Arzeena Hamir seeking diverse Area B seat on CVRD

Arzeena Hamir seeking diverse Area B seat on CVRD

Arzeena Hamir has experience in bringing together people with opposing views, a skill she would use to improve decision-making at the regional district level


Arzeena Hamir has decided to seek election as the Area B representative on the regional district because she can offer a fresh perspective on how the Comox Valley Regional District makes decisions.

Hamir would definitely bring a world view to local government.

Born in Tanzania, East Africa, she moved with her family to Richmond, BC in 1973. After finishing a BA degree in agriculture at the University of Guelph, Hamir served as a CUSO volunteer in Thailand, where she’s fluent in the language.

She then spent time in India doing field research for the Masters degree in sustainable agriculture that she earned from the University of London, England.

After concluding her studies, Hamir worked as an agrologist for West Coast Seeds, and as the food security coordinator for the Richmond Food Security Society creating community gardens and doing education workshops.

In 2012, she started her own farm, Amara Farms, in the Comox Valley, and helped form Merville Organics, a co-operative venture with four other area farmers.

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

Over the last six years, Hamir has become increasingly concerned with how some local political decisions have been made and wants to use her skills in bringing people together to take a different approach.

“I see projects on the horizon that could impact the things that attracted me to the Comox Valley — land, water and community,” she told Decafnation. “I want to shine a light on them in a way that hasn’t been thought about.”

Hamir points to the proposed Agriplex for the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds (CVEG) as an example of a project — included in the CVEG Master Plan “in an underhanded way” — for which there is no proven need and will burden taxpayers forever.

“I see many needs in the Valley, this is not one of them,” she said. “We should channel that community energy and staff time and money into real needs.

“We’ve got bigger things to think about.”

One of those is building the Comox Valley into Vancouver Island’s primary food producer.

Right now, about 95 percent of food consumed on the Island comes from somewhere else. Hamir says that’s not a good long-term position.
“The Valley is blessed with lots of farmable land while other Island areas are losing theirs,” she said. “We should be ramping up production.”

The Cowichan Valley is drying up, she says, and farms have dramatically lost production. Saanich peninsula farms are losing ground to McMansions and mega cannabis growing operations, plus they have soil and water challenges.

“We don’t have those same development and climate pressures,” she said. “If the Comox Valley Regional District could support farmers, even just helping them share information and work cooperatively so they can continue to farm, this industry will be successful.”

Hamir recognizes the diversity of interests in Area B. Its boundaries include the Comox peninsula, Bates Beach, Lazo and Point Holmes and parts of Headquarters Road in the Tsolum regions.

“I don’t have all the answers,” she said. “But I have the experience and ability to bring people with opposing views together.”

She is a founder of the Mid-Island Farmers Institute, an organization of about 80 farmers formed to address common issues and share information. She also helped form the Comox Valley Food Security Roundtable for a similar purpose.

Hamir says she would build on those experiences to address issues at the regional district level, such as sewerage, land development and water.

“We have people on city water and wells, and we have boil water advisories and water bottling proposals, and our glaciers are shrinking,” she says. “I would bring people together to create better watershed plans.”

She wonders if climate change is being fully considered in regional decision-making.

“It worrisome to have sewer pipes in the foreshore and to allow building in flood plains,” she says. “I’m not afraid to tackle those issues.”

She opposes the 3L Developments proposal to build a subdivision at Stotan Falls because it contradicts the expressed wishes of the community represented in the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS).

“I don’t take changes to the RGS lightly,” she said. “We need more infill in our existing settlement nodes and urban cores before stressing the outer areas.”

Hamir would also like to see more incentives for Area B residents to recycle. Some households rely on private collectors, but recycling isn’t built into those contracts. She proposes a discount for only one garbage bin, more composting education and making recycling easier to do in the rural areas.


Who’s running: Final list of 2018 municipal candidates

Who’s running: Final list of 2018 municipal candidates

The final list of candidates for the Comox Valley’s five local governments. Election Day is Oct. 20. Cumberland has a public referendum on the ballot, and Courtenay has a non-binding opinion question for voters



Candidates for mayor: Incumbent Leslie Baird and Eduardo Uranga

Candidates for four (4) council positions: Incumbents Roger Kishi, Jessie Kelter, Sean Sullivan, Gwyn Sproule and new candidates Eric Krejci, Vicky Brown and Ian McLean

REFERENDUM: Are you in favour of “Wastewater Upgrade Project Loan Authorization Bylaw, No. 1084, 2018” to authorize the Village of Cumberland to borrow up to $4,400,000, including interest, over a period not exceeding 20 years in order to finance the construction of an upgraded lagoon wastewater treatment plant? YES or NO



