Open letter to Byron Horner, climate change questions he would have asked


AAn open letter to Byron Horner, conservative candidate in 2019 for Courtenay-Alberni:

I like the “balanced approach” slogan on your campaign posters. However, I find this difficult to reconcile with the way the Conservative Party in Canada has positioned itself in the 21st century. Are you in the vanguard of a dramatic change, in which the Conservative Party is rediscovering an obligation to society as a whole? Or are you in the vanguard of some new public relations spin?

Andrew Scheer was a cabinet minister in the highly “unbalanced” Harper government and he gave no indication that he would be taking the Conservative Party in a new direction when he became party leader. In fact, he has actively sought Harper’s support in the 2019 election. Are there any signs that a new direction has been called for by Harper himself? That question can be answered with three letters: IDU. The International Democratic Union is an organization fanatically devoted to getting right-wing governments elected worldwide and it seems to have been the source of the robocall technique that helped Canadian Conservatives win a majority government in 2011. Steven Harper is currently the chairman of the IDU! No mellowing in old age going on for him.

A commitment to balance will require a degree of progressivism to be reintroduced into conservative ideology. Is the Conservative Party willing to change with changing circumstances, or will it simply entrench itself as the party of a failing status quo? Can the Conservative party support the transition to a steady-state economy in which human beings live sustainably, or will it continue to support a “growth” economy which booms as long as resources are abundant and pollution is discounted and then grinds to a halt when lack of planning catches up to it?

In regard to climate change, the issue identified by voters as being the most important in 2019, it is increasingly difficult to believe that the Conservative Party supports a balanced approach. I wonder if you would defend these recent developments:

The refusal to acknowledge the severity of the climate crisis by all Conservative MPs, despite the 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change saying that CO2 emissions have to fall by 45 percent within 12 years to reach Paris Agreement goals by 2050.

Jason Kenney’s taxpayer-funded war room to attack the “lies” of environmentalists (and presumably climate scientists) with the “truth” provided by oil and gas industry insiders.

The attack on the carbon tax by Scheer, Kenney, and Doug Ford as a tax grab that takes money out of people’s pockets despite the provision (which is never mentioned) to give the money back.

The Conservative long-time-in-coming climate plan calling for replacement of the tried and tested carbon tax with a vague system of fines for polluting companies which lacks specifics on targets and timelines. (One critic has said “it is like a carbon tax, with the added goal of ineffectuality”.)

The Conservative climate plan’s faith in carbon capture technology which, in its most feasible form, will simply lower the rate of pollution rather than taking CO2 out of the air. (In any case, the more CO2 that is captured the greater the problem of storing it underground and monitoring it indefinitely for leaks. What could possibly go wrong?)

Scheer’s unqualified support for 150 pipeline supporters in the United We Roll demonstration in Ottawa, which featured speeches about “cutting off the head of the snake” and “rolling over every Liberal in the country”. (By contrast, Scheer failed to support the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who demonstrated for climate action on September 27th.)

I got the idea to write this letter when I attended the all-candidates climate meeting in Courtenay on October 4th. It was well attended by citizens concerned about the climate crisis who will make up more than two thirds of your constituents should you be elected as the Courtenay-Alberni MP. My letter expands on the question I would have asked if you had seen fit to be at the meeting.

David Anson is a Courtenay resident



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The Week: Island Health takeover for public safety, and Horner’s negative campaign

The Week: Island Health takeover for public safety, and Horner’s negative campaign

Is a storm brewing, or is this the light at the end of the tunnell?  /  George Le Masurier photo
By George Le Masurier

This week, Island Health took the rare step to assume operational control of the Comox Valley Seniors Village, a privately-owned long-term care facility. Island Health has only taken this dramatic action twice in the past 15 years.

Then, later this week, there was more new. The Hospital Employees’ Union went public with its demands that Island Health take over another seniors care home in Nanaimo. And Island Health revealed that it has ongoing multiple investigations at both the Nanaimo Seniors Village and the Selkirk Seniors Village in Victoria.

There is a common thread here: All three of these facilities are owned by the same private company through a complex arrangement.

The Comox Valley Seniors Village was opened in 2009 by the Canadian company, Retirement Concepts, which was later sold to Anbang, a Chinese insurance company in 2017. Anbang purchased 31 Canadian long-term care facilities through a Canadian holding company, called Cedar Tree. The purchase included seven care homes on Vancouver Island and 24 others in BC, Alberta and Quebec.

