Comox must apologize for breaches of Mack Laing Trust

Comox must apologize for breaches of Mack Laing Trust

Archive photo

By George Le Masurier

Thanks to four brave new councillors, there is an opportunity to draw to a close the Town of Comox’s long history of breaching the trust of Hamilton Mack Laing and misappropriating the funds the famous naturalist left in his Last Will for the community that he loved.

Comox Town Council voted against Mayor Russ Arnott this week and set aside court proceedings to modify Mack Laing’s trust “for up to three months so that council may have discussions with all interested parties.”

Arnott cast the lone vote against the motion, contradicting statements he made during the fall municipal election campaign promising to settle this matter out of court. But new councillors Alex Bissinger, Patrick McKenna, Nicole Minions and Stephanie McGowan all spoke in favor of giving out of court discussions a chance.

Once it was clear the vote for negotiation would win, councillors Ken Grant and Maureen Swift got on board, despite voting for the court action during their previous terms.

That left Arnott alone in wanting to proceed toward an expensive court trial.

The Mack Laing Heritage Society has garnered broad community support for restoring Shakesides as a unifying and heritage-based town project. Some of those supporters believe the town will lose in court, at a minimum being ordered to submit to a forensic audit of the financial matters and forced into mediation.

The vote also put Arnott at odds with the new majority of councillors, who had campaigned for a negotiated settlement out of court.

But the question facing council is how to stop bleeding money on legal expenses — estimated by one observer to have neared or topped $100,000 — with a plan that satisfies the Laing society and is financially sustainable.

Finding that way forward won’t be easy, and yet that’s the task to accomplish in the next 90 days.

But nothing good will happen if council appoints another flawed advisory committee like former mayor Paul Ives did several years ago. That group failed to follow its own terms of reference. The outcome was so incomplete that two members of the committee wrote opposing minority reports.

And that’s why Arnott’s lone vote against at least trying to negotiate a win-win resolution is disappointing. The mayor is obviously entrenched in his position. He has now stated so for the record.

How is that going to help facilitate any open-minded and meaningful conversations over the next three months? At least returning councillors Grant and Swift had the decency to support an opportunity for positive discussions.

Here’s the problem.

Laing left money and his property to the town in a trust that specified the gifts be used to create a publicly accessible natural history museum at his home, called Shakesides.

If the CVLT had existed in 1982, they would have had legal power via a covenant to compel the Town of Comox to keep up its end of the bargain. Mack Laing deserves the same respect as Father Charles Brandt

But now, 37 years after Laing’s death in February of 1982, the town has done nothing to fulfill Laing’s wishes, even though they accepted the terms of the trust when they took his money and property. Over a year ago, the town admitted that it spent Laing’s money inappropriately for years, but only because the Mack Laing Heritage Society had amassed a mountain of evidence detailing the town’s mishandling.

Undaunted, the previous Town Council applied to the BC Supreme Court to tear down Shakesides and spend Laing’s money elsewhere. But the outcome of court actions are always uncertain. And, based on the comments of two Justices so far, the court believes the Laing society has an important case to make.

To prevent further dividing the community, the town needs to make a formal and public apology of its historic wrongdoings. Why? Answer: Because this is a moral issue.

If the town had no intention of abiding the terms of Laing’s trust, it should never have accepted the money and property. But once it did, the town had a moral obligation to follow through. And if the town can behave fast and loose with Laing’s money, what reasonable person would leave the town any gift in the future?

Comox has, so far, proven itself untrustworthy.

The Comox Valley Land Trust, and other similar conservancy organizations, were created to address this exact problem. And the CVLT is currently creating security for the wishes of Father Charles Brandt, who plans to leave his house and property on the Oyster River for a regional district public park.

If the CVLT had existed in 1982, they would have had legal power via a covenant to compel the Town of Comox to keep up its end of the bargain. Mack Laing deserves the same respect as Father Charles.

Can you imagine if the Comox Valley Regional District someday tries to alter the terms of the Father Charles covenant? The public outcry would be overwhelming. There should be no less of a voice in protest against the Town of Comox, if it follows Mayor Arnott’s example and pushes this case through the courts.

Everyone in the Comox Valley who values heritage, and honorable actions by locally-elected governments, should support a negotiated settlement.

That doesn’t mean the solution is simple. But it is possible if everyone comes to the table with an open mind and good intentions.

Mayor Arnott was asked for comment for this opinion article at 3:45 pm PST, but had not responded by 8:35 PST when it was posted. 






Hamilton Mack Laing was an important Canadian naturalist, photographer and writer. He moved to Comox in 1922, cleared his land and built his home from a “Stanhope” Aladdin Ready-Cut kit. In 1927, he married Ethel Hart of Portland and they established a successful and commercial orchard which included walnut, pecan, filbert, hazelnut, apple and plum trees. They also grew mushrooms and vegetables. After his wife, Ethel, died in 1944, he sold his original home, Baybrook, and built a new home, Shakesides, on the adjoining lot. He bequeathed the waterfront property to the Town of Comox and it became Mack Laing Nature Park

— excerpted from content on the Mack Laing Heritage Society‘s website


Click here for more on Hamilton Mack Laing and the issues with the Town or Comox


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More Commentary | Latest Feature | Mack Laing

MLHS issues letter of thanks to Comox Council

Mack Laing Heritage Society archive photo By George Le Masurier he Mack Laing Heritage Society this morning issued an open letter to the Town of Comox mayor and council. Here is their letter: We, the Mack Laing...

DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest

Conservancy Hornby Island has criticized a decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to allow the March herring fishery to go ahead. It undercuts efforts to protect Killer Whales and chinook salmon stocks.

Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

The Strathcona Regional District has asked the province to cease licensing groundwater for commercial water bottling and bulk water exports. It hopes all municipalities in BC will join the movement.

Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

Photo Caption

By Gavin MacRae

The Strathcona Regional District has unanimously passed a motion requesting the province cease licensing groundwater for commercial water bottling and bulk water exports.

Currently, the motion applies only to the Strathcona Regional District, but will be heard again at an April meeting of the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC).

If it is passed there, the motion will become island-wide, and again move upward to be considered as a unified request by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. There is potential for all BC municipalities and districts to send an unambiguous message that would “put huge pressure on the provincial government to change the Water Sustainability Act (WSA),” said Brenda Leigh, Strathcona Regional District Area D director, and architect of the board’s Jan. 24 motion.

“There’s 29 regional districts in British Columbia, and a lot of them have been impacted by corporate extraction of their water supply,” said Leigh. “This is very important because the commodification of water in Canada means that we’re putting our water sources at risk.”

A 2018 struggle between the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource and Rural Development (FLNRORD), and the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) highlighted the friction between regional districts and the BC government over groundwater extraction for profit. The dispute began when FLNRORD approved a license for the commercial sale of groundwater, without public notification and against the wishes of the CVRD and K’omoks First Nation. Public opposition to the license was formidable, and the CVRD ultimately denied a zoning amendment necessary for the water to be processed, effectively rendering the license unusable.

Leigh said her motion is rooted in general principle, and not in reaction to the CVRD dispute. 

Changes to the WSA would negate the need for district-level efforts to control commercial water extraction with zoning decisions, said Leigh. “First things first – we need to get the province on our side, and make sure they’re protecting our water. They have the power to do that.”

Leigh was critical of the “first in time, first in right” principle guiding groundwater licensing in BC. “First in time, first in right, is about giving licenses to corporations to bottle the water, or sell it by bulk, and that is putting our aquifers at risk unless the local government knows how
it’s going to impact their citizens,” she said.

Some areas in Leigh’s district rely totally on groundwater. In recent summers, drought conditions in August have forced the district to tap emergency reservoirs. She anticipates climate change will exacerbate the problem in the future.

“It’s sort of a perfect storm,” she said.

Gavin MacRae is an editorial assistant of the Watershed Sentinel, a publishing partner of Decafnation. He may be reached at






Groundwater is the largest source of usable, fresh water in the world. In many parts of the world, especially where surface water supplies are not available, domestic, agricultural, and industrial water needs can only be met by using the water beneath the ground.

The U.S. Geological Survey compares the water stored in the ground to money kept in a bank account. If the money is withdrawn at a faster rate than new money is deposited, there will eventually be account-supply problems. Pumping water out of the ground at a faster rate than it is replenished over the long-term causes similar problems.

Groundwater depletion is primarily caused by sustained groundwater pumping. Some of the negative effects of groundwater depletion:

Lowering of the Water Table
Excessive pumping can lower the groundwater table, and cause wells to no longer be able to reach groundwater.

Increased Costs
As the water table lowers, the water must be pumped farther to reach the surface, using more energy. In extreme cases, using such a well can be cost prohibitive.

Reduced Surface Water Supplies
Groundwater and surface water are connected. When groundwater is overused, the lakes, streams, and rivers connected to groundwater can also have their supply diminished.

Land Subsidence
Land subsidence occurs when there is a loss of support below ground. This is most often caused by human activities, mainly from the overuse of groundwater, when the soil collapses, compacts, and drops.

Water Quality Concerns
Excessive pumping in coastal areas can cause saltwater to move inland and upward, resulting in saltwater contamination of the water supply.



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Herring fishery hurts bi-national orca recovery efforts

Herring fishery hurts bi-national orca recovery efforts

The  Hornby-Denman islands herring fishery in the 1980s  /  Bob Cain photo — View gallery below

By George Le Masurier

Killer whales that live, play and forage for food in the Salish Sea are starving to death. To help them, both sides of the U.S.-Canada Pacific Northwest border have launched multi-million dollar initiatives to increase the chinook salmon stocks that comprise 80 percent of the orcas’ diet.

But the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ plans to undercut those international efforts have baffled orca conservation organizations.

FURTHER READING: Canada and Washington state announce orca recovery programs

In March, the DFO has scheduled a massive industrial kill of the small silver Pacific herring in the Denman and Hornby island area. It’s the last remaining significant herring spawning area in the Pacific Northwest, from Alaska to Washington state.

Conservancy Hornby Island has asked the federal government to close the herring roe fishery planned for next month. Pacific Wild, a conservation voice dedicated to ensuring preservation of the Great Bear Rainforest, has demanded termination of the fishery.

Grant Scott, spokesperson for the Hornby Island group, says the the DFO has failed to consider the impact of the herring fishery on the entire Salish Sea ecosystem.

The diet of the endangered and declining populations of southern resident Killer Whales consists of 80 percent chinook salmon. And the diet of salmon consists of 80 percent Pacific herring.

“It doesn’t take a scientist to make the important link between herring and killer whales,” Scott said in a statement to Decafnation. “Wouldn’t it make sense to leave this stock alone to hopefully rebuild all the herring schools on our coast and the marine life that needs them for survival?”

Scott said discontinuing the fishery wouldn’t harm anyone.

The industry now supports few jobs or taxes for the province. In the mid-1980s, commercial fishermen were awash in profits when herring earned up to $5,000 per ton. Today, the price ranges from $150 to $700 per ton, because Japanese taste for the delicacy has faded.

