Comox respondents’ Comments

These are the written comments made by Comox residents who participated in Decafnation’s Local Government Performance Review. Comments that breached our journalistic standards, such as ad hominem attacks, have been eliminated. All other comments appear as entered into the online survey platform. Click on each image to view that councillor’s satisfaction rating.

Comox Town Council

Pepole are doing their best under the circumstances

I am frustrated that the council is not taking climate change seriously and how it will affect our town. That and the way they’ve handled Mack Laing and the development of the marina area.

They rolled up their sleeves, and got to work. They made a long overdue decision to show Richard Kanigan the door. The new CAO is a breath of fresh air. They are progressive and logical in their governance. Bravo!

Comox Town Council has continued to demonstrate a backward position towards conservation of municipal nature parks (e.g. Mack Lang Park) and an uncooperative approach towards a regional park management plan.

The council has made it clear that the priority of their mandate is to ensure that they are paid very well for having been elected.

They are too secretive about the budget and give no details about how they’re spending tax dollars, or how they are arriving at these decisions.

Council’s position on Shakesides and the Mack Laing property has been appalling.

1) The consistency of garbage pickup has fallen since Arndt arrived. 2) Cycling is still a hazardous adventure, Noel, Lazo etc etc 3) No publicly available info on likely sea level rise in Comox, I was told to ask a realtor 4) inability to play nicely with our neighbours in Cumberland and Courtenay 5) no linkage of essential services , hospital beds for example, to palms for further development. 6) Poor air quality in winter. 7) people can still swim in our drinking water and log to close

The Council’s failure to honour the OCP, institute a Heritage Registry and legislation to protect local heritage sites and structures, insist on the inclusion of green space and adequate parking for new commercial and multi residential development, foster the protection of existing green spaces and parks as well as having a plan to acquire additional green space areas and especially having no apparent concept of climate change and the urgency of an adaptive plan for the fast arriving future have left me very dissatisfied this this councils performance.

Not enough has been done to address climate change, poor air quality in the winter months.

Election promises have been broken, respect for previous OCP has been lacking in follow through, lack of a heritage registry and building permits without proper parking allocations are issues. Using OCP designated parkland space to sell for a building site and not honouring an almost 40 year old trust agreement with Mack Laing are also issues for me. I could go on

I feel like the council is more of a boys club who would never stand up to the leader. I do not trust them.

Too little attention to taxpayer’s needs. Too much attention to individual council members “agendas”. It is a fact those least competent to govern are those most attracted to such offices.

Tough job, especially following the former Mayor and Town Administrator. Think the new council has terrific new people doing a hard job, and having to learn an awful lot on the job!

Local improvements for schools (e.g. Brooklyn Crosswalk) are very much appreciated. Happy with backyard chickens and food security progressive policies. The traffic calming steps in local neighborhoods are also appreciated.

They ignore the needs of youth and families in Comox. Apart from Marina Park and school playgrounds, there is nothing. We need a skate park and some spaces for 7-12 yro. And stop fighting over Shakesides and honour the original contract as intended by Mack Laing!!

I appreciate that the Comox Council has not embraced the panic of Covid and maintained an even keel thus far.

A Lot of things feel very progressive which is good, and on the other hand sometimes it feels like Comox is intentionally at odds with other municipalities and I wonder if that is necessary.

First thing they did was give themselves a raise. Garbage pickup is erratic and now less days per year pick up.

Comprising a majority of first time councillors, the group, I thought would bring a fresh perspective. I am afraid that in spite of moving from ‘an old boys network’ style of government, we have, instead, moved to one that gets mired in the minutia being on the side of political correctness.

I would like to see them put more work into prioritizing supporting local businesses and contributing to an affordable homeownership strategy

Lack of action taken, schedule change to garbage poorly handled

Mostly pretty good

There seems to be little effort to engage the community in preparing for the consequences of global warming.

They seem unfocused and leaderless. They seem to follow without thinking for themselves.

After spending the last couple of hours reviewing the minutes of the Town of Comox Council meetings I am left with the impression that the people who make the decisions and run the Town are Jordan Wall, Marvin Kamenz and Clive Freundlich. The mayor and council are essentially trained seals that nod in unison to the directions they are given by senior staff. 99% of all motions are carried without opposition. The role of the mayor and council members is primarily public relations. They justify their salaries by attending meetings hosted by special interest groups seeking council support and public money for their organizations. The Town of Comox has approved three large developments (695 Aspen Road, 2310 Guthrie, and 2309 McDonald road) without ensuring adequate recreational park space for residents. This has placed enormous strain on existing park space in the Comox Valley. The only economic development that the Town of Comox has supported is the mall renovation (Dollar Store) along with 3 pubs and 2 cannabis stores. While increasing taxes, they have cut back services (e.g., waste and recycling pick up to once every two weeks.) Their major contribution to the climate emergency and the environment was to ban plastic bags, build a couple of electric vehicle charging stations and approve the BC step code.

