Comox Valley to join global movement to start talking about the climate crisis

Comox Valley to join global movement to start talking about the climate crisis

Will Cole-Hamilton, a Courtenay city councillor and one of 20,000 Global Climate Leaders  |  Archive photo by George Le Masurier

George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

Scientists tell us that climate change is one of the biggest issues facing humanity but talking about it can be uncomfortable. North American statistics show that most people do not discuss the climate crisis.

This silence makes it hard to build momentum to solve the problem.

The Comox Valley Unitarian Fellowship will join The Climate Reality Project for 24 Hours of Reality: Climate Truth in Action, a day that is about mobilizing a worldwide conversation about the climate crisis and how we solve it on Nov. 20.

Climate Reality Leader volunteers from across the globe will lead presentations and conversations in countries around the world. The presentations will focus on the climate crisis, what it means for us in our everyday lives, and the solutions already in our hands.

Worldwide, more than 20,000 Climate Reality Leaders have been personally trained by Vice President Al Gore to give updated versions of the slideshow made famous in his book An Inconvenient Truth and the subsequent documentary by the same name.

Courtenay City Councillor, Will Cole-Hamilton, is one of those trained by Al Gore and ready to share this critical information with local citizens.

After his presentation, participants will have a chance to form small groups and have facilitated conversations. The purpose of the small group chats is to gain knowledge, build community and find inspiration to face this challenge together and share ideas for taking practical steps for individual and collective action.

Invite your neighbours and friends to talk about climate action. The event will take place from 7 to 9 pm on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at the Comox United Church Hall (250 Beach Drive).

Contact for more information.



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Patients, lab staff suffer from reduced pathology services at North Island hospitals

Patients, lab staff suffer from reduced pathology services at North Island hospitals

George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier
As goes your pathology, so goes your medicine” — Dr. William Osler, Canadian physician and co-founder of Johns Hopkins University


First in a series about medical laboratory services available on the North Island

If Island Health executives get their way, the new Comox Valley Hospital could lose all of its onsite clinical pathologist services sometime next year, a move that area doctors and elected officials believe will further diminish patient care on the North Island.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority has already sanctioned the transfer of clinical pathologist services from the Campbell River Hospital (CRH) laboratory to specialists at Royal Jubilee and Victoria General hospitals.

This has created longer wait times in Campbell River for results from urgent and emergent blood tests and cancer diagnoses, and it has added hours of extra work onto overburdened lab technologists and assistants, who were already stressed due to constant multiple staff vacancies.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reading the definitions in the right-hand sidebar will enable a better understanding of some technical aspects of this story.

According to the community group Citizens for Quality Health Care, the change has made the relationship between pathologists and lab techs “estranged and awkward.”

“Both pathologists and technologists are demoralized and traumatized in this demeaning situation created by VIHA, which has also made our lab unsustainable into the future with an ever-increasing population,” the group said in a presentation to the Campbell River City Council.

The transfer of work has also absorbed funding that could have been used to hire a third general pathologist in Campbell River, a position that Dr. Aref Tabarsi, one of the two current Campbell River general pathologists, believes is essential to the continued safe operation of the laboratory.

The experienced general pathologist team from the former St. Joseph’s General Hospital, now located at the new VIHA-managed hospital on Lerwick Road, have so far been immune to these changes. But when their contract expires next March, Bellamy fears that the Comox Valley Hospital will also lose its onsite clinical pathologist work to Victoria.

Dr. David Robertson, VIHA’s executive medical director for laboratory services, told the Campbell River City Council in July that these changes are part of the health authority’s long-term strategy to hire pathology specialists, rather than general pathologists, and centralize them in Victoria.



None of this has pleased the North Island medical community or local elected officials who expected fully functional laboratories when they committed taxpayers to fund about $267 million of the two hospital’s construction costs.

Multiple North Island organizations, groups and individuals have recently spoken in opposition to Island Health’s reorganization of the two hospital’s laboratories. Among them: the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District board, Campbell River City Council, 75 local doctors and dozens of lab technologists and lab assistants.

And they all agree on the need for a third pathologist in Campbell River.

After fighting for years with Island Health over a long list of issues — flawed planning, pay parking, a poorly designed helicopter pad, public-private partnerships, overcapacity issues and losing microbiology lab services before the new hospitals even opened in 2014 — some hospital board directors have had enough.