According to BC Ministry of Agriculture data, the herring fishery was valued at $309 million in 1995 (adjusted for inflation), but only $58 million in 2017 for the same tonnage of fish.

But that isn’t the worst impact of continuing the herring fishery.

“Ninety percent of the herring are ground up for fish farm food and pet food.” he said. “Using wild fish for non-human consumption is illegal under the federal Fisheries Act. When 90 percent of the herring is used for fish farm and pet food is the federal Minister of Fisheries breaking the law?”

The DFO doesn’t exactly have a good track record of managing the herring population. It’s policies have lead to the closure of four of the six major herring stocks on the BC coast in the last 20 years, according to Scott, who is a former commercial fisher. Basically, herring have declined because they’ve been overfished.

The DFO set a top limit for killing 28,000 tons of spawning herring in the upcoming March opening. That’s the rough equivalent of 200 million fish.

Scott says Conservancy Hornby Island believes this last productive spawning ground will get overfished this year, and that will impact other species, such as salmon and Killer Whales.

“We are asking for our politicians’ support in closing down the herring roe fishery, or at least closing the senine roe fishery in the Strait of Georgia, especially around Hornby and Denman islands,” Scott said.

According to the Hornby group, Vancouver businessman Jimmy pattison owns most of the seine boats working the coast.

Historically abundant fish

An archeology study of fish bones on the Pacific Northwest coast found that herring was the region’s most abundant fish dating back 10,000 years.

But herring stocks started to decline for the first time in the late 1800s when the industrial fish kill began. A Simon Fraser University study concluded that spawning patterns and population decline had been altered by 1910.

And yet, DFO has increased the number of herring allowed to be caught.

According to Pacific Wild’s website, Denman-Hornby will be the only area fished in 2019. But while the “coast-wide catch has declined with herring abundance in the last 30 years, the quantity of fish taken from the Salish Sea has more than doubled,” the organization says.

Scott says that although the DFO claims to manage herring according to the principles of Ecosystem Based Management. But the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, which evaluates ecological sustainability of wild-caught seafood in North America, thinks otherwise.

In its 2016 evaluation of the herring fishery, the program said, “Currently (DFO) management of the herring fisheries does not account for ecosystem considerations when determining abundance (or) allowable catch. As herring is an important source of food for a variety of species, the lack of ecosystem considerations … in the fisheries’ overall management warrants a score of ‘high’ concern.”

Canadian and Washington state governments might be wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on orca recovery programs to increase salmon stocks, if the salmon themselves don’t have enough food to sustain even current population levels.






Pacific herring prefer spawning locations in sheltered bays and estuaries. Conditions that trigger spawning are not altogether clear, but after spending weeks congregating in the deeper channels, both males and females will begin to enter shallower inter-tidal or sub-tidal waters. Submerged vegetation, especially eelgrass, is a preferred substrate for oviposition. A single female may lay as many as 20,000 eggs in one spawn following ventral contact with submerged substrates. However, the juvenile survival rate is only about one resultant adult per 10,000 eggs, due to high predation by numerous other species.

The precise staging of spawning is not understood, although some researchers suggest the male initiates the process by release of milt, which has a pheromone that stimulates the female to begin oviposition. The behavior seems to be collective so that an entire school may spawn in the period of a few hours, producing an egg density of up to 6,000,000 eggs per square meter. The fertilized spherical eggs, measuring 1.2 to 1.5 millimeters in diameter, incubate for approximately 10 days in estuarine waters that are about 10 degrees Celsius. Eggs and juveniles are subject to heavy predation.

— Wikipedia


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More Environment | Latest Feature

MLHS issues letter of thanks to Comox Council

Mack Laing Heritage Society archive photo By George Le Masurier he Mack Laing Heritage Society this morning issued an open letter to the Town of Comox mayor and council. Here is their letter: We, the Mack Laing...

DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest

Conservancy Hornby Island has criticized a decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to allow the March herring fishery to go ahead. It undercuts efforts to protect Killer Whales and chinook salmon stocks.

Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

The Strathcona Regional District has asked the province to cease licensing groundwater for commercial water bottling and bulk water exports. It hopes all municipalities in BC will join the movement.

Will US/Canada recovery plans do enough to save orcas?

Will US/Canada recovery plans do enough to save orcas?

A Killer Whale cruising the British Columbia coastline

By George Le Masurier

Marine biologists can’t say with certainty why one of the endangered southern resident killer whales swam up the Courtenay River this fall, an unusual behavior, but there’s a good chance it was scouting for salmon. The southern resident orcas that inhabit the Salish Sea waters around Vancouver Island are starving.

The population of southern orcas has dwindled to 74, and experts expect two more of the whales to die by summer. Although a new calf was recently born, no newborns have survived since 2015, and 73 have either died or gone missing since 1998.

Saving the orcas will take a complex mixture of conservation actions, according to Les Purce, former president of The Evergreen State College, who co-chaired the recently completed Washington State Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force.

The task force identified the three major threats to the southern orcas as primarily a lack of chinook salmon, their primary food source, but also vessel noise and toxic contaminants from stormwater runoff.

“Issues facing orcas are a metaphor for the whole Salish Sea ecosystem and the effect on aquatic and human life,” he told Decafnation by phone. “We must take it seriously and move in that kind of alliance.”

And to be effective, he said, the U.S. and Canada must coordinate their efforts.

U.S. versus Canada

So far, Canada and the U.S. appear to be taking different approaches toward the same goal.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee has proposed a $1.1 billion orca recovery plan based on the 36 recommendations of the task force. Whether the state legislature, which just reconvened, will approve it all remains to be seen.

