Comox candidates answer questions

Candidates address tax breaks, possible youth centre, rainbow crosswalk and other issues

Comox mayoral and council candidates were asked a series of questions relating to the town, as well as the district. Candidates were asked to respond with a YES or NO, with the opportunity to expand on their answer. All 11 candidates (2 mayoral, 9 council) participated. Mayoral candidate answers are placed first, in rotating fashion. Council candidate answers are placed in alphabetical order.

1) Are you in favour of initiating a single-use plastic bag ban for retailers in your community?

Russ Arnott –YES – Will consult with the affected businesses as to the best way forward for implementation.

Tom Diamond – YES/NO answer not given

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Alex Bissinger – YES – I would encourage the discussion with retailers to ban single-use plastic bags (ie plastic bags at the till)

Don Davis – YES

Ron Freeman – YES – However, I would rather see the retailers do this voluntarily as opposed to being legislated to do it.

Ken Grant – YES – As long as the merchants of Comox are OK with it.

Chris Haslett – YES – I am in favour of a ban.

Stephanie McGowan – YES – Very soon there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. If Costa Rica can do it, we can also.

Pat McKenna – YES – I have always been an advocate for banning single use plastic bags. When I was store manager of Home Depot we actually convinced the Home Depot corporation to allow us to eliminate bags in conjunction with a Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce push to reduce single use plastic bags back in the late 2000s. My position on the environment is clear. Do everything humanly possible to reduce what is going into the landfill.

Nicole Minions – YES – I believe strongly in this initiative happening across Vancouver Island and would like to see it Comox Valley wide. The negative effects on single use plastic is devastating for many eco-systems.

Maureen Swift – YES – It is on my website.

2) Would you support tax incentives for developers to increase the number of multi-unit residential rental properties in Comox?

Tom Diamond – YES – Multi-unit residential properties are the key to a more affordable future for all income levels. Not only do they provide a greater range of housing options, but they add more local services when they include first floor commercial units. They also help reduce infrastructure costs by concentrating infrastructure use and maintenance into a smaller footprint. And they reduce vehicle traffic by increasing density of population, and encourage living and working within a smaller geographic area.

Progressive municipalities should provide tax and other incentives that encourage developers to build multi-unit, multi-use buildings with more affordable rental, owner and commercial spaces. But developers aren’t the only ones who deserve a tax break. Let’s also reduce taxes for citizens, as part of a broad-based, multi-pronged approach that tackles affordability for middle and lower income earners.

We can make life more affordable for everyone with more housing options, more multi-use buildings, lower property taxes, better public transit, more well paid jobs by attracting more employers, and a more vibrant economy that spreads infrastructure costs, while providing more services and amenities for small town living. There is so much more we can do in Comox. Time to think big!

Russ Arnott – YES – They would have to show a willingness to ensure there is an affordable housing component to the development.

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Alex Bissinger – YES – An increase in multi-unit residential rental properties in Comox would benefit residents of all demographics.

Don Davis – YES

Ron Freeman – YES – Since Comox has little to no land of its own to develop multi-unit residential rental properties so we need to work with developers so some are created. There also may be other alternatives to just straight tax incentives. There is a need to be creative so that units can be built.

Ken Grant – YES – We are already doing that with our downtown revitalization plan. We grant Comox property tax incentives for eight years. Since if they didn’t build we would not collect that tax anyway, it comes at no cost to the taxpayer.

Chris Haslett – YES – I would support incentives. I think that the more multi-unit properties available would allow for a downward trend in rental pricing and availability.

Stephanie McGowan – YES – Comox currently has a tax incentive program to encourage downtown residential densification in conjunction with commercial development. This program is proving successful and I would like to see it expanded to include much needed affordable rental housing. I know how hard it is for young families to find affordable, decent rental housing in Comox.

Pat McKenna – YES – I’d be in support of incentives like DCC waiving, density bonusing

Nicole Minions – YES – Rental properties are needed across the Comox Valley with dire vacancy rates for tenants. Rental properties are required for students, families and those in our Comox work and volunteer force. Incentives can be created for renal properties as well as on developments for sale to set aside a portion for the rental pool.

Maureen Swift – YES – Affordable housing is in great need on our valley.

3) Do you believe that the trafficking/distribution and consumption of illicit drugs (cannabis notwithstanding) is an issue in your constituency?

Russ Arnott – YES

Tom Diamond – YES – Substance abuse, both illicit and legal, is a complex social problem that crosses all economic lines, even in sleepy Comox. Although Comox has an excellent safety record, we need to remain vigilant because crime related to illicit drug use is rising. We need to proactively address it with smart, effective, multi stakeholder solutions.

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Alex Bissinger – YES – It is present, though it does not appear as flagrant as in other communities.

