Tensions rise as Liaison Committee explores integration for CVRD, CVEDS

Tensions rise as Liaison Committee explores integration for CVRD, CVEDS

A display inside the Comox Valley Visitors Centre, which now houses the CVEDS offices  |  George Le Masurier photo

Tensions rise as Liaison Committee explores integration for CVRD, CVEDS


Members of a committee investigating the potential for integration of Comox Valley Economic Development Society (CVEDS) operations with the regional district agreed on a short list of possible shared services at their inaugural meeting last week.

The committee instructed Comox Valley Regional District and CVEDS employees to consider collaboration on financial accounting, the audit process and related costs, office space, website and communications and human resources including staff evaluation and training. Visitor Centre operations were also seen as worthy of discussion by the committee and a presentation on the topic was requested for the next meeting.

But there wasn’t complete agreement or clarity on the larger issue of the scope of the committee’s authority and responsibilities. 

Deana Simpkin, president of the CVEDS board, asked whether she and board members Mike Opal, Bruce Turner and Paul Ives were full members of the committee or serving in an advisory capacity. Turner wondered if the board’s role, in general, had been changed.

In his opening remarks, Committee Chair Doug Hillian addressed that issue saying he hoped the group would work collaboratively and that their work would result in a closer relationship between CVEDS and the CVRD.

“This is uncharted territory, there have been significant contract changes,” Hillian said. “The rationale is that the relationship in the past has not been as close as it might be and this has led to conflict.”

Hillian assured CVEDS board members they were full participants in the Liaison Committee and called the committee’s work a “shared responsibility.”

And he added that “nothing was off the table” for discussion and invited “general comments” from everyone.

But tensions rose when Area B Director Arzeena Hamir commented on the committee’s responsibility “to collaborate in the ongoing review and clarification of contract deliverables,” according to Section 15 of the new CVEDS contract.

And she later asked CVEDS Executive Director John Watson a series of questions about a late three-month report, why minutes of the Economic Recovery Task Force haven’t been made public and why the society hadn’t held a required Annual General Meeting in 17 months.

That didn’t sit well with CVEDS board member Paul Ives who characterized comments about “deliverables” — actions required by the contract — as committee members “taking shots at each other.”

“I’m troubled by this line of questioning,” he said. “Why are we putting CVEDS staff on the hot seat? The CVRD questions are inappropriate.”

Hamir responded that it was “definitely within the purview” of the committee to ask questions of staff and appropriate to check on contract deliverables.

Chair Hillian said if the committee was going to work collaboratively and with transparency, then questions could be asked. CVRD General Manager of Planning Scott Smith also approved the questioning.

Hillian suggested CVEDS could answer Hamir’s specific questions at the next committee meeting when he hoped Watson could “attend the whole meeting.” Watson came late via teleconference to the first meeting and left early.



CVEDS board member Bruce Turner, who attended via teleconferencing, said that reduced funding from the regional district had made it impossible for the board to meet its fiduciary responsibility. He and other board members said the new budget was hampering operations and that a reduced staff didn’t have time to fulfil all their reporting requirements.

Simpkin said there is “a backlog behind the scenes” because one staff member chose to leave and CVEDS had laid off three Visitor Centre staff. The society currently has eight staff members.

She said this lack of resources has put pressure on staff, many of whom are working from home.

For CVRD Director Hamir, the funding concerns raised the question of where regional district responsibility ends and where CVEDS responsibility begins.

“Both boards were aware of the terms of the agreement when they signed the contract, including the funding,” she said. “The contract spells out what needs to be done and when. The ‘how to do it’ is up to CVEDS. These are separate jurisdictions.”

CVRD Director Maureen Swift said the funding issue was the purpose of exploring greater integration with the CVRD.

“CVEDS can’t operate as it has in the past with the new contract,” she said.

Hillian closed the meeting hoping for better collaboration.

“It’s inevitable there would be a little tension considering the difficulty in getting to this point,” he said.



When CVRD directors couldn’t agree on CVEDS future by the March 31 contract deadline, they chose to sign a two-year agreement with the understanding that the matter was unresolved. That agreement provided for the formation of a Liaison Committee comprising members from the CVRD and CVEDS boards as a means to assure better communication and that deliverables were meeting CVRD expectations.

The next meeting of the Liaison Committee is at 1.30 pm on Oct. 19.

