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 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.
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.
After 28 years of continuous service on the Cumberland Village Council, Leslie Baird still has goals to accomplish in a third term as mayor. Besides finishing big projects like sewage and water treatment upgrades and a new fire wall, she also want more daycares and senior housing. Her secret? Helping her councillors achieve their own goals
Leslie Baird “completely loves the job” as mayor of Cumberland. There’s little about that because, after 28 years of continuous service on the Village Council, she’s running again.
Baird was first elected to council in 1990, at a time when there were few women in municipal office. She ran unopposed for mayor in 2011 and was acclaimed again in 2014. This year, she has an opponent.
The Village of Cumberland has changed dramatically over her two terms in the mayor’s office — businesses are thriving, the population is growing and the Village Council’s progressive approach has put it in the national and provincial spotlight.
And yet, the village has several serious issues to resolve and major infrastructure projects in the works. Baird is seeking re-election to see those through to completion.
At the top of her list are funding and constructing improvements to the village’s sewerage system, which fell out of compliance with Ministry of Environment standards a decade ago. Then there’s the upgraded treatment and capacity of village drinking water, and continuing to separate sewer and stormwater systems.
FURTHER READING: For more interview with local government candidates, go to our Elections 2018 page
And she adds the building of a new fire hall into her top priorities.
Those are big issues for a small village that relies mostly on a residential tax base from about 1,400 homes.
Two months ago, the village hired an economic development coordinator to help develop the Bevan lands as an industrial park for light industry. It’s already properly zoned, and the village would benefit from an increase in commercial taxes.
Baird says her secret for getting things done is fostering a functional village council. For her, that’s the main job of a mayor.
“I always remember that there four other people at the council table who were elected by the people for their own priorities,” she told Decafnation. “I work with them to get those (priorities) to the table.”
In other words, Mayor Baird helps her councillors do what they said they were going to do.
“It’s important to listen to the community, to hear what they need, and act on that,” she said. “When I was first elected, I tried to make everyone happy, you can’t. Now I do what’s best for the whole community.”
Baird also tries to find a good fit with each councillor’s interests and the committees she recommends for them.
But she would never appoint herself to the Comox Valley Regional District.
“I have never sat on the CVRD board as mayor, although I did as a councillor,” she said. “Because at the CVRD you have to look at issues from a regional perspective. I have to keep my focus on the village.”
Baird thinks it’s difficult today for a mayor to do the job properly with another full-time job.
“People used to come to the mayor to get things done,” she said. “Now it’s more complex, there’s so many factors to consider … and you need a good staff.”
There are more items on Baird’s list for a third term than the big projects of sewer, water and a fire hall.
She hopes to provide better daycare services in the village. There’s currently a one-year waiting list. She’s exploring provincial funding and bursaries for day care worker education, and she would like to see a 24-hour facility for the village’s shift workers.
Baird wants to address affordable housing — the village’s house prices are second only to Crown Isle, she says — especially for seniors. She says several private operators on the Island are interested and the village has land already zoned for affordable seniors housing.
“There’s a renewed interested in Cumberland because of the expected population growth” she said. “We have major grocery stores expressing an interest. There’s a change in attitude about everywhere north of Nanaimo.”
Village staff is doing a full report on the banning of single-use plastic bags and straws for the council to consider next year.
And, believe it or not, Baird says traffic and parking issues are a hot topic in the village right now.
“People aren’t stopping at stop signs, and this includes bikers,” she said. “I hear about it all the time.”
Baird urges people to vote yes on the sewage system funding referendum that is on the ballot this year. While the village still has to acquire external funding for the project, village voters can kick start the project by authorizing the village to borrow $4.4 million.
As Courtenay City Council candidate Mano Theos found out, social media can be a dangerous place for current and aspiring elected officials. And are anonymous commenters committing election tampering?
Social media have influenced British Columbia politics right down to the local government level, and not always in a good way.
Negative and mean-spirited attacks on elected officials, sometimes from anonymous sources using fake names, have caused candidates and elected officials to drop off the social media grid.
Courtenay City Council candidate Mano Theos feels he was attacked last week, on a Facebook group page called Comox Valley Politics, for posting comments that he says were meant as light-hearted and fun.
Others in the group felt Theos expressed “anger” and acted “immature” for a municipal councillor.
In response to a post by Diana Schroeder, Theos added this comment: “Sounds as though you need a really big hug from one of your Dogwood supporters.”
Schroeder: “My Dogwood supporters? Your assumptions often lead to false conclusions.”
Theos: “Smiling is good for the soul.”
Jamie McCue: “Not surprised your first response in this group is to be condescending to an engaged citizen. You think that sort of attitude will get you elected? You’re sorely wrong!”
And the conversation continued in this vein with 32 separate comments.
“I was trying to inject some light humor into the discussion,” Theos told Decafnation. “People take things way too seriously sometimes.”
The incident with Theos, who is seeking a sixth term on City Council, was minor compared to the bullying and threats directed at elected officials elsewhere in the province and on the Island.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, for example, announced in March that she was quitting Facebook, calling it a “toxic echo chamber.”