This Council is unable to think outside of the box that it built for itself. Because a number of the councilors are new to their positions, they seem unwilling to act or oppose the direction of the Council set by those who have past experience.

Their handling of the redevelopment planning for 1652 Balmoral was shockingly poor. I, along with almost all of the other neighbors provided similar feedback (not NIMBY, but lots of reasonable input provided on the circumvention of the OCP as well as design out of alignment, all ignored in the name of speed)

Ken Grant

He’s not a team player and not transparent-a detriment to the council

The dinosaur in the room. Only in office for the paycheque.

Ken Grant is not much better than Russ Arnott in his paternalistic governance approach to the municipal electorate.

Councillor Ken Grant has done absolutely nothing to forward the actual needs of the taxpayers of the Town Of Comox. They after all only pay the council wages, (and bonuses, and expenses and…)

Voted for demolition of Shakesides and to continue designing a viewing platform to replace naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home, rejecting any other proposals for the property,

Too dismissive of the female voices on Council.

Ken Grant’s jokes and comments are disrespectful. He is part of the “Old Boy’s Network “ of the last Council. He seems opposed to any substantial changes to Council’s past performance

Needs improvement. More governing less politicking.

Old guard

Mr. Grant, whose experience on council is welcome. He unfortunately also brings, I believe, baggage from the previous ‘old boys’ style of governance in the valley. I would vote for him again

It’s possible he’s been around too long

Ken Grant seems to represent the White male status quo.

Seems to parrot whatever Art Meyers feeds him.

Ken Grant just managed to get enough votes to be elected at the last election. His suggestion to increase the hotel tax from 2% to 3% in response to a request for additional funding for the homeless speaks volumes about Ken Grant’s character and abilities. Sadly, his friend and fellow incumbent, Russ Arnott, ensures that Ken Grant is the council member appointed to represent Comox at the CVRD.


Alex Bissinger

A breath of fresh air. She is articulate and willing to listen. Her views on climate change and sustainability as well as her ideas on future capital projects are well informed with an eye to the future.

The smartest person in the room. Fearless and always happy to keep people accountable. Top shelf councillor.

I had high hopes for Alex Bissinger as a progressive new voice on town council, but have been somewhat disappointed. She has backed off from pressing for real change, such as resolving the Mack Lang nature park trust, and bringing the municipal engineering department into progressive environmentally responsible professional management.

Councillor Alex Bissinger has done absolutely nothing to forward the actual needs of the taxpayers of the Town Of Comox. They after all only pay the council wages, (and bonuses, and expenses and…)

Cannot say I’m impressed, but she hasn’t done anything terrible either. A bit disappointing for someone of her intellectual ability.

Voted to continue designing a viewing platform to replace naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home, rejecting any other proposals for the property,

Councillor Bissinger has made a real effort to initiate some progressive and meaningful initiatives. Her strong awareness of the seriousness of climate change is appreciated as was her initial attempt to resolve the councils previous inability to honour it’s legal responsibility to uphold the terms of the Mack Laing trust. It’s disappointing and disquieting to see the “cone of silence” descend on her initial support for addressing this issue.

Bright and articulate woman who seeks innovative ways of addressing problems. It would be great if her voice was not stifled by males on Council.

Alex has brought several issues and motions to Council to promote meaningful changes or dialogue. She often misses the support she needs and can be overwhelmed by the “status quo” supporters to change her wording, table motions, etc. Lots of potential for meaningful changes

Needs improvement. More governing less politicking.

Alex is a true member of the community. She does this because she cares about Comox and the people that live here.

Ms. Bissinger, whom I thought would bring youth and pragmatism (an engineer), has, I think, not been able to bridge the gap between idealism and realism. Ms. Bissenger and Comox, may benefit from her being on council for another term.

Needs to do more to leave her mark.

Patrick McKenna

Interesting ideas about arts and culture and performing spaces

Pat McKenna has maintained a low profile and generally goes with the flow.

Councillor Pat McKenna, though sometimes a lone voice, has occasionally spoken up to question council decisions.

He has done nothing of note.

It’s hard to tell what councillor McKenna actually stands for.

A team player who has great communication skills and takes the time to analyze the issue at hand.

I’m convinced Pat could help Council expand possibilities for our Community. He speaks up well for issues he’s concerned about. Unfortunately he often supports the status quo team as well.

Mr. McKenna, in my view, was the star on Comox Council. I believe that he showed measured independence and moderation. I witnessed his thoughtful and mature questioning and his attention to the job at hand. I would definitely vote for him again and support his effort to be our mayor if he so chooses.

I love that Pat brings knowledge of housing and homelessness issues to Comox Council.

I think the difference between what he said while running and how he has voted are significantly different.

Pat is a nice guy. But that’s about it.

