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  • Letters to the editor


    Leslie Campbell

    The orca famine and Puget Sound’s poisoned rivers
    David Broadland’s article has far-reaching outcomes, as many have been pointing fingers at Canadians for the decline of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, and this article shows that we all have to start saving our chinook stocks to help these mammals. The article is well written and well researched. I have sent this link to DFO Canada and to our sport fish community.

    We have chinook net pens in place and are seeking more fry from DFO to try to increase chinook available to the SRKW. For information on this net pen project, please go to South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition (www.anglerscoalition.com) or call their president.

    Thomas Cole, Sport Fish Advisory Board, Victoria

     

    Mr. Broadland’s excellent article details the evidence related to urban pollution in Puget Sound’s estuaries and identifies another important factor that is increasing the ecological resistance our SRKW and salmon are facing.

    Another issue of major concern is the increased competition SRKW’s are facing due to the more than 10 percent per year increase in harbour seal and California sea lion populations since the enactment of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. California sea lion populations that once numbered under 10,000 have now increased to over 300,000.

    According to NOAA, in 1975 pinnipeds including orca consumed 5 million chinook salmon coastwide(California to Alaska). By 2015 the numbers rose to an estimated 31.5 million fish. By contrast, recreational and commercial fisheries harvested 3.6 million chinook salmon in 1975. That declined to 2.1 million fish by 2015. This speaks volumes about our disappearing salmon.

    In the Salish Sea, harbour seals consumed 68 metric tons of chinook salmon in 1970. By 2015 they were consuming 625 mt, double the amount consumed by SRKW in the same location and 6 times the volume caught by commercial and recreational fishermen.

    Another recent study by The Pacific Salmon Foundation estimates that 35 percent of the juvenile coho originating from streams within Georgia Strait are predated by harbour seals.

    In 2015 NOAA estimated that 43 percent of the adult chinook salmon returning to the Columbia River were predated by sea lions below the Bonneville Dam.

    The lack of abundant forage fish, such as herring impacted by over a century of industrial fishing, is cited as a major factor in the increased predation of juvenile and adult salmon by harbour seals and sea lions. In the ultimate negative feedback loop, the lack of forage fish also impacts the ocean survival of chinook and coho salmon.

    Allan Crow

     

    Woodwynn Farms and the opioid crisis

    I read the article “Woodwynn Farms and the Opioid Crisis” (November 2017) with interest and also a growing sense of frustration for the hoops and delays that Richard Leblanc and the Creating Homefulness Society are having to endure thanks to Central Saanich Council.

    Something prompted me to look up the definition of a bureaucrat. According to the online definition, a bureaucrat is: “An official in a government department, in particular one perceived as being concerned with procedural correctness at the expense of people’s needs.”

    Enough said.

    Lia Fraser

     

    The excellent article by Pamela Roth on the Woodwynn Farm operation was followed by the recent decision of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to refuse the application for a non-farm use on the Woodwynn Farm property in Central Saanich. That decision should be deeply disappointing to anyone concerned about local agriculture and the social fabric of the Greater Victoria region. The property, run by the Creating Homefulness Society, offers a therapeutic program of training and rehabilitation for individuals struggling with addictions, homelessness and/or mental health challenges.

    The non-farm use application was to provide on-site housing for program participants on 0.8 hectares (approximately 1 percent) of the property. In making its decision the ALC concluded, “while the Executive Committee recognizes the social benefits of the proposal, it does not outweigh the priority given to agriculture.” The basis for the decision also referenced the ALC mandate regarding their role in (a) preservation of agricultural land, and (b) encouraging farming on agricultural land.

    In refusing the application, I believe the ALC has made a fundamental misinterpretation of their mandate. While the social benefit is the driving force behind the farm, the commission was asked to rule specifically on a non-farm use that is a central component of a business model for operation of a labour-intensive, integrated, mixed-farming operation.

    The allowance of housing on 0.8 hectares (1 percent) of the farm land base would have provided direct and effective support to the participant workers, enhanced the efficiency of the work force in the agricultural operation, and significantly reduced overhead costs for off-site housing and transportation.

