Our final issue of 2019 seems like the right time to say thanks for reading and Happy New Year.
For readers who picked up any or all of our print issues in 2019 or accessed any of our articles online, it seemed like as busy a year as any for Nanaimo news, but without some of the over-arching themes of recent years.
In 2018, for example, we chose just one story of the year, Discontent City, because of its news value, the amount of coverage we provided, the public reaction, and its social context.
In 2019, there wasn’t that one obvious choice for a story of the year, so we looked at a variety, instead: crime and social disorder, response to the climate emergency, the election and re-election of a Green Party MP, the foundation of a legalized cannabis industry, and a tragic plane crash. These were some of the stories that received significant coverage over the course of the year, and ones that seemed to engage readers. We know there are countless other angles to Nanaimo news and we’d be interested to hear what were the top stories of 2019 for you.
Today’s issue reviews the year in a few other ways, too. Yesterday we posted a list of the top 10 most-read news articles, the top 10 most-read arts and entertainment articles and the top 10 most-read sports articles.
Year-in-review coverage will continue in print and on our website with photos of the year, beefs of the year and, to hopefully bring some smiles, our top 10 animal stories of the year.
All the best to our readers in the new year. We look forward to the 2020 stories of the year, whatever they might turn out to be, and sharing them with you.
Nanaimo grappled with crime
The crime happened in 2018, but the story was a precursor to a year of coverage of a city wrestling with social issues from drug addiction and homelessness.
Property crime didn’t start in Nanaimo with the creation of temporary supportive housing, but in 2019 complaints of thefts, break-ins and other crimes rose in areas where the B.C. government created temporary supportive housing sites at 2020 Labieux Rd. and 250 Terminal Ave. to provide shelter primarily for former residents of Discontent City.
In mid January city council and the community vented frustration during a council meeting about issues associated to Newcastle Place, 250 Terminal Ave., built on property purchased by B.C. Housing and operated in partnership with Island Crisis Care Society.
Neighbourhood resident Darrell Gyorfi, one of dozens of residents living near the complex who attended the meeting, said apartment buildings were victimized by theft and residents had become afraid to leave their homes. Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said no one on council was happy with the supportive housing and it hadn’t met his expectations.
Janet Buechler, who lives near the complex, filed a civil suit in B.C. Supreme Court against the operator, the province and the city, claiming B.C. Housing violated city zoning bylaws. In November the court ruled the complex did not have to be built according to city zoning bylaws and ordered Buechler to pay the defendants’ legal costs.
In February Nanaimo RCMP Supt. Cameron Miller reported to city council calls for police service were up 60 per cent for the area around 2020 Labieux and a 53 per cent rise for the area around Newcastle Place, but police statistics also indicated many police responses were calls that were not criminal in nature. Increased awareness by Block Watch and Neighbourhood Watch programs also meant more reporting of suspicious activity and actual criminal activity couldn’t all be attributed to supportive housing residents.
The RCMP announced in April it was creating a task force to deal with crime around the housing sites.
Wire thefts hit an all-time high in 2019. Hard hit were Nanaimo’s parks and sports facilities. In July the Vancouver Island Exhibition buildings suffered multiple break-ins and wire thefts. With repair costs estimated at $20,000, Lynn Haley, VIEX president, worried the 125-year-old event might not be able to continue.
Following wire thefts from Merle Logan Field, Nanaimo Ice Centre and the NDSS sports fields, Al Britton, city parks operations manager, said theft and vandalism was the worst he’d seen in his 36 years in Nanaimo.
Thieves didn’t just want copper and weren’t choosy about who or what they targeted. Nanaimo RCMP deployed bait bikes early in the year to combat bike theft. One was stolen seven minutes after it was set out in February. Police busted that bait bike bandit, but a couple from Europe on their honeymoon had a $15,000 mountain bike taken in June. Also in June, thieves stole tents from Departure Bay Eco School a day before a Grade 7 class was to go on a school camping trip.
In September, culprits broke into storage at Nanaimo SPCA and swiped tools, pet carriers, pet food, fuel canisters, fish tanks and even Halloween decorations.
Even potentially life-saving firefighting equipment wasn’t safe. Brass fire hose fittings went missing from buildings on Dufferin Crescent and Boxwood Drive in August. A fire hydrant in front of a clothing store on Uplands Drive was damaged when a man stole inner piping from a hose attachment in October.
“I hope the local government looks at what’s going on with the problems of the increase in theft in Nanaimo, and can come up with a strategy to help beat that,” said store owner Richard Leighton.
