It’s hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes  /  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: Where’s the moral leadership on Comox Council?

Jan 24, 2019 | Commentary, News

By George Le Masurier

he silence of Comox Town Council members for the plight of Mariner apartment dwellers is deafening.

A broken town water main flooded 17 first-floor units, displacing single parents and mostly low-income tenants who have limited alternate housing options. The town acted quickly to shut off the water, but the damage had already been done.

Now, instead of taking responsibility, Town Council has done nothing, nor intends to. Mayor Russ Arnott said as much in a statement before this week’s council meeting. The town, he said, supports other people and businesses trying to help, but won’t do anything directly to help its most vulnerable citizens.

The town is playing CYA — Cover Your Ass.

The insurance company’s agreement with the town gives the insurer absolute control in such matters. And the insurer no doubt fears financial assistance or any other form of help would amount to admitting liability. And it curtails councillors’ free speech.

It’s dangerous, and undemocratic, when an insurance company places restrictions on the rights of elected officials to communicate with their constituents.

Besides, the town is responsible. And the town has a moral obligation here.

But, so far, morality doesn’t seem to resonant at Town Hall.

The town won’t take responsibility for misappropriating Mack Laing’s money, or committing several breaches of trust. Nor will it take responsibility for stormwater flows that have caused erosion of property on Golf Creek. The town is happy to spend tens of thousands of dollars on Vancouver lawyers to fight its own citizens, but it won’t help people the town flooded out of their homes.

The town brags about its low debt ratio and builds multi-million dollar buildings at the Marina that sit empty most of the time. But when it comes to doing the right thing for its citizens, the town hides behind lawyers and insurance companies.

That has been the town’s modus operandi for years. So when Arnott made an election promise to continue the direction the town was pointed, he apparently meant its underlying moral code as well.

We’re disappointed. The town should be taking the lead.

Some Decafnation readers had suggestions about what the town should be doing.

“I have to add my view. We have HMCS Quadra at Goose Spit sitting empty. We opened it up for refugees, yet when local residents are desperate for shelter, the mayor flat out said “No.” Desperate is desperate period.”

“We have St. Joseph right next door with floors empty. This is our community … I have lived here all my life and I am extremely disappointed in our own mayor for not stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for our seniors, family and friends.”

“When floods, hurricanes or other natural disasters occur, governments have provided temporary housing for people displaced from their homes. The town could open up the Comox Rec Centre gymnasium. It could pay to put people up in area hotels and motels. It could negotiate an agreement with St. Joe’s or Providence to convert abandoned hospital rooms into temporary housing. There’s so many things the town could do. It’s shameful they don’t.”

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells was quoted to say that during boil water advisories, small plastic water bottles are the only option or the best option for drinking water.

Really? Ignoring the fact that with the implementation of UV treatment and ultimately a $110 million water treatment plant, there shouldn’t be any more boil water advisories, isn’t the better solution contained in the name?

Rather than encouraging people to purchase more plastic that’s fouling our oceans and sickening our aquatic life, how about just boiling the water?

Given its other pressing needs — Mariner apartment residents? — why would Comox spend $20,000 to study whether the town needs an off-leash dog park? The recent bear spray incidents have provided sufficient justification.

That view was shared by another Decafnation reader, who writes:

“Al Fraser is your expert on parks and fencing. Trust his judgement. As a council you were elected to represent us. We trust you to make good decisions on our behalf. Please sit down with Al. Listen to what he has to say. Discuss it among yourselves. Decide on what is the best location. Build a fence. Make the area dog friendly. Job done! Blowing away 20 grand on consulting is a waste of my tax dollars.”

It’s too bad that Comox Mayor Russ Arnott has reneged on a hand-shake deal to keep the Shakesides issue out of court, because it means that some creative and potentially win-win compromises will never be examined.

For example, a Decafnation reader wonders if the Mack Laing Heritage Society has considered pushing the town to purchase the adjacent private property and house, which bisect Mack Laing and McDonald Woods parks, as an alternative to putting money into Shakesides?

“This would consolidate the park that is Mack Laing’s heritage and provide a waterfront building in good condition that would be much more suited to the museum task.

“I would think that some of the people who currently oppose the museum would be willing to support an approach that would consolidate the park, which is at risk as long as the the central property between Mack Laing and McDonald Wood remains in private hands. Although the current owners have been very gracious, unless it is bought into the park there is no guarantee of the intentions of future owners.

“The purchase of that property into the park would guarantee Mack Laing’s wish of a nature park as well as providing a much better maintained and situated building at virtually the same location. I imagine that the land conservancy people and Project Watershed would be on board in a heartbeat.

“I know that I would be willing to donate to such a project. The other advantage is that it offers an alternative route to the building that does not go through the local subdivision, and would not require construction in a sensitive marsh plain.

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