“We’re all getting sick and tired of fighting VIHA every step of the way,” Discovery Islands-Mainland Inlets director Jim Abram told Decafnation this week. “Why do citizens have to keep fighting a superfluous government agency?”

Echoing those sentiments, Oyster Bay Director Brenda Leigh believes North Island taxpayers have been short-changed.

Dr. Chris Bellamy

“It is very disturbing that Island Health is continuing to try to downsize the services we were promised when we put forward our 40 percent investment for the NI Hospitals,” she told Decafnation.

​But so far, that opposition has not persuaded Island Health to restore clinical pathology services to the North Island or to abandon its vision of consolidating clinical pathology into the purview of a group of specialists in Victoria.

How and why VIHA got to the point of eliminating such critical laboratory services in Campbell River and soon in the Comox Valley is complicated, but the net result is easy to understand, according to 30-year Comox Valley general pathologist Dr. Chris Bellamy.

“The public should recognize how integral a laboratory is to a hospital,” he told Decafnation. “If you don’t have a functional lab, you don’t have a proper acute care hospital.”



Island Health plans to consolidate clinical pathologist services so that each sub-area of the field — microbiology, chemistry and hematology — will be handled by a group of Victoria pathologists who have specialized in one of those areas. VIHA considers this as a better model than the current one, which relies on general pathologists in smaller community hospitals.

While all pathologists spend five years in training, general pathology specialists receive competency in all areas of the field. Clinical pathology specialists go deeper into a single area of the field, but do not achieve competency in the other areas.

That is why most hospitals in communities outside of the province’s metropolitan cities employ general pathologists, and have them working at their full scope of practice.

In a recent presentation to the regional hospital board, Robertson indicated that VIHA was headed toward a specialist-based model for clinical pathology on Vancouver Island that it claims will be more efficient and get better results.

General pathologists disagree.

“You don’t need a Phd in math to teach high school algebra,” Bellamy said.

He and Tabarsi say most of the work at community hospitals does not require a specialist. But they always have and will continue to consult with specialists in Victoria, Vancouver and elsewhere when they encounter difficult or rare cases.

“Why not build on what works and is already in place,” Bellamy said. “General pathologists are still viable in the Comox Valley and Campbell River. We’re not denying doctors or patients access to specialized care. I highly respect the professional opinions of the anatomical and clinical pathologists in Victoria. I’ll always reach out when it’s needed, but not always to the Victoria specialist. Sometimes to specialists at Vancouver General, the BC Cancer Agency or Children’s Hospital, whoever is the best qualified for the case.

“Why restrict pathologists from providing the best care available?”



In the early 2000s, a specialist microbiology pathologist from Alberta — who had been through a health care disaster in 1996 after 40 percent of the province’s clinical pathologists were laid off along with nearly 60 percent of lab technologists — came to VIHA with the idea that all microbiology on the Island could be handled in Victoria on a 24/7 basis.

In order to handle such a huge additional volume of specimens, the microbiologist proposed an expensive, automated robotic system located in Victoria. It was claimed the system would save money on staffing and that it could be operated remotely by microbiology technologists in hospitals outside Victoria, thereby retaining local microbiology expertise, infrastructure and jobs in hospitals outside Victoria.

The VIHA executive and Board of Directors bought into the concept and the technology — despite some misgivings from the microbiologists — but it never delivered as promised.

“The automated system and its promised benefits was a pipe dream. In fact, it had the reverse effect,” Bellamy said.

But the idea of consolidating areas of clinical pathology took root in Victoria.

VIHA eventually moved ahead with plans to consolidate all Vancouver Island medical microbiology services in Victoria, and it did so despite cautionary notes in a 2011 independent review of its proposal.



In 2006, Dr. Aref Tabarsi took a telephone call from a Victoria pathologist who demanded that some Campbell River work be sent to Victoria.

“I was told to send my bone marrow work (hematology) to Victoria or Victoria would demand to review all of my work,” Tabarsi told Decafnation. “So, what could I do? I ‘gave’ the work to Victoria.”

Soon after the transfer, Victoria hired an additional hematopathologist.

