ANALYSIS

Who has my vote among Nanaimo’s council incumbents

Don White News Nanaimo
The crucial question is whether a candidate will persistently and uncompromisingly look after the interests of the voters. Here's how the incumbents meet the test.

If any aspect has become obvious during the past couple of years, it’s that voters have no reliable higher authority willing and able to protect their interests. None. Not a one. If anything goes wrong, you and I are out here on our own.

During the four year history of Nanaimo’s current council, the Province of BC refused on more than one occasion to intercede with our dysfunctional and destructive City Hall. Nanaimo voters were left alone to endure the chaos, bills, and the dismantling of City services and staff that will now take us a decade or more to clean up and replace.

As for Ottawa, don’t even go there. The federal government, with its centrist views and proclivity to break election promises without missing a single, self-serving political beat (think promised electoral reform and commitment to be a global leader in climate action) will never intercede on our behalf at the local level – even if it were constitutionally possible, which I’m pretty sure it isn’t.

Of course, there are good reasons for higher levels of government not intervening with lower elected bodies. Any such step would raise valid questions about inappropriate interference. Look what’s happening with Ontario Premier Doug Ford halving the size of Toronto’s City Council. On principle, one level shouldn’t interfere with another without very good reasons. Unfortunately, that hands-off approach also exposes voters and citizens to the most horrendous of civic abuses when local governments go wrong. As any Nanaimoite can testify.

Candidates for obvious elimination are Gordon Fuller and Jerry Hong. Both played central roles in the dysfunction.

When it comes to those who govern, it’s safe to say that no one has your back — except yourself. You are your first and only defence, and you defend by electing those who will intercede on your behalf. After witnessing the past four years in Nanaimo, that has become Factor #1 in my appraising prospective candidates. To me, the crucial first question is: Will a particular candidate persistently and uncompromisingly look after the interests of the voters?

Applying this to the October 20 municipal election, I started by considering the incumbents using three variations of this question. Was a candidate responsible for creating or perpetuating the travesty of governance Nanaimo citizens endured for the past four years? Were they there, but did little to protect the voters? Did they actively oppose the cadre led by Bestwick?

The incumbents running are: Gordon Fuller, Jerry Hong, Sheryl Armstrong, Ian Thorpe, and Wendy Pratt. I include Pratt because she put in half a term of the current council. I exclude previous council members because they weren’t at the table for any part of the past four years.

Candidates for obvious elimination are Gordon Fuller and Jerry Hong. Both played central roles in creating and perpetuating the dysfunction of the current council. Both supported the hiring of Tracy Samra as CAO; both provided her with retroactive salary increases and bonuses (despite a contract agreement she had signed); both delaying her suspension; and much more than I want to detail here.

In full disclosure, I voted for Fuller in 2014, and promptly learned the perils of making frivolous, ignorant decisions at the polls. For four years, when I wasn’t cringing, I saw that he had Tracy Samra’s back far more than he had mine. The promise offered by electing Jerry Hong was reduced to little more than his most characteristic statement observed in numerous council meetings, “I just don’t get it.” In that I agree with him completely.

Nothing speaks more persuasively for the unsuitability of both these incumbent candidates than their belief they should run again for Council. Nothing shows their lack of insight into what’s needed in a councillor more than their decision to stand for a second term. Fool me twice: shame on me. No more time should be wasted considering either of these individuals.

I put Ian Thorpe and Wendy Pratt in the category of those who did little to oppose the Bestwick-led majority. And both Thorpe and Pratt endorsed calling for the elected Mayor’s resignation, an action I regard as setting the stage for the ensuing reign of terror. From my viewpoint, Thorpe disappeared whenever conflict loomed and emerged only when when it was politically safe to do so. Ducking and covering may have saved his butt, but it also exposed mine.

Armstrong is the one incumbent who has demonstrated she has my back at City Hall.

On the surface, Wendy Pratt seems a bit more complicated. Being a target of Jim Kipp’s misogynistic rants and being manipulated by Samra into resigning seem unfair and suggest she deserves a second chance. However, being a target or unjustly forced to resign demonstrate neither Pratt’s good intentions nor her effectiveness in protecting voter interests. Ironically, her most notable contribution to the protection of Nanaimo voters was her resignation, which opened the door for Sheryl Armstrong’s arrival in a by-election.

As for Armstrong, I’ll state unequivocally that without her on the current Nanaimo Council, the four years of dysfunctional, destructive administration would never have resolved the way it did. Nor as quickly as it did. Without Armstrong’s active, dogged efforts (think undercover, behind the scenes) we might still have Tracy Samra as our CAO, not to mention Victor Mema.

