The Week: Canadian snowbirds plan winter visit … no, not those Snowbirds!

The Week: Canadian snowbirds plan winter visit … no, not those Snowbirds!

An unusually large and beautiful Brugmansia suaveolens plant adorns Comox’s main intersection. Just don’t eat it.  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: Canadian snowbirds plan winter visit … no, not those Snowbirds!

By George Le Masurier

The snowbirds are coming! No, not the Snowbirds that cause chaos in the skies over the Comox Valley every spring. These snowbirds are much quieter and they’re coming in droves to Vancouver Island.

Comox Valley hotels and RV parks report that retired Canadians from Alberta to Ontario who usually go south for a warmer climate in the winter have turned their sights this year on Vancouver Island.

And why not? Florida or Mexico might have Vancouver Island beat for heat, but it’s not as cold as Saskatchewan.

Comox Valley RV parks and hotels that offer in-suite kitchens expect to be full this winter because the COVID pandemic is keeping snowbirds at home.

At the Cape Lazo RV Park, Steffany Martin told Decafnation that their spaces are normally fully booked, but there’s a slight difference in clientele this year.

While the RV park is getting a handful of new reservations from eastern Canada for the winter months, they are getting even more requests from Vancouver Islanders.

“There’s a lot of full-time RVers — and new ones, first-timers — out there who live here in the summer and go south for the winter,” she told Decafnation. “They’re staying close to home this year and have been since the summer.”

The Old House Resort and Spa General Manager David Rooper told Decafnation that he may not be able to accommodate all the demand this winter.

“Our travel partners and vendors who constantly assess the travel market patterns are all forecasting strong western-bound vacationers this winter,” he told Decafnation. “It is still early for mid-winter bookings; however, we now have less inventory to offer given early bookings by traditional key business contracts. Our summer and fall bookings have seen increased visitation from Islanders, the BC Mainland, and some interprovincial.”

 

Perhaps no local business has suffered more during the pandemic than the Comox Valley Airport.

In 2019, the airport transported more than 400,000 passengers, which was its second-busiest year on record. But from April to July this year, that number fell by 95 percent, with an equivalent drop in revenue for the self-sustaining entity.

Both Air Canada Jazz and Pacific Coastal suspended services.

The airport has stayed open to support WestJet service but the gift shop and coffee shop have closed, rental car agencies have reduced their hours and the volunteer program has been suspended.

A relatively small number of snowbirds from eastern Canada may fly into YQQ, but it won’t be enough new business to make up the pandemic’s catastrophic blow.

 

Have you noticed the gigantic bouquet of unusual yellow flowers at the public square on the Comox main intersection? It’s a spectacular living plant, but be careful, it’s also toxic.

The plant is a Brugmansia suaveolens, often called an angel trumpet and it is a member of the more poisonous nightshade family. It is now extinct in the wild.

According to Wikipedia, every part of Brugmansia suaveolens is poisonous, with the seeds and leaves being especially dangerous. While the sap may only be a skin irritant, ingesting the plant could be fatal.

According to WebMD, when taken by mouth, Angel’s Trumpet is unsafe. And the BioNET-Eafrine website says the use of B. suaveolens as a landscape plant is banned in some municipalities in the USA.

So, enjoy the beauty of its hanging flowers, just don’t try to eat one.

 

Archeologists have discovered an Ancient Canadian village on Triquet Island in the Great Bear Rainforest that’s older than the pyramids.

The village has been buried beneath nearly 10 feet of soil and appears to be around 14,000 years ago, thousands of years older than the pyramids, or ancient Rome.

The unearthing has been done by researchers from the Hakai Institute and the University of Victoria, with local First Nations members. Its discovery may shed light on the migration patterns of early human species, including how the first humans arrived in North America.