Meanwhile, the CVRD board is holding a two-day workshop next week in an attempt to find common ground among directors about the future of economic development.




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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

Comox Valley regional directors will decide fate of Economic Development Society

Comox Valley regional directors will decide fate of Economic Development Society

Exterior of the Visitors Centre managed by the Comox Valley Economic Development Society  /  George Le Masurier

Comox Valley regional directors will decide fate of Economic Development Society


The first in a series about the Comox Valley Economic Development Society

Sometime early next year, the Comox Valley Regional District board will decide whether to renew its five-year, $1.2 million annual contract with the Comox Valley Economic Development Society.

As part of its decision-making process, the board will review an independent report on whether the society has fulfilled the current contract signed in 2015. It will also review and either approve or disapprove of the society’s latest five-year strategic plan.

The nonprofit society, commonly known as CVEDS, has strong supporters and outspoken critics across many sectors of the community for both the value of its work and for the arms-length organizational model under which it operates.

Depending on your point of view, that model either frees economic development from political interference and has stood the test of time or it lacks financial oversight, public accountability and transparency. CVEDS either does great work or it creates events simply to get funding with little concern for their outcomes. It has either built valuable partnerships or it has burned too many bridges within the community.

And although the regional district’s original agreement with CVEDS was for the provision of economic development services, it now specifies that nearly two-thirds of local taxpayer funding ($750,126 in 2019) be directed toward operation of a Visitor’s Centre and destination marketing activities.

That has raised concern among some about how much economic development work CVEDS actually does or whether it primarily produces and promotes tourism events.

And that, in turn, opens debate about how promotion of lower-paying tourism jobs raises the level of a community’s economic health and sustainability.

To help the regional directors make their decision, a Vancouver consulting group, Explore Solutions, is currently doing a review of whether CVEDS has met its contractual obligations. 

But there are issues beyond the terms of its contract with the CVRD, which expires next year on March 31. Directors also have the difficult and perhaps political task of determining whether their constituents have — or, perceive to have — received sufficient value for their million-plus tax investment.

That evaluation is not within the scope of the current contract performance review.

But it was addressed in a similar independent review commissioned by the CVRD in 2014. 

“It is not so much that CVEDS is not meeting its contractual requirements … it might not be meeting them in a way that is entirely satisfactory to significant segments of the community,” wrote Urbanics Consultants in 2014.

CVEDS Executive Director John Watson acknowledges that issue.

John Watson

“We won’t do everything for everybody,” he told Decafnation recently. “The board decides our strategic vision and local governments approve it. Not everyone will be happy with the decisions of government.”

So it will depend on nine regional directors from Courtenay, Comox and the three electoral areas to decide whether the Economic Development Society has done enough for the sustainable economic prosperity of the Comox Valley to warrant a new contract. Cumberland has opted out of CVEDS funding and has no vote

And it is these regional directors who must conclude whether the CVEDS board has provided an acceptable level of oversight and public accountability to earn not just local tax dollars, but also the public’s trust.

The directors have many options open to them. They could ask for structural changes in the society. They could decide to take the service in-house as most surrounding municipalities have done. And they could debate whether a different organizational model would better serve the separate needs of economic development and tourism.

Whatever it decides, the regional board’s course of action seems almost certain to be controversial.

Directors’ views differ

The Economic Development Society is funded by taxpayers in Courtenay, Comox and the three rural electoral areas, and managed by a board of 11-voting directors plus non-voting representatives from each participating electoral area or municipality. Its contract with the regional district is to provide economic development services, destination marketing for tourism and management of the regional Visitors Centre.

The Village of Cumberland withdrew from participation in CVEDS services in 2016 because it saw little return on their investment.

All candidates running for office in the village’s 2014 municipal election supported withdrawing from the regional service. There was consensus among the candidates that CVEDS had done nothing to help develop the village’s industrial lands, despite the fact that Cumberland has the most industrial-zoned property available in the Comox Valley.

“Cumberland hadn’t been happy for a long time,” Village Mayor Leslie Baird told Decafnation. “We weren’t being recognized, and looking at the money we paid in per capita, we understood there was better value going on our own.”

Baird also saw CVEDS as evolving into an event production company, which she doesn’t believe has value for economic development. And, she said, the society’s destination marketing activities mainly promote hotels, which Cumberland doesn’t have.

Area A Director Daniel Arbour agrees on that point.

