It’s stormy weather this week down at the Comox Public Marina | George Le Masurier photo
The Week: Comox has a hissy over CV Economic Development Society changes
Well, folks, another week has passed so that must mean another new controversy has erupted over the Comox Valley Economic Development Society. And this one has pulled back the cloak — just a tiny bit — on the behind the scenes politicking at the regional district and the lockstep march of the Comox Town Council.
In the midst of what appeared to be a collaborative attempt to reach a shared vision for the future of regional economic development, Comox Town Councillors have unanimously decided to derail that process by triggering a section of the Local Government Act. That section is often used as the first step in withdrawing from a service.
It’s no secret that the CV Economic Development Society, known as CVEDS, has become a focal point that epitomizes the Comox Valley’s geopolitical polarization. And it’s a red hot point right now.
The region’s remaining old guard, epitomized by Comox Council and Electoral Area C Director Edwin Grieve, love the CVEDS status quo. The new blood of elected officials in Cumberland, Courtenay and Areas A and B do not.
So now, with changes afoot, no one is complaining more about proposed reforms to the regional district’s relationship with CVEDS than Comox councillors. There’s a reason for that.
The old guard loves CVEDS because it has historically done their bidding. A case in point: no Comox Valley jurisdiction has benefited more from CVEDS activity than the Town of Comox.
This imbalance has rankled everyone else. And it’s one reason why Cumberland and Hornby and Denman islands have withdrawn from regional economic development services.
But that’s not the only factor driving the new blood’s desire to transform CVEDS. These elected officials want economic support services that accommodate the community’s shift toward social and environmental values.
The new blood sees the old CVEDS as promoters of environmental projects like the Raven Coal Mine and bullish land developers such as 3L Developments. They see CVEDS undermining a proposal by an active Exhibition Grounds user in order to promote a convention centre on ALR land. They see a lack of accountability, a lack of interest in the social issues that affect economic vitality and a lack of attention to non-profit organizations that contribute to economic readiness.
They also see the regional district’s reprehensibly long history of a lack of meaningful oversight of an organization funded with public money.
It’s not surprising that the Town of Comox would object to any reforms of the regional economic development service that might divert staff attention and funding to other beneficiaries. Like the agriculture community. Or the arts and cultural community. Or some other physical location of the valley.
But the extent of Comox Council’s territorial protectionism is confusing and conflicted.
This was evident at a recent CVRD workshop solely focused on economic services. Comox Councillor Ken Grant objected to any funding or initiative to promote mountain biking or improve the sport’s infrastructure because it might benefit Cumberland, where the most trails and amenities exist, but who no longer participates in the service.
Other directors were quick to point out that being known Islandwide as a mountain biking mecca brings economic benefit to all kinds of businesses across the entire Comox Valley.
In fact, it was a Comox business — the former Simon’s Cycles, now known as the Comox Bike Company — that practically invented mountain biking in the Comox Valley. There are still two bike stores in Comox and residents/taxpayers/voters often go to the Cumberland Community Forest to ride.
And yet, Comox wants support for its own marina and Comox Valley Airport projects.
Here’s the problem. Everything was working fine for Comox until the new blood turned its attention to the CV Economic Development Society. Now, no longer in the majority, the town sees its influence and benefits drifting toward other areas of the community. And they don’t like it.
So, they’ve started a statutory service review of the regional district’s economic development service under the Local Government Act. But the regional district had already scheduled a complete review and reimagining of the service for next year.
It doesn’t seem to make sense. Except, the formalized service review includes a provision for Comox to withdraw from the service if it doesn’t like the outcome, which it probably won’t. This is the same process requested by Cumberland when it decided to withdraw.
Comox Mayor Russ Arnott implied in a statement to Decafnation this week that the town doesn’t intend to withdraw. But what other benefit exists for going the formal route over the already planned informal route?
Well, the public can’t discern the town’s motive or long-term goals of this action because Mayor Arnott has locked up his pack of councillors from speaking about it without his permission.
When Decafnation asked councillors for more explanation and for their personal opinion on what they hoped this action would achieve, they refused to talk.
Councillor Alex Bissinger said the council decided that only the mayor could speak on the topic to avoid “mixed messages.” In other words, any slight deviation from the company line might cause trouble.
Heaven forbid that a Comox council member might have an opinion that differs from the rest of the council or whose feelings about an issue might present a perspective that hasn’t been pre-vetted. Imagine the chaos that would ensue!
By comparison, Courtenay council members regularly disagree with each other and express their views openly for public consumption. By Comox council standards, it’s a wonder the city gets anything accomplished. But they do and their constituents usually know what they’re doing and why.
So the CV Economic Development Society drama will now play out in a formalized setting without all the voices at the table. Only one representative from Comox and Courtenay will be able to participate.
Even the recently formed Economic Development Select Committee will meet this week to fold up its tents. It had been charged to investigate efficiencies and cost savings from integrating CVEDS activities and office space with the regional district.
But that committee’s effort was probably going nowhere anyway. CV Economic Development Society Executive Director John Watson has arranged for new office space in … wait for it …
Comox Town Hall.
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