Dr. Jonathan Kerr wants everyone in Comox to have a family doctor. He personally recruited four new doctors to the Valley this year | George Le Masurier photo
Jonathan Kerr focused on housing, doctor shortage, creating a healthy community
How does a Comox family doctor and former president of the 12,000-member Ontario College of Family Physicians diagnose the issues that matter most to the people of his community? With a scientific approach, of course.
And what is the prescription from Dr. Jonathan Kerr, a candidate for the open seat on Comox Town Council? He is proposing a variety of measures that connect the health of individuals with the health of the community and the health of the environment.
Comox will hold a by-election on Saturday, Nov. 27 to fill the seat vacated by Partick McKenna, who recently relocated to Nova Scotia.
McKenna has endorsed Kerr, as have three sitting council members Nicole Minions, Stephanie McGowan and Alex Bissinger.
Kerr publicly announced his candidacy in August, but he began preparing for the job 10 months ago. In January, he launched an intensive community self-education program that balanced attending every council meeting with a multi-faceted “listening campaign” that engaged a cross-section of town residents throughout the spring, summer and fall.
“My favorite style of leadership is servant leadership. That means listening to people and discovering what they need and empowering them to achieve it,” he told Decafnation this week.
To hear what’s on the minds of Comox residents, Kerr has attended neighborhood coffee parties and, of course, he’s been knocking on doors.
But he also had one of the busiest booths at the downtown Comox Sidewalk Sale where people could place stickers on a board to “vote” for the town’s most important or pressing issues. He ran a similar survey online and mailed out cards to town residents with a send-in survey form.
He organized a Community Listening Event in September that was attended by more than 100 people plus representatives from 25 Comox Valley nonprofit organizations.
“Everyone there, including me, learned a lot about the needs of our citizens and how each nonprofit is trying to address them,” Kerr said. “It was enlightening.”
Kerr also admits to being “a bit of a policy nerd,” so he has attended every open council meeting over the past 12 months to understand the multitude of issues that come before the council.
“I want to be as prepared as possible to hit the ground running if I’m elected,” he said.
PEOPLE’S TOP 3 CONCERNS
All of that listening and voter feedback has helped him identify the top issues on people’s minds.
Topping that list were a variety of concerns related to the health of our environment, such as protecting our parks, forests, shorelines and wildlife, air quality, preserving our town’s tree canopy, promoting local healthy food and taking action on climate change.
“Comox could be a leader in addressing climate change, for example, by converting the town’s fleet to 100 percent electric vehicles,” he said.
Kerr uses the creation of bike lanes as an example of how the town could create healthier people (more exercise) and a healthier environment (fewer cars on the road). He pointed to countries like the Netherlands where bike transit is the norm and, as a result, people connect with each other and their community.
Affordable housing was next on the list of people’s concerns, which is not surprising in a community where real estate prices have reached or surpassed most other BC cities and towns.
It has, unfortunately, become common that people are “couch surfing” and that the volume of applications for Habitat for Humanity houses has skyrocketed.
Kerr believes that the town must redefine “affordable housing.”
He notes that the average rent in BC has increased 7.2 percent over the previous quarter, and rent prices in BC are now the highest in the country.
“For a Comox resident who hasn’t seen a change in their wages in the past year, a place to live that was once affordable a couple of years ago is no longer attainable,” he said.
Even though there are currently two multi-unit housing developments underway in the town, Comox will still have a high percentage of single-family houses.
“We need to do more to increase housing density close to downtown Comox and encourage more duplex and triplex housing and more mixed-use commercial buildings with residential units above,” he said. “And all new development projects should include affordable units.”
Kerr praised the Aspen apartment development near the Quality Foods store because it includes dedicated affordable units. And he gave kudos to the redevelopment of high-quality seniors housing on Balmoral (Comox Valley Affordable Housing Society).
“We need to do more of that,” he said.
The number three issue on people’s minds was finding a family doctor. It’s an issue affecting many BC communities.
Kerr says there are about 14,000 Comox Valley residents that do not have a dedicated family doctor. One of his goals is that everyone in Comox will have a family physician.
The Sea Cove Medical Clinic on Beaufort Avenue next to the Blackfin Pub where Kerr is the lead physician and has personally recruited four new doctors since January, doubling the clinic’s number of family physicians to eight. He hopes to recruit four more family doctors to Comox next year.
As a member of the Comox Valley Division of Family Practice recruitment committee, he believes the community will be best served by a Valley-wide coordinated approach to bringing more doctors to town, rather than relying on individual physician groups.
He says recruiting a physician requires an appeal to the spouse and their entire family and introducing them to the Comox Valley’s amenities, nature parks and beaches.
And Kerr is eager to dispel a myth about the Comox Valley’s particular doctor shortage. It is not caused by a declining number of family physicians, he says, although a number of doctors have recently retired. There are more doctors serving the community than ever before, but the Valley’s population has grown even faster.
