Among Arzeena Hamir’s priorities for a second term representing Area B include supporting home-based businesses and creating childcare closer to rural residents
Arzeena Hamir: implementing a bold new Ag plan and a new spirit of collaboration
Arzeena Hamir is seeking a second term as the Electoral Area B representative on the Comox Valley Regional District board.
She has a Master’s degree in sustainable agriculture and worked as an agronomist and a food security coordinator before moving to the Comox Valley in 2012 to start her own farm, Amara Farm. She helped found Merville Organics, the Mid-Island Farmers Institute and the Comox Valley Food Policy Roundtable.
She is in the process of starting a farmers cooperative for organic farmers and is a regular at the Comox Valley Farmers Market.
Why should voters re-elect you?
In the last four years, Hamir says she was able to accomplish the main goals of her campaign: fixing the Comox Valley Economic Development Society problem, protecting the Exhibition Grounds from a giant convention center and getting an Agricultural Plan started for the Comox Valley.
“Now, I’m going into the next term a bit more wide-eyed, understanding how long it takes to affect change and get things done,” she told Decafnation.
Hamir found that new ideas require the buy-in of colleagues to be successful and that requires making a convincing case for the importance of those ideas.
“I know now that working together is the best way and usually the only way to achieve political goals. I’ve gone through a big change to realize the wisdom of the depth of collaboration,” she said. “Yet, I’m still passionate about the issues involving farming, the environment and our community of people.”
Hamir says the COVID pandemic exacerbated polarization on many issues so she’s now focused on bringing people together to solve problems and to serve as a conduit for ideas that come from the community.
What are some of your key accomplishments?
Hamair says without a doubt that the review and restructuring of economic development for the region was a major victory in her first term.
“It was hard work that required me to be tenacious and brave to challenge a bastion of the old guard that had outlived its purpose,” she said.
In one of her first Comox Valley Regional District board meetings, she was the lone vote against the approval of the CVEDS budget.
“Being on the short side of a 9-1 vote was tough, but I was not willing to cave on my principles and I am comfortable being the lone voice if necessary … But what a savings, $1.2 million now being used for other things!” she said.
Hamir was also the prime motivator behind the new regional agriculture plan. She pushed for it, asked staff to apply for grants and lobbied to get the funding. It will be implemented this year.
The old Ag Plan was drafted in 2002 and was two decades out of date. It had, for example, no references to the effect that climate change is having and will continue to have on farming.
“But now, as extreme temperatures and potential water shortage issues change the landscape for farmers,” she said. “I hope the agriculture community can come together and develop ideas on how to address these issues.”
Hamir also championed the drive to convince the Province of BC to help farmers store rainwater during the wet season and irrigate from those storage areas in the dry season. Farmers have been hesitant to create water storage because it costs about $15,000 to $20,000 to construct a water storage pond.
“I successfully pressed the Minister to adopt my motion and lobbied the Standing Committee on Finance. Now water storage funding is part of the BC Environment Farm Plan. Knowing all the players and where the levers of power helped me get this done.”
One of the intangible accomplishments that Hamir championed involves improved efforts to work with community partners. She said this means realizing that local government can’t do it all due to limits of staff capacity and funding, but that the regional district can’t ignore what needs to be done. So, she has looked more to community partners to help.
For example, there was little the regional district could do alone to address the opioid crisis, so they turned to the Community Health Network. Now the CVRD provides administrative support to help the nonprofit submit grant applications and manages the grant money when they get it.
Also, she said, the CVRD Recreation department is doing a fantastic job with community partnerships, especially with activity-based groups. Their work now includes more than pools and ice sheets, it’s trails, fostering biodiversity, and leading educational walks.
Hamir was successful in shifting the master plan for the Exhibition Grounds away from a giant Agriplex and toward the real needs of the actual Exhibition Grounds users. The new plan integrates the exhibition grounds into the larger recreational services plan with facilities like the Sports Centre.
“We came up with a better plan for the site,” she said. “The idea was simple: recognize the Exhibition Grounds users – Lush Valley, Fall Fair, horse groups such as Therapeutic riding, the Farmer’s Market and Music Fest – and shape the plan to serve them best.”
Hamir is also pleased that the Valley will finally move food and kitchen waste out of landfills and into a new composting facility that opens this fall in CR. For the past eight years, Cumberland and Comox have been running a pilot project to collect and compost food waste. It’s been successful but couldn’t be expanded at the Cumberland landfill.
Because the Campbell River landfill is closing, they will be trucking garbage to the CV Waste Management Center, so local food waste and organics will go back on the otherwise empty trucks. It’s estimated that removing food waste from the landfill cells, which are expensive to create, will extend their life by 30 percent and provides the huge benefit of reducing methane gas emissions.
“And in the end, we get fantastic compost that is safe for food gardens. As a farmer, I give a big thumbs up!” she said.
