Decafnation makes its recommendations today for our preferred candidates in this year’s Local Government elections. Our choices are based on our interactions with the candidates. Please respect and thank all the candidates who offered their time and energy this year to serve in public office. It takes courage and a commitment to the community to run for office, and by doing so every candidate has kept the spirit of democracy alive. We will add our endorsements of candidates for the District 71 Board of Education later this week.
Don’t be fooled by the conservative fringe that has launched outrageous and false attacks on the current City Council. Courtenay is not trying to defund policing. Council members are not being funded by American agents. It’s quite the opposite. This council has been fiscally responsible, extremely focused on unique Courtenay issues and has successfully managed a fast-growing city through a global pandemic. That’s a tough record to beat.
For Mayor: Bob Wells
Despite a two-year disruption by the COVID pandemic, the City of Courtenay has made remarkable progress during Bob Wells’ first term as mayor. He has been aided by a smart and cohesive City Council, but that doesn’t diminish his mayoral achievements. Chief among those has to be the Water Treatment Project, which he has led since his election to council in 2014, and keeping the city running so smooth during the global pandemic. He has also grown into the well-respected face of the city and as an excellent facilitator that kept the council together and on track. His main challenger is Erik Eriksson, who has served one term on council and then lost in a 2018 four-way race to Wells by a wide margin, receiving less than 9 percent of the votes. While on the council, Eriksson sometimes annoyed his colleagues and would not make a good leader. Wells’s other challenger is Aaron Dowker, who has no public office experience and has made no case for replacing the successful Wells.
For Council: Doug Hillian
The Courtenay City Council needs incumbent and long-time resident Doug Hillian. Through his career background in a variety of roles around community justice, Hillian has had a steady influence on his council colleagues, always finding a balanced approach that appeals to all but those on the fringes. This quality has proved essential to the council and the regional district board, as well as the council’s liaison with K’omoks First Nation and Project Watershed’s Kus-kus-sum project. He has comported himself well as chair of the Sewage Commission and as vice-chair of the regional hospital board.
For Council: Melanie McCollum
In 2018, we called Melanie McCollum “one of the young, bright stars in this year’s local elections.” She proved us right during her first term, using her budgetary and finance expertise to keep taxes as low as possible while better positioning the city for provincial and federal grant money. That has saved local taxpayers from paying more for necessary infrastructure maintenance and new projects. Those qualities should make her a favorite among the most fiscally conservative voters. She offers a smart female voice to guide Courtenay’s transition into an urban center.
For Council: Wendy Morin
Wendy Morin brought a strong social consciousness to the City Council for her first term and it’s still needed, perhaps more than ever. She’s a leader in the city’s push for more below-market and supportive housing units, including pressuring senior governments to fund more of these projects. Morin strikes the right balance between fostering growth and maintaining the Comox Valley quality of life. She championed sustainability practices in the updated Official Community Plan, and she is a voice for those who believe they haven’t been heard by city hall.
For Council: David Frisch
Voters would be remiss for not giving David Frisch a third term. He’s a leading advocate for smart growth and limiting urban sprawl and for more accessible and safer transportation options for all residents. A champion of co-operative housing and a future regional housing corporation that’s been successful in comparative municipalities. His work chairing the Junction Community Advisory Committee has benefited the city’s challenges with homelessness, addiction and other social issues.
For Council: Will Cole-Hamilton
Will Cole-Hamilton came to council in 2018 imminently qualified as a lawyer and as a climate change specialist who studied with Al Gore. He didn’t disappoint in those areas, but he also showed that progressive actions can translate into strong financial results. Courtenay has had the lowest average tax increase of all Comox Valley municipalities while taking action on housing, meeting the challenges of climate change and acquiring grant funding for strategic transportation investments. He’s an expert at taking best practices and enlisting other Island municipalities to scale up the projects and benefits.
For Council: Evan Jolicoeur
Newcomer Evan Jolicoeur would bring a strong list of relevant qualifications and skills to the City Council. He’s a Registered Nurse, a First Nation administrator and a mental health addictions clinician. He’s a tireless community volunteer in groups as diverse as the Rotary Club and the Substance Use Strategy Committee. He’s more ready than the other challengers on the ballots to deal with the city’s upcoming issues.
Candidates with promise
Lyndsey Northcott is a young woman with potential for public office. We encourage her to volunteer for city boards or commissions and consult with existing council members about how to get involved and gain experience and knowledge about city business. If she does that, a future run for council might be successful.
Steffan Chmuryk works in the construction industry as a project surveyor and he comes from a background that has informed him of “the cycle of poverty, mental health and addiction.” His lack of experience in how city hall works holds him back. Engaging with the city would help his candidacy should he run again.
Candidates we did not recommend
Brennan Day’s over-zealous tendency to adopt strict positions, usually criticisms of council actions, before he has the information necessary to fully understand the situation is concerning. As is shrugging off his misuse of city and provincial logos on quasi-campaign signs as something trivial. This shows us that he’s not yet ready for prime time.
