Survey shows Comox Valley’s economic development model the outlier on Vancouver Island

Survey shows Comox Valley’s economic development model the outlier on Vancouver Island

Photo Caption

George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

Among Vancouver Island communities, only the Comox Valley continues to use a 1980s model for delivering economic development and destination marketing; an organizational structure that other municipalities and regions have abandoned.

And that model may be at the root of local dissatisfaction with the Comox Valley Economic Development Society.

Businesses and organizations representing multiple sectors of the community have expressed a variety of concerns and skepticism about CVEDS. Those concerns appear to stem in part from the lack of accountability built into its structure, which a 2014 performance review suggested could incubate an operational philosophy that leads to low levels of trust and credibility.

This is not an uncommon problem for governments with arms-length organizations governed by boards that have no direct public accountability. It is one reason why, in recent years, Nanaimo and Campbell River have folded economic development commissions with models similar to CVEDS.

Voting in 2017 to disband Rivercorp, Campbell River’s equivalent to CVEDS, Councillor Charlie Cornfield said it was time “to turn the page.”

“As disappointed as I am to see the model that myself and council had supported and encouraged — it didn’t work the way we had intended,” Cornfield told a Campbell River newspaper at the time.

Other communities clearly agree. A Decafnation survey of Vancouver Island and nearby coastal regions found that only the Comox Valley still operates an arms-length economic development function.

Municipal staff handle economic development in Powell River, Campbell River, Parksville and Qualicum, Port Alberni, Nanaimo and Cumberland.

Even the Cowichan Valley Regional District handles economic development “in-house” for a large geographic area that includes several different jurisdictions, including Duncan, Chemanius, North Cowichan and Ladysmith.

The Comox Valley is also the only community to still combine economic development with visitor center management and destination marketing. Other municipalities have either contracted out tourism marketing or rely on community member-based organizations, such as Chambers of Commerce.

“Combining economic development and tourism? Nobody saw that as a good model,” Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog told Decafnation.

Symptomatic of CVEDS problems, the Village of Cumberland, Denman Island and Hornby Island have all withdrawn from the regional economic development function. And there is speculation that one or two electoral areas are considering the value of their continued participation in advance of next year’s first quarter contract negotiations.

CVEDS’ five-year contract with the Comox Valley Regional District expires on March 31, 2020.

“If people are dropping out of something that indicates poor leadership or a structure that isn’t going to succeed,” Krog said.

 

Case study: Nanaimo

Prior to 2011, the City of Nanaimo handled economic development in-house with designated municipal staff. Eight years ago, then mayor John Ruttan spearheaded formation of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, an arms-length entity similar to CVEDS that also had tourism marketing responsibilities.

But just five years later, new mayor Bill McKay and council pulled destination marketing responsibilities from the NEDC. That triggered a public rant by then EDC executive John Hankins for which he was fired from his $130,000 a year job.

McKay and Nanaimo Council then decided in December 2016 to take economic development back in-house and fold the corporation.

Now, the city has taken the first steps toward creating a new hybrid model for economic development that new Mayor Leonard Krog believes will enhance Nanaimo’s prosperity through the ups and downs of the economic cycle.

“There’s no question our city in-house staff needs some capacity,” Krog told Decafnation. “”Nanaimo is in a unique position as a port city, with a university and a regional hospital, and our location — there’s more population north of the Malahat than south of it — so economic development warrants more investment.”

In August, Nanaimo City Council endorsed the recommendations of a report by Neilson Strategies to create a hybrid model with many of the organizational details being determined by a broad-based community task force.

If it’s ultimately adopted, the new Nanaimo structure would expand the existing in-house economic development department, with this initial scope of services:

  • develop the city’s economic development strategy
  •  produce related economic reports
  • assist businesses in navigating city departments and provide information
  • manage the city’s contract with Tourism Vancouver Island for destination marketing, and any other related contracts with external agencies
  • provide input to city departments to facilitate economic activity

The new plan would also create a new arms-length Nanaimo Prosperity Agency, whose initial scope would include:

  • implementation of the economic development strategy
  • coordinate with organizations with a stake in economic development
  • develop a Nanaimo brand and attract new businesses

The city is also creating a temporary Economic Development Task Force drawn from community leaders that will investigate and review ownership, funding, governance and staffing options for the Nanaimo Prosperity Agency and recommend a final operating model to the City Council.

The task force will also play a role with in-house staff in developing the economic development strategy, including hiring the consulting firm to complete the strategy and endorsing the final draft for council adoption.

The city has already signed a contract with Tourism Vancouver Island for destination marketing services valued at about $650,000 in the first year.

 

Case study: Campbell River

Prior to 2017, the City of Campbell River funded an arms-length corporation governed by an independent board of directors, called Rivercorp, to provide economic development services. Similar to the Comox Valley Economic Development Society, Rivercorp handled destination marketing and managed a visitor’s centre in addition to its economic activities.