Goals for the next four years
Hamir’s top goal for a second term is to plan a new service that supports the business of farming and home-based businesses in rural areas. She envisions using Tourism Vancouver Island to help market those rural businesses that are tourism based. Local government didn’t do economic development well, she says, but now the regional district can support the underlying economic infrastructure.
She would address affordable housing in Area B by allowing more carriage houses, granny flats, second homes and suites on properties. She wants to clear the current four-month wait list for building permits by Christmas, a backlog that was created during the pandemic when some staff were diverted to other planning needs.
Hamir hopes to increase child care facilities in rural areas by working with the Early Childhood Collaboration nonprofit in her next term. She would like the CVRD to provide small grants to start and operate childcare closer to rural populations so that parents to take jobs outside of the home.
It’s a top priority for Hamir to steward the implementation of the Ag Plan, which is a bold new vision for agriculture in the region.
“We have less than 10 years of enjoying California food growing – salads, strawberries, citrus, tomatoes, cucumbers – before the unprecedented drought and lack of water access collapses that state’s agriculture sector,” she said. “I predict we’ll all be eating differently in 10 years.”
To prepare for that, Hamir says we need to create a new generation of local farmers by making land more affordable and calling on NIC and the province to assist people entering into a farming career.
She says the Comox Valley has 100,000 acres of ALR farmland, but only 30 percent of it is currently being actively farmed. That has to increase, she says, as food from California and Mexico decreases.
And finally, protecting the natural beauty of our area is always a top priority for Hamir.
“The CVRD has approved a Regional Parks Service that will start gaining momentum. At the same time, we must start connecting our parks and trails so people can walk or ride eBikes on safe routes into the urban areas without going on dangerous highways,” she said.
The most misunderstood thing about the CVRD
“I hear some people say the CVRD is wasteful, has a huge budget and doesn’t use its funding wisely. The truth is that the opposite is true,” she says.
There are 102 separate services managed by the CVRD and every household pays their share of a different combination of those services depending on where they live.
“The bottom line is that you pay for what you get, nothing more or less.” she said.
If any service has a surplus in a year, it’s put into that service’s reserve. That means tax levies for that service may go down in the next year. She says it’s a very cost-effective system.
Many people didn’t realize it, but regional district taxes went down by 0.75 percent last year and are up just 3.8 percent this year.
“On average, the CVRD has budgeted and managed its funding well. People don’t realize that we’re always budgeting for the replacement cost of things over that thing’s life expectancy, so we always have a reserve starting in year one.”
WHERE AND WHEN TO VOTE
General Voting Day is Saturday, Oct. 15 for all local government positions.
Comox Valley Regional District
General Voting Day and advance voting take place at the CVRD building in Courtenay from 8 am to 8 pm.
Go to this link for General Voting Day locations in the three Electoral Areas.
Additional voting takes place on Oct. 6 from 9 am to 12 pm on Denman Island and on Oct. 6 from 2 pm to 5 pm on Hornby Island
Advance Voting begins on Wednesday October 5, 2022, 8 am to 8 pm at the Native Sons Hall, and again on Wednesday October 12, 2022, 8 am to 8 pm at the Florence Filberg Centre.
General Voting Day, Saturday, October 15, 2022, 8 am to 8 pm at the Queneesh Elementary School, and at the Florence Filberg Centre.
Advance voting begins Wednesday, October 5 from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. at the Comox Community Centre, and on Saturday, October 8 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Genoa Sail Building at Comox Marina, and again on Monday, October 10 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Genoa Sail Building at Comox Marina, and on Wednesday, October 12 from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. at the Comox Community Centre.
General Voting Day runs from 8 am to 8 pm on Oct. 15 at the Comox Community Centre.
All voting in the Village of Cumberland takes place from 8 am to 8 pm at the Cumberland Cultural Centre. Advance voting takes place on Oct. 5 and Oct. 12.
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It was weird. But when the sun rose on Oct. 16, Comox Valley voters had made it clear they liked the direction charted by our local governments. In the municipalities, they elected all but two incumbents. In most races, the vote was a definite pat on the back for a job well done.
Mayor Bob Wells and all Courtenay incumbent councillors have been re-elected. Evan Jolicoeur has also been elected. Manno Theos has lost his seat.
Jonathan Kerr, Jenn Meilleur, Steve Blacklock, Chris Haslett, Ken Grant and Maureen Swift have been elected in Comox.
Vickey Brown has been elected mayor in Cumberland, defeating long-time mayor and councillor Leslie Baird.
Voting down -20.6% in Courtenay, -22.3% in Comox and -50.9% in Cumberland.
Full results with Electoral Areas A, B and C, school board and Islands Trust results in the morning.
Daniel Arbour in Area A and Edwin Grieve in Area C won by wide margins. Richard Hardy defeated Arzeena Hamir by 23 votes.
Shannon Aldinger topped the polls in races for SD71 school trustees.
Click the headline on this page for complete results and voter turnout.
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