Elected last year to fill out the term of a councillor who resigned, Dr. Jonathan Kerr is seeking re-election to a full term on Comox Council
Jonathan Kerr: He’s delivered on housing, environment and recruiting 13 new family doctors since elected
Dr. Jonathan Kerr is seeking re-election to a full term on the Comox Town Council. Kerr has been a council member since voters elected him 10 months ago to fill the seat of resigning councillor Pat McKenna.
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 and his wife and their two children moved to the Valley in late 2014, and he joined the Sea Cove Medical Clinic in 2015, where he is currently the lead physician.
Kerr served as president of the Ontario College of Family Physicians and served on its board for many 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 is the founder and chair of the new Comox Valley Family Physician Recruitment and Retention Task Force.
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.
Why should voters re-elect you?
Kerr says he has really enjoyed his role on council since last November, especially the opportunity to connect with residents. The constituency work energizes him, he says, making him a bit of an outlier among the many policy wonks who hold public office.
Kerr says being a town councillor is similar to his role as a family doctor.
“You listen to people’s concerns, make a diagnosis and work with them on a plan to fix it,” he said. “It’s a real high, a beautiful moment when I can make a difference in people’s lives.”
In his medical practice and now on council, Kerr operates on the ‘servant leadership model.’ He sees his job as serving people to improve their lives, the community and the environment.
He stresses transparency and accountability as key attributes of a good councillor.
“They are not just buzzwords. I take them seriously. After every meeting, I post my voting record on my website and I link to the time in the council video where I speak on each topic,” he said.
In his nine months on council, Kerr has made sure that he focused on what people told him they wanted during the nine-month public listening campaign he ran last year.
“It’s for the voters to decide if I deserve a full term after winning the byelection last fall,” he told Decafnation.
What are some of your key accomplishments?
During the byelection, Keer made it clear that he would have three priorities based on the extensive public information sessions he did prior to the byelection: affordable housing, climate change and the recruitment of new family doctors.
On affordable housing, Kerr says the town used to negotiate informally with developers for affordable housing units.
“Now, we have put that into a formal policy so everyone knows what it is,” he said.
The new policy requires developers to set aside 1.2 percent of their total rental units and 1.8 percent of condo units for the town. Comox will then partner with local non-profits to rent these out as truly affordable units.
“I had proposed 2.5 percent, which developers objected to, so we collaborated to agree on the new policy rates. I took some heat for this. Developers were not thrilled but it’s important to stand up for what’s best for the community,” he said.
Kerr says he would support a regional housing authority to manage all the affordable housing units in the Comox Valley. Others running in Comox and Courtenay have expressed support for a housing authority.
On climate change, Kerr helped drive passage of the new tree retention bylaw, which passed on a 4-3 vote. The first version of the tree bylaw required 25 percent retention and the new bylaw requires 30 percent.
“Again I proposed in my motion to make it 35 percent and we collaborated,” he said. “It was important to get this done before any development started in the Northeast Comox area.”
The Town Council also approved participation in the Comox Valley Regional District’s regional climate action initiative. Kerr moved that council adopt the Comox staff report on the possibility of adopting some of the Youth Climate Council’s Green New Deal proposals in the short, medium and long-term.
“I am supporting the Youth Council’s efforts to transition to a more climate change-friendly society,” he said.
Kerr has been especially successful in his campaign theme of recruiting more family doctors to the area.
“Immediately after I was elected last November, I called together a Comox Valley Family Physician Recruitment and Retention Task Force that included mayors, councillors, CAOs, representatives from the CV chamber, hospital and other sectors because it has to be a regional-wide effort,” he said. “The goal wasn’t to just bring doctors to Comox. It wouldn’t work if all our jurisdictions competed with each other. New doctors, wherever they live or set up practice in the Valley benefit us all.”
When Kerr started the task force, there were 14,000 Valley residents who didn’t have a family doctor (numbers were culled from the Comox Valley’s clinics’ wait lists and the province’s health registry).
Since Jan. 1, the group has recruited 13 new doctors; seven are already here and practicing and six are arriving this fall. And the Task Force has connected 5,500 people with doctors in the last 12 months.
To accomplish that, Kerr’s Task Force formed a marketing strategy that examined what each community offered. They made videos of current doctors talking about why they love practicing here and posted them on social media.
When doctors come to visit, Kerr says the group has a Roll Out The Red Carpet plan to show the doctors and their families around the whole Comox Valley and try to remove any barriers that exist, such as finding temporary housing.
Staff at the Comox Valley Division of Family Practice coordinates the Task Force’s recruitment efforts, including finding out a doctor’s and their family’s needs and interests before they come to visit in order to tailor the sales pitch.
Goals for the next four years
Kerr says he doesn’t have any personal goals for the next four years, “just the ones Comox residents tell me are their top issues. Housing, climate and doctors are still at the top of the list. But I will be looking at some specific issues.”
One of those other issues would be to protect as much of the Northeast Comox forest land as possible – the area from Highland school down to the roundabout on both sides of Pritchard, mostly on the east side. The area includes 11 different parcels with multiple owners.
“The question here is how best to use this land,” he said.
The area is zoned R1 for residential single-family homes. But Comox already has the highest percentage of single-family homes: 66 percent. The national average is 51 percent.
“We need more rental units and townhouses,” Kerr said. “With the current housing market, single-family homes aren’t affordable housing for many people.”
There’s also the economic piece for taxpayers. It will take more than 30 years to pay back the cost of extending sewer and water infrastructure to the area.
“Why burden the town’s taxpayers with more unfunded liabilities?” he said. “Plus, it’s a beautiful forest and it would be a shame if it all came down. We should be able to find a balance among retaining trees, benefits to taxpayers, affordable housing and a mixture of housing types.”
Right now, Northeast Comox area property owners could build all single-family homes. But Kerr says it would be better to upzone and allow developers higher densities and make a plan for the whole area rather than dealing with each parcel piecemeal.
“We could have a discussion and find a compromise by looking at the whole area through a community benefits lens. I’m optimistic the developers will come to the table,” he said.
Also, the council will be updating the town’s Official Community Plan during the next term. Kerr wants to be a part of that for the inclusion of community-focused visions for social, environmental and reconciliation issues.
Kerr will also be looking at improving activities for teens with “so many new young families moving here,” and making streets safer and working with the BIA for a more vibrant downtown.
What is most misunderstood about the Council Town Council?
Kerr thinks some people believe that the council should limit itself to just dealing with water, sewer and potholes.
“These are all important things, but the role of the town and council is much more,” he said. “It’s not correct that councils are not supposed to do those things.”
The BC Community Charter, which gives municipal governments their authority, states a local government must “foster economic development, social and environmental well-being of its community.”
“Those are the exact lenses that I use in decision-making at council because that’s what Comox residents want and what the people who call me want,” he said.
“It’s the responsibility of elected officials to address the issues that matter while providing excellent core services,” he said. “Our updated Official Community Plan for Comox could look different depending on who Comox people elect. You could have a forward-thinking council or a group of regressive people.”
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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