When Noba Anderson was re-elected, on October 20, 2018, most of Cortes Island thought she was our representative to the Strathcona Regional District (SRD) Board. Since then, we have discovered there is a sense in which Cortes Island has three directors.
Though they have regional districts of their own, Brenda Leigh and Gerald Whalley also represent the interests of a small group of people who oppose Anderson. Some would add a third name to this list of unelected directors, Jim Abram, but I want to limit it to those who have openly admitted they are a conduit for dissatisfied Cortes voices.
False Rumours – Cortes Island’s Separation Plot
Most recently, these directors were quick to embrace what turned out to be a totally false rumour that Anderson wants Cortes to secede from the SRD. In the wake of all the political shenanigans this past year, a number of Cortesians have suggested we would be better off on our own, but our elected representative is not one of them. She does believe Cortes should have a community council and called a meeting to discuss this idea. You will not hear a single person suggest Cortes secede in the recording I made of that assembly. Many stressed the need to work within the SRD, however that is not what a small group of Cortes dissidents told the SRD Board. Their complaints sparked a heated 20 minute battle at the Feb 26, 2020, SRD Board meeting.
“I have to say that I have seen some comments online that alluded to [Cortes Island] leaving the Regional District,” said Regional Director Jim Abram.
“All of the communications I’ve had with residents from Cortes Island are opposed. I’ve had no contact with anyone in favour of it,” said Regional Director Gerald Whalley.
“I do not support any motion that does not … represent all Cortes Islanders and not just the director’s insiders. That’s the feedback that I’m getting, that there is a small group that are driving the bus and they are not elected and they are not accountable,” said Regional Director Brenda Leigh.
That last bit seems ironic, coming from someone who was not elected to represent Cortes Island.
Electoral Areas Service’s Committee
Anderson, Leigh, Whalley and Abram all sit on the Electoral Areas Services Committee (EASC), which oversees affairs in their areas. Anderson is the outsider in this group. If you think of this situation in terms of a schoolyard scenario, she is probably the kid being repeatedly picked on. In a previous interview, Anderson said, “Some seven or eight years ago, I used to leave just about every board meeting and go sit in a back alley and cry for awhile.”
I had an opportunity to observe her conduct during a number of meetings this past year. Anderson was invariably respectful, but spoke what she believed to be the truth regardless of the prevailing opinion in the room.
As she only has one vote, Cortes Island’s elected director is repeatedly overruled by her three colleagues. Thus the handful of Cortesians who use Leigh and Whalley to oppose their director actually have a much greater voice within EASC than the rest of the island’s population. If the larger Strathcona Regional District Board had not intervened, only one of Cortes Island’s 2019 grant-in-aid applications would have been passed. However, there was no resistance to applications from Leigh’s, Whalley’s and Abram’s areas.
Director Whalley’s Climate Presentation
Director Whalley recently mentioned another example of Cortes dissidents attempting to work through him:
“At the last board meeting’s agenda, when it was publicized that I would do a little presentation on climate change, I received quite a few phone calls and emails from Cortes Islanders who had anticipated that I was going to give a differing opinion from Director Anderson’s. They were offering me support and advice. What I found most interesting was, to a person, they asked me to ensure that none of their tax dollars ever go to carbon reductions.”
The most revealing segments of that quote are “to a person” and the fact they all asked Whalley to “ensure that none of their tax dollars ever go to carbon reductions.” It seems highly unlikely that the opinions of a real cross section of Cortes Island’s population would be so uniform. Does Whalley really think most Cortes residents would contact him rather than their own director? Is it surprising that the few who do are always opposed to Director Anderson?
Delaying The Hall Tax Referendum
Many of us first became aware of Leigh’s communications with Cortes Island residents after reading the November 28, 2018, Campbell River Mirror. She and Regional Director Jim Abram said the SRD needed to ignore the results of the recent referendum on whether Cortes should hold a referendum on funding the community halls. Abram insisted it was too soon.
“Area D Director Brenda Leigh echoed this, saying the SRD board should take into account opinions from those opposed. She said she had heard concerns from Cortes residents via email.”
“I don’t think that’s fair to people, to the taxpayers. I think they should have the opportunity,’ she said.”
The Legal Petition
Leigh stated this a couple of months before 14 of Cortes Island’s residents attempted to nullify the results of the recent election by filing a legal petition to have Director Anderson removed from office. They claimed that “Anderson took money from her constituents for personal gain and a number of those same constituents received gifts and grants in return.” The alleged bribes were supposedly made through a GoFundMe Campaign set up after her father’s cabin burned down. (Noba is her father’s legal guardian.) This petition is full of erroneous details and appears to have been based on gossip rather than fact. When the matter finally reached court, the lawyers from both sides filed a joint submission stating “There is no basis for the declarations sought by the petitioners.” In the resulting hearing, the petitioner’s solicitor sat quietly while his client’s ‘evidences’ were demolished. His only defence was, “My clients were put up to this.”
Was The SRD Involved?
One of the petitioners, Bertha Jeffrey, would later hint that the SRD may be associated with the petition:
[Anderson] “… should have declared the income especially when asked by the SRD and did the honourable thing and returned the funds. And take down the Go Fund Me page. She refused to and that is what the lawsuit is about.”
In fairness to the petitioners, I should mention that SRD Chair Michele Babchuk also believes Anderson should not have accepted the GoFundMe donations. To her way of thinking: it isn’t enough for a director to avoid conflicts of interest, they also need to avoid anything that gives the appearance of such a conflict.
Speaking for the board as a whole, Babchuk also said, “We have no involvement with the legal petition.”
However when asked whether individual directors were involved, Babchuk responded, “I would not even remotely feel comfortable [answering that question]. I have not had any conversations with other directors regarding this, my job is with the board as a whole.”
Where Is the ‘SRDs’ Opposition To Anderson Coming From?
It is easy for anyone who has observed the SRD Board in action to identify the source of the opposition to Anderson: directors Abram, Leigh and Whalley. When the SRD Board passed most of Cortes Island’s Grant in Aid applications last year, Directors Abram and Leigh recused themselves ‘due to outstanding legal issues’ and Whalley cast the only opposing vote.
EASC also attempted to derail a Klahoose Nation application for funding to help cover the cost of hiring a researcher to catalogue information on artefacts, burial sites, and culturally significant sites currently held in government records. Apparently, “Director Leigh stated that she had received a phone call from a Cortes resident objecting to this application on a number of political, legal and funding grounds.”
Chief Kevin Peacey had contributed $150 to the GoFundMe campaign set up for Director Anderson’s father. Mind you, that was the previous year. The Klahoose did not apply for any Grant in Aid funding in 2018, the year the petitioners erroneously claimed Anderson used this fund to reward her supporters. In fact, prior to 2019, they had never applied for a Grant in Aid.
In her attempt to prevent the Klahoose application from going forward, Leigh said, “A lot of Grants in Aid went out to people who contributed to the GoFundMe campaign. I don’t think it is ethical to do that and I won’t be voting in favour of it because I feel there shouldn’t even be a perception of any kind of kickback.”
(Aside from the fact that Grant in Aids are awarded to organizations, not individuals, none of the allegations Leigh is referring to were based in fact.)
Going On For More Than A Decade
In a recent interview, Director Anderson said, “A minority of very active voices has been very effective in undermining my credibility at the Regional District.”
How long has this been going on?
A Campbell River Mirror article from 2012 states that one of Anderson’s Cortesian critics “has attended just about every regional district board meeting for close to three years and writes repeatedly to the board about issues that matter to her.”