    To suggest that this “loss” of agricultural land is a significant concern also demonstrates an institutional blindness to the rampant speculation in agricultural land that is increasing costs, alienating productive land and decreasing agricultural output throughout the province—particularly in the southwest region.

    Prior to the current ownership by the Creating Homefulness Society, this farm had not been managed to its agricultural potential. The increased productivity of the land as a consequence of housing the on-site labour force is likely to be orders of magnitude greater than the lost productivity from 0.8 hectares of hay land.

    The executive committee of the ALC appears to have been unable or unwilling to evaluate an atypical agricultural business model for high-value mixed-farm production that is predicated on a dedicated on-site labour force. Productivity enhancements to date have demonstrated the potential for the farm to become an important contributor to the District agricultural community—a social benefit directly linked to its agricultural purpose and part of a program that should be facilitated and encouraged by any citizen interested in the survival of local agriculture and healthy communities.

    Brian Holl

     

    Pamela Roth’s article has turned out to be very timely.  Since that  was published, Woodwynn has been hit by two more roadblocks to its success: The ALC denied the farm’s request to use one percent of its land to house its client workers, and Central Saanich has slapped the minimal existing residential facilities with eviction notices, effective immediately.

    Leaving aside for the moment the small-minded NIMBY mindset of Central Saanich council and residents, the attitude of the ALC escapes me.

    Recently, along with their denial to Woodwynn, they have allowed commercial interests to take over two large parcels of ALR land for shopping centres in North Saanich, and an industrial marijuana grower to build greenhouses over prime land in Central Saanich. These lands that were supposed to be under ALC care for agricultural purposes are all to be covered over by large commercial, non-food interests.

    Yet Woodwynn, a successfully operating farm, is denied permission to house the people who could work to make the farm even more productive and in the process, create better lives for themselves.

    I would love to see one of your great investigative journalists give us a detailed report on the workings of the ALC and why it finds it acceptable to make variances for deep-pocket commercialism and not for a real farm, working to help real people.

    Ann Reiswig

     

    First things first: making every vote count

    Why should I care if the voting system changes in British Columbia?

    I feel I should care because our votes are one of the only ways we can influence important decisions that have to be made collectively.

    I care because until we have a fair voting system, all voices will not be represented in government, and the complex problems we face require input from all perspectives.

    As well, a voting system that accurately represents the votes cast is the foundation of a functional democracy and a necessary first step in dealing with the challenges we face in this province.

    I urge you to consider why you should care.

    Dave Carter

     

    While I admire Focus’ passion for investigative journalism, I abhor its failure to provide even a semblance of balance to the issues it champions. Last month’s lengthy interview with Terry Dance-Bennink is a case in point.

    I have heard Terry Dance-Bennink present at multiple community meetings. I would agree that she is exceptionally knowledgeable and committed to the cause of electoral reform. She has devoted an enormous amount of time to this endeavour and is sincere in her belief that our current system is in need of reform. She is an excellent spokesperson for Fair Vote Canada, and can be convincing in her arguments. She deserves respect and thanks for her efforts.

    Her view is that we must change our current voting system because it is undemocratic, since not everyone’s vote counts. It discourages voter turnout. Elected governments are invalid since so many votes are wasted. Only some form of proportional system is the remedy. Let’s have a referendum and ask the people what they think.

    Any reasonable person would agree. Let the people be heard. Hold a referendum and offer people a clear choice: our current system or a clearly articulated alternative.

    Oh no, says Dance-Bennink. We can’t do that. “The [referendum] question dictates the outcome—it’s that important. Our research shows that referendums that force citizens to choose between first-past-the-post and a proportional system have nearly all failed.”

    Instead, she favours a “generic” question without offering any details about what the alternative system would look like. No mention of how large individual electoral districts might be, no mention of how many candidates might run or be elected, no mention about how the votes might be counted, no mention of what percentage of the votes a successful candidate might need to actually be elected, no indication that some members might be appointed by political parties rather than elected by voters at large. In short, let’s provide no information at all. Let’s just vote on something different, fairer and more democratic. Tune in after the referendum and we’ll tell you what you bought.

