Decafnation will offer its recommendations for mayors, council members and regional district rural directors tomorrow, on the first day of advance voting in the 2018 municipal elections. But persuasion is not the objective
A gradual decline in daytime temperatures, the return of drizzling skies and a knock on your door by strangers handing you brightly colored brochures can only mean one thing: the fall election season is baaaaack.
Decafnation has met with most candidates running in this year’s elections for council and mayor positions, and tomorrow — the first day of voting at advance polls — we will offer our recommendations.
There is some debate within the journalism profession about the value of political endorsements. Research on the topic is almost non-existent, but some years ago the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that a measly 11 percent said media endorsements played “somewhat” of a role in their voting decision.
But of that 11 percent, about a quarter were mistaken about which candidate their newspaper had actually endorsed.
So, why endorse candidates?
Decafnation has no delusion that people will change their opinion of the candidates after they read our recommendations. Persuasion is not the objective.
Decafnation thinks of itself as a good citizen. We engage in civic affairs. We care. Nearly every week of the year, we offer commentary on topics ranging from how to fix our sewerage and traffic problems to why Justin Trudeau should keep his shirt on.
Wouldn’t it seem odd to suddenly have no opinion whatsoever about the most important event of all: electing our local governments?
But first, let’s be clear about something. Most of the time, Decafnation is me, one person, although Decafnation does have an informal advisory board and a few infrequent contributors.
These endorsements are based on my private meetings with the candidates, one-on-one interviews with them and my own unique vantage point of having covered the issues and the candidates.
I have also reached out for input from leaders of community organizations and other people I respect, including many whose views often run contrary to my own. In that sense, the endorsements are a collective effort.
Decafnation’s recommendations are meant to stimulate interest and debate, and perhaps to help you crystallize your own thoughts, whether you agree or disagree with our choices.
Most importantly, we’re cheerleading for the democratic process and what local elections are really all about: good governance.
With a background in both corporate retail and the nonprofit sector, Patrick McKenna believes he would bring a unique perspective to a first term on the Comox Town Council. He’s focused on affordable housing, the arts and community safety
Patrick McKenna is an outgoing community theatre actor who has forsaken the corporate retail world for the demands of a nonprofit, and he loves to joke around in conversations.
If you ask why he’s running for a position on the Comox Town Council, he might say something like, “Because Hugh McKinnon is stepping down,” or “Because 13,991 Comox residents didn’t want to.” (There are nine council candidates this year out of a roughly 14,000 population.)
But don’t let the fun-loving facade fool you. For McKenna, a Town Council seat would not be a pastime or a hobby.
“It’s a serious job, to have the people’s confidence entrusted to me,” he told Decafnation. “And that’s how I would approach it.”
The candidate has four areas of focus for his first term, which he’s gleaned from conversations with town residents: affordable housing, arts, culture and heritage, safety and sustainability.
It’s not surprising that affordable housing tops his list.
McKenna came to the Comox Valley in 2003 as the first store manager of the Courtenay Home Depot, where he had a 28-year career before taking a similar position with Target when it opened in the Driftwood Mall. He’s now the executive director of Habitat for Humanity for Vancouver Island North.
“I want to ensure that young families can live here,” he said. “And let’s make sure people who are already here can live here, too, and that their children can return to Comox, if they want to.”
McKenna sees many people getting priced out of the market as demand increases and property values escalate, a situation he doesn’t see changing any time soon.
“Growth is a function of where we live,” he said. “People want to live here. I don’t see a correction coming yet.”
But he does think the town could hold developers “a little more accountable,” and be steer them toward including affordable housing units in their plans.
McKenna doesn’t know if the town had a housing agreement with the 90-unit Broadstreet development on Anderton Aveune to dedicate a certain number of unit to rent below market rate. He hopes one exists.
“It’s staff’s and council’s job to have the mentality to get more affordable housing in Comox,” he said.
McKenna said when Habitat approached the City of Campbell River to build 10 houses on a piece of property, the city asked if they’d like to build 11 units, which they would allow with a covenant that they would remain affordable housing forever.