But by April of 2011, Rivercorp was being widely criticized for a lack of measurable results. Public dissatisfaction had started to manifest itself at city council meetings, according to a report in a Campbell River newspaper.

Former councillor Ziggy Stewart said simply that Rivercorp wasn’t doing its job.

“I’ve been involved with Rivercorp for the last five budgets now, and just strictly from a business decision, the return on investment hasn’t been there,” Stewart said.

Former councillor Mary Storry said the community had lost faith in the organization.

“At this point we’re looking for performance and we haven’t seen the performance,” Storry said.

Then, at an all-candidates meeting during the 2014 municipal elections, both the outgoing mayor Walter Jakeway and Mayor-elect Andy Adams said Rivercorp wasn’t delivering enough economic growth. That sounded the death warrant for Rivercrop.

According to a news report, Jakeway called Rivercrop a “disaster” and said the “entire thing needed to be gotten rid of.”

Rose Klukas

So it wasn’t a surprise when Rivercorp’s chief executive, Vic Goodman, resigned after the 2014 elections. And it shocked no one in April of 2015 when Mayor Andy Adams and City Council announced their intention to fold Rivercrop and take economic development in-house.

“A thorough re-evaluation, in collaboration with the Rivercrop board, has helped us conclude that the best way forward is to bring the economic development role into city operations,” Adams said. “We are confident that combining the economic development function with community development work done in other city departments will result in a more efficient and coordinated effort.”

Campbell River hired Economic Development Officer Rose Klukas in May of 2016 to report directly to City Manager Deborah Sargent. Klukas previously held the same position in Kitimat.

Adams told Decafnation this week that Klukas’ office is next to his and Sargent’s as a visible indication of the importance placed on economic development.

“Prospective investors have access to the mayor and city manager,” he said. “Those connections create synergies and opportunities.”

Campbell River also separated out responsibilities for destination marketing and visitor centre management.

Campbell River Council hired the consulting firm, Chemistry Consulting, to study how other communities dealt with tourism and destination marketing. They found that Tourism Vancouver Island handles these roles for many Island communities.

But the city chose an unlikely company, Destination Think. It’s a global company with offices in places like Amsterdam and the Australian Gold Coast and works for big municipal Canadian clients like Banff Lake Louise, Calgary, Montreal and Stratford.

Destination Think also works with smaller BC communities such as Vernon, Langley and Richmond.

“We took a chance on them and it’s the best decision we ever made,” Adams said. “We’re tapped into their worldwide reach.”

The arrangement with Destination Think included the creation of Destination Campbell River to implement a five-year tourism plan, which was developed over six months with community consultation.

The city hired Kirsten Soder to head that effort with an assistant and seasonal staff to operate the Campbell River visitor’s centre. Soder was previously the executive director of Tourism Tofino.

An independent long-time organization, the Campbell River Tourism Promotion Society, agreed this year to wind down its operations and join forces with Destination Campbell River. Now all online enquiries get directed to a single website maintained by the city.

Campbell River contributes $250,000 annually from city coffers and the Destination CR group receives close to another $500,000 from the city’s hotel tax, officially known as the Municipal Regional and District tax. Destination Think leverages that up with provincial grants.

Mayor Adams told Decafnation that the city has finally aligned all its economic and tourism efforts and they’re pulling in the same direction. And there’s a financial bonus, too.

“The realignment is costing us less or at least the same as before,” he said. “And with the MRDT money we’re able to do even more.”

 

Case study: Cowichan Valley Regional District

Skeptics of taking Comox Valley economic development in-house have often cited the difficulty of satisfying all the staff and elected officials from three separate municipalities, a regional district and three electoral areas.

But the Cowichan Valley has done it for years.

The Cowichan Valley has always managed its economic development activities through an in-house regional district function, according to Barry O’Riordan, manager of Economic Development Cowichan.

And since 2016, the economic development office no longer handles any tourism or destination marketing responsibilities.

“In 2016, the Cowichan Valley Regional District contracted Tourism Cowichan Society to deliver the regional tourism services. The regional tourism requisition mandated by a CVRD bylaw is $120,000 and this is used to leverage additional support from Destination BC,” O’Riordan told Decafnation this week. “Additionally, Tourism Cowichan Society receives MRDT funds that flow through the CVRD and industry contributions in the form of membership dues to form their overall budget.”

Prior to 2016, regional tourism services were delivered through the EDC office, but that was found to be an inefficient model.

Cowichan regional visitor centres are now managed by the Chambers of Commerce in Duncan, Chemainus, Ladysmith and Lake Cowichan.

 

Case Study: Cumberland

As Decafnation has previously reported, the Village of Cumberland announced it would withdraw from Comox Valley Regional District’s economic development function during the summer of 2015.

Participation became an issue during the 2014 municipal elections when all candidates seeking Village Council positions supported a withdrawal.