I have been disappointed by McKenna’s “let’s-not-rock-the-boat” attitude. I wonder if, somehow, his leadership of a local non-profit makes him overly cautious about standing up with the more progressive arm of Council.

Only councilor that I’ve dealt with first hand who seemed to ready to make the hard decisions and do the work that I would expect from elected officials

Mayor Russ Arnott

His position on climate change, sustainability and developing marina lands are lacking. And his stand on Mack Laing.

He is a down to earth, approachable leader. He stood up for his Public Works staff when an awful fabricated story broke about interactions with the female public. His love for Comox is obvious….he cares about people.

Russ Arnott continues to display a reactionary governance approach to municipal services delivery, male chauvinism towards female councilors, and an adversarial approach towards citizen activists and non-profit advisory groups.

Mayor Arnott is careful to ensure that he makes absolutely no decision that would bring any sort of controversy. He will not make a decision that would actually take any kind of stand for anything.

He is merely parroting the previous administration and has not seemed to do much of anything. He has not been a positive factor in solving a very large – and legally expensive – outstanding issue – namely the Shakesides Trust. There is too much secrecy around this,

Failed to consult with KFN re: demolition of Shakesides.

Mayor Arnott’s disruptive and coercive interjections during council meetings to promote his own agenda is unacceptable.

He seems to have the greatest power in Council rather than sharing it with his Councillors.

The mayor’s behaviour in council meetings has been interruptive and non respectful to public speakers and his newer council members. He has not attempted to follow OCP guidelines. Though he campaigned on a community ocean walkway, he allowed property to sell that was designated park space and reassured the new buyer that the public walkway space adjacent to his land and Port Augusta Creek would not ever happen. He is a former member of council who continues to block resolution of a 40-year-old Trust that could have created a gem for Comox such as Campbell River has achieved with both the Sybil Andrews House and the Haig Brown house and property. He continues to block Heritage Registry for Comox, at a great loss for the community.

I have had 2 dealings with Arnott and found him pompous, arrogant and dismissive.

Needs improvement. More governing less politicking.

Believe Russ is doing a decent job, it is a hard job and he has had to try and clean up some of the mess left by the former Mayor and Adm.

Old guard

Russ does not hesitate to seek advice and input from constituents on major matters.

Does he listen to council members?

Mr. Arnot brings a steady and firm presence to the group. I hope that he can remain so. I would vote for him again.

Nothing stands out positive or negative.

He seemed to be bullying the young(er) women on Council at one point.

Seems woefully under qualified to lead.

Arnott is typical of a small-town, glad-handing, baby-kissing, superficial, vacuous politician. He has no vision for the future of this community and no idea how to deal with the enormous future challenges facing the community including economic development, affordable housing and climate change adaptation. After approving a 14% raise for himself in 2018 he is now seeking a further increase. In my opinion he isn’t worth the salary he is already receiving. The simple truth is his absence from council would have no impact whatsoever except to save the community more than $50,000.

While some experience on Council is good (see my comments to previous question), the lack of creative thinking by this mayor is beyond the pale. It’s all about the economy and growing the tax base, which will see all the local municipalities behind the curve as our climate and the pandemic (both related to each other) set the stage in the future.

Maureen Swift

Not a team player. Incapable of making her own decisions.

Needs to learn from the other women on council and get progressive.

Maureen Swift represents the elitist lobby of entitlement of the wealthy in Comox, where housing development, parks management, and municipal services delivery are there to serve the well-off establishment of Comox.

Councillor Maureen Swift has done absolutely nothing to forward the actual needs of the taxpayers of the Town Of Comox. They after all only pay the council wages, (and bonuses, and expenses and…)

Not a positive influence on any issue of importance, and often very negative about what should be of benefit to the town – growing attractions that will encourage tourism.

Voted for demolition of Shakesides

Seems to be committed to maintaining the status quo of the previous councils culture and lack of vision.

Focusing on an off leash dog park is not a top priority yet this issue still hasn’t been resolved after 2 years.

Maureen Swift is also past Counsellor with an apparent agenda to preserve the status quo without substantial changes. Many missed opportunities to be a more progressive council.

Needs improvement. More governing less politicking.

Old guard

Ms. Swift brings experience and a woman, who has managed to survive in the former, less diversified governance in the valley. I likely would vote for her again.

She seems to “go with the flow.”

Maureen Swift has been a councillor for long enough. No doubt she is an active member of the Comox community and takes her role as councillor seriously. However, the time has come for Maureen to pass the baton to someone with fresh ideas.

Nicole Minions

So so. She doesn’t stand out. Her views on amalgamation and air quality are limited. She tends to follow the middle road.

Good community person. Needs a dash of Bissinger’s fearlessness.

Nicole tries to improve municipal governance but has been overwhelmed and bullied by the municipal council old guard and its parochial administration.