“The destination marketing function is focused on Courtenay and Comox. It has no value for rural areas or the shellfish industry,” he told Decafnation. “But it seems to be the biggest aspect of their (CVEDS) work.”

Mac’s Oysters, one of the shellfish businesses operating in Baynes Sound

Arbour, a Hornby Island resident with a background in economic development, said his area’s workforce is powered by shellfish, forestry, retirement and commuters.

He thinks the BC Seafood Festival, which is CVEDS’s single largest initiative held in June, possibly generates tourism in the shoulder season. But, he said, “the tactic is not the goal.”

“A measurable end goal is whether there’s an increase in licenses in Baynes Sound. The goal is to increase GDP and maintain the viability of the industry,” he said. “The shellfish industry is not growing. Growth in Area A will come from the developments in Union Bay.”

Asked whether he considers the current CVEDS arms-length organizational model as the best for delivering economic development services, Arbour said every model will have its pros and cons.

“But they all should have measurable outcomes determined by community engagement,” he said. “It would be better if the CVRD and CVEDS worked together on a strategic plan.”

The current process is for the CVEDS board and staff to create a strategic plan and present it to the CVRD board for approval or disapproval.

After the 2014 performance review of CVEDS, Area C Director Edwin Grieve said, “We need to see improved transparency, public consultation and communication.”

He thinks those corrections have been made.

“Historic oversight concerns from 10 years ago may have been the result of lack of interest or engagement by CVEDS members,” he told Decafnation. “It is proven that leaving any staff without clear direction, they usually develop their own.”

Grieve said, to misquote John Lennon, “The community you take is equal to the community you make.”

Grieve says the advantage of the current arms-length model allows the Economic Development Society to take full advantage of grant funding opportunities that are unavailable to municipalities and regional districts.

“It currently leverages about a dollar for every dollar,” he said. “It also helps that this separation (from politics) insulates the body from the temptation to constantly change directions due to political interference.”

Area B Director Arzeena Hamir is an organic farmer and owner of Amara Farms in Merville who got into agriculture to do economic development overseas, which she did in Thailand, India and Bangladesh.

She supports a grassroots approach to economic development that involves finding out the needs of local businesses and addressing them. But she says CVEDS doesn’t always do it that way. And she references a $35,000 Request for Proposal to develop a strategic plan that included robotics, genomics and artificial intelligence in agriculture.

“What farmer in the Comox Valley said they needed that?” she told Decafnation. “Not surprisingly, the consultant who filled that contract spent very little time on robotics, genomics or AI.”

Hamir also thinks CVEDS has become an event management company. And she wonders if that focus can create the economic outcomes the Comox Valley expects?

For example, she points to the annual Farm Cycle Tour as an example of a CVEDS initiative that doesn’t translate into large economic benefits for farmers.

“I myself, and the farmers I’ve spoken to, do not benefit long-term from the Cycle Farm Tour. It’s an education and outreach day. Our customers are not out-of-town tourists. It takes a full day away from farming to give away samples, but make few sales. We lose money,” she told Decafnation.

If CVEDS really wanted to develop the agriculture economy, she says they would bring around chefs or food buyers who might become regular volume buyers. Or, she says they could start buying local food for the Seafood Festival.

“Is it our own seafood that makes the Comox Valley special? Otherwise, you could do it anywhere,” she said. “Highlighting local food at the Seafood Festival would be a form of economic development.”

Paul Ives, the former Comox mayor and a long-time director on the CVEDS board,
told Decafnation that at one time CVEDS was doing nothing for the Town of Comox.

“Then I got involved and together we created the marina improvements, and now the development of the airport lands,” he said. “It’s incumbent on elected officials to participate and see what they can achieve.”

Ives also credits CVEDS, and Watson in particular, with pulling the recent Comox Mall renovation together. There was a point when the town and the new owners weren’t on the same page, and Watson stepped in to work out the differences, according to Ives.

Ives says the arms-length society model has worked and “stood the test of time.”

Courtenay City Councillor Melanie McCollum isn’t convinced.

“Economic development and destination marketing delivered as regional services is a good approach for our community – however, I’m not convinced that having these two things delivered under one contract is the best model,” she told Decafnation. “CVEDS has very limited staff capacity, and is providing a lot of event planning, which is destination marketing, but the work being done on economic development is less obvious and not as well communicated to the public.”