Dr. Aref Tabarsi

Later that same year, while Tabarsi was on vacation, a Victoria department head demanded the Campbell River laboratory send all of its outpatient blood work to Victoria. But Tabarsi was called, returned to the hospital and stepped in front of the courier truck and made the driver unload CR samples from the truck.

For nine years prior to 2013, Tabarsi oversaw the quality of Campbell River’s laboratory. In terms of physical work, oversight consisted of reviewing the technologist’s documentation that includes graphs showing the machines had been calibrated accurately and that test results coincided with the calibrations.

But in 2013, the division heads of clinical pathology in Victoria, who later incorporated themselves with a group called the Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consulting Corporation, assumed Tabarsi’s laboratory oversight responsibilities. They did it, he says, without any prior notice or consultation, and without giving him any recourse.

In practical terms that meant the Campbell River technologist’s quality control documents were sent to Victoria once a month for review and signatures.

“At the time, I wondered why — since all pathologists were on a fixed salary — Victoria wanted to take on this extra work,” Tabarsi said.

Some months later, VIHA negotiated new contracts for all of its pathologists based on a workload model. Under the new contracts, the more work a pathologist performed, the more they were paid.

“The mystery was solved,” Tabarsi said.

As a result, the funding of 0.4 full-time-equivalent work assigned to the oversight function of the total 0.7 FTE allocated for all clinical pathology work performed in the Campbell River lab was lost. That proved critical to preventing Campbell River from hiring a third pathologist, which Tabarsi says is necessary for the safe operation of the lab, Tabarsi said,

Pathologists get seven weeks of vacation a year, plus two weeks for professional education. That means more than a third of every year (18 weeks) there is only a single onsite pathologist on duty.

“It’s not safe,” Tabarsi said. “One pathologist doesn’t have a colleague to consult with, every malignant case has to be signed by two pathologists, and just the sheer volume of work can’t be done by one person in a clinically acceptable time frame. In addition, the chances of mistakes are higher.”



VIHA told Decafnation that it works within the network of laboratories across Vancouver Island that form the Island-wide Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

“Our network of laboratories includes 13 acute laboratory testing sites each with a collection station and 25 standalone collection stations. We also contract with a number of publicly funded laboratory physicians groups, including the pathologists at both North Island Hospital campuses, on a contracted basis to create an integrated model of service delivery.

“Like other trends in health care, changing technology, increasing complexity, and recruitment challenges all impact the delivery of care. Island Health is closely following these trends, including taking advantage of technological improvements to provide equitable access to specialized pathology care for all of our communities, including those on the North Island,” the VIHA statement said.



After stripping the Campbell River lab of its clinical pathologist’s work this year, VIHA still appears uncertain about how to move forward.

Some history:

In 2017, the three Comox Valley general pathologists, Dr. Chris Bellamy, Dr. Wayne Donn and Dr. S. Giobbie, started echoing Tabarsi’s concerns, and it appeared that VIHA was listening. Because on Feb. 26, 2018, the health authority issued a memo that under new two-year contracts all clinical pathology work would go back to Campbell River and the Comox Valley.

“I relaxed. VIHA was saying Comox Valley and Campbell River would have a larger voice. The new Island Health CEO (Kathy MacNeill) was doing things right,” Tabarsi said.

However, less than a year later, on Jan. 3, 2019, VIHA extended the current pathologists’ contracts for an additional year, into 2020. That meant Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consulting Corporation’s contract for North Island clinical pathology work could not be terminated, and nothing would change.

Then, on March 27 of this year, Robertson notified Campbell River pathologists to stop doing all clinical pathology on April 1. He said that work would now be done by the doctors in the Vancouver Island Clinical Pathologists Consulting Corporation located in Victoria.

Yet, just this week, the Island Health media relations department sent a statement to Decafnation that said, in part, “Island Health has made no decision on the future of clinical pathology consultation services for communities in Campbell River or the Comox Valley.”

Next: How centralization of clinical pathology has exacerbated staffing shortages and increased workloads, and what’s at stake for patients.











VIHA is the acronym for the Vancouver Island Health Authority, sometimes also referred to as Island Health

Anatomical pathology deals with tissue biopsies, such as biopsies from breast, colon, skin and liver.

