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The fascinating thing about the West Jet flight from Comox to Calgary is that very shortly after the plane reaches the peak of its ascent out of the Comox airport —it is time to begin the descent into Calgary. It’s sort of like municipal councils in BC: today we are at the half way point (the apex) of municipal councils’ term in office. The policies and vision which councils were elected to set in motion should be in place. The next two years are a time to work on bringing that vision to fruition. It is time for citizens to look at where their council is going and have pre-election input to how well the actions of council are serving their communities—as we begin the descent to election 2022.

If I were to grade Courtenay Council for its efforts over the past two years, I think they would get a C+ from me. It certainly has been commendable to have a council that is generally amiable among themselves and open to input from citizens ( something that definitely could not be said of the past council—esp. mayor).

C+ –but I was hoping for so much more from Courtenay’s first progressive council. I mean I was there in the Courtenay and District Museum on election night when, after a tense evening of waiting for the vote to be announced, Mayor Elect Bob Wells strode to the front of the room, threw up his arms in celebration and announced triumphantly, “We all won!” Meaning that he and David Frisch, Doug Hillian, Melanie McCollum, Wendy Morin, and Will Cole-Hamilton had all been elected to Courtenay council! It was to be Courtenay’s first progressive council –ever!

High hopes! Too high. Not that council has failed us—it just has not lived up to the high expectations for Courtenay’s first progressive council. C+ is a passing grade. It just isn’t a mark of excellence.

So where did it go wrong—this council that came with such high expectations? Well I think I can answer that: while Courtenay’s 2018 elected councilors can be considered progressive compared to previous councils, they were not an entity; not a party. There is nothing that actually holds them together as a council committed to common actions; more importantly not a common vision of where council should go. And, in the absence of some guiding of who they are and where they want to go as a council united in common purpose, they simply do as all other boards and councils do: they vote “yes” or “no” to staff proposals and initiatives. Staff initiatives are, almost always, about tweaking the system in place to slightly refine the status quo. Staff driven initiatives tweak things. They make what is working work a little better. It is what I call the C + model of governance: slightly better than mediocre; far short of visionary.

When I read through the motions of council, the staff reports, the vision statement for the next two years it all comes out to the same thing: hoping to do a little better by saying yes and no to proposals brought forward by staff:

• Upgrades to infrastructure (Greenwood Trunk Sewer Extension, Electric vehicle charging stations
• Cycling and Pedestrian upgrades, parks
• Passage of the Asset Management Bylaw
• Continue work with MOTI on 17th St intersection improvements
• Acquire grant funding to start construction of the 6th St Bridge
• Continue working with BC Housing, Coalition to End Homelessness
• Continue working on CVRD initiatives
• Liquid Waste Management Plan
• Water Treatment Project
• Organizational and governance excellence
• Pursue vibrant economic growth
• Plan and invest in methods of multi-modal transportation
• Diversity in housing and reasoned land use planning
• Upgrades to infrastructure
• Support diversity in housing and reasoned land use planning
• etc

The list is longer but the theme is the same: hoping to improve things a little by voting yes or no to staff proposals for tweaking the system.

It results in a C+ because I give Courtenay Council full credit for wanting the community to be a little better when they leave office than when they showed up. Voting yes or no to staff proposals is what almost all councils in BC do. Councils are, overwhelmingly, elected not as a party but as well meaning individuals who have no idea about governance but hope they can do better than the council they replace. If you look at municipal councils across BC you see just that overwhelmingly–councils who see their job as saying yes or no to staff operationally orientated proposals. Very few show any sign of innovation, leadership or bigger vision.

However there are different models—very big vision models that begin and build on community vision. In fact one of the biggest and brightest examples of councils working to develop an agenda that builds on a community vision rather than just staff proposals to tweak the system a little happened right here with the Comox Valley Sustainability Strategy.

