Noba Anderson: The exit interview

Noba Anderson was first elected as Regional Director for Strathcona Regional District Area B (Cortes Island) in 2008.  She served 4 terms (two three-year and two four-year) for a total of 14 years in office, making her the longest-serving Regional Director in the island’s history.

Some other Strathcona Regional Directors (notably those from Oyster River and Quadra Island) have held office for far longer, running repeatedly for decades without successful challengers.  In 2022, however, Oyster River’s Brenda Leigh was defeated at the polls and Jim Abram of Quadra chose not to run again.  Noba Anderson also chose not to run again.

Cortes Currents asked Noba if she would be willing to participate in an “exit interview” — a look back over her long run as our representative at SRD.  She was interviewed in mid October.

I asked Noba many questions, and the 2-hour interview covered a lot of interesting ground;  the broadcast version has been divided into seven segments of 10-15 minutes each, for easier listening. 

Part One covers the basics — if you only listen to one episode, that’s the one:  What is a Regional Director?  What is the SRD Board?  What does a Regional Director do?  Why did Noba Anderson run for office in the first place, back in 2008?  How did her perception of the job change over time?  What does she look back on as the highlights of her career in local politics?  What does she think of her successor, Mark Vonesh?  And how would she summarise her experience as the RD for Area B?

In Parts Two through Seven we dive more deeply into several topics.  Listeners may want to select the subjects of most interest to them.

Episode Two: The Political Life: how did Noba get into it, and how does it feel to get out again?

Episode Three: SRD, the Regional District System, how it works for us (or doesn’t)

Episode Four: Possible Alternatives for Local Governance: could we do better?

Hornby Island Community Hall – Courtesy HIRRA website

Episode Five: The Community Conflict of 2018-19, Litigation, Hopes for Resolution

Episode Six: Looking to the Future:  Unfinished Business and What’s On The Way

Episode Seven:  14 Years of Change on Cortes Island

We present here a slightly abridged transcript of Episode One.

CC:  So Noba, you’ve served longer than any other Cortes Regional Director, with 14 years in office.  And you were first elected in —

NA:  2008.   The very end of 2008.

CC:  So what is a Regional Director?  What were you signing up for, back in 2008, when you decided you wanted this job?

NA: A Regional Director is essentially the equivalent of a mayor, in a rural, unincorporated area. So in British Columbia, outside of municipal boundaries, there is one elected representative for each geographical rural area, who then sits on a regional district board with their rural counterparts elected from other rural areas, plus representatives from all of the municipalities in that area.

So the Strathcona Regional District encompasses the municipalities of Sayward, Tahsis, Zeballos, Gold River, Campbell River, and then the rural areas that span from. Bute and Toba all the way over to the West Coast — Kyuquot, Gold River  — up north of the Sayward Valley and down to Oyster River to the south. So I sit with now 14 members.

It has been 13 until recently. The elected member of the Kyuquot/Cheklesahht First Nation has joined our board, but the majority of the past 14 years, it’s been a 13 member board, four of which are rural, and the remaining urban/municipal.   There are five reps, I believe, from Campbell River, and then one rep from each of Gold River, Sayward. Tahsis and Zeballos. 

CC: What actually does a regional director do? I mean, what is the job?

NA: That’s a hell of a question. It comes with no job description. There is literally nothing to look up and reference and read as far as I’ve ever come across.  Certainly at times, depending on the administration and the board, there will be orientations:  what is the legislation under which we work and what are some of the, the norms and best practices, and we can go to local government leadership academy trainings, but there is no job description that says, this is what you must do and this is what you may not do.

And there’s certainly the Local Government Act that says you can’t be in conflict of interest, and you can’t vote on these certain issues and you can vote on those. But in terms of what is generally expected, no.

Certainly the core minimum job is very simple and very straightforward. You show up to three to four days of meeting a month:  on the Hospital Board, the Solid Waste Board, the Strathcona Regional District Board and the Electoral Area Committee, and read your agendas and vote yea or nay on the various things at hand.

And then there’s an expectation generally that you’re available for advocacy for your community to outside agencies. So Highways, and Health Authority, and whatever it might be. But the range of how people choose to interpret their job is, is huge.

It’s largely up  to the individual directors to determine. So I have one colleague, Gerald Whalley, who prides himself on No Government Is Good Government, and his job is to keep government out of his area and reduce taxes and do as little as possible. And so his job is very, very minimal.

And then Jim Abram has, according to him, at times turned it into an absolute double full-time job — sitting on the Union of BC Municipalities and all kinds of external appointments and bodies, and he’s just at it all the time. And we all get the same pay essentially. You get a little bit more if you go to more meetings, but…

CC:  So one thing I’d very much like to know — especially in hindsight — is why did you want this job?  What inspired you to campaign and get elected back in —

NA: —elected in 2008, but I didn’t contemplate it until just a few months before the election.

CC: That’s interesting… So, it’s 2008 — what on earth made you at that point think, “Wow, I really want to be a Regional Director”?

NA: What actually inspired me at the time?  I had a number of people suggest that I run and I just rolled my eyes and lovingly scoffed. And it wasn’t until one particular friend and mentor asked me to really consider it that I had to sit down long enough to really think about it.