But Cedar Tree doesn’t run the facilities. It contracts out the management of all its Anbang holdings to a company called Pacific Reach.

And, as if this wasn’t confusing enough, Pacific Reach is owned by the former owner of Retirement Concepts. Full circle.

According to a report in the Victoria Times-Colonist this week, a spokesperson for Pacific Reach blames the problems at all three Seniors Village facilities under investigation on industry-wide labour shortages. Jennie Deneka told the newspaper that the company can’t find enough workers.

It’s true. Adequate staffing has been a consistent problem at the CV Seniors Village, and it is one of the main complaints that family members have been relentlessly sending to Island Health for more than six months.

But what Deneka doesn’t say publicly is why the labour shortage affects her company’s facilities more seriously than other care home operators. One probable reason: Comox Valley Seniors Village reportedly pays about $2 to $4 per hour less than other local care homes, such as Glacier View Lodge and The Views at St. Joseph.

But there are other problems at CVSV that have caused workers to quit. In the last year, the facility introduced unpopular shift changes. It essentially fired all its employees and made them reapply for their shifts, although workers were allowed to keep their seniority. For these and other assorted reasons, CVSV staff went on strike last fall to press for better working conditions and more equitable compensation.

It’s just natural that when trained or experienced staff are in short supply, those who pay the least will suffer the most.

I was checking the city’s online building permits recently — something only a retired newspaper person would do — and noticed that Golden Life hadn’t yet received a building permit for the 120 new long-term care beds and six new hospice units awarded them by Island Health. Golden Life, the Canadian company building new beds on Cliffe Avenue in Courtenay, operates 10 seniors facilities in BC and three in Alberta.

That caught my attention because Island Health promised the beds would open in 2020.

The City of Courtenay told me that Golden Life had just applied for a permit the previous day, eventhough on Sept.16, City Council approved a development permit with variances for the project, which goes by the name Courtenay Oceanfront Developments Ltd.

In general, the development permit deals with form and character elements of the project such as building location, materials, landscaping and access locations.

The building permit, which comes later, ensures the technical elements of the building meet the building code. It also approves site servicing including sanitary sewer, water, and stormwater management. This is also the stage where off-site works such as the intersection upgrade get reviewed and approved.

It’s likely that this building permit approval process could take a month or two because this is a large building requiring multiple complex servicing approvals.

So, if Golden Life doesn’t get started until January, will they still make the 2020 deadline? Stay tuned.

If you live in the Courtenay-Alberni federal riding and spend any time on Facebook, you might have noticed that Conservative Byron Horner is running an extremely negative campaign against incumbent NDP MP Gord Johns.

In one recent ad, Horner says “Johns could not deliver $1 of discretionary spending for our region,” and “The reality is Mr. Johns has no decision-making authority on any federal spending.”

The first part is simply untrue. Johns’ work on behalf of Canadian veterans, for one example, will certainly benefit the Comox Valley area, which is home to many active and retired military people.

And if the second part of Horner’s attack is true, then it will be doubly true for him. The reality is that Canada might elect a minority Liberal government, and the NDP is most likely to hold the balance of power.

And speaking of negatives, what exactly did Byron Horner do when he worked for Merrill Lynch in New York as his online bio states? Did he work there in the 2000s when companies like Merrill sold toxic mortgage instruments that took down the global economy? He doesn’t say. But this is something that Horner should clarify for voters.



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Good Neighbor Agreement could help resolve sewage plant problems

Good Neighbor Agreement could help resolve sewage plant problems

Photo Caption

By George Le Masurier

For the past three-and-a-half decades, residents of Curtis Road have fought with dozens of elected officials and two iterations of the regional district (before and after it was split into two jurisdictions) over noxious ordours from the nearby sewage treatment plant that they don’t use and never wanted.

For two-thirds of Curtis Road property owners, whose families have lived there since before the treatment plant was built in the mid-1980s, it’s been a long ordeal.

For all that time, they have complained, protested, made presentations to the commission that governs the plant and written letters to cabinet ministers and provincial agencies. And they once successfully sued the regional district over the loss of property values due to the odours.

Now, Curtis Road residents are taking a different, more collaborative approach that they hope can resolve the issue through a better understanding of each other’s missions. The long-term goal, they say, is to encourage voluntary actions rather than legal challenges.

The residents have proposed a Good Neighbor Agreement.