Councillor Nicole Minions has done absolutely nothing to forward the actual needs of the taxpayers of the Town Of Comox. They after all only pay the council wages,(and bonuses, and expenses and…)

Again, does not speak out and seems to have very little opinion about anything.

Voted against designing a viewing platform to replace naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home, was in favour of exploring other options

Councillor Minions is a welcome addition to this council. She has attempted to initiate some progressive ideas to the council despite the older members of the council’s entrenched resistance to considering new ideas. It’s disappointing that her initial support for a meaningful attempt to resolve the town’s situation in regards to the Mack Laing Trust has been silenced.

Collaborative with others and frequently seen trying to understand the issues at hand.

Nicole has a clear voice for advocating principles or ideas. She seems also the most responsive member to expressed concerns from locals. Good at dialogue.

Needs improvement. More governing less politicking.

Ms. Minion, another rookie on Council for whom I voted also disappointed me. Perhaps as a young working mother, the workload may have been too much. If Ms. Minion chooses to run again, I would vote for her in the hopes that on a more enlightened and experienced council, she would be able to bring her voice to the table.

I was at a Town Council meeting where she said electric vehicles and charging stations were a passion of hers. That was reassuring as it suggested to me that she takes global warming seriously.

I had higher hopes for her and she hasn’t seemed to gain her legs.

Of all of the current councillors, Nicole Minions is probably the most logical choice for the replacement (hopefully) of Russ Arnott at the next election. She is smart, has a business background and has been involved as a community volunteer. Even early in her first term, Nicole showed leadership by championing the disposable plastic bag issue. Her financial background gives her a solid grasp of Town finances. It is unfortunate that she hasn’t spoken up more about some of the questionable expenditures being made by the Town.

The same qualities mentioned above regarding Bissinger can be applied to Minions, without the science and data background. She stands up to the trio of “experienced’ councilors, but is hamstrung by her newness to the position. Still, she is doing the best she can, I think, and is showing signs, like Bissinger, of standing up and being counted as a progressive and a person concerned about the climate and pandemic.

Stephanie McGowan

Don’t have a clear picture. Her position on tax increases was interesting- partnering up with other levels of gov’t to save dollars and her other responses re transparency( town hall meetings) and future projects were general. She supported Comox signing on to the BC Climate Action Charter.

She has also tried for the best but is usually bullied into submission.

Councillor Stephanie McGowan, though sometimes a lone voice, has occasionally spoken up to question council decisions…

She at least tries to address concerns of Comox citizens, but is often overridden by the others, who it seems are only interested in making as few waves as possible.

Voted against designing a viewing platform to replace naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home, was in favour of exploring other options

Councillor McGowan has been a welcome addition to the council. Hopefully she will be successful in helping the town create a Heritage Registry and some protective bylaws to protect the town’s heritage properties and structures. Her initial support for a meaningful effort to resolve the Towns current impasse in regard to the Mack Laing Trust was appreciated. Hopefully the ember of that vision still remains.

Bringing forth the issue of homelessness and how it exists in Comox too.

Stephanie has great intentions in my opinion but again , can be overwhelmed by the blocking of change from the senior more experienced members of council. Good potential for future changes I think. She keeps bringing up the need for a heritage registry- yay and has a broader perspective of community members.

Needs improvement. More governing less politicking.

She’s engaged in important issues

I thought that Ms. McGowan, in spite of me not voting for her, was a disappointment and not good material for Comox Council. Too mired in idealistic beliefs for the level of responsibility. I would not vote for her.

I don’t have a sense of her politics.

Stephanie is best described as the “heart” of Comox Council. She cares about the “average Joe or Josephine”. She also cares about Comox history and our relationship to the K’omoks First Nation. Like the other novice councillors, Stephanie’s voice has been drowned out by the three former incumbents. She is not one to rock the boat and tends to conform to the direction being taken by the more dominant councillors.

Council vote sends Mack Laing Trust issue back to court

Council vote sends Mack Laing Trust issue back to court


Council vote sends Mack Laing Trust issue back to court


Comox Town Council voted 5-2 this week to continue designing a viewing platform to replace naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home, rejecting any other proposals for the property, as it prepares to head back to the BC Supreme Court.

The town has petitioned the court to alter the 37-year old trust left by one of the community’s pioneers, even though it has done nothing over nearly four decades to live up to the terms of the trust.

The recent vote at this week’s regular council meeting was on a motion by Councillor Ken Grant to proceed with one of three options presented to council by Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan.

The option referred to in Grant’s motion was to send comment sheets from the March 27 public workshop back to the designers of the viewing platform and to request a redesign. It was amended to include input from K’omoks First Nation and the Mack Laing Heritage Society.

The other two options were to approve the original concept and, lastly, to “consider a completely different proposal as decided by council.”

By rejecting the last option, Town Council has effectively abandoned any thoughts of saving Shakesides, and will eventually pursue its original petition to the court with a slightly different platform design.

