Harold Long joins the race for Courtenay mayor

Harold Long joins the race for Courtenay mayor

Harold Long says Courtenay has outgrown small town thinking, should plan for sea level rise, calls a subdivision at Stotan Falls a ‘bad idea’ and wants to densify the urban core to preserve downtown businesses. And he’s disappointed in incumbent Mayor Larry Jangula

 

Harold Long, a three-term Courtenay council member in the 1980s, will launch a return to city politics this week, this time in a run for the mayor’s chair.

Long, who was born and raised on 21st Street, was first elected to City Council in 1984. He ran for mayor in 1990, losing to Ron Webber by only 25 votes.

He’s stayed out of the political scene since then because he didn’t want “to be a heckler from the sidelines.”

But Long is jumping back in now because he is disappointed in the city’s lack of a long-term vision and particularly in the performance of incumbent Mayor Larry Jangula, who he believes has alienated the council and failed to bring them together.

“I think, in general, it’s time for the city to think outside of the box,” he told Decafnation. “We’ve outgrown small town thinking.”

Long spent most of his career as a plumber and pipefitter, working on many of the Comox Valley’s major infrastructure projects, such as the Brent Road sewage treatment plant, the sports centre, Driftwood mall and a renovation of St. Joseph’s General Hospital.

He’s probably best known recently as a land developer. His biggest project was the Valley View subdivision that essentially created East Courtenay.

Asked if voters might wonder if he has a conflict of interest, Long says he has no big projects planned and hasn’t done any developing in Courtenay for eight years. All the property he owns in the city is his house and five acres near Glacier View Lodge.

FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates and a full list of who’s running for councils, regional district and school board, go to our Elections 2018 page

And for someone who might get stereotyped as a conservative — Long is a fiscal conservative — he talks about many progressive ideas.

Long favors densification of the urban core, says the city should be planning for sea level rise and moving infrastructure inland, believes the Stotan Falls area is a bad place to put a subdivision, wants to upgrade sewage treatment facilities to produce effluent that can be reused and opposes dumping wastewater into any body of water.

He also believes Courtenay residents “won’t stand for more tax increases” and should look more closely at ways to reduce costs. At the same time, Long thinks the city hasn’t spent enough on maintaining its important infrastructure, such as the Fifth Street bridge.

On housing

Long worries that middle income families, as well as young people, have been priced out of Courtenay’s housing market.

“To get ahead, people have to own it (their property),” he says. “Equity is everything.”

So he supports smaller houses on small lots, removing obstacles that prevent developments targeting lower-priced houses and requiring new developments to have a mix of varying priced homes.

Long knows the city has lost several affordable housing projects because the bureaucratic tangle was overwhelming.

“If we don’t work on a long-term housing plan for both availability and affordability, I’m afraid of where we’re headed,” he said. “The next generation of seniors will be much poorer, their pensions eaten up by rent or mortgages.”

He supports allowing secondary suites, especially around the downtown core.

“The only way to preserve our downtown is to put people on the street,” he said. “Not just during the day, but 16 hours a day. Retail is a tough business and it’s more important than the development community.”

On the environment

Long recognizes that “a lot of environmentally sensitive people” live in Courtenay, and more are moving here because of its natural assets.

“This wasn’t an issue when I was a kid, but it’s vital now,” he said.

Long will lead council to do more planning for the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise.

“That’s (rising sea levels) a big issue with the sewer line along Dyke Road; it should be on land where we have the opportunity to clean up any potential spill,” he said. “It’s going to be expensive, but necessary.”

He thinks the region should also rethink wastewater outfalls considering the thousands of homes proposed for the Royston-Union Bay area and the sensitivity of Baynes Sound.

“Technology has improved to the level where we don’t necessarily need outfalls,” he said. “We need to start looking at that. We can treat wastewater so it’s reusable, even drinkable.”

On Stotan Falls

Long doesn’t hesitate to call the 3L Developments proposed 540 house subdivision on the Puntledge and Browns rivers a “bad idea.”

