Erik Eriksson announces bid for mayor of Courtenay

Erik Eriksson announces bid for mayor of Courtenay

The 2018 municipal election campaign got a jump start this week when Courtenay Councillor Erik Eriksson told Decafnation that he’s running for mayor.

Eriksson is the first Comox Valley candidate to formally announce his campaign.

While most incumbents and potential newcomers are still mulling the pros and cons of committing to a four-year term that won’t end until 2023, Eriksson said he couldn’t wait to start building support.

Eriksson said it wasn’t his intention to contest incumbent Mayor Larry Jangula for the mayor’s chair, but he also couldn’t wait for Jangula to finally decide if he’s retiring or seeking another term. Jangula has hinted at stepping down next year.

“I just had to get my campaign started,” Eriksson said. “It takes time to put together a successful support team for the mayor’s office.”

Voters go to the polls on Oct. 20 next year. The official nomination period for candidates begins on Sept. 3, 2018 and runs for 10 days.

Eriksson, who begins his sixth year on Courtenay City Council in 2018, is running on a simple platform: building partnerships.

He believes people who live in the region’s three municipalities and three unincorporated regional districts have common goals, and that by working together they can be more effective.

Eriksson isn’t using the “A-word” (amalgamation) because that’s a long and complicated process, which Valley voters have rejected in the past. But he believes there’s ample space for municipalities, the regional district, K’omoks First Nation and CFB Comox to share more services.

It’s one of his best skills, he believes, to resolve problems by helping people to find a common purpose.

“It’s amazing how effective you can be if you just talk … and discover that common ground,” he said.

Eriksson points to his support for the Committee to End Homelessness, the Community Health Network, the Food Bank and the Courtenay Youth Music Centre  as examples.

If elected, Eriksson would apply those skills to bring the council together.

And he’s motivated by a single purpose, “to make things better for people who don’t have it so good,” he said.

Some candidates like to work on building campaigns privately, and announce at the last minute. But Eriksson didn’t hesitate to publicly announce his candidacy early.

“It’s going to take time to show voters all the ways we can work better through partnerships. I want to use the credibility I’ve built to champion this cause,” he said.

 

The story behind recent Comox union negotiations

The story behind recent Comox union negotiations

In a press release published by the Comox Valley Record recently, Comox Mayor Paul Ives put a positive spin on the town’s new five-year collective agreement. But there’s much more to this story.

It is good news, of course, that the town finally reached an agreement, considering that the last contract expired in March 2016, about a year-and-a-half ago. But why it took so long hints at the unreported backstory.

What Ives and the rest of the Comox Council don’t want you to know is that they tried to crack their public employees union with a two-tiered wage proposal.

Ives didn’t mention that the union staged multiple flash mobs waving signs of discontent around the Comox Valley, or their overwhelming strike vote, or the reason for such unrest by good, hard-working people.

According to several sources with inside knowledge of the negotiations between the Town of Comox and CUPE local 556, which represents municipal employees throughout the Comox Valley, the town hired an out-of-town negotiator who pressed a proposal that would have divided employees.

The town proposed that all new hires in certain categories would be compensated according to a different, and lower, wage structure. For example, when the town hired new custodians and gardeners, they would have worked under a separate compensation agreement, and the town would have paid them less.

That idea didn’t sit well with the town’s working people.

During the negotiations, Comox employees staged many flash mobs around the Comox Valley, waving signs that urged support for protecting the livelihood of future town employees.

So, after 80 percent of the town’s employees voted unanimously to strike, the town withdrew its proposal, terminated its hired-gun negotiator and a contract agreement was reached.

Surprise! All the employees wanted was a fair deal.

Did Mayor Ives and council members want to break the union? That is a logical interpretation of its proposed two-tiered wage structure. The purpose of the proposal is clear: At some point in the future, as existing workers on the current pay grid retired or moved on to other jobs, the town would employ only these lower-paid workers.

What other explanation is there? I suppose is it also possible that the Town of Comox’s finances are in such bad shape that they have to reduce expenses by squeezing their working-class employees.

But it wouldn’t seem so, considering the town just spent nearly $2 million on a twin-sail-roof building, and other upgrades at Marina Park, without knowing exactly how it will be used. The town is only now holding meetings to figure that out.

And that dollar figure doesn’t include the new children’s splash park, which is a nice addition.

