Survey finds Areas A-B happy with regional board, directors, little interest in schools

Survey finds Areas A-B happy with regional board, directors, little interest in schools

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Survey finds Areas A-B happy with regional board, directors, little interest in schools


Just over halfway through their first terms in local government, regional district directors Daniel Arbour and Arzeena Hamir have earned high approval ratings from the respondents to a Local Government Performance Review conducted recently by Decafnation.

Decafnation initiated the survey to measure how satisfied voters were with the performance of the councillors, directors and trustees they elected in 2018.

The first article summarizing the survey’s findings published earlier this week took a close look at the Courtenay and Comox municipal councils and individual council members. This second article focuses on the rural electoral areas of the Comox Valley Regional District, as well as the District 71 school board and Island Trust representatives from Denman and Hornby Islands.

Electoral Area A Director Daniel Arbour received the highest approval rating of all the Comox Valley’s 33 elected officials reviewed in the survey. Eighty-nine percent of Area A respondents said they were either very satisfied (61%) or satisfied (28%) with his performance so far. That was also the survey’s highest ‘very satisfied’ rating.

Affordable housing the top issue in Areas A and B. In Area C, it was protecting the Regional Growth Strategy

Electoral Area B Director Arzeena Hamir was close behind Arbour with a 65 percent approval rating from respondents, including a 58 percent approval rating in the top ‘very satisfied’ level.

Respondents from electoral areas A and B also said they were satisfied with the work of the Comox Valley Regional District board of directors.

But veteran electoral director Edwin Grieve didn’t fare as well. Fifty-seven percent of electoral area C respondents said they were dissatisfied with his performance at mid-term, including 30 percent who said they were very dissatisfied.

Despite Grieve’s low approval rating, the survey found that Area C respondents were still mostly satisfied with the regional board as a whole, although their satisfaction level (38%) was the lowest of the three electoral areas. Also, the number of Area C respondents who gave the board a neutral rating (neither satisfied nor dissatisfied) was the highest of the three rural areas.

The survey results also show that most residents in the municipalities and rural areas were ambivalent about School District 71 school board trustees as well as Island Trust representatives. With a few exceptions, most of these elected officials’ received the neutral rating of neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

A neutral rating usually indicates the survey respondent doesn’t have enough information to form a strong positive or negative impression or that they are indifferent to, in this case, the school board and Island Trust issues.

Denman Island’s Laura Busheikin received the strongest satisfaction rating (54%) among the four Islands Trust representatives from Denman and Hornby islands. But both Busheikin and Denman’s other representative, David Critchley, received a significant number of written comments.

All four Islands Trust trustees received high neutral satisfaction ratings, probably because twice as many Area A residents live in the Royston to Fanny Bay portion of the district as on the islands. Those residents are not as likely to follow Denman and Hornby civic issues.

“Although a Hornby Islander, Daniel Arbour is doing a good job of representing both the “Big Island” and “Little Islands” parts of Area A.”

The survey also asked respondents to identify the top issues elected officials should address before voters go back to the polls on Oct. 15 of next year.

Although the list of top issues varied in each jurisdiction, areas A and B choose affordable housing as the number one issue. In Area C, the top issue was protecting the Regional Growth Strategy, quite possibly a reaction to the multi-year controversy over a large subdivision proposed by 3L Developments.

The survey was conducted over a three-week period via Survey Monkey and the results independently analyzed by community volunteers not associated with Decafnation.

Respondents could choose among five levels: very satisfied, satisfied, neither satisfied or dissatisfied, dissatisfied and very dissatisfied. For this story, in most instances, we have combined the top two satisfied ratings and bottom two dissatisfied ratings and refer to them as simply satisfied or dissatisfied.

Most of the 314 survey respondents included written comments to help explain their satisfaction ratings. These can be found elsewhere on the Decafnation website.

Here’s a closer look at the results for the Comox Valley Regional District Electoral Areas, school trustees and Island Trust representatives.



Almost two-thirds of survey respondents from Area A (61%) said they are satisfied with the regional district board. That was the highest approval rating of any local government surveyed and may be a reflection of respondents’ satisfaction with CVRD Director Daniel Arbour.

Arbour not only received the highest approval rating in the survey (89%) but he also had the lowest disapproval rating (7%) and the fewest number of indifferent respondents (4% neither satisfied nor dissatisfied).

Area A respondents’ satisfaction level with the regional district board – click to enlarge

One respondent said they were very satisfied with Arbour because, “Although a Hornby Islander, Daniel Arbour is doing a good job of representing both the “Big Island” and “Little Islands” parts of Area A.”

