North Island College nursing students host climate forum for Courtenay election candidates

The North Island College nursing program hosted a Courtenay all-candidates forum discussing climate change on Tuesday, Oct. 4 at Stan Hagen Theatre.

Two of the three mayoral candidates – Aaron Dowker and incumbent Bob Wells – were present, along with nine of the 18 council candidates.

Incumbents David Frisch, Wendy Morin, Will Cole-Hamilton and Doug Hillian, were joined by Evan Jolicoeur, Brennan Day, Steffan Chmuryk. Michael Gilbert and Jin Lin.

(Incumbent Melanie McCollum missed the event due to a death in the family.)

The event was moderated by nursing student Courtney Wilson.

After opening comments, the 11 candidates were split into groups, with each group being given its own questions on how the climate crisis can be addressed at the municipal level.

The first question dealt with green energy.

The use of renewable energy sources is closely associated with decreased greenhouse gas emissions. If elected, how would you promote the use of renewable energy sources in the City of Courtenay? (42:00)

Group 1 consisted of Jolicouer, Dowker, Morin and Frisch.

Jolicoeur said helping people make greener choices, EV infrastructure, retrofits, and amplifying the provincial and federal grant opportunities would all help.

Regarding EVs, Dowker questioned the sustainability of lithium and said he believes cycling is the long-term answer.

Morin said while greener choices are the goal, it must be looked at through a social equity lens, and make sure those with limited incomes are not left to fall into the cracks.

Frisch added that getting children involved in active transportation (i.e. walking/biking) to school would save a lot of vehicle usage.

Group 2, comprising Day, Chmuryk and Cole-Hamilton, was asked their opinions about clean water.

Current research suggests that climate change is melting glacial ranges, including the Comox glacier. This glacier, which is estimated to be gone by 2050, is a primary source of drinking water for the city of Courtenay. If elected, how will you take action to protect it? (47:00)

Day agreed that the glacier “will likely be gone within my children’s lifetime” but pointed out that the concept of saving the glacier with the budget of the City of Courtenay is naive. He is in support of consistent residential metering.

Chmuryk has concerns that the city is not properly prepared for the expected increase in population.

Cole-Hamilton said xeriscaping and other water retention plans must be considered.

Group 3, which included Gilbert, Hillian, Wells and Lin, was asked about air pollution, particularly surrounding wood burning.

Air pollution from wood burning and wildfire smoke migration has decreased the City of Courtenay’s air quality below acceptable limits. Air pollution is associated with multiple health problems. If elected, how will you minimize air pollution in the City of Courtenay? (50:30)

Gilbert said we can’t outlaw wood stoves, but as a city, we should be relying more on electricity and natural gas.

Hillian pointed out the city is prohibiting wood stoves in new construction, which will help with the transition to cleaner sources of heating.

Wells said the city has taken steps to make sure there are grants and incentives available to help people transition, and for those who don’t want to, the regional district has been offering a woodstove training course, teaching people how to properly burn wood. “Those classes have been absolutely packed for years.”

Lin said she has banned summer campsite fires at the Maple Pool Campground & RV Park for the past seven years. “I’m just doing my part, my duty, to help a little bit.”

Group 1’s next question was about Indigenous climate justice.

Climate change and urban development have negatively impacted the capacity of Indigenous peoples to engage in land-based cultural activities – such as foraging, harvesting, hunting, and fishing. If elected, what actions will you take to ensure the inclusion of the K’ómoks First Nations in decisions about local land use? (56:30)

Frisch said the partnership with K’ómoks First Nation has been consistently improving.

Morin said one of the four focuses of the Official Community Plan is on reconciliation. “We take that seriously and we have asked for the voices of our Indigenous (neighbours).” She said it is also particularly important to consult with KFN whenever construction encroaches upon foraging land.

Dowker suggested making it allowable for First Nations Peoples to hunt on farms.

Jolicoeur said urban development equates to modern colonization, and the KFN people must have control of their land.

The next question, directed at those in Group 2, focused on ecosystem preservation.

Forests and wetlands store and capture carbon. Currently, less than five per cent of the Comox Valley’s older forests and wetlands remain intact. If elected, how will you work with other Comox Valley municipalities, the K’ómoks First Nations, and the provincial government to increase the protection and restoration of our regional forests and wetlands? (1:01:00)

Cole-Hamilton said agencies such as CV Land Trust and others work hard to retain land. He said it is challenging with private ownership of land, but the proposed Regional Parks and Trails Service could assist in that regard.

Chmuryk said each of us has a connection to nature, while Day said we need to work with the logging companies and have to reinstate the ‘right to roam.’

Group 3 was then asked about emergency preparedness.

Climate change is associated with increased extreme weather events and an increased likelihood of natural disasters in the Comox Valley. If elected, what actions will you take to proactively prepare for and increase our communities’ resilience to natural disasters? (1:06:00)

Lin said food is a must and we must make sure we have things stored at home, and have supplies until the government can help.

Wells said the newly opened water treatment project has really helped prepare the community moving forward.

Hillian noted the emergency preparedness workshops put on by the district have been helpful. “We have resources we just need to mobilize them and engage our community to make sure everybody is prepared to work together.”

Gilbert said you need to know your neighbours. Stock up. Don’t go crazy.

The candidates also discussed food security (Group 1; 1:11:00), climate justice – helping the most vulnerable (Group 2; (1:15:30) and urban development (Group 3; 1:34:00).

ALSO: Courtenay candidates discuss homelessness, crime and reconciliation
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