Deana Simkin got our endorsement four years ago, but that was before we saw her in action as the last chair of the Comox Valley Economic Development Society board. That she was a supporter of that outdated organization is enough for us to not endorse her again. But seeing that she was ineffectual in the position confirmed our view that she is not council material.
Mano Theos is an incumbent. But he moved to Nanaimo during the last four years and no longer fulfilled many of the obligations expected of a City Councillor. Taxpayers should expect council members to be fully engaged in the community and you can’t do that living full- or part-time in Nanaimo.
Phil Adams, like Mano, does not live in Courtenay, and Fanny Bay is just too far removed from the city to warrant our consideration.
Michael Gilbert ran a successful and popular restaurant, but he’s campaigning on the lack of investment in bridges and roads that he says are important to 75 percent of the city’s population, which shows a lack of understanding of how building and maintaining infrastructure works. And his complaint that this council voted a raise for the next council doesn’t wash. Nobody’s getting rich off council pay.
Jin Lin and Starr Winchester are good-hearted people representing an old-guard conservative perspective that is less useful for addressing modern issues.
With council members Gwyn Sproule retiring and incumbent Vickey Brown leaving her seat for a shot at the mayoralty, there are two incumbents and three newcomers vying for four council positions. We endorse the incumbents and believe that any two of the other candidates would be excellent choices. Cumberland voters can’t go wrong in this election.
For Mayor: Leslie Baird
Incumbent Leslie Baird has served on the Village Council for 32 years, and 11 of those as mayor. She is popular among the village’s residents and with her colleagues on the council. And the village has prospered nicely during her time in the top chair. Her challenger Vickey Brown also has a record of experience. She served on the District 71 Board of Education and as a Village Council member for the last four years. She is an able candidate, who would make a good mayor someday. We have some thoughts about how long one person should serve on a single branch of local government, but for now, we think Ms. Baird has earned the right to decide when she will retire from the mayor’s chair.
For Council: Jesse Ketler
In 2018, we said Ketler “is a gem the village is lucky to have,” and our assessment hasn’t changed. Over her first two terms, Ketler has been a leader in innovations such as the village’s social procurement framework, establishing environmental protection areas, upgrading sewerage and fire protection infrastructure and the shift toward urban agriculture by allowing chicken and bee-keeping. She has also competently chaired the Comox Valley Regional District board, providing a neutral ‘Switzerland,’ so to speak, between the sometimes warring directors from Comox and the rest of the board.
For Council: Sean Sullivan
Incumbent Sean Sullivan is seeking a third term on council. He won in 2018, after a recount, by a mere five votes, but justified his re-election through his work on the village’s wastewater committee that planned and funded its sewerage upgrade. He also championed the village’s withdrawal from the failing Comox Valley Economic Development Society and created the opportunity for the village to create its own economic development strategy.
The other candidates
Neil Borecky is the manager of information technology at the City of Courtenay, so he has insider knowledge of how municipal governments work and he spent two years on Cumberland’s Advisory Planning Commission. His responses to our questionnaire were on the mark and would fit nicely with the Village Council and regional interests. The 14-year resident of Cumberland is a strong advocate for following a municipality’s Official Community Plan.
Newcomer Troy Therrien moved to Cumberland in 2013 with a degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics because it’s “a truly unique village.” And he wants to keep it that way. He’s focused on the right issues of climate change, right-sized development, multi-modal transportation and an interest in seeing how doughnut economics could benefit the village. We also liked his responses to our questionnaire.
Tanis Frame has run a quiet campaign, or maybe it’s more likely that we haven’t spent enough time in The Village lately. But the owner and principal architect of Thuja Architecture and Design in Cumberland would bring an interesting perspective and skill set to the council. She did not answer the Decafnation questionnaire, so we cannot offer a full-fledged endorsement.
It’s inevitable that the Comox Town Council will change dramatically from the progressive majority it has enjoyed over the last year. In 2018, voters elected three young, female council members who brought a more progressive attitude as well as their competence. But one of them relocated to Courtenay, one stepped back to focus on her family and the other became the town’s new mayor by acclamation.
For Mayor: Nicole Minions
We would have endorsed Nicole Minions if she had drawn a challenger, but she becomes the town’s new mayor by acclamation. She’s only the second female mayor in the Town of Comox’s history. We think she has the skill and the strength to handle the job, which won’t be easy considering the number of new faces and a council majority likely held by less progressive-minded people. Minions has a challenging job ahead.
For Council: Dr. Jonathan Kerr
Jonathan Kerr should be the top vote-getter in this year’s Comox election. He’s a warm, likable no-nonsense person who gets things done. He won the town’s byelection last November, campaigning on a three-pronged promise that included bringing more family doctors to the area. He delivered by personally setting up a Comox Valley-wide taskforce that has successfully brought 13 new doctors to our region since January. He’s not afraid to take principled stands and is always willing to negotiate and comprise to find win-win solutions.
