Cumberland mayor to shine light on bullying in local politics, nonprofits

Cumberland mayor to shine light on bullying in local politics, nonprofits

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird knows what it’s like to be bullied as an adult woman in the Comox Valley. She entered politics in the early 1990s, when the Village Council table was more the province of men than it is today. And she has sat on enough nonprofit boards to experience dictatorial board chairs and intimidating fellow board members.

So she knows that bullying in local politics and nonprofits has nothing to do with the #metoo era, social media or overreaching political correctness.

And the mayor is determined to shine a spotlight on the problem.

Baird has invited 80 local women, and some men, to a second workshop that will feature local citizens talking about their experiences with bullying in politics, nonprofits and business workplaces. More than 40 women attended her first workshop last spring.

“We’re broadening our perspective this time,” she told Decafnation. “And including a focus on nonprofits and other organizations, not just politics.”

Baird and her committee have assembled a panel that includes professionals to help define bullying, how to recognize it and what to do what it happens.

“One of the goals of this workshop is not just to learn how to defend yourself against bullying, but also how to recognize it when it’s happening to someone else,” she said.

The last time Baird was bullied herself occurred at a Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce meeting, and the perpetrator was a male elected official.

“No one stopped him,” she said. “His behavior changed the whole atmosphere for everyone, made us all uncomfortable. Very negative.”

Baird said people who don’t stop or call out bullying are accessories to the crime. So she hopes the workshop will help people recognize bullying and find the courage to step in when it’s appropriate.

“I know that would be easier for some people to do than others,” she said. “But I think you would feel good that you did something that needed to be done.”

Bullying in nonprofits

According to a 2014 University of Windsor study more than half of Canadians reported at least one act of workplace harassment every week for the previous six months. A 2014 Angus Reid survey found that 43 percent of women have been sexually harassed on the job. And a Great West Life study reported that 71 percent of Canadian employees report concern over their psychological safety at work.

And nonprofits are not immune.

The Canadian online resource for nonprofits, Charity Village, reports that 78 percent of workplace bullies outrank their targets. And that includes donors or board members who threaten or intimidate nonprofit employees.

Board bullying is common and, according to one article on Charity Village, may be “more prevalent in the nonprofit sector than in the business sector.”

Bullying on nonprofit boards comes in five main forms, according to Charity Village: internal board interactions (such as ostracism and peer pressure), board to staff, board self-dealing (such as pressure to deliver inappropriate favors or benefits), sexual harassment and enabling bullying among staff (such as failing to take action, or willful ignorance of bullying at the staff level).

Bullying in politics

Bullying in politics is not a new concept. Men have historically dominated public office and the pioneering women who dared to enter this domain have almost all experienced some form of bullying.

Baird says she has noticed that political culture is slowly evolving, but holding public office is still harder today for women than for men.

“Some men don’t realize they are doing it, because they’ve been doing it for so long,” she said. “If you’ve been bullied for years, it’s hard to get out of that situation.”

Baird said local politics is a prime hotbed for bullying.

“People think they have the right to say anything they want to, especially during election campaigns. It can be very hurtful,” she said.

As a mayor, Baird tries to avoid using her position in a way that intimidates other council members.

“Every councillor has the right to speak uninterrupted and to voice their opinion,” she said. “The mayor’s job is not to argue or criticize another councillor’s thoughts. We get a better product if we all listen to what other people are saying.”

There have been various and serious allegations of bullying against several different trustees on the Union Bay Improvement District for years.

Men also experience bullying, though perhaps not as frequently as women.

Former BC Liberal Party cabinet minister Bill Bennett called Premier Gordon Campbell a bully who was vocally abusive, sometimes reducing caucus members to tears.

“You have almost a battered wife syndrome inside our caucus today,” Bennett was quoted as saying at the time.

Positive outcomes

Bullying in politics or in nonprofits isn’t something that people feel comfortable talking about, according to Baird. Women, for example, just learn to deal with it.

So the Cumberland mayor hopes her workshop can break through that barrier.

“I want to make it (bullying) visible,” she said. “And when it does happen, not to sit back and allow it to continue, that people will stand up and stop it.”