Clinical pathology deals with body fluid such as blood, urine and spinal fluid, and includes three areas of specialization:

Hematopathology assesses the blood for diseases related directly to blood, such as anemia, blood transfusion issues and leukemia.

Chemistry deals with measuring and interpreting levels of particles and substances such as hormones, cholesterol, sugar and electrolytes in the body fluid.

Microbiology deals with the identification of the infectious organisms.

General pathologists are medical specialists who study an additional five years in all areas of pathology.

Clinical pathologists are medical specialists who study the same additional five years but in only one of the areas of specialization.

Medical Laboratory Assistants (MLA’s) are employees who greet patients, draw blood, prepare specimens for technologists, and perform the shipping and receiving of samples

Medical Laboratory Technologists (MLT’s) are employees who spend the majority of their time analyzing and reporting the sample results on blood, urine, swabs, body fluids etc. They also prepare specimens for pathologists. At very small sites, they also perform MLA duties as part of their job



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Maude Barlow: leading Canadian activist for the public’s right to water

Maude Barlow: leading Canadian activist for the public’s right to water

Maude Barlow  |  George Le Masurier photos

George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

Maude Barlow’s presentation today at the K’omoks Band Hall is not just another stop on the tour to promote her new book, Whose Water Is It, Anyway? The co-founder of the Council of Canadians and the Blue Planet Project is on a mission to sound the alarm about a global water crisis.

Water crisis? That’s hard to believe on the soggy west coast, but it’s true.

Barlow has devoted the last decade, and most of her 19 books, to dispelling the Canadian myth that we have an abundance of water. And she has worked worldwide to convince governments and the public to recognize the human right to clean water, to keep drinking water and wastewater systems under public control and to stop using bottled water.

“We think it will always be here,” she said. “We are blessed with water in Canada, but that doesn’t mean we can be careless with it.”

“The water crisis is a few years behind the climate crisis in people’s minds,” she told Decafnation in an interview at the Union Bay home of Alice de Wolff, a member of the Council of Canadians board.

But it is real. Consider that a United Nations science panel estimates that by 2030 the global demand for water will exceed supply by 40 percent. They predict water crises will affect seven billion people by 2050, when world population hits 10 billion.

Maude Barlow and Alice de Wolff in Union Bay

Many African countries already have a water crisis. River systems are polluted beyond human use in India. Adequate water supply is rare in the Middle East. Droughts are now common in Brazil, which has never had them until recently, and more frequent in California and on Vancouver Island.

Canada may have 6.5 percent of the world’s available fresh water, but we’re treating it poorly.

“We don’t have good legislation for groundwater protection,” she said. “We pollute it with chemicals from stormwater and factory agricultural runoff, we divert it, over-extract it and we don’t have strong national standards for drinking water or wastewater treatment.”


Keeping water public

Barlow’s message is particularly relevant in the Comox Valley after public protests defeated an application to extract groundwater for a water bottling operation in Merville.

The Merville Water Guardians, led by Bruce Gibbons, has now taken that fight to Victoria, pressing the BC government to stop licensing groundwater extraction for commercial water bottling or water exports from provincial aquifers. Last month, the Union of BC Municipalities passed the Water Guardians resolution.

Barlow predicts the battle for British Columbia’s will get more intense as water supplies diminish.

“In a world running out of water, you bet there’s going to be corporate interest,” she said.

Over the last 10 years, 83 percent of all Canadian bottled water exports came from BC, driven primarily by the Nestle company’s extraction operation near Hope that draws 255 million litres per year. There has recently been a 1,500 percent increase in exports to the US.

Two years ago, Agriculture Canada started promoting a water crisis in China as an opportunity for the Canadian bottled water industry. A fact Barlow thinks is curious given the Trudeau government’s promise to ban plastics by 2021.

Whistler Water in Burnaby extracts groundwater to produce 43,000 bottles per hour. The company was sold in 2016 to new Chinese investors who have expanded production to serve growing markets in China and California.

And new applications for groundwater extraction have recently been filed with the BC government for operations in Golden and Canal Flats.

Although many municipalities — including the Comox Valley — have passed bylaws prohibiting groundwater extraction for bottling, Barlow worries about which jurisdiction will have ultimate control if the province persists.

A significant Canadian water bottling expansion would add billions more plastic into the world, most of which will not be recycled, adding to the million bottles of water sold every minute around the world.