McCollum, who is Courtenay’s delegate to the CVEDS board, hears from people who would like to see more emphasis on supporting industry sectors that provide higher paying jobs, such as technology and education.

Next: The history of the Comox Valley Economic Development Society and what they do today










The five-year agreement with CVEDS differs from other CVRD contracts for services. Because the regional district created the nonprofit society through Bylaw 345, the agreement for economic development services is not open to competitive bids. There is no Request for Proposal issued and the CVRD does not consider proposals from any other individuals or companies.

On June 1, the CVRD provided a letter to CVEDS that it would enter into negotiations for a potential five-year renewal of the contract after it receives the society’s new strategic plan on Oct. 31 and following an independent contract performance review due by Dec. 31.

However, the letter did not commit the CVRD to a new agreement, according to Scott Smith, the regional district’s general manager of planning and development services branch.

But Smith also confirmed that the CVRD has no Plan B. There is no parallel process underway to investigate alternate models of providing economic development services should negotiations with CVEDS not result in a renewed contract.





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Supreme Court rules in favor of Mack Laing Heritage Society

Supreme Court rules in favor of Mack Laing Heritage Society

The Mack Laing Heritage Society has won a major legal battle to force the Town of Comox to honor trust agreements with the famous naturalist


AB.C. Supreme Court judge has facilitated an agreement so the Mack Laing Heritage Society can present its evidence in a case that will decide the future of the famous ornithologist’s iconic home and clarify the status of his trust agreements.

In a hearing in Nanaimo this week (April 17), Justice Douglas W. Thompson asked lawyers for the town and the B.C. Attorney General’s office why they objected to the court hearing the “armful of evidence” submitted by the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS).

Justice Thompson then pointedly asked the Attorney General’s representative how she could fulfill her obligations as a “defender of public trusts” without all the information in the case.

And he asked the town’s lawyer, of the Vancouver-bassed Young Anderson law firm, what questions the town did not want MLHS to ask in court.

By the end of the five-hour court session, the town’s lawyer and the AG’s office had agreed to grant intervenor status to the MLHS with “no restrictions whatsoever” on the evidence the society can introduce into the proceedings, which will be held in late May.

It was a major win for the MLHS and a defeat in round one for the Town of Comox.

FURTHER READING: Town of Comox confesses: we misspent Laing’s money; Link to all Shakesides stories

The town has petitioned the court to vary the terms of the Mack Laing trusts — there are three — in order to demolish Laing’s heritage home, which he willed to the town, and use the money Laing also left for purposes other than those the acclaimed naturalists intended.

The MLHS had sought official standing in the case. “Standing” meant that the society could introduce nine affidavits totally about 500 pages of evidence that purport to negate the basis of the town’s petition, and, if successful, could have recovered its legal costs from the town.

Local builder Bunker Killam, who rented Shakesides for the first nine years after Laing’s death, sets up croquet in the front yard. Killam said the house was in good condition while he lived there.

By granting the MLHS intervenor status with “no restrictions,” Justice Thompson has cleared the way for the court to consider all of the society’s evidence. But if MLHS succeeds in defeating the town’s petition, it will not be able recover its court costs.

MLHS President J-Kris Nielsen said, “”Had we been offered this deal months ago, we would gladly have taken it. All we wanted was the chance to present the evidence we have collected from a wide array of sources and individuals, together with the historical facts from these sources, seen through different eyes, plus ask questions in order to get answers from town officials.

“The justice recognized the value of these different documents early, and made it clear that he did not see why this information should not be at the disposal of the court?,” Nielsen said. “Now our 11 affidavits and 120 or so exhibits are fully vested in the upcoming Supreme Court Hearing.”

According to Nielsen, the “genius of Justice Thompson” showed up in the last half hour of the April 17 court session, when he maneuvered the proceedings around with “carrot and stick tactics” to bring about a conclusion, surely saving a full day of court time from playing out.

“It was all done with one question (to the Town of Comox and the AG representative),” Nielsen said. “What question is it you want the society NOT to ask?”

Asked if he cared to comment on the outcome of the court session, Comox Mayor Paul Ives said, “Not really — the matter has been adjourned to the week of May 28 in Nanaimo.”

There could still be a mediated settlement in the case if the town decides to cap its incurred legal expenses — speculated to be heading toward $75,000.

And it’s still unclear whether the MLHS, or other community organizations or individuals, could file civil lawsuits against the town for breaches of trust.

