Cortes Island’s Regional Director, Noba Anderson, has been under attack throughout 2019. The first that many of us heard of this was probably in January, when one of the silliest lawsuits ever was filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. I almost felt sorry for the plaintiffs’ lawyer on June 10, as he sat in court listening while the random gossip that his clients brought forward as evidence was torn apart.
He did not dispute a single argument, and in fact filed a joint submission with the defendants’ lawyer admitting there was no basis for the allegations made in his clients’ legal petition. The only excuse he offered was that his clients “were put up to it.” He did not say who was the real instigator of the legal petition; but we know that something odd has been happening within the Strathcona Regional District Board for more than a year, in addition to partisan shenanigans on Cortes Island. Are the two somehow related? What is going on within the SRD Board?
Conflict Within EASC
To be more precise, what is happening within the Electoral Areas Service Committee (EASC)?
“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 … In different votes we vote different ways, [but] I have often felt very much in the outs in this group.”
She said there have been attempts to find a resolution to the personality clashes within EASC, but they have never been totally successful.
“ … I’ve spoken over the years with the Chair of EASC [Jim Abram] and various Chairs of the Board and various CAOs. We’ve certainly had governance workshops as a board, as a whole, to try to get at some of our core governance issues.”
2013 Village Workshop
Shortly after moving to Cortes Island, I took part in an August 9, 2013, “village workshop” at the Klahoose Multipurpose Building. This was a role playing exercise about the European impact on indigenous communities. Our “village” progressed from the pre-contact era, through colonial times to the present.
I saw Director Anderson there, before the exercise began, but she left in compliance with an SRD decision that no “Electoral Area Directors” could attend. They appear to have been concerned that she might comment about a Klahoose rezoning application (to build a marina). The SRD Board minutes reveal that at least two Directors also had reservations about the village workshop.
- Director Leigh cast the only vote against the board receiving the village workshop’s handout (the motion carried anyway).
- Director Abram joined her in opposition, when the board passed a resolution to provide funding for the village workshop.
As for that Klahoose rezoning application, the Campbell River Mirror states that the motion was defeated after a 2-2 vote at the “SRD Board” then lists the four EASC Directors. Abram & Anderson supported the application; Leigh and Whalley were against it. The SRD Board’s minutes for Aug 22, 2013, confirm that Leigh and Whalley cast the only opposing votes and this was sufficient to defeat the application. The rest of the Board appears to have merely observed this transaction.
An “In Camera” Matter
When I asked Director Gerald Whalley about the obvious conflict within EASC, he replied that it is an in-camera matter that he could not comment on.
Cortes Island’s Grants In Aid
At the July 24, 2019, committee meeting, Directors Whalley and Leigh complained that, for years, Anderson has been running to the board whenever EASC denies her an application. Chief Administrative Officer David Leitch promptly corrected them, pointing out that it was standard procedure for denied applications to go before the board.
EASC only recommended one Cortes Grant-in-Aid application during 2019. As you can see in the chart above, when Abram, Leigh or Whalley bring an application forward, it is rubber stamped. With just one exception, this year’s Cortes Grant-In-Aid applications passed only when the SRD Board intervened.
Let’s take a closer look at these applications.
The Klahoose Grant In Aid Application
On April 10, 2019, EASC decided to not make a recommendation regarding the first grant-in-aid application ever made by the Klahoose Nation. They were looking for additional funding to hire “a researcher to catalogue information on artefacts, burial sites, and culturally significant sites currently held in government records.” As Director Anderson subsequently explained to her constituents, on the Tideline, “At the Committee meeting, 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.”
The Strathcona Regional District Board dealt with the application on April 25, 2019. When she recused herself from the vote, Leigh made it clear that this was because of a ($150) donation the chief of the Klahoose had made to a GoFundMe set up for Director Anderson’s father after his cabin burned down in January 2018.
“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,” she insisted.
There is nothing unusual about the $150 donation, Cortes Island residents frequently come to one another’s aid in times of need. The only unusual aspect of this situation is Leigh’s suggestion that a small donation one individual made to a fire relief fund, the previous year, should be deemed sufficient grounds to turn down the Klahoose Nation’s application.
