With a background in both corporate retail and the nonprofit sector, Patrick McKenna believes he would bring a unique perspective to a first term on the Comox Town Council. He’s focused on affordable housing, the arts and community safety
Patrick McKenna is an outgoing community theatre actor who has forsaken the corporate retail world for the demands of a nonprofit, and he loves to joke around in conversations.
If you ask why he’s running for a position on the Comox Town Council, he might say something like, “Because Hugh McKinnon is stepping down,” or “Because 13,991 Comox residents didn’t want to.” (There are nine council candidates this year out of a roughly 14,000 population.)
But don’t let the fun-loving facade fool you. For McKenna, a Town Council seat would not be a pastime or a hobby.
“It’s a serious job, to have the people’s confidence entrusted to me,” he told Decafnation. “And that’s how I would approach it.”
The candidate has four areas of focus for his first term, which he’s gleaned from conversations with town residents: affordable housing, arts, culture and heritage, safety and sustainability.
It’s not surprising that affordable housing tops his list.
McKenna came to the Comox Valley in 2003 as the first store manager of the Courtenay Home Depot, where he had a 28-year career before taking a similar position with Target when it opened in the Driftwood Mall. He’s now the executive director of Habitat for Humanity for Vancouver Island North.
“I want to ensure that young families can live here,” he said. “And let’s make sure people who are already here can live here, too, and that their children can return to Comox, if they want to.”
McKenna sees many people getting priced out of the market as demand increases and property values escalate, a situation he doesn’t see changing any time soon.
“Growth is a function of where we live,” he said. “People want to live here. I don’t see a correction coming yet.”
But he does think the town could hold developers “a little more accountable,” and be steer them toward including affordable housing units in their plans.
McKenna doesn’t know if the town had a housing agreement with the 90-unit Broadstreet development on Anderton Aveune to dedicate a certain number of unit to rent below market rate. He hopes one exists.
“It’s staff’s and council’s job to have the mentality to get more affordable housing in Comox,” he said.
McKenna said when Habitat approached the City of Campbell River to build 10 houses on a piece of property, the city asked if they’d like to build 11 units, which they would allow with a covenant that they would remain affordable housing forever.
“A lot of municipalities don’t want to slow down developers, and so they’re afraid to ask for social benefits,” he said. “But Comox keeps building single family houses and that doesn’t help people trying to get it or move up.”
McKenna would like to see a continuum of housing developed in the town; some supportive, some transistional, and more affordable.
“Single family houses aren’t going to solve our problem,” he said.
And it’s also no surprise that McKenna wants the town to increase its support of arts, culture and heritage.
McKenna has been a prominent figure in the Comox Valley amateur theatre scene. He’s even formed his own theatre company, Three Legged Dog Productions.
“The town spends $2.2 million on parks and the arts gets $70,000. We need to change that,” he said. “I’ve got a bleeding heart for the arts.”
McKenna would like to Comox become more like Chemanius where the theatre is the centerpiece of the town. He points to the vacant Lorne Hotel property and muses that it would be a great location for a community theatre.
He likes what the town has done recently to improve Marina Park with a splash park and allowing semi-permanent food trucks. He’d like to see a farmers market, and more use of the sail buildings.
He thinks council was trying to create a community space for people to congregate.
When a town has gathering places, McKenna says people get to know each other, and feel safer.
“Parts of Courtenay feel unsafe, the rise of crime, drug use, homelessness,” he said. “We need to guard against that.”
McKenna grew up in Nova Scotia, the youngest of seven brothers and sisters who all went to university.
During his long experience in corporate retail, McKenna became good at analyzing numbers, a skill that has helped him in the nonprofit world where every dollar must be spent with specific intent. And on the town council, he would make sure money was invested in projects that further its core mission.
And he thinks his private and nonprofit sector background gives him a unique way of looking at things that would benefit the town.