Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
– Bob Dylan
Wow! This is the first time EVER that Courtenay has elected a “progressive” council. I was in the packed reception room in the Courtenay Museum when Bob Wells arrived from the vote count to triumphantly announce, “We all won!” He, of course was referring to the fact that he will be mayor of a council dominated by five progressive councilors: Will Cole-Hamilton, Melanie McCollum, David Frisch, Wendy Morin, and Doug Hillian. Courtenay elected a progressive council despite big, BIG pre-election advertising by the old boys’ network.
This has never happened before! How, on Earth, did this happened? That, my friend, elicits a story. So sit back; find a comfortable place, rest your head and just relax into Grandpa Reynolds’ story: How the dumping of the Stephen Harper Conservatives in 2015 presaged the election of a progressive Courtenay Council in 2018.
Scene: Six thirty pm, Monday, October 19, Federal Election Day 2015, Royston Community Hall—serving as polling booth for Royston-Union Bay. I am just arriving at the hall where I have been asked to scrutinize the late voting for the NDP—and stay to observe the vote count. I end up parking along the waterfront as all other parking places are taken. As I approach the entrance to the hall I am confronted with a most peculiar sight: there is a line up of people coming out of the hall, turning along the right-of-way and extending well into the parking lot of the Royston Brewing Company Café.
What?! I wipe my eyes like I have just fallen though an enchanted rabbit hole—a lineup, a polling line up out the door and down the street! I feel giddy—like a reformed Scrooge on Christmas morning! A polling line up out the door and down the street. In my fondest dreams I didn’t see this coming. Anxiously (in a good way) I make my way into the hall letting those lined up know I am just there for the count. Inside—it’s nearly empty!? Almost no one is at a polling booth casting a ballot. How can this be? I see someone with an official looking badge and ask incredulously how there could be a lineup of would be voters stretching down the block and hardly anyone voting! “Ah!” she says with a knowing smile. “The people lined up are first time voters lining up to register before they can cast their ballots.
Wow! First time voters lined up across the hall, out the door and down the street! I hadn’t seen polling results from the East but it was hard to escape the feeling that big change was in the air. All those people, many of them considerably younger than me, coming out to vote for the first time in their lives. Later, much later as the Royston poll was likely the last poll to finish counting ballots in all of Canada, at the victory party for Gord Johns, I got to see the vast parliamentary sea change that had rolled across Canada. People, hordes of people, who had never voted before came out to “Stop Harper: Save Canada.” I was stunned by the magnanimity of it. It was before Trump and before Trudeau’s broken promises. I just let go and wallowed in the oceanic feeling that people do care about our democracy AND it works!
Yikes, I’ve paid for those sweet hours trying to understand, cope with the many disappointments that the Trudeau government has brought. BUT standing in the Courtenay Museum meeting room Saturday night, October 20, 2018 wondering what this momentous election of a progressive council in Courtenay really means and how did it came about I remembered the line up out the door of the Royston Hall and the happy, expectant, predominantly young faces of those lined up—not at all miffed by the wait!—I wondered if there as a connection.
I didn’t need to look beyond the front of the room to see a correlation: with a notable exception for Doug Hillian who is nearly my age, all the faces seemed young—to me. They all radiated this expectation about a new beginning for Courtenay where all people could be represented rather than just the tired old boys club that has dominated valley politics for (probably since its incorporation!). Indeed probably one of the most profound influences on the Courtenay election was the posting of an old boy’s endorsed slate. Over and over again I heard people saying that one of the best ways to choose who to vote for on a crowded list of candidates was to go to the Comox Valley Taxpayers’ Alliance website for a list of old boys sponsored candidates to avoid.
One person who I didn’t see in the museum Saturday night, who had a big influence on the outcome was Rebecca Lennox. Clearly Rebecca inspired women, young people, progressive people with her example of how there is a place for young, progressive, female representatives in our municipal governments. David Frisch was there and all the newly elected progressive councilors owe a great deal to David. He bore the brunt of Mayor Jangula’s angst over a council that asked bigger questions than what do the developers want. David demanded that the mayor respect all who come before council and endured considerable rancor for insisting that that respect extend to women presenters who came before council with ideas the mayor was having a hard time understanding. David was very involved in recruiting the fresh faces and perspectives that are now our Courtenay council.
What does it mean? Will we, four years from now look back at Saturday’s election with the same disappointment we experienced with the Trudeau Liberals? Or, will we look at our community and say, “Wow, what a difference a change can make!”
My most cherished hope for the new Courtenay Council is that—at last—we have a council that has the good will and community vision to begin implementing the Comox Valley Sustainability Strategy that so many people from so many sectors came together to create. The Comox Valley Sustainability Strategy (CVSS), completed in February 2010, is a regional plan that creates new knowledge and leading approaches to sustainability for communities in the Comox Valley. The strategy is designed to guide the policies and plans of regional and local governments and recommends specific actions be undertaken by a variety of partners.
Speaking of youth–no one person nor group has spoken as eloquently about the goals of the sustainability strategy as a group of six student volunteers at Huband Park Elementary School:
“So these are the thoughts and ideas of a few pretty normal Grade Six kids. We know how fortunate we are to live in the wonderful Comox Valley. Not only do we want to keep it that way – we have ideas to make things even better.
To begin, we need to get out of our cars. If we do that, then we have to build the paths and sidewalks so that we can walk and cycle safely. More of us need to learn how to grow gardens and preserve food. We need to look at newer, less damaging technologies. Doing all this means that we may have to put out a little more effort, or that we many not have as much stuff – but isn’t is worth it?
Thanks for listening to us.”
The key, most essential step, to implementing the CV Sustainability Strategy is in the opening pages of the strategy calling on Comox Valley municipal governments to establish a Sustainability Advisory Committee to work with the document to make recommendations to councils on how the strategy can be enhanced and implemented in the Comox Valley.
If Courtenay Council, very early in its mandate, establishes such an advisory body on implementing the Sustainability Strategy, we have a council that will be remember for moving our community significantly toward a planning framework relevant to the 21st Century and to the goals of community planning for healthy people, on a healthy planet, driven by a economy that ensures the well being of all.
In keeping with the goals of the Sustainability Strategy I will be looking for our new council to make new relationships and actions on looking at the best practices of other communities like: Santa Barbara, California that works closely with its business community to develop a Green is Good for Business Program that provides resources and assistance to businesses wanting to obtain “Green Business Certification.”
The significance of such an action early in the mandate of the new council is that it would bring the community together throwing off the us-and-them strategies of Old Boys dominated councils and uniting the community in a sense of working together for a better community and world.
What do you think? What do you dream of/want to see from this new council with a opportunity for fresh new start for all of us? Please join the conversation through the comments section on Tide Change (how aptly appropriately named and fitting for our fresh new start at community building. You can also write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will compile, publish and forward to Courtenay Council all comments I receive.