Mayor Ives refused to comment for this story, except to say that all my “facts are as usual wrong,” but he declined an opportunity to specify and correct the errant facts to which he referred.

 

Here’s a novel idea: politicians working together

Here’s a novel idea: politicians working together

I’m amused and somewhat disappointed at all the hand-wringing about the imminent British Columbia minority government.

Since the May 9 election that gave no single party a majority of seats in the B.C. Legislature, political pundits, former elected officials and newspaper editorials have quickly pointed out that recent minority governments have failed to last.

That’s historically true. The last B.C. minority government to last more than a year was a Liberal government that lasted 1,406 days, or 3.85 years, back in 1924-1928.

But the argument that every minority government will fail relies on a modern phenomena: minority governments require too much compromise and negotiation.

Too much compromise and negotiation?

Are British Columbians so used to absolutely NO compromise and negotiation from dictatorial majority provincial governments that the idea our MLAs might have to talk seriously with each other is abhorrent?

Don’t you find the notion slightly insulting that Canadian elected officials cannot cooperate and collaborate for the common good?

A recent Globe and Mail editorial said, “… it requires a leap of quasi-religious faith to believe that this (NDP and Green Party) coalition can hold for anything close to four years … It also means parties having to compromise with their partners.”

As if that’s something Canadians can’t or won’t do. Why not?

Where did this notion come from that says every piece of legislation proposed in the B.C. Legislature must pass? And if one doesn’t, then convention dictates that the government must resign and British Columbians must go back to the polls and elect a government that can do whatever it wants.

It’s a convention that perpetuates block voting and absolute loyalty to party leadership. But it discourages honest debate and the ability to amend and improve legislation. A poorly written bill should fail.

Fortunately, the current iteration of a B.C. minority government includes the Green Party, which allows its members to vote their conscience. This introduces the possibility that not every NDP proposal will pass and that the Legislature can continue without calling another election. It also suggests that MLAs might have to collaborate to make policy.
This type of collaborative government works well in other stable and leading countries — like Germany and New Zealand — and made the norm by the electoral system of proportional representation.

If the NDP and Greens can show British Columbians that our elected officials are capable of working together for good governance, despite their disagreements, then we will all benefit.

 

Courtenay-Comox: It’s still a swing riding

Courtenay-Comox: It’s still a swing riding

The newly reconfigured Courtenay-Comox riding dispensed a few surprises for the political experts this year. The biggest one: it’s still a swing riding.

With control of the B.C. Legislature hanging on the outcome of a recount and some 2,000 absentee ballots, the riding unexpectedly became this election’s center of attention. It wasn’t supposed to be so close.

When the B.C. Electoral Boundaries Commission split Cumberland from the Comox Valley, and moved this traditionally strong NDP community into a new mid-Island constituency, the change should have favored the Liberals. Add in growing Comox Valley support for the Green Party, which naturally siphons most of its votes from the NDP, and the stage was set for a third consecutive Liberal victory.

The fact that the NDP won the new riding by a slim 189-vote margin for Ronna-Rae Leonard triggers some interesting observations about Courtenay-Comox voters, as well as the mood of the province.

The vote was clearly a rebuke of Christy Clark. When a province’s economy leads the nation, records Canada’s lowest unemployment rates and balances its budget, the incumbent government should expect to retain a majority.

Instead, voters revolted against Clark’s arrogant attitude, her vendetta against teachers and the ravaging of public school funding, her too-cozy relationship with corporations and her terrible decisions for British Columbia’s environment regarding LNG plants, dams that only benefit Albertans and inviting an armada of oil tankers in the Salish Sea.

All of these issues must have resonated with the 16,000-plus Courtenay-Comox voters who cast ballots for the NDP and Green parties.

On the flip side, the strong military support for the Liberal candidate, Jim Benninger, a former commanding officer of CFB Comox, didn’t materialize.

Political pundits predicted that the absentee ballots would comprise mostly military personnel and that they would lean Liberal. Didn’t happen. The absentee ballots actually broke in favor of the NDP.

Was Benninger just not a good candidate, or do individuals in the armed forces share the majority’s growing concerns for the environment and of inappropriate corporate influence and access to Liberal cabinet ministers? The latter seems more likely.

