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Leslie Campbell

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About Leslie Campbell

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  1. If we’re going to lower emissions, allowing Alberta to increase fossil-fuel-related exports will harm the economic prospects of the rest of Canada. WHEN PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU said a year ago that the Alberta oil sands would be “phased out” over time, Albertans were furious. Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who represents Fort McMurray, told CBC, “We certainly don’t need out-of-touch, federal politicians sounding like Jane Fonda on this topic.” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was more circumspect. Still, if Albertans aren’t ready to embrace the end of the oil sands ever, then it’s not surprising some of us are fighting to keep bitumen in the ground. With politics being what it is, we are going about that task in a round-about way. The BC government is heading to court to get a ruling “to reinforce BC’s constitutional rights to defend against the risks of a bitumen spill.” In effect, this should allow BC the right to put limits on what goes into (and comes out of) pipelines that cross our province. If it’s judged that we don’t have that right, I am not sure what the government’s next move is, but many citizens seem ready and willing to block construction if that’s the only option. Meanwhile, BC First Nations are also in court with no less than 15 challenges to Kinder Morgan’s plans. They have been joined by other First Nations. “First Nations all across Canada are not going to let First Nations in BC stand alone in their fight against Kinder Morgan: now more than ever we have to stand up for the water, a livable climate, and a decent future for the next generation,” said Chief Arnold Gardner of Eagle Lake First Nation in Ontario. While the court cases play out, Trudeau and Notley continue to try to sell their scheme of building “a bridge to a cleaner economy” by expanding oil sands production and finding higher-paying overseas buyers. They argue this will be good for the rest of Canada’s economy—that it is in our national interest. But their math doesn’t work. Only if we’re not concerned about all the impacts of fossil-fuel emissions—sea level rise, ecosystem disruption, ocean acidification, desertification, drought, crop failures, and so on—would Trudeau and Notley’s insistence on getting Alberta bitumen to foreign markets make sense. But they say they are committed to capping emissions at a level that will keep us meeting our international commitments, which are aimed at a maximum 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming—necessary to reduce the intensity of all of the above impacts. Canada has agreed to lower annual national emissions to 150 megatonnes by 2050. In 2015 we emitted 722 megatonnes of carbon, so we’ve a long, long way to go. Alberta has agreed to cap oil sands production—currently at 67.8 megatonnes (at least)—at 100 megatonnes annually. Just on the face of it, this is going to pose problems as the “caps” pull in opposite directions. But it’s even more problematic as some number-crunching shows. Last year in Focus, David Broadland showed why it is more than likely that Alberta’s oil sands are already pumping out more than its annual cap of 100 megatonnes of carbon emissions. He pointed out that when applying the nonpartisan US Congressional Research Service figures for average emissions intensity—instead of less reliable Canadian figures—emissions from Alberta’s oil sands (from extraction, upgrading and pipeline transportation) are already at 116 megatonnes, and not at the 67.8 megatonnes that Environment Canada has them. David tried another, more conservative analysis, and got 94 megatonnes. Neither of these totals include “fugitive emissions”that escape from tailing ponds, oil sands mine faces, oil and gas valves, pumps and pipelines. Alberta already produces the lion’s share of those in Canada at 35 megatonnes each year (Canada’s total is 61 megatonnes). Because Alberta and Trudeau’s government only acknowledge 67.8 megatonnes, Alberta has permission to ramp up another 50 percent above current levels. “The contradiction of facilitating oil sands growth while discouraging the use of fossil fuels with a carbon tax or fees is jarring enough,” wrote David. “But the bizarre, long-term consequences for the Canadian economy of these two initiatives, if they both play out as hoped for by Trudeau and Notley, seems to have been overlooked.” Alberta would have a stranglehold on allowable emissions. Bitumen production for export will come to dominate Canada’s national carbon budget. Virtually all other industries will have less and less ability to emit, because the oil sands will be using up our national allowance. As shown in the accompanying graph, by 2045—or 5 years earlier if oil sands emissions have been underestimated—fossil-fuel-export-related emissions will have eaten up Canada’s entire carbon budget. This includes all of Canada’s fossil-fuel exports, not just Alberta’s bitumen. That leaves only 22 years to transform every household and every industry to operating totally carbon-free just so Canada can develop its low-value hydrocarbon export industry. Most of those emissions will be tied to Alberta’s export of low-value bitumen. How will Canada's many industries that have higher value per tonne of emissions than oil sands mining fare in a North American economy in which fossil-fuel exports to the US can't be reduced without that country's agreement? Federal emissions reduction targets (red line) plotted against expected increases in upstream emissions that would result from extraction of fossil fuels destined for export, mainly to the US. The light grey uses emissions intensities claimed by Alberta and Environment Canada. The yellow plot uses emissions intensities from the nonpartisan US Congressional Research Service. The National Observer’s Barry Saxifrage has arrived at similar conclusions. In a recent piece on oil sands domination of future emissions, he writes: “On the present course, almost everything else in Canada would have to shut down for the country to meet its climate change targets.” Saxifrage starts with the current acknowledged emissions claimed by Environment Canada. Still, by 2050, the oil sands will consume 78 percent of Canada’s allowable emissions. More actually, because, as he reminds us, “the Paris Accord requires all nations to set increasingly ambitious targets every five years.” Instead of being part of a climate solution for Canada, he points out, “Alberta’s ‘hard cap’ allows just one industry to consume our nation’s climate goals and obligations.” Saxifrage also does some interesting number-crunching on jobs, which shows the myth-making afoot when Notley and Trudeau say we need to develop the oil sands for our economy. Estimates from Stats Canada and Petroleum Labour Market Information (PetroLMI) show the oil sands provides a paltry 2.5 percent of Canada’s GDP, and only 0.5 percent of Canada’s jobs. It would be folly to think that’s going to get better. Recent data from PetroLMI, Saxifrage notes, show the oil sands industry is on track to reduce its workforce by 21 percent per barrel between 2010 and 2021. “All sectors of the industry—in situ, mining and upgrading—are significantly reducing workers per barrel,” he writes. “Demanning” or “zero manning” the oil sands is how one Cenovus Energy executive describes it to investors. Meanwhile, Suncor is replacing hundreds of its workers with driverless trucks. The math and logic are clear, and so is our moral responsibility to future generations. Canada’s per capita GHG emissions are the third highest in the world. Notley can’t be allowed to increase Albertans share of allowable national emissions for the purpose of increasing fossil fuel exports. To do so would damage the economic prospects of all other Canadians and prevent us from being a good global citizen. Leslie Campbell is Focus’ editor. For more on the numbers, see “Alberta’s Deathgrip on Canada” and check out Barry Saxifrage’s work at www.nationalobserver.com.