Councillors Nicole Minions and Stephanie McGowan cast the only two votes opposing the motion.

“Councillor McGowan and I voted against moving forward with the platform as we want to explore options around Shakesides,” Minions told Decafnation via email after the meeting.

Councillor Alex Bissinger, who voted with the majority to approve the motion, said her understanding of the vote was “that it will be up to the AG (Attorney General’s office) to decide whether or not saving Shakesides is in the books.”

All three councillors — Minions, McGowan and Bissinger — voiced their frustration with the public workshop process, which they felt was unfairly manipulated in favor of a viewing platform. Mayor Russ Arnott did not present workshop participants with any option other than a viewing platform.

The Mack Laing Heritage Society wanted workshop participants to consider its proposal for saving Shakesides as a community volunteer project, but town staff, with the Arnott’s support, denied the MLHS workshop participation as well as a later request to host a table outside of the workshop meeting room.

The three councillors also refuted Arnott’s characterization of a March 6 council decision as affirming that saving Shakesides was no longer an option.

The three councillors said they did not vote at that meeting to demolish Shakesides, only that whether the house was saved or not, some details of the trust couldn’t be honored and needed court approval to forego them.

Arnott became combative as each councillor spoke in turn, often interrupting each speaker. He interrupted Councillor Minions often, once to admonish her for saying council voted on Feb. 6 to put the matter into abeyance for three months.

Arnott said the abeyance wasn’t for three months, rather for “up to three months.” Yet, he did not bother to correct CAO Kanigan’s report, which they were discussing at the time, that also stated “the three month abeyance ….”

Under normal codes of conduct, only one councillor or director of a municipal government has the floor at any one time, and other councillors or directors show respect by refraining from interrupting or calling out comments during that time.

Arnott appeared to be debating each of the three women as they voiced their concerns.

The day after the Town Council meeting, Arnott reached out via email to MLHS President Kris Nielsen to invite him or another representative of the society to participate in last-minute design changes to the platform.

Nielsen declined the offer because he said spending time on the design of a viewing platform was premature, referring to possible outcomes of the now inevitable Supreme Court trial that might deny the town’s petition.

“So for me to entertain some speculative designs/problems is just not in the cards,” Nielsen wrote to Arnott. “I could point out the image of the cart way out in front of the horse picture, but I will refrain from that.”

The town’s petition was first heard by a Supreme Court Justice last April.

A court ruling on the town’s petition could have been made nearly a year ago, but the three Supreme Court dates held so far have been consumed with attempts by the town to deny the MLHS an ability to present its evidence to the court.

The town eventually lost that battle and the upcoming trial will hear evidence from the town and the Attorney General’s office, as well as the Mack Laing Heritage Society.



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Town creates confusion, rift over Mack Laing process

Town creates confusion, rift over Mack Laing process

Hamilton Mack Laing  — BC Archive photo

Town creates confusion, rift over Mack Laing process


Rather than create a period of community reconciliation over the 37-year mishandling of the Mack Laing Trust, the Town of Comox has used its self-imposed 90-day abeyance of legal action to ignore opposing visions for the famed naturalist’s park and heritage home.

In doing so, the town has also created a rift within the Town Council.

It now appears that, despite the expectations of the public and some council members, the Town of Comox never intended to discuss options for saving the famous naturalist’s home, called Shakesides, during the abeyance.

Since the Feb. 6 Town Council meeting when the abeyance was passed on a 6-1 vote, the town has not entertained any ideas other than its original plan to demolish the house and erect a viewing platform.

The town has not held any good faith discussions with the Mack Laing Heritage Society to search for mutually agreeable ideas that could avert a lengthy and costly trial at the B.C. Supreme Court. Nor has it called for an external, independent audit to determine an accurate accounting of the trust’s current value.

This approach appears to be driven primarily by Mayor Russ Arnott, who cast the only vote against creating the 90-day abeyance.

In public communications, the office of Arnott and town Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan has suggested that because council voted on March 6 to continue “with the modification of the trust in its current format or a modified proposal,” that, therefore, saving Shakesides is no longer an option.

Arnott reinforced that interpretation at last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting and public engagement workshop on visions for Mack Laing Park. Arnott was asked by a Comox resident why the workshop was limited to considering only a single vision — the viewing platform.

“Council voted for modifying the trust. We’re moving forward, not going backwards,” Arnott said.

But not all council members agree with Arnott’s interpretation.

“Speaking for myself, that is not what I voted in support of,” Councillor Alex Bissinger said in an email response to Decafnation.

“My intent with that motion was from the understanding that anything that defers from 1. restoring the house and converting it to a nature museum 2. having an onsite caretaker 3. having the property in that exact location and 4. storing (Mack Laing) artifacts in said museum, would require modifications to the trust, therefore needing to proceed with the court action,” she said.