 

 

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The Week: We’re back but CV pathologists are gone — and, face mask deniers beware

The Week: We’re back but CV pathologists are gone — and, face mask deniers beware

Even young owls are wise enough to know the North Island is losing medical services  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: We’re back but CV pathologists are gone — and, face mask deniers beware

By George Le Masurier

If you start hearing complaints from people about how long their biopsy results have taken, don’t be surprised. Island Health finally got its wish and forced out Comox Valley general pathologists, Dr. Chris Bellamy and Dr. Wayne Dunn.

The pair of well-respected doctors resigned on Aug. 21, leaving the Comox Valley without any onsite pathologists. This means a serious degradation of health care services available locally.

Island Health is determined to remove medical services from the North Island and centralize them in Victoria. They took away onsite clinical pathology services from the Campbell River Hospital several years ago to the dismay of that community’s doctors and other health care professionals who have protested and demanded reinstatement.

The Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board has joined that fight. But pleas to the North Island MLAs for help have gone unanswered.

Watch for more on this story next week.

Congratulations — again — to the Cumberland Community Forest Society for completing their largest single land purchase. In early September, the CCFS closed the deal to preserve an additional 225 acres. This means more forested land that was threatened by logging interests can forever be enjoyed by hikers and mountain bikers. Future generations will look back on what the society has achieved with admiration for their foresight and perseverance.

It’s hard to take the criticism of Premier John Horgan’s Oct. 24 election call too seriously. Yes, there is a pandemic and there’s no vaccine or proven cure for the COVID virus on the horizon. There may never be either. However, British Columbians are carrying on their lives safely. The infection data shows it. The grocery stores are full. People are buying cars, motor homes, televisions and going in and out of all kinds of stores and coffee shops. Kids are back to school. So it shouldn’t be difficult to arrange safe polling stations. And listen, if people willingly waited in lines to enter Costco or buy a latte, they should be happy to do the same to vote.

Speaking of masks, why are so many people not wearing them? Most grocery shoppers we see wear masks. But at other stores, the percentage of non-maskers ranks significantly higher. True, some of these people might have forgotten their mask at home — seems like we need multiple masks these days, tucked away in our cars and coats — but what’s up with the other people who just don’t seem to care? We don’t promote or condone mask-shaming, but, sweet mercy, those people look like the fools.

The breaking news today that US President Trump and his wife have both tested positive for the virus feels like karmic destiny: what goes around, comes around. We hope for his speedy recovery, as we would for anyone with COVID. But isn’t it tempting to think maybe he should suffer a little? Trump has downplayed the virus while more than 200,000 of his constituents died and millions of other lives have been permanently altered, either directly through as yet unknown long-term medical complications or via the collapsed economy. Trump has refused to wear a mask and mocked his opponent, Joe Biden, for doing so. We shudder to imagine how he’s going to spin this irony on Twitter.

 

 

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The Week: VIHA and province disrespect our hospital board, medical staff and the public

The Week: VIHA and province disrespect our hospital board, medical staff and the public

When fog settles in, our vision is limited  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: VIHA and province disrespect our hospital board, medical staff and the public

By George Le Masurier

As a retired journalist who has seen the health care system from up close on both sides of the Canada-US border, I can tell you that we are fortunate to live here.

It’s true we don’t have a Mayo Clinic or a John Hopkins University, and there aren’t storefronts offering MRIs on every street corner (only a slight exaggeration). But we have our fair share of brilliant and competent people providing us with health care, from brain surgeons right through to admitting clerks.

I have retired friends in the Puget Sound who pay $1,000 per month for comparable health insurance that used to cost BC residents just $75 a month, and is now free. For their inflated cost, my American friends get little more than better access to technology and procedures, although that can be critical in certain situations.

I say this to put my next sentence in context.

Many of those who work in the healthcare field on Vancouver Island — the doctors, nurses, laboratory workers, kitchen workers in hospitals, receptionists and more — believe that the Vancouver Island Health Authority is poorly managed. Employee surveys at Nanaimo General and the two North Island Hospitals in 2017/2018 bear this out.