“He has a good media presence so I see things he is trying to do. Shares information on Facebook. Connects with locals about rural concerns and get what it’s like to live rurally,” said another respondent.

You can find all of the regional district, school trustee and Islands Trust comments here.

District 71 school board Chair Sheila McDonnell, who represents Area A, received the highest satisfaction rating (29%) of any school trustee and a low dissatisfaction rating (5%).

But survey respondents across the Comox Valley gave all of the school board trustees, including McDonnell, and the four Islands Trust representatives overwhelmingly indifferent ratings. Sixty-seven percent of Area A respondents said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with McDonnell.

Respondents said they “have no kids in school, so not an interest,” and “No idea what she’s up to.” While another respondent said, “Sheila has been very receptive to feedback and concerns about the school board processes.”

Few Area A respondents said whether they were satisfied not with the Denman and Hornby Island Trust representatives.

Denman’s Laura Busheikin topped the survey for most responses and respondents also gave her the highest satisfied rating (54%) and also the lowest indifferent rating (37%).

“Laura is by far the best Islands Trustee we’ve had in the 31 years I’ve lived on Denman Island. She’s smart, hard-working, and faultlessly ethical despite being cast, in some Islanders’ minds, as a foil to Local Trust Committee members whom they regard as “elitists,” said one respondent.

Area A respondents’ top issues – click to enlarge

Only about 20 percent of Area A respondents said they were satisfied or dissatisfied with Hornby trustees Grant Scott and Alex Allen and Denman trustee Dave Critchley. But respondents did have several conflicting comments about Critchley

“Trustee Critchley is a lawyer and performs his LTC job officiously. He tends to take a conservative position on certain issues, particularly housing which has become a hot-button again as the IT Council has decided to crack down on non-conforming dwellings and has been issuing eviction notices since last winter. These “illegal” dwellings have existed on this Island for 47 years—ever since the imposition of the Islands Trust. They exist because they are critically necessary: the AVERAGE age on Denman is 61 years old and younger workers of every sort are needed—and need places to live. Trustee Critchley has tended to support the recent crackdown on non-conforming dwellings. About 20% of our population lives in these,” said one respondent.

And when it came to the top issues Area A respondents want Arbour to address before the end of his first term, Affordable housing topped the list (66%). Next was mental health and opioid addiction issues.



More than twice as many Area B respondents to the survey say they are satisfied (53%) than dissatisfied (20%) with the regional district board. And 65 percent say they are satisfied with the performance of Director Arzeena Hamir. Just 13 percent said they were dissatisfied.

Area B respondents’ satisfaction level with the regional district board – click to enlarge

“Arzeena Hamir is an outstanding director. I highly respect her for her willingness to speak up and be vocal about issues she feels strongly about. She communicates professionally and thoroughly researches issues she’s addressing. She has been unafraid to speak publicly about CVEDS, and other challenges the CVRD is facing,” said one respondent.

“Have been very impressed with Director Hamir in every way. Particularly appreciated her support of Curtis Road residents in our difficulties with the Sewage Treatment plant,” said another who echoed other respondents’ comments.

The comments from Area B respondents, which can be found here, included these:

“On the whole I am pleased with how the CVRD has handled things this past term. I’m especially happy that they are putting CVEDS through their paces and bringing them to task for the years of secretive operations and inadequate service to the area as a whole,” said one.

Area B respondents’ top issues – click to enlarge

While another said, “I think that personal relationships seem to trump community greater good when it comes to decision making for Director Edwin Grieve. Very satisfied with Daniel Arbour and Arzeema Hamir.”

Survey respondents were dramatically indifferent about school board Trustee Michelle Waite. Ninety percent of Area B respondents said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, because, according to one respondent, “No idea how that is going.”

Another respondent said, “The school district does a poor job of getting its news and information to the public. Sometimes this feels intentional.”

The top issues Area B respondents want to be addressed are affordable housing and the Regional Growth Strategy. But they also noted support for the farming sector and climate change as top issues leading up to the 2022 civic elections.



Of the Comox Valley’s three electoral districts, Area C is the most unhappy with their regional board representation, and the least happy with the CVRD board itself.

Area C respondents’ satisfaction level with Director Edwin Grieve – click to enlarge

Area C respondents said they were decidedly dissatisfied (56%) with the performance of Director Edwin Grieve.

“Grieve appears to support the visions of CVEDS and the Exhibition Grounds Committee that are not in keeping with more sustainable, grassroots, community-based values. BIG is not necessarily beautiful. Input from local growers and the community at large should be valued and respected, not minimized or criticized. Time for him to join many of the other “old boys club” members and step aside,” said one respondent.