Candidates for mayor: Incumbent Larry Jangula and new candidates Erik Eriksson, Bob Wells and Harold Long

Candidates for six (6) council positions: Incumbents David Frisch, Doug Hillian and Mano Theos, and new candidates Melanie McCollum, Will Cole-Hamilton, Deana Simpkin, Judi Murakami, Wendy Morin, Brennan Day, Kiyoshi Kosky, Tom Grant, Murray Presley, Starr Winchester, Penny Marlow, Jin Lin and Darwin Dzuba

OPINION QUESTION (non-binding): Are you in favour of conducting a study, in partnership with the Province of BC, to review the governance structures and policies of the City of Courtenay and other local governments within the Comox Valley to consider the feasibility and implications of restructure? YES or NO


Candidates for mayor: Tom Diamond and Russ Arnott

Candidates for six (6) council positions: Incumbents Ken Grant and Maureen Swift, and new candidates Nicole Minions, Don Davis, Chris Haslett, Alex Bissinger, Ronald Freeman, Stephanie McGowan and Patrick McKenna

Regional District Rural Areas

Area A — Daniel Arbour and Jim Elliott
Area B — Incumbent Rod Nichol and Arzeena Hamir
Area C — Incumbent Edwin Grieve and Jay Oddleifson

School District 71

Janice Caton — City of Courtenay
Kathleen Hawksby — City of Courtenay
Sarah Jane Howe — Village of Cumberland
Laurel Rankin — Village of Cumberland
Randi Baldwin — Town of Comox
Tonia Frawley — Town of Comox
Shelia McDonnell — Area A
James Derry — Area B
Michelle Waite — Area B
Ian Hargreaves — Area C
Terence Purden — Area C

Harold Long joins the race for Courtenay mayor

Harold Long joins the race for Courtenay mayor

Harold Long says Courtenay has outgrown small town thinking, should plan for sea level rise, calls a subdivision at Stotan Falls a ‘bad idea’ and wants to densify the urban core to preserve downtown businesses. And he’s disappointed in incumbent Mayor Larry Jangula


Harold Long, a three-term Courtenay council member in the 1980s, will launch a return to city politics this week, this time in a run for the mayor’s chair.

Long, who was born and raised on 21st Street, was first elected to City Council in 1984. He ran for mayor in 1990, losing to Ron Webber by only 25 votes.

He’s stayed out of the political scene since then because he didn’t want “to be a heckler from the sidelines.”

But Long is jumping back in now because he is disappointed in the city’s lack of a long-term vision and particularly in the performance of incumbent Mayor Larry Jangula, who he believes has alienated the council and failed to bring them together.

“I think, in general, it’s time for the city to think outside of the box,” he told Decafnation. “We’ve outgrown small town thinking.”

Long spent most of his career as a plumber and pipefitter, working on many of the Comox Valley’s major infrastructure projects, such as the Brent Road sewage treatment plant, the sports centre, Driftwood mall and a renovation of St. Joseph’s General Hospital.

He’s probably best known recently as a land developer. His biggest project was the Valley View subdivision that essentially created East Courtenay.

Asked if voters might wonder if he has a conflict of interest, Long says he has no big projects planned and hasn’t done any developing in Courtenay for eight years. All the property he owns in the city is his house and five acres near Glacier View Lodge.

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

And for someone who might get stereotyped as a conservative — Long is a fiscal conservative — he talks about many progressive ideas.

Long favors densification of the urban core, says the city should be planning for sea level rise and moving infrastructure inland, believes the Stotan Falls area is a bad place to put a subdivision, wants to upgrade sewage treatment facilities to produce effluent that can be reused and opposes dumping wastewater into any body of water.

He also believes Courtenay residents “won’t stand for more tax increases” and should look more closely at ways to reduce costs. At the same time, Long thinks the city hasn’t spent enough on maintaining its important infrastructure, such as the Fifth Street bridge.

On housing

Long worries that middle income families, as well as young people, have been priced out of Courtenay’s housing market.

“To get ahead, people have to own it (their property),” he says. “Equity is everything.”

So he supports smaller houses on small lots, removing obstacles that prevent developments targeting lower-priced houses and requiring new developments to have a mix of varying priced homes.

Long knows the city has lost several affordable housing projects because the bureaucratic tangle was overwhelming.

“If we don’t work on a long-term housing plan for both availability and affordability, I’m afraid of where we’re headed,” he said. “The next generation of seniors will be much poorer, their pensions eaten up by rent or mortgages.”