Bissinger brought the motion forward to council.

“I am still of the opinion and mindset that saving Shakesides is an option, and from the workshop held last week an interesting option came to light, which was to handle it all as a community project. I have emailed the CAO and Council such that this option be discussed in our RCM (regular council meeting) Wednesday,” she said.

Councillor Stephanie has a similar perspective.

“Due to the specifics of the trust, I believe it is going to have to be modified in some way as I don’t believe archives and certain things are feasible and safe to keep on site without risk of damage. However, this vote, in my mind, did not mean Shakesides being restored was not an option,” she said in an email response.

“There seems to be some confusion, however, and as a team, (we) will need to clarify, both with each other and the public,” McGowan said.

Councillor Nicole Minions declined to comment, but did say, “We will be discussing Mack Laing and the Public Session during our upcoming Regular Council meeting this Wednesday, April 3rd, which will open communication of our Council business in the public.”

Arnott did not respond to a request to comment for this story.


What is the value of Laing’s trust?

The exact current value of the financial trust Mack Laing left to the Town of Comox has never been conclusively determined by an external audit.

The town claims Laing left $48,000, an amount disputed by by the Mack Laing Heritage Society. They say the amount was about $60,000.

After the town confessed to spending trust money inappropriately since the world-renowned naturalist died in 1982, they added funds that brought the total to $261,474. But according to an independent audit commissioned by Comox resident Gordon Olsen several years ago, the trust should be valued closer to $500,000.

The discrepancies stem from how the money was invested, the revenue received from renting the house for more than 30 years, missing funds from the sale of Laing artwork and donations to a never established Art Trust, unrecognized inappropriate expenditures and other miscellaneous items.

Only an external audit by an external accounting firm, such as Deloitte or KPMG, could bring closure to that issue.


Is the building worth saving?

Those who support tearing down Shakesides and replacing it with a viewing stand believe the building is not worth restoring. The Mack Laing society disagrees.

At last week’s public workshop, Comox Resident John Tayless noted there was an assumption being made at the meeting that Shakesides could not be saved.

“But other engineers say it can and that the building is recoverable,” he said.

Asked how the town determined the building wasn’t restorable, Comox Parks Manager Al Fraser said a “cursory report” was done, but he admitted it was “not comprehensive.” Fraser preferred to call the report a “soft pass.”

“Let’s say there’s still considerable work to be done in that regard,” Fraser told the audience.

And later when MLHS President Kris Nielsen asked if the town had commissioned any professional assessments of the heritage value of Shakesides, Fraser said, “no.”

The Mack Laing society has organized more than two dozen community volunteers from the construction industry and created a business plan for restoring Shakesides as a community project.


Comox Heritage Register

Councillor Stephanie McGowan gave notice of a motion expected at this week’s council meeting to establish a Comox Heritage Register. Comox is the only municipality in the Mid- and North Island that doesn’t already have a heritage register.

Registering buildings with heritage value opens up a broad range of potential funding for maintenance and capital improvements. Heritage sites like the Filberg Lodge and The Little Red Church could benefit.

The Mack Laing Heritage Society has already paid a provincial heritage consultant to complete a Statement of Significance for Shakesides and Heritage BC has promised substantial grant funding for its restoration.

The chairman of Heritage B.C., a provincial agency committed to “conservation and tourism, economic and environmental sustainability, community pride and an appreciation of our common history,” believes the heritage value of Shakesides demands that Laing’s former home should be “conserved for … future generations” and that the Town of Comox should “use the building in ways that will conserve its heritage value.”

Heritage B.C. has also offered its assistance, at no charge, to the Town of Comox, for the duration of the process to repurpose Shakesides, and has all but guaranteed a provincial grant through the Heritage Legacy Fund Heritage Conservation program.



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Directors challenge legitimacy of advanced recycling technologies

Directors challenge legitimacy of advanced recycling technologies

Entrance to the Comox Valley landfill, where tipping fees are calculated  / George Le Masurier photo

Directors challenge legitimacy of advanced recycling technologies


New directors of the Comox-Strathcona Solid Waste Management Board have called into question the legitimacy of a special committee exploring new waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies.

And new Area B Director Arzeena Hamir has suggested some at least one of the WTE committee members met privately and inappropriately with one of the technology proponents.

Director Hamir

The committee, which originally named itself the WTE select committee but later changed its name to the Solid Waste Advanced Technologies (SWAT) committee, had explored methods of extending the life of north Island landfills at the Pigeon Lake dump.

Landfills are expensive to construct, and just as expensive to close when they are full.

The provincial Ministry of the Environment has ordered the closure of all existing landfills on the north Island at an estimated cost to taxpayers of just over $38 million. This includes landfills in Campbell River, Gold River, Tahsis and Zeballos.