Canada’s federal government set aside just $167.4 million spread among recovery measures for three whale species, the southern resident orcas, the St. Lawrence Estuary belugas and the North Atlantic right whales. But Ottawa later added $61.5 million specifically for the killer whales.

Washington’s task force proposed a variety of measures to reduce contaminants in stormwater runoff, such as a ban on products containing polychorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Canada has not addressed stormwater contamination.

But stormwater is a major issue. Salmon absorb toxins– like PCBs, and PDBEs found in flame retardants — and when orcas eat them the toxins build up in their fatty tissues. Once metabolized, they are shared from mother to newborn calves via gestation and lactation.

But both countries say they are aligned on commitments to reduce vessel noise.

Noise travels five times faster in water than in air, and interferes with the whales’ echolocation, which they use to navigate and hunt for prey.

Washington’s Gov. Inslee has proposed a three-year ban on whale watching. But neither Ottawa or the B.C. government has shown an appetite for a similar measure.

The Canadian transportation minister did impose a new rule requiring all vessels to stay at least 200 metres away from killer whales. But conservation groups question if that’s enough to have a significant impact.

Five Canadian conservation groups joined a petition last fall asking Ottawa to ban whale watching or any commercial vessels from pursuing orcas in their summer feeding grounds. They say the 200-metre buffer zone doesn’t mitigate the disturbance to orcas’ ability to locate prey.

And neither country has addressed the impact of increased oil tanker traffic if Ottawa completes the TransMountain pipeline, which would bring a 10-fold increase in traffic and noise.

Washington task force co-chair Purce said a state senator raised the issue of increased tanker traffic, but there was no specific recommendation.

Canada’s whale recovery initiative includes a voluntary requirement for a vessel slowdown in Haro Strait to reduce engine noise. But they are working with BC Ferries on a noise management plan.

Lack of prey

“The southern orcas are starving. There aren’t enough salmon,” Purce said. So increasing the whale’s preferred food stock of chinook salmon is a priority for both countries.

To boost stocks, Canada has cut the chinook salmon fishery by more than 25 percent. And it has created sanctuary areas in locations orcas normally forage for food, closing them to all fishing and other regulations.

The main sanctuary is a 5,000 square kilometre critical habitat zone off the southwest coast of the island that includes the Swiftsure and La Perouse banks. It will likely have a negative economic impact on commercial and recreational fishing and tourism operations in coastal communities like Ucluelet.

A former senior official in the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Brian Riddell, recently told the Vancouver Sun that there’s no question the whales are struggling in terms of diet.

“We have to make a major change. If the decision is that Southern Resident orcas are the priority for recovery, then we’ll have to provide additional food and other actions as well,” he told the Sun.

Both Washington’s task force and Canada’s DFO have identified a complex set of issues affecting salmon populations, including habitat, availability of forage fish for chinook, hydro dams and other fish passage barriers, growth in predators like harbor seals and sea lions, fishing limits and the ability of hatcheries to increase production without creating genetic risks to wild fish.

Despite Canada’s commitment to increasing chinook populations, the federal DFO still plans to open the last remaining herring roe fishery off Denman and Hornby Islands in March. Several groups are fighting to have it closed, including the Conservancy Hornby organization. Read about this topic here.

Neither country has fully implemented its recovery plans.

Northern orcas thriving

There are more than 300 northern resident orcas, or about four times as many as their southern cousins.

While they both feed on chinook salmon, the northern whales have cleaner waters, less vessel noise disruption and less competition for the food. There are also more fish from three major salmon producing rivers, while the southern orcas count on mainly the Fraser River, with a little help from the Columbia River.

“If one system is bad … our northern residents have the opportunity to shift their focus to fish returning to another system,” Lance Barrett-Lenard, a marine biologist, told CBC news.

But northern whales could eventually face the same fate as the southern orcas if chinook stocks continue to decline. And, it’s possible they could even take over the southern group’s territory.

Disclosure: Thomas “Les” Purce is a friend of the author from their overlapping careers in Olympia, Washington.







COMMON NAME: Orca (Killer Whale)
TYPE: Mammals
DIET: Carnivores
SIZE: 23 to 32 ft
WEIGHT: Up to 6 tons


Orcas, or killer whales, are the largest of the dolphins and one of the world’s most powerful predators. They feast on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and even whales, employing teeth that can be four inches long. They are known to grab seals right off the ice. They also eat fish, squid, and seabirds.

Though they often frequent cold, coastal waters, orcas can be found from the polar regions to the Equator.

Orcas hunt in deadly pods, family groups of up to 40 individuals. There appear to be both resident and transient pod populations of orcas. These different groups may prey on different animals and use different techniques to catch them. Resident pods tend to prefer fish, while transient pods target marine mammals. All pods use effective, cooperative hunting techniques that some liken to the behavior of wolf packs.
Whales make a wide variety of communicative sounds, and each pod has distinctive noises that its members will recognize even at a distance. They use echolocation to communicate and hunt, making sounds that travel underwater until they encounter objects, then bounce back, revealing their location, size, and shape.

Orcas are protective of their young, and other adolescent females often assist the mother in caring for them. Mothers give birth every three to 10 years, after a 17-month pregnancy.

Orcas are immediately recognizable by their distinctive black-and-white coloring and are the intelligent, trainable stars of many aquarium shows. Orcas have never been extensively hunted by humans.



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More Environment | Latest Feature

MLHS issues letter of thanks to Comox Council

Mack Laing Heritage Society archive photo By George Le Masurier he Mack Laing Heritage Society this morning issued an open letter to the Town of Comox mayor and council. Here is their letter: We, the Mack Laing...

DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest

Conservancy Hornby Island has criticized a decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to allow the March herring fishery to go ahead. It undercuts efforts to protect Killer Whales and chinook salmon stocks.

Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

The Strathcona Regional District has asked the province to cease licensing groundwater for commercial water bottling and bulk water exports. It hopes all municipalities in BC will join the movement.

CIC Director Greg Baute hopes to redefine cannabis breeding

CIC Director Greg Baute hopes to redefine cannabis breeding

Turning wooden bowls on his lathe is one of Cannabis Innovation Centre Director Greg Baute’s many hobbies /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
– Albert Einstein


Greg Baute, the director of breeding and genetics at the pioneering Cannabis Innovation Centre in Comox, is a scientist. And that means, if you can imagine, every day he will clone plants, phenotype them, explore terpenes, take DNA samples, conduct controlled pollinations and pour over pages of data compiled by a team of bioinformaticians.

Even if you don’t know what that means, you probably envision research scientists as people who eat, sleep and breathe graphs and charts of their collected data, upon which they will apply cold logic and reason. And even a short conversation with Baute, 33, will tell you this is partly true.

He can take you quickly and so deeply down a rabbit hole of information about plant architecture, genetics, sunflowers, or even wood turning on his shop lathe, that before you realize you have no idea what he’s talking about, you had believed it all made perfect sense to you, even though it did not.

Baute points out the traits of a wild sunflower from his birds eye maple desk, still under construction

But to fully understand Baute, you need to know that there’s another, equally powerful side to his scientific mind: his imagination. He’s dreaming about what’s possible beyond existing knowledge.

And that’s what pulled the Ontario native from a good job in California back to Canada to head up the world’s first cannabis breeding and genetics laboratory.

“In the 1960s, P. Leclecq was the first person to cross wild sunflowers, and he changed the sunflower growing business forever,” says Baute, looking up excitedly from an article on his laptop that he’s using to explain genomic selection.

“He produced 30 percent higher yields … it’s something that won’t ever happen again!”

Baute says cannabis is at that same level of opportunity today. And, because of legalization, Canada is the hotbed of cannabis science.

“Somebody in the next five to 10 years will make a similar discovery and define how cannabis is bred forever,” he said. “It happens only once. And it’s just too much fun not to try.”

A family of farmers

Greg Baute was born into a family of farmers. His great-grandfather started the family farm in an area of southern Ontario where most of Canada’s F1 seed corn is grown. His grandfather also farmed. Then, in 1985, his parents started an independent hybrid seed corn company, called Maizex Seed Inc.

Maizex Seeds initially produced hybrid corn for food grade corn and Canadian food processors, and also for the US wholesale market. Later, it developed hybrids for the Canadian market and entering products into provincial trials.

Baute recalls spending his summers detasseling corn in the family fields. It was an annual rite of passage for most Tilbury High School students, who were bussed to the fields to remove the immature pollen-producing tassels from the tops of the corn plants, and stomping them into the ground. It’s a form of pollination control, so the plants could be cross-bred to create hybrids.

He also remembers walking his parents’ fields and comparing plants with the hybrids they produced, a curiosity that inadvertently, he says, led to his passion to understand the process that causes it.

Baute earned a Biology degree from the University of Guelph, doing a thesis on how carrot flowers are developed for seed production. He studied molecular evolution, specifically hybrid rice, for his masters degree at the University of British Columbia.

During his work on the domestication and improvement of sunflower, which earned him a doctorate degree at UBC, Baute developed several hybrid sunflower lines now used in production around the world.

Before being lured to Comox, Baute worked as a trait geneticist, studying the “important and complex traits” in tomato.

“Where we are with cannabis today is where we were 100 years ago with tomatoes,” he said.

New Valley resident

Baute and his wife, Kasia, purchased a rural, two-acre property, just eight kilometres from the site of the future Cannabis Innovation Centre (CIC) near the Comox Airport. An easy commute for an avid cyclist.

If the CIC had been located in Vancouver, Baute says he might not have taken the job. But the opportunity for a more rural lifestyle sealed the deal, and the couple have found the community welcoming.

Baute and Kasia share an office in their new rural Comox home

“There’s a lot of pride in the Valley … there are good restaurants, and the brewery scene is quite good,” he said.

While the CIC laboratory and greenhouse are being constructed, Baute has set up a temporary office in his home. He built his desktop out of bird’s eye maple from a fallen tree, working in a shipping container temporarily converted into a makeshift wood shop.

He has built some of their household furniture, but Baute’s real woodworking passion is turning bowls on a lathe. There’s room for a full woodworking shop in a new garage currently under construction.

He’s also a runner and picks up his electric guitar a few times every week.

The couple have been landscaping around their new home, including a garlic bed, raised vegetable beds and preparing the site where Baute hopes to plant about 400 sunflower plants this spring.

Baute and Kasia met while both were pursuing undergraduate degrees at the University of Guelph. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in toxicology and a Master of Arts degree in medical genetics at UBC.

While Baute was working in California, Kasia did community service work at a bird sanctuary, hospice and at a community outreach shelter. She is currently working on a master’s degree in counselling, which is online through Yorkville University.

Typical day at the lab

When it’s finished early this summer, the Cannabis Innovation Centre will have a 21,000 square foot greenhouse broken down into seven isolated breeding zones, and a 10,000 square foot laboratory.

The facility was conceived and planned by Jonathan Page, PhD, whose Anandia Labs was bought out by Aurora Cannabis, of Edmonton, in August. Page was the first scientist to sequence the cannabis genome. He and his twin brother, Nick, grew up in the Comox Valley.