“It’s sitting on rock, and everything drains toward the river,” he said. “It could be built to protect the rivers, but what happens if it fails?”

While he says Riverwood would not address the Valley’s affordable housing issues, Long also believes the regional district should open up more settlement nodes.

“There’s no significant available land in Courtenay,” he said. “90 percent of the land available is in Crown Isle.”

He said it’s too expensive for a developer to consider a 10 to 15 acre subdivision. To make it worthwhile these days, Long says a developer needs a minimum of 100-200 acres.

On traffic

Long says council needs to think outside of the box on transportation. He doesn’t have a silver bullet, but says the city should consider ways to improve traffic flow while making long-term plans for things like another crossing.

He envisions a cloverleaf on the east side of the 17th Street bridge and making Fitzgerald Avenue a major route to move traffic off Cliffe Avenue.

On the Airpark

Long supports the Courtenay Airpark and the Kus-kus-sum projects, and dismisses suggestions that the land might be better used for housing. He says people don’t realize what’s under the Airpark property.

“There’s bits of concrete, a mixture of soils and general rubble down there that makes it totally unsuitable for development,” he said. “It’s partly fill from when we had to cover up the sewer lagoon, and it contains heavy metals.”

And what hasn’t been discussed is that the whole area is a First Nations midden, according to Long. In the late 1950s when the marina was being built, he remembers there were arrows and skulls and more turned up during the excavating.

“I don’t see this as developable land,” he said.

Economic development

Long would like to promote the city to the technology sector and attract remote workers who can enjoy a higher quality of life here than in larger cities. It’s a clean industry that comes with high paying jobs, he says.

On marijuana

Long regards the legalization of marijuana as a federal issue that City Council cannot change or impact. However, he would create a special, site specific zone for marijuana retailers.

“I think we need to pay close attention to public opinion as we move forward on this one,” he said.

Full disclosure: My youngest son and Harold Long’s son have been long-time friends, but this interview was the only time he and I have talked one-on-one.

 

Starr Winchester will focus on traffic and taxation

Starr Winchester will focus on traffic and taxation

After a one-term absence, Starr Winchester is carrying on a long family tradition of public service in seeking another term on the Courtenay City Council

 

Former Courtenay Mayor Starr Winchester hopes to extend her 21 years of leadership by once again seeking a City Council position.

Winchester has already served two stints on council, the first one for 12 years and the second for three years before losing by just a few votes in the 2014 election. In between her City Council terms, she also served six years as mayor.

“I love local government,” Winchester says. “It’s in my blood; it’s all I’ve know since childhood.”

Winchester’s father, Bill Moore served several terms as mayor of Courtenay in the 1970s, and was the MLA for the North Island in the 1950s and 1960s.

Losing her seat in the 2014 election was a disappointment, but it turned out to be fortuitous. In the last four years, she’s beat breast cancer and mourned the loss of two close friends.

“It became a good time for me to reflect on what I really want to do with my life,” she said.

FURTHER READING: See who’s running for local government this year on our Elections 2018 page

This time around, Winchester is focused on traffic and taxation issues.

She feels the council mishandled the recent hiring of 16 new staff and reclassifying one employee, and she didn’t like to see the staff criticized in public over the issue. It’s the council that makes these decisions, she says.

“How did we get to the point where we needed to hire 17 people all at once,” she said.

The former mayor sees tax savings in combining selected services with Comox and the rural areas, such as planning departments, fire departments and public works.

“It can be done,” Winchester said, pointing to her efforts in the past to form the Regional Playing Field function at the regional district and in creating the Comox Valley Art Gallery.

She counts an improved status for provincial funding among the benefits of consolidating services.

Looking back on her terms as mayor, Winchester cites splitting the Comox and Strathcona Regional Districts into two separate jurisdictions as her “proudest moment” and greatest accomplishment.

“Finally, the Comox Valley could do its own planning,” she said.

