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Political flip-flop kills increase for regional parkland acquisition fund

CVRD board members Stone and Abbott swayed by tax concerns

Less than a month after approving an annual contribution of almost $2.5 million to a regional parkland acquisition fund, the Cowichan Valley Regional District board has narrowly reversed its decision in the face of tax protests.

A political flip-flop by board chair Aaron Stone and director Hilary Abbott tilted the scales. Funding this year for the acquisition fund now reverts to $958,000.

All four North Cowichan directors on the board — Mayor Rob Douglas and councillors Debra Toporowski, Christopher Justice and Chris Istace -– voted to approve the full increase in funding.

“We know that the land base in our watersheds right across the CVRD is under increasing strain…as a result of population growth and development,” Douglas said.

He noted that about half the region’s 42,000 hectares of rare coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone has been “permanently converted” to residential, agricultural and urban uses; the other half remains “under very poor ecological condition,” with about one per cent set aside for conservation purposes.

On Feb. 8, the board voted 28-22 to approve the $2.5-million contribution.

But the matter didn’t end there.


At the board meeting on Feb. 28, Stone said that a procedural mistake required the matter to come back for another vote. He later added that as chair he has the authority to bring back a motion for reconsideration within 30 days.

The CVRD meeting room spilled over with about 200 people, most of them protesting a planned 19.33-per-cent-increase in the regional district budget. RCMP and bylaw enforcement officers were visible nearby.

The board ultimately voted 27-23 to kill the $2.5-million contribution.

Under a weighted voting system, Stone carried five votes as mayor of Ladysmith — and that alone was enough to defeat the motion supporting the $2.5 million. He noted that his reversal “will disappoint some in the community and some at this table.”

In a later statement to, Stone said that “myself, like so many others, are under financial strain and we have to balance that financial strain, the needs of the organization and land investments like parkland acquisition.”

Abbott — representing Area D, Cowichan Bay — also changed his position from supporting to rejecting the $2.5 million. He carried four votes.

“Three weeks, sober second thought, a lot of impassioned emails, phone calls both for and against what we voted on,” Abbott said. “I must say that on the 8th of February, I got caught up in the emotion, the persuasion, the need….”

(Read more on the Feb. 8 meeting: )

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The increase in the parkland acquisition fund became a political scapegoat, representing three-per-cent-plus of the budget increase. In comparison, a new regional recreation funding model approved by voters in a 2022 referendum accounted for more than six per cent of the budget increase.

In addition to Stone and Abbott, the following directors voted down the motion for $2.5 million: Kate Segall, Jesse McClinton, Mike Wilson, Tim McGonigle, Ian Morrison, Ben Maartman, and Sierra Acton.

Board members joining North Cowichan in support of the funding included Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples, and directors Karen Deck and Alison Nicholson.

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— Larry Pynn, March 3, 2024


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