Who’s behind the shadowy Comox Valley political action groups? We shine some light
This story was updated Friday afternoon to add comments from a former Courtenay Dogwood organizing manager and remove some names from the Take Back Comox Valley supporters.
It’s tough growing up. For someone in their early teens, life can be confusing. You don’t know who to trust, who to follow, everything feels emotional and every decision, no matter how trivial, seems so important.
For communities like ours in the midst of a rapid growth spurt, life can also be confusing. New residents bring fresh perspectives that have the potential to alter historical values and ideologies. That can make it difficult for newcomers to blend in and for old-timers to deal with change.
These growing pains may be at the root of a dark subplot in these 2022 local government elections. Secretive groups have formed to resist change. A new media player is trying to facilitate more of it.
Decafnation hopes to shed some light today on these multiple shadowy organizations; a light that we hope will lead to a brighter day.
Who is behind CV Mainstream, Take Back Comox Valley and VanIsle.news?
OUR POPULATION GROWTH
The Comox Valley Regional District grew 8.9 percent from 2016 to 2021, a population increase from 66,527 to 72,445. And it’s a good bet that a large slice of those new residents is gig workers, tech industry workers and other people who can work remotely. These people tend to be young, in the 30-50 range and to lean a little more liberal than conservative.
The 2018 municipal elections seemed to reflect this shift. Voters chose more progressive candidates focused on climate change, creating urban density rather than sprawl, setting clearer rules for new developments and helping people get around by walking or cycling. And they started changing the rules and setting a course toward a different vision of the Comox Valley’s future.
This has alarmed the most conservative among us and also those who have grown up here or have been here a long time.
In normal times, this scenario would have been seen as just a healthy difference of opinion. But not this year. Advertisements and phone calls have spread lies and misinformation. Fringe candidates have popped up in every jurisdiction, inspired no doubt by the Freedom Convoy and anti-vaxx movement. But it’s too simple to blame the anger expressed in this election on pent-up frustrations in the post-pandemic era.
Maybe it’s because Big Moneyed Outside Interests have started meddling in small-town politics.
Decafnation has been doing some digging around, so let’s see who’s really behind these shadowy Comox Valley political action groups.
COMOX VALLEY MAINSTREAM
As we suspected, this group is just the latest incarnation of the 2018 Comox Valley Taxpayers Alliance, and the 2014 Common Sense, but with slight differences in membership.
We now know that Dick Clancy, a well-known local conservative activist, is not involved with CVM. Which makes us sad that we can’t write about Dick and the boys anymore.
A source tells us that Mainstream was launched by Art Meyers, Mike Finneron, Murray Presley, Dave Mellin, Curtis Scoville and Sue Finneron. There were others involved, like Marg Grant, at various times who attended the meetings, some of which were at the Crown Isle clubhouse.
Our source says the group originally intended to gather names of like-minded people to make phone calls encouraging people to vote and to promote conservative candidates. The original intent was to be middle-of-the-road and non-political.
At some point, the group’s goal shifted into recruiting candidates and endorsing them, apparently with scant background checks. And that caused some members to leave the group.
Still, those involved have tried to hide their identity, although it was public knowledge that Presely registered CVM as an Elector Organization with Elections BC, and Scoville’s social media posts were a dead giveaway.
This is the Old Guard still pissed about losing control and doing a slow boil just thinking about the new kids messing up their house.
TAKE BACK COMOX VALLEY
This group formed out of a small gathering of people in their 30s and 40s and grew to include 12 people.
On the Take Back Comox Valley (TBCV) Facebook page, some members have revealed their identities, including the Courtenay car dealer Rod McLean.
A source privy to the group’s formation – who wanted anonymity because association with TBCV could negatively impact his business – told Decafnation that the idea was to create community conversation around five key issues: the restriction on urban sprawl and the trend toward urban density, the proliferation of bike lanes, the Courtenay updated Official Community Plan, inaction on rising crime and homelessness issues and health care.
They also wanted to shed light on the Dogwood Initiative, which they say is partly funded by the U.S.-based Rockefeller Brothers Foundation. They go so far as to infer that local incumbents have taken money from Dogwood and, therefore, by extension, the Rockefeller foundation.
Our source said the group also aligned themselves with the Pacific Prosperity Network (PPN) for support on legislation and regulation and some guidance on how to “perform our messages.”
The PPN is run by Micah Haince, a BC United Party (formerly BC Liberal Party) supporter, with the mission to “provide training and support right-wing and center-right candidates running for political office.”
And, according to an Aug. 3 article in the Vancouver Sun, PPN has been financed by Vancouver Billionaire and Lululemon founder Chip Wilson who donated $380,000 and lobbied other wealthy people by a personal letter to donate from $50,000 to $200,000 each.
The PPN group was fined $1,000 on Oct. 6 by Elections BC for two violations of the BC Local Elections Campaign Financing Act and the Election Act.
Our source says it was the Pacific Prosperity Network that made the ads and videos that ran on social media but the content came from the local members. When the ads became controversial and blew up their Facebook page, “some members stepped back personally from revealing themselves” because they could be “attacked as people and therefore their businesses.”
But, our source says, TBCV has no involvement with the phone calls being made to voters in certain areas that point-blank state the lie that incumbents in this election are taking money from the Rockefeller foundation.