“A lot of municipalities don’t want to slow down developers, and so they’re afraid to ask for social benefits,” he said. “But Comox keeps building single family houses and that doesn’t help people trying to get it or move up.”
McKenna would like to see a continuum of housing developed in the town; some supportive, some transistional, and more affordable.
“Single family houses aren’t going to solve our problem,” he said.
And it’s also no surprise that McKenna wants the town to increase its support of arts, culture and heritage.
McKenna has been a prominent figure in the Comox Valley amateur theatre scene. He’s even formed his own theatre company, Three Legged Dog Productions.
“The town spends $2.2 million on parks and the arts gets $70,000. We need to change that,” he said. “I’ve got a bleeding heart for the arts.”
McKenna would like to Comox become more like Chemanius where the theatre is the centerpiece of the town. He points to the vacant Lorne Hotel property and muses that it would be a great location for a community theatre.
He likes what the town has done recently to improve Marina Park with a splash park and allowing semi-permanent food trucks. He’d like to see a farmers market, and more use of the sail buildings.
He thinks council was trying to create a community space for people to congregate.
When a town has gathering places, McKenna says people get to know each other, and feel safer.
“Parts of Courtenay feel unsafe, the rise of crime, drug use, homelessness,” he said. “We need to guard against that.”
McKenna grew up in Nova Scotia, the youngest of seven brothers and sisters who all went to university.
During his long experience in corporate retail, McKenna became good at analyzing numbers, a skill that has helped him in the nonprofit world where every dollar must be spent with specific intent. And on the town council, he would make sure money was invested in projects that further its core mission.
And he thinks his private and nonprofit sector background gives him a unique way of looking at things that would benefit the town.
Chris Haslett doesn’t see any big issues facing the Town of Comox, but he would like to phase out wood stoves, ban plastic bags and encourage developers to build more houses to drive down housing costs.
Chris Haslett has eschewed social media in his campaign for a seat on the Comox Town Council. He prefers the old-fashioned method of knocking on doors and talking with people.
“I”m a meet-you-in-person kind of guy,” he told Decafnation.
And when he’s on the doorstep, Haslett has a straight forward message: He’s not running for council on the basis of any major initiative, he’s just promising to spend tax dollars wisely and to make decisions with common sense.
“I don’t have anything I want to drive through,” he told Decafnation. “I wouldn’t say there are any issues in Comox. It’s going in the right direction.”
Haslett, who was born and raised in Comox, said he has thought about a run a politics for the last couple of years. But he had his eye on 2022.
“The biggest reason I’m running now is the changing of the guard, the number of open seats,” he said. “The math works out. I think I have a legitimate shot.”
Only two incumbent Comox Town Council members have filed for re-election to the six council positions.
Although he’s happy with the town’s status quo, Haslett does have some key areas of focus.
He would make sure all the necessary infrastructure is in place for new construction projects. He says it happens all the time that not long after a new project is built — like the new hospital, for example — they’re tearing up the streets for some additional infrastructure.
And he thinks the solution to affordable housing is to build more houses.
“We hear about the homeless, seniors and others needing affordable housing,” he said. “But without more housing, costs will never go down.”
He’s encouraged by several new multi-family projects in the works, including 89 units in a four story building on Anderton. With a shortage of lots, density will have to come from taller buildings, he said.
But he doesn’t believe council should get involved in directing developers toward a particular type of housing, such as townhouses or including a mix of varying priced units.
“The type of housing is entirely up to the developer,” he said. “Council is only here to see they follow the bylaws.”
On other issues, he sees council taking more of the initiative. He favors banning the use of single-use plastic bags and straws. And he’s in favor of phasing out wood stoves.
“My kids have respiratory issues, so we suffer from it more in the winter,” he said.
Haslett would also like to see a walkway constructed from Marina Park to Goose Spit.
“But it has to be feasible. “I’m always looking at the bottom line,” he said.
His method for making future decisions on council would be based on “common sense.”
“I’ll look at two outcomes, black and white, without any grey,” he said. “I can sift out all the emotion, all the grey.”
After graduating from Highland High School, Haslett completed oil and gas tickets at North Island College and went to work on facility construction in Fort St. John. He then moved to Victoria to do seismic mapping for new projects in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan, ultimately supervising the mapping department and overseeing five employees.
