Issues around smoking in public spurs heated debate at Parksville city council

By a 5-1 vote, council agreed to support cancer society's recommendation to expand prohibitions

At least one city councillor said he was surprised there was even any debate on this issue.

The Canadian Cancer Society asked Parksville city council to endorse its recommendation to the provincial government to expand the Tobacco and Vapour Products Control Act to prohibit use in outdoor public places.

Coun. Leanne Salter, citing rights and quoting Vladimir Lenin and John Diefenbaker, didn’t want council to endorse the recommendation.

“Smoking or vaping is not an illegal activity,” said Salter, who added that she personally does not smoke or vape. “I’m shocked we are even considering this. It’s discriminatory. Government doesn’t have the right to impose its values.”

Speaking in support of endorsing the recommendation and responding to Salter’s comments, Coun. Mary Beil spoke about “the greater good” and said even legal activities have rules around them — speed limits, for example.

“We have limits to what people can do,” said Beil. “And we’re not talking about (banning smoking) everywhere, we’re talking about public spaces. This could also prevent children from taking up smoking; so they do not see smoking as a normal activity.”

Coun. Teresa Patterson said she sees both sides of the argument, but also said any such ban would be “completely non-enforceable.”

Coun. Kirk Oates, in favour of endorsing the recommendation, said “I really didn’t think there was a debate here.”

In the end, council voted to endorse the Canadian Cancer Society’s recommendation in a 4-2 vote, with Salter and Patterson opposed.

In other city council news:

• Council received an update on the Vancouver Island Crisis Line from Heather Owen of the Vancouver Island Crisis Society, which recently received financial support from the city. Owen said about 1,000 calls to the crisis line came from Parksville in 2015 (31,000 throughout the region). She also said the crisis line has expanded to include text and chat options, and that it struggles to with finances because it has lost volunteers at the same time calls to the line (and chat and text) continue to increase, forcing the society to use more of its funds on paid staff. The society has a contract with Island Health to provide the service.

• Council granted a development permit to the Kingsley Low-income Rental Society to build a three-storey apartment building at 312 Hirst Ave. A motion passed by a previous council will ensure any fees related to the development — almost $20,000 — will be waived by the city.

• Council dealt with another unsightly property, this time at 255 Lodgepole Dr. If the owner doesn’t clean up the property, city staff is now authorized to do the work, or hire a firm to do it, with the bill going to the owner.

• Without much discussion, council received a report from staff that essentially leaves unchanged the permission tax exemption for the Island Corridor Foundation, about $13,500/year in lost revenue for the city.

“They are not providing a service and are they a not-for-profit society?” said Coun. Leanne Salter. “We don’t know, we can’t see their books.”

• Council’s next meeting is Monday, Sept. 19 at city hall starting at 6 p.m.