On traffic issues, Winchester believes a third crossing of the Courtenay River is inevitable. But the cost will have to be shared regionally, especially with Comox.

In the meantime, she thinks a widening of the 17th Street bridge could relieve traffic congestion to tolerable levels.

She also thinks the city has too many traffic studies.

“We just need to get them all out, review them and make some decisions,” she said.

But she fully supports the Courtenay Airpark and the Kus-kus-sum project, indicating that 21st Street isn’t a good third crossing option because it threatened both.

Winchester thinks the city’s regulations on carriage houses and secondary suites should be relaxed, so people don’t have to apply for a variance to create them. She wants to increase density in the city’s core and make housing more available and affordable.

And to increase government transparency, she would like to see internet streaming of all regional board meetings, including the water and sewer commissions.

 

How Alberta’s oil industry co-opted Canada

How Alberta’s oil industry co-opted Canada

Former Alberta Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft will discuss his new book in Courtenay on Sept. 13, telling the story of how the collision between climate change and the oil industry subverted the democratic process in Canada

 

Former Alberta Liberal Party leaders and author Kevin Taft will talk about his latest book, “Oil’s Deep State,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13 at the Lower Native Sons Hall in Courtenay. The event will be moderated by Campbell River filmmaker and journalist Damien Gillis.

Most Canadians believe — or want to believe — in a direct connection between casting their ballot in provincial and federal elections and the democratic process. We like to think that checking a box every four years or so determines our nation’s policies and our future.

But as Kevin Taft’s new book, “Oil’s Deep State’” reveals this isn’t necessarily so.

There are darker and deeper forces at work that, left unchecked, can have a greater influence over our political, civil service and regulatory institutions at all levels of government.

Taft writes from the perspective of an insider. He was the Alberta Liberal Party leader from 2001 to 2012, and formed the official opposition from 2004 to 2008.

His book tells the story of the collision between global warming and Canada’s oil industry and how democracy got squeezed in the middle.

And more specifically, Taft details how the Alberta NDP party, which was elected in 2015 on promises of challenging the oil industry’s dominance in the province, became the oil sands biggest promoter.

The flip-flop by Alberta’s NDP occured, Taft says, because of the “deep state” created by the powerful oil and gas industry.

Damien Gillis, a Campbell River documentary filmmaker, who will introduce Taft during his book tour stop in Courtenay on Sept. 13, says that a “deep state” occurs when political parties, government agencies, arm’s length regulators and university researchers lose their independence.

Gillis, who also co-founded the Common Sense Canadian with former Social Credit party cabinet minister Rafe Mair, says that Taft’s book charts Alberta politics from premiers Peter Lougheed through Ralph Klein, and exposes how the oil industry has co-opted Alberta’s public institutions into believing its economy is dependent on oil field royalties.

According to Taft, here’s what happened: The world became aware in the 1980s of the impact of fossil fuels on global warming and other climate changes. The oil industry feared its collapse and began a fierce lobbying campaign to save themselves.

Their efforts convinced the Stephen Harper government to pull out of the Kyoto Accord on climate change, and federal scientists were silenced, not unlike how US President Trump is now reshaping that country’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Federal Liberals and the Alberta NDP joined the oil sands bandwagon. The Alberta energy regulator was an ex oil executive and millions of tax dollars flowed to universities to rebut fossil fuels impact on climate change and create the notion that the province’s economy depended on a healthy oil industry.

In the end, the Canadian oil industry gained virtual oversight of the political mindset in Alberta and in the federal government.

And yet, Taft says, Alberta gets more revenue from gaming and liquor than oil sands revenue.

“Alberta’s oil industry is not indispensable to its or Canada’s economy,” Gillis says. “Just as BC is not dependent on forestry stumpage fees or fishing tonnage fees.”

But the public does have tools to combat a deep state when it forms, according to Gillis.

“Even when when big oil had everything lined up — a Harper majority, BC Liberals, Alberta conservatives — the public has power through the constitution, the courts, grassroots movements and First Nations support,” Gillis said.

