Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, top right, North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring, bottom left, Saltair director Lynne Smith and Diamond-North Oyster director Ben Maartman answer the Chronicle’s questions about the year that’s passed and the year ahead. (Photos submitted and by Duck Paterson)

Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, top right, North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring, bottom left, Saltair director Lynne Smith and Diamond-North Oyster director Ben Maartman answer the Chronicle’s questions about the year that’s passed and the year ahead. (Photos submitted and by Duck Paterson)

Ladysmith leaders look back, look forward

Chronicle contributor Duck Paterson catches up with local government officials

BY DUCK PATERSON

2021 was definitely a different year and with it almost behind us the Chronicle thought it might be an idea to get some impressions from local political leaders. We sent a series of questions to some of them in hopes they can fill us in on how they felt the expiring year has gone for them and their area.

Following are their edited responses:

Aaron Stone, Mayor, Ladysmith

As 2021 comes to a close, what will you remember most about this year as mayor?

I will remember teamwork. It’s been another challenging year dealing with COVID-19, the wildfire, social issues, racial injustice and reconciliation. Through it all, our community came together again and again. Community groups stepped up to make the best of every difficult situation, lifting our spirits through events and initiatives to remind us of the good there is in Ladysmith and beyond. Working with Chief Harris on bringing Stz’uminus and Ladysmith closer together through sharing and creating understanding of our past, our present and shared hope for a prosperous future. Our staff at the town stepping up and adapting to every change thrown at them, recognizing and prioritizing what’s most important when we needed them most. I’ll remember the kindness of people in our community through such a difficult time. It’s been a tough year to be sure, but there were so many bright lights in these dark times that I can’t pinpoint just one memory – the list is just too long. I just want to share my deepest gratitude to those who continue to come forward to support our community this year.

Have the town and council accomplished most of their goals for the year?

I think so. This year has necessarily been one of prioritizing and adapting to ensure what is most important gets done. A lot of the background work on big priorities and projects continues to progress well. Environmental and engineering assessments on the waterfront. Work on the first phase of the arts and heritage hub is progressing toward construction. The first phases of the new official community plan, including a climate action strategy. Improvements to Transfer Beach Park will be completed in 2021. It’s been a lot of the hard, quiet work this year but that fit well in a year where COVID still dominates our lives, and it puts us in a good position moving forward. I’m as excited about the future of Ladysmith today as I’ve ever been.

What has not gone the way it was supposed to in 2021 and what has gone better than expected?

Well, we didn’t get all the key grants we have been working toward. Our No. 1 priority continues to be water and we have everything in place to ensure both the quality and quantity of water for generations to come, we just need the final funding piece from senior government. Although we did not receive the funding this year, I am confident that this will come sooner than later. With the improvements to water distribution efficiency and increased reservoir capacity, we will be prepared for the rapidly changing climate we are experiencing and able to accommodate future growth.

Better than expected, I’d say the financial management of the town during the pandemic. Over the last few years, Ladysmith has been a leader in tightening the financial plan to minimize tax increases while ensuring the growth we are experiencing becomes a net contributor to our future. I look forward to another prudent financial plan that respects the uncertain times we are living in while making smart, targeted investments in our future. A lot of credit for this success goes staff who have managed these challenging times in a creative, strategic and thoughtful way.

In your final 10 months in this term, what would you personally like to see finished?

I’d like to set the stage for great success for the next council, whether I am part of that team or not. I want to ensure the town continues to plan and save for the future while making key, targeted investments in a bright future for Ladysmith. I’d like to see shovels in the ground on the waterfront with the arts and heritage hub. I’d like to ensure our water plans are finely tuned and funded to ensure clean water for our future children, grandchildren and beyond. I look forward to a completed OCP that protects the history and natural beauty of Ladysmith while extending our climate leadership through smart growth, active transportation and a complete community that is vibrant and enjoyable for all ages, incomes and abilities. This work is complicated and takes time, but we are making great progress. Finally, I want to see our Stz’uminus neighbours better represented within Ladysmith. This is our town, as Chief Harris says, the big ‘we.’ We are more vital, more prosperous, richer in culture, caring, environment and so much more by being together. The more we do together, the more we learn, the more it lifts us all up together. There is so much to do, but I believe in Ladysmith and Stz’uminus more than ever.

Al Siebring, Mayor, North Cowichan

As 2021 comes to a close, what will you remember most about this year?