“The agreement sets out what our expectations are of our neighbours at the sewage treatment plant for basic things such as odour level, noise and light pollution,” said Jenny Steel, spokesperson for the residents association. “Our association believes that this would really help both sides and improve our relationship moving forward.”


What is a GNA and who uses them

Formalized Good Neighbor Agreements are a relatively new method in Canada to resolve existing disputes or to preemptively address potential areas of dispute in the future.

The City of Parksville, for example, requires cannabis retailers to sign a Good Neighbor Agreement spelling out their responsibility to the community before they will receive a business license. The City of Quesnel, along with the RCMP and Northern Health, have a GNA with Elliot Street Supportive Housing for mutual respect and conduct.

Good Neighbor Agreements exist in larger centers, too. The Vancouver Union Gospel Mission has a GNA with the Strathcona and Downtown Eastside communities. And similar agreements exist in Victoria, Calgary and Toronto.

Decafnation was not able to find any other Good Neighbor Agreements in the Comox Valley.

But that’s not surprising. No Canada-wide data is readily available, but according to a 2004 evaluation by the University of Colorado Law School, there were only 50 Good Neighbor Agreements in the entire United States at the time.

“These so-called Good Neighbor Agreements (GNAs) take a variety of forms, but typically commit the company to mitigate the offending practices in exchange for the community group’s commitment to stop legal and public relations challenges to business operations. Many community activists believe that GNAs are a promising tool for community empowerment,” the law school reported.


Curtis Road proposal

The proposed Curtis Road GNA with the regional district addresses a variety of issues beyond odour problems. It includes visual stigma, groundwater issues, noise, light pollution, emergency planning, communications, complaint management and access to information.

“This Good Neighbor Agreement has been created to help alleviate negative environmental and public health and nuisance impacts. It establishes a set of standards that will result in respect for the fundamental rights of host community citizens to a healthy and peaceful environment,” says the residents association proposal.

Steel presented the proposed Curtis Road GNA at last month’s Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission meeting. Commissioners referred it to CVRD staff for review and recommendations at a later date.

It will not be on next week’s sewage commission agenda.

But Steel remains hopeful.

“We’re hoping that our suggestion for a senior level meeting to review the agreement will take place soon – but the wheels grind slowly,” Steel said.



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Mistrust still evident between residents, sewage commission

Plagued by the odours of sewage from Courtenay and Comox residents for 34 years, the residents of Curtis Road returned to the regional sewage commission this week hoping for resolutions to their concerns, which they say now includes a threat to their drinking water wells and a visual blight on their neighborhood

“Stinking” sewage plant wafts back onto CVRD agenda

The Curtis Road Residents Association will press the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission again next week, this time on policy issues related to their decades-long battle to eliminate unpleasant odours from the system’s sewage treatment plant

Candidates to speak at 4th Person’s Day Lunch on Oct. 18

Candidates to speak at 4th Person’s Day Lunch on Oct. 18

Submitted photo

By Guest Writer

All Courtenay-Alberni and North Island Powell River candidates in the federal
election will attend the 4th Annual Persons Day Lunch on Oct. 18.

“The lunch celebrates three milestones along the journey to equity for Canadian women. It honours the leadership of the Famous Five who fought for this status, winning the battle in 1929. Some women attending this lunch were not legally a “person” when born,” co-organizer Betty Donalson said.

Candidates will respond to a pre-question: If elected, what would you do to reduce gender inequities in Canada?

Then, candidates will have an opportunity to present their platforms, respond to a general question and answer period, meet voters and distribute election maaterials.

Both women candidates reside in NIPR: Rachel Blaney (NDP incumbent) and Shelley Downey (Conservative). The five male candidates include Mark de Bruijn (Green Party) and Peter Schwarzhoff (Liberal) in the NIPR. Courtenay-Alberni candidates include Gord Johns (NDP incumbent; Bryon Horner (Conservative) and Sean Wood (Green Party).

Women were acknowledged as “persons” in Canada approximately a decade after most had been granted the right to vote. This status permits greater participation in public life including appointments to the senate and senior judicial levels.

However, Canada has a low global gender equity ranking, and in the Comox Valley financial wage inequities have increased since 2010. According to Amnesty International (Canada) other acute issues include: lack of affordable housing, skyrocketing child-care costs, precarious work and low wages, a lack of personal autonomy, persistently high rates of gender-based violence and reduced funding for women’s organizations.

