The Week: North Island health care privatization marches on

The Week: North Island health care privatization marches on

What would Mr. Ed have to say about these things?  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: North Island health care privatization marches on

By George Le Masurier

Good Morning. Whether you woke up in one of the worst cities for business and dangerous for crime … supposedly (Courtenay), one of the worst for recognizing heritage (Comox, for sure) or the only community that has banned plastic bags (Cumberland), it’s looks like another great day to live in the Comox Valley.

But first, let’s praise the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board for finally standing up to Island Health’s steady march toward privatization of health care.

Stop health care privatization

Decafnation has documented the folly of public private partnerships (known as P3s) in health care by the problems that policy has caused at the Comox Valley Hospital. But Island Health loves to hand over essential health care services to private contractors, and this time they’re aiming at the North Island’s last remaining pathology laboratory.

Island Health wants to close down clinical pathology services at the Campbell River Hospital and outsource them to a private corporation in Victoria. Clinical pathology services at the Comox Valley Hospital will continue into next year, but only as part of an agreement when St. Joe’s Hospital closed. There is no guarantee Island Health won’t try to close them when the agreement terminates.

The real story goes back to the formation of the Victoria pathologists’ corporation (VICPCC). Prior to that, all Island Health pathologists were employees (a few may have incorporated as separate individuals).

Some Victoria-based pathologists own this corporation together, and many of the rest of the island pathologists (except Campbell River, for now) are partially or fully employed or contracted by the corporation.

Information about the corporation and details of its contract with Island Health are not readily available. A Campbell River reporter tried to get this information, but Island Health abruptly cancelled a scheduled interview and has stonewalled him ever since.

Our sources estimate that VICPCC’s contract with Island Health would probably be worth nearly $10 million per year.

It isn’t right that such a huge amount of public health care money is going to such an opaque entity that apparently decides where and how to deliver services to north Island residents.

When it comes to health care services, non-Victoria areas always seem to lose out in favour of centralization to the capital city. Island Health usually claims this provides “higher quality” services, but they never share any evidence to support that assertion.

Courtenay business woes?

The politically conservative Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses looked through some data at its Toronto headquarters and decided the City of Courtenay is bad for business.

No one visited Courtenay, talked to any business owners or elected officials or business organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce. They used data.

This is not unlike how Maclean’s magazine decided last year that Courtenay was one of the most dangerous places to live in Canada.

These data-based surveys are baloney. They’re designed as marketing devices to boost subscriptions or memberships in an organization. Naive local media pick them up because it’s a spoon-fed story.

People should stop reading them, writing about them and giving them any attention.

Heritage interference by AG?

Has there been some hanky-panky going on at the BC Attorney General’s office about the Mack Laing Trust?

When some Shakesides supporters started investigating a pathway to heritage designation that doesn’t require any input from the local government, apparently alarms bells went off at the BC Attorney General’s office. The AG has supported the town’s petition to demolish the house.

And that caused a high-ranking Heritage Branch official to say he could not give information to the local citizens because the AG’s office had allegedly told the branch not to discuss Mack Laing with anybody. In other words, a gag order.

This sounds clearly like a backdoor attempt to thwart a legitimate citizen initiative. Obviously, the AG doesn’t want Shakesides to get a heritage designation because that could help sink their leaky argument to tear the building down.

But how is it ethical for the Attorney General’s office, which is supposed to defend public trusts, to pressure another BC government branch into deny a citizen’s access to information?

Earth Day v. Plastic Bags

We’re celebrating Earth Day on April 22 this year, which would be a great time for Courtenay and Comox to announce that they are following Cumberland’s lead and ban single-use plastic bags.

 

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Three new sewage conveyance routes short-listed for study by joint advisory committee

Three new sewage conveyance routes short-listed for study by joint advisory committee

George Le Masurier photo

Three new sewage conveyance routes short-listed for study by joint advisory committee

By George Le Masurier

Less than a year after the Comox-Courtenay Sewer Commission abandoned its patchwork plan to prevent leakage from large pipes that run through the K’omoks estuary and along Point Holmes beaches, a new, comprehensive Liquid Waste Management Plan is emerging that considers climate change and moves the entire conveyance system onto an overland route.

Over the last six months, members of a joint Public and Technical Advisory Committee have developed a long list of new options for conveying sewage to the Brent Road treatment plant, as well as envisioning future demand for advanced levels of treatment and the ability to reuse the wastewater and other resources.

The committee narrowed those conveyance options down to a short-list of three at its March 22 meeting. They plan to present their preferred conveyance routes to the Sewer Commission in May or June, or after consultations conclude with the K’omoks First Nation.

All three options involve rerouting the sewerage system’s pipes overland. That means there will be no sewage-carrying pipes left in the estuary. The commission’s previous plan relied on aging pipes located in the estuary, along Comox Harbor and Point Holmes beaches.