Bullying happens when there is an imbalance of power; where someone purposely and repeatedly says or does hurtful things to someone else. Bullying can occur one on one or in a group(s) of people. There are many different forms of bullying:

Physical bullying (using your body or objects to cause harm): includes hitting, punching, kicking, spitting or breaking someone else’s belongings.
Verbal bullying (using words to hurt someone): includes name calling, put-downs, threats and teasing.
Social bullying (using your friends and relationships to hurt someone): includes spreading rumours, gossiping, excluding others from a group or making others look foolish or unintelligent. This form of bullying is most common among girls.

— Children who bully are 37% more likely than children who do not bully to commit criminal offences as adults. (Public Safety)

Cyberbullying involves the use of communication technologies such as the Internet, social networking sites, websites, email, text messaging and instant messaging to repeatedly intimidate or harass others.

Cyberbullying includes:

— Sending mean or threatening emails or text/instant messages.
— Posting embarrassing photos of someone online.
— Creating a website to make fun of others.
— Pretending to be someone by using their name.
— Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information and sending it to others.
— Cyberbullying affects victims in different ways than traditional bullying. It can follow a victim everywhere 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from school, to the mall and all the way into the comfort of their home – usually safe from traditional forms of bullying.

— Source, RCMP



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George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

CCAN YOU SPELL HYPOCRISY? — At last month’s Sewage Commission meeting, Comox Director Ken Grant took a swing at former Area B Director Rod Nichol.

Grant tried to persuade the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission to not allow the Area B rep to sit on the commission, and he used two arguments.

First, he said, the Local Government Act doesn’t allow representatives from non-participating electoral areas to sit on committees or commissions. He cited a couple of sections.

Second, he said when the commission allowed the previous Area B rep (Nichol) to sit at the table in a non-voting capacity during debate about a pump station in Croteau Beach, he (Nichol) made a lot of statements that weren’t true. Grant implied this created confusion and made it hard to make good decisions.

(We can agree that the previous sewage commission made many bad decisions about putting a pump station in Croteau Beach. It’s an idea the CVRD staff eventually, and wisely, abandoned.)

So fast forward to this month’s commission meeting where we learned that Grant himself had mislead his fellow directors with a statement that wasn’t true.

There is nothing in the Local Government Act that prohibits the regional district from including representatives of non-participating electoral areas to sit on any commission in either a non-voting or voting capacity.

And, of course, Nichol denies ever making false statements at any sewage commission meeting.

It’s interesting when an elected official states a belief to which his own behavior does not conform. And is unrepentant.


WHERE ARE THE BIKE RACKS? — That’s what some Decafnation readers asked this week after they noticed a couple bike racks had been removed from the Courtenay downtown area. A city that promotes cycling should provide ample facilities for parking the bicycles, don’t you think?


SCRAP THE STOPLIGHT! — When will the Town of Comox remove the unnecessary and traffic congesting stoplight at Rodello Street and Comox Avenue?

The stoplight originally provided safe passage across Comox Avenue for students walking to Comox Elementary, located behind the Port August Motel. That school has been closed for years.

When pedestrians press the ‘walk’ button now, cars sit and pile up on Comox Avenue for what feels like hours (slight exaggeration) after the pedestrian has crossed. Idling cars waste fossil fuels and pollute the atmosphere.

Why not replace the stoplight with the flashing light system used up the road at the Berwick pedestrian crossing? It works fine there.


CUMBERLAND COUNCIL IN THE LEAD — After spending a sunny spring Saturday at the Cumberland Wetlands Conference last weekend, Decafnation learned about two more ways that the Village Council is leading Comox Valley municipalities.

First, the Cumberland Council has made it a strategic priority to develop a village-wide ecological asset strategy. They are the first in the Valley to initiate such project on a broad scale. The village is currently looking for funding for the project.

Second, While all jurisdictions require Environmental Development Permits in specific areas — for example, steep slopes in the regional district, or around streams in the City of Courtenay — Cumberland requires them broadly, the most comprehensive in the Valley.