  2. Letters to the editor

    Bridge design flaw hidden for a year David Broadland’s article on the Johnson Street Bridge design flaw—and on the City’s failure to openly disclose it—displays an uncanny level of diligence and public-spirited curiosity, unmatched by anyone in Victoria. Incidentally, the City’s FOI web page contains links to information on the Johnson Street Bridge site. But on January 9, shortly after publication of the Focus story, the links all reveal nothing but error messages. For instance, clicking on the main bridge site link yields the following: “Our site www.johnsonstreetbridge.com is temporarily unavailable due to maintenance.” Did someone at City Hall discover weakness or fatigue in the bridge website as well? Perhaps, as we speak, City Hall staff are furiously bolting steel plates over those website weaknesses as a temporary fix. All under cover of darkness, to be sure. There are two flaws here: the first is in the bridge design; the second is the way the City dealt with the first. Mr Broadland raises some essential questions regarding who knew what, and when. It is simply not credible that none of the councillors were told of the problem shortly after the December 9, 2016 non-compliance report. When they were told—likely no later than December 10, 2016—one has to wonder who advised them that the better path was to keep it undercover and hope that nobody noticed. Fortunately, Mr. Broadland did. And I bet that, upon hearing of the flaw, more than one city councillor uttered two words: the first would have been “oh,” the second starts with “s.” Russ Francis Excellent article by David Broadland on the Victoria Bridge. A wonderful piece of well-researched journalism, highlighting a major problem which will certainly promote rapid corrosion of that structure. After 40 years in the structural steel industry, I have never seen such an appalling patch—which definitely needs a thorough third-party review by an independent engineer, NOT by the engineer of record! Congratulations on a job very well done. Martin Bache I was very interested in David Broadland’s article on the new bridge. Some time ago, an engineer who had been given a thorough tour of the existing Blue Bridge told me that it could be fixed up for about a million dollars and then be good for another 50 years. Here we are, looking at a project riddled with flaws and unnecessary expenditures. Why is it that as soon as people are elected to City council (or any government position) they lose all fiscal responsibility, as well as their common sense? Einstein was right when he said that human stupidity is infinite. Terry J. Waller Bravo on continued attention to the JSB project. Like Ross Crockford, I predicted cost overruns, and as I was enrolled—concurrent to the protest and beginning of the design phase—in the Master’s Certificate in Project Management (UVic Gustavson/Schlich), I saw parallels in examples of failures in the larger world. Once the Sydney Opera House construction got to 100 percent above estimates, there was no turning back. It eventually reached over 1400 percent cost overruns. The bridge requires movement, and was sold to the public as both a seismic event survival essential—as well as a sculptural engineering civic element of pride. I speculate that like the Montreal Olympic Stadium, we will be seeing maintenance and challenges that will bring on unfortunate financial woe now and in the future. How will it cope with wind, and what will be its eventual lifespan? The tale of who knew what, how scope changes were not reported, and the hidden decisions, is ready for the casebook of all studying project management. Keep up the investigative reporting, as no one at City Hall seems to have the big picture—nor public purse—truly in mind. Hugh Kruzel Why isn’t the mainstream media picking up on the scandalous way the City of Victoria has handled the Johnson Street Bridge Replacement Project, as outlined in Focus (Jan/Feb 2018)? David Broadland provides a chronology of the scandalous cost overruns, City council cover-ups, engineering problems, and City staff incompetence. Originally estimated at $40 million, the current estimate is $110 million with the final price tag yet to be determined. To make matters worse, design changes were made to reduce costs, including no budget for “bumpers” or landscaping, reduction in required life span specifications, reduced earthquake resistance, removal of the rail component, etc. Since these amenities and more were part of the original design, the cost overrun is really even more significant. In effect, the City originally budgeted $40 million to buy a Cadillac, and ended up paying $110 million-plus for a motorcycle that may or may not do the basic job. In particular, why isn’t the media outraged at how the City has resisted, thwarted and lied in response to repeated FOI requests by Focus over the past five years? Mainstream media should be ashamed that they have stood by silently, while a small independent bimonthly publication has been left to bear the financial burden necessary to conduct a thorough investigative journalism report on such an important issue. It’s time now for the mainstream media to amplify the message, so it is heard by everyone, not just the subscribers to an independent local, but exemplary, magazine. John Amon I am no engineer, nor a bridge-builder, but when I see patchwork, I can recognize future trouble. As an old-fashioned woman who still does some mending if needed, I know that any worthwhile patching is done in support of the material around it. A hole beside a hole spells danger that one or the other will break away—zip into the one beside it—and the tearing process begins. Besides all the money spent, the time overrun, and the folly of the whole design to begin with, whenever (!) this new bridge opens up for usage, I will hopefully no longer live in Esquimalt and need to cross it on a regular basis. I am a strong swimmer, but I would not like to go down with a bunch of metal on top of me. Gundra Kucy Bravo for Times Colonist editor-in-chief Dave Obee’s commitment to provide “context and analysis about news events” (1/28/18). Unfortunately, it’s been sadly lacking since the two repair patches bolted onto the new bridge came to the public’s attention in early December. Since then, the TC’s reporting on this project reads like public service announcements: “Existing Johnson Street span to close Saturday, open Sunday about 5 p.m. if all goes well.” Obviously, all has not gone well. Where’s the context and analysis offering insight into how and why Victorians got stuck with a brand-new $115 million bridge whose signature feature—the rings—is defaced? In contrast to the TC’s unfulfilled promise is David Broadland’s initial article on the patches, later supplemented online by a second article, with Mayor Lisa Helps’ criteria for trustworthy journalism—hard conversations, good reporting, relationship-building, and serving the public good rather than the journalist’s interests. The criterion of serving the public good coincidentally addresses a problem noted by the mayor in her TC re-election interview (1/1/18). “We come to conversations with our minds already made up and our positions already established. So there’s not room to change our minds.” For me, the public is best served by journalism that opens a person’s mind on an issue and triggers critical reflection on the thinking and assumptions behind his/her position. The outcome may be a changed mind or, equally important, an unchanged but more insightful and considered position. It’s the process behind this outcome that’s important. Agreement or disagreement with the journalist is irrelevant. As for the criterion of hard conversations, was the Victoria News interview with JSB project manager Jonathan Huggett (1/31/2018) a hard conversation? No. Was the TC’s interview with Mayor Helps on her re-election campaign a hard conversation? No. Was Broadland’s piece the beginning of a hard conversation? Yes. On good reporting, all would agree with the mayor that the foundation is the absence of serious factual errors or inaccuracies. Unfortunately, she has provided no examples to support her claim that David’s article was deficient in this way. On the criterion of relationship-building, would a journalist making numerous FOI requests on contentious City issues lose points? In proportion to the resources available at their respective organizations, I wonder what the track record is on making FOI requests for the Times Colonist or other journalists in comparison to Focus journalists. The mayor’s score, based on these criteria: David untrustworthy, and all other Victoria journalists trustworthy. Possibly because I place weight on the criteria differently, my score was different. The one that I undoubtedly value the same as Mayor Helps, and all other readers, is the absence of serious factual errors or inaccuracies. So let’s start there. My ask of the mayor is for her to provide the examples of inaccuracies, to allow David to make any necessary corrections. Then, with an open mind, engage in the hard conversation of how and