News Nanaimo Editorial

Fixing Nanaimo’s city council

Cleaning up this council's messes is not for the meek or those seeking glory
Three-and-a-half years ago, Nanaimo’s voters vented their collective spleen at the municipal ballot boxes. We have been bilious ever since.

The November 2014 election results were the consequence of an angry electorate, a backlash against the Colliery Dams debacle and an uproar over the Leadercast cancellation. They ushered in a council majority with a common cause: a vendetta of sorts against perceived power and manipulation by the city’s senior managers.

Bill Bestwick and Jim Kipp, both former municipal workers themselves, have long been known to harbour resentment towards the city’s senior mandarins. On previous councils their bile was kept in check by moderate majorities that kept them on the sidelines. But on this council, with support of Gord Fuller, Jerry Hong and Bill Yoachim, they have steadfastly held a five-four majority and gotten their way when it mattered.

And with that Nanaimo was at the mercy of a group with a giant chip on its shoulder.

When in October 2015 former city manager Ted Swabey threw in the towel, they seized the opportunity to tip the balance of power lopsidedly in their favor. They appointed Tracy Samra, another aggrieved former city employee on whose loyalty they could depend. And with that Nanaimo was at the mercy of a group with a giant chip on its shoulder.

It has been an unmitigated disaster. From the brain drain of staff who fled or were fired; to the brutal bashing and neutering of the duly elected mayor and councillors they opposed; to the bitter legal battles, deleterious headlines, fiscal follies, wanton waste, harebrained projects, workplace investigations, criminal allegations, leaked videos, strained relations, secrecy, deflection, opaqueness and outright lies, Nanaimoites can be forgiven for wishing on a shining knight from the Provincial Government to ride in to save us.

But this is a problem of our own making. We voted badly or we didn’t vote at all. We chose change for change’s sake rather than for the betterment of our community. Our vote was based on vexation and gratification rather than vision and good governance. Fortunately, in seven months we will get another chance to fix our mistake.

The challenge for the next council is daunting. Fixing other people’s messes is not for the meek or those seeking glory. It is hard, unrewarding work demanding competence, experience and realistic expectations. There is no place for grandiose schemes or axes to grind.

The hope now is that candidates of the needed calibre will step forward. The voters are desperate to support them.


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  • Thoughtful analysis, Dominic. We created a perfect storm and it is still raging. Hopefully the electorate will clear the skies in October.

  • thanks dominic… it is an interesting overview and perspective which i was unaware of…i wonder who is up for the challenge and task in the future?

  • Is there a better way? Is our system of choosing government and leaders fundamentally broken? Is society degrading to the point that most people just don’t care? It seems to me that most people just don’t give a damn as long as they get their little fixes be it booze, dope, fancy cars, big houses, vacations, or any of the other material things, like big screen TV’s, high speed internet and endless shopping in huge malls. Sure, there are pockets of dreamers who are clinging to the belief that our elections will eventually produce efficient and very competent governments who will in turn always conduct themselves in a professional, courteous and considerate manner while at the same time achieving perfection for all the wise citizens who voted them in office. To this I say, dream on. Not gonna happen. Or these same dreamers who keep pounding their drum saying, “Get out and vote!” Do these dogged drummers believe that the more people that vote the higher quality of government will ensue? From my viewpoint it seems to me that if I had a pocket of supporters that I would not want that majority lost by diluting it by a bunch of uneducated and unsophisticated voters who were more likely to vote for the packaging rather than the contents. This is becoming so obvious in our city where it seems that dozens of opportunistic, know it all loudmouths with big egos and childlike minds run for municipal office thereby reducing the chances of electing a majority of those candidates who are not only better qualified but also sincere in their wish to better their community. So stop your useless chants and start focussing on what changes can be made to our electoral system and processes which would result in electing a “real” government, unlike the “fake” bunch of losers that we are often saddled with today. There just “has” to be a better way. Let’s work together to find it.

  • Several things have to happen if Nanaimo is to get a responsible council and they all need to happen at once.
    First, intelligent, responsible people with experience and skills in running a city have to take responsibility and stand for office.
    Second, the electorate must take responsibility and inform themselves of the issue, then go and vote.
    Third, special interest groups need to be countered by a more balanced approach to the whole city.

    I agree with this editorial completely. The “Floundering Five” emerged from a movement to resist the provincial government, in favour of keeping two old dams that still threaten the community. The Floundering Five tried to spend the city into oblivion to satisfy the ambitions of a hockey promoter. They tried to settle old scores with the mayor and covered themselves with excrement and the city has suffered.

    There are people in town who have the necessary skills to run a decent council. One now manages a local pulp mill. Another was the city manager for many years, and he knows his way around government really well. Running for office is not a piece of cake, but it is a responsibility for those who know they can do it. Lots of folks over the age of 55 who have retired, think they have done their bit for society, but no one can ever relinquish the responsibility we all have, to fight for our own freedom. Because that is what is at stake. Most Nanaimo residents didn’t vote in the last election. I believe the turnout was around 34%. It needs to be 68% in November.

    • I disagree with the notion that competent people have a responsibility to run. The council workplace has been proven to be bad for one’s health, period. No one should have to enter the coal mine without even a canary to warn them of noxious fumes.

      As for systemic change, the provinces have chosen to be bad parents. Municipalities were not even mentioned in the BNA Act, now subsumed into the Constitution Act. All their powers are delegated to them by the provinces. But the provinces have unleashed the municipal governments to be horrible, bratty, lawless children, stomping around, hurtiing others, and destroying the neighbourhood, without even the slightest education regarding the rule of law and the duty to be fair. The provincial agencies supposedly keeping watch are unwilling or unable to respond.

      The legal community in Canada has been wrestling for years to get a handle on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and other legislation that governs our conduct every day. To expect even a good faith councillor to understand these laws without assistance is profoundly naive.

      I fear the lawlessness will become worse before it becomes better.

  • The key for the next Nanaimo City civic election is to elect nine adults without any City baggage and with a modicum of common sense.
    The challenge is to find such candidates willing to work in that toxic environment.