But Cumberland also goes a step further. In all municipalities, a developer can build closer to streams or wetlands by hiring a biologist to verify that by doing so would pose no danger to fish or rare birds, etc. Municipalities usually accept that finding, even though these biologists are hired and paid by the developer.

In Cumberland, however, the village hires their own biologist(s) to review the work submitted by the developer’s biologist. This peer-review keeps everyone honest and gives the Village Council greater certainty in its decision-making.

All Comox Valley jurisdictions should adopt this approach.


FINALLY, SOME FINE JOURNALISM — The National Post newspaper wrote an in-depth report about the release of the transcript of a conversation between two US Navy pilots flying with the Blue Angels, an American equivalent of our Snowbirds. The Navy pilots had drawn male genitalia in the sky.

You can read the report for yourself.

Just guessing here, but we probably won’t be seeing this from the Snowbirds above the Comox Peninsula.




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Mistrust still evident between residents, sewage commission

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Area B Director Arzeena Hamir at a tour of the treatment plant last fall  /  George Le Masurier photos

By George Le Masurier

This article has been updated

Plagued by the odours of sewage from Courtenay and Comox for 34 years, the residents of Curtis Road returned to the regional sewage commission this week hoping for resolutions to their concerns, which they say now include a threat to their drinking water wells and a visual blight on their neighborhood.

But the residents walked out en masse before the meeting concluded in “total and complete frustration.”

“I felt we needed to walk out when the commission members accepted CVRD staff recommendations despite knowing that many of our issues had not been addressed and without any really substantive discussion at all,” Curtis Road Residents Association spokesperson Jenny Steel told Decafnation.

“It’s agony to sit at a meeting when a commission member asks what will make Curtis Road happy, and not be allowed to answer,” she said. “We question how democracy is being served by the severe limits placed on communication at these meetings.”

The meeting highlighted a long history of conflict between Curtis Road residents and the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission, and the mistrust that still exists between them.

In its presentation this week, the residents made three requests to the commission: one, to adopt a measurable odour standard; two, to allow Area B representation on the sewage commission; and, three, to overhaul the commission’s 2014 odour complaint tracking system.

The commission made no decision on adopting an odour standard or allowing Area B representation. It did agree, though not through a formal vote, to update the commission’s website to accurately report the number of complaints it has received.

Liquid Waste and Water Manager Kris LaRose acknowledged that the commission’s website had “underplayed” the level of complaints about odour from sewage treatment plant. He promised to review all language on the site and update it.


What the commission did do

The commission did pass three staff recommendations in response to Curtis Road residents’ presentation at last month’s commission meeting.

— It will develop a landscape plan, in consultation with residents, to revegetate berms to be constructed around the new equalization basin. The commission expects them to solve the visual blight concerns and to help reduce odours.

But the commission took no action to address residents’ fear that the location of the EQ basin could affect their supply of drinking water from nearby shallow wells.

— It directed staff to work with residents to create a communications system to keep residents informed of operations at the sewage treatment plant that could impact odour levels.

— It will expedite an odour measurement survey previously scheduled for August to analyze whether previous odour controls measures had, in fact, achieved an 80 percent reduction in odours, and to update cost estimates for eliminating the remaining percentage, whether it is more or less than 20 percent.

In its 2016 plan to reduce odours, the commission stopped short of spending $3 million to cover the bioreactors, a process where bacteria work on sewage sludge before being cleansed through low-pressure micro-filtration membranes. The cost to do it now is estimated at up to $5 million.

Commission members discussed covering the bioreactors and there appeared to be majority support for doing it now if that would remove the last 20 percent of noxious odours.

But several directors wondered if previous attempts to reduce odours had actually achieved the predicted 80 percent reduction, or had fallen short, and whether covering the bioreactors would then achieve the desired 99.9% odour reduction.

In the end, commissioners voted to expedite the new odour study (although it will take six weeks to get it started) and to update the cost estimate of covering the bioreactors at the same time, which will speed up decision-making when the odour study results are known.

LaRose said if the commission decided this summer to move ahead on covering the bioreactors, the work could be completed by the end of 2020.

