Iâ€™m Damir Wallener, and I am running for Mayor of North Cowichan.
The first question people usually ask isâ€¦.why? The answer is my kids. I have a 10 year old and a 12 year old, which means my kids are not many years away from having to make some big life choices. And I want one of the possible choices to be staying here, in the Cowichan Valley. To build their careers and lives here, at home.
That means our community must start moving forward. Forward in a way that makes us fertile ground for the small business jobs of the next 20 years. That means high tech. It means green tech. And of course it means agriculture, as farmers are the original entrepreneurs.
Iâ€™m an educated, experienced technology professional and hobby farmer, family man and community volunteer. I work with Innovation Island and VIVAFund to foster and support small business startups on the Island, because I want my children to have the choice of staying in the Cowichan. I give my time and aging knees to Cowichan Search & Rescue, because I know and love these woods and mountains, and have seen how quickly things can go sideways. I cherish our volunteers and others who dedicate their lives to community service, because twice a week the angels at the Clements Centre help us with our autistic son, for which I will be forever grateful.
I also work with friends and residents when their neighbourhoods come under threat of poor development choices, or when their businesses get mired in unhealthy tangles of red tape. At this moment, for example, I am bringing legal expertise in the Local Government Act and environmental law to a neighbourhood group threatened by a Richards Trail mining application. I did this because I knew the municipality has more tools at its disposal than it chooses to use, so the better that residents understand the situation, the better they can help the municipality shape appropriate policy.
What issues concern you most and why?
A thriving municipality is built on three pillars – accountability, community, and healthy economic development. Accountability ultimately comes from voters, so they must be given tools to make the job easy. Open door access to the Mayor and to Councillors as well as citizen oversight of budgeting, procurement and contracting are part of that. So are consistent and transparent enforcement of bylaws. Ensuring there is opportunity and safety for all residents, especially our kids and elders, is the basis of community. And healthy economic development recognizes the importance of looking at the jobs of the future, as well as understanding that excessive municipal spending is the primary driver of poor development choices.
A Mayor must be be communityâ€™s biggest booster, inside and outside our borders. And a Mayor must understand where the world is going over the next 20 years, so we can lay the right foundation for our kids and grandkids.
I am already doing this in my professional life. As some of you who know me well already know, I have been working the past 12 months to have an international client of mine establish a software development office in Chemainus. This is the kind of seed business that moves the entire community forward – skilled, high paying jobs that bring money into the community, fill dormant commercial real estate, and act as magnets for more such businesses.
And it is just the beginning of the possibilities. As your Mayor, I would have a platform to advocate for a complete rethinking of the long-stagnant E&N corridor. Imagine if we used that precious corridor as the backbone of the most advanced transportation system yet imagined, one built on self-driving, electric vehicles, and apps. Imagine having the likes of Google and Tesla as community partners – our kids wouldnâ€™t have to go out into the world to find their life path, the world would come to them!
Does that sound bold? It should – it is bold. But being a small community doesnâ€™t mean we have to have a small voice. We are rich with experience and imagination and the ability to work hard at things that matter – letâ€™s harness that and move forward together.
One last thing: communication.
I canâ€™t promise you I will always vote the way you want me to – but I can promise you will always have the opportunity to be listened to, and you will always understand ahead of time why the choice is being made the way it is.
With a lifetimeâ€™s experience with companies and volunteer organizations has come the understanding that cutting stakeholders out of the loop is the surest way to slow progress to a contentious crawl. And a â€œcontentious crawlâ€ is a very good description of our municipalityâ€™s progress over the past few administrations. – we can do better!