Qualicum Beach councillor goes on leave, cites 'toxic' behaviour of council

Qualicum Beach Coun. Robert Filmer says town hall’s environment is so toxic that he’s taking a two-month medical leave of absence.

His decision leaves the town’s normally five-member council with just three active members. Former councillor Adam Walker resigned after winning the Parksville-Qualicum seat in the recent provincial election.

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Filmer said he consulted his physician prior to stepping down. His leave began on ­Thursday.

“Everyone deserves the chance to work in a safe, respectful, and supportive ­environment.

“It pains me to say that the Town of Qualicum Beach council currently exists in direct opposition to those values,” Filmer said.

“At a moment in time when we should be finding ways to treat each other with kindness, care, and support — I am devastated to find myself in an ongoing situation where an extreme lack of vision and any meaningful leadership, has left me in an untenable position, where I fear for my health and well-being.”

He will continue receiving remuneration during his leave.

The matter has affected his sleep and other aspects of his life, Filmer told the Times Colonist.

It was not an easy decision to take a leave of absence, he said.

Filmer said he is not a quitter.

Much of his concern is what happens during in-camera meetings, which are held out of the public eye.

Filmer said he has been laughed at and that private meetings can “get personal very quickly.”

He feels as though he is not taken seriously because of his age.

Filmer, 22, was elected to council in 2018. At age 20, he was the youngest council member elected in Qualicum Beach. His 2,380 votes put him second among the four councillors.

A byelection date for Walker’s empty seat has not been set.

Qualicum Beach’s population was 8,943 in the 2016 census. Known as a tourism destination and a retirement community, the average age was 60.1 years old.

Filmer said there has been a constant decline in decorum at city hall.

“I ran for council to bring a new, different voice to local government.

“Unfortunately, however, some of my colleagues have gone out of their way to foster an environment that is frankly toxic, unsafe, unkind, and unwelcoming to those whose views and lived experiences may differ from their own.”

About a year ago, a mediator was brought in to help council members work together, Filmer said. This was done at the suggestion of senior staff. “It did not fix a single thing.”

Council members signed a document at the time that the mediator would return in six months to see how things were going. Filmer said he wants the mediator to come back but that has not happened.

“I want to keep going. I want to keep working. But when you get to a point where you just physically can’t, you need to take a break.”

Asked if he may step down, Filmer said, “It’s not something that I want to do. But if things don’t change and things don’t get better, it will have to be a consideration.”

Coun. Scott Harrison said he wishes Filmer well. “I hope we can discuss it at length when he comes back.”

“I think we could be a little more efficient as council but I don’t think that is related to his concerns.”

Qualicum Beach Mayor Brian Wiese said in a statement following Filmer’s announcement, “I disagree with the allegations he has made and I’m extremely disappointed that he has chosen to raise them in the manner he did.”

Wiese said it is “very unfortunate” that Filmer characterized the conduct of council in a negative way.

Remaining members of council will work together on objectives set out in the community’s strategic plan and will continue to progress toward long-term goals in the official community plan for the rest of the term, he said.

“We look forward to welcoming Coun. Filmer back when he is healthy to return to his role on council.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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