And sadly, with a few exceptions, our elected officials and our mainstream Island media have let them off the hook.

VIHA, or Island Health if you prefer, is a secretive organization whose top decision-makers appear out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve. It’s an organization that could not properly plan and build new hospitals in Campbell River and the Comox Valley; planning flaws that after two years  still have not been fully corrected.

How else can you describe the VIHA executives that have imposed reductions of pathology services north of the Malahat, especially on the North Island? Or, how they have dealt with the public that has explained the harm that these changes have made to patient care? We have lost critical onsite clinical pathologists’ services in Campbell River, and soon, if VIHA gets its way, in the Comox Valley, too.

The centralization of clinical pathology interpretation and diagnosis in Victoria is a disservice to north Islanders. Next on the block might be medical imaging. After that, who knows?

 

DECISIONS MADE IN ISOLATION

VIHA hatched this plan to shut down certain laboratory services at our hospitals without prior consultation with our doctors, our lab staff or even our elected officials at the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District. Consulting the public, of course, would never cross their minds.

North Island medical professionals, such as Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a Campbell River general pathologist, learned of this centralization plan through an out-of-the-blue phone call. “Don’t do this work any more, send it to doctors in Victoria.”

This change has created potential life-threatening situations and, at the very least, has added unnecessary stress to people already suffering through longer wait times, increased uncertainty and delays in treatment. North Island doctors are concerned that people will die as a direct result of not having clinical pathologists’ services onsite in the Valley and Campbell River.

And here’s another problem: our elected hospital board directors have no say at all about operations at our hospitals. The extent of their job, it appears, is to ask taxpayers to pony up 40 percent of the capital costs for projects proposed by VIHA.

To their credit, hospital board directors wrote a letter to the VIHA board chair and BC Health Minister Adrian Dix asking them to restore the lab services VIHA has grabbed for Victoria. That would, in turn, free up funds for hiring a needed third general pathologist for the Campbell River Hospital.

That was last spring. To date there has been no response to their letter from Health Minister Dix and directors who asked to meet with him at the UBCM Convention were rebuffed. VIHA did respond with a presentation notable for its flawed graphs, inaccurate information and a confusing explanation that did not address the board’s concerns.

Now, the board is struggling with how to respond to this treatment and whether they even can advocate for the citizens of the North Island. It’s a problem foisted upon them by VIHA, which has neglected public sentiment and deflected its accountability.

 

HOSPITAL BOARD MUST ADVOCATE

The public has naturally turned to the one and only group of regionally accountable individuals available, the regional hospital board.

It was the hospital board that committed North Island taxpayers to pay for 40 percent of what we all assumed were two complete hospitals. We expected they would come with fully-functioning laboratories suitable for community hospitals, which we already had at the old Campbell River Hospital and at St. Joseph’s.

Now we have hospitals with diminished laboratory services, and who knows what further reductions are yet to come. This is not what we were promised when our hospital board committed us to a $267 million debt.

How is it possible that our elected local officials who sit on the Comox Strathcona Hospital Board are reduced to nothing more than a conduit through which VIHA extracts capital funding from local taxpayers with the blessing of a provincial government that thinks it cannot be held to account?

We elected the hospital board directors. It’s shameful that the province takes our money and treats them with such disrespect.

Can the board accept this role, standing idly by rather than rising up to advocate for North Island patients? Isn’t it right that, at the very least, they demand to have the services we paid expected? And that they continue to demand it until full hospital services are restored?

Their advocacy is important and can be powerful. And it’s their obligation to us, the constituents who are paying the bill.

 

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Petition put to BC Legislature: restore North Island pathology

North Island MLA Claire Trevena presented a petition signed by over 2,500 people to the BC Legislature Nov. 20 that calls for the return of onsite clinical pathologists’ services to the Campbell River Hospital and to investigate possible conflicts of interest within Island Health

Patients, lab staff suffer from reduced pathology services at North Island hospitals

If Island Health executives get their way, the new Comox Valley Hospital could lose all of its onsite clinical pathologist services sometime next year, a move that area doctors and elected officials believe will further diminish patient care on the North Island. It’s already happened in Campbell River and wait times for results are getting longer

The Week: March for our planet today, but who will take the big, bold steps we need?