Lunch is buffet style at the Best Western Hotel at 12 noon ($25). This year, for the first time, advance tickets are available. A limited number of tickets will be sold at the door. Laughing Oyster Bookstore and committee organizers have had a good response; approximately 100 attendees are anticipated. Donation in table teapots help offset overhead expenses. Small table settings provide opportunities to talk informally with candidates and other attendees.

“This lunch is an opportunity to highlight women’s issues prior to an important election, and to learn more about our shared unique “herstory”. Attendees will leave more informed about gender-based issues and perhaps become more engaged in voting a few days later,” Donalson said.



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Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

The Vancouver Island Health Authority announced last month that it planned to drop a public health responsibility and dump it onto BC municipalities, but it apparently forgot to inform municipal officials

Local pleas at UBCM this week: fire halls, groundwater, herring and liquor taxes

Local pleas at UBCM this week: fire halls, groundwater, herring and liquor taxes

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Many of the Comox Valley’s 29 municipal elected officials will attend the annual Union of BC Municpality’s 2019 convention in Vancouver this week, and some will present resolutions they hope delegates will endorse and lead to provincial change.

UBCM resolutions usually originate from specific local issues, but address issues common to other municipalities. They almost always have the support of regional associations, such as the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities.

Here are some of the key resolutions from our region.

Property transfer tax redistribution for affordable housing

This resolution from the Comox Valley Regional District would petition the BC government to share some of the $2 billion in annual property taxes with local government to address housing for low-income citizens. The UBCM has made similar requests of the provincial government in the past.

Share of liquor tax for policing

Courtenay bears the bulk of policing costs for the Comox Valley and it’s one of the city’s biggest expenses. So councillors want a portion of the BC Liquor tax dedicated to municipalities to help pay for policing. The city argues that the availability of alcohol can have significant impacts on local policing costs.

Single use disposable products

Powell River wants the BC government to impose an environmental fee on all single-use plastic products and packaged goods entering the BC marketplace. The idea is to incentivize retailers, manufacturers and the industry to reduce reliance on single-use products and to help subsidize regional solid waste management programs. UBCM has endorsed similar actions in the past, but this is the first resolution that includes an environmental fee.

Groundwater extraction

This resolution from the Strathcona Regional District would require the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development to stop issuing licenses for the extraction of groundwater for commercial water bottling or bulk water exports from aquifers. The SRD argues that water is an essential resource and a public trust for present and future generations and must not be compromised by commercial operations. UBCM has endorsed related resolutions in the past.

Funding fire halls and public safety buildings

The Village of Cumberland requests the BC government to amend the Local Government Act to allow development cost charges to be used for expansion of fire protection infrastructure. Community growth has a direct impact on municipal expenses to provide fire and public safety, including buildings. There is another similar resolution to modernize municipal development financing that asks the province to conduct a comprehensive review of funding mechanisms for growth-related infrastructure services.

Public Library funding

Strathcona Regional District says the province’s libraries exist on levies paid by local governments and provincial library funding has been stagnant for 30 years. The SRD wants the province to add $20 million to the 2020 budget for libraries across the province, and ensure a sustainable level of funding in the future. The city of Sidney and others have requested similar actions this year.

Moratorium on Hornby and Denman Fishery

The CVRD wants the Department of Fisheries to place a moratorium on the annual herring fishery located around Hornby and Denman islands, or at least a sizable reduction in the allowable catch in 2020. Four of the five herring fishery locations on the BC coast have already been closed. The K’omoks First Nation is concerned about current harvest levels along with more than 70,000 people who have signed a petition against keeping the last herring fishery location open.






The UBCM was formed to provide a common voice for local government and this role is as important today as it was 100 years ago. The UBCM reflects the truth in the old adages “strength in numbers” and “united we stand – divided we fall”.

Convention continues to be the main forum for UBCM policy-making. It provides an opportunity for local governments of all sizes and from all areas of the province to come together, share their experiences and take a united position.

Positions developed by members are carried to other orders of government and other organizations involved in local affairs. Policy implementation activities have expanded from annual presentations to Cabinet to UBCM involvement in intergovernmental committees, regular meetings with Ministers and contact on a daily basis with senior government.

In today’s ever-changing world, where shifts in senior government policies, or in economic, social or political conditions, can have an immediate effect on local government, UBCM stands as a “listening post”. UBCM initiates, monitors, interprets and reacts where such changes could have an effect on local governments and the communities they serve.