The Village had taken part in the 2014 performance review of CVEDS by Urbanics Consultants and candidates said the resulting report and recommendations reinforced the community’s perspective that the service was unsatisfactory and was not serving the best interests of Cumberland.

Other Comox Valley elected officials opposed Cumberland’s withdrawal, and the village has been penalized for withdrawing after the CVRD awarded CVEDS with a five-year contract in March of 2015. It has paid about $40,000 per year to the service for the past three years to complete its financial obligation.

In 2018, the village hired Kaelin Chambers as its first economic development coordinator to implement a Cumberland-specific strategy. One of his top priorities is to attract new businesses to the Bevan Industrial Lands, which comprise roughly 84 percent of all available commercial property in the Comox Valley.

Because it currently has a small commercial base, the Village’s finances rely primarily on property taxes from the community’s 3,500 residents.

Chambers has already had success. He reported this month that Tree Island Yogurt plans to purchase 15 acres along Bevan Road from Comox Timber Limited to construct a 28,000-square-foot production facility. It will be about four times larger than the companies current facility in Royston.

 

What’s next

The CVEDS board must present its proposed five-year strategic plan to CVRD directors by Oct. 31. And a review of CVEDS contract fulfillment by consultants Explore Solutions is due by Dec. 31.

Nine of the 10 CVRD directors — Cumberland won’t have a vote — will then use those two documents to deliberate the future of economic development and tourism marketing in the Comox Valley. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CVEDS CONTRACT RENEWAL PROCESS

The five-year agreement with CVEDS differs from other CVRD contracts for services. Because the regional district created the nonprofit society through Bylaw 345, the agreement for economic development services is not open to competitive bids. There is no Request for Proposal issued and the CVRD does not consider proposals from any other individuals or companies.

On June 1, the CVRD provided a letter to CVEDS that it would enter into negotiations for a potential five-year renewal of the contract after it receives the society’s new strategic plan on Oct. 31 and following an independent contract performance review due by Dec. 31.

However, the letter did not commit the CVRD to a new agreement, according to Scott Smith, the regional district’s general manager of planning and development services branch.

But Smith also confirmed that the CVRD has no Plan B. There is no parallel process underway to investigate alternate models of providing economic development services should negotiations with CVEDS not result in a renewed contract.

 

QUOTES FROM URBANIC CONSULTANTS 2014 REVIEW

“We feel that there will always be a certain level of scepticism surrounding the value of CVEDS activities unless it can produce the metrics that taxpayers want.”

“We feel that an organization such as CVEDS (or any economic development organization) does require a certain level of social license in order to effectively carry out its job  … the unique political landscape of Comox Valley warrants an effort to earn, build and maintain social license within the community.”

“The majority of the criticism we have obseved has centered on a lack of communication and transparency.”

 

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Relationship issues still plague Economic Development Society in some Comox Valley sectors

Relationship issues still plague Economic Development Society in some Comox Valley sectors

Grierson Stage at the Vancouver Island Music Festival  /  Photo by Brent Reid, 20-year VIMF volunteer photographer

George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

Fourth in a series about the Comox Valley Economic Development Society

In 2014, the regional district commissioned an extensive performance review of the Comox Valley Economic Development Society. Among its central findings: the society needed to improve how it communicates with governments and the public and that it must rebuild relationships within the community.

The reviewers, Urbanic Consultants, emphasized those points among a total of 30 recommendations for improvement and then underscored their importance and urgency.

“CVEDS must address these matters forthwith if it expects to remain entrusted with delivering the economic development service function in the long run,” they said. “Otherwise, if no changes are evident, the public may begin to demand more drastic actions, including pressuring government to not renew the service delivery agreement,” Urbanic Consultants wrote.

But a Decafnation investigation has revealed that many issues still exist five years later. If relationships have improved, sources told us, it’s because they are resigned to working with CVEDS. They control most of the community’s marketing money, and elected officials “don’t want to open that can of worms.”

Our investigation encountered a litany of complaints from multiple community sectors, organizations and businesses, including:

The society is often slow to pay its bills, at least once not paying at all. It doesn’t always engage local partners in a collaborative manner. It often goes out of town for services available locally. It ignores important community sectors. It has promoted unwanted developments, showing themselves out of touch with community values. It has a reputation for being difficult to work with.

Some of those interviewed, who have operated businesses in the CV for a long period of time, said the society has “a lot of baggage,” and that some relationships with CVEDS were irreparably fractured because “the animosity is ingrained now.”

Area B Director Arzeena Hamir, who has a background in economic development for the agriculture sector, believes success comes from creating relationships and connecting people.

“It’s about building on what’s already here and helping it grow or making it better,” she told Decafnation. “To do that requires trust and strong relationships. If there’s no trust, if you’ve burned bridges, how can you do economic development effectively?”

 

Slow to pay

Several business owners and managers have had trouble collecting payment from the Economic Development Society. One key Comox Valley nonprofit organization says it never got paid at all.