He supports allowing secondary suites, especially around the downtown core.

“The only way to preserve our downtown is to put people on the street,” he said. “Not just during the day, but 16 hours a day. Retail is a tough business and it’s more important than the development community.”

On the environment

Long recognizes that “a lot of environmentally sensitive people” live in Courtenay, and more are moving here because of its natural assets.

“This wasn’t an issue when I was a kid, but it’s vital now,” he said.

Long will lead council to do more planning for the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise.

“That’s (rising sea levels) a big issue with the sewer line along Dyke Road; it should be on land where we have the opportunity to clean up any potential spill,” he said. “It’s going to be expensive, but necessary.”

He thinks the region should also rethink wastewater outfalls considering the thousands of homes proposed for the Royston-Union Bay area and the sensitivity of Baynes Sound.

“Technology has improved to the level where we don’t necessarily need outfalls,” he said. “We need to start looking at that. We can treat wastewater so it’s reusable, even drinkable.”

On Stotan Falls

Long doesn’t hesitate to call the 3L Developments proposed 540 house subdivision on the Puntledge and Browns rivers a “bad idea.”

“It’s sitting on rock, and everything drains toward the river,” he said. “It could be built to protect the rivers, but what happens if it fails?”

While he says Riverwood would not address the Valley’s affordable housing issues, Long also believes the regional district should open up more settlement nodes.

“There’s no significant available land in Courtenay,” he said. “90 percent of the land available is in Crown Isle.”

He said it’s too expensive for a developer to consider a 10 to 15 acre subdivision. To make it worthwhile these days, Long says a developer needs a minimum of 100-200 acres.

On traffic

Long says council needs to think outside of the box on transportation. He doesn’t have a silver bullet, but says the city should consider ways to improve traffic flow while making long-term plans for things like another crossing.

He envisions a cloverleaf on the east side of the 17th Street bridge and making Fitzgerald Avenue a major route to move traffic off Cliffe Avenue.

On the Airpark

Long supports the Courtenay Airpark and the Kus-kus-sum projects, and dismisses suggestions that the land might be better used for housing. He says people don’t realize what’s under the Airpark property.

“There’s bits of concrete, a mixture of soils and general rubble down there that makes it totally unsuitable for development,” he said. “It’s partly fill from when we had to cover up the sewer lagoon, and it contains heavy metals.”

And what hasn’t been discussed is that the whole area is a First Nations midden, according to Long. In the late 1950s when the marina was being built, he remembers there were arrows and skulls and more turned up during the excavating.

“I don’t see this as developable land,” he said.

Economic development

Long would like to promote the city to the technology sector and attract remote workers who can enjoy a higher quality of life here than in larger cities. It’s a clean industry that comes with high paying jobs, he says.

On marijuana

Long regards the legalization of marijuana as a federal issue that City Council cannot change or impact. However, he would create a special, site specific zone for marijuana retailers.

“I think we need to pay close attention to public opinion as we move forward on this one,” he said.

Full disclosure: My youngest son and Harold Long’s son have been long-time friends, but this interview was the only time he and I have talked one-on-one.


Starr Winchester will focus on traffic and taxation

Starr Winchester will focus on traffic and taxation

After a one-term absence, Starr Winchester is carrying on a long family tradition of public service in seeking another term on the Courtenay City Council


Former Courtenay Mayor Starr Winchester hopes to extend her 21 years of leadership by once again seeking a City Council position.

Winchester has already served two stints on council, the first one for 12 years and the second for three years before losing by just a few votes in the 2014 election. In between her City Council terms, she also served six years as mayor.

“I love local government,” Winchester says. “It’s in my blood; it’s all I’ve know since childhood.”

Winchester’s father, Bill Moore served several terms as mayor of Courtenay in the 1970s, and was the MLA for the North Island in the 1950s and 1960s.

Losing her seat in the 2014 election was a disappointment, but it turned out to be fortuitous. In the last four years, she’s beat breast cancer and mourned the loss of two close friends.

“It became a good time for me to reflect on what I really want to do with my life,” she said.

FURTHER READING: See who’s running for local government this year on our Elections 2018 page

This time around, Winchester is focused on traffic and taxation issues.

She feels the council mishandled the recent hiring of 16 new staff and reclassifying one employee, and she didn’t like to see the staff criticized in public over the issue. It’s the council that makes these decisions, she says.

“How did we get to the point where we needed to hire 17 people all at once,” she said.

The former mayor sees tax savings in combining selected services with Comox and the rural areas, such as planning departments, fire departments and public works.

