A couple walks arm-in-arm through the Duncan Farmers Market on local election day, Oct. 20.
Cowichan Valley

Is Cowichan Valley local politics broken?

Why discourse matters, and what we can do about it.

This is from our Cowichan Valley newsletter. Make sure to share it and subscribe here.

Cowichan Valley voted on Saturday to support new programs for affordable housing and watershed protection. Support for the water referendum was overwhelming, and the housing passed by a more narrow margin. I watched the results come in with interest, since I’d spent the previous several weeks reporting on these topics. I was surprised – but not too surprised – with the results.

Through my work I witnessed some of the uglier side of Cowichan Valley politics, where people shout each other down instead of engaging in productive conversation. I heard about shouting matches at public meetings. One event was described in a letter to the Cowichan Valley Citizen as an attempted ambush of one of the candidates.

I’m not alone in my observations. “It feels like the community is fragmented and doesn’t have a unified sense of what it wants to be and where it wants to go,” Damir Wallener, a technology entrepreneur and Sahtlam resident, told me. “Just go to a council meeting and listen to them. They’re all sort of polite, but really, they’re kind of barking of each other and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of respect from different perspectives.”

So, what does it accomplish? As John Steven observed in a Cowichan Facebook group:

Matthew Kercher, a political science student from Lake Cowichan, says the resistance to change in his community is one of the things that makes living here tough. “For people coming here sometimes that’s a bit of a shock at how closed-minded some people can be,” he told me.

When these voices dominate, it’s no wonder so many of us opt out of politics and public discourse altogether. According to Civicinfo BC, average voter turnout in Cowichan in 2014 was about a third for the municipal election and less than a quarter for regional districts.

The good news is that, from what I’ve seen, the people shouting over each other are outliers, not the norm, even if they get the most attention. Most of the conversations I have seen and been a part of – on and offline – have been productive and respectful, even among people who disagree. 

Matthew Kercher, 21, says it’s time for Cowichan youth to take control of their future. “The decisions we make in the next 10 years are going to affect us drastically.”

Matthew’s advice is to keep pushing for change, even when you encounter resistance:

“Don’t let it scare you off. Try and be a positive force for change in the community. If you see things that you think could be done better in a way, bring them forward because that’s how you’re going to get acceptance. When people see that you’re trying to build our community up, they are more likely to embrace you.”

Over to you

I’m taking Matthew’s advice to heart. I see my role in sharing stories that help build our community up, and for that, I need your help.

Please take 15 minutes to answer these eight questions about life in the Cowichan Valley by the end of this weekend. I’m trying to hear from as many people as possible, so I can be sure my work reflects what’s important to you.

I will look for themes across the answers I receive, and announce the top issues in next week’s newsletter. We’ll put the top themes to a vote, and I’ll dig into whatever you want to hear about the most. 💪

News of the week

  • Ben Kilmer, who had been missing from the Duncan area since May, is dead. His remains were found on October 17 by a hiker in a remote area, the Cowichan Valley Citizen reports. The family released a statement on Facebook. The RCMP says it has ruled out foul play, according to various news reports.

  • A woman says a young man followed her around the Duncan Walmart and then grabbed her backside, the Ladysmith Chemainus Chronicle reports. The woman confronted the man in the aftermath of the alleged sexual assault and filmed it on her cell phone. The video went viral on Facebook but has since been taken down.

  • Local pot dispensaries are in limbo after the legalization of cannabis last week, according to the Cowichan Valley Citizen. Currently the only legal place to buy cannabis in the province is the government-run store in Kamloops; no private stores have yet been granted permits to operate.

Let’s gather

  • Oct. 26Local filmmaker and Cowichan Archeological Consultant Harold Joe will host a Q&A after a screening of his filmDust and Bones, at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre in Duncan.

  • Oct. 27: The Brass Knuckle Derby Dames will host their “Scream Queens” Halloween roller derby scrimmage at the Cowichan Exhibition.