What are Blue communities?

Barlow initiated the Blue Communities Program in 2009 through the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees to protect water and promote it as a public trust.

On July 28, 2010, Barlow earliest efforts achieved a major victory to have water recognize water as a human right by the United Nations.

It was a bittersweet victory, however, because Canada abstained from the vote. Prime Minister Stephen Harper had led the fight against it the UN resolution, because he was promoting public-private partnerships as the owners of water and wastewater systems. Harper was also encouraged private groundwater extraction.

Barlow believes water protection cannot be left to the federal government. She has focused her efforts on more local levels.

“We have a strong obligation to keep water in democractic hands,” she said.

To become a Blue Community requires that a city or town pledge to uphold three principles:

First, to recognize water and sanitation as human rights. Second, to ban or phase out the sale of bottled water in municipal facilities and at municipal events. And, third, to promote publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services.

She imagined program as a Canadian initiative and never dreamed it would go global.

But when she was in Bern, Switzerland to protest Nestle’s abuse of water around the world, she had the opportunity to speak with the city’s mayor. Bern soon became the first Blue city outside of Canada, followed by the University of Bern, and the Reform Church.

Now Berlin, Barcelona, Munich, Madrid and Paris are also Blue cities. Brussels and Amsterdam will join soon.

And the program is not just for cities. The World Council of Churches recently took the Blue pledge. McGill is the first university in Canada to go Blue. A high school in Quebec and an elementary school (where her granddaughters go) have also taken the pledge.

In the Comox Valley, both Cumberland and Comox signed on to the program in 2012.

Burnaby was the first city in Canada to join, and Montreal is the largest.


Barlow’s new book

Whose Water Is It, Anyway? Is Barlow’s latest book about water. And it takes a different approach than her earlier works that focused on defining the global water problem. In it, she moves from misuse of water around the world, to the success stories of the Blue Communities program.

It’s more of a handbook to show people what they can do as groups or individuals to lessen the coming water crisis. It includes templates of letters to send to governments and corporations.

In a way, it’s the story of Barlow’s evolution to understanding water.

“I’m a practical activist. I have a big dream, but I’m rooted in a practical way to get there,” she said. “Plus, I offer hope. The book is not apocalyptic. I don’t want people to feel helpless.”









There is nothing more important than clean water. We need it for drinking, sanitation and household uses. Communities need water for economic, social, cultural and spiritual purposes.

Yet water services and water resources are under growing pressure. Communities everywhere – including in Canada – are experiencing extreme weather, including record levels of drought, intense rain and flooding. At the same time, privatization, the bottling of water, and industrial projects are threatening our water services and sources. The former Harper government’s gutting of environmental legislation has left a legacy of unprotected water sources. Provincial water laws often promote “business as usual” and do not go far enough to protect communities’ drinking water.

It is now more important than ever for all of us to take steps to protect water sources and services. By making your community a Blue Community, you can do your part to ensure clean, safe water sources and reliable public services for generations to come.

A growing global movement is taking action to protect water as a commons and a public trust. A commons is a cultural and natural resource – like air or water – that is vital to our survival and must be accessible to all members of a community. These resources are not owned privately, but are held collectively to be shared, carefully managed and enjoyed by all. They are a public trust. Recognizing water as a public trust will require governments to protect water for a community’s reasonable use, and for future generations. Under the Public Trust Doctrine, community rights and the public interest take priority over private water use. Water could not be controlled or owned by private interests for private gain.

— From the Blue Communities page on the Council of Canadians website



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Was there corruption in the Courtenay-Alberni Green Party nomination process?

Was there corruption in the Courtenay-Alberni Green Party nomination process?

Selfie taken by Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May, left, and Mandolyn Jonasson having fun at a women’s conference in Vancouver

George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

Questions of impropriety at the Green Party of Canada’s nomination meeting in June erupted this week when one of the candidates went public with allegations that the vote was corrupted.

In a post to the Comox Valley Politics Facebook page, Mandolyn Jonasson, who had sought the party’s nomination, said the Greens’ nomination process was tainted and because of that party Leader Elizabeth May personally recommended a re-vote.