why Victorians got stuck with a brand-new $115-million bridge where its signature feature—the rings—is defaced? John Farquharson What’s in a name? I have recently heard discussions concerning what to name Victoria’s new bridge. To me it will always be the “Blew Budget Bridge.” Steen Petersen Will “sunshine” finally come to BC? Alan Cassels’ article makes some cogent points, which are unfortunately diluted by a prominent error. The drug referenced in the central anecdote of the story, Prolia or denosumab, is referred to wrongly as a bisphosphonate drug. Then the link between bisphosphonates and osteonecrosis of the jaw and other risks is played up, and the patient’s prescription of denosumab/Prolia accordingly questioned. The other drugs mentioned (Fosamax, Actonel, Zometa) are indeed bisphosphonates. Denosumab, however, as is handily made obvious by its “-mab” suffix, is a monoclonal antibody, a very large multi-protein-chain biologic drug, a wildly different class of molecule than the bisphosphonates which, as their name implies, are fairly simple, double-phosphonate-containing, small molecules. It turns out the difference is not great in incidence of osteonecrosis of the jaw in both denosumab and the bisphosphonates (at about 1 to 2 percent, with no statistically significant difference between them). However, it’s absolutely essential in critiquing pharmaceuticals and medicine that we avoid inaccurate generalizations. The remaining thrust of the article (on conflicts of interest arising from pharmaceutical industry payments to doctors) needn’t be damaged by the error. However, the Canadian initiative mentioned (openpharma.ca), and similar efforts to shine light on physician payments, while laudable in principle, are arguably far less useful for fixing medicine than the initiative AllTrials (http://www.alltrials.net/), which aims to have all clinical trials reported and their data made available. Achieving this would largely obviate the need to report every muffin given or speaking fee paid to a doctor, since the science could be independently verified on whether the drugs truly work. For a superlative backgrounder on the rationale for AllTrials by one of its founders, Ben Goldacre, read his excellent book Bad Pharma. Samuel Mercer Alan Cassels responds: Mr Mercer is totally right in pointing out that I was incorrect when I said that denosumab is a bisphosphonate. It isn’t, and while much of my article talks of bisphosphonates like Fosamax, Actonel or Zometa, it does appear that denosmuab has some of the same adverse effects of the bisphosphonates. I apologize if I have confused my readers. I applaud Mr Mercer for mentioning openpharma.ca and AllTrials, both very good initiatives that will hopefully make our access to independently verified drug research much easier and bring more transparency to physician-pharmaceutical industry relations. One less thing to worry about for BC grizzlies When I came back from the holidays and picked up my copy of Focus, I could not believe my eyes, so I had to read the whole article just to make sure. I was ecstatic about the decision of the NDP government to ban the grizzly trophy hunt. It was obviously the right decision, which was long overdue. However, what disturbs me the most about the whole debate are the motivations pro or against that I read in the newspapers and hear on the news. The only two criteria that are usually considered in the discussions, at least from the government side, are always based on the science and the economy. I am a scientist myself, so I always welcome scientific arguments in support of any decision-making. However, in this particular case, I strongly feel that these are irrelevant. The trophy hunt is ethically immoral above all other considerations. The fact that the government, or the outfitters legally operating in the province, have been accepting big money from individuals coming to BC to shoot an innocent animal from a safe distance, giving it no chance to defend itself, for the sole purpose of taking home a trophy, is, in my opinion, highly unethical. Moreover, at least 80 percent of British Columbians have been consistently and vigorously opposing the hunt for many years, while the Liberal government allowed this shameful activity, undemocratically ignoring the position of the vast majority of the people. In my opinion, ethics and the will of the people are the only criteria which should have been applied to the case of the grizzly bear trophy hunt, regardless of any other scientific or economic argument. I applaud the decision of the NDP government to finally ban the grizzly bear trophy hunt, even though I still doubt that it was made for the right reasons. Nabhraj Spogliarich Victoria’s new policy on short-term rentals Pamela Roth’s article on Victoria’s short-term rentals dilemma (January/February 2018) presents a balanced view of this controversial topic; however, it fails to consider why STRs appear to be exacerbating the housing crisis in every major city around the globe. The new internet-based, unregulated “sharing-economy” business model lies at the heart of the issue. Few governments have been able to exercise their regulatory control or taxation authority over this online lodging-booking platform. The massive expansion of the deregulated global economy over the past two decades, proliferation of off-shore tax-free safe havens, and the rampant growth of investment in a highly speculative asset class such as real estate, has concentrated wealth in fewer and fewer hands. This has eliminated the possibility of earning the decent living required to put a roof over one’s head without assuming intolerable debt levels. Before Airbnb, (the premier “online marketplace and hospitality service” established in 2008), all bed-and-breakfast operators in the City of Victoria were required to obtain a commercial business license to operate as a lodging supplier, and pay appropriate taxes, as hoteliers do. The disruptive digital technology home-sharing enterprise said their business model was simply an intermediary tool to link property owners willing to rent unused space to guests interested in alternative if not cheaper accommodations than those provided by hotels. The crux of their argument is this: data on host properties and transactions is confidential information which cannot be shared with any regulatory agency. Consequently, if said authorities wish to exercise control over the home-sharing economy, they must assume the costs of regulating and monitoring the property owners and housing units listed. New technology offers the means to book temporary use of a room or a home offered by property owners to guests at a suitable price. This, together with the rapid growth of new high-end condos Downtown, serves the interests of developers who sell the units as income-generators. Prospective owners stand to benefit, especially those who seek a financial investment property for part-time personal use. To suggest that City council, which approved the Downtown development permits over the past decade, were unaware that the new units were being used for this purpose, is at best a red herring. Or perhaps just another excuse, like the Johnson Street Bridge fiasco, to remind everyone of their incompetence. Victoria Adams On the frontlines of the opioid crisis The opioid crisis is heart-breaking. The 19-year-old son of a colleague of mine died in his sleep at home in his own bed from an accidental overdose a year ago. The family is still shattered, and likely will be for years. I have a daughter the same age; it could just as easily have been me who lost her child. I feel for all the families whose loved ones have died or are struggling. I am also a naturopathic physician, and believe that we are missing a few pieces to the puzzle of addiction and recovery that could provide tremendous help and could be addressed quite easily. The use of opioid painkillers for acute and chronic pain management could be greatly reduced, if not eliminated, by refocusing pain management on non-addictive methods of treatment, including homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractic. The use of arnica and hypericum as homeopathic remedies given in a specific protocol after surgeries and many injuries would have the potential to drastically lower, or even eliminate, the need for most conventional pain medication. Opioid medication after a back injury was what addicted Ms McBain’s son. Very likely a combination of homeopathy and acupuncture for the acute pain, followed by chiropractic, could have prevented his addiction and death. Physicians need to be educated to either start integrating those methods into their clinical practice, or to collaborate with other trained health care providers such as naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists and chiropractors in an open and respectful manner. I myself underwent a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction due to breast cancer in 2010 and only needed 2 Tylenols at the end of the first day. No other pain killers were given, although the nurses frequently asked if I wanted morphine. My