2021 was supposed to be the year we were going to ‘come out of COVID.’ Of course, that didn’t happen. So the ongoing virtual meetings were definitely one of the stand-out things of the year, although not necessarily in a good way. That, combined with the summer fires and heat domes and the flooding in December made it a more stressful year than usual.

Has North Cowichan accomplished most of its goals for the year?

Council has set a number of strategic priorities; they weren’t tied to specific calendar years, but rather are meant to cover the entire term. It remains to be seen whether all of those priorities will be achieved before the elections in October of 2022, but we are well on our way with many/most of them.

What has not gone the way it was supposed to in 2021 and what has gone better than expected?

Again, ’21 was ‘supposed to be’ the end of COVID. So that’s obviously a disappointment. As for what’s gone better than expected, I continue to be pleasantly surprised at the resiliency of both of staff and our broader community in dealing with the challenges we faced.

In your final 10 months in this term, what would you personally like to see finished?

We are continuing to work on the goals in our strategic plan. Those include completing the review of our municipal forestry reserve, and the writing of a new official community plan. I have been clear from the beginning that it’s a very ambitious goal to have either of these projects actually ‘done’ by the end of the term. Both of them require considerable public engagement, and that’s been very challenging to do in a way that has full community buy-in given that it’s all being done virtually.

Lynne Smith, regional director, Saltair

As 2021 comes to a close, what will you remember most about this year as Area G director?

After two unsuccessful grant applications for the Saltair water filtration system it was one of those amazing dancing-in-the-street moments when the Saltair water system was allocated federal infrastructure grant funding this year. Also working with Island Health to allow work permits for the Saltair water distribution system upgrades to start up again after a couple of years without work being accomplished.

Has the CVRD board accomplished most of its goals for the year?

With multiple emergencies this year within the CVRD boundaries and staffing shortages some of the goals for the CVRD board may have fallen a bit behind. The CVRD staff have been stepping up constantly to take on new challenges and keeping the CVRD services running during these unprecedented time. Kudos to them all.

What has not gone the way it was supposed to in 2021 and what has gone better than expected?

Saltair community parks reserve funding added to the budget for upgrades to two of our community park trails sadly did not happen under the CVRD parks and trails work plan.

With Area G Saltair/Gulf Islands residents starting to receive their COVID vaccines in early 2021 there was a new feel in the community as residents felt more comfortable being out and about. There was a small Halloween event, with children encouraged to grow their own pumpkins for a weigh-in at Halloween.

In your final 10 months in this term, what would you personally like to see finished?

If millions of dollars fell from the sky I would ask that the CVRD board work on the Cowichan Valley Trail to create an active transportation corridor from North Oyster/Diamond all the way to Mill Bay/Malahat. Personally, I would like to see the Saltair filtration system installed and running in 2022, the Thetis Island wharf revitalization project completed, work continue on the water distribution system upgrades, Diana, Princess of Wales Park trails upgraded, Centennial Park forested trail upgraded, Stocking Creek Park bridge replaced and a very large grant for the Stocking Lake Dam.

Ben Maartman, regional director, Diamond-North Oyster

As 2021 comes to a close, what will you remember most about this year as Area H director?

It’s been a very strange introduction to local government. Almost all my interactions with the board and CVRD staff has been online. I haven’t met many people face to face and I look forward to when that can happen.

What I will remember about this year is how so many people have stepped up to help others. An example of this was with the Mt. Hayes forest fire. Horse trailers lined up to evacuate livestock from the locations close to the fire were loaded up and headed out to nearby farms. The people I spoke to in the affected area had sleepless nights wondering if they would be required to leave at a moment’s notice. All had been contacted, not just by friends offering help, but by strangers that had space for animals and rooms for people. It meant so much to them to have that generosity.

Has the CVRD board accomplished most of its goals for the year?

I think it has been a really tough year to meet any goals. However, two accomplishments of note for electoral areas were keeping the 2021 budget increase close to zero and the completion of the harmonization of the official community plan.

What has not gone the way it was supposed to in 2021 and what has gone better than expected?

Honestly, I think we moved from one emergency to another. It seemed like the CVRD always had the regional emergency operations centre up and running. And this on top of dealing with a pandemic and a number of weeks where the Ingram Street building was out of commission due to a water leak. Yet, business carried on and a shout out to the CVRD staff for their ability to maintain services to our community.

In your final 10 months in this term, what would you personally like to see finished?

The modernizing of the OCP will soon be underway. I would like to see a robust process completed that really taps into the voice of the community. Next, there is a proposal for a community well for potable water. I would like to see this finished in 2022.



editor@nanaimobulletin.com

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