Let’s put one of the craziest Comox Valley elections into the history book, and then close it
Well, that was fun. Or was it? On the surface, the 2022 local government election should go down as one of the most unusual, maybe even the craziest campaign in Comox Valley history.
We had gun-toting Trumpers, Freedom Convoy Truckers and climate change deniers. We had women claiming our schools were grooming children for sexual exploitation. We had long-winded rants on social media over racism and sexual health education. We had groups of wannabe players that were afraid to show their faces.
We had candidates running for office in places where they don’t live because they think they know better than the people who live there. We had two secret political action groups pretending they represented the views of the average Valleyite when they really represented no more than their little clubs.
We had signs that violated city bylaws by a candidate who displayed them recklessly. And we had candidates, mostly of the conservative, pro-development persuasion, that boycotted public debates.
It was weird.
But when the sun rose on Sunday, Oct. 16, Comox Valley voters had made it clear they liked the direction charted by our local governments over the last four years. 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.
The rest of it was just meaningless noise.
But there was something new and disturbing this year. It was the idea that telling a lie or otherwise intentionally spreading misinformation should be considered an acceptable campaign tactic. And those advancing this idea justified it because, they said, the underlying purpose of telling lies is to start public conversations about legitimate issues.
When Take Back Comox Valley (TBCV) ran social media ads and stated on its website that some unidentified local council members are trying to defund the police and had taken money from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation via the Dogwood citizen action network, they were telling a lie. They have no proof of either claim.
In fact, a founding member of TBCV told Decafnation that he knew the defunding the police claim wasn’t true and had disagreed with the majority of the group about telling that lie. But he went along with it because, you know, the mob rules.
And they rationalized telling the lie because it’s just a big joke. Nobody actually expects it to be true. It’s just part of the game. Just like Trump claiming he won the US election. Just like Freedom truckers creating a fake letter from Prime Minister Trudeau or spreading the lie that Ottawa police officers were exempt from vaccine mandates.
It’s a reckless game that degrades public discourse. It turns voters off and diminishes the integrity of democratic elections. Those who play it sacrifice all claim to principle.
There were no meaningful community conversations created by TBCV. They encouraged no consequential dialogue and proposed no resolutions to the issues they raised. A quick look at their Facebook page shows a lot of angry and vitriolic invective thrown back and forth.
Most of the TBCV’s contempt was directed at the Courtenay council, which was wholeheartedly vindicated by voters and given a strong mandate to continue its work.
So what was achieved by telling the lies other than to have a laugh?
Fortunately, the people who cared enough to vote didn’t get the joke.
A CHANGING POPULACE
Has the mainstream of Comox Valley politics turned slightly left?
New Democratic Party candidates have won the last two provincial elections and the last three federal elections in our ridings. Progressive candidates won majorities on municipal councils in Courtenay and Cumberland in the last two elections and in Comox and the rural electoral areas in 2018.
In terms of which political parties voters have supported, a shift has definitely occurred. But why?
One reason might be found in this story. A Courtenay incumbent told Decafnation that they had knocked on 3,000 doors over the last four weeks and had spoken with many new Valley residents. The general consensus among those new residents was that they love it here and see comparatively fewer problems than where they previously lived.
The newcomers laugh at our traffic issues. They’ve already accepted the introduction of bike lanes. They’ve seen real traffic congestion, more serious crime and the problems associated with unsheltered people. They know these things exist everywhere.
So, maybe it’s not an ideological change that has occurred, but growth in the number of people who have had broader and more diverse life experiences. Maybe our issues don’t seem as problematic to them as they might to people who haven’t lived anywhere else.
Maybe what we’ve been labeling “progressive” is now the mainstream perspective of Comox Valley voters.
OTHER THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS ELECTION
– It’s too bad more people don’t appreciate the difference a mayor and council can make in their lives. Voter turnout for local government elections has always been low, but this year it was really low.
We don’t know why, but the turnout was lower across the board. Perhaps it was because of an uninspiring race for mayor of Courtenay – Bob Wells didn’t have any serious competition. Or maybe because there was no mayor’s race in Comox – Nicole Minions was acclaimed.
Maybe it was because there weren’t many all-candidates debates and something like half the candidates refused to show up anyway. If the candidates don’t give a damn about the process, then why should voters?
Maybe a few of the candidates disgusted people about local politics. The Comox Valley Mainstream and Take Back Comox Valley groups might have turned people off.
Maybe it was just the nice October weather.
But you know something’s in the air when the number of eligible voters in Cumberland more than doubles from 2018 but fewer than half as many voters turn out in 2022. Voter engagement dropped by 50.9 percent in the Village, according to data from Civic Info BC.
Twenty-one percent fewer voters turned out in Courtenay. Twenty-two percent fewer in Comox. Slightly lower in the rural areas.
Having fewer candidates on the ballot might help. Too many candidates seem to overwhelm voters. It looks like too much work to find out about each candidate and what they stand for.
We could start to pare down the ballot by requiring a candidate’s residency in the jurisdiction where they seek public office.
It’s a double standard, as one Capital City voter put it. “I have to prove that I reside in Victoria to vote for a candidate who doesn’t. Huh?”
– On the other hand, interest in the School District 71 Board of Education quadrupled. In 2018, only 4,392 ballots were cast, partly because four of the seven trustee seats were filled by acclamation. But this year, 11,472 ballots were cast, and only two seats went by acclamation.
Why such a huge and sudden interest? Maybe because several incumbents retired and more seats were up for grabs.
More likely, though, it was the age-old debate over sexual health education. Several candidates strongly opposed sexual health education in our schools and made wild claims about teachers encouraging kids to become gay males or lesbians and to engage in ‘deviant behavior.’
Yeah, that campaign platform might have brought out a large backlash of voters from the bulk of people who support LGBTQ rights and policies.
– Daniel Arbour received 80.2 percent of the vote (1,807 votes) in Electoral Area A. That was the largest percentage of support for a regional district director in all of BC. Well, except for incumbent Gerald Whalley who received 96 percent of the vote (215 votes) to represent Kyuquot/Nootka-Sayward in the Strathcona Regional District.
“I attribute this to being thorough and proactive on all the issues facing Area A’s five communities,” he told Decafnation. “People also appreciate my positive engagement at the provincial and federal levels on municipal-related issues, and bringing forward authentic policy proposals for our region and beyond.”
– The loss of Arzeena Hamir in Area B will be deeply felt in the Valley, especially in her leadership relating to environmental, food, and social policy issues. She lost by 23 votes to Richard Hardy, who will be the first K’omoks First Nation member of the Comox Valley Regional District board.
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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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