Council vote sends Mack Laing Trust issue back to court
Comox Town Council voted 5-2 this week to continue designing a viewing platform to replace naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home, rejecting any other proposals for the property, as it prepares to head back to the BC Supreme Court.
The town has petitioned the court to alter the 37-year old trust left by one of the community’s pioneers, even though it has done nothing over nearly four decades to live up to the terms of the trust.
The recent vote at this week’s regular council meeting was on a motion by Councillor Ken Grant to proceed with one of three options presented to council by Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan.
The option referred to in Grant’s motion was to send comment sheets from the March 27 public workshop back to the designers of the viewing platform and to request a redesign. It was amended to include input from K’omoks First Nation and the Mack Laing Heritage Society.
The other two options were to approve the original concept and, lastly, to “consider a completely different proposal as decided by council.”
By rejecting the last option, Town Council has effectively abandoned any thoughts of saving Shakesides, and will eventually pursue its original petition to the court with a slightly different platform design.
Councillors Nicole Minions and Stephanie McGowan cast the only two votes opposing the motion.
“Councillor McGowan and I voted against moving forward with the platform as we want to explore options around Shakesides,” Minions told Decafnation via email after the meeting.
Councillor Alex Bissinger, who voted with the majority to approve the motion, said her understanding of the vote was “that it will be up to the AG (Attorney General’s office) to decide whether or not saving Shakesides is in the books.”
All three councillors — Minions, McGowan and Bissinger — voiced their frustration with the public workshop process, which they felt was unfairly manipulated in favor of a viewing platform. Mayor Russ Arnott did not present workshop participants with any option other than a viewing platform.
The Mack Laing Heritage Society wanted workshop participants to consider its proposal for saving Shakesides as a community volunteer project, but town staff, with the Arnott’s support, denied the MLHS workshop participation as well as a later request to host a table outside of the workshop meeting room.
The three councillors also refuted Arnott’s characterization of a March 6 council decision as affirming that saving Shakesides was no longer an option.
The three councillors said they did not vote at that meeting to demolish Shakesides, only that whether the house was saved or not, some details of the trust couldn’t be honored and needed court approval to forego them.
Arnott became combative as each councillor spoke in turn, often interrupting each speaker. He interrupted Councillor Minions often, once to admonish her for saying council voted on Feb. 6 to put the matter into abeyance for three months.
Arnott said the abeyance wasn’t for three months, rather for “up to three months.” Yet, he did not bother to correct CAO Kanigan’s report, which they were discussing at the time, that also stated “the three month abeyance ….”
Under normal codes of conduct, only one councillor or director of a municipal government has the floor at any one time, and other councillors or directors show respect by refraining from interrupting or calling out comments during that time.
Arnott appeared to be debating each of the three women as they voiced their concerns.
The day after the Town Council meeting, Arnott reached out via email to MLHS President Kris Nielsen to invite him or another representative of the society to participate in last-minute design changes to the platform.
Nielsen declined the offer because he said spending time on the design of a viewing platform was premature, referring to possible outcomes of the now inevitable Supreme Court trial that might deny the town’s petition.
“So for me to entertain some speculative designs/problems is just not in the cards,” Nielsen wrote to Arnott. “I could point out the image of the cart way out in front of the horse picture, but I will refrain from that.”
The town’s petition was first heard by a Supreme Court Justice last April.
A court ruling on the town’s petition could have been made nearly a year ago, but the three Supreme Court dates held so far have been consumed with attempts by the town to deny the MLHS an ability to present its evidence to the court.
The town eventually lost that battle and the upcoming trial will hear evidence from the town and the Attorney General’s office, as well as the Mack Laing Heritage Society.
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I was randomly researching my family name and I came across this issue. I have some real similarities to Mack. I love nature and I am a public servant. I have meticulously renovated and beautified every house that I have ever lived in.(Even as a young boy) I am sure that Mack put his heart and soul into his house. It would be a tragedy if his wishes are not upheld. What will you replace this historical relic with? Will your kids ever get to see with there own eyes the history? Will the new structure have such deep an rich stories?
They call it a “trust” for a reason.