Following Taft’s presentation in Courtenay, Gillis will moderate a question and answer period with the author.

 

Brennan Day takes on public spending, housing and open government

Brennan Day takes on public spending, housing and open government

Courtenay City Council candidate Brennan Day believes that with good planning, the Comox Valley can grow without without losing its charm or small town feel. He would improve infrastructure, housing affordability and promote greater City Council transparency and better communication

 

Brennan Day believes the silent majority is under-represented on the Courtenay City Council, but that’s not the only reason he’s running for office this year.

He wants to make housing more affordable, properly plan for population growth, ensure the city spends its money wisely, improve infrastructure and create more transparency in local government.

As a 25-year resident who was raised in the Comox Valley, Day understands the desire to maintain the small town characteristics that people love. He just doesn’t see that as mutually exclusive with what he regards as inevitable growth.

“We can’t pretend the Valley won’t continue to grow,” he said. “If we do, and bury our heads in the sand, we’ll get sprawl. But if we plan for growth, we can improve infrastructure so that the community still feels small.”

Day and his wife, a former Denman Island resident, and their one-year-old child moved back to the Valley in 2016, after spending the previous 10 years living and working in Kazakhstan. He worked as a manager for Arctic Group International, which specializes in services for Kazakhstan’s oil and gas industry.

Day currently works for Hyland Precast in Cumberland.

FURTHER READING: Who is running for municipal office this year, go to our Elections 2018 page.

The Valley’s infrastructure lags behind neighboring communities like Campbell River, according to Day, because we’re not recognized as an urban center and split into smaller municipal populations.

“This should concern everyone, because we’re missing out on federal and provincial funding as a result,” he said. “We don’t get a proportional return on our taxes.”

Day isn’t promoting amalgamation, but he sees considerable savings in consolidating services such as fire departments and parks.

“I believe City Council has to be responsible with tax dollars,” he said. “We’re currently overspending for the services we get. Consolidating services could be a transitional step to lowering the tax burden.”

Describing himself as a moderate fiscal conservative, which he believes mirrors the majority of Courtenay residents, Day disagreed with the City Council’s recent decision to hire more employees, because the process was flawed.

“Their methodology was okay, acceptable,” he said. “But there was no attempt to look at spending accounts first.”

With a windfall surplus, he said City Council “seemed desperate to spend it rather than cut taxes.” Had council looked harder at expense accounts, Day says he might have approved the hirings.

The candidate points to the aging Fifth Street bridge as an example of the city’s failure to plan for infrastructure improvement.

“That bridge is about 30 years past its life cycle, and we’re going to have to replace it,” he said. “What are we going to do when it no longer passes safety inspections?”

Day believes a third crossing of the Courtenay River will eventually be needed, but says the city should work with the province to make improvements to the 17th Street bridge first.

While City Council has to consider all available options, he thinks a new bridge at 21st St. that would close the Courtenay Airpark should be the lowest priority.

And the city could avoid miscommunications with citizens like the Courtenay Airpark Association if the council was more transparent. He calls the council’s communication efforts “terrible.”

Day would advocate for more robust minutes that show how each council member voted in all decisions, not just those motions that fail.

“If elected, I would publicize a position piece on every vote I cast,” he said. “People should know why council members voted the way they did.”

And he would restrict in-camera sessions because they “don’t give the public confidence.”

Day would also support efforts to make housing more affordable in the city, including allowing carriage houses and suites without going through an amendment process, and other easy steps to densify the urban core.

“These things can get us to the goal quicker,” he said. “And they have a smaller impact than putting up high rise buildings.”

Day would also promote creating more industrial development land, which he says is in short supply.

“Industrial land is scattered around and about half of it is covered by mini-storage operations,” he said. “If it doesn’t exist, where are the new jobs going to go?”