The Week: March for our planet today, but who will take the big, bold steps we need?

Only big, bold and probably unpopular actions are needed now to slow down climate change  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: March for our planet today, but who will take the big, bold steps we need?

By George Le Masurier

This week we’re feeling curious about many things, but especially this: After today’s climate march will a genuine sense of emergency finally hit home throughout the Comox Valley?

The Comox Valley Youth Environmental Action group has called for another climate strike today. It starts from Simms Park in Courtenay at 1 pm.

Perhaps another 3,000 people or more will march through Courtenay’s streets to show growing support for actions by individuals and governments to lessen or delay the disastrous effects of climate change.

Climate activist and Courtenay CouncillorWill Cole-Hamilton reminded us last week of the important role that public demonstrations play. They give us a sense of well-being; that we’re doing something positive to fight back unthinkable horrors.

And seeing growing numbers of committed people atted public demonstrations gives social license to businesses and governments to take bolder actions to save our planet.

And here comes the ‘but.’

But so far we haven’t seen any bold actions by leaders locally, provincially or nationally.

Yes, we have taken small steps. We’ve banned single-use plastic bags. We’re in the process of adding charging stations for electric vehicles. We’ve banned the extraction and bottling of groundwater or municipal water for commercial purposes. On a national level, Canada did sign the Paris Accord.

Cities and towns all over the world are taking small steps like these, and many other nations made pledges in Paris. Yet, carbon dioxide emissions have risen by an average of 1.5 percent per year for the past 10 years. We coughed up 55 gigatonnes last year. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached 407.8 parts per million.

To put that into perspective, scientists say global carbon emissions must drop by 7.6 percent per year for the next 10 years, or the world faces catastrophic consequences.

Small steps won’t get us there.

If we continue taking small steps most of the Courtenay Flats including Puntledge Road, the Lewis Centre, the gas station on Dyke Road and the K’omoks First Nation band hall will be flooded. So will the Courtenay Airpark. Jane Place in Comox will be underwater. The little bit of high ground near the tip of Goose Spit will become an island. The low lying farm land below CFB Comox that the Queen’s Ditch flows through will flood and begin the process of reverting to the saltwater bay it once was.

Think about the sewage pump station on the banks of the Courtenay River, and the Kus-kus-sum site.

Sea level rise will continue, droughts will last longer, forest fires will increase … and on and on it goes.

We don’t have time for small steps. I know many people think that some new technology will emerge and save us. I hope they’re right.

But we need that silver bullet today. Not five years from now. That’s too late, if you believe the science, and you must or you wouldn’t be marching today. And, if you don’t and you’re not marching, then you’re making the mountain that much higher for the rest of us to climb.

It’s nice that our local governments have declared ‘climate emergencies.’ But what does that really mean beyond lip service?

Have any of our municipalities dumped their fossil-fuel burning fleet of vehicles and purchased all electric models? Have any of them taken away gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers and grass trimmers from their public works staff? How many have installed solar panels on all of their municipal buildings?

The City of Courtenay and the Comox Valley Regional District have built a new office building on higher ground. That’s smart. But is it a LEED-certified building? No. Is it a net-zero energy building right now? No. Will it be complaint with the new BC Energy Step Code step building code when it goes into effect in 2032?

I know what you’re thinking. These changes take time. They cost money. People aren’t willing to pay the high taxes needed to change-out fleets of cars and hire more municipal staff to rake leaves. Builders aren’t constructing only net-zero energy buildings because people can’t afford them. These things are true.

But when our coastline starts disappearing and people lose their homes or can no longer get insurance or sell them because everybody is retreating as fast as they can to higher ground, then what?