I believe that electing Sheryl Armstrong to another term is not only in my and other voters’ interests, it is deserved, minimal compensation for the significant personal costs that she incurred by defending Nanaimo voters. But paying a debt owed is secondary. The paramount reason I want Armstrong on the next Nanaimo Council is to represent me at the table. She’s the one incumbent who has demonstrated she has my back at City Hall.

In the next column, I’ll take a look at the non-incumbents.

About the author

Don White

Don White

Don moved to Nanaimo from the BC Lower Mainland almost five years ago, but has visited the Island regularly for more than thirty years. He considers local government to be a crucial factor in determining not only our quality of life, but also our efforts to protect and responsibly develop this beautiful but vulnerable setting we live in. This view became his motivation for continuing to inform and engage Nanaimo voters.

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  • Thanks Don, I’ve asked the question for years, is there anyone at city hall, elected or non elected that gives even one iota about how the ratepayers money is spent? Sadly the answer is obvious and financially painful for the citizens of Nanaimo.

  • Very good summary Mr.White, and I concur with everything you have written. I would comment on one sentence therein, namely
    “I exclude previous council members because they weren’t at the table for any part of the past four years.You are of course referring to Gary Korpan and Jeet Manhas.

    I can’t resist getting the jump on you though, and do so by suggesting both of them deserve to forever remain in the garbage bin of history as it pertains to Nanaimo municipal politics.Hopefully all voters in this years election will remember the fiasco (the very expensive fiasco) of the downtown V.I. Conference Center, and the considerable involvement these two individuals had in the failed project.

    Mr. Korpan and Mr.Manhas, you had your chance to make the city of Nanaimo a better place and you failed miserably.Please now just go away.

  • I couldn’t agree more, Don. The two who were part of the “gang of 5” don’t deserve any further consideration. Your assessment of Thorpe and Pratt is spot on – both played duck and cover and enabled the bullies on council to continue. Sheryl had my vote in the by-election and will have it again in October. Looking forward to the next round of assessments.

  • Thanks for this most informative info which I really need to make a good decision at the poles on voting day!!!
    Sincerely, Shirlee Drever

  • Thanks for your feedback, everyone. I don’t always manage to reply, but I certainly read what you are posting! Including the criticisms! lol

  • I think Ian Thorpe deserves a second term, was he perfect..no..who is? He represents the City in a professional manner which was appreciated. I am sure he has learned many things which I am know he will apply in his second term.

  • Thanks Don, observant – it has been a nightmare. I moved here 28 years ago and love this Island. Please post your suggestions on the SD68 candidates for Trustee. I am running and I believe we must change Provincial under funding of education. They currently are too slow in responding to growth and seem to misfire on school closures. I would like to enhance the communications between the public and the ‘board’, many problems in September result from a severe lack of information exchange during the summer. Families move and kids change schools, new residents arrive and cannot contact SD68.

  • Interesting take on the situation. One danger in recommending a complete change, save the by-election winner, is that not enough experience will inform the new council. Unless, that is, you go on to recommend that a new council be guided by former mayor Korpan. That would be a remedy worse than the disease. Korpan was defeated in successive elections since he was defeated by John Ruttan: the message he doesn’t seem to get is that he was defeated for very good reasons, not the least of which was the conference centre debacle which has since become a financial sinkhole. Not one argument advanced in favour of the conference centre project proved to be well founded — including the demonstrably false proposition that it would stimulate downtown revitalization. Two adjacent empty properties attest to the absurdity of that line of thinking but the experience of many other cities offered ample testimony at the time of the referendum that conference or convention centres have only a minimal impact on revitalization.

  • Don, you are so right! It is incredible that Fuller and Hong would let their names stand for re-election after the destruction they, as part of the gang of 5 created. Fortunately for Nanaimo, the other 3 of the gang of 5, Bestwick, Kipp and Yoachim saw the writing on the wall, hopefully never to return to any future city council and cause the havoc and chaos they created for this unfortunate council. Reminder, you are judged by the company you keep, the gang on 5 chose Samra & Mema and where did that go… just saying !
    Keep up the good work Don. J. Clark

  • Don, I hope the voters and non voters read your post. You state the truth and I sincerely hope FULLER AND HONG ARE ELIMINATED FROM CITY COUNCIL.

  • I think you do Gary Korpan a great dis-service. With his knowledge of Nanaimo he could hit the ground running as a Councillor and he was not totally responsible for the downtown fiasco. Check the real facts

    • Not necessary to “check the real facts” because they remain clear in peoples minds. Korpan was mayor at the time and the cheerleader- in- chief for the fiasco.He orchestrated a campaign to belittle those citizens who were opposed to the convention center from the onset. The taxpayers of Nanaimo would be much better served if Korpan would withdraw from the race and, by the way, take Manhas with him.

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