When the price of oil dropped four years ago, he moved back to Comox and went to work selling commercial insurance for Waypoint out of their Campbell River office.
“I’m a third generation Comox person, raising a fourth,” he said. “I’m looking out for the future so my kids have a great place to live.”
Haslett, who is the grandson of former council member Vern Benedictson, has twin daughters.
He wants voters to know that he would make sure their tax dollars are spent well.
“And I want to increase transparency on that. If people know where their money is going, they’re okay with it,” he said.
A self-described former ski and mountain biking bum with a degree in chemical engineering, is challenging incumbent Leslie Baird for the Cumberland mayor’s chair
Eduardo Uranga is running for mayor of Cumberland because he believes the current mayor and council have failed the village.
“I believe that the current administration is not serving the residents of Cumberland, and me in particular, and there is complete chaos on how our tax dollars are spent, too much debt, too large expense accounts, too large payroll, too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” he told Decafnation via email.
Uranga said the lack of action by incumbent Mayor Leslie Baird is making the village “a very inhospitable place.”
He says the village’s wastewater management plan, devised with consultant Paul Nash, doesn’t provide a solution that will comply with the Ministry of Environment regulations. He says the village’s recent upgrades to its drinking water system is “a waste of money and totally unnecessary.”
And although Mayor Baird voted with council to ban all wood burning devices in new construction, Uranga accuses her of denying there is an air quality problem.
Uranga said if he’s elected he would have a “lagoon-less, self-contained sewer treatment plant … in operation and in compliance by the end of 2019.” Plus, he said, village taxes would be lower.
Uranga, who was born in Mexico City in 1954 and came to Canada in 1982, says he has “been connected to the Comox Valley for 37 years.”
He has a degree in chemical engineering. He’s worked for Club Med, was a self-described ski bum for nine years in Colorado, Austria and Whistler, and a mountain biking bum for four years in Squamish. He says he’s had “many professional experiences.”
He describes himself as a “climate change warrior” who was once homeless and has a “Ruth Masters degree in shit disturbing.”
“I am committed to working on behalf of all residents of Cumberland. I will take the directions indicated by the majority after the priorities are established by the community in a referendum for major decisions and surveys when opinions are appropriate,” he said.
The mundane decisions that comprise most of an elected official’s term in office reveal little about their values or principles. It’s the pressure-cooker moments that reveal a person’s true colors
Not everyone possesses the characteristics to become widely regarded as an effective elected official. Although, surely, every incumbent or candidate believes they do.
The problem is defining those treasured human qualities. We all have our political perspectives; what we’re in favor of, what we’re against; what we want more of, what we want less.
In a community as philosophically diverse as the Comox Valley, only a saint could distill our collective community values down to a few purely non-political human virtues.
And so, like art, the public just knows a ‘good’ councillor, mayor or school trustee when they see one.
But the occasions to ‘see’ the defining aspects of elected officials occur infrequently in local government. We usually learn nothing about elected officials when they decide issues of minor consequence: which streets to pave or whether to support a festival.
It’s when the polarizing, highly controversial issues arise that elected officials reveal themselves. Will they be like firemen or law enforcement officers who run toward the trouble to help people, or will they retreat? When panic and anxiety strike, will they refuse to succumb and, like the pilot Scully, cooly and calmly steer us to safety?
It’s in the pressure-cooker of those difficult moments that we really see a person’s true colors.
This week’s Comox Valley Regional District board meeting thrust 10 Comox Valley elected officials into a high-stress and fast-moving situation. Did it provide the public with moments of clarity about the directors at the table?
At stake was a critical point in the decade-long controversy over amending the Regional Growth Strategy for the benefit of a single developer, and the crux came in the final weeks of an hotly-contested election campaign.
RELATED STORY: With much drama, CVRD denies 3L Developments
Three candidates for the mayor of Courtenay sat at the table, and all but three of the 10 directors who would ultimately vote in this charged atmosphere were running for election.