I don’t know how we drop global emissions by 7.6 percent per year. We’ve never done it. In fact, we’re headed in the other direction even now.

But one thing is for sure: We need bold leaders willing to take bold actions — unpopular as they might be — or we’re in for natural disasters of a magnitude we clearly haven’t fathomed.

So march today. But take big steps, not small ones.

 

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The Week: Where did the Attorney General go; and, Trudeau’s middle ‘class’

The Week: Where did the Attorney General go; and, Trudeau’s middle ‘class’

Boys playing pool, circa late 1970s  |  George Le Masurier

The Week: Where did the Attorney General go; and, Trudeau’s middle ‘class’

By George Le Masurier

It appears that the BC Attorney General’s office may have changed its view of the Town of Comox’s desire to alter the Mack Laing Trust. How else to explain the last eight months of dead silence?

It’s been so long ago you may not remember that the town wants to tear down Laing’s historic home, called Shakesides, and spend the life savings that he gifted to the people of Comox on something other than what the trust agreement allows.

But in early May, the Attorney General surprised both the town and the Mack Laing Heritage Society by announcing a delay that they said could last about five months. The AG gave no reason for the delay. The town had hoped to go to trial during the court’s June sessions.

FURTHER READING: More about Hamilton Mack Laing and Shakesides

That five-month delay has now turned into eight months and counting. And the AG’s office still refuses to explain why or what it’s doing to bring the case to a resolution. Even town councillors have no idea what’s going on at the AG’s office.

Has the Attorney General reconsidered its support of the Town of Comox after taking the District of West Vancouver to court in July? The AG argued in that case that the municipality broke a similar agreement with two residents who had bequeathed their property.

Or, did the town’s failure to properly consult with the K’omoks First Nations set off alarms in the AG’s office?

Perhaps the Mack Laing Heritage Society’s comprehensive business plan that shows widespread community support for restoring Shakesides — more than two dozen individuals and construction companies have volunteered labor and materials — has caught the Attorney General’s attention.

Or maybe the AG’s office has finally realized how badly the town has handled Mack Laing’s generous gifts, especially the finances.

We can only hope one of these issues have given the Attorney General a crisis of conscience.

For nearly three years, a 5-2 majority of Comox councillors have been trying to ram their application through the BC Supreme Court. They spent the first two years, and three expensive Supreme Court hearings, attempting to block the Mack Laing Society from presenting evidence at trial.

Ex-mayor Paul Ives led this charge and current Mayor Russ Arnott has happily carried the torch. They have cost Comox taxpayers huge amounts of money trying to justify their actions.

Meanwhile, Shakesides sits in disrepair. But as Craig Freeman and the Merville Community Association have proved, it’s neither difficult nor expensive to preserve and rejuvenate a historic building, and give it a new life for public enjoyment.

The minority Liberal government announced a new cabinet post this week: Mona Fortier was appointed Minister of Middle-Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance.

Does that term ‘middle-class’ bother anyone else? Don’t we really mean middle-income? Does Canada have a class system?

Giving middle income families the label of ‘middle-class’ suggests there is an upper class and a lower class.

I don’t know about you, but in my world, people who have higher incomes don’t necessarily warrant a ‘higher class’ status than anyone else. In some instances, I’d argue the opposite. Likewise, people who have had less financial success in their lives don’t warrant ‘lower class’ status.

I’m nitpicking, perhaps. But how we use language affects people and reveals a truth about how we see the world. Doesn’t assigning a ‘class’ to our income levels say something unfavorable about our sense of social justice and personal worth?

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Did the Comox Town Council pay their CAO $350,000 just to go away? Why?

Did the Comox Town Council pay their CAO $350,000 just to go away? Why?

Winter is coming  |  George Le Masurier photo

Did the Comox Town Council pay their CAO $350,000 just to go away? Why?

By George Le Masurier

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here.’ Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.”
— Author Margaret Atwood, quoted in The Daily Telegraph (U.K.)

