Diane Brennan honoured with Freedom of the City

Diane Brennan

Diane Brennan’s recognition for the Freedom Of The City distinction solidifies her envious record of achievement through her dedication and devotion to the benefit of our city and its citizens.

Her devotion to Nanaimo began when she moved to Nanaimo in 1976, almost immediately becoming deeply involved by volunteering in the community.

Diane began her studies at Simon Fraser University and continued at Malaspina College. She continued her studies at the University of Victoria earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree majoring in Sociology. Upon earning her degree in 1980 she returned to Nanaimo to raise her family.

Her commitment to making lives better for people in our community had its roots when she joined the Board of Directors of the Nanaimo Association of Intervention and Development (NAID), formerly the Nanaimo Crisis Centre assisting individuals experiencing problems with illicit drug use. Over time NAID changed focus from drugs to a wider cross section of issues and finally concentrated on two services: legal assistance and crisis counselling.

Upon returning to Nanaimo in 1982 with her two children, she married Jamie and added Darcy to their family. She began working at the NAID Community Law Office as a paralegal. They provided legal assistance to individuals and families whose income or shelter was threatened. In 1984 the law office left NAID creating a stand-alone legal service adding public legal education and community development to its list of service.

From 1984 to 2002, during her tenure, the Nanaimo CLO became a flagship office in Nanaimo and the Province. Under her leadership the office developed a range of excellent services to the citizens of Nanaimo whose lives were marked by poverty. With Diane at the helm, staff provided education to other legal aid offices on Vancouver Island and B.C. and assistance to many communities striving to develop programs to lift their citizens out of poverty.

Diane and her colleagues made many presentations to Nanaimo City Council to create more affordable housing. In 1989, the staff at the Law Centre, together with the Community Education Department at Malaspina College, presented a two-day workshop to draw attention to the deplorable state of housing in Nanaimo. The Nanaimo Affordable Housing Society was created by concerned citizens to bring Provincial funding to Nanaimo to build decent safe housing for low-income individuals.

The Community Law Office was a consistent leader in Nanaimo’s effort create affordable housing during the 1980s and 90s. Then, as now, it was an uphill battle.  

Diane was appointed to the Ministers’ Advisory Committee on Income Assistance from 1994-96 to advise the Minister on ways and means to improve welfare programs in B.C.

The Province closed all community law offices in B.C. and ultimately all provincial anti-poverty services were eliminated in 2002.

That’s when Diane joined the staff of PovNet and continued to provide educational services to community offices to relieve poverty. Over time she focused on creating online education courses for services providers.

In 1984 she became a Director on the Nanaimo Community Employment Advisory Society (NCEAS) which had its roots in an earlier federal government program, Local Employment Assistance and Development (LEAD). LEAD corporations were developed in economically-depressed regions across Canada. They were governed by volunteer boards of local business people with access to a variety of resources, including an investment fund, to help entrepreneurs in their communities create or expand their businesses. Diane served on the NCEAS board until 1991.

Diane joined Nanaimo Youth Services Association in 1985 as a director. NYSA evolved from a receiving home for children into a therapeutic program for adolescents. In 1983, the Association had assumed responsibility for service provision and introduced a professional child-care model for service delivery. This program continued until 1987, at which time the local Ministry of Social Services office shifted its residential programs to a parenting model. By this time, Diane was the Vice-Chair of the Board and worked to close the residential program and create a new future for Nanaimo’s youth services.

Diane was elected to the Nanaimo Board of School Trustees in 1989 and re-elected in 1991. She served on many committees including Chair of the Business Committee in her second term. Diane also served on the Negotiating Committee to bargain the first collective agreement with Nanaimo Teachers Association. Her greatest satisfaction came from her work on the committee to create the first Local Education Agreement (1992-93) for delivering educational services to the children of the Stz'uminus First Nation.  

During her time at the Community Law Office and as a School Trustee, Diane continued to increase and improve her skills. Between 1985 and 1995 she attended numerous courses at the Justice Institute of B.C., honing her communication and negotiating skills. She was able to use those skills to bring people together in ways that honoured all their perspectives.

Diane joined the Nanaimo Employment Opportunity Advocacy Society in 2000. During her tenure, the Society purchased the former Lindsay Building on Fitzwilliam and managed the renovation to convert it into office and educational spaces. Unfortunately, the federal and provincial governments changed policies toward such organizations and the funding was discontinued.

Diane was twice elected to the Nanaimo City Council and served 13 years – 2002-2008 and 2011-2018. She served on the Regional District of Nanaimo board and was Vice Chair of the RDN from 2011 to 2014.

She was the City representative on the Vancouver Island Regional Library Board from 2011 to 2018. During that time Library services were expanded and improved dramatically, providing outstanding and equitable service in the north, central and downtown locations.

Diane was asked by the Manager of Diversity Partnerships to be a member of the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society’s Diversity Partnership. She served on that committee from 2003 to 2012. She initiated the City’s annual Welcome Reception in 2012 for new immigrants. The Reception was held yearly until Diane stepped down from Council in 2018.

In 2012 Diane joined a committee tasked with expanding the Nanaimo Art Gallery. It was recognized to be a long-term endeavour and the Art Gallery Expansion is still very much alive with that aspiration.

Diane always had a dedication to improving living conditions, and that means housing. During her tenure at the Community Law Office, she concentrated on improving housing and shelter. So it was natural that when she was elected to City Council her first initiative was to advocate to legalize secondary suites. After in-depth community consultation and Council discussion, her motion was passed to legalize the suites making Nanaimo among the first, if not the first, city to legalize secondary suites in B.C. She prides herself in this as her most significant accomplishment as a Nanaimo City Councillor.

Diane’s interests grew during the time she was a City Councillor and a Regional District Director. Her passions included city and neighbourhood planning and development, including heritage preservation; environmental issues; arts and culture development; sports and recreation; economic development; indigenous relations and reconciliation; and truest most to her heart – anti-poverty work.

As a councillor, Diane was co-chair of the Safer Nanaimo Working Group with representation from all levels in the city – social services, RCMP, Island Health, Snuneymuxw and staff. During that time the City of Nanaimo won top leadership recognition in this field from the provincial government.

That included housing initiatives with the B.C. Housing Ministry, resulting eventually in 140 units of housing approved for low-barrier citizens in spite of concerted opposition due to misrepresentation and knowledge of the projects. Those have proved highly successful in different locations throughout our community.

Diane has devoted herself to her community for many decades as her accomplishments demonstrate, even when there were some extreme challenges along the way.