Ronald St. Pierre, owner and BC Hall of Fame chef of Locals Restaurant, had a slow pay problem with CVEDS, which he says has been cleared up now.

David Rooper, general manager of The Old House Hotel and Spa, had the same problem, but to a larger degree, and now will only book blocks of rooms for the society on credit cards.

“Until there is different financial accounting that allows a shorter time frame for reimbursement, we cannot offer credit for CVEDS,” Rooper told Decafnation.

CVEDS Executive Director John Watson told Decafnation that he wasn’t aware of any slow pay problems. He said the timing of payments is simply a factor of how funding flows from governments.

But Rooper and others believe the society could better manage its financials because government and grant funding is scheduled and predictable.

 

Where did the money go?

Although the CVEDS performance review recommended rebuilding relationships with complementary organizations, in 2015 the society burned the Comox Valley’s single largest tourism event: Vancouver Island Music Fest.

CVEDS contracted Music Fest to hire musicians who would perform at various locations around Courtenay for the first-ever Winterfest, an invention of CVEDS to boost tourism during the winter months. The first year was a success, but from Music Fest’s perspective, year two turned into a disaster.

Executive Producer and Artistic Director Doug Cox said he was getting nervous close to the event because communications with CVEDS had suddenly stopped. He says the CVEDS office wouldn’t answer his calls. He was repeatedly told that Executive Director John Watson wasn’t in the office and they didn’t know where he went.

Cox finally went to the CVEDS office with plans to stay there until someone talked to him. He was eventually told there was no money to pay the musicians.

But Cox says neither Watson or anyone from the board of directors has ever explained what happened to the musicians’ money.

Music Fest had to pay the musicians itself, about $40,000, which Cox said was a burden for his organization. Music Fest also paid some of the Sid Williams Theatre rental obligations where Winterfest musicians had been booked to perform.

And the rift goes deeper. Music Fest organizers say CVEDS does little to help market the festival.

“Music Fest is the biggest tourism event in the Valley. We have 10,000 people daily, 1,400 volunteers, 400 musicians and sell out the area’s 800 hotel beds, plus fill campgrounds and B&Bs.” he told Decafnation. “It’s just frustrating not to get any help from them. They only market their own events.”

When Decafnation asked Watson what happened to the musicians money, he said CVEDS was “moving on.”

“This was some time ago and we are focused on the future in regards to the festival, which will form part of the discussions that are occurring with the long-term tourism sector planning work underway within the strategy process this fall,” he told Decafnation in an email.

 

Collaborating with partners

Seven years ago, Courtenay hotels voluntarily agreed to support a City of Courtenay application that sought provincial approval to implement a two percent tax on room rates and use that money for destination marketing.

It’s widely assumed that all Comox Valley hotels and motels collect the tax, which is handed over to the Economic Development Society. But, in fact, it only applies to hotels, motels and some Bed and Breakfast businesses within the city.

The Port Augusta motel in Comox does not participate. Neither do any resorts outside Courtenay city limits, including Union Bay’s Kingfisher Inn, the single largest destination resort in the region.

Rick Browning owner of the Best Western Westerly Hotel “vehemently disagrees” about the structure of the hotel tax.

“If we’re serious about tourism, we should apply a consumption tax for the entire hospitality industry — including restaurants, boat charters, the ski resort and so on,” he told Decafnation. “Why are hotels the only people who have to increase the cost of their product?”

There are about 300 listings online for AirB&Bs and VRBOs in the Comox Valley. That’s the equivalent of four Bayview hotels (formerly called the Holiday Inn Express), Browning said.

“Where the (CVEDS) board fails miserably is they don’t engage hotels to discuss whether their model works or not. If would be more productive if they did and we would get the best solution — whether that’s CVEDS or not,” he said.

The Old House Hotel and Spa

Browning has tried to get on the CVEDS board several times but has been rebuffed. He believes they are reticent to have hospitality industry representation.

David Rooper at The Old House Hotel agrees that CVEDS could improve communications with Courtenay hotels. Some members of the Destination Marketing Advisory Committee — created by CVEDS after taking over the former Comox Valley Tourism organization  and includes B&Bs and the downtown Business Improvement District — say they don’t receive agendas in a timely fashion and the minutes don’t detail actual conversations.

“CVEDS could improve on relationships, meetings, communication,” he told Decafnation. “The organizational structure needs a review.”

Other members of the DMAC, who didn’t want to speak publicly, have told Decafnation that the committee appears to have little influence on how their hotel tax money is spent.

Rooper agrees. “I would like to see the DMAC act more like a steering committee and involve us in decisions,” he said.

During his career in hospitality, Rooper has seen other models for destination marketing organizations, and he thinks CVEDS should adopt some of their best practices.

He pointed out the City of Nanaimo as an example. They have contracted with Tourism Vancouver Island for all destination marketing activity, separating it from economic development.