pain was managed perfectly with homeopathic remedies and relaxation tapes. My daughter had three wisdom teeth removed last year, one impacted, and did not require one single painkiller; it was managed with homeopathy. To those calling this anecdotal evidence: there is a long history of clinical use of arnica, hypericum, and other homeopathic remedies for acute pain management and a small body of good, published research as well, showing effectiveness. Most studies are not done by homeopaths, unfortunately, and don’t use the right potency of the remedy and correct frequency of dosing; otherwise, results would be much better. I’m happy to teach anyone interested how to dose correctly to prevent or reduce the use of post-injury and post-surgical painkilling medications. Chronic pain can also be effectively managed with naturopathy, homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, biofeedback, meditation, hypnosis and related methods. There must be supervised injection sites for obvious reasons. And physiological support for withdrawal symptoms at those sites and all treatment centres. Opioid agonists are an obvious helpful choice, but don’t address the neurological damage done by the drugs, and are therefore really only a stop-gap measure. Intravenous amino acids and other nutrients have been used with success in several treatment centres in the US and Mexico, as well as in a number of clinical studies. IV nutrients help deliver amino acids needed to route more neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, directly to the brain, bypassing often-damaged digestive systems. In studies, this has greatly shortened the duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms from a multitude of addictions, including alcohol, cocaine and heroin. Ms McBain’s son could not shake off these physical withdrawal symptoms; this approach might have helped him. In addition, users should be supplied with high quality nutritional supplements, including high-dose multi-vitamins and minerals, additional chromium to help address blood sugar imbalances, lithium orotate and vitamin D to stabilize mood, and vitex agnus castus capsules to reset dopamine receptors. Clients should also be counselled on the benefits of high-protein, high-fat, low-sugar diets, and provided with food vouchers to buy such foods. I believe that using such an integrated strategy could greatly help alleviate the addiction crisis by preventing a large part of it in the first place, and by helping to heal the addicted brain. Dr Anke Zimmermann, ND, FCAH Sewage and science Did CRD staff commit fraud and/or breach of public trust? David Broadland is absolutely correct (November/December 2017). 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 for the “anti-sewage treatment” Liberal candidate and 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 Capital region adverse former governments. Perhaps even more disappointing in this new political landscape is the inaction of Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, a “star” scientist who built a career on the impact of greenhouse gases on climate change. Besides hijacking public spending, enhanced sewage treatment will needlessly increase CO2 emissions during construction and operation. But rather than using his new-found power and influence to lobby for transit improvements over enhanced sewage treatment, Mr Weaver instead tables—again—a ride-sharing bill that does little for daily commuters, but benefits American ride-sharing giants like Uber and Lyft. As with Site C, there should have been an independent review of the enhanced sewage treatment requirement 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 the global environment as well by contributing to greenhouse gas reduction. Dave Nonen On the relationship between theatre and memory Monica Prendergast’s article stated: “This generation is living longer than any prior one, and so is also suffering with diseases like Alzheimer’s at a higher rate.” Dr Stephen Genuis, University of Alberta, has three articles online that indisputably reveal how the current neurological disease epidemic, including Alzheimer’s, results from the massive environmentally-dispersed chemical exposures we are all immersed in. It has nothing to do with increased longevity. Just because these diseases show up later in life doesn’t mean that’s their cause. People in their 40s are often showing early signs. The Pesticide Action Network North America corroborates this. See “Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence.” Pitying the aged distracts us from the political indignation and action needed to change policy. We got angry at, even as we suffered from, asbestos, tobacco and thalidomide. We abolished or severely curtailed their use. Let’s summon up the same intelligence and passion to stop all corporate, profit-driven poisoning of our sacred biology. Let’s end this toxic exposure epidemic by our grandchildren’s generation through abolitionist policy. Larry Wartels #MeToo: what’s next? I think the article by Mollie Kaye (January/February 2018) is a welcome note of sanity in a highly-charged MeToo debate which seems to have replaced the real estate market as the most common dinner party conversation. On that note, I wanted to share with you a recent experience with CBC radio. As you know, announcers always announce a piece of music by a symphony orchestra by saying “conducted by” or “under the direction of” X. The CBC announced a piece performed by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, but did not say the conductor’s name. Since the MSO had a prolific and well-regarded recording oeuvre when Charles Dutoit was the conductor, I enquired and found out that the CBC management has issued a directive that Charles Dutoit’s name not be announced and associated with the MSO on air due to the allegations against him, the specifics of which I am not aware. For Dutoit to suddenly become a “non-person” with the CBC struck me as wrong. Perhaps in 30-40 years time, another Trudeau will be standing in parliament and apologizing for the injustices which occurred when people’s careers and reputations were destroyed by mere allegations. I will be taking the latest Focus with me to Sayulita, Mexico next week to read cover to cover. Tony Beckett First things first: Making every vote count The debate over proportional representation (Focus, November/December 2017 and the responding letters in the January/February 2018 edition) brought to mind the time when Sweden decided to switch from left to right side of the road driving: Högertrafikomläggningen, as it’s officially known (or H-Day to avoid this tongue-twister), took place on September 3, 1967, when Sweden switched from left side to right side of the road driving, to coordinate with its immediate neighbours, Norway and Finland. The task was monumental, expensive, and happened despite the majority of Swedes being opposed to it. Switching to a useable PR voting system cannot be as fraught with potential calamity as that which confronted the Swedish decision. And yes, we must get away from first-past-the-post (FPTP), as it plainly only works adequately within a two-party system where the parties are so alike as to be two sides of the same coin—or a system with no political parties if we really want to accommodate a diversity of beliefs and ideologies. Heck, if we really want to stay with FPTP, then we may as well pay people to vote. Berating potential voters for not voting has done nothing to encourage and increase turnout. Pay voters $100 to vote. Federally, that would come to $2.5 billion per election, or $625 million per year—less than 20 bucks a head. And make the $100 tax free. But if we don’t want to encourage voting in such a “mercenary” fashion, then at least let’s (as Leslie Campbell said) start by making every vote count. And let’s convince letter-writer John Amon that he too needs PR. Richard Weatherill One man’s trash: part 2 Seems like more and more houses are just being demolished. Where does all of the stuff go to? How much is recycled, and how much goes to the landfill? I think the City should charge a heavy demolishing fee to encourage people to make good environmental choices. Jean Siemens Woodwynn Farm I have just been reading the letters concerning Woodwynn Farms. in the latest edition. I knew about the Creating Homefulness Society and the good work they are doing, but it wasn’t on my radar recently, so I was unaware of how much it had developed. I am appalled, but not surprised, by the blinkered and short-sighted approach of Central Saanich Council to the request for a change in zoning to house the workers at the farm. However, I would remind those concerned that initially, Saanich Council banned electric cars here, but now things have changed. Sometimes patience is needed. I wonder if an online campaign could be started on behalf of the Society which could be presented to Central Saanich Council with the hope that they might change their minds? Jean Margison Editor’s Note: The Creating Homefulness Society has had to sell the farm property to pay off its mortgage holders.
