Russ Arnott: “People are generally happy” in Comox

Russ Arnott: “People are generally happy” in Comox

Two-term Councillor Russ Arnott feels ready to step up to the mayor’s chair and hopes to continue the town’s downward trend in taxation and create more waterfront enhancements; waiting for a court decision on whether town can demolish the ‘Shakesides’ house


Russ Arnott is taking a simple approach in his campaign to become the next mayor of Comox: He likes the direction the town has been moving the last four years, and he feels that his two terms of council experience make him ready for the job.

“Things are going well and people are generally happy,” he told Decafnation. “Businesses are taking a chance with us, developers like working with the town and we’ve got a downward trend in taxation.”

Arnott says he running for mayor because “I’m afraid to lose that momentum.”

But he has also set three broad goals for his first term as mayor.

First, Arnott says keeping commercial and property taxes “fair and affordable” is one of his top priorities.

Second, he wants to “make Comox a vibrant and accessible community for all ages.”

Third, Arnott would continue to promote projects that enhance the town’s waterfront and connect it to the downtown core. For example, he’d like to see a walkway from the marina to Goose Spit.

FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates, go to our Elections 2018 page

He’s proud of the waterfront enhancements the town has made recently with a splash park for children and opening up Marina Park to food trucks.

Arnott acknowledges that the two sail buildings recently built at Marina Park “pose a challenge.” But he says they were approved and planned when he wasn’t on council.

“I asked questions about the project, but the grants had already been received,” he said.

Despite his promise to keep steering the town in its current direction, Arnott says he’s not just promoting the status quo.

Arnott would hopes to phase out all wood burning devices from new and existing homes over the next five to 10 years. Wood stoves negatively impact air quality.

And he’d like to help create more affordable housing, perhaps by requiring more developments with smaller houses and smaller lots, like the town has done in the Torrence and Noel neighborhood.

Comox has already implemented an easy process for homeowners to create secondary suites, he says, and provides incentives for developers to build housing, such as the Ambleside development along Comox Avenue.

During debates about how to solve the city’s traffic problems, especially congestion at the 17th Street bridge, several Courtenay candidates have suggested that Comox and even some rural areas should help pay for improvements.

Arnott says he wouldn’t saddle Comox taxpayers with that cost.

“I wouldn’t entertain that idea, not without more discussions,” he said. “Comox has amenities that people from other areas use, let’s not nick-pick back and forth.”

Arnott is “okay” with marijuana retail stores in Comox, “if they’re located in the right place.” But he’s concerned about all the unknowns that will arise, like how people will react to the unique pungent odour of cannabis.

“We already discourage people from smoking cigarettes in parks,” he said. “But we have only one person in bylaw enforcements, so it will probably be complaint driven.”

Asked why the town hasn’t updated its 2012 Official Community Plan in nearly seven years, Arnott there’s no need to do it.

“In that time we’ve only had three amendments and few complaints, so it’s working,” he said. “Why spend $250,000 to fix something that’s not broken.”

In regards to the town’s application to the BC Supreme Court to alter the terms of the Mack Laing trusts and demolish his heritage home called Shakesides — the celebrated naturalist left gifts of money and property to be used to create a museum or nature house on Comox Bay — Arnott is guarded. He has supported the town’s action in several council votes this year.

“We’re just following the (citizen advisory) committee’s recommendation,” he said. “I don’t know what went on back then (in 1982 when Laing died), there’s so many interpretations. We’ll see what the court says.”

Arnott spent 25 years in the Canadian Coast Guard, including management positions, and is currently the manager of military housing on CFB Comox. He’s a former regional vice-president of the Canadian Auto Workers union.

And he’s an avid volunteer with the Comox Valley Community Justice Centre, the Salvation Army, the Comox Business Improvement Association, YANA and Rotary.

Arnott says his volunteer activity makes him a better council member.

“By getting out into the community and having discussions with diverse groups of people, it helps educate me,” he says. “And that informs me to make decisions at the council table.”