Jonasson, a Qualicum Beach business owner who was solicited by the party to seek the nomination told Decafnation on Saturday that at least two confirmed party members received double ballots in their voting envelopes at the nomination meeting, which was held during the Courtenay-Alberni riding’s annual general meeting on June 15.

She says organizers did not announce an exact vote count in contravention of party procedures nor did they keep any record of results. That has made it impossible to verify that the number of counted ballots equalled the number of members at the party’s Annual General Meeting, or the margin of victory.

The ballot box wasn’t continually monitored throughout the voting process, nor did candidates have representatives present during the count, according to Jonasson.

Jonasson was told she lost the nomination to Wood by just four votes.

But it wasn’t the mistakes made during the nomination voting that concern Jonasson the most.

“Mistakes can happen. It’s how you rectify and handle them afterwards,” she told Decafnation. “It’s the fact that they (GPC officials) were complicit in acknowledging the mistakes and then suppressing it and trying to suppress me or anyone else in the party.”

When Jonasson tried to appeal the nomination results, she and others were advised by officials of the party’s electoral district association (EDA) to direct her appeal to Liberty Bradshaw, local EDA president.

But she later received notice from the GPC national office saying the EDA officials were confused about the appeal protocol and that she would have to appeal through the Green Party’s own ombudsperson, which she did.

The Green Party’s national Executive Director Emily McMillan told Decafnation that Jonasson’s appeal was rejected because “it was not brought to our attention within the time frame (72 hours) or to the right people (Green Party ombuds).”

“These were inexperienced volunteers (at the EDA nomination meeting), McMillan told Decafnation in a telephone interview. “Doing the best they could.”

In a follow-up email, McMillan said the party determined that minor errors in the conduct of the meeting did not invalidate or have any conclusive impact on the outcome of the vote, and that Sean Wood is the properly nominated GPC candidate for Courtenay—Alberni.

“Ms. Jonasson was provided with a detailed report to this effect. This was done despite the fact that Ms. Jonasson’s complaint itself was technically invalid as it was submitted six weeks following the nomination meeting — well outside of the 72 hour window allowed for appeals. Ms. Jonasson was unable to justify this delay,” McMillan said.

But the party did an investigation anyway. A report of that investigation from Federal Green Party President Jean-Luc Cooke has not been released to the public. Jonasson has a copy but is bound by a non-disclosure agreement to maintain its confidentiality.

GPC official Rosie Emery initially told Decafnation that Jonasson had no non-disclosure agreement. But Christina Winter, campaign advisor for Wood, indicated there was an NDA.

Jonasson maintains that Elizabeth May told her in person during an Equal Voice conference in Vancouver that she recommended a revote in the Courtenay-Alberni riding and that Wood should step down. But the party leader also said she couldn’t interfere because the GPC is a bottom-up, not a top-down organization.

Wood has not responded to several attempts for comment on this story.

An email sent by Kate Storey on July 25 to all members of the party’s electoral district association, including Don Munroe who resigned over the nomination irregularities, and Sean Wood, urged the candidate to step down.

“I can’t tell the EDA what to do … but, in my opinion, if the candidate wants to improve his public image and get the support of the whole EDA behind him, then he might want to step down and ask for a new nomination meeting. It would clear away the uncertainty and would help his campaign,” Storey said.

Cumberland Councillor Vicky Brown, who attended the meeting, recalls that after members voted, the ballot box was taken into a room, but that there was no call for scrutineers.

“I thought the vote was handled very loosely, not secure at all. There could have easily been several people with double (or more) ballots in their envelopes,” Brown told Decafnation. “Because there were no numbers given, and I don’t know if anyone counted the total voters in the room, it’s difficult to know whether the vote count was accurate.”

Brown was one of many who emailed the EDA afterward to ask these questions and received no response.

“Because of this, the nomination process was suspect to me and I was left with an uneasy feeling about the whole thing,” Brown said. “I’m disappointed that the riding association couldn’t find a way to resolve this in a transparent way.”

At one point, on July 20, Jonasson received notice from the Courtenay-Alberni EDA that there would be a revote and an official went so far as to ask if she’d be willing to run a second time. But that was never brought up again, Jonasson said.

Jonasson, who still supports Green Party policies, said her reason for going public now was not personal, but because she cares about democracy.

