41% of voters cast ballots as of this morning

41% of voters cast ballots as of this morning

BY GEORGE LE MASURIER

Update Friday morning, Dec. 7

Elections BC reported this morning that it has received 1,356,000 ballots in the electoral referendum as of 8.20 am this morning. That is a 41 percent turnout of BC registered voters.

More ballots should arrive throughout the day, until the cutoff at 4.30 pm this afternoon.

Saanich North and the Islands still lead all areas with a 52.4 percent turnout of ballot screens so far, with Parksville-Qualicum close behind at 51.4 percent. The Comox Valley isa 46.8 percent.

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Update Thursday morning, Dec. 6

Saanich North and the Islands and the Parksville-Qualicum area continued to lead British Columbians in electoral reform voting. 50.3 percent of Saanich North’s register voters have had their ballots screened by Elections BC, and 49.2 percent of Parksvile-Qualicum registered voters. So far, 45.5 percent of Comox Valley registered voters have returned ballots that have passed through the initial screening.

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As of 8.20 a.m. Wednesday morning, Elections BC had screened the ballots of 34.2 percent of registered voters in British Columbia. But they have received ballots from about 40 percent of voters.  

The rate of return has been high in some communities like Parksville-Qualicum, where 47.7 percent of voters have returned the ballot package. The top voting region so far is Saanich North and the Islands with a 48.8 percent return.

The Comox Valley also topped the 40 percent mark, at 43.9 percent this morning.

Other top voting communities include: Oak Bay-Gordon Head at 45.5 percent, Nelson-Creton at 42.7 percent, Powell River-Sunshine Coast at 43.5 percent and Saanich South at 42.1 percent.

The lowest number of returned ballots so far have come from the many Surrey ridings, with Surrey-Green Timbers ranking the lowest of the low at 20.2 percent.

Only ballots received by Elections BC by 4.30 pm on Friday, Dec. 7 will be counted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wells elected CVRD chair, Hamir vice-chair

Wells elected CVRD chair, Hamir vice-chair

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Newly-elected Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells has been elected to chair the Comox Valley Regional District board. Wells represented the City of Courtenay on the CVRD for the past four years, along with former mayor Larry Jangula and Councillor Mano Theos.

At its inaugural meeting Tuesday, Nov. 20, directors also elected new Area B Director Arzeena Hamir as vice-chair. This is Hamir’s first time in public office.

There are seven new faces at the CVRD board table this year: Daniel Arbour, Area A; David Frisch, Courtenay; Hamir; Doug Hillian, Courtenay; Jesse Ketler, Cumberland; Wendy Morin, Courtenay; and, Maureen Swift, Comox.

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New Zealander answers three No ProRep arguments

New Zealander answers three No ProRep arguments

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By George Le Masurier

A former Comox Valley resident who now lives in New Zealand, which uses the mixed-member version of proportional representation, answers three common arguments against voting in favor of electoral reform in BC

 

A few readers have criticized Decafnation recently because we have not examined the arguments against changing our electoral system to proportional representation, the main question in the current provincial referendum.

So, we visited the “No to ProRep” website to understand the rationale behind sticking with the current system of First Past The Post.

We discovered that the No side does not extol the virtues of the current system that gives 100 percent of the power to a single party that may only get 30 percent to 40 percent of the votes. The No side website is singularly focused on reasons why proportional representation isn’t a good choice.

We put the “No to ProRep” arguments to Katie Betanzo, a high school teacher in New Zealand who grew up in the Comox Valley and graduated from G.P. Vanier. Betanzo lived in in British Columbia under FPTP and now lives in New Zealand under the mixed-member version of proportional representation.

Decafnation: One of the No side’s arguments is that “the most populated city will decide everything for all of BC. PR will lead to a Vancouver-centric government that only cares about Vancouver issues.” In other words, the No side argues the political power base will move to the largest urban areas and smaller, rural communities will lose influence in the government. Has that been your experience in New Zealand?

Katie Betanzo: I have to say, this is not an issue I have heard much about here. I suppose it’s arguable that, under our system of MMP, most of our ‘list’ MPs come from urban centres rather than rural areas, but it’s just as likely that a rural electorate winds up with effectively two MPs working for them, for instance West Coast –Tasman, with a Labour electorate MP and a National list MP based in the area.

The thing about proportional representation, though, it’s proportional. Every few years we redraw electorate boundaries so that there are roughly the same number of people in each electorate. So, of course, rural electorates are physically very big – but they represent the same number of voters as a relatively ‘small’ urban electorate. The balance of power does come from the cities, but that’s where the bulk of people live. So it makes sense.