“If we don’t move forward pretty quick, someone will eat our lunch,” he said.

 

Buy local? Not always

Even the Valley’s burgeoning technology sector is not immune to issues of communication and lack of  financial support from CVEDS.

Nik Szymanis, cofounder of Tickit, a successful Canada-wide online event ticketing company headquartered in Courtenay, says he parted ways with CVEDS this year due to different business philosophies.

Tickit, a 10-year-old company, had been the ticketing agency for CVEDS events for several years, working on projects that ranged from small conferences to the annual BC Seafood Festival.

But as a growing enterprise, Szymanis and his partner Alex Dunae, had trouble collecting payment for their services, sometimes waiting as long as eight months for a cheque. So two years ago they switched CVEDS from a credit account to an account requiring payment up front.

Then, this year, they discovered by accident through a print advertisement that CVEDS had hired one of their competitors, a ticketing agency in Alberta, for the 2019 BC Seafood Festival.

“There wasn’t any consultation, we just happened to see the ad,” Szymanis told Decafnation.

With 99 percent of their clients, Szymanis says Tickit has great open communications. With customers, they share ideas, insights and brainstorm how to improve their services.

“CVEDS didn’t have any desire to play that collaborative game,” Szymanis said, so he and Dunae decided to drop the society as a client and move on.

 

Public relations

Prior to the 2014 performance review, CVEDS had purchased an expensive full page advertisement in the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper that among other things promoted the Raven Coal Mine, which local governments, K’omoks First Nation and the conservation community had opposed.

The ad also promoted the Sage Hills housing development south of Courtenay, whose principals had committed fraud and other violations according to the BC Securities Commission.

That caused Urbanic Consultants to write that “if CVEDS is unwilling to manage its message, then the dialog surrounding it will be shaped by external parties, which may ultimately diminish its ability to deliver on its mandate.”

Yet several years later, the CVEDS website featured Riverwood, the ill-fated 3L Developments proposal, as a regional development site during a period of widespread citizen protests and protracted wrangles with the regional district that included litigation over the Regional Growth Strategy.

That casued a storm of negative CVEDS comments and concerns on Facebook and other platforms.

Courtenay Councillor Wendy Morin commented at the time, “Where are other examples of ED boards promoting developments outside their RGSs that require a major amendment (that may or may not be approved), that are as contentious as this? What incredible disrespect of process this is.”

Former Comox mayor Paul Ives defended CVEDS, commenting on Facebook that the society had made “no error” and that there was “nothing shady at all.” He advised critics to “check out what CVEDS is doing for yourself rather than taking shots from the cheap seats.”

Immediately after the Riverwood issue blew up on social media, CVEDS took the reference to the 3L development off their website. The CVRD board eventually rejected the 3L application to amend the RGS and the developers later lost a subsequent lawsuit against the regional district.

 

Arts and culture ignored?

The Comox Valley is widely known as a community rich with resident artists and a vibrant culture of festivals, musical theatre and the nationally renowned Comox Valley Youth Music Center.

But the Economic Development Society does not recognize arts and culture as a key sector of the Comox Valley region, according to its website. In fact, the society has a stormy past with key players in the regional arts community.

Marty Douglas, a local real estate personality who has been heavily involved in Comox Valley musical theatre groups since the early 1980s, says CVEDS has done “zero cultural marketing, yet it’s a huge driver of regional tourism.”

Elevate the Arts event in Cumberland, from Facebook

Attendance figures at the Sid Williams Theatre, for example, have grown by more than five percent per year for decades, he said.

Meaghan Cursons, one of the driving forces behind the local event production company, Elevate, thinks CVEDS is missing a big part — arts and culture — of the Comox Valley narrative.

“They no longer have a mandate to deal with the whole picture,” she told Decafnation. “And that means the Comox Valley cultural story still isn’t being told.”

Because the Village of Cumberland pulled out of the economic development function, the society doesn’t collaborate with the village’s many festivals.

“Our character, our gifts, our colour, our relationships are all missing from the official Comox Valley narrative,” Coursons said. “Which is silly because the cultural community, producers and consumers, knows no boundaries. It’s like tearing pages out of a book. Their content makes no sense anymore and the marketing materials are losing relevance. But we’re thriving out here in spite of it.”

Cumberland’s new in-house economic development strategic plan now has a strong arts and culture focus.

In 2008, Denman and Hornby islands, the home for a large number of the region’s artists, also stopped participating with CVEDS.

Residents of the two islands individually formed the Hornby Island Community Economic Enhancement Corporation and Denman Works to address economic development from a more local perspective. Area A Director Daniel Arbour was the executive director of HICEEC from 2014 through 2018.

And, although CVEDS pursued and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Comox Valley Arts Council last December — as recommended in the 2014 performance review — their past relationship had been strained.

“Until last year, there wasn’t a lot of support,” Arts Council Executive Director Dallas Stevenson told Decafnation.