How can Town councillors vote to override a trust? This isn’t an emergency — there is no pressing need to change anything.
Replacing a heritage structure with a viewing platform would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. What is astounding, after all that has transpired, is that there are still councillors (and a mayor no less) who insist on carrying on with this insensitive and cynical charade.
Being wrong-headed is one thing but disregarding the terms violates the substance and spirit of the original agreement. Sacred once again takes a back seat to a cheap knock-off (or such is the current plan). Why another viewing platform? Let’s respect Mack Laing’s wishes, honour the trust and dutifully stay the course.
Is it just me or are others seeing the parallels that exist between the SNC Lavalin Affair in Ottawa and our own Mack Laing controversy here in Comox?
Both stories involve a fundamental principle of law. In the case of SNC the central issue is the independence of the judicial system from political interference. In the case of Mack Laing it is the inviolability of a last will and testament.
Both stories involve long serving senior public servants that have been around so long that they have lost track of their proper role in government. In the case of SNC, Michael Wernick seems to have forgotten that his job is to give advice and take direction from his political masters, not the other way around. In the case of Mack Laing, Richard Kanigan also seems to have forgotten that his role is to provide information and advice to Council and act on their policy decisions and directions. It is certainly not his job to predetermine an outcome and apply pressure to ensure that that his desired outcome is realized.
Both stories involve politicians in leadership roles that have failed to demonstrate appropriate leadership on complex and challenging issues. In the case of SNC, Justin Trudeau, who has a penchant for apologizing to everyone, everywhere, all the time, seems to lack the necessary backbone to apologize for his inappropriate and unethical attempt to interfere with a decision of the Attorney General. Instead, Trudeau, continues to evade this difficult issue by insisting that it is now in the past and that the government is “moving forward”. In the case of Mack Laing, Russ Arnott has chosen to ignore the Town’s breach of fiduciary responsibilities by failing to execute Mack’s will and properly manage his trust. Rather than owning up to past mistakes made by the Town and invest the time and effort required to find a solution that complies with Mack’s will, Arnott is taking direction from Kanigan and attempting to rewrite the will. Like Trudeau, Arnott is trying to change the channel on by repeating the old political catch phrase, “we are moving forward”.
Both stories involve women of intelligence, strength and integrity standing up for what is right. In the case of SNC, Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke “truth to power” to protect the fundamental principle of the independence of our judicial system. In the case of Mack Laing, Stephanie McGowan, Nicole Minions, and Alexandra Bissinger challenged the Mayor and their fellow Councilors to uphold and respect Mack Laing’s will. They have earned our collective respect!
Whether you are on the side of preserving Shakesides or replacing it with a viewing platform, one thing that we can all agree upon is the need to have confidence that the people responsible for executing our last wills and testaments can be trusted to carry out our final wishes. The very idea that non-elected and elected officials in local government would violate the sanctity of a will to serve their own ends is exceedingly repugnant.
Well spoken Ken McDonald. I agree ~~ re ” In the case of Mack Laing it is the inviolability of a last will and testament.” Comox Council’s decision could set a precedent if followed through and allow a viewing platform, instead of keeping Shakesides.
I feel strongly re the ‘volunteer’ aspect put forward by the Mack Lang Heritage Preservation Society’s view….”The Mack Laing Heritage Society wanted workshop participants to consider its proposal for saving Shakesides as a community volunteer project…”
AND..this is starting to sound a bit like current Federal govt./Trudeau’s handling of matters back East..”Both stories involve politicians in leadership roles that have failed to demonstrate appropriate leadership on complex and challenging issues.”
Please remember you have been voted in to be honest in dealing on matters. Please step up to the plate!
It looks like perhaps Mayor Arnott should take some tips from Justin Trudeau on how NOT to deal with women on this Council. Older, White politician being disrespectful of women who are his equals and deserve to be treated as equals.
Standing on the side of “the right thing to do” , the law and the Truth is admirable for both women and men. Not being led by half truths, assumptions and presumptions is what builds confidants that our elected representatives are worthy of respect and admiration.
Big applause to our elected Councilors who have the courage and stamina to move forward in the right, honourable and respectful direction.