Our situation normal is two large parties – centre left and centre right – supported in a coalition government by at least one small ‘extreme fringe’ party and one small centrist party. It tends to balance out.


Historically, our electorates were unbalanced in favour of rural areas. Urban electorates had 28 percent larger populations than rural ones, giving rural electorates a disproportionate amount of power.

One thing to note, though, is that we have a party which was founded since the introduction of PR that has a focus on the regions (rural areas). Because of PR, that party consistently winds up in parliament and at the moment are in government – part of the coalition. So we have both a properly representative and proportionate government, and also a strong pro-rural voice in government.

We also have a certain number of seats for Māori, our indigenous people, who are more likely than the general population to live in rural areas. Māori can chose to vote in either a general or a Māori electorate, but this ensures a strong voice for indigenous issues in central government. These seats date back to 1867.

Decafnation: The No website also claims that under PR, “the rise of backroom deals and political posturing is inevitable.” Does this happen in New Zealand?

Betanzo:: I suppose this is a concern and it does get thrown around from time to time, but it’s almost never proven — certainly no more prevalent than under FPTP. If anything, having to work together with at least one other party in government tends to keep parties honest.

The closest I can think of is some past manoeuvring by a right-wing party to ensure that another, very small right-wing party won an electorate seat (the larger party did not stand a candidate in the electorate), and thus would bring two MPs into Parliament under our MMP rules. This was widely held to be a corrupt practice and created quite a scandal.

As for any type of cronyism or nepotism – it doesn’t happen – not more than under FPTP.

Decafnation:: And last, anti-Pro-Rep people say the system gives the balance of power to extreme fringe parties on the right or the left. They say PR allows “extremist parties to have a say.” Has that happened in NZ?

Betanzo: In theory, it is possible that an extreme fringe party could sway a government (the tail wagging the dog). But in theory, it is also possible that an extreme and vocal faction within a larger party could sway that party’s policies. (That happened here when a small group within a socialist party drove their neoliberal economic agenda through into law.)

I’ve done a far bit of research, and the most common mention of the “tail wagging the dog” or “unpopular legislation” is in the context of people complaining about proportional rep. It’s a myth. There are a few examples of small parties using their leverage to get bills introduced to parliament, but once the bill is before the house it has to pass the same scrutiny as any other legislation.

Our situation normal is two large parties – centre left and centre right – supported in a coalition government by at least one small ‘extreme fringe’ party and one small centrist party. It tends to balance out.

Once or twice a far left or right party has managed to tug a government a bit further to the left or right, but nothing like the myth of the country being held hostage by an extreme fringe party.

 

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Help! Recruiters Needed for Pro Rep Vote

Help! Recruiters Needed for Pro Rep Vote

Relational voting takes democracy back to the citizen level

 

By CHRIS HILLIAR

Two weeks ago I signed up as a recruiter with Dogwood to help get out the Yes vote to support proportional representation in the BC referendum. The strategy being used by Dogwood is intriguing and I wanted to know more about it and about the local person driving it.

I sat down to speak with Dave Mills. He’s the Deputy Director of Organizing at Dogwood. He has a degree in Science from the University of Victoria, and a 25-year career in resource management and public services. “Dogwood”, he said, “first became well known in BC when they created the “no tanker” loonie sticker – a simple statement of resistance you could paste on the back of our dollar. It was a simple tactic that got under the government’s skin, rallied supporters and put the public on notice. The group continues to be creative and their work promoting Pro Rep is a good example.

I asked Dave to describe the new tactic Dogwood is using to encourage support for Pro Rep. “It’s called Relational Voting” he said, “a simple concept – friends talking to friends. Our networks contain the people most like ourselves. If you’re a ‘Yes’ voter chances are your friends and family are as well.”

As a get-out-the-vote strategy Relational Voting has been used in select US district and congressional races over the past two years. “So in one sense it’s quite a new strategy” he said, “but in the truest sense, it’s as old as the bedrock of democracy itself – conversations between people who share values.”

Relational Voting is ideally suited to the current political climate of mistrust because it bypasses the untrusted messengers of today such as corporate media and government institutions. Even large organizations like Dogwood are not immune to mistrust but Relational Voting means you, personally, deliver a message to your friends and family. “It’s twice as likely to result in action”, he said.

I asked Dave why someone reading this article should take the time to get involved with Dogwood to support pro rep. His response came without thinking so I know it came from his heart. “Because without the individual’s participation democracy unravels” he said. “If we opt out of participating, then democracy goes on death watch.”

“And”, he said, “participation at the citizen level rather than at the party level is the best medicine for what ails our political system.” “Conversation around kitchen tables is how democracy started. Relational Voting gets those conversations started and gives you tools to amplify them.”

