A Tale of Two Cities, Neighbours Contrast Approaches

The most recent ranking of economic resilience by BC Business Magazine places Duncan/North Cowichan at 27th out of 50 communities. Being average might be alright but when you live next door to the winner, in this case Langford, you have to wonder what the difference is that makes a winner.

Reported here (https://www.bcbusiness.ca/BCs-Best-Cities-2022#overview), the measures include household financial vulnerability, residents sense of belonging, community growth, employment ,social and environmental resilience, including household greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, housing availability, economic diversity, and others.

Clearly, being neighbours, Langford and Cowichan enjoy the same benefits of geography, climate, population, and general economic climate as part of British Columbia. So, why is there such a large gap in performance?

A significant difference might well lie in the comparative local politics. Stewart Young, who has been the Mayor in Langford for 32 years might well lie at the heart of the issue. A strong proponent of a business-like approach to running the 45,000 resident community, Mayor Young has been innovative in attracting both people and business to the community. As example, Langford offers a $17,500 subsidy to first time home buyers if they buy and live in the community for two years. Culturally, Langford has hosted a number of significant sporting and cultural events, have heavily promoted their tourism and dining sector, and generally have reduced red tape.

Cowichan, as represented by the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan, have taken a generally opposite tack, heavily promoting efforts aimed at global warming, development control and zoning restrictions. The new draft Official Community Plan leans heavily towards environmental and business restrictions. In fact, one clause, suggests that businesses may have to meet wage (livable wage) and social tests (on-site daycare) as hurdles for getting a business license.

Local business leaders point to that same divide. Local Cowichan businessman Brian Danyliw points to municipal governments that are overly concerned about social issues and ignoring the basics that enables a balanced economy that provides livelihoods for residents and a bright future.

Danyliw owns a real estate brokerage and is chair of Cowichan Works, a community group dedicated to creating livable communities and a vibrant local economy that supports families and provides well-paying jobs.

“Local governments keep on expanding their mandates, increasing spending and up go the taxes,Danyliw said.  “In many cases the focus on social issues is creating conditions where people are reluctant to go into some neighbourhoods.”

Danyliw said communities are becoming divided over how mental health and drug addiction issues have spilled out onto the streets, and the impact keeps expanding.

“There is no resiliency in a divided community and, unfortunately, we are not seeing the leadership that the Cowichan Valley requires to fulfill its potential,” he said.

“We see some elected officials who seem to be determined to block growth in housing options, which is critically required if we are to truly address the affordability of housing – that’s the real issue.”

The two Councils, comparing North Cowichan with Langford, represent opposing styles of governance. As well, experience levels are opposite. Langford Council has been same for decades, with the shortest serving member in his fourth consecutive term. The Mayor has been returned for 32 years in a row, and several councillors have served from near inception of Langford in 1992. That’s an impressive track record of experience and makes for a Council that deeply understand their community na d likely work well as a team.

In contrast, only two of the North Cowichan Council are long term Councillors, Al Siebring as the current and retiring Mayor and Kate Marsh as a long time Councillor. The other five are all newcomers who largely replaced one term new-comers in the last elections. Of the five, only Rob Douglas was a repeat winner. While new ideas are needed to keep communities up with the times, a lack of continuity and the attendant institutional knowledge can become handicaps to longterm success.

This is an election year and once again represents and opportunity for choosing the right path for our community.