For Council: Jenn Meilleur
Jenn Meilleur has the right experience for the next Comox Council. She has worked inside municipal governments and as a systems change facilitator, which means she’s adept at working collaboratively with a diverse group of people to achieve the best results possible. She’s focused on creating more affordable housing options, allowing residents to grow and share food and preparing Comox neighborhoods for the many adaptations required by a changing climate.
For Council: Ruby Sidhu
Ruby Sidhu is a former IT employee of the Town of Comox. He has degrees in physics, math and computer sciences and was enroute to a master’s degree in business administration before immigrating to Canada in 2005. He received a recent endorsement from Mayor Russ Arnott, who said, “I feel Ruby gained an understanding of the workings of Comox quite quickly to the point now I feel he is very competent. Please consider Ruby as one of your choices for Comox Council.” We agree.
For Council: Kealy “Kiki” Donaldson
The owner of Compass Magazine and Kiki’s Communication Services that is now located in downtown Comox, Kealy Donaldson is no stranger to political campaigning. She ran last year in a byelection for an on open seat on the Campbell River council. She believes councillors have a duty to follow public health orders and to lead by example in tackling climate change. She’s less specific about supporting the existing Regional Growth Strategy and probably leans more toward pro-development policies than we would prefer. But she’s committed to transparency and accountability and would add another female voice to the council table.
Candidates with promise
We endorsed Chris Haslett in 2018 when he made his first run for public office. He’s a third-generation Comox resident who tends to see things as black or white. We think he’ll find it’s not that simple in the political and technical arena. We encourage him to serve on one of the town’s advisory committees to gain experience for another bid in 2026.
Candidates we did not recommend
Ken Grant and Maureen Swift are incumbents who have had a long tenure on the Town Council and it’s time for them to step aside and let others govern. Both have not always represented the Town of Comox well in the Comox Valley Regional District, especially over the last four years when their regional positions weren’t always in sync with the council.
Peter Gibson, grew up in Comox, but he hasn’t lived there for a long time. And it’s not like he lives across the street from the town’s boundaries. He lives in Area C, toward Mt. Washington where he worked for most of his career. He’s too far removed from the people and issues in Comox to get our endorsement. He should have run for office in Area C.
Don Davis, bless his heart, served as a Comox Councillor many years ago. He has continued to run in every election since and often gets significant votes. He’s devoted to the town and is still quite active.
Steve Blacklock also grew up in Comox and recently ran in last fall’s byelection. He has support from the old guard who are accustomed to running things down at the Town Hall. He is as likely to argue as discuss and, as a result, almost came to blows with the spouse of a recent federal candidate. He has an abundance of self-confidence, but a more collaborative demeanor would garner more respect from potential council colleagues.
Unless an incumbent has failed their constituency in a significant way or a challenger has made an overwhelming case for why they would better serve that jurisdiction’s interests, we usually recommend the incumbent. And that’s the case this year in all three of the regional district’s Electoral Areas.
For Area A: Daniel Arbour
How the Union Bay Estates and K’omoks First Nation developments blend into and connect with each other, as well as with Royston and the southern boundaries of Courtenay, will have a game-changing impact on the entire Comox Valley. Navigating this complex and far-reaching quagmire requires a trusted, experienced and knowledgable hand on the tiller. Daniel Arbour is the only candidate in Area A equipped to do that. And he is the only candidate in tune with the needs of Hornby and Denman islands. His first term record is stellar and neither challenger gives voters a convincing reason to jump ship.
For Area B: Arzeena Hamir
Areena Hamir is a tireless regional director with an impressive list of accomplishments in her first term. She played key roles in finally settling the odour issues emanating from the Sewage Treatment Plant for Curtis Road residents, getting the Merville Fire Hall built to serve residents in both Areas B and C and bringing agricultural issues to the forefront of regional district planning. Her support for farmers and other food producers bodes well for the region’s food supply and security.
Hamir’s main opponent, Richard Hardy, does not live in Area B. He lives in Comox. Hamir was a key voice in the CVRD’s decision to terminate the Comox Valley Economic Development Society’s contract. Hardy is a past president of CVEDS and a player in the seafood industry that was a prime beneficiary of CVEDS funding and promotion. We don’t believe his interest lies in serving the people of Area B. We think he’s focused on defeating Hamir, and that’s no reason to elect him.
For Area C: Edwin Grieve
Edwin Grieve provides the balance that’s needed on the Electoral Area Services Commission that makes important decisions on issues like land use. He’s more conservative than his colleagues in Areas A and B, but as a team, they are well-balanced and have worked together collaboratively. Grieve’s opponent comes with no public service experience and gave space on social media to attack the incumbents in the other electoral areas rather than making a case to unseat the well-respected Area C incumbent. We’ll stick with Grieve.