After 28 years of continuous service on the Cumberland Village Council, Leslie Baird still has goals to accomplish in a third term as mayor. Besides finishing big projects like sewage and water treatment upgrades and a new fire wall, she also want more daycares and senior housing. Her secret? Helping her councillors achieve their own goals
Leslie Baird “completely loves the job” as mayor of Cumberland. There’s little about that because, after 28 years of continuous service on the Village Council, she’s running again.
Baird was first elected to council in 1990, at a time when there were few women in municipal office. She ran unopposed for mayor in 2011 and was acclaimed again in 2014. This year, she has an opponent.
The Village of Cumberland has changed dramatically over her two terms in the mayor’s office — businesses are thriving, the population is growing and the Village Council’s progressive approach has put it in the national and provincial spotlight.
And yet, the village has several serious issues to resolve and major infrastructure projects in the works. Baird is seeking re-election to see those through to completion.
At the top of her list are funding and constructing improvements to the village’s sewerage system, which fell out of compliance with Ministry of Environment standards a decade ago. Then there’s the upgraded treatment and capacity of village drinking water, and continuing to separate sewer and stormwater systems.
FURTHER READING: For more interview with local government candidates, go to our Elections 2018 page
And she adds the building of a new fire hall into her top priorities.
Those are big issues for a small village that relies mostly on a residential tax base from about 1,400 homes.
Two months ago, the village hired an economic development coordinator to help develop the Bevan lands as an industrial park for light industry. It’s already properly zoned, and the village would benefit from an increase in commercial taxes.
Baird says her secret for getting things done is fostering a functional village council. For her, that’s the main job of a mayor.
“I always remember that there four other people at the council table who were elected by the people for their own priorities,” she told Decafnation. “I work with them to get those (priorities) to the table.”
In other words, Mayor Baird helps her councillors do what they said they were going to do.
“It’s important to listen to the community, to hear what they need, and act on that,” she said. “When I was first elected, I tried to make everyone happy, you can’t. Now I do what’s best for the whole community.”
Baird also tries to find a good fit with each councillor’s interests and the committees she recommends for them.
But she would never appoint herself to the Comox Valley Regional District.
“I have never sat on the CVRD board as mayor, although I did as a councillor,” she said. “Because at the CVRD you have to look at issues from a regional perspective. I have to keep my focus on the village.”
Baird thinks it’s difficult today for a mayor to do the job properly with another full-time job.
“People used to come to the mayor to get things done,” she said. “Now it’s more complex, there’s so many factors to consider … and you need a good staff.”
There are more items on Baird’s list for a third term than the big projects of sewer, water and a fire hall.
She hopes to provide better daycare services in the village. There’s currently a one-year waiting list. She’s exploring provincial funding and bursaries for day care worker education, and she would like to see a 24-hour facility for the village’s shift workers.
Baird wants to address affordable housing — the village’s house prices are second only to Crown Isle, she says — especially for seniors. She says several private operators on the Island are interested and the village has land already zoned for affordable seniors housing.
“There’s a renewed interested in Cumberland because of the expected population growth” she said. “We have major grocery stores expressing an interest. There’s a change in attitude about everywhere north of Nanaimo.”
Village staff is doing a full report on the banning of single-use plastic bags and straws for the council to consider next year.
And, believe it or not, Baird says traffic and parking issues are a hot topic in the village right now.
“People aren’t stopping at stop signs, and this includes bikers,” she said. “I hear about it all the time.”
Baird urges people to vote yes on the sewage system funding referendum that is on the ballot this year. While the village still has to acquire external funding for the project, village voters can kick start the project by authorizing the village to borrow $4.4 million.
As Courtenay City Council candidate Mano Theos found out, social media can be a dangerous place for current and aspiring elected officials. And are anonymous commenters committing election tampering?
Social media have influenced British Columbia politics right down to the local government level, and not always in a good way.
Negative and mean-spirited attacks on elected officials, sometimes from anonymous sources using fake names, have caused candidates and elected officials to drop off the social media grid.
Courtenay City Council candidate Mano Theos feels he was attacked last week, on a Facebook group page called Comox Valley Politics, for posting comments that he says were meant as light-hearted and fun.
Others in the group felt Theos expressed “anger” and acted “immature” for a municipal councillor.
In response to a post by Diana Schroeder, Theos added this comment: “Sounds as though you need a really big hug from one of your Dogwood supporters.”
Schroeder: “My Dogwood supporters? Your assumptions often lead to false conclusions.”