Background of the case

The town has petitioned the court, under a specific section of the Community Charter, to vary the “terms applicable to money held in trust if a municipal council considers the terms or trust to no longer be in the best interests of the municipality.”

MLHS wants the court to see painstakingly detail how the town has misspent Laing’s money, disregarded the intention of his three trusts over a 36-year period and misstated facts to the court corroborated by its own documents.

The town passed a resolution 32 days after Laing’s death in February of 1982 to rent Shakesides and several months later, in August, started spending the rent money and interest earned on Laing’s cash gift on items beyond the scope of the trust agreements.

One pressing issue is whether the town can demolish Laing’s home, which he gave to the Comox community for the purpose of establishing a natural history museum.

But MLHS also wants the court to order a forensic audit of the Laing trusts.

MLHS contends the town has misstated the amount of cash Laing left them after his death in February of 1982 and that the trust today should be worth up to nearly $500,000.

Can Shakesides be restored?

According to Guerdon “Bunker” Killam, a developer and home builder, who lived in Shakesides for nine years, from 1982 to 1990, the house was in good condition when he moved in and he continued to improve it during his tenure.

Killam said Shakesides is “a very well built small house in excellent condition.”

But during the town’s 36-year stewardship, the house’s conditions has declined. The town even rejected an offer by MLHS to provide free labor to install a waterproof covering over the leaking roof until the court is settled.

Meanwhile, a number of Comox Valley businesses have added their names to the list of those willing to donate time and/or services to renovate Shakesides.

According to Gordon Olson, a friend of Laing in his latter years, Lacasse Construction has committed to donating some work to restoring the house. Comox Valley architect Tom Dishlevoy will donate some design work, and Three Oaks Flooring will donate labor for refinishing the house’s wood floors.

Masonry trades people and window specialists have also made commitments.



Requiem for a Garry Oak prairie

Requiem for a Garry Oak prairie

Requiem for a Garry Oak prairie

DND tried to save it, Town of Comox allowed it to be destroyed


Comox has just lost the last remains of the 6,000+ year-old Cape Lazo Garry oak prairie.

Until last year when the Department of National Defense took an active interest in this site, it was a poorly- stewarded one- to two-acre corner of land at the bottom of the Comox Valley airfield fronting Knight and Kye Bay Roads. This original part of what must have been Dr. Walter Gage’s father’s farmland, was converted on the eve of WWII into the airfield that we know today as CFB Comox.

Before 1860, most of that was a rich traditional Pentlatch Garry oak meadow. It was together with the lower Tsolum Valley “Comox Prairie” the original wealth of the valley in which British pioneers settled. These last two acres was all that remained of 65 square kilometres (25 square miles) of a northern Californian flora and fauna, that we know today as “Garry oak ecosystem,” and it even had some stunted wind-blown Garry oaks.

From a floristic point of view, this site was a charm. It was a site I regularly took visiting botanists to. They came from the USA and Victoria, to view the native flowers and grasses amidst the Comox garbage and vandalism.

Top photo: The prairie before it was destroyed. This photo: What it looked like after clearing for development

New plants, often not found anymore in and around the rest of Comox and Courtenay, such as red maids (Calandrinia ciliate) which are otherwise only found locally on Hornby, would be spotted about every second year. So we are still uncertain as to what lay hidden in the site’s soil seed bank.

A one day count in April 2017 identified 28 species of native flowers ( camas, harvest brodeia, Hooker’s onion, Chocolate lily, Scouler’s popcorn flower, and the list goes on) a carpet of purple and gold. Nobody had time to study the pollinator populations, and the Western bluebirds have been long-gone, probably with insects unknown.

Again, we will possibly never know the full extent of our children’s losses.

For years, everybody, including DND who put signs up to limit trespassing, thought that this was DND land. For conservationists, this was a boon, although it limited access, DND has an excellent record of responsible stewardship. Indeed, last year when it was pointed out that the site was being vandalized by ATV’s and was becoming an unmanageable and illegal dumping site overgrown by broom, DND mobilized soldiers to remove broom and garbage, and the erected a gate to limit illegal access.

FURTHER READING: Town of Comox fines resident $10,000 for pruning Garry Oak trees

We had every reason to hope that with responsible stewardship, this site would one day be an important regional conservation legacy.

