Forest of Democracy

Forest of Democracy

 

by Danny Zanbilowicz, Publisher Island WORD

This election year, things are happening which may mean something, or nothing at all.

For example, this year the Chamber of Commerce did not sponsor their usual all-candidates’ public meeting. Instead they organized a last-minute trimmed down version. There were explanations that involved critiquing the old format, (Ed. note- the “speed-dating” Chamber event was well received by participants) but the truth is- the Chamber was busy doing something else- spearheading a public campaign to garner support for “governance review”. In spite of anyone’s protesting otherwise, the reason people would go to the considerable trouble of initiating governance review is to discuss, and promote “amalgamation”.

Which would mean the unification of our urban communities and part or all of the Comox Valley Regional District into one big governing body, like “Comox Valley”, or perhaps “Greater Courtenay”.
Certainly there are strong arguments for governance review, or examining how our area is divided into separate jurisdictions- Cumberland, Courtenay, Comox and the RD, each with its own elected reps, and staff. For example- our ecosystem and wildlife corridors don’t recognize boundaries- nor do our systems of water distribution and waste management- better to think of them in terms of a regional whole. Then there’s the costly triplication of services like police, fire, and administrative staff.
Opponents of governance review of any kind worry that a shift in the power structure will undermine the ability of smaller communities like Cumberland, or rural areas to determine their own destiny. The fear is that Courtenay in particular, and development interests in general, will dominate the agenda, and transform especially rural lands on the borders of the municipalities into fodder for development and sprawl. People fear the loss of their own cherished neighbourhoods, but also the changed character of our whole area.
Every few years, the topic comes up- the campaigning goes on, and people are asked to choose whether to change, or stay the same. So far the status quo has won out. But the Chamber, and its allies are interested in reviewing that. Fair enough. At any rate, expect to hear much, much more on the subject in the coming months.
A second tidbit of interest comes from recent newspaper reports about a kerfuffle concerning the Regional District’s implementation of its Rural Official Community Plan. Directors on the Regional board from the City of Courtenay and Town of Comox expressed displeasure at changes to how residents in Settlement Expansion Areas are consulted during attempts to amalgamate and develop their neighbourhoods. Some of the urban directors felt they were not properly informed of the changes, which presumably compromise the ability of urban municipalities to bring lands on their borders into their jurisdiction.
Then there’s Ron Coulson’s recent onslaught of ink and paper directed at the City of Courtenay.
Coulson took out double full-page ads in both local newspapers castigating the City’s staff for their drawn-out processing of his application to develop a residential property, forcing him to cancel the project, and not spend all of the millions of dollars that could have gone into our economy.
Coulson may have a point. There are problems at City Hall. This is a valid and important question- how does Courtenay measure up compared to other municipalities of similar size in terms of the difficulty of obtaining development permits? We should try and find out, and the WORD welcomes all information on the subject- if you have a relevant experience, and/or informed opinion, please add a comment at the end of this article. Coulson should be credited for bringing up the subject.
But one thing is clear. Ron Coulson, for the most part, has not had any trouble getting his way. The subdivisions and shopping malls and commercial developments around Crown Isle attest to his success.
The location of the new hospital in the heart of Coulson’s realm, remains a subject of controversy. The site has been criticized as difficult for emergency vehicles to access, at a busy corner which has some of the highest accident rates in the region, and on a property perhaps too small for expansion, among other serious issues.
It would be a mistake to equate all of Mr. Coulson’s efforts with the general public good, in spite of his bountiful millions, and his pleas. He is a powerful businessman, trying to influence public opinon for his own benefit. The development process is designed to protect the public interest, and we should be very cautious about any efforts to undermine it.
When in a subsequent pair of full-page ads Coulson jumped on the Maple Pool bandwagon, linking his struggles with those of the Lins, it seemed he had gone too far. The Friends of Maple Pool quickly issued a public statement distinguishing their cause from Mr. Coulson’s.
So- what, if anything, does it all mean? The Chamber of Commerce commits its energies into exploring a new model of “governance”.  Courtenay and Comox councillors take issue with a Regional District move for preserving rural lands. Ron Coulson publicly attacks Courtenay City Hall for not making it easier for him to develop his subdivision.
No one is impugning motives, or the substance of anyone’s activities. But taken together, these recent events suggest at least one thing- development is high on the agenda.
How does all this affect the election?
For me it’s the traffic jams that are causing a bit of panic- mid afternoon, or weekend, trying to make a left turn from Ryan Road onto the Old Island Highway: the line of traffic goes back solid all the way past Superstore. Gridlock, already. This is new, and it is a vision of the future.
As the pressures of increased traffic mount, so will the urgency for some kind of desperate solution, like a third bridge, about which discussions are underway. A causeway over the estuary will radically change this place. I prefer it the way it is.
Of course, if many more people came here, we could afford to put in good public transportation- maybe even a commuter train. But is that what we want here? The lower mainland all over again?
This election, I will support candidates who are encouraging but cautious about development, who want to balance it with a genuine interest in preserving our natural richness, and especially our farmland; who take climate change seriously as a local issue, including policies for encouraging more energy-efficient construction models; who are willing to act decisively on homelessness and stop the blathering; who believe government has a role in fostering and encouraging the arts; who are not embarrassed to stand up for vital regional issues, like, yes- tanker traffic on our coastal waters, oil pipelines, and LNG terminals- these are the candidates I will support. And, in Courtenay, anyone committed to ending the ridiculous lawsuit against Maple Pool.
Please get out and vote.