Are local government satisfaction ratings rising or falling in the Comox Valley? It depends on where you live  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: The heart of our survey is in the comments, not the hard numerical data

Feb 18, 2021 | Commentary, News

By George Le Masurier

We published the results of our Local Government Performance Review this week and it created lots of buzz for those who follow local politics. Most people don’t, of course, unless the politicians do something to tick them off, like raise taxes, or do something really good, like reduce taxes.

The majority of people only get excited about local politics when an election comes around. So, being closer to the next election than the last one, we wondered how satisfied people were with their elected officials.

And, boy, did they tell us. It would be an understatement to say there were a lot of strong opinions expressed in the survey comments.

But here’s something to keep in mind about this survey. It wasn’t a random sampling of the Comox Valley population, at least not in the sense of a poll by Agnus Reid or Gallup.

If it had been, then our sample size of 314 respondents would have had a 4.65 percent margin of error with 90 percent probability that the sample accurately reflected the attitudes of the whole Comox Valley.

But we broke our survey down so that only people who identified as voting in Courtenay, for example, could rate their level of satisfaction with city councillors. It was the same for all jurisdictions.

And the respondents to our survey self-selected to participate. Many, perhaps most, may be regular Decafnation readers, although the sample was only a percentage of our subscriber base.

So the Local Government Performance Review was designed to be qualitative research, not quantitative. It was meant to describe the reasoning and motivations behind respondents satisfaction ratings, rather predict anything based on the hard numerical data.

So do not look at this survey and conclude that if an election were held tomorrow, Daniel Arbour would get 89 percent of the vote in Area A or that only 24 percent of voters in Comox would choose Russ Arnott for mayor.

But the survey does highlight the difference in attitudes between jurisdictions, and here the numbers and the comments intersect.

Most respondents in Courtenay and Areas A and B like how their elected officials have performed and the comments explain why. Respondents were not happy in Comox or Area C and here the comments were even more pointed and passionate.

By reading the comments, you gain an understanding of why the respondents approved or disapproved of their local government and politicians.

The last civic election in 2018 brought transformative change to the Comox Valley when voters elected more progressive-mined people in Courtenay and Electoral Areas A and B. This altered the conversation in those areas and, as a result, also at the important regional district board table.

And so far, at least, there’s an indication that this survey’s respondents are satisfied with that.


A farmer who leases some of the Courtenay Flats from Duck Unlimited fears that an expansion of the Highway 19A bypass will negatively impact his roadside farm stand business. Nobody wants to choose between farmland and more roads.

But the possibility of widening the highway bypass shouldn’t surprise anyone. It was planned decades ago.

The City of Courtenay and the Ministry of Transportation have been seeking a solution to growing congestion at the 17th Street bridge. Two years ago, a consultant working with the city on its Transportation Master Plan, suggested a bridge at 21st Street and set off fire alarms in diverse segments of the community.

A bridge at that location would have cut through the heart of the Courtenay Airpark and forced the facility to close. It would have connected on the other side of the river into the heart of the Kus-kus-sum and derailed a joint city and KFN reconciliation project.

The city never intended a bridge at 21st and deleted the overreaching consultant’s bad idea. But a serious conversation ensued about a third crossing and the city’s limited options and alternatives.

Among the most promising short-term solutions was raised by Dan Bowen, a former Highways Ministry employee.

The primary problem, he said then, is that there are two northbound lanes of traffic approaching the bridge from the south on Cliffe Avenue and two lanes on the bridge. But whether you turn north or south, you have to merge down to one lane.

It’s the same approach to the bridge from the north on the Island Highway bypass, which is two lanes at Superstore, but merges down to one lane at the bridge.

Bowen believes there should be four lanes of traffic approaching the 17th Street bridge, across the bridge and then all the way to the Shell gas station at the old Island Highway and also part way toward Comox.

The long-term solution, he said, is to twin the 17th Street bridge. The highways ministry purchased extra land on the northside of 17th Street east of Cliffe Avenue to anticipate a widened bridge. That land looks like a park with cherry trees.

The ministry also designed the bypass for four lanes, which is why the shoulders are extra wide through the S-turns.

We don’t know what the ministry surveyors were doing when they alarmed the Courtenay Flats farmer, but it’s possible they were gathering new data about expanding the bypass into four lanes.

As Bowen said, that was the plan from the beginning but the province opted for a half-measure. It should have put four lanes in right away. It would have been less expensive in the long run and farmers and farm stands could have developed as they did, just in a slightly different location.


Anyone else a little disturbed that the U.S. is vaccinating about 1.7 million people per day while nearly three months after vaccines became available, Canada still hasn’t vaccinated that many in total?

And Canadians can’t tell whether the Trudeau government screwed up its negotiations for vaccine supplies or if the drug companies screwed us because Ottawa has kept the deal a secret.



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