    The reality is that the majority of voters favoured change in the 2005 referendum only because the question was generic and they were buying a pig in a poke. Over 60 percent rejected change in the 2009 referendum because they more clearly understood how the proposed Single Transferrable Vote (STV) would actually work. They knew because the government of the day provided funding for both sides to articulate the pros and cons of the two choices being considered. Voters were also informed by the Electoral Boundaries Commission about how people would actually be represented under STV, while the Electoral Reform Referendum Office outlined the complexity involved in the counting of ballots. The very information that Terry Dance-Bennink would withhold this time around.

    Under STV, current ridings would have disappeared, to be replaced by large geographic districts that would elect from two to seven parliamentarians from a list of 10 to 30 candidates, depending on the size of the riding. Multiple MLAs would represent a vast number of constituents in sprawling electoral districts, resulting in diminished accountability. Far from being democratic, successful candidates could be elected with as few as 12.5 percent of the votes, using a formula that divided the number of ballots in an electoral district by the number of MLAs who would represent it.

    Under STV, Victoria would have had seven parliamentarians elected and been the largest district in BC, encompassing Victoria, Port Renfrew, Jordan, Galiano Island, Salt Spring Island, Greater Victoria, North Saanich, Sidney, Sooke, Metchosin, and the Highlands. Local representation would have been lost.

    Voters found STV too complex. It required three pages of diagrams, formulae and mathematical calculations to explain how ballots were to be counted using electoral quotas, transfer values, and “exhausted ballots.”

    Ms Dance-Bennink’s view is that “We want to avoid what happened in 2009 when the ‘no’ side used their $500,000 to pay for fear-mongering ads, while the ‘yes’ side organized at a grassroots level.”

    So the die is cast. Anything said in opposition to proportional representation is fear mongering. Only the yes side is honourable and on the side of the angels. Those favouring first-past-the-post, a system that is still used by a third of the countries of the world, and has served Canada so well for over 150 years, are Democracy Deniers.

    I attended numerous “grass roots” public meetings hosted by Fair Vote Canada and other proponents of STV in the months leading up to the 2009 referendum and also more recent public meetings related to the federal government’s electoral reform consultation. Most of the large crowds in attendance were passionately in favour of reform. It was like attending church, with everyone singing from the same hymn book.

    Maybe this time around, the “yes” side should spend a little more time and money communicating with the agnostics and others in the general population. But before they begin, my advice would be to be clear on the alternative they want to propose and be prepared to convince me and others why we should vote for it. Anything less would be undemocratic.

    John Amon

     

    Editor’s Note: Ms Dance-Bennink encouraged readers to get informed and participate. She also suggested, beyond a “generic” question, the possibility of a ranked ballot, allowing citizens to choose among various types of proportional systems, as was done recently in PEI. She urged readers to look at the information on the BC government website (www.engage.gov.bc.ca/howwevote). There citizens can read about different systems’ weaknesses and strengths and even see sample ballots.

    The government has not decided on the referendum question and is asking citizens to weigh in on that and related subjects until February 28, 2018, after which it will deliberate and announce details towards the fall referendum. The survey takes only a few minutes. Focus will be providing more coverage on electoral reform in future editions before the referendum.

     

    Caution…history ahead

    Gene Miller’s comments, as always, are immeasurably insightful. “Mr. Rantagious” is admirable, entertaining and serves to engender a certain civic conscience.

    In particular reference to “Caution…History Ahead,” I am moved to ask Gene to wave his magic wand, and tell us how it would look. Go ahead and knock yourself out with a strategic plan, an economic feasibility plan. Check that, forget the economic feasibility. Use play money raised by all the wealthy Victorians who stand behind their civic duty. Dream up a no-holds-barred approach to wake up from our dream of separateness and get this thing done, ok? Could that be a useful and entertaining piece of journalism? I would love to read it and am grateful (in advance) for the effort.