  3. Is the CRD failing to steward its only regional park in the core of the city? ALONG WITH THE DAFFODILS, new lawn signs condemning “overdevelopment” are sprouting up in abundance in Fairfield and Oak Bay neighbourhoods. Developers seem to be finding lots that have been ignored for decades or tearing down older homes to put up something grander. Churches are selling out to condo developers (Rockland’s Truth Centre), or developing their own “excess” property for affordable rental housing (Oak Bay United). While the condo and apartment projects add density and sometimes greater affordability to help justify the changing face of a neighbourhood, the many new single-family homes do not. Even though the battles are mostly fought on a case-by-case basis, there’s a cumulative impact on neighbourhoods: they look and feel different. As citizens try to modify or halt impending changes to their neighbourhood, they come face-to-face with bureaucracy. People who usually mind their own business and respect authorities blossom into activists, attending City Hall and CRD meetings, diving deep into archival research, organizing meetings and social media. While an engaged citizenry is a good thing, some unfortunately come away soured on local government, skeptical that any justice or sensibleness comes out of these bureaucracies. One proposed new development lies adjacent to Gonzales Hill Regional Park, a charming, bluffy paradise with stunning ocean views in multiple directions. The native satin flower can be seen between rock bluffs in early spring; quail are seen regularly. Though mostly left au naturel, atop is perched the Gonzales Observatory, its whiteness rising from the rock like a Greek villa and housing the office of The Land Conservancy of BC. The property adjacent to Gonzales Hill Regional Park for which variances are being sought by the developer of a single-family home. Gonzales Hill Park is the only regional park in the City of Victoria—and it’s right on the border between Victoria and Oak Bay. At 1.8 hectares, it’s small, but within walking distance of many local residents. CRD stats show 49,060 visitors in 2016. An adjacent, undeveloped, oblong 11,255-square-foot lot that lies along the park’s north border was purchased in 2016 by Walter and Karen Madro after the former owner died. Because she had left the lot in its natural state, it could be mistaken as being part of the park. The proposed 4000-square-foot house at 1980 Fairfield Place will change that perception. Much of the natural rock will be blasted and removed to construct a house with three levels (officially “1.5 storeys plus basement”), connected by an elevator. Plans show a three-car garage, wine cellar, games and fitness rooms. Despite blasting deep into the rock to create the lower level, it will loom high above its surroundings, particularly the neighbours already below the rocky hill. Six to eight small Garry oaks will be removed. Residents in the area began hearing about the development when Zebra Group, on behalf of the Madros, showed those closest to the lot initial plans last August. Louis Horvat, an architectural technologist with Zebra, told Focus, “We’ve welcomed the neighbours to come speak to us. We contacted all who wrote letters to the City’s Board of Variance asking them to meet with us. Only three contacted us.” Horvat says the plans have gone through about eight sets of changes, all to minimize neighbours’ concerns. “We really have made an effort to mitigate any concerns.” A Board of Variance hearing scheduled for January 25 to consider the Madros’ request for five variances to the R1-G zoning of the lot was adjourned to March 22 because the neighbours and CRD Parks Committee Vice Chair Ben Isitt complained about the short, 10-day notice. Since then, neighbours and park lovers have informed themselves more, spoken to officialdom, and organized towards protecting the park. The Madros, meanwhile, have reduced requested variances to two: one asking for a bigger total floorspace than allowed under the zoning; the other to build about 30 feet closer to the rear border. A portion of Zebra Design's application to the Board of Variance showing the proposed location the structure. The lot's border with Gonzales Regional Park is shown by the lower dashed orange line. ON FEBRUARY 21, CRD Director Ben Isitt attempted to get the CRD Parks Committee to weigh in against the Madros’ requested variances at the March Board of Variance (BOV) hearing. In introducing his motion, Isitt said, “This is probably my favourite destination for urban hikes, and I think many Victoria and Oak Bay residents would feel the same way.” His motion was to have the Parks Committee urge the CRD Board to communicate to the City of Victoria’s Board of Variance that it was concerned about the effect of the requested variances on the adjacent park. Isitt’s main argument was that a development on the border of this particular park, because it is so small and central, is more impactful than a similar development would be along the borders of the CRD’s other regional parks, which are far larger—like Thetis or Sooke Hills Wilderness Park or Elk and Beaver Lake Parks in Saanich. “The relative impact is out of proportion to what we would see elsewhere,” said Isitt. The proposed house, he noted, would obliterate “a highly cherished view looking to the north…[to] Haro Strait and the San Juan Islands…I think it’s indisputable that this development, if the variances were granted, would have a substantial negative impact on the use and enjoyment of Gonzales Hill Regional Park by park visitors.” He urged the CRD committee to provide additional comment to the one staff had already submitted to the BOV, “which indicated the CRD had no opinion on the application.” A CRD Parks staff report on the matter noted, “The main focus for visitors to Gonzales Hill Regional Park is the view from the bluffs to the south…rather than north;” and concluded the variances “would not result in adverse effects on park visitors when compared with the construction of a house on the property as currently allowed under the City of Victoria’s zoning bylaws.” Seven neighbourhood members and two spokespersons for the developer made presentations that day. Zebra’s Horvat explained the two variances being requested—one for total floor space, and one for the rear setback—and how the shape and topography of the site made them necessary. He said, “we feel we have produced a design that meets with our clients’ needs, minimizes the impact on the neighbours, and had the least amount of impact on the site and surrounding area.” Liane O’Grady, who lives near the park, took issue with Zebra’s assertion: “It may meet his client’s wants for a larger, grander house. It may maximize the profit, but it compromises the interests of the general public and all the people who live in the area.” Showing a slide of the property, she continued, “All of what you see here above would be destroyed, and it would detract from the overall experience in the park…” Scott Chapman who lives just below the high bluff on which the Madros house will be built, told the CRD Parks Committee: “The granting of both or either of these variances on the size of the house and the setback will intrude massively on the park, altering this space forever for future residents and users, and it also severely intrudes on the sunlight and shadowing on the adjacent property owners who expect that the bylaws for building be upheld, especially in this very sensitive region." Cheryl Shoji, who, with Brad Atchison, lives on the west side of the lot, called her presentation “The Rock—the Jewel of the Hill.” Noting how it provides habitat for quail and other birds, as well as some rare plant species, she said, “[it] should not be flattened and destroyed for the pleasure of a single family home.” Atchison, who has a post-graduate degree in biology as well as an MBA, told the Committee that even though he was “the most impacted neighbour,” he and his wife were willing to have the house move 66 feet closer to them. He implied this would be better for the Garry oak ecosystem. “In urban landscapes, the preservation of these unique biodiversity islands is critically important…On the basis of climate change alone—which the CRD views as the most important governance and action imperative—the region needs an intact Garry oak forest ecosystem.” He suggested that the property owner would be “blasting away at least $400,000 of an ancient, panoramic landform with spiritual value to produce rubble.” Alternate Director and City of Victoria Councillor Jeremy Loveday also supported Isitt’s motion. He referred to a survey reported on earlier at the meeting which “showed that for those who don’t attend regional parks, the second highest reason that they don’t go to those parks is because they’re too far. For many Victorian residents, Gonzales Hill is the only regional park that they frequently attend, and for some it is the only regional park that they can access. These facts all lead me to think that it’s perfectly reasonable for this committee to take a position on this application as we are a directly affected neighbour.” But the Chair of the Regional Parks Committee, David Screech, mayor of View Royal, disagreed. He took issue with the matter even being on the agenda, feeling it inadvisedly “politicized” a decision that should be left to staff. “This is a City of Victoria decision. It’s not a CRD decision,” he argued. “Variances have nothing to do with us, and the Board of Variance is supposed to be a unique, independent body that does not suffer from political interference. To me, this is political interference. Just on that basis, I can’t support it.” Isitt had also pointed out that not only is Gonzales Hill Park the only