— It referred the issues of Area B representation on the commission to staff to prepare a report for the June meeting that would outline governance options.


EQ basin concerns

Curtis Road Residents Association spokesperson Jenny Steel said the group’s most urgent concern is that commissioners gave the EQ Basin project a green light.

“We are all extremely worried that any breach of the basin liner will result in pollution of our well water,” she said. Those who live on the peninsular know how brutal the winds are down here during those big storms, and trees fall frequently. We think it will be a disaster waiting to happen.”

Liquid Waste and Water Manager Kris LaRose said the EQ basis was first conceived in 2017 and is now urgently needed to mitigate the risk of sewage overflow next fall and winter.

When heavy rains begin in November, the volume of wastewater increases three-fold due to rainwater entering the system. And with increasing frequency and intensity of winter storms due to climate change, the problem is expected to worsen.

LaRose said the original site for the EQ basin, which Curtis Road residents prefer, was further away from Curtis Road, but that it would limit future plant expansion. Courtenay and Comox populations are growing, he said, and the plant will need to accommodate that growth.

But perhaps the overriding motivation for moving the EQ location was cost. Locating it at the northwest corner of the plant’s property, away from Curtis Road, would have cost $7.2 million. The new site, closer to Curtis Road, will be less expensive.

LaRose is currently leading the development of a master liquid waste management plan that includes a 50-year plan for plant expansion and upgrades in treatment levels. The plan will also realign sewage conveyance to the plant and envision resource recovery, such as reusing cleaned water for agricultural and other purposes.

Moving the EQ location would also be expensive.

LaRose reiterated that the EQ basin would only be used during a handful of extreme weather events during the winter, and would be cleaned after each use. He predicted the basin would not affect Curtis Road residents.

Curtis Road residents want the commission to move the basin and retire the tall emission stack to soften the visual stigma.


Next steps

Sewage Commission Chair David Frisch will accompany staff members to an informal meeting with Curtis Road residents. Area B Director Arzeena Hamir will be invited to attend.

An odour measurement study will begin as soon as possible and be completed by August. Staff will update the cost estimate for covering the bioreactors.

Staff will also prepare options for including Area B representation on the Sewage Commission for its June meeting.

But Jenny Steel hopes the commission will respond sooner.

“We had asked the commission to respond to us by May 16th – we will wait to see if and how they respond,” she said.









The units for odour measurement using dynamic olfactometry are “odour units” (OU) which are dimensionless and are effectively “dilutions to
threshold.”  — Western Australia Department of Environmental Protection


Several jurisdictions use a standard of 1 OU for odour emissions for sewage treatment plants, including the Province of Ontario and the City of Vancouver.

The new Capital Regional District has set 2 OUs as the standard for its new sewage treatment plant at the property line, which is about 300 meters from the nearest residences. But, the Curtis Road residents point out that all tanks at this plant will be covered from the start and that no residences exist between the plant and the ocean, which eliminate offshore breezes carrying odours through a neighborhood.


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Learn more about Salish Sea whales at Sarah Patton’s Denman Island lecture

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Photo courtesy of Ocean Wise

By George Le Masurier

Do you want to learn about the threats facing whales in our waters and what local citizens can do to help to protect them? Comox Valley Nature has invited Sarah Patton to present an illustrated talk, The Whales in Our Waters, at 2:00 pm Thursday, May 30 in the Denman Island Community Hall, 1196 Northwest Road, Denman Island. 

Patton is a Research Biologist with Ocean Wise’s Marine Mammal Research Program, and coordinator of its Southern Vancouver Island Cetacean Research Initiative (SVICRI).

Ocean Wise’s Marine Mammal Research Program has conducted conservation-oriented research on killer whales, belugas and other marine mammals since the mid-1980s. The program focuses on long-term studies of marine mammal populations in BC, and works across multiple science-based platforms to understand and mitigate the threats they face.