Theos: “Smiling is good for the soul.”
Jamie McCue: “Not surprised your first response in this group is to be condescending to an engaged citizen. You think that sort of attitude will get you elected? You’re sorely wrong!”
And the conversation continued in this vein with 32 separate comments.
“I was trying to inject some light humor into the discussion,” Theos told Decafnation. “People take things way too seriously sometimes.”
The incident with Theos, who is seeking a sixth term on City Council, was minor compared to the bullying and threats directed at elected officials elsewhere in the province and on the Island.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, for example, announced in March that she was quitting Facebook, calling it a “toxic echo chamber.”
And she was recently quoted in the Victoria Times-Colonist saying the downsides of social media outweigh the upsides.
“The downsides are it’s really, I would say, a threat to democracy and the ability to have face-to-face conversations about important issues,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.
Theos agrees that face-to-face conversations are more productive.
“If anybody wants to talk to me, my number is in the phone book,” he said.
After his initial foray onto Facebook, Theos has decided “Social media is not something I want to be a part of.
“Trying to talk with people on Facebook, I don’t even know these people, and some of them are not even real. They’re fake names,” he said.
View Royal Mayor David Screech told the Times-Colonist that commenting about candidates through anonymous Facebook pages might constitute election tampering.
“It’s not acceptable under the election rules to deliver leaflets anonymously. I don’t see why it should be any different on social media,” he told the newspaper.
The practice of using fake Facebook accounts to comment on websites and other social media platforms has made it’s way to the Comox Valley.
A frequent poster on the Comox Valley Politics site is “Peter McGillicuddy,” which appears to be a fake name and fake Facebook profile for someone making anonymous comments.
Two-term Councillor Russ Arnott feels ready to step up to the mayor’s chair and hopes to continue the town’s downward trend in taxation and create more waterfront enhancements; waiting for a court decision on whether town can demolish the ‘Shakesides’ house
Russ Arnott is taking a simple approach in his campaign to become the next mayor of Comox: He likes the direction the town has been moving the last four years, and he feels that his two terms of council experience make him ready for the job.
“Things are going well and people are generally happy,” he told Decafnation. “Businesses are taking a chance with us, developers like working with the town and we’ve got a downward trend in taxation.”
Arnott says he running for mayor because “I’m afraid to lose that momentum.”
But he has also set three broad goals for his first term as mayor.
First, Arnott says keeping commercial and property taxes “fair and affordable” is one of his top priorities.
Second, he wants to “make Comox a vibrant and accessible community for all ages.”
Third, Arnott would continue to promote projects that enhance the town’s waterfront and connect it to the downtown core. For example, he’d like to see a walkway from the marina to Goose Spit.
FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates, go to our Elections 2018 page
He’s proud of the waterfront enhancements the town has made recently with a splash park for children and opening up Marina Park to food trucks.
Arnott acknowledges that the two sail buildings recently built at Marina Park “pose a challenge.” But he says they were approved and planned when he wasn’t on council.
“I asked questions about the project, but the grants had already been received,” he said.
Despite his promise to keep steering the town in its current direction, Arnott says he’s not just promoting the status quo.
Arnott would hopes to phase out all wood burning devices from new and existing homes over the next five to 10 years. Wood stoves negatively impact air quality.
And he’d like to help create more affordable housing, perhaps by requiring more developments with smaller houses and smaller lots, like the town has done in the Torrence and Noel neighborhood.
Comox has already implemented an easy process for homeowners to create secondary suites, he says, and provides incentives for developers to build housing, such as the Ambleside development along Comox Avenue.
During debates about how to solve the city’s traffic problems, especially congestion at the 17th Street bridge, several Courtenay candidates have suggested that Comox and even some rural areas should help pay for improvements.
Arnott says he wouldn’t saddle Comox taxpayers with that cost.
“I wouldn’t entertain that idea, not without more discussions,” he said. “Comox has amenities that people from other areas use, let’s not nick-pick back and forth.”
Arnott is “okay” with marijuana retail stores in Comox, “if they’re located in the right place.” But he’s concerned about all the unknowns that will arise, like how people will react to the unique pungent odour of cannabis.
“We already discourage people from smoking cigarettes in parks,” he said. “But we have only one person in bylaw enforcements, so it will probably be complaint driven.”
Asked why the town hasn’t updated its 2012 Official Community Plan in nearly seven years, Arnott there’s no need to do it.