WHO ARE THE COMOX GREENS?
Kerr has been endorsed by a local group of Comox residents known as “Comox Greens,” which he says is different from the BC Green Party, and not a political party.
“It’s a group with whom I share values, such as sustainability, social justice, respect for diversity, nonviolence, participatory democracy and ecological wisdom. These are known as “green values” and they transcend politics,” he said.
Comox Town Councillor Nicole Minions told Decafnation that “In early 2021 we formed Comox Greens, which is a new electoral organization with shared views for the Town of Comox. We support long-term sustainability, social justice and respect for diversity.”
Kerr has received some criticism for aligning himself with the group, even though all municipal government candidates receive support from people or groups of people who share the same values.
“I’m just being 100 percent transparent. If you vote for me, you know my values and what I stand for. That doesn’t mean block voting. I support independent voting by every council member and I will also vote in the best interests of my constituency,” he said.
“I’m just being clear about what I’m about.”
OTHER ISSUES ON KERR’S PLATFORM
Kerr believes the Mack Laing trust agreement controversy needs a resolution soon in order to heal the wounds that have divided the community.
And he thinks the debate could be defused if the parties sat down and talked to each other.
“I’ve talked to all the parties to this problem and they agree on about 98 percent of the details,” he said. “I would offer to mediate a resolution if there was an opportunity.”
As a family physician, Kerr often counsels patients on difficult matters. He has found that most often people with marriage problems, for example, need to restart communications.
“Polarization occurs when dialogue stops,” he said. “A healthy community benefits from increased transparency by their local government.”
WHO IS JONATHAN KERR?
Kerr earned his Doctor of Medicine from the University of Toronto in 2006 and did Post-Graduate Family Medicine training at Queen’s University. He practiced family medicine in Belleville, Ont. prior to moving to the Comox Valley.
He served as president of the Ontario College of Family Physicians and served on its board for nine years, including one year as chair. He has also served on the board of directors for the College of Family Physicians Canada and currently sits on the Advisory Committee for the Comox Valley Division of Family Practice.
He and his wife Christy and their two children vacationed on Vancouver Island in 2014 and moved to the Valley later that year. He joined the Sea Cove Medical Clinic in 2015, where he is currently the lead physician.
Kerr actively competes in the sport of Biathlon and coaches youth eight to 18 in rifle marksmanship and cross-country skiing with the Vancouver Island Biathlon Club.
He’s also a volunteer with the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society, and previously served on the Coalition to End Homelessness, Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society and is treasurer of the Navigate School Parent Advisory Council.
DR. JONATHAN KERR
Age 41. Came to the Comox Valley in 2014.
B.Sc. Queen’s University, Doctor of Medicine, University of Toronto, Post-Graduate Family Medicine training, Queen’s University
Family practice in Belleville, Ont. and joined the Sea Cove Medical Clinic in 2015, assuming lead physician role in 2020. A past president of the Ontario College of Family Physicians and past board member of the Canada-wide college, and currently serves on the Advisory Committee for the Comox Valley Division of Family Practice
“I have known Dr. Kerr for many years and he is the perfect person to fill my seat on Council. Jonathan is dedicated to the health and well-being of the residents of Comox and I know he has the listening skills, passion, intelligence, and decision-making ability needed for the role. I endorse Dr. Kerr for Comox Council 100%.” — Pat McKenna, outgoing Councillor, Town of Comox
“I wholeheartedly endorse Dr. Jonathan Kerr for our Town of Comox Council in this by-election. His dedication to his work, family, and community shows up in everything he does. He is knowledgeable, hard-working, and holds a unique moral and ethical code that our community and world needs more of. I have known Jonathan for the past couple of years through his active volunteerism in the Valley. I and those around me have seen how community-minded, thoughtful, intelligent and balanced Jonathan has been in his approach to all things he endeavours.” — Nicole Minions, Councillor, Town of Comox
“Jonathan is one of the brightest people I know. He is passionate, energetic, and gets things done. As a councillor for the Town of Comox, I would see him contributing valuable input to our decision-making, especially with mitigating climate change and tackling the shortages of affordable housing.” — Alex Bissinger, Councillor, Town of Comox
“Dr. Kerr would contribute a compassionate, logical, caring, and science-based voice to the Council table. I believe he has a genuine commitment to the health and well-being of Comox residents and I would be excited to work with him. We have had many conversations and I feel like his intelligence, his experience and his understanding of the social determinants of health will be a positive addition to the table. I believe we have a lot of values in common and think he would have a positive impact on the Valley.” — Stephanie McGowan, Councillor, Town of Comox
Election day is Saturday, Nov. 27 at Comox Recreation Centre
Advance voting will take place on Nov. 17, 20 and 24 at the Genoa Sail building in Marina Park
Mail-in ballots are available here
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