Seven Cortes Grant in Aid Applications
Leigh appeared to be endorsing the allegations made in the Legal Petition which, on June 10, 2019, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled have no factual basis.
Two days later, on June 12, the Strathcona Regional District Board reversed its previous decision on seven Cortes applications. The minutes of that meeting state that when the vote was taken “Directors Abram, Kerr, and Leigh recused themselves from the meeting chambers due to outstanding legal issues.” Whalley cast the only vote against the Cortes applications, which were granted.
FOCI Transportation Application
That same day, Director Anderson brought the Friends of Cortes Island’s (FOCI) application for funding to hire a transportation coordinator before EASC. The minutes of that meeting state the application died because Directors Whalley and Leigh voted against it. When this was brought up at the next SRD Board meeting, on June 27, 2019, Director Anderson explained:
“ … What happened at the Electoral Area Committee is I spoke to them of the timely nature, because the intent is to start this summer. There is a very different kind of [scene?] in the summer and we do need to be around. The vote was called and I was the only one who put up my hand. There was no other discussion at all from my [three] colleagues. When the vote was called in opposition, director Whalley and director Leigh put up their hand in opposition. No discussion [the motion died].”
Reasons For EASC Opposition To FOCI Application
Some of the comments EASC members made at that meeting are revealing. Director Abram claimed that the Cortes Island Director should have consulted with him first. To which Anderson responded that she had given him a couple of weeks “to come back to me with any kind of amendment or suggested alternative.”
Director Whalley revealed his ignorance of the application by stating, “In essence this is a business undertaking, paying a person to drive a bus … I don’t think it is appropriate.”
Anderson replied, “Just for clarity, this is for a transportation coordinator on Cortes, part time for a few months, to try to advance a whole number of initiatives – one of which being helping to coordinate the possible implementation of a bus. Absolutely not a bus driver; Absolutely not a private initiative.”
The SRD Board sent the application back to EASC, and the July 24 minutes of that committee show the FOCI application was defeated because “Directors Leigh and Whalley opposed” it.
Climate Hope Application
The only Cortes application that EASC recommended this year was $7,000 to Climate Hope “to assist with costs for various climate change initiatives.” Not having been at the October 9 meeting, I cannot say why Abram and Whalley chose to break what is otherwise a perfect record of opposition to Cortes Grant-in-Aid applications. However Director Leigh voted against it .
She also cast the only vote against it on October 24, when the SRD Board approved Climate Hope’s Grant-in-Aid.
More Clashes in EASC?
Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Chek’tles7et’h’ First Nation Issue
At the November 21, 2019 SRD Board meeting, Director Anderson was criticized for questioning EASC’s recommendation that the SRD write a letter to the province expressing concerns about the possible addition of treaty lands to the Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Chek’tles7et’h’ First Nation. Directors Adams, Abram, Leigh and CAO Leitch all asked, why was Cortes Island’s Director rehashing the matter?
“The only reason I brought this up was that my alternate was at EASC, not myself, and I was told that her attempt to bring these issues up at the meeting was shot down and she was told the matter had already been discussed at the First Nations Relations Committee. There was no opportunity for discussion,” said Anderson.
She added, “I just would not vote in opposition to an EASC recommendation, without letting the board know what my rationale was.”
Settle EASC Matters Within EASC?
I suspect the SRD Board doesn’t want to be drawn into this conflict among its rural Directors. Mayor Andy Adams felt so uncomfortable moving forward with an application that did not have a recommendation from EASC that he recused himself from voting on the Klahoose Grant in Aid application.
At that time, Director Charlie Cornfield responded, “The EASC (Electoral Area Services Committee) does not have the authority to approve or turn down a Grant In Aid. It is only this Board. As to the process, EASC followed due process by saying they had no recommendation and it was referred to this board. So process is followed. Bottom line is, this board approves any Grants in Aid.”
Cornfield eventually changed his opinion and joined the Directors insisting that applications should be approved by EASC before they come before the board. Some view this as opposing Cortes, which may be true in some cases, but the underlying principle is procedural and I do not think many of us would be concerned if EASC were functioning properly. But is it?