“In that time we’ve only had three amendments and few complaints, so it’s working,” he said. “Why spend $250,000 to fix something that’s not broken.”
In regards to the town’s application to the BC Supreme Court to alter the terms of the Mack Laing trusts and demolish his heritage home called Shakesides — the celebrated naturalist left gifts of money and property to be used to create a museum or nature house on Comox Bay — Arnott is guarded. He has supported the town’s action in several council votes this year.
“We’re just following the (citizen advisory) committee’s recommendation,” he said. “I don’t know what went on back then (in 1982 when Laing died), there’s so many interpretations. We’ll see what the court says.”
Arnott spent 25 years in the Canadian Coast Guard, including management positions, and is currently the manager of military housing on CFB Comox. He’s a former regional vice-president of the Canadian Auto Workers union.
And he’s an avid volunteer with the Comox Valley Community Justice Centre, the Salvation Army, the Comox Business Improvement Association, YANA and Rotary.
Arnott says his volunteer activity makes him a better council member.
“By getting out into the community and having discussions with diverse groups of people, it helps educate me,” he says. “And that informs me to make decisions at the council table.”
Arnott believes no one should stay too long in municipal office, and moving up to the mayor’s chair feels right for him. He says it also makes room for other people in the community to join the Town Council.
“At the end of the day, I don’t hear a whole lot of issues in our town. People are generally happy.”
A feud develops between Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula and challenger Harold Long over a broken four-year old promise. Barbara Price fails to make the ballot in Comox. Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird finally has an opponent, poor fella, so there’s no end of fun in this year’s election campaign
This article was updated Tuesday morning to add new information about a Comox candidates meeting and to correct information about the School District 71 elections.
Who says local government elections are boring? Here’s what happened in the last week of nominations in the Comox Valley:
The Courtenay mayoralty candidate that many assumed was the front-runner curiously dropped out of the race in a bid to stay on the City Council.
A long-time former City Council member jumped into the Courtenay mayoralty race and strongly criticized the incumbent mayor for breaking a promise he made four years ago.
In Comox, the Town Council and mayor’s chair will get a near-total makeover because only two of seven incumbents are running for re-election.
But that wasn’t entirely planned. One Comox councillor, who fully intended to run again, failed to file her completed nomination papers in time and won’t be on the ballot.
In School District 71, four incumbents chose not to run for re-election, an indication of some of the pressure on school boards, perhaps as a result of years of underfunding by the provincial government.
And, finally, Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird has drawn a challenger. It’s the first time she’s had an opponent, having been acclaimed to office twice. Not that anyone is expecting a close vote.
But, all in all, the next four weeks of local politics looks like fun.
FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates and a full list of who’s running for councils, regional district and school board, go to our Elections 2018 page
Harold Long and Larry Jangula will feud it out. Long wanted to run for mayor in 2014, but made a deal with Jangula to support him last time, if Jangula would support Long in 2018.
Except it’s going to be hard for Jangula to keep his promise with his own name on the ballot.
According to a reliable source, Jangula justified breaking the deal to Long in a phone call: “I can change my mind if I want to,” Jangula reportedly said.
Jangula has yet to respond to Decafnation’s request for an interview.
David Frisch, the top vote-getter in the 2014 election, looked like the front runner for the mayor’s job in Courtenay. Even late-entry mayoralty candidate Harold Long thought Frisch was the odds-on favorite.
But Frisch dropped out suddenly because, according to him, he didn’t want to split the progressive vote three ways (between himself, Bob Wells and Erik Eriksson) making a Jangula victory more likely.
But he dropped out before Harold Long jumped in, who is sure to take a big chunk out of Jangula’s vote total, which leaves local political observers wondering who will emerge from this two-on-two free-for-all.
Comox Councillor Barbara Price meant to file for re-election. But while at the Union of BC Municipalities convention in Whistler last week, she got word that her nomination papers weren’t properly filled out.
Price tried to correct the problem while travelling back to the Comox Valley, including trying to find a Notary Public on the BC Ferry trip from Horseshoe Bay, but to no avail. She didn’t make the ballot.
That has the potential to realign the balance of power in Comox, especially on issues like the rewriting of Hamilton Mack Laing’s Last Will and trusts to the town.
Decafnation will do its best to inform voters about the candidates, and we’ll make our own recommendations soon. But there are only a few opportunities for voters to hear the candidates speak in person and debate each other.