Arnott believes no one should stay too long in municipal office, and moving up to the mayor’s chair feels right for him. He says it also makes room for other people in the community to join the Town Council.

“At the end of the day, I don’t hear a whole lot of issues in our town. People are generally happy.”


City mayors dropping in and out, a Comox councillor failing to make the ballot and more!

City mayors dropping in and out, a Comox councillor failing to make the ballot and more!

A feud develops between Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula and challenger Harold Long over a broken four-year old promise. Barbara Price fails to make the ballot in Comox. Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird finally has an opponent, poor fella, so there’s no end of fun in this year’s election campaign


This article was updated Tuesday morning to add new information about a Comox candidates meeting and to correct information about the School District 71 elections.

Who says local government elections are boring? Here’s what happened in the last week of nominations in the Comox Valley:

The Courtenay mayoralty candidate that many assumed was the front-runner curiously dropped out of the race in a bid to stay on the City Council.

A long-time former City Council member jumped into the Courtenay mayoralty race and strongly criticized the incumbent mayor for breaking a promise he made four years ago.

In Comox, the Town Council and mayor’s chair will get a near-total makeover because only two of seven incumbents are running for re-election.

But that wasn’t entirely planned. One Comox councillor, who fully intended to run again, failed to file her completed nomination papers in time and won’t be on the ballot.

In School District 71, four incumbents chose not to run for re-election, an indication of some of the pressure on school boards, perhaps as a result of years of underfunding by the provincial government.

And, finally, Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird has drawn a challenger. It’s the first time she’s had an opponent, having been acclaimed to office twice. Not that anyone is expecting a close vote.

But, all in all, the next four weeks of local politics looks like fun.

FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates and a full list of who’s running for councils, regional district and school board, go to our Elections 2018 page

Harold Long and Larry Jangula will feud it out. Long wanted to run for mayor in 2014, but made a deal with Jangula to support him last time, if Jangula would support Long in 2018.

Except it’s going to be hard for Jangula to keep his promise with his own name on the ballot.

According to a reliable source, Jangula justified breaking the deal to Long in a phone call: “I can change my mind if I want to,” Jangula reportedly said.

Jangula has yet to respond to Decafnation’s request for an interview.

David Frisch, the top vote-getter in the 2014 election, looked like the front runner for the mayor’s job in Courtenay. Even late-entry mayoralty candidate Harold Long thought Frisch was the odds-on favorite.

But Frisch dropped out suddenly because, according to him, he didn’t want to split the progressive vote three ways (between himself, Bob Wells and Erik Eriksson) making a Jangula victory more likely.

But he dropped out before Harold Long jumped in, who is sure to take a big chunk out of Jangula’s vote total, which leaves local political observers wondering who will emerge from this two-on-two free-for-all.

Comox Councillor Barbara Price meant to file for re-election. But while at the Union of BC Municipalities convention in Whistler last week, she got word that her nomination papers weren’t properly filled out.

Price tried to correct the problem while travelling back to the Comox Valley, including trying to find a Notary Public on the BC Ferry trip from Horseshoe Bay, but to no avail. She didn’t make the ballot.

That has the potential to realign the balance of power in Comox, especially on issues like the rewriting of Hamilton Mack Laing’s Last Will and trusts to the town.

Decafnation will do its best to inform voters about the candidates, and we’ll make our own recommendations soon. But there are only a few opportunities for voters to hear the candidates speak in person and debate each other.

There’s a Comox Valley sustainability forum tomorrow night, Thursday, Sept 19, at the K’omoks First Nation Community Hall, and an all-candidates meeting for the City of Courtenay only on Oct. 16 at the Sid Williams Theatre. Comox voters will get to meet their municipal candidates at 7 p.m on Oct. 12 at the Comox Recreation Centre.

 And surely there will be a public debate for the Cumberland candidates. But will regional district and school board candidates get a chance to debate in public?

Watch The Record and and our Morning Briefings column for announcements of additional events. We’ll be posting new events on our Facebook page,

Meanwhile, enjoy the show, support your own favorite candidates and, most importantly, VOTE on Oct. 20.