regional park within the Victoria/Oak Bay municipalities, but that residents of those two cities contribute about one-third of all park funds, but have only 0.015 percent of the land base of regional parks located within their municipal borders. In response, Screech said: “The simple fact is that the vast majority of the users of regional parks come from Victoria, Oak Bay, and Saanich. It follows that those municipalities would be paying a higher proportion of it. I don’t feel that Victoria’s hard done by it.” When Isitt tried to respond, Screech said, “No, we don’t need to debate it, I’m the chair and I get the last word. That’s my response to your comments.” The vote was called; it was tied, 4 to 4 (Price, Screech, Kasper, and Seaton opposed; Isitt, Loveday, Williams, Plant for) which meant Chair Screech got to call it. The motion was defeated. THAT DEFEAT NATURALLY DISMAYED the other neighbours of Gonzales Hill Park. They had hoped the CRD would be a powerful ally standing against the variances because of its impact on Gonzales Hill Park and park users. It was also a rude awakening: it seemed the CRD couldn’t be bothered protecting this beloved park. A January 25 letter from General Manager of Parks & Environmental Services Larisa Hutcheson to Fairfield Place resident Atchison had bolstered this judgement. In response to Atchison’s letter pleading with the CRD to take some interest and at least be at the BOV hearing, Hutcheson stated: “After careful consideration, in staff’s view the requested changes would not significantly impact the experience of park users when compared with the existing permitted construction of a single-family dwelling on that lot.” Atchison questions the “careful consideration,” arguing that the CRD needs to conduct a scientific Environmental Impact Assessment along with a park user survey to really understand the development’s impact. Atchison also criticizes the CRD for rejecting a proposal of the Madros in late 2016 to gain access to their property from the Gonzales Hill Park parking lot, which, according to Rus Collins of Zebra Design, would have reduced the amount of blasting, and minimized the environmental impact. He wrote in a submission to the BOV that the Madros, in exchange, “were willing to donate a portion of their property to the park and work out a covenant agreement to protect the trees at the Fairfield Place end of their site.” Zebra’s Horvat also assured Focus that that access would have been over grass and broom and was “the least affecting for the habitat.” The CRD, through Communications Senior Manager Andy Orr, told Focus, “Access through the parking lot was declined because the request would reduce available parking by one spot. Parking is already limited at the park. The request for use of the parking space was for the construction of a driveway across the rocky bluff and meadow within the park. This request was determined to adversely affect the park.” Isitt told Focus he too was not in favour of an easement through the park. Isitt plans to try again to get the CRD to voice concern when the whole Board meets on March 14. Once again, the neighbours will attend and speak in support of the motion. The subsequent important date for them, and the Madros, is March 22, when the City’s Board of Variance will consider the two requested variances—one for an additional 769 square feet of total floor space (above the allowed 3229), and one for a 29.75-foot reduction in setback from its rear border. Isitt said, “A bigger house [than zoning allows for] will have more of an impact on the park.” But Zebra, on behalf of its client, will explain at the hearing that the lot imposes “hardships” because of its irregular shape and a very steep grade in sections due to a 30-foot ascent from Fairfield Place to the top of the hill. It will also point to the report of Julie Budgen, a professional biologist and environmental planner with Corvidae Environmental Consulting Inc. She wrote, “Considering the biophysical features, habitat and available information, Corvidae is of the opinion the proposed project is best sited on the rock outcrop. Locating the project at this location will minimize the overall impact to the existing wooded area.” Every municipality in BC has a Board of Variance (BOV), as mandated under the Local Government Act. It is a quasi-judicial body made up of volunteer members appointed by City Council, but independent of it. As the City website explains: “If a hardship is established, the Board may grant the minimum variance that it believes is necessary to alleviate the hardship. However, the Board may deny the variance request if it feels that the proposed variance would substantially affect the use and enjoyment of a neighbouring property, harm the natural environment or defeat the purpose of the Zoning Regulation Bylaw.” Minutes from past BOVs are on the City’s website, and it is easy to scan through them and notice that most requested variances are unanimously approved. The City states the BOV must be “persuaded that the present zoning creates an undue hardship unique to the property in question.” In one case where a variance was denied, the minutes state, “Board is sympathetic to time, money and material waste—although cannot consider these as hardships.” The Board seems to give weight to neighbours’ opinions, but even when neighbours show up to complain, variances are often approved. The BOV’s final deliberations are carried out in closed sessions and all decisions are final; there is no appeal. Currently chaired by Andrew Rushforth, one of the BOV’s other four members is Rus Collins, principal designer and owner of Zebra Group, the developer of the Madros’ property. He will recuse himself from the deliberations on this property. But for Atchison, it’s still a bit too cozy to not potentially influence the BOV. He and other citizens exposed to the BOV process feel it is time for some serious revisions. One Rockland citizen, about a different development, noted in an exasperated email to Focus, “The BOV has no accountability and there is no oversight. Who ensures they comply with the BOV bylaw? Who defines ‘minor’ variance, who defines ‘hardship?’” The City of Victoria too has expressed concern about the Board of Variance process. On February 8, City council unanimously passed a resolution (moved by Councillors Isitt and Madoff) to the Union of BC Municipalities to ask “the provincial government to review the provisions of the Local Government Act relating to Boards of Variance and consider amendments to ensure that the issues of public accountability, transparency and local democracy are upheld.” The prelude to this motion noted that “deliberations of local Boards of Variance provide minimal opportunities for public comment on the requested variances, and provide no role for comment from the elected council of a municipality or the board of a regional district in unincorporated areas.” Even if the Madros’ variances are denied, it’s doubtful that neighbours will be happy with the situation. Virtually any house on that site will reduce the privacy of neighbours, involve noisy blasting and construction, and block some views from the park. But it’s one of very few official avenues they have to speak against it. WHY DIDN'T THE CRD BUY THE LAND ITSELF? It would have enlarged Gonzales Hill Park in a significant way, providing more of a wildlife corridor, retaining views, and certainly keeping the neighbours and numerous park users happy. The lot in question was listed at $1 million, but there is plenty of money in the CRD’s Land Acquisition Fund, which gets an injection of about $4 million every year through a $20 levy on all CRD households. In the past two years, land purchases totalling $2.62 million have been made, but a healthy fund remains—and grows annually— at least until 2019 when it’s up for review. It can be used for no other purpose than park land purchases. Focus asked the CRD why it hadn’t bought the land. An emailed response from the communications manager stated: “The Oak Bay/Victoria part of the Capital Region was not one of the priority areas of interest for park land acquisition. Details about specific land acquisitions are confidential.” Interviewed in his home at the base of the steep hill on which the Madros will build, Atchison said it is a shame that the CRD did not purchase the lot when the opportunity presented itself. The CRD’s land acquisition strategy report notes that “To be effective, the land acquisition strategy needs to account for opportunistic acquisition of important lands.” Atchison told Focus he’d lead a fundraising campaign in the community, though he believes the CRD should pay for part of it, with the City of Victoria helping. The CRD should, if necessary, even expropriate the lot, he said; and the Madros should be “made whole,” by which he means reimbursed for their lot at fair market value. While it seems unlikely, he hasn’t given up hope yet. Atchison is clearly disgusted with the CRD’s lack of good stewardship of Gonzales Hill Park, noting among other things, “They have spent squat” on the park’s maintenance. However, he is most vociferous in his condemnation of the governing body’s disengagement around the zoning issue. As he stated in a letter to Screech, “the way the CRD has reacted to-date in handling this situation reinforces, unfortunately, the commonly-held perception of the CRD as an unaccountable, unelected local government, largely unresponsive to community needs with a costly staff complement of about 1200 people.” He and his neighbours are now linking up with concerned citizens in other Fairfield, Rockland, and Oak Bay neighbourhoods to fight what they see as disrespectful “overdevelopment.” Leslie Campbell lives within walking distance of Gonzales Hill Park.
