town, increase public engagement with the council, address affordable housing and find ways to encourage businesses and create jobs.

She would bring experience from 11 years in the banking industry as well many years in the nonprofit sector.

“No matter what my job was, I’ve always had a part-time nonprofit job,” she said.

During her two years as CEO of SOS Children’s Village — a housing provider for foster families and children in the Vancouver area — she became aware of how access to housing creates a social divide

Now, as a buyer’s agent and Realtor with Royal LePage’s Comox office, Minions sees a lack of multi-unit housing in Comox, and affordable housing in general.

FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates, go to our Elections 2018 page

“We have a borderline housing crisis,” she said. “Prices are up due to the demand and there’s a shortage of affordable properties, like townhouses, on the market.”

Minions says that is partly the town’s own fault.

She knows of developers who have walked away from projects because they found the town development requirements, and its process, too challenging to work with. She would like to change that.

She says the development process needs to be more transparent. And she’d like to bring potential developers into the town to discuss ways of making it easier for them to navigate as a step toward creating more affordable housing for young adults, families and seniors.

Minions would like the town to be more proactive.

“The town seems to wait for builders to come to us with a proposal,” she said. “But we could be more strategic about where developments go, what land and for what purpose.”

Minions points to the abandoned Comox Elementary school as a site where the town could take suggestions to the property owner.

Minions supports the Comox Valley Sustainability Strategy and would champion initiatives like the banning of plastic bags.

And she isn’t putting up election signs, which she says become visual eyesores. Retiring council member Hugh McKinnon swore off election signs years ago.

“I want people to vote for me predicated on what I’m going to do,” she said.

Minions would like to address Comox’s contribution to improved air quality, but wants the town to gather data about how many wood burning devices there are within the town. She supports not allowing wood burners in new construction, and wants to explore and promote incentives for converting existing units.

Minions has gotten some campaign advice from her sister, who is a councillor in Port Alberni and running for the mayor’s office this year.

“They (Port Alberni) have lots of serious issues we don’t have. We have a relatively good base, a good foundation,” she said. “That makes it a great time to introduce sustainability initiatives.”

One of Minions other priorities is to create a public platform for residents to share ideas with council members. She likes the idea of holding council meetings with no agenda except to listen to the public.

“We hear a lot from the maybe five percent of citizens who want the status quo,” she said. “But I’d like to hear more from the huge percentage of the community’s 14,000 residents that are not engaged.”

She feels the Town Council sometimes runs on an inward approach, how they see issues. She would steer council more toward listening to the public and keeping an open mind, making “more folks feel that they can advocate.”

She would carry the philosophy of involving as many stakeholders as possible into the creation of a new Official Community Plan in 2019.


Jesse Ketler: a progressive voice on a supportive council

Jesse Ketler: a progressive voice on a supportive council

Cumberland Councillor Jesse Ketler championed social procurement in her first term, and now she’s got more “crazy ideas” for homelessness, energy sources and fire halls that she hopes to pursue in a second term


Jesse Ketler is seeking a second term on the Cumberland Village Council because the last four years have shown her how much can be accomplished with a functional council, and how much more there is to do.

Ketler, who has a masters of science degree in bioresource engineering from McGill University, likes to think long-term and out of the box.

“I feel lucky that the council has supported my sometimes crazy ideas,” she told Decafnation. “And that my introduction to politics has been among respectful councillors.”

Ketler brought the idea of leveraging the Village’s major expenditures to obtain community benefits — a concept known as social procurement. She discovered it while living in Scotland and how it could work at the local government level during conversations with Sandra Hamilton, a social procurement specialist living in Comox.

Cumberland became the first local government in Canada to adopt a social procurement policy, and in its first two years has produced multiple improvements for the village.

What is social procurement? Read about it here.

Cumberland’s success with social procurement has resulted in the creation of a province-wide Social Procurement Hub, to be located in Victoria, that will launch in October and provide resources and templates of policy enacting bylaws to help other B.C. municipalities get on board.

Now, Ketler has some new “crazy ideas” for her second term.

She wants the village to explore the possibility of using the old Cumberland coal mines as a heat exchange system to service commercial and residential buildings. Nanaimo and other cities across Canada, including a similar-sized village in Nova Scotia, have tapped into geothermal energy.

“We already have the most expensive part of geothermal energy creation, the coal mines,” she said. “My goal for the next term is to hire a consultant to study its feasibility.”

FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates, go to our Elections 2018 page

She also wants to initiate a Ecological Asset Management program that assigns monetary values to its green infrastructure — parks, waterways, forests, etc. — and create management plans for them like the village’s other tangible assets.

Ketler isn’t afraid to nudge the council toward positions she holds alone, such as including multi-use housing on the second floor of the proposed new fire hall. Other communities have made this unique combination of uses, she says, including one that located a women’s domestic violence shelter in a fire department building.

Ketler chairs the village’s Homelessness and Affordable Housing Committee and has served on the Comox Valley coalition to End Homelessness since its inception, which she calls “an amazing story.”

She takes pride that it was Cumberland’s 77 percent yes-vote that tipped the 2014 Homelessness Support Service referendum in favor of an affordable housing tax. The final overall CVRD vote was 53 percent in favor.

She believes the village is close to completing a deal for supportive housing units, and a possible four-story, 24-unit building with retail on the street level that would provide affordable small-sized apartments. The latter project is still under discussion over parking requirements.

Ketler urges village voters to approve a referendum on this year’s ballot that would authorize the municipality to borrow $4.4 million, which she says is needed to fund provincially-required improvements to its $9 million sewage treatment plant.

The village has been out of compliance with provincial sewage treatment standards for a decade and is at risk of being assessed large fines if they don’t upgrade soon.

“The sewer project is already a success story,” Ketler said. “When the South Sewer Project failed last year, the engineers said we couldn’t go it alone — but we have found a solution, and a green one.”

The village has an approved plan to upgrade its existing lagoon system, adding UV treatment and ultimately a reed bed that would clean the effluent of pharmaceuticals and to the Greater Exposure Potential (GEP) standard. That means the effluent could be used for stream augmentation and other purposes, such as agriculture.

And Ketler is quick to point out that the village’s plan to meet and exceed the provincial sewage treatment standard will cost only half as much as the failed 2016 CVRD South Sewer proposal would have cost Cumberland homeowners.

Read the village’s Factsheet about the referendum question here

Recently, Ketler introduced her second successful resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities. The first was to create the Social Procurement Hub.

Her new resolution, which she presented to the UBCM annual convention last week and was approved by delegates, asks the province to not reduce income assistance for people who enter recovery programs. The loss of 50 percent of their income subsidy puts people at risk of losing their housing.

Ketler and her husband moved to the Valley in 2007 and to Cumberland in 2009. They have two children.