For a complete PDF version of this report, click here.
In August and September, 2014, One Cowichan hosted a community survey in an effort to gain a snapshot of public opinion on local issues in the lead up to the November municipal elections. The survey was done mostly online, and also by clipboard at local community events. It is not a scientific survey with claims about statistical validity.
697 people participated, answering 18 priority ranking type questions and two open ended questions. This report is a summary of results. Click here for the complete pdf version.
Overall, respondents clearly love where we live and want to keep it that way. The dominant theme was conservation, with water issues coming through strongly. Local elected officials have a clear mandate to pursue more local control of our watersheds, and to proceed with more water conservation and storage.
Governance, including democracy and accountability, was another strong theme. Respondents are looking for better consultation between local government and local citizens and more meaningful participation in local affairs.
There were a good number of comments about local taxes, some about the rates, some about the balance with industry, and some about perceived inefficiencies. On a specific question about tax rates, however, a majority of respondents answered that rates were “about right.”
Several comments indicated the need to have local jobs and a good local economy in order to sustain both ourselves and our services. People want local development efforts to keep the character of the local community, though, including sustainability.
Compared to other issues, respondents were more ambivalent about the issue of amalgamation, with only 29% of respondents ranking it as a “higher” priority.
Farmland protection came through as a higher priority, with many comments about promoting more local farming and more local food consumption.
On social issues, affordable housing came through as a priority.
Questions on Priorities
We asked 18 questions about a range of issues and asked people to rate them higher, medium or lower priority. We also had the option of “I disagree with this,” and “Don’t know.” The results at least allow a snap shot of relative prioritizing amongst issues for those who took the survey. Here are the results:
Non-Native local governments should pay more attention to meaningful consultation with local First Nation governments to guide decision making.
Local governments should devote more time and resources to consultation with citizens and better hold themselves accountable for the results.
Local governments and electoral areas in Cowichan should actively explore amalgamation – that is, some mergers of local government bodies.
Local governments and First Nations should work together and use the new BC Water Sustainability Act to take more control over our local watersheds.
Local governments should work with other stakeholders to secure our water supply (e.g. raise the weir at Cowichan Lake) to protect fish habitat and drinking water, and to meet the needs of recreation, industry, agriculture and municipal works.
Local governments should exert more control over private forest practices in Cowichan, including creating funds to put more of these lands in public ownership.
Local governments should take an active role in provincial and federal debates about fossil fuel projects such as oil sands pipelines and fracking.
Local governments should use their authority and resources to improve local air quality.
Local governments should actively work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from local activities and infrastructure.
Local government should step up efforts to reach their “zero waste” goal, through education and by providing incentives for the reduction, reuse and recycling of more materials.
Local governments should pass policies to better protect local farmland, including a self-imposed ban on asking for farmland removal from the ALR.
Municipal economic development programs should focus on creating jobs consistent with the character of Cowichan – sustainable and value added – and guard against damaging activities such as contaminated soil dumping from other regions.
Local governments should facilitate local clean energy production, such as solar hot water and photovoltaic production.
Local governments should support the creation of affordable housing.
Local governments should work with the local school board and social and health agencies to support the creation of affordable daycare.
Local governments should support more programs to better engage local youth and provide services/infrastructure that they use (eg. socials, skate parks).
Local government should enact stronger measures to end urban sprawl – protecting watersheds, forests, parks and agricultural lands - and focus instead on redeveloping already disturbed land.
Local government should put more planning and resources towards improving public transit, and building more bike lanes/paths, bike infrastructure, and walking paths.
The survey asked this question about local tax rates and got this result:
What is your general feeling on the rate of services supported by municipal taxes?
A) I’d like to see lower municipal taxes and fewer local services
B) Tax rates are about right, but I’d like to reprioritize services
C) Tax rates are about right and the services are about right
D) I’d like to see higher municipal taxes and more/better local services
F) Don’t know/undecided
There were also a number of comments about taxes. Here is a sample of them:
“The tax rate for residential home owners in North Cowichan is ridiculously high, and Catalyst/Crofton Mill should have their tax rate returned to its historic rate before their threat of closing their mill. Tax payers shouldn't be subsidizing Catalyst, and buffering the risk for Catalyst shareholders!!! Deal with this inconvenient reality, and make living in North Cowichan affordable.”