Don Davis – YES

Ron Freeman – NO – It is not as visible as in Courtenay perhaps but it is in our community. Since it is more hidden I don’t think people feel it is an issue at this point.

Ken Grant – YES – I think it is an issue throughout our country. We get quarterly reports from the RCMP and we will follow their recommendations.

Chris Haslett – NO

Stephanie McGowan – YES – We must look at the bigger picture when it comes to drug use and the opioid crisis. This needs to be tackled on a multi-governmental, multi-disciplinary level.

Pat McKenna – YES – The opioid crisis knows no boundaries

Nicole Minions – YES – With the increase of fentanyl deaths and general illicit drug use, there is an issue in the Comox Valley that should be addressed through more education at a community level.

Maureen Swift – YES – I am gravely concerned about the number of people using drugs in our country. It seems to be very prevalent and impacts everyone. We take our lead from the RCMP.

4) Do you believe the Comox Valley RCMP is adequately staffed to effectively combat the drug trade in Comox?

Tom Diamond – YES/NO answer not given

Russ Arnott – YES/NO answer not given

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Alex Bissinger – YES

Don Davis – NO

Ron Freeman – YES/NO answer not given

Ken Grant – YES – In Comox yes we get reports quarterly and the we are one of the safest communities in B.C. We currently pay for 11 officers and the chief has not recommended hiring more.

Chris Haslett – YES – I feel that Inspector Mike Kurvers will do a great job assessing the needs of each community and dispatching his force appropriately.

Stephanie McGowan – YES/NO answer not given

Pat McKenna – YES – I think so, but I would require more research.

Nicole Minions – YES – I have seen the Comox Valley RCMP as well as fire departments and BC Ambulance respond effectively. Ongoing, the research, education and community support can always be looked at to be a growing resource for those using or recovering from illicit drug use.

Maureen Swift – YES – I have to trust that the RCMP have asked for adequate staffing to meet the needs of our community.

5) Would you support the installation of a permanent rainbow crosswalk at an intersection in “downtown” Comox?

Russ Arnott – NO – After an earlier council debate, the Town of Comox has opted to fly the pride flag at our town hall.

Tom Diamond – YES – I would like to gauge the opinions of Comox citizens on this. However, I feel support for diversity should go far beyond symbolic gestures. I will always work hard to ensure equal opportunity, treatment and accessibility for everyone. We must work against discrimination and encourage inclusive communities, workplaces and schools. I have a great deal of experience with hiring and selection, and have designed tools that select people with the best skills, while eliminating discrimination and other biases from the hiring process. If elected, I will review our municipal selection practices to ensure we are making the best staffing decisions.

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Alex Bissinger – YES – Absolutely – how is it we do not have one already?

Don Davis – YES

Ron Freeman – NO – Three reasons for this. Firstly, a crosswalk is one of the features at an intersection so pedestrians can safely get across the street. The white stripes on black is a caution to drivers that pedestrians may be near. Secondly, if we allow one interest group to paint their colors/logo on the street it then opens it up for other interest groups to do the same with the possibility that you have colors and logos where crosswalks used to be which negates the safety feature for which it is designed. Thirdly, I do not think the majority of tax payers would like to see their tax dollars go towards the painting and maintaining of a rainbow crosswalk when there are more pressing demands.

Ken Grant – NO – Rainbow crosswalks are controversial. I don’t believe that council should enter into issues that divide our community.

Chris Haslett YES/NO answer not given

Stephanie McGowan – YES – I would like to see the town forming partnerships to fund a rainbow crossing as I am aware they are more expensive, as well as consult with the stores downtown on location. If we were to place one, I would suggest placing it on Comox Avenue on the cross walk near the cenetaph, where it would have a lot of impact, but also be shorter and less expensive to make and keep up.

Pat McKenna – YES – For sure. I am running on a platform of diversity and acceptance.

Nicole Minions – YES – I have seen rainbow sidewalks being installed in communities across British Columbia. It is important to support the LGBT community and embrace everyone who lives, works or travels to Comox.

Maureen Swift – NO – I would prefer to find other means to be inclusive in our community. These crosswalks have provided a means for some people to demonstrate intolerance through vandalism.

6) There are facilities in Comox where youth can do things (i.e. the Comox Community Centre, 19 Wing Community Centre), but there is no dedicated Youth Centre. If youth in Comox want such a facility, they have to go to Courtenay. Would you support the creation of a youth centre in Comox, similar to the LINC Centre in Courtenay?

Tom Diamond – YES – There are too few youth and family activities in Comox, particularly in the winter. We could use a youth centre, a BMX/skate park, a Comox pool and aquatic centre, an extended seaside boardwalk all the way to Goose Spit, and a revitalized downtown that stays open after 5 p.m.

