The next municipal elections are scheduled for Oct. 15, 2022. That’s just 20 months away.

Courtenay says it’s satisfied with City Council, different story in Comox, survey finds

Feb 11, 2021 | Government Review, Latest Feature

By George Le Masurier

First of two parts

Comox Valley residents who participated in a Local Government Performance Review say they are generally satisfied with the performance of the Courtenay City Council and the Comox Valley Regional District board of directors. But they are mostly dissatisfied with the Comox Town Council.

With about a year-and-a-half to the next municipal elections, Decafnation conducted the survey over the last few weeks to measure how satisfied voters were with the performance of the councillors, directors and trustees they elected in 2018.

In addition to the distinctly different opinions about the Courtenay and Comox councils, the survey also found that when respondents were satisfied with most of their individual elected officials, they also approved of the whole council’s performance.

For example, the regional board directors in areas A and B received very high approval ratings and those electoral area respondents also expressed a corresponding satisfaction with the regional district board. In electoral area C, however, where most respondents said they were dissatisfied with their regional director, they were also less satisfied with the regional board as a whole.

Twice as many Courtenay residents said they are satisfied with their city council than dissatisfied. That level of satisfaction transcended all age groups

Among the Comox Valley’s 33 elected officials reviewed in the survey, Electoral Area A Director Daniel Arbour received the highest approval rating. Eighty-nine percent of his constituents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with his performance. Courtenay Councillor Doug Hillian had the second-highest rating at 68 percent and Electoral Area B Director Arzeena Hamir was third with a 65 percent approval rating.

Few of the 314 respondents to the survey indicated a strong interest in District 71 school board matters.

When asked how satisfied they were with school board trustees, in most cases the respondents chose the mid-point (neither satisfied nor dissatisfied), a response that usually indicates a lack of knowledge or a lack of interest. The written comments about school trustees point to both. 

And too few people responded from the Village of Cumberland to provide the data for meaningful analysis, although 80 percent of the villagers who did respond were decidedly satisfied or very satisfied.

It is interesting that roughly 20 percent of respondents felt neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their councils and individual councillors. This may not be surprising given that a large majority of eligible voters were not sufficiently interested in local government to cast a ballot in the 2018 civic elections.

The survey also asked respondents to identify the top issues elected officials should address before voters go back to the polls on Oct. 15 of next year.

Although the list of top issues varied by Comox Valley jurisdiction, it was clear that respondents overall rated affordable housing as the number one issue. Traffic congestion and various other transportation issues collectively ranked second.

Comox respondents over age 55 were more dissatisfied with their town council than younger residents.

In the survey, Decafnation invited people to rate their level of satisfaction with the Comox Valley’s four local governments as well as their individual municipal, school district and Island Trust elected officials. The survey was conducted over a three-week period via Survey Monkey and the results independently analyzed by several community volunteers not associated with Decafnation.

Respondents could choose among five levels: very satisfied, satisfied, neither satisfied or dissatisfied, dissatisfied and very dissatisfied. For this story, in most instances, we have combined the top two satisfied ratings and also the bottom two dissatisfied ratings. We refer to the results as ‘satisfied,’ ‘neutral’ or ‘dissatisfied.’

Many of the survey respondents included written comments to help explain their satisfaction ratings. These can be found elsewhere on the Decafnation website starting today with Courtenay and Comox. The comments help to explain and interpret the respondents’ satisfaction levels.

This article takes a close look at the results for Courtenay and Comox. Readers can click all images for enlargement.

 

CITY OF COURTENAY

Twice as many survey respondents from Courtenay said they are satisfied (55%) with their city council than dissatisfied (27%). And that sentiment was mirrored in respondents’ impression of individual council members.

That level of satisfaction also transcended all age groups. Respondents who are 54 years old and younger had approximately the same satisfaction level as those over age 55.

How satisfied are you with the Courtenay City Council? — click to enlarge

Respondents in age groups from 18 to 54 were satisfied (59%) and dissatisfied (30%), while respondents in the age groups from 55 to 65-plus were satisfied (54%) and dissatisfied (26%).

Many of the respondents’ comments praised specific council action.

“I am relieved the council was not taken in by 3L Developments, and also that it supports the bike/pedestrian bridge to 6th St. I do wish the council would consider more green space for every new development. Everyone needs a small area of greenery, preferably a few trees and flowering bushes, a bench or two, whether for a lunch break or just to rejuvenate.”