“Taxes need to be used to promote the common good not for politicians' perks and subsidies to corps.”
“Our taxes have been going up for years with no noticeable improvements. We can't even have proper lines painted on our roads to promote safe walking.”
“Municipal taxes should be based on income as well as the size of land holdings. Farmers should not be taxed out of existence, and taxes for the lower income group should not be raised. But companies using and abusing our environment should be taxed at a much higher rate.”
“I think a monthly tax bill might be a whole lot easier for families to manage than this ever expanding yearly bill. We pay our medical every month or two, our hydro, our gas bills. Why not have the municipal taxes come out monthly? It would allow folk who have trouble budgeting manage their finances better, and would simply smooth the bump of the big tax bill.”
“North Cowichan should not have subsidized the tax bill for the Crofton mill on the backs of homeowners. I don't get a break when I lose income. “
“I would support a reasonable higher tax rate if I saw enough sustainable, real jobs being created to support a higher tax rate. “
“As someone said, ‘Taxes are the cost we pay for living in a civilized society.’ We need to take a broader view of taxation and consider how many billions are lost in reducing corporate taxes and increasing service fees for individuals in BC. Attracting jobs to Cowichan means bringing well paying, sustainable jobs; not part-time or contract jobs.”
“Combined property taxes of the CVRD and North Cowichan have placed us at a competitive disadvantage with other towns. Our growth engine was our low taxes; it encouraged a lot of retirees to come here - no longer. “
“You get what you pay for therefore I am for better services even if it is higher taxes.”
“Taxes are right, services are not.”
Top Issues - Unprompted
We asked this open-ended question:
What do you think are the three most pressing issues facing local government?
With hundreds of answers, it is a challenge to communicate them. By sorting into the general categories below, you get a sense of their approximate distribution:
Water quality and quantity
Other environmental issues
Agriculture and farming
Governance and democracy
Taxes and economy
Some general conclusions are that many respondents want to see progress on water storage and conservation, improvements to air quality, climate emissions and recycling, protection of local farmland and encouragement of farming, local control of decision making and stronger accountability between elected officials and their constituents, a fair and efficient local tax system, promotion of appropriate local economic development, and to help the less fortunate in our communities
Below is a selection of quotes to give a flavour of the responses. The source document with all answers (unformatted pdf) can be found here.
“We need more collaboration between the CVRD and member municipalities. It's too divisive and electoral area directors are focused on their own electoral area without a broader vision for the whole region.”
“Relationship mending with local tribes: Meaningful, respectful decision-making that includes First Nations values in land-use decisions, including respecting and protecting culturally sensitive sites from commercial and residential activities, and restoring the desecrated sites in consultation with the tribes.”
“Holding all politicians accountable to their actions and to their constituents. An honest government is a good government.”
“Poverty amelioration through publicly funded housing, daycare and support for living wage policies for public and private employees.”
“Forestry land use control - we need to get control of our watersheds out of private for profit over people stakeholders. Just because a parcel of land was logged does not mean it should be covered in concrete asphalt and houses.”
“Council accountability, limiting bureaucratic expansion, evolution of 'pet projects' and most of all imposing strict financial controls and a reduction in out of control tax increases!”
“Cowichan should be a provincial leader in many progressive areas such as projects like developing solar, wind energy for its citizens. Let's be the model for other communities.”
“Living ‘with’ not ‘beside’ our First Nations partners, and developing collaborative projects to the benefit of everyone.”
“Managing increasingly complex issues like climate change (severe winter storms, summer drought and invasive species) without the authority and the revenue flexibility.”
“Promoting local high tech renewable energy projects with training programs to allow our youth local high tech skilled jobs so they don’t have to move to Alberta.”
“The valley is being destroyed piecemeal---people wanting nature as long as it doesn't interfere with their personal needs for comfort, whether that be a new and faster road system or lake front property, ocean views, etc. It wouldn't be easy for a local government to deal with. We possibly need a bigger vision statement from the local government --- where should the borders (sprawl) end? Should there be consultation when considering going outside of these borders?”
“Consideration of the impact of the positive professional economic development. The lack of an effective downtown business zone is unfortunate.”