What could be done about ongoing property crime and social issues in Nanaimo was discussed when police, city officials and politicians got an earful of frustrations from a crowd that packed the Nanaimo Entertainment Centre in October at the Citizens Want Nanaimo Back town meeting, the first of its kind to find ways to deal with homelessness, drug addiction and crime in Nanaimo.
Fatal plane crash on Gabriola stirred sympathies across B.C.
On Dec. 10, three people were killed when the Piper PA-60-602P Aerostar light aircraft they were travelling in plunged into a wooded glen on Gabriola Island. The incident occurred near Ricardo Road on the northwestern corner of the island at around 6 p.m.
A team of investigators from the Transportation Safety Board were deployed to the island following the crash. According to an information bulletin posted by Transport Canada, the twin-engine aircraft was travelling from Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop, Calif., when it reported an equipment issue, went off course and dropped off radar while on approach to Nanaimo Airport.
“The pilot fought it all the way down to the ground … I heard the aircraft in distress, I heard it hit and I was first in to the wreckage,” Resident Ken DeCarle told the News Bulletin on the evening of the crash.
The B.C. Coroners Service confirmed that three people were killed but did not release their identities.
In a statement released to media, Bahlsen’s family said they are “absolutely devastated” about the news and described Alex as a loving husband, father and grandfather who was “just a short flight away.”
Bahlsen was also a pilot and member of the Nanaimo Flying Club. The club posted a statement on Facebook paying tribute to Bahlsen and describing him as an “amazing pilot, mentor and friend” with unwavering professionalism.
The Boudreaus’ children told the Gabriola Sounder their parents were returning home from Mexico when the plane crashed on the island. They said they were in touch with their parents throughout their trip and that they are “heartbroken, shocked, absolutely devastated, broken, and lost” as a result of their parents’ death.
The cause of the crash has yet to be determined by the TSB.
Climate emergency worrisome globally, including in Nanaimo
Declaration of a climate emergency was a subject that garnered discussion and made headlines both globally and in Nanaimo in 2019.
City council’s declaration motion in late April passed unanimously and acknowledged that the city would be part of the growing voices for climate action in a year when climate strikes and climate marches became more frequent, larger and louder.
“The task is monumental,” said Coun. Tyler Brown. “It requires us to confront the issue with honesty and accountability. It requires us to make decisions based on scientific evidence, but it also requires faith. Faith that we can and we will overcome the greatest challenge facing us, without having all the answers right now.”
Coun. Don Bonner said declaring a climate emergency sets a tone for how council could move forward with action.
“If in the event that we do go over this cliff, I don’t want anybody pointing a finger at Nanaimo and saying we didn’t do our part,” Bonner said.
The climate emergency declaration came with complementary motions that included refreshing an unused emissions reduction reserve, an ask of 20,000 hours of public transit expansion, and advocating the provincial government to reinstate community emissions reporting.
It wasn’t the only news item this year related to addressing climate change.
In September, Mark Collins, B.C. Ferries CEO, said the company has plans to introduce a pair of hybrid ferries for the Nanaimo-Gabriola Island run by 2022 and it is intended to reduce more than just air pollution. Collins said the company had been named by the federal government as a major emitter of noise in the Salish Sea.
The Regional District of Nanaimo had climate change and greenhouse gas reduction on its mind as it voted in July to establish electric vehicle charging stations across the region. In addition, the board also approved allocation of $222,222 from the 2020 budget for station installation, pending a $162,222 Clean B.C. Communities Fund grant, and also $25,000 in the 2020 budget for annual maintenance costs.
Campaigning on a platform that included combatting climate change, Green Party of Canada member of Parliament candidate Paul Manly, won not one, but two elections first taking a May byelection and then the federal election in October.
During a candidate meeting in late-September, Manly had the opening remarks and talked about the climate crisis. He said his party’s platform called for a nationwide electricity grid powered by hydro and renewable energy sources.
Extinction Rebellion, an international campaign seeking to “minimize the risk of social collapse,” organized a number of protest marches and rallies in Nanaimo aimed at raising awareness of and demanding action on climate change, including events for a Global Climate Strike the week of Sept. 20-27. People of all ages attended a Sept. 20 rally in Nanaimo at Diana Krall Plaza, including area high school students, and elementary and daycare students rallied in Lantzville earlier in the day.
“We are fighting for government action and system change,” said Anderson at the Sept. 27 rally. “We are demanding that our government and politicians declare climate change as a state of emergency. We don’t have time to wait for procedure or protocol.”
Nanaimo made history at polls electing Green MP two times
The game of electoral musical chairs that started when former Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog moved to the mayor’s office played out in 2019.