  4. We’re all immigrants, but the newest amongst us make great sacrifices to keep our country strong. OVER THE PAST FOUR YEARS my family has been blessed to have Cristina Katigbak in our life. As the live-in caregiver for my mom Jade, Cristina made it possible for Mom to remain comfortably in her home, even as she nears 90 with a condition that robs her of her mobility. My sisters, who reside in Vancouver, and I have been able to rely heavily on Cristina, knowing she was fully capable, honest, kind and wise. Mom had gone through all sorts of health issues leading up to Cristina’s arrival—I have not-so-fond memories of at least three longish stays in the hospital with additional trips to Emergency. But in the four years with Cristina, there’s been a general calmness and stability for Mom, with not one hospital stay. Cristina Katigbak and Jade Campbell Trained as a nurse in the Philippines, Cristina and her family had emigrated originally to Ireland. But then the UK changed its immigration policy in a way that denied them any hope of citizenship, despite employers who were keen to keep them. After four years there, Cristina applied to come to Canada. Well over a year’s worth of bureaucratic processing ensued before she was accepted as a caregiver for my mom. Her husband and son, however, had to head back to Manila. Canadians are ever-so-fortunate that Cristina and many other Filipinos are willing to sacrifice so much to come here as caregivers for our elderly and people with disabilities. We are also lucky that they have usually stayed in Canada despite being parted from their own families for many years. Though they are able to apply after two years of approved, continuous employment, for permanent residency—which allows for family members to immigrate—the reality is, due to backlogs caused years ago, it’s often many more years before they can be reunited. It took “only” two additional years in Cristina’s case, but cases of six or more years are not uncommon, resulting in arduously long marital separations and children growing up without their moms. Frustratingly, there seems no way of knowing where one’s application for permanent residency is among the piles that must occupy officials’ desks. Thankfully, in December, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen promised to process 17,000 backlogged permanent residency applications from live-in caregivers in 2018—leaving another 19,000 for the two subsequent years. Despite such discouraging wait times and other obstacles, the Philippines—the source of so many caregivers—is Canada’s fastest growing subgroup of immigrants and top source of new permanent residents. In the last census, their population here stood at 837,130, which is about 2.4 percent of Canada’s population. Cristina supported her family financially through her work with us. Once she had her “open work permit” after two years with my mom, she took another job on the weekends. Like so many other Filipinos I’ve met over years of care for both my mom and father-in-law Bob Broadland, working hard seems part of her nature. Last summer, after what at the time seemed interminable delays, Cristina got her permanent residency, and after another two months her family was approved and in Victoria. Within a few weeks of arrival, both husband Joey and son C.J. had jobs—in construction and cleaning services respectively. I have no doubt they are valued by their employers for their conscientiousness and intelligence. Despite her family living here in an apartment, not to mention her ability to get a higher-paying job elsewhere, Cristina committed to staying with Mom till December 20th. There were tears all round on Cristina’s final day of work with us. We wish her and her family the very best, and plan to keep her in our lives if at all possible. She and Mom have developed a strong bond that will be impossible to replace. Cristina is a quiet, uncomplaining person, but over the years I was able to appreciate what an immense sacrifice she and her family had made. In the hopes of a better future, mostly for their son, they had agreed to live apart—for years. “Thank God for Skype,” she’d often say. And I’d think, thank God for Cristina—and for the immigration program that made it possible. CRISTINA CAME TO US under what was known as the “federal live-in care program.” The government, recognizing there were not enough Canadians willing to be full-time nannies or caregivers, allowed families like mine—after jumping through hoops that usually required help from an immigration consultant—to employ a foreign resident full-time, paying at least minimum wage. After two years of approved live-in work, they became eligible to apply for permanent residency and could work wherever they wanted. With our aging populations, seniors facilities and home support agencies were—and remain—happy to employ them. An in-home care “pathway” to residency is still available, but the rules have changed considerably in the past few years. Recall the 2014 eruption of indignation about McDonald’s hiring foreign workers over local Canadians. That led Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to make hasty changes which swamped the live-in program in its wake. Going forward, caregivers were lumped into a tightened-up Temporary Foreign Worker program. Wages are determined so differently now (so as not to undercut Canadian citizens) that the minimum one must pay a foreign caregiver in the Victoria area is $18.93 per hour. The wage is the median paid in this geographical area for “similar” work, all determined by a head-spinningly obscure process. On the Lower Mainland, the wage is $16 per hour. It was already a stretch for most families to employ someone full-time, so no doubt the new minimums are leading more frail seniors—my mom among them—to head to a publically-funded nursing home. Obviously, this will cost taxpayers more. DESPITE SUCH MADDENING IMPERFECTIONS in Canada’s immigration system, a scan of the headlines coming out of the US leaves me feeling somewhat smug about Canada’s approach and attitudes about immigration. The US’s xenophobic travel bans, wall-building fantasies, round-ups of “illegals” and its president’s utterances on the subject all seem designed to terrorize immigrants. When President Trump praised Canada’s merit-based system as worthy of emulation, he seemed to be confused, apparently believing that our system would help him reduce immigration to the US. Yet our government and industry leaders understand that for Canada to thrive economically we absolutely require immigrants—and more of them, given declining birth rates and an aging population. Since the 1960s—when the federal government removed race, colour, and nationality as considerations—Canadian immigration policy has aimed at being responsive to the nation’s labour force needs. This is done through a point system in which work skills, education levels, language ability, and family connections are the main considerations in determining about 60 percent of Canada’s annual 300,000 immigrants. On November 1, 2017, the Canadian government announced its “multi-year immigration plan” that aims to bring 980,000 permanent residents in over the next three years. The economic (point-based) class will continue to account for the majority (58 percent) of all admissions; the family class will account for 28 percent; and 14 percent will be admitted under the humanitarian and refugee categories. Many would like to see even more immigrants welcomed here. A new report from the Conference Board of Canada states: “If Canada were to welcome 450,000 immigrants per year by 2025, real GDP would grow by an average of 2.05 percent annually between 2017-2040. This is 0.20 percentage points higher than the estimated 1.85 percent growth currently forecast.” But even at 300,000 immigrants per year, Canada “boasts one of the highest per-capita immigration rates in the world, about three times higher than the United States,” writes author Jonathan Tepperman in a recent New York Times article. Calling our approach “radically rational,” Tepperman notes: “Canada’s foreign-born population is more educated than that of any other country on Earth. Immigrants to Canada work harder, create more businesses and typically use fewer welfare dollars than do their native-born compatriots.” While there’s much more to ponder and debate on the subject of immigration policy, I am confident that, like Cristina and her family, the vast majority of immigrants enrich our communities and nation both economically and culturally—as workers, taxpayers, citizens, consumers, and entrepreneurs. My family feels proud to have played a role in Cristina’s journey towards Canadian citizenship—not so much because we helped Cristina. We actually helped make Canada great, period. Like all Canadians, with the exception of First Nations peoples, Leslie Campbell is only a generation or so away from ancestors who immigrated to Canada, in her case Scottish economic migrants.