Patton’s experience in her field includes nearly 20 years working on marine research and conservation within governments in Canada, Australia and the USA, with several Canadian and international non-profits, and within academia. She holds a master’s degree in marine conservation biology from James Cook University in Australia, which she took as a Rotary International Academic Ambassador representing Eastern Canada. She also earned an undergraduate degree in marine biology from Dalhousie University, and a diploma in adult education.

In her spare time, Sarah is an avid outdoors woman and naturalist, and an active member of Maritime Search and Rescue Station #35 in Victoria.

Comox Valley Nature is a non-profit society affiliated with BC Nature, consisting only of unpaid volunteers. CVN fulfills its educational mandate by hosting monthly lectures, organizing free weekly guided hikes for members, and a free monthly walk open to the public. Comox Valley Nature also supports specialized groups (birding, botany, marine and shoreline, conservation, Garry Oak restoration, wetland restoration, photography and a Young Naturalists Club) which have separate monthly activities. Membership in BC Nature and Comox Valley Nature is $30 per adult or for a family.

Founded in 1966, it is one of the oldest environmental societies on the North Island. Meetings and lectures of the Comox Valley Naturalists Society are held on the third Sunday of most months at the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay. Meetings and guided walks are open to the public, including children and youth.

This lecture is free, although a $4 contribution from non-members would be appreciated. New memberships are always welcomed.

Anyone interested in this lecture or participating in CVNS activities can contact CVN at their website.  







Survival has become uncertain for the southern resident killer whale. For years, pressures on these awe-inspiring whales — icons of the Pacific coast, culturally significant to First Nations people and beloved by tourists — have been increasing. Today, only 74 wild southern resident killer whales remain, and the next few years will determine if the group can rebuild or go functionally extinct.

Scientific name: Orcinus orca
Status: Endangered
Adult Weight: Up to five tonnes
Diet: Chinook salmon
Population: 74 individuals
Location: Southeastern Alaska to central California. In spring and summer, they can be found off the coast of British Columbia in the Salish Sea.

— World Wildlife Fund Canada


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Detail from the conference poster

By George Le Masurier

In the Comox Valley, as in other places around the world, low-lying, water-saturated parcels of land have been the bane of builders, developers, farmers and other property owners. You can’t build on a swamp and you can’t farm in a marsh.

So, for generations, these soaking wet pieces of land have been drained, filled in and covered over. They have been transformed from spongy soil supporting immense biodiversity to dry and hardened sites so somebody, somewhere can make some money.

As a result, Comox Valley wetlands have slowly and steadily disappeared under the march toward urban development. Only three percent of the Valley’s primordial wetlands remain intact today.

On a provincial scale, three times as many wetlands as forests have been lost to urban development. From 1970 to 2015, we have lost 35 percent of the province’s wetlands.

MC and co-organizer Steve Morgan

These are disturbing trends because wetlands are such productive ecosystems. They support myriad species of wildlife, fight climate change by storing carbon, recharge our aquifers and act as natural water filters.

And, without them, our rivers — like the Puntledge and Tsolum — would more frequently overflow their banks causing flooding and erosion.

A recent weekend conference hosted by the Village of Cumberland added to the growing awareness of the importance of wetlands. Participants learned what wetlands are, why they are important and how they can be better protected.


Why are wetlands important?

Michele Jones, North Island College Instructor and senior biologist at Mimulus Biological Consultants, asked conference participants to think of all the uses for water in their lives, from bathing to drinking to creating hydro power. And then to consider the limited quantity of water available for those purposes.

While the planet is mostly water, 97 percent of it is salt water. Of the remaining three percent that is freshwater, a little more than two percent is frozen and two-thirds of the last one percent exists in the air as water vapor or in the ground.

Only 0.19 percent of the planet’s water is on the surface in wetlands, streams and rivers and available for all of those human uses.

Jones described wetlands as holes in a sponge. They hold and purify water until it migrates into water courses, such as streams, or infiltrate down into aquifers. She said wetlands slowly decompose organic matter without oxygen, thereby containing carbon dioxide rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. And they enrich streams with nutrients that keep fish habitats healthy.

Jones and other speakers noted that wetlands support more than 600 wildlife species, and that wetland loss has put more than a third of them at risk of extinction.