If you want to get involved with helping to get the vote out to support Pro Rep, click on this link: https://organize.votebc.ca/recruiter

By the way, if you are worried about how to answer question #2 on the ballot because you don’t feel confident about the different types of proportional representation Dogwood encourages you to just vote Yes to proportional representation on question #1 and leave question #2 blank.

If you want to take a seven minute questionnaire to determine which voting system is the best fit for your values please check out this link: www.referendumguide.ca

Chris Hilliar is a contributor to the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. He can be reached at hilliar1@telus.net

The Comox Valley has a wood stove problem

The Comox Valley has a wood stove problem

No wood stove would pass a basic vehicle emissions test, yet the Comox Valley allows them to burn day and night, for weeks and months, with almost no regulation, polluting our air and posing serious public health risks

 

This article was updated twice on Nov. 2

The Comox Valley has a dirty little secret, and we’ve only recently begun to acknowledge it. The prevalence of wood stoves has made our air quality one of the worst in British Columbia.

It’s estimated that more than a third of Comox Valley households have some type of wood-burning appliance that gets fired up in the fall and then idles all day long, week after week for the next five or six months. And they cause more pollution and risks to public health than any other heat source.

For many, wood burning is part of the northern culture, a lingering nostalgia for living self-sufficiently off the land or a childhood memory of the coziness of gathering around a wood stove. It’s a logger’s ritual of gathering, chopping and stacking wood.

But for others, wood smoke is a nightmare that causes respiratory diseases and increases the risk of heart attacks. It means spending money on air purifiers and medications, or losing money from taking sick time off work.

Comox Valley air quality was among the province’s top 10 worst for fine particulate matter (called PM2.5) for the last six years in a row, according to the BC Lung Association. Courtenay was the only one of 13 communities in the Georgia Strait Air Zone that failed to meet Canadian standards for PM2.5.

The Comox Valley regularly has three or four multi-day air quality advisories every winter, while Vancouver might have one and more often none.

“One only has to drive around older neighborhoods or low-lying areas in the winter, especially in the evening, to see that there is a lot of smoke coming from wood stoves,” says Jennell Ellis, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley.

Comox Valley municipalities have started to address the problem.

Cumberland has banned the installation of wood burning appliances — stove and fireplaces — in all new construction. The Comox Valley Regional District has offered incentives to upgrade old, uncertified wood stoves to cleaner, healthier options. Courtenay Council passed a regulation last winter about moving in this direction (low interest loans, not incentives), but it is not in place. 

The Town of Comox has taken no action on wood stoves yet. But Mayor-Elect Russ Arnott announced at an air quality information session this week that he expects that to “change in the next three months.”

“I’m hoping to have it brought up quite soon after the new council comes together,” Arnott told Decafnation after the meeting. “My feeling is that this council will want to act on it … So, while I don’t have consensus at this time I’m confident we can work something out.”

The situation is urgent for many people.

A 2017 multi-year heart attack study conducted in Kamloops, Prince George and Courtenay showed that short-term exposure to fine particulates increased heart attack risk in seniors by 6 percent, and by 19 percent when exposed to wood burning.

Ellis said the young and elderly are most at risk of health problems from wood smoke.

Studies have shown that smoke from a wood stove releases carcinogenic toxins equivalent to 1,000 cigarettes.

“Inhaling wood smoke is secondhand smoke,” Ellis said. She adds that PM2.5, the harmful fine particulate in wood smoke is easy to inhale, but difficult to exhale, which leads to deep respiratory problems.

North Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns has yet to mandate any restrictions on wood burning devices, but she has noted their accompanying health risks.

“It’s understanding the fact that there is no healthy level of air pollution. And exposure over time does impact chronic disease progression,” Enns has said.

FURTHER READING: How to read the Comox Valley air monitor readings

Perhaps it’s that pioneering tradition of burning wood for heat that clouds our judgement of its negative environmental impacts.

“There’s no wood stove that would meet a vehicle emissions test, yet we allow many of them to idle where we live, every day and next to schools,” Ellis told Decafnation via email.

“And if someone isn’t burning well, we end up investing taxpayer’s money into education and then enforcement if they still ignore best practices. No other heating appliance requires this kind of ongoing investment. No other heating appliance has so many proven health impacts,” she said.

What are the solutions

Ellis told Comox residents attending one of Breathe Clean Air’s roving information sessions at the Comox United Church Oct. 30, that to make a transition from wood stoves affordable requires a two-part strategy:

One, incentivize and regulate a transition out of wood stoves completely; and, two keep BC Hydro rates down.

But, the overall goal is to really transition people to cleaner heat sources, particularly in populated areas which will require education, incentives and regulation/enforcement. It is also important that people who are being impacted by neighbourhood smoke have bylaws available to deal with that, just as they do with undue amounts of noise or other disturbances. 