And, unlike the previous sewage master plan, none of the short-listed options require a new high risk in-line pump station in the Croteau Beach neighborhood.

Opposition from Croteau residents was a major contributing factor in the development of the new Liquid Waste Management Plan. But they are pleased with the new plans.

“This process has been everything an open community process should be,” Lorraine Aitken, a Croteau Beach resident and committee alternate, told Decafnation. “It is a complete opposite experience from the last plan.”

Kris LaRose, senior manager of water and wastewater services for the Comox Valley Regional District, said the process is following guidelines mandated by the provincial government, which will ultimately review and approve the management plan.

Sewer route short list

The option known as “2A” would pump sewage directly from the Courtenay pump station over Comox Road hill, through Comox and along Lazo Road to the Brent Road treatment plant. This option will require a new pump station in the Town of Comox, within about 300 meters of the existing Jane Place pump station.

The 2A option mitigates the environmental and archaeological risks of having sewage pipes in the estuary and on the Comox peninsula foreshore. This overland route maximizes accessibility to all pipes and structures for maintenance. It involves two large pump stations and the upgrade of Courtenay and Jane Place facilities.

In an option known as “4A,” sewage from Courtenay would be pumped directly to the treatment plant via a northern overland route across the Courtenay flats, rising up and crossing McDonald Road and skirting the northern boundaries of the Town of Comox. Sewage from Comox would continue to pump directly from Jane Place to the treatment plant

The committee collapsed three separate plans for tunnelling under Comox Hill and Lazo Road into a single option on the short list. But all three will be studied separately.

One option proposes tunnelling under both Comox Road hill and Lazo Road hill, and the other two would tunnel under only Lazo Road hill.

The differences among the three tunnelling options revolve around how the Comox Jane Place pump station would tie into the main line and the degree of upgrades required for the Jane Place pumps.

Evaluating the options

All members of the Joint Technical and Public Advisory Committee contacted by Decafnation praised LaRose and facilitator Allison Habkirk, who also served as the committee chair, for creating a successful process.

Habkirk, a three-term mayor and councillor for Central Saanich, is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, and a registered town planner at her own firm.

The first three committee meetings focused exclusively on goals and the evaluation methodology through which the options were eventually viewed.

“It was a rigorous process with a strong consultation component,” LaRose said.

The group agreed on five metrics: social benefits, environment factors, technical considerations, affordability and economic benefits.

The technical and public members of the committee differed in the weighting to give each of the five metrics, but they compromised at 17 percent for social benefits, 18 percent for environmental, 45 percent on technical, 18 percent on affordability and two percent on economic benefits.

Paul Nash, of Sechelt, is assisting Habkirk and the committee as the management plan’s project coordinator. Nash was the project manager for Schelt’s innovative Water Recovery Center, and is currently consulting with the Village of Cumberland on the renovation of its wastewater treatment facility.

Walt Bayless, an engineer with the global company WSP, which recently acquired the Canadian firm, Opus International, is the consultant on the project.

Committee comments

The short-list of conveyance options going forward for further detailed study are the best possible options from the perspective of environmental protection, according to Tim Ennis, executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, who is representing the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership on the committee.

“Conveyance of raw sewage through and within the K’omoks estuary is inherently risky to the health of our marine environment both within the K’omoks estuary itself and to the greater Baynes Sound ecosystem,” Ennis told Decafnation. “While this route represents the current status quo, we are thrilled to see that it will not be included as an option going forward as the system is upgraded to meet future demand.”

Ennis said the Conservation Partnership has been pleased with the “transparent and inclusive democratic process associated with the LWMP.” He particularly noted the broad range of interests represented and the CVRD’s efforts to engage the general public.

“We feel that on the topic of conveyance, the CVRD’s LWMP process finds the right balance between cost-effectiveness, the avoidance of negative social impacts, and environmental protection,” he said.

Courtenay Councillor Will Cole-Hamilton, who represented the city on the LWMP advisory committee said he’s proud to be part of the planning.

“I have been truly impressed by this process,” Cole-Hamilton said. “It brings together such a large and diverse group of people – politicians, community members, KFN leaders, and sewage experts who’ve made this their life’s work.”

Croteau Beach resident Aitken praised the process for its organization and communications.

“They laid out the process at the beginning and they did exactly what they said they would do,” Aitken said. “It was so refreshing.”

Next steps

If the sewer commission approves the Technical and Public advisory committee’s short list of options, the WSP consultants will study each of them in-depth. Then the committee will review WSP’s findings and make a final recommendation to the sewer commission sometime this fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS A LIQUID WASTE MANAGEMENT PLAN?

