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Society says ‘no thank you’ to Mack Laing meeting

COMOX, B.C. – There will be a public meeting and workshop at the Comox Community Centre on March 27 regarding the Mack Laing Trust modification.

But how it will take place was bandied around the Comox Council table during their meeting on Wednesday.

Ultimately, council members unanimously approved an amended recommendation “that a facilitated public meeting and workshop be held during Council’s March 27, 2019 Committee of the Whole meeting in order to engage in a discussion of issues and compromises related to the matter.”

The original recommendation read that the meeting be held “in order to hear presentations from the Mack Laing Heritage Society and the Friends of Mack Laing Nature Park,” but that was omitted after council received a letter from the Society on March 1.

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In the letter, the society’s correspondence secretary Jim Boulter wrote to council saying, “regarding council’s decision to hold a public meeting with Mack Laing Heritage Society and the Friends of Mack Laing Park as the main presenters, MLHS has to say ‘thank you but no thank you.’”

The Mack Laing Trust has been a polarizing issue for decades.

In 1973, Hamilton Mack Laing deeded his property and home to the Town of Comox.

Since 1983, the Town of Comox has operated Mack Laing Nature Park, adding trails and interpretive signs to foster the public’s appreciation of nature.

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In 1982, Mack Laing also gave, in trust, the residual cash from his estate to the Town of Comox.

The town has an active application before the court, seeking approval to modify the Mack Laing Trust from the current requirements to convert Mack Laing’s former residence, ‘Shakesides’ to a nature house and instead, remove ‘Shakesides’ and construct a viewing platform with the funds that are currently held in the Mack Laing Trust Fund.

According to a report from the town’s chief administrative officer, Richard Kanigan, the MLHS has objected to the Town’s proposal. The society wants the town to fulfill the original terms of the Trust.

Meanwhile, The Friends of Mack Laing Nature Park (FLMNP) are calling for the razing of ‘Shakesides’, arguing that it diminishes the quality of the natural space.

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Also during Wednesday’s meeting, a motion from councillor Alex Bissinger to proceed with the modification of the trust was also approved at the council table.

“So we will be continuing with the court proceedings for that modification,” mayor Russ Arnott told the newsroom.

The purpose of the March 27 meeting is to gather input from local residents as to what those modifications could look like.

“Will they still look like what the town presented to the previous council? Will the modifications be a little bit different?” Arnott said. “They can’t be totally different because that’s what we’ve gone to the courts for, was with this plan. What I’m expecting is some modifications to the viewing stand that we have, and what that looks like, I’m not sure, but that’s what we want to get from the residents.”

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Looking ahead to March 27, Boulter noted in his letter that, “as a party to ongoing litigation, there are many things MLHS would not be able to say or speak openly about. So it would not be a fair meeting at hall, for we would be hamstrung.”

He continued in the letter, “MLHS will not spar with the Friends of the Mack Laing Park in a recorded public meeting because it creates the impression that the two groups are equal parties, representing equal segments of (the) Comox civic population, which is not the case. The Friends are individuals, not a registered charity and are not part of the ongoing litigation. They therefore have less at stake and little accountability, and can say whatever they want.”

Boulter wrote that the MLHS is a “party to the litigation, is a registered society, has spent a lot of money on this issue, and most importantly – could face legal jeopardy for things they say publicly…”

Councillor Ken Grant said this is a case of the tail wagging the dog.

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“There are many inconsistencies in their (the MLHS’s) letter… the most glaring one being that they are not an equal partner to this,” Grant said. “There (are) only two parties in this, and that’s the Town of Comox and the attorney general. They happen to have intervenor status which allows them to speak in front of court, but they are in no way a partner in this.”

Grant said the MLHS is “hanging their hat” on the fact that they are “a party to this agreement and therefore they have rights to tell us to when we can have meetings and who can be there and how it goes. So I’m a little bit troubled by this.”

He said the MLHS has been invited to present at a meeting and if they choose not to attend, “then that’s their choice.”

“They have every opportunity to come and be heard,” Grant said. “I’m also troubled that we would only listen to them on this when there are other groups and citizens of our community who would like to be heard on this if they are going to be heard.”

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In the letter, Boulter said the only way to address this issue is for the MLHS to meet only with Comox: “The Attorney General of BC could also be involved, if desired.”

In a separate email to Mayor Russ Arnott and council members, Boulter wrote that “in our view, the purpose of any meeting between MLHS and Comox is to have a two-way discussion, with Q&A from both sides, based on facts displayed in the court exhibits, with a goal of reaching a solution and staying out of court.”

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