Stevenson, who’s been at the helm of the arts council for 13 years, recalls a “real struggle” in 2007 over an application for federal funding that required an arts and culture strategic plan .

However, since working out last year’s MOU, Stevenson says “the relationship has gotten better.”

 

Working with contractors

CVEDS initially hired Watermark Communications to produce this summer’s BC Seafood Festival. But after introducing the Whistler-based firm at several high-profile local gatherings, Watermark wasn’t heard from again. CVEDS has never explained what happened.

Sue Eckersley, president of Watermark, which produces the Whistler Cornucopia festival, told Decafnation she preferred not to comment on what happened.

When asked, Lara Greasly, the society’s marketing and communications manager, would not comment directly other than to say CVEDS decided to go a different direction with two separate contractors. They hired Impact Events, a Kelowna company, as the food and beverage director and local resident John Mang as the site and venue services director.

But another source close to the situation said there was a dispute because the working agreement shifted unexpectedly and Watermark decided to back out.

 

Local government

The 2014 economic development performance review recommended CVEDS improve its communications with local governments, as well as the general public.

The consultants who wrote the review suggested semi-annual presentations to local government in addition to semi-annual meetings with municipal chief administrative officers.

CVRD Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson told Decafnation the society had followed through on those recommendations and that the change had improved communications.

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells agreed.

“I think they’re doing well on that,” Wells told Decafnation. He declined to comment further.

Next: What is ‘economic development,’ and how are other municipalities and regions doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW THIS ARTICLE
WAS REPORTED

Reporting on CVEDS relationships within the community evolved into a difficult assignment on two fronts.

First, some of those we contacted in various economic sectors would not speak on the record. As a group, they generally feared retribution from CVEDS, such as cutting off marketing or other support for events that benefit them.

“Because CVEDS controls all the money, local and provincially … I can’t say anything. I know that’s part of the problem, not making things better,” one source told Decafnation.

Secondly, we encountered an initial unwillingness by CVEDS staff to be interviewed. Decafnation started contacting Executive Director John Watson in May to arrange an interview. We received no response. We eventually asked Board of Directors Chair Deana Simpkin for an interview in lieu of speaking with staff.

But it wasn’t until after we solicited the help of several Comox Valley elected officials that Watson finally responded and agreed to meet on Sept. 3, nearly four months after our first request.

The inteview was arranged with Watson, Board Chair Simpkin and Vice Chair Bruce Turner. When we arrived, newly elected director Paul Ives was also in the room. Later we learned that other newly elected directors had not been asked to join the interview.

In the 2014 performance review of CVEDS written by Urbanic Consultants, they wrote that in some cases “attempts to contact CVEDS would go unanswered, which contributes to (a) fairly common perception that CVEDS ignores whom they ‘do not like’.”

 

 

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Open letter to Byron Horner, climate change questions he would have asked

George Le Masurier

By DAVID ANSON

AAn open letter to Byron Horner, conservative candidate in 2019 for Courtenay-Alberni:

I like the “balanced approach” slogan on your campaign posters. However, I find this difficult to reconcile with the way the Conservative Party in Canada has positioned itself in the 21st century. Are you in the vanguard of a dramatic change, in which the Conservative Party is rediscovering an obligation to society as a whole? Or are you in the vanguard of some new public relations spin?

Andrew Scheer was a cabinet minister in the highly “unbalanced” Harper government and he gave no indication that he would be taking the Conservative Party in a new direction when he became party leader. In fact, he has actively sought Harper’s support in the 2019 election. Are there any signs that a new direction has been called for by Harper himself? That question can be answered with three letters: IDU. The International Democratic Union is an organization fanatically devoted to getting right-wing governments elected worldwide and it seems to have been the source of the robocall technique that helped Canadian Conservatives win a majority government in 2011. Steven Harper is currently the chairman of the IDU! No mellowing in old age going on for him.

A commitment to balance will require a degree of progressivism to be reintroduced into conservative ideology. Is the Conservative Party willing to change with changing circumstances, or will it simply entrench itself as the party of a failing status quo? Can the Conservative party support the transition to a steady-state economy in which human beings live sustainably, or will it continue to support a “growth” economy which booms as long as resources are abundant and pollution is discounted and then grinds to a halt when lack of planning catches up to it?

In regard to climate change, the issue identified by voters as being the most important in 2019, it is increasingly difficult to believe that the Conservative Party supports a balanced approach. I wonder if you would defend these recent developments:

The refusal to acknowledge the severity of the climate crisis by all Conservative MPs, despite the 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change saying that CO2 emissions have to fall by 45 percent within 12 years to reach Paris Agreement goals by 2050.

Jason Kenney’s taxpayer-funded war room to attack the “lies” of environmentalists (and presumably climate scientists) with the “truth” provided by oil and gas industry insiders.

