Which 2018 municipal candidates value sustainability?

Which 2018 municipal candidates value sustainability?

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

 

Will Cole-Hamilton would promote “available” housing

Will Cole-Hamilton would promote “available” housing

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.

 

Cumberland mayor encourages citizens to seek public office

Cumberland mayor encourages citizens to seek public office

The hours are long and the paycheck is short, but Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird told a crowd of about 65 in Comox that serving your community through local government can be a rewarding experience

 

About 65 people interested in the future of the Town of Comox and the upcoming Oct. 20 municipal general election turned out for a public forum this week on the roles and responsibilities of a council member.

Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird shared her experiences during 28 continuous years of public service with the crowd at a forum organized by a citizens’ group called Comox Tomorrow.

Kathi Woodley also spoke on behalf of the Council of Canadians, Imagine Comox Valley and the Global Awareness Network, who are co-sponsoring a Sustainability Forum on May 24 to raise the profile of sustainability in this year’s municipal elections.

The purpose of the May 8 forum at the Comox Golf Club was to increase participation in this year’s election campaigns and provide information about “life on a municipal council” for those who might be thinking about running for office.

Incumbent Comox councillors Russ Arnott, Maureen Swift and Hugh McKinnon attended along with Courtenay councillor and mayoral candidate Bob Wells and Cumberland Councillor Jesse Kelter.

Baird told the audience that despite the extra hours spent in meetings and reading reports, serving your community through local government was a rewarding endeavor.

Asked what qualifications were required to run for municipal office, Baird said there really aren’t any.

Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird

“I was a mother and I had a job,” she said about her initial step into municipal politics. Adding that the learning curve is steep and that you essentially know nothing when you’re first elected.

Last year, the Village of Cumberland had 495 pages of agenda that represented additional volumes of required reading for council members.

“The most frightening thing for a mayor is when a councillor shows up and hasn’t opened their meeting package,” she said.

“There will be hard times, especially when your community is divided,” she said, referring to the controversial development proposal by Trilogy Properties Corp. in the mid-2000s. “But it’s worth it, because you’re helping your community.”

And she said council members shouldn’t beat themselves up over tough decisions like that.

“You go with your decisions based on the information you have at the time,” she said.

But the Cumberland Council and Mayor Baird go out of their way to address citizen’s ideas and complaints personally. The council holds Village Hall meetings several times every month without an agenda, and they regularly survey local residents on delicate issues.

Baird said she meets face-to-face over coffee with every resident who sends an email complaint to the village.

“I don’t see them as criticisms, but as opportunities,” she said. “You always get a better product in the end through discussion … with colleagues or citizens.”

The mayor did, however, express some frustration over people who complain about how the council spends taxpayers’ money.

“And then we hold many public budget sessions and nobody shows up,” she said.

Baird was asked several questions from the audience about how much time she spends on village government business and was the financial remuneration worth it.

Baird, who is retired, says she goes to the village office every day, spending approximately 30 hours a week on council matters. Comox Council members Arnott, Swift and McKinnon agreed generally with that time estimate.

“And then there’s the grocery store,” McKinnon said, referring to casual conversations with constituents. Baird agreed, saying it takes her forever to get to the post office because she stops to have conversations with people on the sidewalk.

Baird and the other council members present said the compensation wasn’t a factor in their decisions to run for public office. The Cumberland mayor estimated that she makes less than 50-cents per hour for her time.

Arnott, who is seeking re-election this year, said he receives roughly $900 per month after taxes.

Toward the end of the meeting, Comox resident Don Davis announced he’ll be running for municipal office in 2018, as he has every year since 1990.

 

Public forums kick off 2018 municipal elections

Public forums kick off 2018 municipal elections

Comox Valley citizen groups get active for the Oct. 20 municipal elections; organize two public forums on May 8 and May 24 to press issues, create voter awareness and recruit candidates

 

The 2018 municipal elections are underway. New candidates and incumbents have declared their intentions to seek office and at least two community groups have organized early public forums to create voter awareness and encourage potential candidates.

On Tuesday, May 8, a citizen’s groups called Comox Tomorrow has organized a public forum featuring Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird, who will speak on the roles and responsibilities of a municipal council member. It will be held at 7 p.m. at the Comox Golf Club.

And at 7 p.m on Thursday, May 24 at the Rotary Room on the ground level of the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay, three community organizations will host a public meeting to raise awareness of sustainability issues prior to the Oct. 20, 2018 municipal elections.

Comox Tomorrow spokesman Ken McDonald said “We need citizens and candidates with vision who will help us build the Comox of tomorrow.

“If you are thinking about taking an active role in this fall’s election campaigns, or even running for office yourself, this is a must-attend session for information and, potentially, for support, he said.”