"Reduction of administrative government costs through amalgamation. Associated reduction of property taxes.”
“The current system of governance- e.g. the CVRD - board is not working. It seems to be run by employees, and not by the elected officials. The power has to go back to the elected.”
“Water conservation and management in collaboration with the First Nations community, environmental protections and sustainable energy initiatives at affordable prices for all, and sustainable jobs.”
“Water sustainability. Even with our present population we still reached 3rd level water restriction in late July. Realise climate change is here and the situation will not get easier into the future.”
“Loss of natural habitat. One of our neighbours just pulled up every piece of natural vegetation on his property.”
“Provide incentives and information to help residents create water reservoirs at home – it’s not just Cowichan Lake that needs to capture winter rains - we all should if we want to expand local food production.”
“Lack of political will to truly embrace collaborative, cooperative planning practices and ensure the full implementation of the results of those processes (ie moving urban containment boundaries after the fact)."
“Support small farms, including making it easier for multiple families to live and work them since financing and ownership is increasingly out of reach for single families - land use bylaws.”
“Maintaining our River and what's in it, bettering out relationship with the Coast Salish people in the cowichan Valley, and getting more local control of what happens to our water, land and trees. It seems like the same 4-5 people make the decisions in this town and it's not fair.”
“Retreat of both Prov. and Fed. Gov'ts from traditional areas of responsibility.”
“They fight with one another instead of working together. We don't need all these municipalities, one would be enough. It seems in North Cowichan there is a huge focus on development rather than natural preservation and environmental protection, which is just wrong. Growth isn't necessarily good. They need to think of future generations.”
“The neccesity of promoting the fullest possible participation of citizens in decision making, and the need to be accountable to those citizens.”
“Shifting from fossil fuels to green infrastructure and energy use.”
“MMBC needs to be re-evaluated. The recycling dumpsters need to be brought back -- perhaps in more public, well lit areas to deter vandalism -- with security cameras, if need be.. I hate to think of what the roadsides are going to look like this year after Christmas without the dumpsters, which is typically a time when the roadside totes AND dumpsters are overflowing.”
“Planning- duplication because right hand doesn't know what the left is doing half the time.”
“Protecting our environment, since our local economy is hugely dependent on our surroundings here -- fertile farmland, clean water, clean air, beautiful landscapes, amazing birdlife, fish life, big trees, etc -- restaurants, tourism, etc. It all comes back to living sustainably, communally and wisely in this particular place.”
“Visitors who come here still don't know how to get around, way finding, busses with maps that work, smaller busses perhaps - graphic timetables - how to get around made more accessible to the masses. Can’t can find a bus timetable anywhere and to be told to go online when your phone is on roaming is foolishness.”
“Communicate more effectively. Perhaps have quarterly public meetings for open discussion with the entire community.”
“There should be ban on in camera council meetings and decision made at those meetings. All council meetings should be open to public scrutiny.”
“Try finding a place for an aging couple who would like to be together, that has support care and is affordable! The Cowichan lodge should have been fixed up for them!”
“As a year round cycle commuter I would love to see more awareness for drivers regarding road sharing laws and some basic infrastructure to encourage more cycling.”
Other Thoughts Unprompted
At the end of the survey, we asked the open question of “Any additional comments?” Here is a sample of answers. All answers can be found (unformatted pdf) here.
“For me, local government is by far the most important level and should be making most of the decisions that directly affect the majority of local citizens.”
“I believe the citizens should be brought together to develop Cowichan valley as an environmental destination like Portland was. Bring together and educate people that enough is better than more and encourage innovation.”
“It would take the patience of a saint to be part of local government! We can't wait for action on climate change adaptations and prevention.”
“It is easy to prioritize what we spend our tax dollars on in my opinion because if we do not have clean air, clean sustainable water and food then nothing else matters. If we focus and take care of our most vulnerable essential life giving resources then I believe everything else will fall into its rightful place.”
“Too large and diverse a region to amalgamate. Some services could be shared however. There lies the problem.”
“Believe it or not, I think that the Cowichan Valley is ahead of many others with respect to subjects covered in this questionnaire.”
“This is one of the most beautiful places to live and I would like to see more of us taking better care of this environment and producing more of our own healthy food.”