As it turns out, the land is private. And it is within the administrative boundary of the Town of Comox, whose uncontrolled development policies have laid waste the Lazo Sand Dunes ecosystem area over the past two years.

Garry oaks on private land have been extirpated and native flora replaced by Kentucky turf. That is largely because Comox mayor, Town Council and staff either don’t care, or are ignorant of Comox’s natural heritage, or are hell-bent on development vandalism, which they seem to have a well-honed reputation for. Sadly, they are the town’s “representatives.”

In either case, DND learnt indirectly that it was not the owner of this piece of land, and was unable to buy it from the new owner, who it seems had no problems obtaining building and development permits from the Town of Comox on what any other town would have classed “ecologically sensitive habitat.”

Comox, after all, has no real tree by-laws or special environmental permitting requirements that would encourage landowners to manage land responsibly, for the benefit of other Canadians. If the political leadership is lacking and only exhibits a tendency to systemic ignorance, reckless vandalism, and disregard to the public interest, one should not dare expect private landowners to meet a higher standard.

So the new landowner did what every almost every other landowner in the Comox Valley before him has done: he hired an excavator to strip the topsoil and “improve” the building site, undoubtedly assuming it was a valueless field, and never having been told otherwise. He is not to blame. We all do it, and he sought permits and guidance from the Town of Comox.

We have lost the last remnant of our native grass prairie. At a time when this planet is experiencing a species collapse unmatched since the Cretaceous (65 million years ago), this is more significant than it seems. This prairie survived all the insults we threw at it since white settlers arrived, and stole it. It is proof that we have been the worst stewards imaginable.

Even those of us who claimed to care, myself included, did not care enough to check the title, we took for granted DND ‘s claims, and what local environmental organizations told us. So we failed all those other species whose DNA we share, and handed our trust and future over to Comox Council and staff.

It is exactly that ill-placed trust that drives mass extinction, and climate change, every day.

Loys Maingon is the Conservation Chair of Comox Valley Nature


FURTHER READING: What is a Garry Oak?; 


Shakesides supporters encouraged, hearing adjourned

Shakesides supporters encouraged, hearing adjourned

PHOTO: Mack Laing cutting a Douglas fir with a Wee McGregor, a mechanical bucker, on the Comox waterfront in September 1925. — B.C. Archives

NOTE: This article was updated at 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 15

Shakesides supporters encouraged, court hearing adjourned to April

A B.C. Supreme Court hearing scheduled for this morning (March 15) to determine whether to grant standing to the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) in the Town of Comox’s application to vary one of the famous ornithologist’s trusts has been adjourned until April.

MLHS lawyer Patrick Canning had a medical emergency and could not attend. In a written statement to Supreme Court Justice Robin Baird, Canning asked for the case to be adjourned. Lawyers for the Town of Comox and the B.C. Attorney General’s office wanted to proceed anyway.

But saying he had spent time reading much of the nine affidavits submitted by Comox Valley citizens and organizations, such as Comox Valley Nature, Justice Baird said  “the society has an arguable case and it should be heard.”

“I’m not pre-judging the case, I’ve just read the materials,” Justice Baird said. “There are serious issues at stake; it’s been 36 years; and, the vindication of a will.”

Justice Baird seemed to encourage the town’s counsel and the AG lawyer not to oppose standing for MLHS.

“Obviously, there has to be a hearing,” Justice Baird said. “Unless counsels can decide, upon reflection, that it’s not necessary … we can get to the merits of the case sooner.”

And later while discussing a date for the adjourned hearing, Justice Baird said again “but if counsel can come to terms (about granting standing to MLHS), let the trial coordinator know (in order to cancel time for a hearing on standing).”

When all parties agreed to adjourn to April 16 in Nanaimo, Justice Baird left with what may or may not have been an intentional whimiscal comment.

“We’ll let nature takes its course; it has been 36 years,” he said.

Supporters and opponents of the town’s petition attended the court hearing, as did four member of Comox Town Council: Mayor Paul Ives and councillors Russ Arnott, Marg Grant and Maureen Swift.


ORIGINAL STORY: B.C. Supreme Court to hear Shakesides arguments today

The B.C. Supreme Court will hear arguments this morning (March 15) in Courtenay whether to grant “standing” to the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) in a case that will decide the future of Laing’s historic home, Shakesides.