Mayor Baird Baird will explain the role and responsibilities of a municipal council member, why she has devoted so much of her life to public office (28 contiguous years) and how she balances her political and personal lives.

There will also be a question-and-answer period following her presentation.

McDonald said he hopes people thinking of running for Comox Council will come out and perhaps announce their intention to seek office in 2018 at the public meeting on May 8.

The Comox Valley Sustainability public forum on May 24 takes a different perspective.

Born out of a group of citizens from the Imagine Comox Valley project, the May 24 forum hopes to increase voter awareness of the goals of the regional district’s 2010 Comox Valley Sustainability Strategy (CVSS) and identify the candidates who share its values and are committed to achieving its objectives.

The sustainability forum has been organized by the Comox Valley Council of Canadians, Imagine Comox Valley and the Comox Valley Global Awareness Network. You must register for this free event through eventbrite.ca.

The group has reached out to Comox Valley nonprofits who are working on many of the key issues of the CVSS. They asked the nonprofits, “What would be your ask of municipal governments?”

At the sustainability forum, five nonprofits working on CVSS issues will make short presentations. The goal is to provide candidates with current information and to make them aware of expertise that already exists within the community.

The five presentations will touch on food security, infrastructure, ecosystems, housing and air quality.

The groups hope voters will ask for more accountability from elected officials on the CVSS objectives. They have invited all incumbents and those new candidates who have already declared their candidacy.

 

FURTHER READING: Comox Valley Sustainability Strategy; Comox Tomorrow Facebook page

Game changer, but not a game winner

Game changer, but not a game winner

If voters pass electoral reform, the work just gets started

By PAT CARL

I’m a big-time college basketball fan. Men’s or women’s basketball, it doesn’t matter. If a college game’s on, I’m glued to ESPN. Other big-time fans know that a basket at the buzzer won Notre Dame the 2018 NCAA Women’s National Championship on April 1. What a way to win the game!

Unlike Notre Dame’s game-winning Hail Mary basket, if the majority of voters support electoral reform in BC’s November referendum, we will have only a game changer, not a game winner. In fact, the game would not be over at all because the hard work would just be beginning.

Why?

If electoral reform passes, British Columbians must learn to trust those who have worked hard to maintain the first-past-the-post status quo. Supporters of the status quo must, in turn, learn to trust those who supported proportional representation. Beyond that, legislators must learn to collaborate, to find common ground, in order to complete government business.

That won’t be easy.

Let’s try to understand how difficult that might be by using a personal example: my family.

Like some of yours, I’m sure, my family is split down the political middle. For years, my parents were confirmed Democrats (most like Liberals in Canada) because they loved Franklin D. Roosevelt and his necessary social reforms. Later, they became Republicans (most like Conservatives in Canada) because they couldn’t morally support a woman’s right to choose.

They raised four children. Two of us strongly believe in social justice, economic safety nets and environmental stewardship, while the other two believe just as strongly in individualism, growing the economy and small government.

I don’t know how to have a conversation with two of my brothers.  They don’t know how to have a conversation with me.

Sound familiar?

Now take that family dynamic and apply it to BC. How can we avoid creating an unbridgeable divide between first-past-the-post supporters and proportional representation supporters?

For one thing, during the lead-up to the referendum vote, both sides could refrain from exaggerating how wonderful its position is and how terrible the other one is. There’s enough of a difference between first-past-the-post and proportional representation to simply state the unembellished facts and let the voters decide.

Why not embrace nuance rather than exaggerated claims that sound like first-past-the-post and proportional representation are characters in a Shakespearean tragedy?  

We need to ask: What portion of the first-past-the-post arguments and what portion of the proportional representation arguments are true; what portion is exaggerated to the point of being untruthful or divisive?

Finally, the general electorate must take seriously the gift we enjoy and the responsibility we have living in a democracy. We must challenge ourselves to become politically literate by investigating the issues, by understanding that issues are seldom black or white, and by voting thoughtfully and wisely.

We and our legislative representatives will be far more likely to work collaboratively post-referendum if, during the lead-up to the referendum, we honestly and civilly discuss the issues. The less baggage we accumulate as we debate electoral reform, the easier it will be to accomplish good governance after the referendum.

Remember: Unlike a game-winning basket, if electoral reform happens, the game changes, but it’s not over.

Pat Carl is a member of Fair Vote Comox Valley. She wrote this for Decafnation’s Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at pat.carl0808@gmail.com.

Can a family of four live in the Valley at $16.59 per hour?

Can a family of four live in the Valley at $16.59 per hour?