 

The firing of Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan is just one part of the turmoil surrounding the Town of Comox. And it might not even be the town’s most expensive headache.

Unhappy public works employees, false allegations carelessly publicized, two expensive Supreme Court lawsuits, a road project that won’t end and a fired CAO walking away with a pile of cash.

Comox Town Council must have been desperate to get rid of their long-time CAO. According to a reliable source within town hall, councillors gave him a whopping severance package totalling $350,000.

Council members aren’t talking about why or how much, and definitive confirmation of the amount won’t come until at least the town releases its 2019 financial statements. But our source is somebody who would know.

The provincial Public Sector Employers Act generously caps severance pay at 18 months after five years of service. That only applies to executives in health authorities, K-12 and post-secondary education institutions and Crown corporations. It doesn’t apply to municipalities. Small towns like Comox should be much further down the pay-out scale.

But even on that basis, Kanigan’s 2018 salary of $140,028, plus $8,056 in expenses, would have put his golden parachute around $210,000.

So what was the extra $140,000 for?

Did Kanigan have some good buddies in high places who approved a sweet deal in his contract? Did counmcil just want him gone in a hurry and they didn’t have a strong enough case to warrant or withstand a protracted wrongful dismissal suit? Did they pay him extra so some dirty laundry didn’t get hung out publicly? We don’t know.

One thing we do know is that Kanigan’s firing had nothing to do with the fake allegations that the town’s public works employees were harassing Highland High School students. That story should have never been splashed across the front page of the local newspaper. It was an anonymous letter and the paper did no investigation that corroborated any of the allegations.

It was probably written by someone with a motive to cast nefarious suspicions on public works employees, and it wasn’t worth the space or time spent on it.

That said, there have been personnel problems in the town’s public works department that may yet end in the courts. And the basic road reconstruction of Noel Avenue has taken way too long — so far, all summer and most of the fall. It continues to disrupt a private school and a residential neighborhood.

Somebody seriously miscalculated something.

Kanigan’s departure also creates some problems for the town. Foremost, it makes the town’s petition to the BC Supreme Court to alter Mack Laing’s trust agreement quite a bit more tenuous. The town wants to tear down Laing’s iconic home, called Shakesides, and spend the famous naturalist’s money on other things.

But only two people have submitted affidavits to the court defending the town against the mountain of evidence compiled by the Mack Laing Heritage Society: Richard Kanigan and former finance direct Don Jacquest. And guess what? Neither of them are still employed by the town.

That alone might not be fatal to the case. But what if the BC Attorney General’s office suddenly realized that among the hundreds of pages of documents submitted by the Mack Laing Society there was evidence of questionable handling of procedure and critical information? And what if that also happens to be something similar to the reasons council fired their CAO and paid him a king’s ransom to keep whatever it is a secret?

Last spring, the Attorney General requested a hiatus in the Mack Laing court case. That delay has now turned into five months and counting.

What makes that so odd was Comox Mayor Russ Arnott’s anxiousness to settle the matter. He railroaded a quasi public hearing last March to rubber-stamp the town’s plan, although he forgot to consult with the K’omoks First Nation. And then the mayor was in such a rush to get back into the courtroom that he didn’t even want to finish the 90-day abeyance agreed to by council.

Yet, here we are eight months later, going on nine, and no court dates are scheduled. No negotiations are taking place. Nothing. It’s dead air.

Except, of course, there’s the matter of the huge legal bill the town rang up trying — and failing — to keep the Mack Laing Heritage Society evidence out of the Supreme Court’s hands. That bill could be getting close to what Kanigan’s golden parachute should have been.

And then there’s the matter of the $250,000 lawsuit over the town polluting Golf Creek and failing to take corrective measures in how its deals with stormwater, despite repeated recommendations from more than one consulting firm.

So, who knows what’s really going on? But it has begun to look like a more deeply rooted problem.

 

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