 

Wendy Morin would bring a social consciousness to city

Wendy Morin would bring a social consciousness to city

Wendy Morin, a substance abuse counsellor with the John Howard Society and a co-founder of the Comox Valley Girls Group, is running for Courtenay City Council. She would focus on housing, social issues and the environment

 

A founding resident of Courtenay’s Tin Town live-work neighborhood hopes to bring her social consciousness and long-time connection with Comox Valley youth to the City Council.

Wendy Morin, a lifelong resident of the Valley, will launch her campaign at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 9 outside of the Tin Town Cafe.

The youth and family substance use counsellor at the John Howard Society believes voters will find her 20-year experience in advocacy, collaboration, creative problem-solving and relationship-building an asset to the council.

Morin, who thought about running in 2010 and again in 2014, thinks the current City Council has made good progress in her primary areas of interest: social issues, the environment and affordable housing.

“But we’re losing some of them now,” she said.

Bob Wells, David Frisch and Erik Eriksson are running for mayor and at least two will lose their council seats. Rebecca Lennox, the lone woman on council, is retiring, a fact that Morin laments.

“When we have more women on council, we’re better represented,” she said.

Morin is the co-creator of the Comox Valley Girls Group, which has provided training for young women, from age 12 through 21, about how to deal with societal pressures and learn skills for healthy living.

The program operates under the umbrella of the Comox Valley Transition Society. During its 20 years, Morin estimates that more than 400 young women have been helped to navigate their way through the challenge of adolescence.

She hopes to engage more young people in municipal affairs through council outreach initiatives, as well as those who are marginalized through social inequality and feel disempowered.

“I want to help create a city that’s livable for everybody,” she said. “A city where nobody is left out of decision-making.”

But she also has views on a variety of specific issues.

Housing

Morin worries that the Valley has become unaffordable for young families. She supports diverse housing options that include promoting secondary suites, carriage houses, tiny homes and urban infill with incentives for developers.

She supports transitional and supportive housing.

She would like to use her council platform to promote neighborhood hubs “whether that’s a community school or center, cafes or coffee shops, parks or farmers markets.”

Morin opposes the 3L Developments proposal to build a new 740-house community near Stotan Falls because it’s a contravention of a core tenet of the Regional Growth Strategy to have sustainable long-term growth and infrastructure.

“And it (3L’s Riverwood proposal) would just abandon a plan (the RGS) that’s not that old,” she said. “Water, sewer and road infrastructure is just going to come back to the city eventually, and cost us more.”

Environment

Morin is the first and, so far, only candidate that supports the elimination of plastic bags. She would recommend more opportunities for community food gardens, green building and protections for forests, riparian areas and estuaries.

Economy

Attracting innovative businesses and clean industries tops Morin’s list of economic development objectives.

She supports adopting a social procurement policy similar to Cumberland’s to “offset taxation and improve the social wellbeing of the community.”

Transportation

Morin supports alternative modes of transportation to slow down growing traffic congestion and make it easier for those who cannot drive vehicles.

She opposes a bridge at 21st Street that “made no sense.”

Morin says the Courtenay Airpark “seems to be valuable,” because it supports economic development, tourism and health care. She knows of nurses who travel to remote places.

“I respect the Official Community Plan process,” she said. “I would support continuing to implement it, no abandon it.”

The city’s OCP states council’s support for the airpark, its commitment to protect it and encourage it to expand.

Social planning

Morin would advocate for a social planning position at the city. The position would coordinate the activities of an existing volunteer committee to improve the social health of the city, and offset hidden costs to taxpayers.

“If we improve food security, housing and access to health services, we benefit from economic spin-off and cost savings,” she said.

 

City abandons 21st Street bridge, airpark leases still contentious

City abandons 21st Street bridge, airpark leases still contentious

PHOTO: Andreas Ruttkiewicz and student pilot land an ultralight at the Courtenay Airpark. Ruttkiewicz runs the Air Speed High Ultralight flight school at the airpark.