The result is improved local government and BC’s communities are the real winners. Through the UBCM, local government has achieved much, and the potential is always there to achieve even more.

— UBCM website


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Why did Comox boot its CAO? No shortage of speculation around town

Why did Comox boot its CAO? No shortage of speculation around town

Some things are just not acceptable anymore  /  George Le Masurier photo
By George Le Masurier

This article has been updated to correct when Cumberland parted ways with its CAO.

In a special Town of Comox Council meeting this week, councillors voted to dump their long-time chief administrative officer, Richard Kanigan. But rumours are that the vote wasn’t unanimous.

Council members aren’t answering questions about the firing, but there has been plenty of speculation around town and no shortage of issues behind that gossip.

Some believe town staff morale has been at an all-time low ever since the town tried to break up union employees with a two-tiered wage proposal in 2017. The town brought in an out-of-town hired-gun to force the issue and employees responded with a unanimous strike vote and multiple flash mobs waving signs of discontent.

More recently, there are whispers about an alleged suspension and demotion of a public works manager who reportedly hasn’t returned to work. There may be formal grievances to settle in that case.

It’s also interesting that Kanigan’s Executive Coordinator Twyla Slonski quit her job abruptly this summer and resurfaced on July 31 as the new deputy city clerk in Port Alberni.

And then there’s the multiple legal actions that have run up some whopping legal bills for taxpayers.

The town faces a $250,000 lawsuit in BC Supreme Court over erosion and pollution of Golf Creek that could have been avoided a few years ago for about $25,000. And the town’s legal costs for the protracted saga over how the town has mishandled the Mack Laing trust agreement may be north of $100,000.

Or, there could be completely different reasons for Kanigan’s departure.

One thing is for sure: Municipal CAO positions in the Comox Valley have been a revolving door recently. Cumberland parted ways with its CAO in July. Comox Valley Regional District hired new CAO Russell Dyson in 2017 after Debra Oakman retired. Courtenay CAO Dave Allen now has the longest tenure of all his local peers. He was hired in 2013.

Judging by the diversity of reactions to the revelation that Justin Trudeau wore black and brown faces while dressing up in costumes, his indiscretion may not affect the outcome of the current federal election. In the heat of a political battle, people in all political parties can find the justification they need to overlook their favoured candidates’ flaws.

But nobody feels sorry for Trudeau. Dressing up in costumes wasn’t uncommon in the 1990s, and is still popular among some. But adding the blackface is a genuine disappointment for a prime minister who has carefully built his brand around diversity, reconciliation and tolerance.

Of note, in the late 1980s a prominent group of Comox Valley professionals performed a Supremes lip sync song wearing blackface at a private party. Wanna bet they’re hoping no photos of that will ever surface?

The bus accident on a logging road near Bamfield that killed two University of Victoria students led most newscasts this week. And Premier John Horgan promised to fix the road.

CBC Radio did a whole program on the topic of whether we need to pave or otherwise improve well-used logging roads around the province. But to the surprise of the show’s producers, not many of the call-in listeners were sympathetic.

Acknowledging the tragedy of the Bamfield accident, listeners pointed out that other fatal accidents had also occurred recently, most of them on paved and well-maintained roads. For example, within days of the Bamfield accident a crash on Highway 19 north of Campbell River killed two Washington state people.

Many of the show’s  listeners called in to say drivers must take responsibility when traveling on roads of any description, and that each stretch of road requires unique precautions.

Driving a large highway coach bus loaded with passengers on a twisting, narrow gravel road on a dark and rainy night was not a responsible act, some callers said. Nor was it okay to put university students on that bus at that time.

The unintentional question the program left in many listener’s minds was this: Should taxpayers fund the paving of these roads because people wanting to reach remote locations are ill-informed and poorly equipped? And would paving, which allows people to drive faster, just create tragic accidents of a different sort?

Many US colleges and universities now offer free tuition. The state of New Mexico announced this week that it would waive tuition at all of its public colleges and universities for residents, regardless of family income. Cornell University’s medical school also said this week that students who qualify for financial aid would receive free tuition. They aren’t the first to do so.

It’s a trend to relieve students from the burden of crushing debt. Something many European nations did a long time ago. Will Canadian colleges and universities follow suit?



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Conservative Horner snubs climate all-candidates forum

Recent youth-led climate strikes in the Comox Valley indicate that climate change has become an issue in the federal election, but Conservative Byron Horner has declined an invitation to participate in an Oct. 4 candidates forum on the topic