The liquid waste management plan process is used by local governments in BC to develop strategies for managing sewer services. It includes the collection/review of existing information, development of options for future services, identification of a preferred option, completion of required studies and assessments and development of financial and implementation plans. The plan is ultimately submitted to the provincial government for review and consideration for approval.

Public engagement is key to the planning process. Public input will be collected online and through public events, which will be posted on this page. Residents of Courtenay and Comox are encouraged to weigh in with feedback, to help the CVRD develop a plan that works best for the community.

 

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Hear Jane Philpott interview on CBC radio

Hear Jane Philpott interview on CBC radio

FromWikipedia

Hear Jane Philpott interview on CBC radio

By George Le Masurier

Jane Philpott, who was expelled from the federal Liberal Paty caucus this week, along with Jody Wilson-Raybould, spoke about the affair on CBC Radio this Morning. Asked by Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current why she chose to sacrifice her political career over this issue, Philpott said this:

“I chose the truth. I chose to act on principles that are so important to the future of our country. That’s more important than my political career. I got into politics to improve people’s lives, to be the very best member of parliament for Markham-Stouffville that I could possibly be, to stand up for truth to represent what I heard from my constituents. If that means that — in some way — I’ve been taken out of opportunities that I had before, it makes me very sad. I loved the work that I was able to do, but I have to be able to speak to my children and my mother and my husband and say I did the right thing. And to my constituents and say I did the right thing.”

You can read excerpts and hear the full interview here.

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The Week: bizarre backstory; great news on sewage planning

The Week: bizarre backstory; great news on sewage planning

You can ride this wave in either direction  /  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: bizarre backstory; great news on sewage planning

By George Le Masurier

Good morning. Decafnation took a hiatus over the winter. Here are some of the news stories from this week and the last two-and-a-half-months that caught our returning eye.

Bizarre story about the regional water line break

If you get your water through the Comox Valley Water System, you’ve already gotten the bad news. Several holes in the concrete-encased main transmission line running under the Puntledge River means that for 11 days, starting April 12, you can’t use water for anything but drinking, food preparation and personal hygiene.

But the backstory about why it’s taking longer than normal to repair this leak, which has been spilling small amounts of chlorinated water into the Puntledge River since December, has taken a tragic and bizarre twist.

When Comox Valley Regional District staff found the leak, they began planning how to repair it. Fixing a leak in this most difficult section of the pipe to access requires special skills — including a scuba diver doing welding from inside the pipe — and a special valve, neither of which are readily available.

The custom valve was ordered from the Henry Pratt Co., a manufacturer of industrial valves located in Aurora, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. And that’s where the story turns tragic.

In mid-February, a recently-fired 15-year employee of the Pratt Co. walked into the building and started shooting his colleagues, killing five co-workers and wounding five police officers before being shot dead.

The subsequent closure of the plant during police investigations added to production delays caused by losing so many key employees and a necessary period of mourning and counseling.

The new valve is now in hand at the CVRD and the specialized workers have been scheduled. But this is a tricky repair, fraught with myriad things that could still go wrong. Stay tuned.

Not everybody is happy

Mayor Russ Arnott campaigned in last fall’s municipal election on the theme that “people are generally happy” in the Town of Comox. But that has proven not entirely true.

Residents of 17 units at the Mariner Apartments near the former St. Joseph’s hospital site were forced out of their homes by a burst in the town’s water line in January, making many homeless. And they weren’t happy about how the town failed to help them, although a benefit concert and silent auction held in Courtenay provided some relief.

Comox’s d’Esterre Gardens recently tried to evict a woman with cerebral palsy and chronic fatigue syndrome from the low-income seniors housing complex. But an unhappy Zoe Nagler fought back and she won an arbitration case that allows her to stay in the place where she’s lived for the past six years.

And now some council members aren’t happy with the way Arnott has handled council discussions about Mack Laing’s home, called Shakesides, and over disagreements on the implications of a March 6 vote to modify the Laing Trust.

It’s been a rough first five months for the new Comox mayor and council. So the town’s excellent plan to make it easier for Comox residents to add secondary suites and coach houses on their in-town properties comes at a good time.

This new bylaw will create urban density without adding expensive infrastructure, and can help people afford housing during a period of skyrocketing real estate values.

Not everyone is happy about the new housing bylaw, but it’s a good plan.

Good news about sewerage planning

On the advice of CVRD staff, the Courtenay-Comox Sewer Commission stepped back from its formerly ill-advised and patchwork plans last year. Under the direction of CVRD engineer Kris LaRose, legitimate public and technical advisory committees have been working with the WSP engineering consulting company from North Vancouver on a long-term, bigger scope reinvention of how to convey and treat the two municipalities sewage, and reuse it’s resources and byproducts.

The working groups have short-listed a number of options — including several that involve tunneling beneath Comox Road and Lazo Road — all of which would move the main sewage transmission pipes out of the K’omoks estuary. The short-list will be presented to the sewage commission this month.

