Jenn Meilleur has an insider’s view of how the government process works and years of experience in working collaboratively
Jenn Meilleur: Active volunteer and advocate for community, collaboration and climate change
Jenn Meilleur is seeking a first term on the Comox Town Council. She is a systems change and dialogue facilitator currently working as the Manager of Community Disaster Recovery with Emergency Management BC.
She has worked with and for local governments since 2010. She started as a Program Manager (Policy Analyst) with the City of Vancouver when it adopted The Greenest City Action Plan in 2010 to become the greenest city in the world.
Meilleur moved to Comox Valley with her husband and two children in the spring of 2019. She grew up in Qualicum and graduated from Vancouver Island University when it was still called Malaspina College.
Jenn has two decades of experience leading and supporting initiatives and collaborative networks in the fields of sustainability and climate action, community development, organizational development and systems change. And she is an active volunteer in her community
She is the Board Co-Chair for LUSH Valley Food Action Society, a member of the local Food Policy Council and a member of the Coordinating Circle for the Comox Valley Community Health Network. She helped found a nature-based elementary school program and supported the creation of the Atl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region in the Salish Sea as a board member.
Jenn finds her inspiration in nature with gratitude on the unceded lands and waters of the K’ómoks First Nation in Comox with her husband, two children and many “four-legged friends.” She enjoys trail running, wild swimming, cycling and creative knitting projects. She is devoted to lifelong learning and is also an avid bookworm.
Why should voters elect you?
Meilleur is running for council because she has heard our youth’s growing anxiety about climate change and feels accountable as a Gen-X-er to do what she can for future generations. She believes there is a groundswell of worry about climate change.
“I want to take better care of nature through collaboration with others,” she told Decafnation. “It’s about the emergency. Like Greta Thornberg says, ‘we know we have to do better.’ But how do we do that?”
The three pillars of Meilleur’s campaign are community, collaboration and climate change.
She has spent her career on sustainability issues in the co-op sector, within government and for nonprofits. Through social innovation, she says she has brought people together to solve complex issues.
“I have an inside view of how the government process works and a skill of working collaboratively,” she said.
She says that running for office is not about what one person can do, but rather it’s about how this particular group of people can collaborate and what they can accomplish together.
“I have resisted campaigning with promises,” she said. “The public wants politics to be different. Council work should be a relational process, not a linear path. I would stress collaboration within the council and find new ways to bring citizens into the process.”
Meilleur would also like to bring more art into the community. She says studies have shown that road murals calm traffic and reduce accidents.
What are some of your key accomplishments?
As the previous regional coordinator for the Comox Valley Farm-to-School program, Meilleur brought together farmers, nonprofits, government staff and elected officials, and did this during the pandemic.
Working as a facilitator with the Community Health Network, Meilleur figured out how to bring all these diverse groups together to influence policy and make change. She organized and facilitated dialogue sessions and then captured stories that people shared.
Her campaign issues are affordable housing, climate change focus, local business, local food, reconciliation and creating equity for all people. And she believes that if people work collaboratively we can restore people’s faith in democracy.
A quote she particularly likes is from Lilla Watson about being interconnected: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Goals for the next four years
Meilleur recognizes the importance of affordable housing to the community and would focus her efforts to continue building momentum for solutions.
“I would take a look at why Comox opted out and chose to not work regionally on this issue,” she said. “I believe affordable housing needs to be both local and regional to be effective.”
She says there is lots of good work being done in this field. She notes that Saanich fast-tracked garden suites and created 800 new housing units in one year and that the CV Seniors Support Society has started a housing program to match students with seniors who want to age in place. There was a plan for a Comox task force, but it was never formed, she said.
“Society has the answers and others are doing it,” she said. “Affordable housing has to go beyond new developments.”
But, Meilleur says, we must recognize that solutions that work in bigger cities don’t always work here. “We have to scale things for our size.”
The important lesson she takes from the council motion to require developers to set aside a percentage of below-market-rate units in all new developments is that government needs to work directly with whoever is impacted most when creating new programs – in this case, the developers.
Also, she says, it’s not always the government’s role to do something and maybe it’s better for the community or other partners to do certain things. Government should discern where to create conditions that encourage affordable housing rather than do it themselves.
“We need to consider co-housing, co-op housing and the whole spectrum of possibilities. It’s a regional issue and a complex problem that needs all parties at the table,” she said.
Climate change is also at the top of Meilleur’s priorities.
“I think of climate action both as reducing greenhouse gases and as protecting and restoring the environment,” she said.
For example, she says the town’s tree canopy bylaw supports biodiversity but that it’s out of date. She would work to carefully incentivize developers to keep trees. Meilleur’s family has turned their boulevard into a pollinator garden with bee turf, wildflowers and perennials.
Meilleur’s current work is mostly with First Nations, helping them to recover from the floods last fall (the atmospheric river event in November). But she says climate change-focused actions are “not a ticky box.”
“Those principles must be integrated into everything. Comox would benefit from this same clarity in its strategic vision. There are lots of best practices out there to draw from. There are not many council decisions that wouldn’t benefit from a climate change lens,” she said.
Meilleur believes that local governments need to talk about making “regenerative” actions and policies.
“Our environment is too degraded now so putting it back the same is no longer good enough. It has to be better than before and I think people are starting to get that now,” she said.
Food security is another of Meilleur’s key issues. She believes that community food security can be improved with urban agriculture bylaws.
“Comox made a start but it needs to be more robust to allow hens and front yard greenhouses. We need to make it easy for people to grow food and share it with neighbors. This builds community resilience,” she said.
Meilleur understands that local governments are just finding their feet in regard to reconciliation efforts and that current systems aren’t designed to support First Nations or other equity deserving groups. She thinks she can contribute by using her collaboration skills.
Government-to-government relations are now a big part of every local government’s planning and that “creates a significant paradigm shift for everyone.”
“What I mean is that we aren’t fighting over pieces of a pie, we’re trying to make the pie bigger for everyone. And when we put Indigenous people and other historically marginalized people at the centre of our work, we all benefit,” she said.
The town will be reviewing its Official Community Plan during the next four years and Meilleur would like to be part of that process. The current OCP was updated in 2011.
“The existing document is not visionary. It needs to be more inspirational and account for climate action as Courtenay has done with their OCP,” she said. “Perhaps we should include a citizens’ assembly in the process to engage as many people as possible.”
And finally, Meilleur would do what she can to support local businesses.
“At any given time, there are only about three days of supplies that people need on Vancouver Island and we have already experienced supply chain disruptions from the pandemic and the atmospheric river in November of last year,” she said. “Any type of natural or climate disaster that cuts off those supplies will be serious. Therefore, we need to shorten the supply chain and make more of what we need on the Island.”
The most misunderstood thing about Comox Town Council
In some local governments, Meilleur sees a lack of urgency and clarity of vision. And she doesn’t think the current system and the way local governments often work were designed for the complex problems of today.
“The public sees that it’s not working. They want it to be better,” she said. “We have to learn to disagree better and how to be of service to our community and to these times. I am running to be of service.”
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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Let’s put one of the craziest Comox Valley elections into the history book, and then close it
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.
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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.
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Click the headline on this page for complete results and voter turnout.
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Jenn Meilleur is a person that Comox Council desperately needs sitting at the table. Comox is definitely behind the times which now demand a community based and collaborative approach to decision-making. The tenor of some of the campaign voices running in this election sets up Council for four years of looking backwards toward a time when climate change challenges didn’t matter and the wishes of the priviledged few took precedence over the needs of the many and the security of our community. Jenn Meilleur is a person who can build bridges among oft times competing interests to find win-win solutions.