MLHS lawyer Patrick Canning will argue that nine affidavits totalling nearly 500 pages of evidence compiled by Comox Valley citizens and organizations, negate the basis of the Town of Comox’s petition to vary one of three trusts given by Laing to the community.

The Town of Comox has opposed standing for MLHS. The town hopes to shield the citizen’s evidence and exhibits from the court.

FURTHER READING: What is “standing?”

The town wants to demolish Laing’s iconic home, which he willed to the town, and use the money he also left for purposes other than those the acclaimed ornithologist intended.

The town has petitioned the court, under a specific section of the Community Charter, to vary the “terms applicable to money held in trust if a municipal council considers the terms or trust to no longer be in the best interests of the municipality.”

J-Kris Nielsen, president of MLHS, said “justice would only be served” if the court considers all the facts and evidence.

Nielsen said the nine affidavits that MLHS wants the court to see painstakingly detail how the town has misspent Laing’s money, disregarded the intention of his three trusts over a 36-year period and misstated facts to the court corroborated by its own documents.

Granting “standing” would mean the MLHS lawyer could present the affidavits to the court to consider in ruling on the town’s petition.

But, if the Supreme Court does not directly grant standing to MLHS, the affidavits may still be considered by the court.

MLHS filed a counter-petition this week challenging many of the facts in the town’s original petition, and the town must respond. Nielsen said that could get the most critical information before the court.

It’s possible the court will not rule on the town’s petition or the MLHS’s counter-petition at this sitting. It could put the matter over until its next session in July.

At issue is whether the town can demolish Laing’s home, which he gave to the Comox community for the purpose of establishing a natural history museum.

The MLHS wants the town to preserve Shakesides as a heritage site, and to create some form of a natural history museum, as Laing wished.

The town wants to build a viewing platform, despite having already built a viewing platform just footsteps aways from Shakesides, on the site of Laing’s original home, called Baybrook. The town tore down that house in 2015.

MLHS also wants the Supreme Court to order a forensic audit of the Laing trusts.

MLHS contends the town has misstated the amount of cash Laing left them after his death in February of 1982 and that the trust today should be worth up to nearly $500,000.

FURTHER READING: Town of Comox confesses, we misspent Laing’s money!; More Mack Laing articles

Comox Council and staff admitted in December to misspending Laing’s money, and have put funds back into the trust. It is now worth $256, 305.98, according to the town’s petition.

That’s a significant increase in the trust’s value from the $70,000 the town told a 2016 citizens advisory committee. The committee eventually recommended demolition, although several members disagreed and presented a contrary minority report to the Town Council.

It’s likely the committee would have made a different recommendation if it had known there was more than a quarter-million dollars available for restoration and fulfillment of Laing’s trust. And that money could have been leveraged up, including an offer of funds from Heritage B.C., which has urged the town to preserve the building.

Who was Hamilton “Mack” Laing?

Hamilton Mack Laing was a naturalist, photographer, writer and noted ornithologist, whose work from the Comox waterfront from 1922 through 1982 earned him worldwide recognition.

Laing gave his waterfront property, his home, substantial cash and personal papers from his estate to the Town of Comox “for the improvement and development of my home as a natural history museum.” The town accepted the money and, therefore, the terms of the trust.

But 36 years later, the Town of Comox has done nothing to satisfy his last wishes and mishandled the money Laing left, raising serious ethical and legal questions, which the B.C. Supreme Court may ultimate answer.

Laing moved to Comox in 1922, cleared his land and built his home from a “Stanhope” Aladdin Ready-Cut kit. In 1927, he married Ethel Hart of Portland and they established a successful and commercial orchard which included walnut, pecan, filbert, hazelnut, apple and plum trees. They also grew mushrooms and vegetables.

After his wife, Ethel, died in 1944, he sold his original home, Baybrook, and built a new home, Shakesides, on the adjoining lot.

Shakesides’ heritage value

An independent and nationally recognized heritage consulting firm issued a Statement of Significance regarding the former home of naturalist Mack Laing — known as “Shakesides.” They said the building is of national importance and that it should be saved for its historic value and for the enjoyment of future generations.

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 offered its assistance, at no charge, to the Town of Comox, for the duration of the process to repurpose Shakesides, and pretty much guaranteed the town a provincial grant through the Heritage Legacy Fund Heritage Conservation program.

The town has ignored Heritage B.C.’s offer.

FURTHER READING: Who are the B.C. Supreme Court justices?