“It can be done,” Winchester said, pointing to her efforts in the past to form the Regional Playing Field function at the regional district and in creating the Comox Valley Art Gallery.

She counts an improved status for provincial funding among the benefits of consolidating services.

Looking back on her terms as mayor, Winchester cites splitting the Comox and Strathcona Regional Districts into two separate jurisdictions as her “proudest moment” and greatest accomplishment.

“Finally, the Comox Valley could do its own planning,” she said.

On traffic issues, Winchester believes a third crossing of the Courtenay River is inevitable. But the cost will have to be shared regionally, especially with Comox.

In the meantime, she thinks a widening of the 17th Street bridge could relieve traffic congestion to tolerable levels.

She also thinks the city has too many traffic studies.

“We just need to get them all out, review them and make some decisions,” she said.

But she fully supports the Courtenay Airpark and the Kus-kus-sum project, indicating that 21st Street isn’t a good third crossing option because it threatened both.

Winchester thinks the city’s regulations on carriage houses and secondary suites should be relaxed, so people don’t have to apply for a variance to create them. She wants to increase density in the city’s core and make housing more available and affordable.

And to increase government transparency, she would like to see internet streaming of all regional board meetings, including the water and sewer commissions.


How Alberta’s oil industry co-opted Canada

How Alberta’s oil industry co-opted Canada

Former Alberta Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft will discuss his new book in Courtenay on Sept. 13, telling the story of how the collision between climate change and the oil industry subverted the democratic process in Canada


Former Alberta Liberal Party leaders and author Kevin Taft will talk about his latest book, “Oil’s Deep State,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13 at the Lower Native Sons Hall in Courtenay. The event will be moderated by Campbell River filmmaker and journalist Damien Gillis.

Most Canadians believe — or want to believe — in a direct connection between casting their ballot in provincial and federal elections and the democratic process. We like to think that checking a box every four years or so determines our nation’s policies and our future.

But as Kevin Taft’s new book, “Oil’s Deep State’” reveals this isn’t necessarily so.

There are darker and deeper forces at work that, left unchecked, can have a greater influence over our political, civil service and regulatory institutions at all levels of government.

Taft writes from the perspective of an insider. He was the Alberta Liberal Party leader from 2001 to 2012, and formed the official opposition from 2004 to 2008.

His book tells the story of the collision between global warming and Canada’s oil industry and how democracy got squeezed in the middle.

And more specifically, Taft details how the Alberta NDP party, which was elected in 2015 on promises of challenging the oil industry’s dominance in the province, became the oil sands biggest promoter.

The flip-flop by Alberta’s NDP occured, Taft says, because of the “deep state” created by the powerful oil and gas industry.

Damien Gillis, a Campbell River documentary filmmaker, who will introduce Taft during his book tour stop in Courtenay on Sept. 13, says that a “deep state” occurs when political parties, government agencies, arm’s length regulators and university researchers lose their independence.

Gillis, who also co-founded the Common Sense Canadian with former Social Credit party cabinet minister Rafe Mair, says that Taft’s book charts Alberta politics from premiers Peter Lougheed through Ralph Klein, and exposes how the oil industry has co-opted Alberta’s public institutions into believing its economy is dependent on oil field royalties.

According to Taft, here’s what happened: The world became aware in the 1980s of the impact of fossil fuels on global warming and other climate changes. The oil industry feared its collapse and began a fierce lobbying campaign to save themselves.

Their efforts convinced the Stephen Harper government to pull out of the Kyoto Accord on climate change, and federal scientists were silenced, not unlike how US President Trump is now reshaping that country’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Federal Liberals and the Alberta NDP joined the oil sands bandwagon. The Alberta energy regulator was an ex oil executive and millions of tax dollars flowed to universities to rebut fossil fuels impact on climate change and create the notion that the province’s economy depended on a healthy oil industry.

In the end, the Canadian oil industry gained virtual oversight of the political mindset in Alberta and in the federal government.

And yet, Taft says, Alberta gets more revenue from gaming and liquor than oil sands revenue.

“Alberta’s oil industry is not indispensable to its or Canada’s economy,” Gillis says. “Just as BC is not dependent on forestry stumpage fees or fishing tonnage fees.”

But the public does have tools to combat a deep state when it forms, according to Gillis.

“Even when when big oil had everything lined up — a Harper majority, BC Liberals, Alberta conservatives — the public has power through the constitution, the courts, grassroots movements and First Nations support,” Gillis said.

Following Taft’s presentation in Courtenay, Gillis will moderate a question and answer period with the author.