The 3L Developments’ application was ready for first reading. Directors had reports from its Technical Advisory and Steering committees and a staff recommendation to deny the application, which was considered before first reading occurred. They could choose to either move it along and continue public consultations through first, second and third readings, or deny it based on the consultations they had already completed. By a 6-4 vote, those chose the latter.
So, how did our elected officials conduct themselves at this meeting? Here’s a director-by-director accounting from our notebook. You be the judge.
The incumbent City of Courtenay mayor began by questioning the accuracy of the committees’ assessment of available housing in order to suggest 3L’s 1,000-plus houses were needed. He said the demand for housing was greater than staff had predicted, and that he had seen on social media “somewhere” that more than 6,000 people were currently seeking rentals in the Valley. Later on, he suggested a petition signed by about 1,500 people opposed to 3L Developments wasn’t representative of public opinion. He suggested we “petition all the people in the regional district.”
The Courtenay councillor running for mayor stuck to a single message throughout the entire proceedings. He said the CVRD was “not complying” with the court order to fully consider 3L’s application if it voted to deny the application before it went to first reading. He wanted to postpone a vote or extend 3L’s application and continue the consultation process and hold a public hearing. He said to decide 3L’s fate now was “disingenuous.”
Eriksson said it also created a personally awkward situation. He said every director has friends who are either for or against the 3L development. “We’re being asked which group of our friends to make happy.” And, he said because the vote was coming during an election campaign, directors were likely to decide on the basis of “what would get us the most votes.”
Before the vote, Eriksson said “This is wrong. It’s not honorable.” He positioned himself with Larry Jangula, Ken Grant and Mano Theos on this issue.
The Courtenay councillor running for mayor questioned a 3L spokesperson about their conversations with the K’omoks First Nation, which the company had mischaracterized and later apologized. After a presentation by a 3L spokesperson, Wells expressed concern that the debate had turned toward criticism of the Regional Growth Strategy, which resulted from a long community-wide process.
Wells said the staff had done a good job of presenting the facts in a clear way. And in response to certain directors, Wells said both 3L and the CVRD directors knew from a flow chart they had all seen at the beginning of the application review process that “the application could be denied at first reading. Unless someone was not paying attention.”
Prior to casting his vote, Wells said many of the arguments heard at the meeting had focused on issues beyond the single application that was before them, and pertained more to a review of the RGS that should take place in a less high-stakes environment. He said his gut was telling him that a future and fulsome discussion was needed on how the RGS was structured, but that it was a separate issue from the 3L application.
The incumbent Comox Councillor seeking re-election said it was unfortunate that first reading came up during an election cycle, and he alluded to “a lot of misinformation” on social media. He said if the board didn’t postpone the vote before first reading it would have only given “lip service” to the idea of adequate consultation. He said the CVRD was setting itself up for another court action by 3L.
The incumbent Courtenay councillor seeking re-election said directors had to do “what’s best” for the community. But he added, “We don’t know what’s best.” He said directors would get more benefit from postponing the vote and gathering more information because “clarity is so critical.”
The incumbent Cumberland councillor seeking re-election noted 3L’s flip-flop on timing. Sproule noted that 3L had asked for an expedited process. But now, she said, in hindsight, they aren’t so happy and wanted more time.
The incumbent Area B director seeking re-election said 3L couldn’t claim their application had received an unfair process. He had kept an open mind, but had made a decision “at this meeting,” and he said it’s time to “get it done.”
Scoville is an alternate director for Area C and, like Barbara Price of Comox and Bruce Joliffe of Area A, he is not seeking election to any public office this year. He was the first director to separate first reading of 3L’s application to amend the RGS from any potential desire to review and update the RGS, which he noted was a much more complex and public process.
He acknowledged the application process can be frustrating, “especially when you have money on the line.” He said no directors want to ignore 3L’s promise of a large park at Stotan Falls, but “it would be nice not to have to decide the issue on that basis.” Scoville praised the thoroughness of the committee reports and said postponing first reading to gather more info by “piggy-backing” on a private owners’ studies was not a good idea.
Scoville said he thought postponing first reading would be a waste of time and money for all concerned “just to come to the same result.” He said it’s better to say no now, “and take it on the chin.”