Working in an Alberta ministry office taught City Council candidate Deana Simpkin that it’s easier to get things done from the inside. She wants to densify and revitalize downtown, meet growth head-on and keep taxes in check
EDITOR’S NOTE: his post was updated on July 5 to correct that 16 (not 19) additional staff were hired and one staff was reclassified.
Having spent 20 years advocating for the developmentally disabled and also several years in the Alberta Minister of Culture’s office, Courtenay council candidate Deana Simpkin learned that it’s easier to get things done from the inside.
While she’s proud of her advocacy work, she had a greater impact on developmentally disabled children like her daughter, and their families, while working for MLA Lindsay Blackett. Simpkin helped change the system to smooth the transition when a DD child turns 18.
Despite that provincial-level accomplishment, Simpkin says she’s always been more interested in municipal politics. And now, after eight years in the community, she’s ready to get involved.
Simpkin and her family moved to the Comox Valley from Calgary in 2010 to be closer to her parents, who made a stop at CFB Comox in the 1950s and retired here in 1990. She and her husband bought the former Billy D’s restaurant on Fifth Street and rebranded it last September as the High Tide Public House and seafood restaurant.
She’s been active in the community ever since, serving as president of the Courtenay Rotary Club, the Downtown Business Improvement Association and currently as vice-president of the Comox Valley Economic Development Society.
“I think I’ve earned my stripes,” she told Decafnation. “And along the way I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge about Courtenay.”
INTERESTING FACT: Simpkin’s name is pronounced “dean-ah” not “dee-anna.” She’s named after Dean Martin, her mother’s (a singer) favorite performer.
She hopes to help densify and revitalize the downtown core and to steer the city toward proactive measures to deal with its inevitable growth and housing issues.
And she wants to use her accounting diploma and business experience to “keep taxes in check.”
“A lot of people are worried, both business and residential,” she said. “There’s no big industry in the Valley paying for infrastructure.”
She points to the recent hiring of 16 additional city staff and one reclassification at a cost of about $2 million as an example.
“What are those people doing? If they’re not doing anything, then that’s a concern,” she said. “And where is the money coming from? I heard they’re taking it from a reserve.”
Simpkin said once she’s elected and get answers to those questions, “then maybe it will all make sense.”
But she thinks the council and staff haven’t done enough to convince her and others that the hires were necessary.
“I feel like council needs to give more direction to staff and communicate better with the public,” she said. “A lot of people think staff are running council.”
She says she is not a member of the Comox Valley Taxpayers Association.
Simpkin also hopes to spur a revitalization of the downtown area by encouraging more people to live in and around the core. Young people, single people and young couples want to live close, she says, and more downtown housing would help businesses expand and improve.
She says there is no way to achieve that or to create affordable housing generally without decreasing development costs. She envisions property tax breaks and other incentives to encourage developers to build more affordable houses.
“It’s a big ugly circle,” she said. “If there’s no incentives or lower development costs, then all those extra costs go down to the consumer. The builder can’t lose money.”
Simpkin says Campbell River recently offered a long-term tax break for builders of new homes.
Simpkin says she can work well with the other people on council, although four seats are open. And she’s staying out of endorsing anyone in the mayor’s race “… for now.”
The recent paddle board convert believes she can make a positive difference by working within the City Council.
FURTHER READING: Interviews with other candidates on our politics page.