Mayor Bob Wells received a 53 percent satisfied rating, compared with 26 percent who were dissatisfied with his performance. The percentage who gave him the top ‘very satisfied’ rating (18%) was about the same as the council as a whole (20%) and all other council members except for Manno Theos (9%).

Wells received both praise and criticism from survey participants.

You can read all the comments about city councillors and the council itself here.

“It’s a difficult job trying to lead the way and find common priorities to address civic issues and sustain a vision of an inclusive community that values people of all income groups/ages. He (Mayor Wells) hears what people say! He seems to work at building consensus when possible,” said one respondent.

But some respondents disapproved of his communication style.

“Never hear from the guy,” said one. While others said, “Never hear from him except when he is at a public function with a high attendance,” and “I have sent him a few emails and have yet to receive a reply! Not even an acknowledgement.”

Courtenay respondents were most satisfied with Councillor Doug Hillian, who got a 68 percent satisfied rating, with 44 percent rating his performance at the top very satisfied level.

Hillian’s very satisfied level ranked higher than all other Comox Valley council members. Only Electoral Area A Director Daniel Arbour (60% very satisfied) and Electoral Area B Director Arzeena Hamir (58% very satisfied) eclipsed his 44 percent mark.

One respondent said Hillian was the council’s “Elder statesman. Eloquent. Ever diplomatic. Grateful to have him.”

Another person wrote, “Councillor Hillian is very knowledgeable and experienced, he’s empathetic, cares about the environment and related issues, and is responsive to taxpayers.”

Manno Theos was the only city councillor to receive an overall dissatisfied rating (41%). Although 32 percent of respondents said they were satisfied.

What are the top issues council should address? — click to enlarge

“I have always felt that of all councillors, Manno is the least invested in helping the little guy and the most invested in watching out for larger money sources. It is good to have a counter-voice to balance the primarily progressive council, but I feel he is less invested in meetings and he often sounds distracted behind the zoom camera and has less in-depth comments.” said one respondent.

Respondents gave similar approval ratings to the remainder of the council members. They also received mostly positive comments.

Will Cole-Hamilton (52% satisfied) was called the “Best of the bunch. True leader. Could be more influential and “not as nice” when driving the necessary culture changes at City Hall.”

A respondent commented that Wendy Morin (52% satisfied) has “A lot of heart and insight which has at times been sorely lacking on council.”

 

A respondent said Melanie McCollum (48% satisfied) “is a very good listener and … also seems to give issues a lot of thought and, so far at least, she looks for ways to resolve long-standing problems such as unhealthy air quality in the Valley due to overuse of woodsmoke. I see her as promising and hope she lasts.”

More than one respondent mentioned David Firsch’s (47% satisfied) impact on the cycling community. “I think he has some good ideas. He is definitely a positive for the cycling people in Courtenay.”

Courtenay residents who took the survey said affordable housing (62%) was by far the most important issue for the council to address before the 2022 elections. Completing the city’s update of its Official Community Plan was second at 52 percent, followed by economic development (49%) and traffic congestion and/or parking (48%).

It was interesting to note that respondents nixed the idea of annexation or otherwise expanding city boundaries. Only 3 percent of respondents ranked it as an important issue.

“Council needs to build a consensus for new initiatives flowing from the OCP. ‘Building back Better’ will require engaging the community from the neighbourhood up instead of ‘top down’ policies. Support for Neighborhood Associations is one way to start engaging people where they live. Staff will need reorienting to community engagement. Add a Community Development function of Social Planning and coordinate with agencies,” said one respondent.

 

TOWN OF COMOX

Almost half of the Comox respondents (49%) said they are dissatisfied with the performance of their Town Council, while a third expressed satisfaction (33%). And only 10 percent said they were very satisfied.

But that level of dissatisfaction did not transcend all age groups among Comox respondents as it did in Courtenay. Younger Comox residents surveyed said were much more satisfied with their council’s performance than the older residents.

How satisfied are you with the Comox Town Council? — click to enlarge

Comox respondents in age groups from 18 to 54 were mostly satisfied (57%) and only 19 percent were dissatisfied. But in the older age groups, those trends were reversed. Respondents in the age groups from 55 to 65-plus were largely dissatisfied (70%). Only 17 percent of this older age group said they were satisfied.

Respondents noted the reasons for their overall dissatisfaction with Comox Council in the written comments. You can read all the comments here.

“This Council is unable to think outside of the box that it has built for itself. Because a number of the councilors are new to their positions, they seem unwilling to act or oppose the direction of the Council set by those who have past experience.,” said one respondent.