“There were some phone calls done late September and earlier October that were petition-based on some of the issues,” Rod McLean told us via email.
“Businesses in Courtenay are fed up with the homelessness situation, crime, increased taxes locally, provincially and federally and how that tax money is being spent in a nutshell,” he said. “Our local council (Courtenay) has increased taxes significantly to businesses and taken away services.”
McLean said the TBCV group is “really concerned about housing affordability, and the 271-page OCP’s with vague language and an agenda that only benefits 1 segment of our community.”
McLean also said that mental health and addiction issues are being ignored. “People try to say it is a provincial issue, is it?”
Our source told us that members of TBCV are business people, Rotary Club members, volunteers in nonprofits and generous donors to Comox Valley charities.
And McLean added that “TBCV isn’t going anywhere, it will be on-going.”
Although not yet a major player in our community, this relatively new media outlet publishes stories about local, provincial and national relevance for three Vancouver Island regions: the North Island, the west coast of the Island and the Comox Valley. They are included in this rundown of political activists out of complete transparency on our part.
We happen to know that Vanisle.news was originally conceived by people at least loosely associated with the Dogwood Initiative, calling themselves Together We Win at the time and now Together News. We know that because a couple of years ago (using the first person now), I was approached by these people – one of whom was a local resident. They wanted me to share my stories with them, perhaps even blend Decafnation into their new product.
While I liked the idea of someone providing more news coverage of interesting local stories on the north and west parts of the Island, I rejected the offer simply because I didn’t want to be a part of their project. Decafnation is a proudly transparent and independent website because we have no financial support and, most of the time, it’s just me.
Reached at his home for comment, Dave Mills said that Dogwood has no affiliation with VanIsle.news, “loose or otherwise.” The Dogwood Organizing Program Manager, who was based in Courtenay but is currently on a one-year leave, told Decafnation that VanIsle.new was started by Will Horter, who was Dogwood BC’s executive director for more than a decade but left the organization in 2015.
“That is as far as any connection goes,” Mills said. And he added that Dogwood is not involved in any way in Comox Valley local elections.
Unfortunately, like the political action groups, VanIsle.news also hides behind anonymity. We don’t know who runs and supports the organization today, and neither does the public. Their website doesn’t provide the names of any staff, owners or financial supporters.
That’s not acceptable for a news organization.
SO WHAT DO WE HAVE …
What you have here is some well-funded BC political action groups – Dogwood and the Pacific Prosperity Network – dipping their toes into small-town politics. One works for right-wing and center-right candidates, and the other works for left-wing and center-left candidates.
The difference between the two is that the Pacific Prosperity Network went about its work by posting video advertisements on social media that contained lies and misinformation. We don’t follow the VanIsle.news websites regularly but to our knowledge, neither they nor Dogwood has published anything or made any phone calls comparable to the PPN/TBCV material.
You also have a group of the Comox Valley aging Old Gang who used to have some sway, especially when Art Meyers and the boys could count on former BC cabinet minister Stan Hagen.
Except that the CV Mainstream effort was feeble, as it has been in its past iterations. They didn’t engage in the issues or give any justification for endorsing one candidate over another. And this year they picked a couple of stinkers.
In the end, they are just the good-old-gang of yore hoping they could still hand-pick their local councils.
And then you have TBCV, a group of younger conservative, pro-development citizens who wanted to raise issues important to them, but went about it in the worst way possible. Instead of proposing specific courses of action to address their issues, they joined forces with an organization that made them look like a bunch of angry lunatics.
That strategy won’t win them any friends or respect.
Neither of the TBCV members we talked to was repentant about their negative approach that relied on lies and misinformation. They told us they had created valuable community conversations and that their methods weren’t controversial.
What we don’t understand is why people who are afraid their association with a political action group could negatively affect their livelihoods get involved with that group. This isn’t a police state and there are other ways to engage in the democratic process.
Politics is always messy. You’re always going to have people who don’t agree with you, and the more extreme your presentation, the more extreme the reaction to it.
What we need is more civil public discourse.
AND THEN THERE ARE THE CANDIDATES
We have MAGA hat-wearers, climate deniers and anti-vaxxers. We have a candidate who shot himself in the foot over some campaign signs and made it worse by stuffing the wounded foot in his mouth.
We have challengers who don’t live in places but feel qualified to represent the people that do. That includes one candidate currently living in Nanaimo. We have a mayor candidate so detached that he watches from the sidelines.
We have a candidate running on a personal grudge and some long-time incumbents who don’t know when to quit. And we have a whole bunch of challengers too scared to meet the public at all-candidates meetings.
Judging by some signs around town, the Comox residents flooded out of their apartments by a broken town water pipe and promptly abandoned by the Town Council would have had some pointed questions for Maureen Swift and Ken Grant.
But thank goodness, we also have incumbents with class who defended their records without disparaging the opponents. When the challengers went low, the incumbents stayed high.
Now, it’s up to the voters and how on God’s Green Earth they’re going to sort out this mess is anyone’s guess. But it will be interesting. Vote.
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.
General Voting Day, Saturday, October 15, 2022, 8 am to 8 pm at the Queneesh Elementary School, and at the Florence Filberg 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.
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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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