The attack on the carbon tax by Scheer, Kenney, and Doug Ford as a tax grab that takes money out of people’s pockets despite the provision (which is never mentioned) to give the money back.

The Conservative long-time-in-coming climate plan calling for replacement of the tried and tested carbon tax with a vague system of fines for polluting companies which lacks specifics on targets and timelines. (One critic has said “it is like a carbon tax, with the added goal of ineffectuality”.)

The Conservative climate plan’s faith in carbon capture technology which, in its most feasible form, will simply lower the rate of pollution rather than taking CO2 out of the air. (In any case, the more CO2 that is captured the greater the problem of storing it underground and monitoring it indefinitely for leaks. What could possibly go wrong?)

Scheer’s unqualified support for 150 pipeline supporters in the United We Roll demonstration in Ottawa, which featured speeches about “cutting off the head of the snake” and “rolling over every Liberal in the country”. (By contrast, Scheer failed to support the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who demonstrated for climate action on September 27th.)

I got the idea to write this letter when I attended the all-candidates climate meeting in Courtenay on October 4th. It was well attended by citizens concerned about the climate crisis who will make up more than two thirds of your constituents should you be elected as the Courtenay-Alberni MP. My letter expands on the question I would have asked if you had seen fit to be at the meeting.

David Anson is a Courtenay resident

 

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Courtenay-Alberni candidates address climate crisis in forum

Courtenay-Alberni candidates address climate crisis in forum

Candidates from left, incumbent Gord Johns, Barb Biley, Sean Wood and Jonah Gowans  /  George Le Masurier photos

George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

At the only federal election forum in the Courtenay-Alberni riding focused strictly on the climate crisis, four of the five candidates showed up and answered questions from a panel of four and an audience of about 300 voters.

Incumbent NDP MP Gord Johns, Liberal Jonah Gowans, Green Sean Wood and Barb Biley representing the Marxist-Leninist Party spent nearly two hours on stage at the Florence Filberg Centre Oct. 4 in a deep dive into what actions the next government should take to fight climate change.

Conservative candidate Byron Horner refused to attend, and offered no explanation for his absence.

The candidates who did attend found agreement on some issues such as the need to create equality for the most vulnerable as Canada’s transitions to a greener economy, lowering the voting age to 16 and ending federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

But Wood said the other parties were just “handing out gifts” during the campaign by suddenly promising to end to oil and gas subsidies. He credited the Green Party and its leader Elizabeth May — “the most ethical and trustworthy leader” of all the parties — for getting the topics into the national conversation.

Johns detailed $48 billion in tax breaks and other gifts to corporations that his party would invest in green energy technology.

He also criticized Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau for promising in 2015 to cut fossil fuel subsidies but failing to follow through.

“The NDP put forward a motion (to end subsidies) six months ago, and the Liberals voted no. We proposed declaring a climate emergency, and the Liberals said no. Then they tabled their own (climate emergency) bill and the day after that approved purchasing the TransMountain pipeline,” he said.

That just shows “who pulls the strings,” according to Biley.

“Decisions aren’t made in Ottawa, they’re implemented in Ottawa. They are made by fossil fuel companies,” she said. “How can you declare a climate emergency and then buy a pipeline.”

Wood said government has failed to act more quickly on climate issues because the major political parties “whip” their MPs to vote as their party executive tells them to vote. And he took a shot at the provincial NDP.

“The NDP promised no Site C, no LNG, no fracking, that they would get fish farms out,” he said, but they didn’t do it. “The Green Party doesn’t whip its elected members. The constituents are our bosses. That’s how it should be.”

In her closing statement at the forum, Biley followed that idea by saying small parties raised the level of political discussion because the major parties break promises “over and over again, and just expect us to suck it up.”

“We should follow the example of youth in hitting the streets, of women taking back the night, of our coastal forest workers refusing to take concessions and assert our own plan for climate action. Empower yourself now,” she said.

She said Canada must transform its political system so it genuinely represents the people, not the parties.

Johns said in his first term as the Courtenay-Alberni incumbent MP, he has fought for the coast,” and brought conservation and other climate issues to the conversation in Parliament.

“Sixty percent of our communities are progressive. But without electoral reform, we split the vote,” he said. “Because of that, Conservatives can win this riding.”

Earlier Johns received the largest audience response of the night when he said, while addressing how previous Conservative governments gutted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, “The first thing we should do is not let the Conservatives govern again.”

John said he was one of about 30 MPs of the 356 total in the House of Commons who attend an All-Party Caucus.

“No one party will solve the climate crisis,” he said. “It’s going to take everyone.”

Wood said his party’s polling shows support for candidates in the riding was neck-and-neck, and that the Conservatives weren’t as strong as “everybody else.”

“Don’t vote against something, vote for who you want,” he said.

Liberal Jonah Gowans said no political party has all the best ideas. The Liberal Party of Canada has a history of taking the best ideas from wherever and adopting them.