    Michael Flynn


    Did CRD staff commit fraud?

    David Broadland is absolutely correct. The fact that the enhanced sewage treatment juggernaut rolls on with no regional opposition is the real crime here.

    This is especially true when you consider the political sea change since the senior governments of (BC Liberal) Gordon Campbell and (Conservative) Stephen Harper forced the Capital Region into an unnecessary and costly enhanced sewage treatment project. Now, BC Liberals have been relegated to official opposition and the Capital Region’s own John Horgan is premier of a New Democratic government full of South Island ministers.

    Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau, who campaigned in 2012 on the need for “science-based decision-making,” is now Prime Minister. It’s profoundly disappointing that neither have moved to re-examine the need for enhanced treatment ordered by the two former governments.

    Perhaps even more disappointing, though, in this new political landscape, is the inaction of the Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, a star scientist who built a career on the impact of greenhouse gasses on climate change. Besides hijacking public spending, enhanced sewage treatment will needlessly increase CO2 emissions during its construction and ensuing operation. But rather than using his new-found power and influence to lobby for transit improvements over enhanced sewage treatment, Mr Weaver instead tables a ride-sharing bill that does little for daily commuters but benefits American ride-sharing giants like Uber and Lyft.

    BC Hydro’s Site C project was the subject of an independent review and so, too, should there be a review of the requirement for enhanced sewage treatment in the Capital Region.

    The vast amount of public funds required for this unnecessary project should instead be applied to a regional-based rail transit system. Doing so would not only benefit the region by reducing commuting time and enhancing livability, but help the global environment as well by contributing to greenhouse gas reduction.

    Dave Nonen

     

    Sustainability goals; carbon thoughts

    The juxtaposition of reading Focus while resisting the blandishments of the Black Friday-Cyber Monday long weekend caused me to reflect on life. Projects like Site C and LNG and pipelines are not the cause of the “problem”—consumerism is.

    Therefore: Boycott all big box stores (and Langford) and shop at thrift stores and independently-owned “high street” stores. Ensure sales taxes are paid on all online shopping purchases. Mandate a one car (not SUV) per family policy. Double the price of gasoline, and don’t drive your kids to school. Media should highlight people living within their means rather than $100,000 kitchens and expensive 6,000 square-feet HGTV renos, even though the $20,000 table may be recycled, live-edge, old-growth fir. Boycott coffee shops and fast food joints which use paper or plastic cups and utensils and horrible-tasting wooden stir sticks.

    Eliminate the sale of coffee pods and other single-serve contraptions. Replace powered landscaping machinery with manual equivalents and shame neighbours who use noisy leaf blowers. Wash dishes by hand and eliminate most “labour-saving” small electrical appliances. Turn lights off when you leave the room. Don’t eat salmon—save them for the orcas.

    The list could go on. Doing with less, slowing down, changing the post-WWII consumerism lifestyle, will cause some dislocation but the world will definitely appreciate your efforts.

    Tony Beckett

     

    Barbara Julian’s letter in the last edition raises such a crucial issue: population explosion. As she points out, other environmental issues will continue as long as we ignore the reality that Planet Earth can not begin to adequately support 7.6 billion people.

    Other old people will remember as I do that in the late ’60s and early ’70s, population explosion was a hot topic. Awareness and concerns were amplified. But then this vital issue lost its trendiness and disappeared from public radar.

    Another environmental issue that hardly anyone wants to talk, write, or hear about is air travel. We rinse our tin cans, re-use wrapping paper, and righteously eschew aerosol cans and styrofoam, but we do not want to take an honest look at the price our world pays for excessive globetrotting by air. The only person I’ve ever known to address this topic full on, with an honest acknowledgement of his own excesses, is David Suzuki.

    You clearly have a talent for sniffing out brave and brilliant local writers, so perhaps you can find someone to take on one or both of these topics.

    Focus just keeps getting better and better.