All of the survey’s written comments about Grieve, the regional district and their school board trustee can be read in their entirety here.

But 30 percent of Area C respondents were also satisfied with his performance.

Area C respondents’ top issues – click to enlarge

“Edwin has been between a rock and a hard place for a long time, what with 3L being in his grill for so long. Director Grieve seems to be a conciliator personality type and is not his own best advocate. I think that many times what he does is not actually understood by the electorate and the press,” according to another survey respondent.

The recently appointed school trustee for Area C, Cristi May Sacht received equally small numbers of satisfied and dissatisfied respondents and 81 percent who said they didn’t know enough about her or were indifferent to school issues.

Protecting and updating the Regional Growth Strategy is the top issue (65%) that respondents from Area C want their director to address in the last half of his term. Respondents ranked affordable housing second (52%) and then economic development and climate change.















Cumberland school board trustee Sarah Jane Howe’s result derives from only three respondents, two who gave her a neutral rating and one who gave a satisfied rating.








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Comox Valley local government elections ramping up for Oct. 15 vote

Comox Valley voters will elect new councilors, mayors, regional district representatives, school board members and Island Trust reps on Oct. 15. Find out who’s running for what … and why. Decafnation returns to shine more light on local government issues and candidates

Ron Freeman sees new Comox businesses, low taxes

Ron Freeman sees new Comox businesses, low taxes

Ron Freeman, a former pastor and Habitat board member, wants to attract young families and a greater variety of new businesses to Comox, meanwhile keeping taxes as low as possible


Comox Town Council candidate Ron Freeman hopes to look back on his first term in four years and see that he accomplished his two main goals: to keep taxes low and continue revitalizing the downtown core.

“Fiscal responsibility is the key,” he told Decafnation. “People in Comox don’t complain about taxes because the service is good, especially snow removal.”

Freeman, a retired pastor who now works part-time as a commissionaire at CFB Comox, says a two-plus percent tax increase each year would be acceptable.

“But we couldn’t go lower than that and keep the services people are expecting,” he said.

Freeman says he wants to attract new businesses to Comox to broaden the appeal of the town’s business district. He would consider tax incentives to encourage commercial investment.

“We need to send the message that we’re open for business, and make it easy for them,” he said.

To get that ball rolling, Freeman would involve citizens and current business owners to create a strategic plan for attracting new businesses. The plan would lay out how to go about it and what types of new businesses people want in Comox.

“For example, why do I have to go to Courtenay to buy shoes?” he said.

Freeman thinks “touristy type” businesses would succeed on the waterfront, such as paddle board and small boat rentals, and electric bicycle rentals. And he would like to add a jazz festival into the town’s summer events calendar.

But Comox residents would have to support the local businesses, so the “streets don’t roll up at 6 pm.” He envisions some type of education program and council members acting as ambassadors.

The candidate also hopes to help the town attract young families. Keeping down the cost of housing would be key, he says, but he also want to provide more amenities for the younger teen age group, like a drop-in centre, such as The Link in Courtenay.

Freeman was one of the original board members of the Comox Valley Habitat for Humanity, and he’s concerned about the affordability of housing in Comox. He says allowing more secondary suites has helped, but he’d like to find other solutions.

He supports homeowner vacation rentals because it helps people afford their mortgage and brings new people to Comox and “keeps them circulating through town.” Someone he knows had vacationers from France who now hope to move here and start a business.

Freeman moved to the Valley in 1999 from Sidney. He came to pastor at the Living Hope Christian Fellowship church, that had a membership of four couples and a single person when he arrived. When he retired in 2013, the church had grown to 160 members.

He has a bachelor of theology from a seminary in Regina, Sask.

On the subject of Shakesides, the heritage home of naturalist Hamilton Mack Laing, which the town wants to take down and replace with a viewing stand, Freeman says that’s the best that can be done at this point. He has talked with current council members about the issue, but not anyone from the Mack Laing Heritage Society.

He wants voters to know he’s “approachable, and I’m open and honest.”

“We all have things we’re passionate about, but I like the idea that when all is said, something gets done,” he said. “We’re all different, we all have a place and we must respect each other.”

Freeman says he would bring “respectful dialogue” to a seat on the town council.


Can a family of four live in the Valley at $16.59 per hour?

Can a family of four live in the Valley at $16.59 per hour?

A new study says $16.59 per hour is a minimum “living wage” for families of four in the Comox Valley (two working parents). But the study assumes people can find housing at 30 percent of their gross income, and it doesn’t consider the plight of single parents


The Comox Valley is one of the least expensive places in the province to live, according to a new study by a British Columbia advocacy group that encourages employers to pay a living wage.