“The solution is definitely not to move people to newer wood stoves, especially in more densely populated areas,” she said. “A recent study from the UK showed that an eco-certified stove, operating at factory testing levels, puts out more fine particulates than 18 Modern Diesel Passenger cars.”

Ellis diagramed the rating of heating sources for her Comox audience.

Wood fireplaces are the worst emitters of PM2.5, plus they suck the heat of a house, making them the most inefficient heat sources. Pellet burning stoves are slightly better than wood burners. They emit 27 pounds of annual pollution. Oil furnaces emit a quarter-pound of pollution, and gas a sixteenth of a pound.

Electric powered heating devices are the best, emitting zero pollution annually, she said. And electric heat exchanger systems are the best, drawing a minimum amount of power.

Ellis advocates for a Valley-wide approach, with consistent regulations across jurisdictions. Right now, the Valley’s four municipal governments all have different bylaws governing wood stoves and open burning of yard waste.

Cumberland, Comox and Courtenay all ban backyard fires to burn leaves or other debris, but it is allowed in regional electoral areas A, B and C.

Protect yourself

Ellis said there are methods for Valley residents to protect themselves, including running HEPA-rated air purifiers inside, and turning off the ‘fresh’ air intakes in homes and vehicles during heavy smoke periods, usually early winter evenings when mini-atmospheric inversions coincide with people stoking up their stoves.  Wearing N95 or N99 rated masks may also help when outside, but only if the mask fits very well.

People can also install localized air quality monitors available from PurpleAir.

The Breathe Clean Air event at Comox United Church in Comox was sponsored by SAGE: Sustainability Action Group for the Environment.

 

ProRep boosts diversity, youth vote

ProRep boosts diversity, youth vote

PR helps young people feel invested in politics

Editor’s note: Katie Betanzo was raised in the Comox Valley and New Zealand. She’s a former editor of The Breezeway, the now defunct award-winning student newspaper at G.P. Vanier High School. Betanzo moved to New Zealand in 2001 and teaches media studies and English in Auckland. In this article, Betanzo writes about how proportional representative government works in her adopted country, in particular, how it has engaged younger voters.

 

BY KATIE BETANZO

Why didn’t you vote? “No one represents me.” “My vote doesn’t matter.”

It is a curious fact that the act of voting is habit forming. If you vote in an election, you are 10% more likely to vote in the next election than those who did not vote the first time around. If you are prevented from voting, or choose not to vote, even for one election where you are eligible, you are statistically less likely to vote in subsequent elections.

The most crucial election for a person’s future participation is the very first election after they are eligible.

Young people and their votes matter. If all young voters (aged under 25) voted, that would be a power block equal to the over 65 vote.

I work with teenagers every day, and I hear it all: I don’t care about politics; it’s boring; it doesn’t affect me.

You know what I don’t hear? “No one represents me” and “My vote doesn’t matter.”

Because in here New Zealand, it is obvious that the youth vote does matter (and, in fact, is on the increase). Less than 5% of votes cast in last year’s election were for parties that did not make it into Parliament. Every other vote went to determine the proportional makeup of the House. This is in stark contrast to FPTP. In BC’s election of 2017, ridings were won by as little as 38%; the remaining 62% of voters cast wasted votes.

As for representation, proportional rep has allowed us a far wider range of elected officials than we had under FPTP. Some of the most interesting movers and shakers in our current government were elected via the list vote in our MMP system – a little different from the one proposed in BC.

Our youngest current MP, Chloe Swarbrick, unsuccessfully ran for mayor of our largest city aged just 22. Two years down the track, she has been elected to Parliament via the Green Party list. Ms Swarbrick and her colleague Golriz Ghahraman, the first refugee to become a member of NZ’s parliament, are doing much to engage young people in politics.

Our Prime Minister is also making waves both at home and abroad. Of course it is news that Jacinda Ardern has had a baby during her first year in office, that she is the country’s youngest leader in more than 150 years and our first Labour PM (left of center) in almost a decade.

What is less often talked about is that she is only in office because of proportional representation. Had our 2017 election been FPTP, the incumbent National Party, which dominates in rural areas and small towns, would have been returned with a resounding majority of MPs – and less than half the popular vote. Ardern’s coalition partners, the Greens and New Zealand First, would have failed to make it into Parliament at all – despite gaining collectively over 10% of the vote.

It’s tricky to unpack chicken-and-egg, but my contention is that PR has increased diversity in Parliament at the same time as improving voter participation, especially for young voters.

Because that first vote really is critical.

Katie Betanzo may be reached at echo5@orcon.net.nz