On Jan. 30 a byelection was held to fill Krog’s recently vacated seat. Sheila Malcolmson resigned as MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith in order to run for the provincial NDP, while businessman Tony Harris ran for the B.C. Liberals and Michele Ney, an educator and daughter of longtime Nanaimo mayor and MLA Frank Ney, was the Green Party candidate.
Malcolmson ended up winning the election with 49.9 per cent of the vote, followed by Harris at 39.9 per cent and Ney with 7.3 per cent. The result of the vote meant that Malcolmson’s federal seat was now empty and a byelection to choose her replacement was set for May 6.
Green Party candidate Paul Manly, who ran against Malcolmson in the 2015 federal election, returned to contest Nanaimo-Ladysmith once more. Looking to hold the seat for the NDP was Bob Chamberlin, chief councillor of the Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation and vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, while John Hirst, an associate manager with Sun Life Financial and president of the Nanaimo Gyro Club, was aiming for a breakthrough as the Conservative candidate and Port of Nanaimo chairwoman Michelle Corfield ran for the Liberal Party.
Manly made history on election night by becoming the second Green Party candidate to be elected to Canada’s Parliament, capturing 37.3 per cent of the vote. Hirst finished second with 24.9 per cent, Chamberlin was a close third at 23 per cent and Corfield rounded out the major party candidates with 11 per cent of the vote.
Five months later the candidates had a do-over when the 43rd Canadian general election was held on Oct. 21. In Nanaimo-Ladysmith the results were nearly identical, with Manly re-elected with 34.6 per cent of the ballots, followed by Hirst at 25.9 per cent, Chamberlin at 23.6 per cent and Corfield at 13.5 per cent.
Manly also ended up with more company in the House of Commons, as Jenica Atwin’s win in the riding of Fredericton brought the number of Green MPs to three.
Nanaimo’s cannabis culture started to change
Cannabis was legal by the start of 2019, but the landscape of legalized pot was still hazy.
Over the course of the past 12 months, Nanaimo has started to get a clearer picture of what the cannabis business is going to look like.
Just this month, Nanaimo finally got its first legal cannabis store, 19+ Cannabis on Victoria Crescent downtown.
James Maxwell, co-owner, told the News Bulletin that it took about a year to obtain the regulatory approvals necessary from the municipality and the province. He said it was “amazing” that his store ended up being Nanaimo’s first.
“It’s been a long time coming and we’re pretty excited,” Maxwell said.
The city’s first legalized pot shop was a culmination in some ways of a lot of work on the cannabis file at the municipal level. City of Nanaimo staff handled approximately 20 applications during 2019 and nearly all of them receiving re-zoning approval, but various other aspects of the process – provincial licensing, building permitting and the like – meant the applications progressed at different paces.
Mood Cannabis, which plans to open stores on Victoria Avenue and Metral Drive, told the News Bulletin in late summer that it expected to be the city’s first legal cannabis shop, but didn’t meet its targeted timeline and is now looking at January and February.
Also this past year, Trees Island Grown, which had initially stayed open while going through the provincial licensing process, saw two Victoria locations raided and immediately suspended operations, including at its Nanaimo stores.
At the same time that the City of Nanaimo was working with private cannabis retail store applicants, it also re-zoned two B.C. Cannabis Store locations, one at Country Club Centre and one at Woodgrove Crossing on Mary Ellen Drive. In mid-October, the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch held a job fair to hire staff for the north-end B.C. Cannabis Store location, which it said is set to open early in 2020.
The cannabis industry’s impacts were also felt this year in Cedar, where residents opposed a cannabis farm opening on Quennell Road, holding a joint public meeting with the company, Crofton Craft, to discuss concerns.
Meanwhile, Nanaimo-based, publicly traded cannabis company Tilray continued its growth with numerous business deals. In January it expanded its Ontario operations with a $70-million deal to acquire Natura Naturals and then in June, Tilray signed a deal to merge with its largest shareholder, Privateer Holdings. In August, Tilray expanded its growing operations in Portugal, and later in the month announced it was acquiring Alberta cannabis retailer Four20 in an agreement valued at up to $110 million.
Tilray was back in the news later in the year, as well, as the United Food Commercial Workers Union was attempting to unionize Nanaimo cultivation workers. Earlier this month, Shoppers Drug Mart began online sales in B.C. of medical cannabis, including Tilray products.
Nanaimo started to take its first puffs of legalized cannabis in 2019. It might not exactly be reefer madness in 2020, but cannabis is coming to every corner of the city.
“The history is there, the consumers are already there,” said Cory Waldron, CEO of Mood Cannabis. “We’re just flipping the sign over from illicit market to the legal market.”