It’s refreshing to see innovative thinking and 100-year planning where it didn’t exist in the past.

The strength of Jody Wilson-Raybould

It takes courage to speak truth to power. If you’re a woman, it takes even more courage. And if you’re an indigenous woman, it is even more courageous to take on the male-dominated power structure.

But the Comox Valley’s own Jody Wilson-Raybould has that courage. She has taken on the Ottawa-Quebec Liberal Party power base, and its long connections to the Trudeau family, over a fundamental issue of prosecutorial independence.

Anybody who has paid attention knows the story about the allegations of bribes and fraud used by SNC-Lavalin to obtain global engineering contracts. Instead of owning up to what is now obvious political interference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has chosen to launch personal attacks on his former Attorney General.

Was Wilson-Raybould really difficult to work with in caucus, or is Justin Trudeau just not comfortable with a strong woman who refuses to be bullied and bend to his will?

We think it’s the later.

 

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Council vote sends Mack Laing Trust issue back to court

Council vote sends Mack Laing Trust issue back to court

Shakesides

Council vote sends Mack Laing Trust issue back to court

By George Le Masurier

Comox Town Council voted 5-2 this week to continue designing a viewing platform to replace naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home, rejecting any other proposals for the property, as it prepares to head back to the BC Supreme Court.

The town has petitioned the court to alter the 37-year old trust left by one of the community’s pioneers, even though it has done nothing over nearly four decades to live up to the terms of the trust.

The recent vote at this week’s regular council meeting was on a motion by Councillor Ken Grant to proceed with one of three options presented to council by Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan.

The option referred to in Grant’s motion was to send comment sheets from the March 27 public workshop back to the designers of the viewing platform and to request a redesign. It was amended to include input from K’omoks First Nation and the Mack Laing Heritage Society.

The other two options were to approve the original concept and, lastly, to “consider a completely different proposal as decided by council.”

By rejecting the last option, Town Council has effectively abandoned any thoughts of saving Shakesides, and will eventually pursue its original petition to the court with a slightly different platform design.

Councillors Nicole Minions and Stephanie McGowan cast the only two votes opposing the motion.

“Councillor McGowan and I voted against moving forward with the platform as we want to explore options around Shakesides,” Minions told Decafnation via email after the meeting.

Councillor Alex Bissinger, who voted with the majority to approve the motion, said her understanding of the vote was “that it will be up to the AG (Attorney General’s office) to decide whether or not saving Shakesides is in the books.”

All three councillors — Minions, McGowan and Bissinger — voiced their frustration with the public workshop process, which they felt was unfairly manipulated in favor of a viewing platform. Mayor Russ Arnott did not present workshop participants with any option other than a viewing platform.

The Mack Laing Heritage Society wanted workshop participants to consider its proposal for saving Shakesides as a community volunteer project, but town staff, with the Arnott’s support, denied the MLHS workshop participation as well as a later request to host a table outside of the workshop meeting room.

The three councillors also refuted Arnott’s characterization of a March 6 council decision as affirming that saving Shakesides was no longer an option.

The three councillors said they did not vote at that meeting to demolish Shakesides, only that whether the house was saved or not, some details of the trust couldn’t be honored and needed court approval to forego them.

Arnott became combative as each councillor spoke in turn, often interrupting each speaker. He interrupted Councillor Minions often, once to admonish her for saying council voted on Feb. 6 to put the matter into abeyance for three months.

Arnott said the abeyance wasn’t for three months, rather for “up to three months.” Yet, he did not bother to correct CAO Kanigan’s report, which they were discussing at the time, that also stated “the three month abeyance ….”

Under normal codes of conduct, only one councillor or director of a municipal government has the floor at any one time, and other councillors or directors show respect by refraining from interrupting or calling out comments during that time.

Arnott appeared to be debating each of the three women as they voiced their concerns.

The day after the Town Council meeting, Arnott reached out via email to MLHS President Kris Nielsen to invite him or another representative of the society to participate in last-minute design changes to the platform.

Nielsen declined the offer because he said spending time on the design of a viewing platform was premature, referring to possible outcomes of the now inevitable Supreme Court trial that might deny the town’s petition.

“So for me to entertain some speculative designs/problems is just not in the cards,” Nielsen wrote to Arnott. “I could point out the image of the cart way out in front of the horse picture, but I will refrain from that.”

The town’s petition was first heard by a Supreme Court Justice last April.

A court ruling on the town’s petition could have been made nearly a year ago, but the three Supreme Court dates held so far have been consumed with attempts by the town to deny the MLHS an ability to present its evidence to the court.

The town eventually lost that battle and the upcoming trial will hear evidence from the town and the Attorney General’s office, as well as the Mack Laing Heritage Society.

 

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