And let’s not forget that this is still a swing riding. Of the 24 elections since 1933 — including this one — the NDP/CCF have won 11, the Liberal/Social Credit/Conservatives have won 13. (Herbert Welch, running for a Liberal-Conservative coalition, won two elections and served from 1945 to 1952.)

The popular vote in this riding has always been close. Except for the 2001 election when Stan Hagen rode the wave of support for a new Liberal/Social Credit coalition, no candidate has won a majority of the vote. Hagen got 56 percent that year.

And despite Hagen’s and Don McRae’s victories for the Liberals in 2005, 2009 and 2013, they received fewer total votes than combined NDP/Green candidates in each election. In the 2013 election, McRae trailed NDP/Green candidates by 1,768 votes.

In this election, the NDP/Green candidates nearly doubled that margin, out-polling the Liberals by 3,339 votes.

But in both the 2013 and 2017 elections, Conservative party candidates also played a role. They won 1,740 votes in the 2013 election, making that a dead heat. And they won 2,201 votes this year, cutting the NDP/Green lead to 1,138.

So, what does that mean?

It means this riding, with or without Cumberland, is almost evenly split.

So shouldn’t people expect the winning candidate to represent the Comox Valley with a mindful recognition of the progressive policies of the NDP and Green parties as well as the conservative ideology of the Liberals? That hasn’t been the case.

Hagen almost exclusively catered to the big money crowd. McRae less so, perhaps, at least not so obviously. And will Leonard turn her back on nearly half of her constituents?

The problem, of course, is the blind allegiance MLAs must devote to their party leadership. Vote how we tell you. There’s no tolerance for independence in the Legislature.

And until party leaders loosen their tight grip on individual MLAs, British Columbians will be best served by minority governments. When party leaders have to compromise and negotiate, rather than rule with an iron hand, they produce better legislation.

 

It’s the party that matters most, not the candidate

It’s the party that matters most, not the candidate

People often ask me about the differences between the U.S. and Canadian electoral systems. There are many, but one stands out as the most important.

Individual candidates hardly matter in British Columbia elections.

Canadians vote first of all for the party, its record or its campaign promises. And there’s a valid reason for this party-first voting tradition.

An MLA in B.C. is expected to publicly support and vote the party line. Every time. Without exception.

While differences of opinion may be tolerated during private caucus sessions, an MLA who dares to criticize his or her party or to vote against their party can expect a swift eviction notice. Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson discovered this hard truth in 2010 when he criticized his party leader on a community website.

Political parties learned long ago that if they failed to pass a piece of legislation, the public would lose confidence in them, and that, in turn, would make another general election unavoidable and its outcome uncertain.

So party leaders acquired the power to discipline MLAs who fall out of line.

And to keep them in line, well-behaved MLAs receive rewards. Some get cabinet appointments, some get travel junkets, some get pork barrel benefits for their ridings and some get other coveted appointments; the list of possible benefits is long.

As a result, most individual Members of the Legislative Assembly in a parliamentary democracy are much less powerful than members of American state legislatures or the U.S. Congress. In the U.S. system, Republicans and Democrats frequently swing their votes across party lines based on specific constituency interests. Not so much on the Big Ticket issues.

But this ability to vote independently of party affiliation, bestows greater importance on individual candidates in the U.S. system than in British Columbia.

On the flip side, it also makes American elected officials more vulnerable to the influence of lobbyists. Without a party leader telling you how to vote, the temptations dangled by outside interests, who aren’t accountable to voters, can be persuasive.

It’s also clear in B.C. politics that only the select few in the premier’s tight group of confidents have any significant impact on party policy. This is also true in the U.S. system. But as U.S. President Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have discovered, a fracture in party unity can disrupt the plans of the boys and girls at the top.

So, unless a candidate in B.C. is embroiled in some scandal or ranks high enough in the party to have a material impact on policy, the local campaign rarely hinges on the record or actions of an individual candidate.

And that’s what makes the May 9 provincial election difficult for many voters.

What if, for example, you dislike the B.C. Liberal Party’s policies on education, the environment and government transparency … and maybe you have a particular aversion to party leader Christy Clark..

Maybe you just think that after 16 years it’s time for fresh faces in Victoria.

But what if you find the Liberal candidate more likable, smarter and more sympathetic on the local issues that concern you than the NDP candidate?