It’s a claim by the Living Wage for Families Campaign that would surprise most people trying to find affordable housing here. Especially single parents.

And yet, if the group’s data is accurate, it still requires two working parents to each work full-time and earn a minimum wage of $16.59 per hour to support a family of four in the Comox Valley.

That’s $5.24 per hour higher than the current minimum wage of $11.35 And When B.C.’s minimum wage increases to $12.65 on June 1, it will still fall short by $3.94 per hour.

FURTHER READING: Living Wage for Families website

B.C. Premier John Horgan has vowed to increase the province’s minimum wage to $15.20 by the year 2021. But even that is already lower than the current living wage requirement in most areas of the province, according to the study.

So the questions are: how accurate is the Living Wage for Families Campaign study, and does it apply to single people or single parents?

Did it consider the Comox Valley’s lack of affordable housing, or the low vacancy rate and high rental rates that exist here.

The Living Wage for Families Campaign estimates of a living wage in selected B.C. communities

If two parents both earn $16.59 per hour and work full-time (35 hours according to the study), they could afford to pay about $1,500 per month in housing costs. The study assumes paying roughly 30 percent of gross income on shelter.

Two bedroom units in the Comox Valley renting at $1,500 per month are difficult — maybe impossible — to find.

According to a quick check of for-rent ads on Internet sites and Comox Valley property management listings put the range for two bedroom units in multi-floor apartment buildings at between $950 per month and $1,250 per month. And only one or two had vacancies.

Two bedroom small houses rent for $2,000 per month and up, if you can find one.

So Comox Valley families of four would find it difficult to live on even the study’s living wage estimate.

And it’s worse for single people.

A single parent with two children earning $16.59 per hour and paying 30 percent of their gross income for housing could only afford $755 per month. Good luck with that in the Comox Valley.

Having to pay $1,000 or more for even basic housing means a single parent family would have just $900 or less left over each month for hydro, food, taxes, transportation and clothing.

For many single parents this study’s living wage sounds more a survival wage.

But here’s the real tragedy.

The B.C. government will raise the minimum wage to just $12.65 on June 1 of this year, and then to $13.85 next year, to $14.60 in 2020 and finally to $15.20 in 2021.

By that time, the Comox Valley’s living wage will have gone far beyond the $16.59 it’s estimated at today.

And the government’s plan separates out farm workers and liquor servers (bartenders, waiters and anyone who serves liquor) for lower minimum wages than other working people.

FURTHER READING: B.C. minimum wage fact sheet; Minimum wage by province

So it’s no surprise that the B.C. NDP government has been criticized by labor unions and other worker advocacy groups for moving too slow on increasing the minimum wage.

Among Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories, only five had a lower minimum wage on April 1, according to the Retail Council of Canada.

About 20 percent of British Columbians earn less than $15 an hour. Nearly half of those are university and college graduates over the age of 25.

Low wages and rising housing costs trap people in poverty and closes off avenues of upward mobility. In turn, that deepens the divide between rich and poor and keeps people from ever getting a foothold into the middle class.

Addressing the minimum wage issue requires unraveling a complex web of economic factors, including the shortage of affordable housing.

In the absence of a significant increase in the minimum wage, B.C. should make funding the construction of affordable housing a high priority.

Doing so will both stimulate job creation and sales tax revenue, and reduce the housing cost burden that keeps families trapped in poverty and frustration.

Random related facts

Due to the Comox Valley’s demographics, we have a high percentage of residents paying more than 50 percent of their gross income on housing. Many of them are elderly.

¶ Over 110 companies and organizations across BC, employing more than 18,000 workers and covering many thousands more contracted service workers, have been certified as Living Wage Employers. These include Huu-ay-aht First Nations, Vancity, the United Way of the Lower Mainland, the City of Quesnel, the City of Port Coquitlam, Urban Solar and PARC Retirement Living. In 2017, the City of Vancouver certified as a Living Wage Employer, and eight other local governments in BC have living wage policies.

During the City of Seattle’s minimum wage debate several years ago (they implemented it), Tom Douglas, owner of 14 restaurants in Seattle, emerged as voice of reason. He voluntarily raised the pay of all his employees to $15 per hour.

Why? As he told National Public Radio, “The more you put dollars into people’s hands to be spent, I’m sure it probably would be healthy for the economy.”

In other words, doing the right thing and taking good care of your employees makes business sense.

It could make sense for British Columbia, too.