I’d love to see more family friendly dining and shopping, a people-only promenade from Comox Avenue down to the Marina, a Granville Island style public market, and an extended walking/biking path network that connects all of Comox and gives our youth much safer and more enjoyable self-powered travel to school, friends, work and recreational opportunities. We can afford this Comox upgrade through planned growth and smart economic development.

My sense is the majority of Comox agrees, but we need more clear understanding from better public input systems that represent all ages in community decisions—more online polls, telephone surveys and informal discussion forums would better gauge public opinion on this and other important Comox issues.

Russ Arnott – YES

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Alex Bissinger – YES – Absolutely. I would love to have a similar youth centre right here in Comox. The youth seem to be a population somewhat uncatered to in Comox.

Don Davis – YES

Ron Freeman – YES – My hope is to attract more families into Comox and so we need to have a place for the teens to congregate besides the Anderton/Guthrie corner, Highland and the wood by the Francophone school. I would also like to see the town budget for a street worker to reach out to the teens in Comox.

Ken Grant – YES – If it can be well run and monitored.

Chris Haslett – YES

Stephanie McGowan – YES – In the past, when there was a teen centre at the Comox Community Centre, it was a well used facility and a resounding success. I would like to work with youth to see what their needs are and find a possible location.

Pat McKenna – YES – Growing up I was part of a youth centre. It was an intricate part of my teen years. The youth of Comox are our future and we must give them every opportunity to feel like they belong and that there is a place for them to shine.

Nicole Minions – YES– I would support a business case to be done for a Youth Centre in Comox. It would need to look at the capital cost, ongoing cost, structure and when a feasible option; include the opinions and feedback of youth and high school students across the community.

Maureen Swift – YES – I would love a youth centre. It is important for youth to have a place to gather and be engaged productively.

7) Are you in favour of increasing the number of settlement nodes within the Regional Growth Strategy, to facilitate future development in the Comox Valley?

Russ Arnott – YES/NO answer not given

Tom Diamond – NO – Let’s increase downtown core density and vibrancy first, before expanding out. Let’s follow the existing regional growth strategy that defines where and how citizens want growth, which is primarily downtown Courtenay and Comox. But growth has stalled in the downtown cores, and few of the revitalization ideas proposed in the official community plans (OCPs) have come true. As a result, poorly channeled growth throws developers, residents and councils into a pressure cooker where they all fight over zoning changes. But zoning changes shouldn’t be the focus. Instead, municipal governments should boost development in the downtown cores by making building permitting and approvals more streamlined and clear, by encouraging more projects in areas that do not require zoning changes, and by providing more financial incentives that attract developers to the downtown core.

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Alex Bissinger – NO – We need to start by densifying. Increasing nodes ends up putting financial stress on infrastructure and services. there is still opportunity to build up/densify within the existing nodes.

Don Davis – YES/NO answer not given

Ron Freeman – YES/NO answer not given

Ken Grant – YES/NO answer not given

Chris Haslett – YES

Stephanie McGowan – YES – The current Regional Growth Strategy was created through an immense amount of community involvement, and any amendments need to follow suit with the same robust public consultation process.

Pat McKenna – NO – Stick to the regional growth strategy. Amendments and proposals should be encouraged but the settlement nodes have been defined.

Nicole Minions – NO – Not at this time, I would like to see densification in the current settlement nodes across the Comox Valley. Utilizing the services that are already available in these areas.

Maureen Swift – YES/NO answer not given

8) Do you support the proposed amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy to facilitate the residential development near Stotan Falls?

Tom Diamond – NO – Let’s increase downtown core density and vibrancy first, before expanding out, as per my answer above.

Russ Arnott – YES/NO answer not given

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Alex Bissinger – NO – Not at this time.

Don Davis – YES/NO answer not given

Ron Freeman – NO – This is a pristine area. The current proposal is too big for this area.

Ken Grant – YES/NO answer not given

Chris Haslett – YES/NO answer not given

Stephanie McGowan – NO – We must take great care with any development taking place in such a world renown, incredible area. A robust public consultation process needs to happen, especially since we would need to amend the Regional Growth Strategy. I look forward to taking part.

Pat McKenna – NO – In my career I am always advocating for more housing but the 3L development proposal is one that I cannot support at this time. Development must be controlled and varied. It seems the current proposed development plan not only proposes to change the Regional Growth strategy but that it is also over-allocated for single-family housing. The lack of density on such a large amount of property leads me to believe that this is wrong plan at the wrong time. Communities make a plan for a reason and we need to stick to the intent of the original strategy while still remaining open to developers with a plan that fits that strategy.

Nicole Minions – NO – I am opposed to the residential development near Stotan Falls.