Dr. Loys Maingon, local naturalist and semi-retired biologist who represents BC on the Canadian Society for Environmental Biology, said the recent United Nations report that a million species now face extinction because of humans’ aggressive pursuit of economic growth must lead to “transformative change.”

Maingon cautioned that words like “sustainability” trick us into thinking current human activity can continue without catastrophic consequences.

“Watersheds don’t care about economic productivity,” Maingon said. “We’re living inside a wetland that is part of a rare ocean planet.”

Elke Wind, a Nanaimo area biologist who has built and restored more than 20 wetlands and an expert on amphibians, said the Comox Valley is a hotspot for observations of several species of Western Toads. But that up to 50 percent of them face extinction unless we “take a broad landscape-level approach to habitat management protection.”


How can wetlands be protected?

Neil Fletcher, the BC Wildlife Federation chair of its wetlands group, discussed some of the tools available to protect wetlands and advocated for a “cultural shift” from technical fixes to embracing natural science.

Fletcher highlighted the role of local governments in saving wetlands, and how smart development could co-exist with wetland preservation.

In response to a concern that local governments often permit development closer to riparian areas than the required 30 meters, if they hire consultants to say there’s no threat to fish, Fletcher said it comes down to political will.

Fletcher sid the BCWF supports buffers of 150 meters to 400 meters for riparian areas, because “ten to thirty meters in insufficient,”

“There’s nothing stopping a local government from enforcing the full riparian setback,” he said. “It’s just political will. That’s where your voice is so important.”

Steve Morgan, a Cumberland resident and a key organizer of the wetlands conference, reinforced the idea of public pressure and engagement.

“Our councils and staff are only as good as the people you put into office,” he said. “Be aware of what’s going on and who you’re electing.”

The conference concluded on a positive talk from Comox Valley Land Trust Executive Director Tim Ennis, who praised the recent trend toward placing monetary values on a municipal natural assets.

He said the money spent on municipal infrastructure is larger than any other available pool of funds, and it could make a huge difference if more of it was directed toward preservation and restoration of wetlands.

Organizer Morgan said that gives him hope for Comox Valley wetlands.

“The Comox Valley has a large number of concerned and active people who go out and do stuff,” Morgan said. “I’d put us up against any community for engaged people.”







Wetlands are submerged or permeated by water — either permanently or temporarily — and are characterized by plants adapted to saturated soil conditions. Wetlands include fresh and salt water marshes, wooded swamps, bogs, seasonally flooded forest, sloughs — any land area that can keep water long enough to let wetland plants and soils develop.

They are the only ecosystem designated for conservation by international convention. They have been recognized as particularly useful areas because:

— they absorb the impact of hydrologic events such as large waves or floods;
— they filter sediments and toxic substances;
— they supply food and essential habitat for many species of fish, shellfish, shorebirds, waterfowl, and fur-bearing mammals;
— they also provide products for food (wild rice, cranberries, fish, wildfowl), energy (peat, wood, charcoal), and building material (lumber)
— they are valuable recreational areas for activities such as hunting, fishing, and birdwatching.

— from Government of Canada


Bogs – peat-covered wetlands where due to poor drainage and the decay of plant material, the surface water is strongly acidic and low in nutrients. Although they are dominated by sphagnum mosses and shrubs, bogs may support trees.
Fens – also peat-covered wetlands, but influenced by a flow of ground-water. They tend to be basic as opposed to acidic and are more productive than a bog. Although fens are dominated by sedges they may also contain shrubs and trees.
Swamps – dominated by shrubs or trees and can be flooded seasonally or for long periods of time. Swamps are both nutrient rich and productive. Swamps can be peatlands or non-peatlands.
Shallow Open Water Ponds – These wetlands include potholes and ponds, as well as water along rivers and lakeshore areas. They are usually relatively small bodies of standing or flowing water commonly representing the stage between lakes and marshes.
Marshes – are periodically or permanently covered by standing or slowly moving water. Marshes are rich in nutrients and have emergent reeds, rushes, cattails and sedges. Water remains within the root zone of these plants for most of the growing season.

— from



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