Courtenay abandons 21st Street river crossing thanks to Mayor Jangula, but city staff and council temporarily ground his proposal to give long-term certainly to airpark business owners at Monday’s meeting 

 

This article was expanded Tuesday (Aug. 21) morning to add a response from the Airpark Association suggesting that Councillor Lennox made an erroneous statement regarding the airpark’s tax status.

Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula took a conciliatory approach Monday night to concerns raised by members of the Airpark Association and successfully landed a unanimous agreement from council to abandon all discussions of a third river crossing at 21st Street.

But his attempt to address the larger issue of the airpark’s long-term viability crashed on takeoff.

A city proposal for a road through the airpark leading to a bridge through Hollyhock Marsh, and staff comments that all airpark leases would be converted to a month-to-month basis, has angered Courtenay Airpark Association members and aviation business owners.

FURTHER READING: Courtenay mayor fails to assuage airpark  closure fearsCourtenay airpark touts its economic, lifestyle benefits; Battle brewing over city’s transportation master plan; City bridge proposal would harm airpark, Kus-kus-sum

They see the two issues as an attempt by the city to shut down the airpark.

Jangula tried to calm the airpark association’s fears last week, but his comments fell short.

This week, Jangula stepped down from the mayor’s chair to clarify his position with a motion that City Council officially abandon all consideration of a bridge at 21st Street. It passed unanimously.

Then Jangula tackled the bigger issue and proposed that the city offer the Airpark Association and aviation businesses 25-40 year leases on the city-owned property.

That got applause from the standing-room only audience, but less support from city staff and several council members.

Chief Administrative Officer David Allen derailed Jangula’s intentions to give the airpark immediate long-term assurances by suggesting council wait for city staff to do a report on the viability of offering long-term leases.

Councillor Doug Hillian made a motion to direct staff to do such a report, preferably by the Sept. 4 meeting, which passed, but not without some hesitation by councillors David Frisch, Rebecca Lennox and Hillian.

Hillian said council has “a responsibility to consider the implications of long-term use of city-owned properties.”

Frisch and Lennox seemed more reluctant in their comments. At one point, Lennox even referenced the Airpark Associations “tax-free status,” which is an erroneous statement, according to association president Morris Perrey.

“She is totally wrong,” Perrey said. “The businesses pay land taxes and lease fees and all the fees that every business pays, all the city insurance costs, everything and the city still gets their fees.”

Perrey said because the Airpark Association is a society and not supposed to pay taxes, the city charges the association fees in lieu, which have increased about 15 percent in the last five years.

Earlier in the meeting, Frisch appeared opposed to taking a 21st Street bridge off the table, although he ultimately voted in favor.

“We still have to move people around,” he said, referring to growing traffic congestion around the 17th St. and Fifth St. bridges.

CAO Allen said one of city staff’s strategic priorities for 2016-2018 is to assess city-owned land, and they have already identified several properties to start the review. He said it would be a “long and rigorous” process, and that discussions have already taken place in-camera.

Besides Jangula, two other council members, Bob Wells and Hillian, apologized to Airpark Association members.

Hillian called the public document showing a bridge through the airpark a ”mistake.”

Wells apologized for “the angst, stress and uncertainty we’ve put people through.”

He said the city acted without full consideration of how the 21st Street crossing proposal impacted the aviation community.

CAO Allen said the bridge proposal was never expected to be a fait accompli, and a staff member said the idea arose from the public consultation process about the city’s transportation plan.

That staff member termed the consultation process a “success” because it got the strong reaction from the Airpark Association. That comment caused eye-rolling murmurs among the audience.

Finally, Jangula made a motion to break from the agenda and let Airpark Association spokesman Dave Mellin speak and respond to the council discussion so far. That required a two-thirds vote, which it received, with Lennox and Frisch opposing it.

Referring to the uncertainty of short-term leases, Mellin said jobs and job security were on the line. Up to 90 people are employed at the airpark, depending on the season.

He said several business expansion plans have been stalled by council’s lack of clarity, and that five-year leases are of no value to the aviation businesses seeking long-term security.

“People are hanging out on a limb here,” he said.