All residential and commercial garbage that cannot be recycled or reused will be dumped into new high-tech landfills, also at Pigeon Lake, that minimize methane gas emissions and the leaking of toxic liquids into the ground. But each of these new landfills cost $10 million to construct and almost as much to close.

So new technologies that claim to reduce the amount of garbage dumped into landfills by 90 percent was obvious. Landfills would last longer, and the expense to taxpayers would decline.

But nothing is ever that simple.

The former SWAT committee members had leaned toward Sustane Technologies, a company that says it can recycle all forms of plastic and transform it into biodiesel pellets. They sell these pellets to other companies who burn it for energy.

Sustane does not yet have any functioning facilities using their technology, although Nova Scotia will pilot a project.

But Hamir and new Comox Director Alex Bissinger question whether that process — proven or not — constitutes any environmental benefit.

“What is the carbon footprint of these new technologies,” she said at the most recent solid waste management board meeting. “And shouldn’t we incorporate this (the net carbon footprint) into our analysis of them.”

Hamir wants the technologies re-evaluated to include climate change, carbon footprints and any impact on the entire solid waste management system, which includes recycling and a new organics composting facility.

Area A director Daniel Arbour said he supported a staff recommendation that ultimately passed to update the SWAT committee’s terms of reference to include emissions from burning the end product of the new technologies.

“If it really reduces the carbon footprint, then it should help reduce costs and increase diversion,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect the committee to recommend anything counter to the board’s mission.”

Hamir said the committee’s name change hides the fact that burning the product of any technology “is still waste-to-energy.”

Bissinger agreed and wanted clarification of whether such a technology actually achieved diversion under the Ministry of Environment’s definition and regulations.

Ministry officials told the solid waste management board in October that it must divert a minimum of 350 kg per capita of solid waste before the province would approve the use of any new technologies. And further, that the use of new technologies would require an amendment to the CSWM Solid Waste Management Plan. And that could trigger expensive studies and new regulations before implementation.

The previous SWAT committee, chaired by former Area B Director Rod Nichol, had operated on the assumption that the ministry’s diversion requirement was just a guideline, not a rigid number. But the October presentation and follow-up letter made it clear that was not the case.

Hamir also suggested that at least one member of the SWAT had met privately with Sustane Technologies, and did not declare the meeting or the substance of the meeting to the whole committee. She did not name the director.

Also, a budget issue

Area C Director Edwin Grieve supported the recommendation to update the SWAT committee’s terms of reference, and added a concern that Comox Valley taxpayers will pay an unfair share of the $38 million to close historic north Island landfills.
He raised the issue because some north Island directors oppose the use of a tax requisition to pay for the closure of historic landfills. They propose paying for the closures solely out of tipping fees (the charge individuals and commercial enterprises pay to dump garbage at the landfill).

The cost will be spread evenly among the 66,537 Comox Valley taxpayers and 43,000 north Island taxpayers. But the cost to close historic Comox Valley landfills totals just shy of $15 million, while north Island lands will cost more than $23 million to close.

“In terms of fairness, it appears that residents of the Comox Valley are paying the majority of the closure costs with the majority of the benefits going north of the Oyster river,” Grieve said in a personal letter to the CSWM board.

Grieve favors a tax requisition to pay for the closure of the historic landfills.

“The big cost facing us is the closure of the landfills and for that we must use taxation,” he said.


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Random thoughts about yesterday’s municipal elections

Random thoughts about yesterday’s municipal elections

The anti-tax wave turned into a progressive tsunami in Courtenay; Long undercuts Jangula; 48% of Cumberland voters cast a ballot and a woman of color will contribute her world view to the regional district


This article was updated Oct. 30 to correct information about the Area C election and previously to correct the vote totals on the Cumberland referendum

As the Comox Valley awoke this morning, stumbled into the kitchen and stared vacantly out the window at a spectacular sunny late October day, were people thinking about the whirlwind six-week election campaign that ended last night?

Or were they still stoned from too much Legalization Day celebrations? Hung over from too much Election Night joy? Or, just seeing a yard full of maple leaves begging to be raked up?

Well, over here on Nob Hill, at the international headquarters of the Decafnation, we were thinking about what voters were thinking. What the election results mean, and what they don’t mean.

We did notice that of the 22 mayors, councillors and regional directors elected yesterday, Decafnation recommended 18 of them.

But in our own decaffeinated stupor this fine morning, these random thoughts passed through …

— Did Harold Long split the non-progressive vote and derail incumbent Larry Jangula’s bid for re-election? Jangula finished second to mayor-elect Bob Wells by 438 votes. Harold Long got 1,165 votes.

Long and Jangula feuded over a pact that Long says the pair made four years ago. Long would support Jangula in 2014 if Jangula supported Long in 2018. Long says Jangula reneged on the deal and Long ran anyway.