Maureen Swift – YES/NO answer not given

9) Are you in favour of the Comox Valley Agriplex project, as it is currently being proposed?

Russ Arnott – YES/NO answer not given

Tom Diamond – NO – Let’s develop a conference centre in downtown Courtenay instead. For example, if the Florence Filberg Centre were expanded, then we could build on less expensive infrastructure, revitalize the downtown core, and increase economic activity for local business.

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Alex Bissinger – NO – It is an interesting project but not one that i see having merit to being funded at this time.

Don Davis – YES– (Yes or no doesn’t always work as I am not conversant with the details and would support the most viable suggestion.)

Ron Freeman – NO – There are too many variables at this point so more public consultation needs to be done as well as a rethinking of the master plan.

Ken Grant – YES/NO answer not given

Chris Haslett – NO

Stephanie McGowan –NO – This would be very much up to the tax payers, as it could have huge tax implications. I am also somewhat concerned that it is to be located on ALR land which in the future may have higher value for other purposes.

Pat McKenna – NO – A purpose built facility that will serve more people closer to downtown would be something I am interested in. Not a single-use facility built in a floodplain.

Nicole Minions – NO – As current proposal stands, I am opposed due to the cost on the taxpayers vs. the number of the community that would benefit from the project.

Maureen Swift – YES – I believe our Valley could do with a larger convention complex. I suspect we lose opportunities by not being able to provide the right-sized facilities.

10) Are you in favour of conducting a study, in partnership with the Province of BC, to review the governance structures and policies of the Town of Comox and other local governments within the Comox Valley to consider the feasibility and implications of restructure?

Tom Diamond – NO – Amalgamation may be inevitable, but probably not anytime soon. Courtenay would benefit, but Comox would lose through certain higher taxes and likely, if unintended, declines in service quality.

The question to study amalgamation was rejected by Comox and Cumberland for this election’s ballot. My sense is most Comox citizens are not interested.

However, right now we can keep the dialogue open and active between all three towns, and continue to tackle Valley-wide issues together through the existing regional structure.

Furthermore, if elected I would like to help Comox better stand on its own two feet, and lighten some of the service and traffic burdens we contribute to Courtenay.

If Comox develops a stronger more independent economy, then we keep more shoppers and diners from traveling over the bridges, better local jobs would reduce commuter line ups during rush hour, more and safer multi-modal pathways would also reduce the traffic load, and a larger population could contribute more healthcare, law enforcement and social services that Comox citizens now rely on from Courtenay.

So by making Comox more economically independent, we could reduce Comox’s footprint on Courtenay infrastructure and services. This could help Courtenay better tackle its debt and upgrade its services, and grow into a more attractive partner for amalgamation in the future.

Russ Arnott – YES – Costs to perform such a study would have to come from the province.

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Alex Bissinger – YES – Yes, provided the right items are examined in the study. I would want to make sure we have a proper business case analysis so we can objectively weigh the pros and cons and put a number to it, see whether or not it makes sense for Comox- from first view it is unfavorable for Comox residents as Comox is debt free. I would also want residents to weigh in on their desire to have the local governments restructure before going too far into it.

Don Davis – NO

Ron Freeman – YES– Reviews are always good to make sure we have best practices in place and we are being fiscally responsible. If that means we share resources and have to restructure some areas to make that happen I think that is good for everyone in the long run.

Ken Grant – YES – Governance comes in many forms restructure is but one. A study would help us determine if there are better ways govern for example the regional district is looking at a utilities commission to help make better decision re water and sewer that would be a change in governance but not restructure.

Chris Haslett – YES

Stephanie McGowan – NO – Comox is in an enviable position in that we are debt free and we have managed to keep taxes relatively affordable. I do know that when the amalgamating of Comox and Courtenay came up last time, 78% of Comox citizens, after receiving the facts, voted no on amalgamation because of the large tax impact on Comox residents. If we end up voting on amalgamation, it is imperative that Comox’s vote is counted separately. I am much more interested in partnering to share services, like we do with our pools and ice arenas, and look at the equalization of fee’s for our recreational facilities.

Pat McKenna – YES – I think it’s always prudent to study this to ensure that the taxpayers wishes are being observed. There maybe an opportunity to amalgamate services but I believe that it would be difficult at this time to talk one government in The Comox Valley.

Nicole Minions – NO – At this time I am against amalgamation with Courtenay and Cumberland. With that belied, having the study done does not make sense in my opinion. Comox is debt free and we have shared public services through the Comox Valley Regional District.

Maureen Swift – YES– I am in favour of a governance review. I believe we are always looking for ways to improve efficiencies in government. At the regional level, we have been exploring alternate models for managing the sewer and water utilities.

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