The Comox Valley Sustainability Strategy(CVSS)was so widely participated in by all sectors of the Comox Valley it is shocking to find not a single reference to it in the Courtenay Council minutes and working papers that I looked through in researching this post. Even more shocking considering that Councillor Will Cole-Hamilton made a major presentation to the previous Courtenay Council about the value, meaning and implementation of the Sustainability Strategy.

The Sustainability Strategy which began deliberations in 2008 and produced its comprehensive document on sustainability in the Comox Valley in 2010 was unprecedented in the depth and breadth of the people, organizations, community sectors, documents, municipal staff and elected officials that it consulted.

The thing that impressed me most was the comprehensive way that it brought the community together in presentations, study circles, working groups, public presentations with feed back opportunities, consultations with municipal representatives and staff, with first nations, with environmental organizations, and business associations. The final report was the broadest possible synthesis of our community’s vision/desire for our future.

The CVSS succeeded in bringing the Comox Valley together in a way that has never happened before nor since. It moved people, I think, because it started from a comprehensive vision of a Sustainable Comox Valley that was vibrantly healthy for current populations and planned for a world that would continue to be healthy for our children and grandchildren. The CVSS begins with a powerful vision of the value of planning for a sustainable/sustaining future and underscores that vision with very specific targets for measuring how effectively the strategy is being implemented. To me the most significant tool that the CVSS pointed to was the implementation chart. The implementation chart is vitally important because it describes how we can actually get the CVSS implemented with clear targets we need to meet. AND the chart answers the question of how can we keep the community involved in planning for/elucidating the CVSS.

This humble chart is unrivaled in its depiction of how the diverse sectors of our community can continue to work together on building a future that is sustaining and sustainable for all of us.

Now that I have written this and thought about it and reviewed the CVSS I have to change my rating of Courtenay Council to C- . I still think the decorum on council is a thing to marvel at. And I believe there is a great deal of sincere desire to benefit our community on council, but the fact that they so blithely dance over the CVSS without even a second thought to what a powerful tool for creating a sustaining and sustainable Courtenay/Comox Valley it is is just such an overwhelming failure that I really don’t think they deserve more than a weak C-. I do hope they will get better over the next two years.

Take a look at the CVSS PDF for yourself:

View the Comox Valley Sustainability Strategy
From CVSS
Sustainability is A UNIFYING CONCEPT THAT IN THE MOST SIMPLE TERMS, COMPELS US TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR ALL CITIZENS AND SPECIES WHILE PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENTAL SYSTEMS AND RESOURCES ON WHICH LIFE DEPENDS. IT’S A GLOBAL JOURNEY THAT DEPENDS ON LOCAL ACTIONS. IT REQUIRES US TO REEXAMINE OUR VALUES, TAKE A DEEPER LOOK AT HOW THE EARTH AND ITS SYSTEMS FUNCTION, AND FIND NEW MODELS FOR COOPERATIVE ACTION.
From the Sustainability Strategy:
WE STAND AT A CRITICAL MOMENT IN EARTH’S HISTORY, A TIME WHEN HUMANITY MUST CHOOSE ITS FUTURE. AS THE WORLD BECOMES INCREASINGLY INTERDEPENDENT AND FRAGILE, THE FUTURE AT ONCE HOLDS GREAT PERIL AND GREAT PROMISE. TO MOVE FORWARD WE MUST RECOGNIZE THAT IN THE MIDST OF A MAGNIFICENT DIVERSITY OF CULTURES AND LIFE FORMS WE ARE ONE HUMAN FAMILY AND ONE EARTH COMMUNITY WITH A COMMON DESTINY. WE MUST JOIN TOGETHER TO BRING FORTH A SUSTAINABLE GLOBAL SOCIETY FOUNDED ON RESPECT FOR NATURE, UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHTS, ECONOMIC JUSTICE, AND A CULTURE OF PEACE. TOWARDS THIS END, IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT WE, THE PEOPLES OF EARTH, DECLARE OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO ONE ANOTHER, TO THE GREATER COMMUNITY OF LIFE, AND TO FUTURE GENERATIONS. –From the Earth Charter

Norm Reynolds