There’s a Comox Valley sustainability forum tomorrow night, Thursday, Sept 19, at the K’omoks First Nation Community Hall, and an all-candidates meeting for the City of Courtenay only on Oct. 16 at the Sid Williams Theatre. Comox voters will get to meet their municipal candidates at 7 p.m on Oct. 12 at the Comox Recreation Centre.
And surely there will be a public debate for the Cumberland candidates. But will regional district and school board candidates get a chance to debate in public?
Watch The Record and TideChange.ca and our Morning Briefings column for announcements of additional events. We’ll be posting new events on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/decafnation.
Meanwhile, enjoy the show, support your own favorite candidates and, most importantly, VOTE on Oct. 20.
Former council member Murray Presley blames the current mayor and council for overspending and wandering from its core functions into pipelines, GMOs and running daycare centres. He wants to contract out more city services and get the Stotan Falls park
Murray Presley, a retired accountant who served on Courtenay City Council for 15 years, is making a comeback in order to reduce the cost of local government.
Presley, who retired from his practice at Presley and Partners earlier this year, said he’s disturbed by what he’s seen happen at City Council the past four years.
“It’s two against five every time; Jangula and Theos get outvoted,” he said. “We need four like-minded people on council. I’m hoping two will join me (and Theos) in getting elected.”
Presley says the council has wandered off its core function into things like a nuclear-free zone, GMOs, the TransMountain pipeline debate and other irrelevant issues.
“Why is the city running a daycare and a fitness centre (at the Lewis Centre)?” he told Decafnation, though admitting his own kids went there. “We should ask what services the city should provide — water, sewer, public safety, roads — and stop doing the rest.”
FURTHER READING: For more interviews with candidates and a full list of who’s running for councils, regional district and school board, go to our Elections 2018 page
Presley, who calls himself a fiscal conservative, uses a Yellow Page phone book analogy to explain his position.
“Open up the Yellow Pages, if there’s a service listed there that the city is also doing, we should consider contracting it out,” he said.
That’s because local government’s priority is to not get sued or screw things up, he said, while a private business is driven by a desire to do things more efficiently.
“We have great employees at the city, but we don’t have good management up top, at the council,” he said. “Council makes policy, but if it’s not doing a good job and without a strong mayor, the staff will step in and set the policy.”
Presley says the cost of government is too high. The tax increases over the last five or six years have exceeded the cost of living. “It’s not sustainable,” he says.
The housing market is one area that has suffered from too much government interference, he says.
“We have to reduce the amount of red tape or make the development process faster, that will bring down housing costs.” he said. Presley also supports smaller lots and smaller houses and permitting secondary suites.
In the City of Langford, Presley says a building permit takes only three days and a development permit just two months. But in Courtenay that kind of turn-around is unheard of.
Meanwhile, the city spends time on a tree bylaw, which Murray says he agrees with in principle, but counts as an added layer of bureaucracy that just adds to the cost of housing in the city.
“I like the idea of a green canopy,” he said. “But take a drive down Ryan Road hill. What do you see? Trees all over, we’re surrounded by a green canopy.”
Earlier this year, Presley widely promoted the idea of an Agriplex for the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds, and helped raise money for the project. But he realizes that could be a conflict of interest if he’s elected, and insists he’s pulled back from it now.
“I’m not running on this issue or to promote it,” he said. “And, in any case, it would have to eventually go to a referendum … to see if the public has the appetite to take on the debt.”
But Presley is not pulling back his support for 3L Developments 700-house subdivision along the Puntledge River near Stotan Falls.
“The park is more important than the subdivision,” he said. “If that’s what it takes (green lighting the subdivision) to get the park, I’m okay with that.”
Presley points out that under existing zoning, the developer can proceed with 10-acre lots and “then we won’t have access to the falls.”
Presley said he doesn’t plan to knock on doors or campaign aggressively before Oct. 20, because he doesn’t care if he gets elected or not. But he does want to raise awareness that Courtenay’s spending needs to be controlled.
And one way to make all Comox Valley governments more efficient is through amalgamation, he says.
“We’d be better governed as a district municipality, or at least Courtenay, Comox and maybe Area B,” he said. “Why do we need three public works yards, three city halls?”
Presley was born in Scarborough, England. His father was in the Canadian Air Force and his mother was in the British Air Force. They met and married, and were stationed to Sea Island in 1954 (the site of the Vancouver airport).
The family moved to the Comox Valley in 1961, and Presley graduated from Courtenay High School in 1964.
Presley says that he also running to help create more jobs by adding more industrial land and encouraging clean industries. That, he says, would help young people stay in our community.