A new study says $16.59 per hour is a minimum “living wage” for families of four in the Comox Valley (two working parents). But the study assumes people can find housing at 30 percent of their gross income, and it doesn’t consider the plight of single parents

 

The Comox Valley is one of the least expensive places in the province to live, according to a new study by a British Columbia advocacy group that encourages employers to pay a living wage.

It’s a claim by the Living Wage for Families Campaign that would surprise most people trying to find affordable housing here. Especially single parents.

And yet, if the group’s data is accurate, it still requires two working parents to each work full-time and earn a minimum wage of $16.59 per hour to support a family of four in the Comox Valley.

That’s $5.24 per hour higher than the current minimum wage of $11.35 And When B.C.’s minimum wage increases to $12.65 on June 1, it will still fall short by $3.94 per hour.

FURTHER READING: Living Wage for Families website

B.C. Premier John Horgan has vowed to increase the province’s minimum wage to $15.20 by the year 2021. But even that is already lower than the current living wage requirement in most areas of the province, according to the study.

So the questions are: how accurate is the Living Wage for Families Campaign study, and does it apply to single people or single parents?

Did it consider the Comox Valley’s lack of affordable housing, or the low vacancy rate and high rental rates that exist here.

The Living Wage for Families Campaign estimates of a living wage in selected B.C. communities

If two parents both earn $16.59 per hour and work full-time (35 hours according to the study), they could afford to pay about $1,500 per month in housing costs. The study assumes paying roughly 30 percent of gross income on shelter.

Two bedroom units in the Comox Valley renting at $1,500 per month are difficult — maybe impossible — to find.

According to a quick check of for-rent ads on Internet sites and Comox Valley property management listings put the range for two bedroom units in multi-floor apartment buildings at between $950 per month and $1,250 per month. And only one or two had vacancies.

Two bedroom small houses rent for $2,000 per month and up, if you can find one.

So Comox Valley families of four would find it difficult to live on even the study’s living wage estimate.

And it’s worse for single people.

A single parent with two children earning $16.59 per hour and paying 30 percent of their gross income for housing could only afford $755 per month. Good luck with that in the Comox Valley.

Having to pay $1,000 or more for even basic housing means a single parent family would have just $900 or less left over each month for hydro, food, taxes, transportation and clothing.

For many single parents this study’s living wage sounds more a survival wage.

But here’s the real tragedy.

The B.C. government will raise the minimum wage to just $12.65 on June 1 of this year, and then to $13.85 next year, to $14.60 in 2020 and finally to $15.20 in 2021.

By that time, the Comox Valley’s living wage will have gone far beyond the $16.59 it’s estimated at today.

And the government’s plan separates out farm workers and liquor servers (bartenders, waiters and anyone who serves liquor) for lower minimum wages than other working people.

FURTHER READING: B.C. minimum wage fact sheet; Minimum wage by province

So it’s no surprise that the B.C. NDP government has been criticized by labor unions and other worker advocacy groups for moving too slow on increasing the minimum wage.

Among Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories, only five had a lower minimum wage on April 1, according to the Retail Council of Canada.

About 20 percent of British Columbians earn less than $15 an hour. Nearly half of those are university and college graduates over the age of 25.

Low wages and rising housing costs trap people in poverty and closes off avenues of upward mobility. In turn, that deepens the divide between rich and poor and keeps people from ever getting a foothold into the middle class.

Addressing the minimum wage issue requires unraveling a complex web of economic factors, including the shortage of affordable housing.

In the absence of a significant increase in the minimum wage, B.C. should make funding the construction of affordable housing a high priority.

Doing so will both stimulate job creation and sales tax revenue, and reduce the housing cost burden that keeps families trapped in poverty and frustration.

Random related facts

Due to the Comox Valley’s demographics, we have a high percentage of residents paying more than 50 percent of their gross income on housing. Many of them are elderly.

¶ Over 110 companies and organizations across BC, employing more than 18,000 workers and covering many thousands more contracted service workers, have been certified as Living Wage Employers. These include Huu-ay-aht First Nations, Vancity, the United Way of the Lower Mainland, the City of Quesnel, the City of Port Coquitlam, Urban Solar and PARC Retirement Living. In 2017, the City of Vancouver certified as a Living Wage Employer, and eight other local governments in BC have living wage policies.

During the City of Seattle’s minimum wage debate several years ago (they implemented it), Tom Douglas, owner of 14 restaurants in Seattle, emerged as voice of reason. He voluntarily raised the pay of all his employees to $15 per hour.

Why? As he told National Public Radio, “The more you put dollars into people’s hands to be spent, I’m sure it probably would be healthy for the economy.”

In other words, doing the right thing and taking good care of your employees makes business sense.

It could make sense for British Columbia, too.

 

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