You might consider voting Green or Conservative, but if you’re at all pragmatic, you know neither of those parties has a chance to win.

If you’re interested in the direction of British Columbia generally, and how it fits with your world-view, rather than only your personal interests or those of your specific community, you have no choice.

You must base your vote on party policy, not on the appeal of any individual candidate.

 

Comox Valley Agriplex: white elephant or dream facility?

Comox Valley Agriplex: white elephant or dream facility?

For more than three decades, some Comox Valley community organizations and elected officials have touted the need for a convention center.

The Comox Valley lacks a facility that can accommodate the large numbers of people or trade show booths and equipment required by big event promoters, which some see as a potential economic driver.

But others view such large facilities as future white elephants, often underused and almost always a drain on taxpayers. In this view, the Valley simply has unrequited conference center envy.

So while there’s been much discussion about building a convention center in the Comox Valley, it has never gotten further than a lot of talk.

Until now.

The Comox Valley Farmers Institute (CVFI) and the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds (CVEG) have recently formed an unlikely and somewhat uneasy alliance to achieve what generations of community organizations could not: a multi-use facility for a variety of community user groups that can seat up to 5,000 people.

The CVFI imagines a facility where people can play indoor soccer, tennis, pickleball or ride horses. Where groups can hold large sit-down dinners. Where promoters can stage equipment trade shows, monster truck events, BMX competitions and concerts.

The CVEG envisions a smaller Agricultural Awareness Center that has gotten a little lost in the grand idea of a multi-use facility. They imagine a 12,000 square-foot facility that would benefit farmers with a commercial kitchen and diagnostic lab to develop and test new products.

But in order to get support from MLA Don McRae and other elected officials, the two groups had to merge their competing proposals. The payoff was a B.C. Liberal Party promise of $5 million toward the project, if they’re re-elected.

Courtenay and Comox councils have supported the idea and the Comox Valley Regional District is playing along. Its Committee of the Whole green-lighted a master plan for the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds this week that includes a future 78,000 square-foot-plus multi-use event center.

But that doesn’t mean the facility is a certainty because there are a number of public and financial concerns that haven’t been addressed. They are:

Traffic congestion — The exhibition grounds area is already congested during event days. Cars often park along Headquarters Road even during regular Saturday morning Farmers Market events. When larger events take place — Music Fest, Rib Fest, etc. — the roadside parking extends further and along side roads like Vanier Drive. Daily traffic to Mt. Washington or to the Island Highway — it’s the truck route — complicates the congestion, though the dead-ending of Piercy Road at the old bridge and large roundabouts will help.

Parking — A new 500-car parking lot is proposed on the CVRD’s recently acquired property, the former Stonehenge Farm, which will help and be adequate for most community user groups, but parking will still spill onto side roads for large events.

Loss of ALR land — Removing property from the Agricultural Land Reserve must meet a provincial test. Calling the facility an ‘agriplex’ and having one or two farm-related events isn’t enough. The CVEG’s Agricultural Awareness Center, however, does qualify.

Construction costs — Current estimates range from $12 million to $15 million, but that could go higher after the CVFI meets with user groups and finalizes a design for the proposed project. Soil engineers may add extra cost to the project given the nearby floodplain and how far down they find bedrock suitable for the foundation’s footings.

Politics — The B.C. Liberal Party has promised $5 million, but what happens if the NDP forms the next provincial government? There’s been no promise of funding from the NDP. Or, what happens if the B.C. Liberals win the May 9 election, but the Comox Valley riding elects an NDP member?

How much are taxpayers willing to pay? — There is no formal business plan yet that estimates the amount of taxes Valley residents will pay to subsidize the multiplex operation on an annual basis. And these types of publicly owned facilities always need an annual public subsidy.

With the regional district’s approval, the CVFI and CVEG now know they can build a multi-use facility on the site. The next step is to meet with potential community user groups to determine if they will use it, at what rental price and if they have specific requirements that must be built into the design. Only after that, can the groups accurately estimate construction costs.

But they also need a professional management firm to assess the potential market of organizations likely to rent the facility. Because without sufficient outside revenue to pay operating expenses, including administrative overhead, one of two things will happen: local community user groups won’t be able to afford the rental fees (outside revenue keeps them low), or Comox Valley property owners will pay higher taxes to subsidize the facility.

 

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