FURTHER READING: Detailed election results here

— The Comox Valley Taxpayers Alliance tried to rally the fiscal conservative vote, but did it actually show up? The CVTA endorsed six candidates for council and Jangula for mayor. Mano Theos was their only candidate to make the cut.

But looking at the mayor’s race, Jangula and Long captured 3,677 votes, more than Wells and Erik Eriksson, who received 3,597. A mere 80-vote differential.

On the other hand, Courtenay voters — where the CVTA exclusively focused their “taxes are too high!” message — elected a nearly unanimous progressive council. Theos is going to feel a little lonely for the next four years.

So, what to conclude? Jangula probably had individual popular support. Long cost him the election. But overall the efforts of the CVTA, despite all the money they spent on full-page advertising, didn’t make a difference. It may even have triggered a counterproductive effect by rallying progressive voters.

— We were surprised that Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird’s opponent got even 229 votes.

— It’s a cliche, we know, but every vote does count. Incumbent Roger Kishi missed re-election by 2 votes. And the Comox Valley lost an important voice of diversity.

— We don’t think there’s a provision for recounts in municipal elections. Why not?

— Which community had the highest voter turnout and which was the worst? It was no contest. Cumberland had a 48.0 percent turnout the highest in the region. The Comox Valley’s worst was the rural electoral areas at 28.7 percent.

Courtenay had a 37.1 percent turnout and Comox had 40.4 percent. Campbell River did the worst of all at 25.4 percent. Qualicum was the best regionally with 58.9 percent. Parksville had 43.5 percent and Nanaimo did well at 40.3 percent.

— How did mayors fare compared to their elected councillors? Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird got 83.25 percent of the vote, the highest of any Comox Valley candidate. No village councillors got a higher percentage, but Vickey Brown topped the polls with 63.6 percent.

Mayor-Elect Bob Wells got 40.56 percent of the vote, and five councillors grabbed a higher percentage of the vote. Will Cole-Hamilton topped the city polls with 48.6 percent.

Comox Mayor-Elect Russ Arnott received 61.8 percent of the vote. Two of his council members got more, including Alex Bissinger who topped the polls with 63.9 percent.

— In a move that will benefit the entire Comox Valley, Cumberland voters gave their Village Council approval to borrow up to $4.4 million to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant by a substantial margin: 1,011 to 316.

Voters really had no choice because the village has to upgrade its operations for face potential fines from the Ministry of Environment for being out of compliance with provincial standards. But the strong “yes” vote gives the village extra leverage in obtaining grant external funding and lowering the amount it has to borrow.

— Courtenay voters also approved a non-binding request for City Council to undertake a study of Valley-wide governance reforms all the way up to amalgamation. It will be interesting how this study evolves, if at all, because Cumberland and Comox haven’t expressed interest. The vote was 4,734 yes to 1,494 no.

— Vickey Brown, who stepped down as a school trustee to run in the Cumberland municipal election, topped the polls, besting re-elected incumbent Jesse Ketler by 44 votes. Brown previously sought a council seat in the 1990s and lost by just 10 votes.

— Erik Eriksson was the first Comox Valley candidate to announce his campaign. Just over a year ago, incumbent councillor Eriksson said he was running for mayor, a move criticized by some as starting the campaign too early. But it did force other mayoral hopefuls David Frisch — who later dropped out to re-run for council — and Bob Wells to announce their intentions just four months later.

Eriksson finished last in the four-way race for mayor. Was it because he announced so early? Did he ruffle too many feathers with his council colleagues by refusing to abide the chamber convention of referring to each other as “Councillor Hillian,” etc., and using just their first names?

Or did he lose progressive supporters by voting with Jangula, Theos and Ken Grant on 3L Developments proposed amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy? While the optics of Eriksson’s action may have cost him support from anti-amendment voters, he did it to continue the consultation process, including a public hearing.

Eriksson’s fears materialized when 3L filed a multi-faceted lawsuit just three days before the Oct. 20 election, essentially alleging that the Comox Valley Regional District didn’t give their proposal fair consideration.

— It’s interesting that voters convincingly supported Edwin Grieve in Area C, despite being banned from 3L discussions at the CVRD board table because of a settlement agreement of a Human Rights Tribunal complaint made by a 3L executive. Voters gave Grieve a vote of confidence.

— For the first time, a woman of color will represent a CVRD rural electoral area. Arzeena Hamir, who defeated incumbent Rod Nichol in Area B, was born in Tanzania, East Africa, moved to BC in 1973, served as a CUSO volunteer in Thailand, where she’s fluent in the language, and spent time in India doing field research for a Masters degree in sustainable agriculture that she earned from the University of London, England.

— Finally, more than half of the Comox Valley school district board of trustees were elected by acclamation (four out of seven). Why is there so little interest in the school board?  (Full disclosure, Decafnation did not profile school trustee candidates or survey them on education issues. Nor were we able to profile every mayoral and council candidate.)