“What we need even more is to find a way to change our approach in keeping the various level of governments accountable to all citizens, not just to a few large corporations.”
“Cowichan is unique, where small local and sustainable businesses can flourish. Let's keep it that way.”
“As a former resident of the Lower Mainland, I have witnessed urban sprawl and seen once rural communities transformed in to suburban monocultures. With development pressures rising, Cowichan residents and governments must be vigilant to ensure that we develop our land base in a way that facilitates the growth of diverse businesses, with diverse ownership, and encourage a mix of market and non-market housing.”
“My ‘three most important things facing local government’ were the practical, physical things municipalities need to do. It left out the social aspects of urban living such as youth, immigrant and seniors supports, providing places for activities and supporting organizations that do outreach to these communities. With so much Provincial downloading, more and more is expected from local government with less and less funds to do those things.”
“We need to preserve the quality we have in the Cowichan Valley. Taking care of our waterways and groundwater is so important. More transit? Incentives to use more renewable energy. Support our less fortunate citizens.”
“We need to stop letting builders claim to be building low income/affordable housing under false pretenses. An example is the project in Mill Bay. There are no easily accessible resources at this location, no bus service for starters, no one can get there.”
“I think we have many high priority issues in our valley. We can't live if we have no water and we should be eating more local foods. We need jobs in order to afford a roof over our heads but there is not enough of either in the valley.”
“I have several friends living in the area and find it difficult for people with disabilities to access services. For those without transportation it is difficult to access services and resources.”
“Lake Cowichan, and other areas of a Cowichan Valley, needs a very focused effort on building sustainable types of tourism in the area, to bring year-round employment. It's a beautiful area and people would come here in bigger numbers to enjoy the area if there were beautiful options for places to stay.”
“Generally i think our municiapl govt does a good job. I would like to see more support for community and social programs to combat the ever increasing poverty in BC.”
“The alternate approval process has to go. I'm tired of local gov't using it to get their projects approved with no effort or selling on their part.”
“Make the municipal administration and political decision making more accountable.”
“The live streaming of meetings and availability of video-taped CVRD board and committee meetings was a great idea; however, the number of times the audio is missing in the live feed when controversial issues are being discussed is unacceptable.”
A Note on the Survey Itself
This is not a scientific survey. The 697 people who participated self-selected, mostly online and some in- person at community events. We make no claims about statistical validity, but are confident that nearly all respondents are local, since they came from local email lists, local events, and targeted local Facebook ads.
At One Cowichan we believe that the world is run by those who show up. The survey questions were therefore developed with assistance from One Cowichan neighbourhood teams – people who have signed up to give their time, people who have put skin in the game.
Every survey will by definition include some things and leave others out, since you cannot do it all. We received some comments on the survey itself, both positive and negative, and include some of those comments below to give a flavour of them.
“It was difficult to see any of the questions on the survey as not being high priority - they are all things we all need to work toward. Thank you for doing this and I hope that the conversation continues, the governments are interested and take heed, and the citizens get on board.”
“Thanks for asking - quite the unique experience.”
“Please note that this survey was a bit too 'obvious' and you might have received more usable responses if you had people actually rate their personal priorities regarding these issues. They could rate the issues 1-2-3 but also indicate if they are important. This survey had lots of things that I consider important, so you aren't getting much 'juicy data' from me, unless you wanted to slant the responses for political purposes.”
“Thanks for the good questions and the opportunity to express my opinions.”
“These questions were mostly fairly generic. Any politician could say they support many of these things in general terms and do nothing, sometimes due to limited budgets. I'd like to see more actual concrete proposals that people can vote on, and incentives to get public input and financial contribution to match government contributions. That way we will see if people are willing to also put some money where their mouth is.”
“The survey format allows for a lot of ‘high priority’ answers. In reality, only one or two high priority items can be handled at a time, This makes it challenging to understand where the really high priorities are.”
“I found the survey included many loaded questions in support of a predetermined agenda. This was unfortunate. It would have been more useful if it was more balanced.”
“This survey is yet another in group of ‘well meaning socially correct’ people tilting at an imagined ‘need.’ The endless socialist dogma that will no doubt be used for the inevitable solicitation for more of our tax dollars.”
“Some of the survey questions are a tad leading, but overall not bad for a survey.”