The CIC laboratory building is being pre-manufactured in BC with parts from Europe. The greenhouse is being prefabricated in the Netherlands — “the epicentre of greenhouse technology” — and should arrive on site sometime in February.

Baute takes a DNA sample from a sunflower plant at UBC while completing his PhD degree

When the CIC opens, Baute and his staff will be cloning plants and germinating seed, and finalizing the number of plants of each genotype they will grow, and how they will be arranged in the greenhouse. Throughout the grow cycles, they will collect data on growth habit, plant architecture and disease resistance.

“The process of recombination is totally random,” he said. “Like shuffling a deck of cards.”

The CIC will grow plants to seedlings, then take a leaf punch to test its DNA. They will throw out the ones they don’t want, and grow up the others.

“Sequencing one gene is less expensive than growing all plants to maturity,” he says.

For the nursery work (where they will produce seeds), staff will treat plants and bag them for controlled pollinations.

Harvest is the biggest job, especially at the CIC where each plant will be individually phenotyped as it is harvested. They will measure things like total biomass, total flower weight, how consistent the flower size is, the shape and color of the flowers and so on.

All along the way, Baute will gather information from each experiment that can feed into and influence the others. For example, he might find that upon harvest a plant has an exceptionally high yield, so he might use stored pollen from it to do more crosses.

“For me, this means a lot of coordinating projects and information between team members and working with them to make decisions,” he said. “The experiments will also influence, and be influenced by, all the other research that is happening across Aurora, which translates to me being on the phone for a good chunk of time each day.”

All the flowers grown in the CIC greenhouse will be destroyed after their value for research has expired.

Baute is in the process of assembling a team of scientists to work on site, and bioinformaticians who will mostly work remotely from locations around North America.

No transgenic plants at the CIC

Baute is careful to note that the Comox cannabis laboratory will be doing only marker-assisted selection, not making transgenic plants, which are commonly but inaccurately referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMO).

“GMO is an unfortunate term. What most people mean by GMO is transgenic,” he said. “Transgenic is an organism that contains genetic material into which DNA from an unrelated organism has been artificially introduced — it leaps over species barriers. It creates changes that pollination could not do.”

BT Corn, for example, has been modified with the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacterium found in soils that naturally produce a protein that selectively kills a few specific insect species.

But the CIC’s work will do recombination staying within the primary gene pool of cannabis to select for disease or pest resistance.

“Something that’s only achievable through plant sex,” he said.

Baute says that with cannabis there’s no need to engage in transgenics because there hasn’t yet been any scientific breeding. It would be years before there are such diminishing returns from breeding that other technologies would be considered.

“There are still gains in breeding tomatoes,” he said, noting that plant has undergone 100 years of scientific enquiry.

What’s next

Baute is anxious to get his laboratory and breeding program up and running, and so are other scientists who are now delving into the cannabis plant. As with every other scientific discovery in the history of humankind, it’s important who gets there first.

All other crops in the world have had game-changing breakthroughs, similar to the sunflower example cited by Baute.

“The reason it hasn’t happened yet for cannabis is not because science has neglected the plant. It’s been illegal,” he said.







Decafnation asked Jonathan Page, PhD, Chief Scientist for Aurora and the founder of Anandia Labs, a few questions about the Cannabis Innovation Centre and its Director, Greg Baute.


DECAF: What was it about Greg that convinced you to hire him for this important job?

Jonathan Page: A couple of things led me to hire Greg: he came highly recommended from colleagues I know well who all thought his set of skills in genomics and applied breeding were a perfect match for the Anandia job. One former supervisor of Greg’s told me he was a unique talent in Canada. This, and the fact that he visited Anandia and gave a great talk on his work with sunflowers, convinced me to hire him.

Decaf: What is the significance of Greg’s role as director of breeding and genetics?

Page: Greg’s R&D program and the Comox breeding facility itself will be world leading and one-of-a-kind. There is no other location in the US, EU, Australia or Israel that I know of that will have the facilities and know-how that we will have at Comox.

Decaf: What discoveries do you think the Cannabis Innovation Centre will make?

Page: I think there will be scientific discoveries made at Comox, and they will come from identifying the genetic basis for certain traits such as disease resistance and flowering time. These will revolutionize how cannabis is grown.

Decaf: What is your hope the CIC will ultimately achieve?

Page: I hope the CIC achieves three things: that it helps solve many of the challenges in cannabis production, and this makes it possible to grow cannabis with fewer inputs and concerns about contamination; that it furthers a scientific understanding of cannabis; and, that we create an environment in Comox that attracts scientists that are creative and innovative. In effect, we are not just building a cannabis lab but a think-tank for cannabis science.  





F1 hybrid seeds refers to the selective breeding of a plant by cross pollinating two different parent plants. In genetics, the term is an abbreviation for Filial 1 – literally “first children.” Crossing two genetically different plants produces a hybrid seed. This can happen naturally, and includes hybrids between species (for example, peppermint is a sterile F1 hybrid of watermint and spearmint). These F1 hybrids are usually created by means of controlled pollination, sometimes by hand-pollination. 

Phenotype — (from Greek, Modern phainein, meaning ‘to show’, and typos, meaning ‘type’) is the composite of an organism’s observable characteristics or traits, such as its morphology, development, biochemical or physiological properties, behavior, and products of behavior (such as a bird’s nest).

Terpenes — There’s something about the aroma of cannabis that soothes the mind and body. Terpenes are what you smell, and knowing what they are will deepen your appreciation of cannabis whether you’re a medical patient or recreational consumer. Secreted in the same glands that produce cannabinoids like THC and CBD, terpenes are aromatic oils that color cannabis varieties with distinctive flavors like citrus, berry, mint, and pine.