The forum was a collaboration of the Cumberland Forest Society, Project Watershed, K’omoks First Nations, Climate Strike Canada, Dogwood, the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership and the United Church.

The assembled panel that asked the first questions of the candidates included Nalan Goosen representing youth of the Comox Valley, Celia Laval of the faith community, Caelan Mclean of K’omoks First Nations and Don Castledden and David Stapley of the Conservation Partnership.

Disclosure: The author moderated the climate forum.

 

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The Week: Island Health takeover for public safety, and Horner’s negative campaign

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Is a storm brewing, or is this the light at the end of the tunnell?  /  George Le Masurier photo

George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

This week, Island Health took the rare step to assume operational control of the Comox Valley Seniors Village, a privately-owned long-term care facility. Island Health has only taken this dramatic action twice in the past 15 years.

Then, later this week, there was more new. The Hospital Employees’ Union went public with its demands that Island Health take over another seniors care home in Nanaimo. And Island Health revealed that it has ongoing multiple investigations at both the Nanaimo Seniors Village and the Selkirk Seniors Village in Victoria.

There is a common thread here: All three of these facilities are owned by the same private company through a complex arrangement.

The Comox Valley Seniors Village was opened in 2009 by the Canadian company, Retirement Concepts, which was later sold to Anbang, a Chinese insurance company in 2017. Anbang purchased 31 Canadian long-term care facilities through a Canadian holding company, called Cedar Tree. The purchase included seven care homes on Vancouver Island and 24 others in BC, Alberta and Quebec.

But Cedar Tree doesn’t run the facilities. It contracts out the management of all its Anbang holdings to a company called Pacific Reach.

And, as if this wasn’t confusing enough, Pacific Reach is owned by the former owner of Retirement Concepts. Full circle.

According to a report in the Victoria Times-Colonist this week, a spokesperson for Pacific Reach blames the problems at all three Seniors Village facilities under investigation on industry-wide labour shortages. Jennie Deneka told the newspaper that the company can’t find enough workers.

It’s true. Adequate staffing has been a consistent problem at the CV Seniors Village, and it is one of the main complaints that family members have been relentlessly sending to Island Health for more than six months.

But what Deneka doesn’t say publicly is why the labour shortage affects her company’s facilities more seriously than other care home operators. One probable reason: Comox Valley Seniors Village reportedly pays about $2 to $4 per hour less than other local care homes, such as Glacier View Lodge and The Views at St. Joseph.

But there are other problems at CVSV that have caused workers to quit. In the last year, the facility introduced unpopular shift changes. It essentially fired all its employees and made them reapply for their shifts, although workers were allowed to keep their seniority. For these and other assorted reasons, CVSV staff went on strike last fall to press for better working conditions and more equitable compensation.

It’s just natural that when trained or experienced staff are in short supply, those who pay the least will suffer the most.

I was checking the city’s online building permits recently — something only a retired newspaper person would do — and noticed that Golden Life hadn’t yet received a building permit for the 120 new long-term care beds and six new hospice units awarded them by Island Health. Golden Life, the Canadian company building new beds on Cliffe Avenue in Courtenay, operates 10 seniors facilities in BC and three in Alberta.

That caught my attention because Island Health promised the beds would open in 2020.

The City of Courtenay told me that Golden Life had just applied for a permit the previous day, eventhough on Sept.16, City Council approved a development permit with variances for the project, which goes by the name Courtenay Oceanfront Developments Ltd.

In general, the development permit deals with form and character elements of the project such as building location, materials, landscaping and access locations.

The building permit, which comes later, ensures the technical elements of the building meet the building code. It also approves site servicing including sanitary sewer, water, and stormwater management. This is also the stage where off-site works such as the intersection upgrade get reviewed and approved.

It’s likely that this building permit approval process could take a month or two because this is a large building requiring multiple complex servicing approvals.

So, if Golden Life doesn’t get started until January, will they still make the 2020 deadline? Stay tuned.

If you live in the Courtenay-Alberni federal riding and spend any time on Facebook, you might have noticed that Conservative Byron Horner is running an extremely negative campaign against incumbent NDP MP Gord Johns.

In one recent ad, Horner says “Johns could not deliver $1 of discretionary spending for our region,” and “The reality is Mr. Johns has no decision-making authority on any federal spending.”

The first part is simply untrue. Johns’ work on behalf of Canadian veterans, for one example, will certainly benefit the Comox Valley area, which is home to many active and retired military people.

And if the second part of Horner’s attack is true, then it will be doubly true for him. The reality is that Canada might elect a minority Liberal government, and the NDP is most likely to hold the balance of power.

And speaking of negatives, what exactly did Byron Horner do when he worked for Merrill Lynch in New York as his online bio states? Did he work there in the 2000s when companies like Merrill sold toxic mortgage instruments that took down the global economy? He doesn’t say. But this is something that Horner should clarify for voters.

 

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