“I’m not going to be bullied,” she said. “I know I’m martyring myself, they’re going to try and discredit me. But there’s a lot of people who saw this and know about it but don’t want to put themselves on the line.”








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Did the Comox Town Council pay their CAO $350,000 just to go away? Why?

Did the Comox Town Council pay their CAO $350,000 just to go away? Why?

Winter is coming  |  George Le Masurier photo

George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here.’ Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.”
— Author Margaret Atwood, quoted in The Daily Telegraph (U.K.)


The firing of Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan is just one part of the turmoil surrounding the Town of Comox. And it might not even be the town’s most expensive headache.

Unhappy public works employees, false allegations carelessly publicized, two expensive Supreme Court lawsuits, a road project that won’t end and a fired CAO walking away with a pile of cash.

Comox Town Council must have been desperate to get rid of their long-time CAO. According to a reliable source within town hall, councillors gave him a whopping severance package totalling $350,000.

Council members aren’t talking about why or how much, and definitive confirmation of the amount won’t come until at least the town releases its 2019 financial statements. But our source is somebody who would know.

The provincial Public Sector Employers Act generously caps severance pay at 18 months after five years of service. That only applies to executives in health authorities, K-12 and post-secondary education institutions and Crown corporations. It doesn’t apply to municipalities. Small towns like Comox should be much further down the pay-out scale.

But even on that basis, Kanigan’s 2018 salary of $140,028, plus $8,056 in expenses, would have put his golden parachute around $210,000.

So what was the extra $140,000 for?

Did Kanigan have some good buddies in high places who approved a sweet deal in his contract? Did counmcil just want him gone in a hurry and they didn’t have a strong enough case to warrant or withstand a protracted wrongful dismissal suit? Did they pay him extra so some dirty laundry didn’t get hung out publicly? We don’t know.

One thing we do know is that Kanigan’s firing had nothing to do with the fake allegations that the town’s public works employees were harassing Highland High School students. That story should have never been splashed across the front page of the local newspaper. It was an anonymous letter and the paper did no investigation that corroborated any of the allegations.

It was probably written by someone with a motive to cast nefarious suspicions on public works employees, and it wasn’t worth the space or time spent on it.

That said, there have been personnel problems in the town’s public works department that may yet end in the courts. And the basic road reconstruction of Noel Avenue has taken way too long — so far, all summer and most of the fall. It continues to disrupt a private school and a residential neighborhood.

Somebody seriously miscalculated something.

Kanigan’s departure also creates some problems for the town. Foremost, it makes the town’s petition to the BC Supreme Court to alter Mack Laing’s trust agreement quite a bit more tenuous. The town wants to tear down Laing’s iconic home, called Shakesides, and spend the famous naturalist’s money on other things.

But only two people have submitted affidavits to the court defending the town against the mountain of evidence compiled by the Mack Laing Heritage Society: Richard Kanigan and former finance direct Don Jacquest. And guess what? Neither of them are still employed by the town.

That alone might not be fatal to the case. But what if the BC Attorney General’s office suddenly realized that among the hundreds of pages of documents submitted by the Mack Laing Society there was evidence of questionable handling of procedure and critical information? And what if that also happens to be something similar to the reasons council fired their CAO and paid him a king’s ransom to keep whatever it is a secret?

Last spring, the Attorney General requested a hiatus in the Mack Laing court case. That delay has now turned into five months and counting.

What makes that so odd was Comox Mayor Russ Arnott’s anxiousness to settle the matter. He railroaded a quasi public hearing last March to rubber-stamp the town’s plan, although he forgot to consult with the K’omoks First Nation. And then the mayor was in such a rush to get back into the courtroom that he didn’t even want to finish the 90-day abeyance agreed to by council.

Yet, here we are eight months later, going on nine, and no court dates are scheduled. No negotiations are taking place. Nothing. It’s dead air.

Except, of course, there’s the matter of the huge legal bill the town rang up trying — and failing — to keep the Mack Laing Heritage Society evidence out of the Supreme Court’s hands. That bill could be getting close to what Kanigan’s golden parachute should have been.

And then there’s the matter of the $250,000 lawsuit over the town polluting Golf Creek and failing to take corrective measures in how its deals with stormwater, despite repeated recommendations from more than one consulting firm.

So, who knows what’s really going on? But it has begun to look like a more deeply rooted problem.



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