Following an extensive discussion at Wednesday’s Comox council meeting on the contentious topic of the Mack Laing Trust, council ultimately decided on a three-month abeyance to continue an information gathering process.
Last year, following the municipal election, Town staff presented a report requesting council’s direction with an application currently before the court to modify the Mack Laing Trust.
A decision was made to defer a decision until the new year.
The application is seeking approval to modify the trust from the current requirement to convert Laing’s former residence Shakesides to a nature house and instead remove the home and construct a viewing platform with the funds held in the trust.
The Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) has objected to the Town’s proposal and had applied to the court for standing in the Town’s application to modify the trust so the society could state its objections to the proposal. The MLHS wants the Town to fulfil the original terms of the trust. The MLHS was not successful in its application for standing. However, the court granted the MLHS intervenor status, and the ability to present evidence supporting its position.
Council received documents and plans from the MLHS and the Friends of Mack Laing Nature Park, along with several pieces of correspondence on the issues.
Mayor Russ Arnott presented each councillor the opportunity to express their opinions about the trust.
Stating the decision is complex, Coun. Pat McKenna noted he doesn’t believe in breaking the trust of a donor.
In a prepared statement, Coun. Maureen Swift reminded council the topic of Mack Laing’s trust has faced a variety of councils for numerous years.
She believed the Town should proceed with the alteration of the trust, and that a viewing platform and plaque is a compromise to honour the legacy of Laing.
Stating “it’s more of a moral issue,” Coun. Alex Bissinger noted council needs to look at a good operational plan and ensure whatever the result, it will not be a burden to taxpayers. She suggested an abeyance on court proceedings in order to find a “win-win” solution within the next couple of months while speaking with all involved parties.
“I feel like we’re stuck between two things and I see multiple shades of grey … I see it as a challenge, but also see opportunities,” she added.
Like Swift, Coun. Ken Grant reminded council the issue of the trust has been debated for more than 35 years, and that inevitably, the discussion returns to the kiosk platform. He reminded those at the table “the devil’s in the details … this debate can go on for years.”
Arnott said the topic was not raised as a concern when he door-knocked during the election campaign, and that amending the trust and building a viewing platform is a good compromise. He confirmed with Richard Kanigan, the Town’s chief administration officer, that the attorney general would approve a three-month abeyance.
“Council can invite interested groups to convene at a committee of the whole meeting if that route might work,” Kanigan added.
The proposed motion of a three-month abeyance so that council could have a discussion with all parties involved, was passed with Arnott voting against the motion.
He said he voted in opposition because he explained five other councils have been on the right direction with the trust.