One of the wisest observations I have heard about the current situation is that it appears to largely be a personality clash for which all four EASC directors are to blame. However I am not as concerned about blame as the facts:
- three of the four EASC Directors appear to consistently oppose Cortes Island initiatives.
- a small group of Cortes Islanders opposed to our Regional Director appear to have found sympathetic ears on the SRD Board (EASC?).
Cortes Connections Prior To Anderson Re-election?
Someone strongly associated with Cortes Island’s anti-tax lobby has been regularly attending Strathcona Regional District Board meetings since 2009. She is not the only one, which might explain where the SRD obtained the unfounded notion that there were as many Cortes Islanders opposing the hall tax as supporting it. (All the evidence from previous petitions, etc., suggested that two-thirds of the population consistently supported funding the halls; and 75% voted “Yes” in the recent referendum.)
The first time I heard of any opposition to Director Anderson within the SRD was when I interviewed her opponent during the 2018 election. George Sirk told me he could get along with “the SRD”; Anderson could not. I did not ask whom she was allegedly having difficulties with, how he came to know of this, or repeat this story when I published my interview with him.
Jim Abram has apparently known George for many years and, during the election campaign, attacked Noba Anderson’s integrity on a Cortes Island Facebook page.
EASC’s Connection, Or Not?
A Campbell River Mirror article from November 2018 quotes Abram and Leigh suggesting the SRD Board should delay implementing the results of Cortes’ recent referendum on whether to have a referendum on hall tax funding. Abram insisted “The bylaws are not complete, they’re not ready. I don’t know why we’re so intent on doing them right now.” Leigh said she had “heard concerns from Cortes residents via email.“
At least one of the anti-Anderson petitioners has made statements hinting at an SRD connection to that document, but did not indicate who was involved, to what extent they were involved, or if there is any connection to the petitioners’ claim that they were “put up to” filing that frivolous lawsuit.
SRD Board Censures Anderson
One would have thought that after Anderson’s court victory and the decisive “Yes” vote in recent referendum, things would have settled down. Instead, the SRD has proceeded to take formal action against Cortes Island’s Director.
In an in camera session on Oct 24, 2019, Directors Abram and Unger brought forward a motion that the SRD Board censure Anderson for revealing “confidential and privileged information” contained in three secret SRD documents. This carried.
The incident is virtually unknown on Cortes, which raises some questions:
- Who is Anderson supposed to have shown the documents to?
- How did the SRD come to know of it?
- And, given the fact virtually no one has seen the secret documents, what harm did this alleged breach do?
SRD Will Not Pay Anderson’s Legal Fees
This was followed, a month later, by the announcement that the SRD would not pay the legal costs Anderson incurred when defending herself against the legal petition. In their November 22 press release, the board states:
“It also has the authority to deny indemnification when elected officials have failed to comply with the Board’s indemnification bylaw or have acted in contravention of the conflict of interest rules applicable to local government officials through their Oath of Office, SRD Code of Conduct bylaw and/or Local Government Act.”
This is almost old news. The Campbell River Mirror published a story about the SRD’s refusal to pay Director Anderson’s legal fees last June. Their refusal was communicated in a letter “dated May 10, 2019, a month before the case was concluded locally in B.C. Supreme Court.” The same justification was given.
Six months later, at an in camera session on November 6, 2019, Directors Whalley and Abram brought forward a motion that the SRD Board “not indemnify Director Anderson and that we notify her of our decision and provide her with the opportunity to respond through legal counsel via letter.” The motion carried.
One Of Its Own Members
When the SRD finally announced their decision publicly, Chair Babchuk appears to have attempted to deflect public criticism:
“No Board likes to have to go through this type of process especially when it deals with one of its own members. We recognize the impact this has had on Director Anderson, members of the Board and staff and the residents of Cortes Island. Its been a tough year with processes and challenges that this Board has never dealt with before, and this was not an easy decision for the Board. We look forward to putting this behind us and serving all the constituents of the SRD.”
And yet it would appear that the SRD has given oversight of Cortes Island affairs to a committee dominated by three Directors openly hostile to Director Anderson. Is this really “serving all the constituents of the SRD”?