Murray Presley returns to reduce the cost of government

Murray Presley returns to reduce the cost of government

Former council member Murray Presley blames the current mayor and council for overspending and wandering from its core functions into pipelines, GMOs and running daycare centres. He wants to contract out more city services and get the Stotan Falls park


Murray Presley, a retired accountant who served on Courtenay City Council for 15 years, is making a comeback in order to reduce the cost of local government.

Presley, who retired from his practice at Presley and Partners earlier this year, said he’s disturbed by what he’s seen happen at City Council the past four years.

“It’s two against five every time; Jangula and Theos get outvoted,” he said. “We need four like-minded people on council. I’m hoping two will join me (and Theos) in getting elected.”

Presley says the council has wandered off its core function into things like a nuclear-free zone, GMOs, the TransMountain pipeline debate and other irrelevant issues.

“Why is the city running a daycare and a fitness centre (at the Lewis Centre)?” he told Decafnation, though admitting his own kids went there. “We should ask what services the city should provide — water, sewer, public safety, roads — and stop doing the rest.”

FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates and a full list of who’s running for councils, regional district and school board, go to our Elections 2018 page

Presley, who calls himself a fiscal conservative, uses a Yellow Page phone book analogy to explain his position.

“Open up the Yellow Pages, if there’s a service listed there that the city is also doing, we should consider contracting it out,” he said.

That’s because local government’s priority is to not get sued or screw things up, he said, while a private business is driven by a desire to do things more efficiently.

“We have great employees at the city, but we don’t have good management up top, at the council,” he said. “Council makes policy, but if it’s not doing a good job and without a strong mayor, the staff will step in and set the policy.”

Presley says the cost of government is too high. The tax increases over the last five or six years have exceeded the cost of living. “It’s not sustainable,” he says.

The housing market is one area that has suffered from too much government interference, he says.

“We have to reduce the amount of red tape or make the development process faster, that will bring down housing costs.” he said. Presley also supports smaller lots and smaller houses and permitting secondary suites.

In the City of Langford, Presley says a building permit takes only three days and a development permit just two months. But in Courtenay that kind of turn-around is unheard of.

Meanwhile, the city spends time on a tree bylaw, which Murray says he agrees with in principle, but counts as an added layer of bureaucracy that just adds to the cost of housing in the city.

“I like the idea of a green canopy,” he said. “But take a drive down Ryan Road hill. What do you see? Trees all over, we’re surrounded by a green canopy.”

Earlier this year, Presley widely promoted the idea of an Agriplex for the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds, and helped raise money for the project. But he realizes that could be a conflict of interest if he’s elected, and insists he’s pulled back from it now.

“I’m not running on this issue or to promote it,” he said. “And, in any case, it would have to eventually go to a referendum … to see if the public has the appetite to take on the debt.”

But Presley is not pulling back his support for 3L Developments 700-house subdivision along the Puntledge River near Stotan Falls.

“The park is more important than the subdivision,” he said. “If that’s what it takes (green lighting the subdivision) to get the park, I’m okay with that.”

Presley points out that under existing zoning, the developer can proceed with 10-acre lots and “then we won’t have access to the falls.”

Presley said he doesn’t plan to knock on doors or campaign aggressively before Oct. 20, because he doesn’t care if he gets elected or not. But he does want to raise awareness that Courtenay’s spending needs to be controlled.

And one way to make all Comox Valley governments more efficient is through amalgamation, he says.

“We’d be better governed as a district municipality, or at least Courtenay, Comox and maybe Area B,” he said. “Why do we need three public works yards, three city halls?”

Presley was born in Scarborough, England. His father was in the Canadian Air Force and his mother was in the British Air Force. They met and married, and were stationed to Sea Island in 1954 (the site of the Vancouver airport).

The family moved to the Comox Valley in 1961, and Presley graduated from Courtenay High School in 1964.