    Barbara Bambiger


    Mayor Helps 1.5 percent solution

    Kudos to Mayor Helps on her invention of that thing she is calling “The Initial Allocation.” In case you haven’t heard about it, it’s a new way of thinking that could save the planet. Cost overruns will no long occur. Case in point: the City’s bicycle lanes.
    In “Mayor Helps 1.5 percent solution,” David Broadland brazenly claimed: “At the cost per kilometre of the Pandora corridor, the 5.3-kilometre-long Phase 1 would cost about $16 million,” not the $7.75 million estimated by the City.

    Broadland seemed to think the numbers in costs are somehow related by arithmetic, like: 1 + 1 = 2. That’s crazy old thinking, and people rightfully wrote in and set him straight.

    Transportation expert Todd Litman reflected the new illogic expertly when he explained, “By extrapolating the Pandora bike lane cost to other Downtown arterials, Broadland estimates that Victoria’s cycling program will cost $16 million, which is almost certainly an exaggeration since the first project is always more costly than those that follow.”

    It was inspiring to read that arithmetic and logic are finally being held in proper contempt by experts.

    Regrettably, the Times Colonist’s Bill Cleverley attempted to retake the field for logical thinking with his overly numerical December report that City staff now estimate first-phase costs will be $14.5 million. Thankfully, he quoted Mayor Helps, who explained to him how that $14.5 million is really the same as the City’s original estimate of $7.75 million: “The $7.75 million wasn’t a budget, it was money that was allocated initially.”

    Just like that, the progressive illogics had recaptured the cost battlefield, the brave mayor counter-attacking across mode shares  with one hand on the handlebar of her white bicycle, the other clutching her bright green sword emblazoned with the words: The Initial Allocation.

    Just so you backward cyclephobes know, those three words should always be spoken in a hushed, reverential tone.
    Mayor Helps and her councillors can now just skip all the hard arithmetic of estimating and rush onward to an “Initial Allocation.” When that money is spent and the project isn’t finished, council can then add another “Initial Allocation,” and so on, until the final Initial Allocation is allocated. That way, no project will ever cost more than The Initial Allocation.
    Hallelujah, we are saved!

     Tony Sinclair

     

    The new bicycle lanes that are being introduced in Victoria are never going to make a significant contribution to reducing the volume of commuter traffic arriving in or leaving the city by automobile or transit at the beginning or towards the end of a typical workday. Indeed, to use Mayor Helps’ vocabulary, they are going to sabotage that effort. They are already increasing congestion, air pollution, and fossil fuel consumption while making it more difficult, dangerous and time consuming for transit, emergency and heavy delivery vehicles that keep our city alive and working to get from A to B in a timely fashion. The mayor and council are not going to get value for taxpayers’ money from an initial expenditure of $14.5 million dollars for a total of a mere 5.4 kilometres of protected bicycle lanes, with further expenditures to follow.

    The bicycle is the quintessential single-occupancy vehicle and it is a short-haul, fair-weather friend that the vast majority of commuters living in surrounding municipalities will never be able to rely on if they must travel significant distances back and forth to work in Victoria in all weather and seasons. Mayor Helps has apparently and belatedly noticed that riding a bicycle in cold and inclement weather is often not pleasant and sometimes even dangerous. This is something Mayor Helps and council would have known from the beginning if they had looked impartially at the evidence rather than cherry-picking from impressionistic and scientifically unreliable reports in order to advance the interests of a well-organized but myopic bicycle lobby and a relatively small group of well-heeled Victorians, who having bought, rented or inherited expensive homes near their workplaces, can cycle the short distances to their work or play places and imagine that they are doing something significant to address our local transportation and environmental problems.

    Having looked at the best available evidence, David Broadland, writing in recent issues of Focus magazine (July/August and September/October, 2017) concludes that Mayor Helps and the cycling caucus on council have not made a convincing case that large numbers of commuters outside the city centre will be able to significantly reduce their dependence on the automobile in the foreseeable future (though it is true that the internal combustion engine will soon go the way of the dodo). For this service to the community, Broadland has been unfairly criticized rather than praised.