Detasseling corn is removing the immature pollen-producing bodies, the tassel, from the tops of corn (maize) plants and placing them on the ground. It is a form of pollination control, employed to cross-breed, or hybridize, two varieties of corn.

Recombination —  A process by which pieces of DNA are broken and recombined to produce new combinations of alleles. This recombination process creates genetic diversity at the level of genes that reflects differences in the DNA sequences of different organisms.  Thus, recombination is one of the important means to promote and increase genetic diversity between generations.

Sources — Wikipedia,,,,,    




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Sponging up the rain, taxing impervious surfaces — what other communities are doing

Sponging up the rain, taxing impervious surfaces — what other communities are doing

By George Le Masurier

This is the sixth in a series of articles about how urban stormwater runoff has negatively impacted Comox Valley waterways, what local governments are doing to address the issues and what other communities have done.


Urban development in the Comox Valley has fundamentally altered the natural water balance. As impervious surfaces like roads, parking lots and buildings replaced vegetated land, the opportunity for rain water to soak into the ground or return to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration diminished.

To prevent flooding, Valley municipalities have relied on expensive engineered infrastructure, such as curb, getters and stormwater pipes, to divert rainwater into area creeks and streams, and sometimes directly into the K’omoks Estuary.

Along the way, that rain water has picked up oil, grease and engine coolants, copper from vehicle brakes, zinc from vehicle tires, animal feces and a variety of other contaminants that in some cases have killed all aquatic life in our waters and threatened public health.

Polluted stormwater regularly causes the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to ban shellfish harvesting in Baynes Sound (as it did in November), and for the Capital Regional District to declare waters at certain Victoria-area beaches a possible health risk (as it did on Dec. 29).

Municipalities around the world have moved toward systems that rely less on “grey” infrastructure and more on “green “infrastructure that attempts to mimic nature.

It also costs less. Curb, gutters and pipes create long-term, unfunded liabilities for taxpayers to repair and replace. The Comox Valley alone has hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded infrastructure liabilities.

So, every community is looking for innovative stormwater solutions. Here are some of them.


The City of Victoria introduced a stormwater utility in 2016 to accomplish two goals: one, to fund its ongoing expense of replacing and repairing stormwater pipes; and, two, to encourage property owners to manage their own rainwater where it falls.

Before 2016, Victoria included stormwater fees in property taxes and based the charge on a property’s assessed value. Now, property owners pay fees based on the amount of rainwater estimated to run off their property.

In other words, the more impervious surfaces that cover a property and the fewer source control measures implemented — rain gardens, pervious pavers, etc. — the more a homeowner will pay.

“The stormwater utility is a funding model similar to how we fund water and sanitary services,” Brianne Czypyha, the city’s stormwater management specialist, told Decafnation. “The city uses the stormwater utility because it’s a more equitable user-pay system that bases the fees on the impact a property has on the system.”

Czypyha said grey infrastructure will always be an integral part of managing runoff in the city, but integrating green infrastructure will help build capacity of the system and improve the quality of stormwater runoff discharged into the environment. Using source controls is voluntary, for now, but not using them will cost property owners more.

“While the direction we have chosen is to use incentives to encourage the use of green infrastructure, particularly for retrofitting existing buildings,” Czypyha said. “I definitely see value in requiring new developments to meet more stringent rainwater management requirements.”

Richmond, BC, also has a stormwater utility, and it’s a common practice throughout Washington, Oregon and California.

“We’re aware of the problem, so why would we wait for someone else to tell us to fix it?”


Capital Regional District

The municipalities of Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay have signed on to a multi-jurisdictional, multi-stakeholder 100-year watershed management plan for Bowker Creek. The plan identifies places to daylight and naturalize the creek.

“The plan is to move Bowker Creek back to a more natural stream, as opportunities arise,” Glenn Harris told Decafnation. Harris is the CRD’s senior manager for environmental protection and the Bowker Creek Initiative spokesperson.

Bird life and bio-diversity around the creek is already coming back, Harris said, especially around Oak Bay High School where a $750,000 grant restored and naturalized the creek, increased native plantings and created a creek-focused curriculum at the school.

“It provides an opportunity to restore islands of nature within the urban environment,” he said.


Elsewhere in Canada

Kitchener, Ontario has taken a direct action approach to stormwater management. For more than a year, the city has required all new development to capture the first 12.5 millimetres of rain — about a half-inch — every time it rains.

The rule applies to subdivisions, commercial buildings and even city-owned roads. It means that except for major storm events, all rain water must be managed onsite, and no water would reach stormwater pipes or ponds.

Kitchener took the action ahead of anticipated new provincial stormwater regulations based on its own climate change study that predicted a 20 percent increase in rainfall.

“We’re aware of the problem, so why would we wait for someone else to tell us to fix it?,” the city’s stormwater manager Nick Gollan told a Kitchener newspaper. “We should be putting strategies in place to adapt to the changes that are taking place.”

The City of Langley has created a Department of Green Infrastructure Services. It has standardized rain gardens instead of traditional curbs and gutters on all non-arterial roads.

Since 2009, the City of Toronto has required green roofs on all commercial, institutional and residential developments with a minimum floor area of 2,000 square metres (appx. 21,500 square feet), this includes any additions to buildings that increase the floor area to the minium.


Outside of Canada

Portland, Oregon has been the acknowledged leader of stormwater management regulations for more than two decades. It started in 1993 with a downspout disconnection program.