Presley says that he also running to help create more jobs by adding more industrial land and encouraging clean industries. That, he says, would help young people stay in our community.


Jin Lin would bring cultural diversity to City Council

Jin Lin would bring cultural diversity to City Council

Jin Lin wants the City of Courtenay to spend less and not raise taxes every year, include food waste in its recycling program and talk more with 3L about Stotan Falls


Jin Lin, the co-owner of the Maple Pool Campground and RV Park, wants voters to know that she is not running for municipal office to settle any scores over the city’s failed lawsuit to shut down her business, and cost her family about $180,000.

Nor would she use a council position to lobby for a common room for residents of Maple Pool that would help her tenants reduce their electricity costs, but which they haven’t done because building in a flood plain requires too many additional rules and restrictions.

“I’m popular, I think, because people know I won’t do things for myself,” she said. “So no lobby for common room.”

She is running to help the city cut its expenses and lower taxes.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to raise taxes. Once in awhile, okay, but not every year,” she told Decafnation. “People can’t afford it.

“The city has to think how to save money from expenses.”

She is concerned about this year’s hiring of 16 new employees, and thinks the city took the “easy way” of raising taxes, instead of reducing its expenditures.

FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates and a full list of who’s running for councils, regional district and school board, go to our Elections 2018 page

Lin and her husband, Dali, emigrated from Taiwan 25 years ago to start a sawmill that eventually closed, along with most independent sawmills in BC, due to the softwood lumber issue with the United States.

Since then, the couple have operated the Maple Pool Campground that caters to summer tourists with campsites along the Tsolum River and reserves another 53 year-round sites on higher ground as low-income housing for people living in RVs and trailers.

The Lins charge $360 per month for a trailer/RV site that includes water and sewer hookups. Residents pay their own BC Hydro bills.

They get new requests to rent sites every day. They give priority to young families with children, then seniors on fixed income and then the unemployed.

“I feel bad, I don’t have more,” Lin said. “But it’s not just simple as a business, we live and work on site, because it’s easier in management. Financially, we just can’t afford to hire employee.”

Lin said whether she gets elected or not isn’t important because politics for her is “a learning journey.”

She believes her cultural difference from everyone else on council could help bring more civility to the meetings.

“Don’t vote yes or no on issues, but to support things. Talk and negotiate, find the best solution,” she says. “We have different views, but we can talk.”

She think the Comox Valley Regional District should follow that principle and talk more with 3L Developments over their proposed Stotan Falls project.

Saying “it’s a beautiful property,” Lin would have to know more about the technical aspects of the proposal to comment specifically. But she says “the CVRD shouldn’t just say yes or no.”

“Many people don’t like houses there, but they (3L) have the land, they have the right,” she said.

Lin takes a similar approach to the city’s traffic problems. Before another bridge gets built, the city must look at other ways to reduce congestion. She mentions widening Cliffe Avenue and other approaches to the bridge, and thinks cloverleafs or overpasses aren’t out of the question.

“(They would be) expensive, but if they solve problem, then we have to think about it,” she said.

Lin would also take a cautious approach to decisions relating the legalization of marijuana next month.

“People have a right to smoke, but people also have right to clean air,” she said, noting that Maple Pool has a zero tolerance to illegal drugs. “We have to protect all the people.”

She’s hoping the provincial pot regulations will guide the city, and she is looking to the BC Lodging Association to learn more about how to handle marijuana issues at Maple Pool. Although she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to smoke around children.

Lin wants to borrow good ideas from Japan and Taiwan on recycling.

In Taiwan, she says young children are taught about the need to protect the environment and how to recycle in the schools, starting in the early grades. She thinks more education is the long-term answer.

“For example, Comox and Cumberland can recycle food waste, but not Courtenay. Why?” she said.

Lin is currently president of the Comox Valley Multicultural and Immigrant Support society, which helps new immigrants adjust to Canada life and encourages them to share their own culture.

She would like Courtenay Council and city staff to be as welcoming to different ways of thinking about “the little things that affect daily life.”