And I went to a couple of board meetings and sat in on them, but what ultimately tipped the balance for me was:  we were about to embark on the review of our official community plan. And that is an aspirational visionary document that — I mean, I see now as far less effective than I thought it was at the time — but I really saw as being the light that this community would move toward, if we got it right. 

And I wanted to see my generation really engaged in that. I saw that for the most part, the people in community leadership roles were my parents’ generation here. And I really wanted my generation to be at the core of that visioning process.

And so I thought that I would do one term, it would be three years, we would get that OCP done and I would move on with my life. That was my goal.  [laughs]

Of course it wasn’t completed in a term, so then I had to run again… And here we are. 

CC:  14 years, it’s a long time. How did your perception of the the job and the possibilities in that job evolve?  Obviously you walked in thinking, We’re going to have an OCP in three years. So there must have been some adjustments to your worldview.  

NA: Well, I certainly did believe that we could accomplish an OCP review in three years.

It took five or six or something anyway, but clearly that’s not the only thing one would do in three years. And so when I got in, I became very immediately interested in the regionality and the provincial scope of the job, and went to the conventions, the Provincial Union of BC Municipalities conventions and the regional equivalent.

And I got involved in the climate action portfolios really early, on and tried to bring back best practices from other communities and nonprofits to the regional district around climate action and… that failed. 

But after I’d say probably a, a year or two into my term, I realized that the Regional Director was the only position here locally that held the responsibility for thinking of the whole, that held the responsibility to think for the interconnected big picture perspective of the island. 

And there were so many non-profits here who were doing fantastic work in their own sectors.

So you’ve got an organization running the docks and another running the clinic and another running the community halls and another running the fire hall. And, and they, they do fantastic work, but there wasn’t much communication between them and there wasn’t any body or collection of them that was thinking In an overarching manner.

And so I pivoted my attention relatively early on in my time in office to trying to support the collective thinking in that way. And because I knew that whoever came after me might not have that perspective, and certainly people before me — you know, you can interpret the job so widely. So I turned my attention towards supporting the social profit sector here and shifting the way grant-in-aids were spent, and supporting the nonprofit sector getting together in forums, and supported the formation of what is now the Community Economic Development Association and then the Cortes Island Foundation.

CC:  What are some of the highlights of those 14 years for you? Like the things you accomplished, things you feel have some lasting value. You know, what do you look back on and say, “yeah!  I did that!”?

NA: Well, what, what has lasting value more than land? Right? I mean, almost everything else that I’ve done requires our continued concerted attention and effort to sustain, but the pieces that I feel most solid about are parks, because chances are they’re not going to get undone.

So Hank’s Beach was, you know, a glorious one to bring into the park system. It was with no funds from the taxpayers to purchase it, and very little funds to maintain it. So that was an incredible gift. And then later the purchase of the Whaletown Commons, which was largely on the  taxpayers’ dime but I think is just a stunning legacy in the middle of Whaletown that connects three neighborhoods with a trail network and a salmon stream.

And then there’s been a couple little beach accesses and things, but those are the land legacies that I feel good about. And then from there, as I mentioned, I was turning my attention more towards the collective think and the social profit network. So I dedicated my maternity year to supporting the formation of the Housing Association and purchasing the lands we now know as Rainbow Ridge, the 50 acres behind Mansons Hall. 

And again, that’s land, that feels like — now we still don’t have a house for somebody to live in, it’s really slow and really frustrating — but at least there’s a piece of land there that I don’t think will be undermined, and it starts to create some organizational structure around addressing our housing crisis.

CC:  Well, you have decided to step down. And local resident, Mark Vonesch has put his hat in the ring;  there are no other contenders. So Mark is going to be elected by acclamation.  Do you think our relationship with SRD is going to improve a bit with new face, kind of a fresh start?

NA: I think Mark will have a better time of it. Certainly he believes in regional politics, and he believes in the political machine.

I’m pretty worn down in my belief in that, so he’s got a fresh perspective.  So I think he’ll do just fine. My only concern, and I’ve shared this with him, is … I think that over time he’ll realize that there isn’t as much capacity to affect change as he hopes that there would be.

And may he prove me wrong!

I just wish him all the very best in navigating the complexity of this job. And I make a complete, unwavering commitment to be as available to him as he wants, passing on whatever historical files or information or context he might find valuable. I certainly made that public commitment to anybody who would do this job after me.

Now to what extent he will want that, is his call. I’m not gonna be pushy about it, but I know that when I took office that wasn’t available to me — and I wish it had been. 

CC: And how, at this point, would you summarize your experiences as Regional Director for Cortes?  

NA: I’ve struggled with the slow pace of the bureaucracy of government.  That’s been really hard,

But the ups have far outweighed the downs, overall.  It has been such an honor to serve this community, and to be given the trust to do my best on our collective behalf. 

And the level of gratitude that continually comes my way has been really humbling. I don’t find that when I go to the store, I get bombarded with “what about my pothole on my street,” but rather, gratitude.  

I wouldn’t do this anywhere else.  I wouldn’t contemplate, you know, standing in the fire that is required for local government, for any community that I didn’t just adore. 

Top image credit: 2018 Strathcona Regional District board meeting: left to right Directors – Noba Anderson, Charlie Cornfield, Gerald Whalley & Ron Kerr.