But since 1999, Portland’s Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan has required source control on any new redeveloped properties that add more than 500 square feet of impervious surface. That means property owners must manage and treat all the runoff from impervious surfaces with green infrastructure — rain gardens, green roofs, soaker trenches, drywell, pervious pavers, etc. — and in some cases may be required to install underground treatment devices to remove pollutants.

Now, other cities are catching up.

The City of Philadelphia is in the seventh year of a 25-year project to “detain it (rainwater), not convey it.” The city has committed $2.4 billion to recreate in the urban streetscape the kinds of pervious places where, instead of running into surrounding waterways, rainfall and the contaminants it carries can once again soak into and be cleaned by the earth.

Berlin, Germany adopted a Sponge City Strategy in 2017 to mitigate both heat and flooding problems expected to intensify with climate change. The goal is to increase the amount of surfaces within the city that allow water to soak into the ground and release it gradually, rather than a sudden rush into waterways, and more urban vegetation that cools the air through evaporation.

The manager of Berlin’s project says, “The key is to avoid sealing up too much of the ground surface with concrete or tarmac. Wherever possible, we want water-permeable surfaces.”

Berlin’s strategy borrows the term “sponge city” from a 2013 Chinese initiative that proclaimed urban areas should act like sponges, based on the work of landscape architect Kongjian Yu.

Yu’s motto for rainwater management is: retain, adapt, slow down and reuse. Others have since modified that slogan as: sink it, slow it, reuse it and move it.


Educational opportunities

The best educators have long-ago incorporated curriculum about the environment and, more recently, about climate change.

More than 30 years ago, Barry Thornton, the former principal of Brooklyn Elementary School in Comox, was a pioneer in teaching young students about conservation and the environment in general. Thornton was a advocate for the restoration of Brooklyn Creek and initiated several fish habitat improvement projects near the school.

B.C. Adventure photo

He was also a co-founder of the schools Salmonids in the Classroom program that acquainted children with the life cycle of salmon and other aquatic life.

Today, students from elementary schools to high schools all over the globe are learning about the hydrological cycle, water balance and the need for better solutions to stormwater management. A quick search of the Internet brings up stormwater education programs from Kentucky to Rhode Island to Mississauga, Ontario.

The City of Mississauga has a stormwater outreach team that does presentations in K-12 classrooms that covers topics such as municipal stormwater management, water conservation, low-impact development and water quality and environmental health.

Students at Arcata High School in Humboldt County, Calif., recently started a project to create rain gardens around campus parking lots after an Environmental Science class found a high level of pollutants in the nearby Jolly Giant Creek.

In Kingston, Ontario, the city’s Fish and Frogs Forever program talks with local students about how polluted stormwater impacts local aquatic ecosystems and what they can do to reverse the negative effects.


What is the future?

Environmentalists and conservationists want improved stormwater regulations to happen quickly. But Brianne Cyzypyha, stormwater specialist at the City of Victoria, says that change in stormwater management is a multi-year, complex process, requiring involvement from many internal departments, and also feedback from experts and the public.

“In terms of the way forward, I see most municipalities as similar to a large ship changing course. It can be a bit of a slow process making changes to the old ways of doing business,” she said.








What to know more about the Sponge City concept?

This article describes modern stormwater management tools: sink it, slow it, reuse it and move it.

This article describes landscape architect Kongjian Yu who coined the term “sponge cities.”

This link takes you to Philadelphia’s guide for retrofitting properties to the city’s new stormwater regulations.




Bioswales — A stormwater conveyance system similar, but larger than a rain garden (see below).

Evaporation — As water is heated by the sun, surface molecules become sufficiently energized to break free of the attractive force binding them together, and then evaporate and rise as invisible vapour in the atmosphere.

Green infrastructure — Any natural or built system that provides ecological benefits and help to maintain pre-development hydrology. It encompasses natural features like streams, wetlands, forests and parks, as well as engineered systems that manage urban runoff.

Groundwater — Subterranean water is held in crack and pore spaces. Depending on the geology, the groundwater can flow to support streams. It can also be tapped by wells. Some groundwater is very old and may have been there for thousands of years.

Hydrologic cycle — The endless circulation of water. From the beginning of time when water first appeared, it has been constant in quantity and continuously in motions. The same water molecules have been transferred time and time again from the oceans and the land into the atmosphere by evaporation, dropped on the land as precipitation and transferred back to the sea by rivers and ground water.

Low-impact development (LID) — The systems and practices that use or mimic natural processes that result in the infiltration, evapotranspiration or use of stormwater in order to protect water quality and associated aquatic habitat.

Rain garden — A miniature wetland in a residential setting, lower than the adjacent grade to collect rainwater from roofs, driveways or streets, thus allowing infiltration into the ground.

Runoff — Excessive rain or snowmelt can produce overland flow to creeks and ditches. Runoff is visible flow of water in rivers, creeks and lakes as the water stored in the basin drains out.

Transpiration — Water vapour is also emitted from plant leaves by a process called transpiration. Ever day an actively growing plant transpires five to 10 times as much water as it can hold at once.





MLHS issues letter of thanks to Comox Council

Mack Laing Heritage Society archive photo By George Le Masurier he Mack Laing Heritage Society this morning issued an open letter to the Town of Comox mayor and council. Here is their letter: We, the Mack Laing...

DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest

Conservancy Hornby Island has criticized a decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to allow the March herring fishery to go ahead. It undercuts efforts to protect Killer Whales and chinook salmon stocks.

Strathcona groundwater motion headed to AVICC vote

The Strathcona Regional District has asked the province to cease licensing groundwater for commercial water bottling and bulk water exports. It hopes all municipalities in BC will join the movement.