Lin says if the city would communicate better, it would help reduce conflict and lead to better solutions.


Arzeena Hamir seeking diverse Area B seat on CVRD

Arzeena Hamir seeking diverse Area B seat on CVRD

Arzeena Hamir has experience in bringing together people with opposing views, a skill she would use to improve decision-making at the regional district level


Arzeena Hamir has decided to seek election as the Area B representative on the regional district because she can offer a fresh perspective on how the Comox Valley Regional District makes decisions.

Hamir would definitely bring a world view to local government.

Born in Tanzania, East Africa, she moved with her family to Richmond, BC in 1973. After finishing a BA degree in agriculture at the University of Guelph, Hamir served as a CUSO volunteer in Thailand, where she’s fluent in the language.

She then spent time in India doing field research for the Masters degree in sustainable agriculture that she earned from the University of London, England.

After concluding her studies, Hamir worked as an agrologist for West Coast Seeds, and as the food security coordinator for the Richmond Food Security Society creating community gardens and doing education workshops.

In 2012, she started her own farm, Amara Farms, in the Comox Valley, and helped form Merville Organics, a co-operative venture with four other area farmers.

FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates and a full list of who’s running for councils, regional district and school board, go to our Elections 2018 page

Over the last six years, Hamir has become increasingly concerned with how some local political decisions have been made and wants to use her skills in bringing people together to take a different approach.

“I see projects on the horizon that could impact the things that attracted me to the Comox Valley — land, water and community,” she told Decafnation. “I want to shine a light on them in a way that hasn’t been thought about.”

Hamir points to the proposed Agriplex for the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds (CVEG) as an example of a project — included in the CVEG Master Plan “in an underhanded way” — for which there is no proven need and will burden taxpayers forever.

“I see many needs in the Valley, this is not one of them,” she said. “We should channel that community energy and staff time and money into real needs.

“We’ve got bigger things to think about.”

One of those is building the Comox Valley into Vancouver Island’s primary food producer.

Right now, about 95 percent of food consumed on the Island comes from somewhere else. Hamir says that’s not a good long-term position.
“The Valley is blessed with lots of farmable land while other Island areas are losing theirs,” she said. “We should be ramping up production.”

The Cowichan Valley is drying up, she says, and farms have dramatically lost production. Saanich peninsula farms are losing ground to McMansions and mega cannabis growing operations, plus they have soil and water challenges.

“We don’t have those same development and climate pressures,” she said. “If the Comox Valley Regional District could support farmers, even just helping them share information and work cooperatively so they can continue to farm, this industry will be successful.”

Hamir recognizes the diversity of interests in Area B. Its boundaries include the Comox peninsula, Bates Beach, Lazo and Point Holmes and parts of Headquarters Road in the Tsolum regions.

“I don’t have all the answers,” she said. “But I have the experience and ability to bring people with opposing views together.”

She is a founder of the Mid-Island Farmers Institute, an organization of about 80 farmers formed to address common issues and share information. She also helped form the Comox Valley Food Security Roundtable for a similar purpose.

Hamir says she would build on those experiences to address issues at the regional district level, such as sewerage, land development and water.

“We have people on city water and wells, and we have boil water advisories and water bottling proposals, and our glaciers are shrinking,” she says. “I would bring people together to create better watershed plans.”

She wonders if climate change is being fully considered in regional decision-making.

“It worrisome to have sewer pipes in the foreshore and to allow building in flood plains,” she says. “I’m not afraid to tackle those issues.”

She opposes the 3L Developments proposal to build a subdivision at Stotan Falls because it contradicts the expressed wishes of the community represented in the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS).

“I don’t take changes to the RGS lightly,” she said. “We need more infill in our existing settlement nodes and urban cores before stressing the outer areas.”

Hamir would also like to see more incentives for Area B residents to recycle. Some households rely on private collectors, but recycling isn’t built into those contracts. She proposes a discount for only one garbage bin, more composting education and making recycling easier to do in the rural areas.