And she was recently quoted in the Victoria Times-Colonist saying the downsides of social media outweigh the upsides.
“The downsides are it’s really, I would say, a threat to democracy and the ability to have face-to-face conversations about important issues,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.
Theos agrees that face-to-face conversations are more productive.
“If anybody wants to talk to me, my number is in the phone book,” he said.
After his initial foray onto Facebook, Theos has decided “Social media is not something I want to be a part of.
“Trying to talk with people on Facebook, I don’t even know these people, and some of them are not even real. They’re fake names,” he said.
View Royal Mayor David Screech told the Times-Colonist that commenting about candidates through anonymous Facebook pages might constitute election tampering.
“It’s not acceptable under the election rules to deliver leaflets anonymously. I don’t see why it should be any different on social media,” he told the newspaper.
The practice of using fake Facebook accounts to comment on websites and other social media platforms has made it’s way to the Comox Valley.
A frequent poster on the Comox Valley Politics site is “Peter McGillicuddy,” which appears to be a fake name and fake Facebook profile for someone making anonymous comments.
Two-term Councillor Russ Arnott feels ready to step up to the mayor’s chair and hopes to continue the town’s downward trend in taxation and create more waterfront enhancements; waiting for a court decision on whether town can demolish the ‘Shakesides’ house
Russ Arnott is taking a simple approach in his campaign to become the next mayor of Comox: He likes the direction the town has been moving the last four years, and he feels that his two terms of council experience make him ready for the job.
“Things are going well and people are generally happy,” he told Decafnation. “Businesses are taking a chance with us, developers like working with the town and we’ve got a downward trend in taxation.”
Arnott says he running for mayor because “I’m afraid to lose that momentum.”
But he has also set three broad goals for his first term as mayor.
First, Arnott says keeping commercial and property taxes “fair and affordable” is one of his top priorities.
Second, he wants to “make Comox a vibrant and accessible community for all ages.”
Third, Arnott would continue to promote projects that enhance the town’s waterfront and connect it to the downtown core. For example, he’d like to see a walkway from the marina to Goose Spit.
FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates, go to our Elections 2018 page
He’s proud of the waterfront enhancements the town has made recently with a splash park for children and opening up Marina Park to food trucks.
Arnott acknowledges that the two sail buildings recently built at Marina Park “pose a challenge.” But he says they were approved and planned when he wasn’t on council.
“I asked questions about the project, but the grants had already been received,” he said.
Despite his promise to keep steering the town in its current direction, Arnott says he’s not just promoting the status quo.
Arnott would hopes to phase out all wood burning devices from new and existing homes over the next five to 10 years. Wood stoves negatively impact air quality.
And he’d like to help create more affordable housing, perhaps by requiring more developments with smaller houses and smaller lots, like the town has done in the Torrence and Noel neighborhood.
Comox has already implemented an easy process for homeowners to create secondary suites, he says, and provides incentives for developers to build housing, such as the Ambleside development along Comox Avenue.
During debates about how to solve the city’s traffic problems, especially congestion at the 17th Street bridge, several Courtenay candidates have suggested that Comox and even some rural areas should help pay for improvements.
Arnott says he wouldn’t saddle Comox taxpayers with that cost.
“I wouldn’t entertain that idea, not without more discussions,” he said. “Comox has amenities that people from other areas use, let’s not nick-pick back and forth.”
Arnott is “okay” with marijuana retail stores in Comox, “if they’re located in the right place.” But he’s concerned about all the unknowns that will arise, like how people will react to the unique pungent odour of cannabis.
“We already discourage people from smoking cigarettes in parks,” he said. “But we have only one person in bylaw enforcements, so it will probably be complaint driven.”
Asked why the town hasn’t updated its 2012 Official Community Plan in nearly seven years, Arnott there’s no need to do it.
“In that time we’ve only had three amendments and few complaints, so it’s working,” he said. “Why spend $250,000 to fix something that’s not broken.”
In regards to the town’s application to the BC Supreme Court to alter the terms of the Mack Laing trusts and demolish his heritage home called Shakesides — the celebrated naturalist left gifts of money and property to be used to create a museum or nature house on Comox Bay — Arnott is guarded. He has supported the town’s action in several council votes this year.
“We’re just following the (citizen advisory) committee’s recommendation,” he said. “I don’t know what went on back then (in 1982 when Laing died), there’s so many interpretations. We’ll see what the court says.”
Arnott spent 25 years in the Canadian Coast Guard, including management positions, and is currently the manager of military housing on CFB Comox. He’s a former regional vice-president of the Canadian Auto Workers union.
And he’s an avid volunteer with the Comox Valley Community Justice Centre, the Salvation Army, the Comox Business Improvement Association, YANA and Rotary.
Arnott says his volunteer activity makes him a better council member.
“By getting out into the community and having discussions with diverse groups of people, it helps educate me,” he says. “And that informs me to make decisions at the council table.”
Arnott believes no one should stay too long in municipal office, and moving up to the mayor’s chair feels right for him. He says it also makes room for other people in the community to join the Town Council.
“At the end of the day, I don’t hear a whole lot of issues in our town. People are generally happy.”