    It may not have occurred to Mayor Helps and her council, but walking, not cycling, is the most flexible and economical way of getting around town. I dare say I cover more ground on foot in Victoria during the day than Mayor Helps does on her bicycle. Moreover, I do not have to babysit my mode of transportation or, alternatively, to worry constantly about it being either stolen or sabotaged while it is parked in a public place. I am neither young nor especially fit but I can walk quickly and comfortably from my home in Vic West to destinations in James Bay, Fairfield, the Cook Street and Oak Bay Villages or the Esquimalt town centre area. My mode of transportation, as opposed to Helps’, has not cost the taxpayers/citizens of the City of Victoria millions of dollars to make me marginally safer—though I do hope that the safety of pedestrians will be more of a priority for future councils.

    Over the past 2.5 decades, as I have walked on the sidewalks, walkways and crosswalks of Victoria, I have observed a number of close calls or have myself been involved in a number of minor collisions involving reckless cyclists, operating with depraved indifference with regard to pedestrians of all ages, from toddlers to seniors.

    As a pedestrian in Victoria, I have been frightened far more often by cyclists than by drivers. Travelling silently, cyclists often approach pedestrians from behind at speeds exceeding 30 kilometres/hour, which is greater than the legal limit for motorized vehicles in many parts of Victoria. Furthermore, cyclists are far more prone than motorists to sail through crosswalks, red lights and stop signs, or to disregard traffic laws. Though cyclists do endeavour not to miscalculate and so become traffic statistics, they often ride not just on our streets but on our sidewalks and walkways where they do not show similar restraint, perhaps because running into soft human flesh does not have the same implications as running into metal-bodied vehicles. Typically, cyclists do not slow down or deign to indicate with sufficient volume that they are about to pass pedestrians on one side or the other of a walkway or sidewalk. They count on adults, children and pets on leashes never to move unexpectedly so much as a step to the left or right.

    I can understand if cyclists sometimes feel as if they are engaged in a war with the automobile, but I do wonder why cyclists treat pedestrians as nothing more than potential collateral damage. It’s a pity it has never occurred to our mayor that Victoria’s pedestrians might be in need of greater protection from marauding “cyclepaths.”

    Council’s quixotic, tunnel-visioned detour into the promotion of cycling as an unrealistic panacea is gobbling up time, resources and grey matter that could have been devoted to finding real solutions to the transportation and affordable housing crises facing those who reside and/or work in Victoria and its surrounding communities. Helps and her coterie of relatively young, narcissistic, self-styled progressive council members are entirely indifferent to the plight of waged workers, who tend to live in the suburbs simply because buying or renting a home in Victoria has become prohibitively expensive. In many cases, they must drive rather than cycle into Victoria from a considerable distance, given that they have had to settle for relatively low income, service sector jobs, which tend to be more plentiful in Victoria proper. Due to the failure of leadership on the part of Victoria’s City council and other levels of government, these citizens cannot count on either speedy, comfortable, timely and affordable mass transit to get to work or, better still, adequate, attractive and affordable housing within Victoria that would make driving to work unnecessary. The relatively cheap labour these workers provide allows affluent Victorians, including the mayor and council, to continue to pay less for many of the services provided to them both inside and outside their homes.

    Since the City of Victoria council has too often failed to show leadership in the above areas, we are indeed fortunate in being able to turn to Focus magazine and, for example, to Leslie Campbell’s article in the July/August 2017 edition, “Take down a parking lot and put up a paradise” for inspiration, leadership and direction with regard to finding outside-the-box, innovative ways to build more affordable and attractive housing in Victoria, and in the process, to reduce vehicle traffic entering and exiting Victoria on the typical workday.

    The best the council of our provincial capital seems capable of is to act as if they represent just one more municipality in the area, and thus to narrow the capital’s major roads and to add protected bicycle lanes, thus slowing public transit vehicles to a veritable crawl and increasing our reliance on the automobile, which should have been avoided at all costs. Designated lanes for transit vehicles, and more affordable housing, should have been the first priorities, not bicycle lanes.

    John R Bell

     



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