“Election promises have been broken, respect for previous OCP has been lacking in follow through, lack of a heritage registry and building permits without proper parking allocations are issues. Using OCP designated parkland space to sell for a building site and not honouring an almost 40-year-old trust agreement with Mack Laing are also issues for me. I could go on,” said another.

But there were some less critical comments. “People are doing their best under the circumstances,” said one person.

Respondents gave Mayor Russ Arnott an approval rating similar to the council as a whole: 48 percent said they were dissatisfied with his performance while 24 percent were satisfied. In the extreme ratings, 10 percent said they were very satisfied with Arnott and 20 percent were very dissatisfied.

Arnott had the highest dissatisfaction rating of all council members and the respondents’ comments reflected this.

“The mayor’s behaviour in council meetings has been interruptive and not respectful to public speakers and his newer council members. He has not attempted to follow OCP guidelines … He is a former member of council who continues to block resolution of a 40-year-old Trust that could have created a gem for Comox such as Campbell River has achieved with both the Sybil Andrews House and the Haig Brown house and property. He continues to block a Heritage Registry for Comox, at a great loss for the community,” said one respondent.

But there were other opinions, too. “He is a down-to-earth, approachable leader. He stood up for his Public Works staff when an awful fabricated story broke about interactions with the female public. His love for Comox is obvious. He cares about people,” said another person.

At the other end of the scale, first-term Councillor Nicole Minions topped council members with a 53 percent approval rating, 23 percent of respondents giving her the top level rating of very satisfied.

“Councillor Minions is a welcome addition to this council. She has attempted to initiate some progressive ideas to the council despite the older members of the council’s entrenched resistance to considering new ideas. It’s disappointing that her initial support for a meaningful attempt to resolve the town’s situation in regards to the Mack Laing Trust has been silenced,” said one respondent.

Another first-term councillor, Alex Bissinger posted the second-highest satisfied rating (49%) and had the highest percentage (34%) of very satisfied respondents. Stephanie McGowan, also in her first-term, received a 41 percent satisfied rating.

Respondents kept Councillor Patrick McKenna in positive territory with a 34 percent satisfied rating, although he had the highest dissatisfied rating (19%) of the four newcomers on the council and the highest indifferent rating (47%).

Councillors Ken Grant and Maureen Swift received mostly dissatisfied ratings at 43 percent and 36 percent respectively. Grant got the lowest satisfied rating (19%) of all Comox council members.

“Ken Grant’s jokes and comments are sexist and disrespectful. He is part of the “Old Boy’s Network “ of the last Council. He seems opposed to any substantial changes to Council’s past performance,” said one respondent.

“Ken Grant seems to represent the white male status quo,” said another.

What are the top issues council should address? — click to enlarge

Comox residents who responded to the survey said the top two issues for the town to address are climate change (50%) and resolving the Mack Laing Trust issue (50%)

Taxation and municipal finance issues and affordable housing were both important to 42 percent of respondents. Economic development was important to less than a third of respondents (32%).

The comments made by survey participants reflected these issues.

“Comox town council’s continued obstruction and delay towards responsibly resolving the Mack Lang Trust debacle is a municipal disgrace,” said one respondent.

“There’s a general lack of discussion on this town about how poorly developed the waterfront is. There’s a huge opportunity here and we have great waterfront doctors offices (which is a complete waste). It should be filled with waterfront restaurants, cafes and hotels. Again, some vision is seriously lacking here. Also a boardwalk connecting marina park to goose spit park should be a thing,” said another.

And this, “We don’t need hotdog stands on the marina park pier, nor do we need any more empty buildings. keep up the splash park, enhance the boat launch area, and, as has been promised for years, build a walkway along the shore like almost every other waterfront community on Vancouver Island. It’s embarrassing,” said a respondent.

Next time, we look at the survey results for the Comox Valley Regional District and the three electoral areas. We’ll also review the satisfaction levels of the Denman and Hornby Island representatives to the Islands Trust and District 71 school board trustees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW YOU RATED COURTENAY, COMOX COUNCILLORS

 

READ YOUR COMMENTS ABOUT COUNCILS AND COUNCILLORS ON THE SURVEY HOME PAGE

 

 

 

RESPONDENTS AGE GROUPING BY JURISDICTION

 

 

 

SURVEY RESPONDENTS BY GOVERNMENT JURISDICTION

 

 

 

COMOX SATISFACTION LEVEL FOR UNDER & OVER AGE 55 RESPONDENTS

Satisfaction level of Comox respondents age 54 and under (above) and 55 and over (below)

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