  5. Letters to the editor

    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
  6. Leslie McBain advocates for those struggling with addictions and the families who love them. THE FIRST NINE MONTHS OF 2017 saw more than 1,100 British Columbians die due to a suspected illicit drug overdose. In 2016—another depressingly bad year—there were 981 deaths. In fact, BC is leading the country in such deaths. The whole of Vancouver Island, along with some Lower Mainland areas, have the highest rates of death from illicit drugs in BC. So it was welcome news in December that the new BC government has a plan. It will establish an Overdose Emergency Response Centre in Vancouver with dedicated, expert staff working with five regional response teams (starting in January) to co-ordinate and strengthen addiction and overdose prevention programs. Provincial Health Officer Dr Perry Kendall was pleased, pointing out that, up until recently, the crisis had been handled mostly by people working “off the side of their desks.” In all, $322 million in new funding was committed. Fentanyl is the main cause of the spike in deaths related to illicit drug use. It was involved in 83 percent of deaths in 2017, often combined with drugs like heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines. And now there are deadly variations like carfentanil and cyclopopyl fentanyl being detected. Keeping up to date on the evolving realities of the opioids in circulation will be one of the main tasks of the new provincial centre. One of the most effective groups lobbying all levels of government for action on the opioid crisis is Moms Stop The Harm, formed by three Canadian women who have lost children to a drug overdose. Besides offering support and resources for families affected by addiction, these women and their now 300 members have developed into a highly knowledgeable and professional all-volunteer organization. They have fought for free access to the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone, the implementation of supervised consumption services and needle exchange programs, and accurate health data that is public and shared in a timely manner. Rather than the failed “war on drugs” or “just say no” approach, the organization urges good-quality education as the best protection. The stories of the Moms (and some dads—see their website) are heart-breaking. Smart, funny, beautiful young people are dead, sometimes after years of struggling with drugs, sometimes after a one-off recreational use. The deaths occur despite families pulling out all stops to help their child. Of course they ask themselves if they had understood more, or if the doctors had, or if more support had been available—would their child still be alive? They work to ensure others don’t end up with the same grief and questions. One of the co-founders of Moms Stop the Harm, Leslie McBain, lives on Pender Island. She tells me her only child Jordan grew up on Pender and had a happy childhood. He went on travels to foreign lands with his parents, who ran a small plumbing business and had a loving extended family. In his teens, however, he started drinking and smoking pot and had difficulty controlling his use. His parents, always close to him, tried everything they could think of to help him. “His need for drugs is still a mystery—the biggest mystery of my life,” reflects McBain. Still, at that early stage, he had lots of support and was not in danger of dying from the drugs he was taking. Leslie McBain (Photograph by Rachel Lenkowski) After a back injury on the job, however, Jordan’s doctor prescribed Oxycodone. His parents tried to tell the doctor that this was a mistake, that some less addictive treatment should be offered, to no avail. Jordan’s addiction soon became all-consuming. Eventually, his prescription was cut off—without support for withdrawal or recovery. He turned to the street for drugs. He was obsessed with his next fix, yet he knew he had to get off the drug. “He really wanted to get clean. He researched and found a detox facility and went,” says McBain. But he was released after 12 days despite still being in painful withdrawal. “We could find no post-detox support,” says McBain, who helped him settle into an apartment in Victoria. “Withdrawal is ugly and painful. There are digestive, intestinal issues, nerves are affected, there are muscle spasms.” Jordan knew about Suboxone, now widely accepted as a form of “medication-assisted treatment,” but four years ago could not access it. Seven weeks after detox, still in pain, Jordan sought out illicit drugs to medicate himself. He died at age 25. Jordan Miller That was in 2014. A year later, McBain connected with two other women who had lost sons to drugs, and they formed Mothers Stop the Harm. They have since been joined by many more parents all across Canada. “The worst has happened to us,” says McBain. “It allows us to be brave. Nothing much scares us.” They give speeches, they meet with Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet, they try new awareness campaigns. Whatever it takes. Besides her work with Moms Stop the Harm, McBain has a half-time job with BC Centre on Substance Use, an organization dedicated to developing evidence-based approaches to substance use and addiction. She also teaches memoir writing to adults and story writing to teens. She spoke to me from her Pender Island home. Q. You lost your son Jordan through an opioid addiction in 2014. Looking back, what are a few key things that could have altered his path and prevented his death? A. Three key things that could have potentially saved my son Jordan from an opioid addiction and overdose death are these: parental education (mine) on signs and risks associated with problematic drug use; the remediation of our family doctor’s dismal lack of knowledge around the risks of overprescribing opioids; and the existence of medical and psychological support for Jordan after he came out of the detox facility. Q. Was your growing understanding of the issues around his death what prompted you, along with two other moms who lost children, to form Moms Stop the Harm in 2016? How has it grown and evolved since then? A. Generally we moms blame ourselves when we lose a child to drug use. But I also knew without a doubt soon after Jordan’s death how the system had failed us. Or to be more precise, the lack of a system. I saw the great gaps in the continuum of care here in BC and the apparent lack of accountability for doctors’ prescribing practices. Needing answers and not wanting another family to go through this tragic and painful experience led the three of us, Petra Schulz, Lorna Thomas and me, who had all lost sons, to form an advocacy group before heading to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drug Use. Hearing our then Minister of Health Dr Jane Philpott speak to the UN General Assembly on progressive reform of policies and perspectives on problematic drug use prompted us to formalize and intensify our advocacy—this grew into Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH). Our membership has grown to well over 300 families across Canada who have either lost a loved one or still have a loved one in active addiction. We give some emotional support to these families and show them how to be advocates to support drug users if they so choose. Q. In December, the BC government announced new measures to help with the opioid crisis, primarily to establish a new Overdose Emergency Response Centre (OERC) that will link to regional and community action teams in BC communities. How do you think this will help? Would it have helped you and your son? A. I am pleased to see action taken that is concrete and progressive. It is far too early to tell exactly how the OERC will roll out for those on the ground. We advocate for families being at the centre of treatment for people in mental health and addictions crises, and so far families have been included, on paper. I believe this approach will begin to help the under-served communities around the province. I am cautiously optimistic that Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy and her excellent team will use the wisdom of the BC Centre on Substance Use and Moms Stop The Harm to address addictions and the fentanyl poisoning epidemic. She has been very consultative so far. The minister has promised rapid response to people who need and want treatment. However, rapid response and help needs an infrastructure that is not yet in place. There is always a waitlist for recovery beds. From the Liberals to the NDP we have been promised “more beds,” yet we have seen very few new sudsidized facilities. There is a lot of work to be done. Q. What else is missing—what more would you like to see from the provincial government? A. We need to see the funding that will allow existing front line organizations to do their work (which I see as government’s work). We need to see many more dollars go efficiently into bolstering the number of addictions doctors and training existing medical personnel. We need the Ministry of Education to engage in a meaningful way with real, science-based education on mental health and addiction in schools. There are so many ways that the provincial government can mitigate this crisis. If the OERC works the way the government intends, it will be immensely helpful to the cause. It is being worked on, but not quickly enough. People are dying in the meantime. Q. Your organization has lobbied the federal government to decriminalize possession of illicit opioids and establish safe consumption sites. What progress has been made in such areas? What else should the federal government be doing? A. All the harm reduction initiatives we have advocated for in the past few years have been aimed at keeping people who use drugs alive. Safe consumption sites have saved countless lives. The Good Samaritan Law, which protects those who call 911 in an overdose situation, has saved lives. The widespread, low barrier access to the opioid reversal drug Naloxone has saved thousands of lives. MSTH is proud to have been one of the voices to effect these changes. Decriminalization still seems a way off, but we ask for this policy change every single time we have access to a federal official. The act of decriminalizing drug possession and drug use would have so many positive effects. People with substance use disorder have a disorder like many others on the medical front. They must have the drug or they will become very ill. Criminalizing this disorder, sending people to jail for possessing and using the “medicine” they need, is inhumane and absurd. Jail does not end addiction. Decriminalizing illicit drug use and treating people instead—as is done in Portugal—is the humane way to approach addiction. In my opinion, decriminalization is seen as a radical hot potato for politicians. They are simply afraid to wade into it because they might lose their jobs. It is a big but necessary step. We have met with Prime Minister Trudeau and with the two most recent Ministers of Health (Dr Jane Philpott and Ginette Petipas Taylor), as well as MPs across the country, asking them to move quickly towards decriminalization of certain drugs. This does not mean legalization; it means that people who carry and use drugs are not arrested and prosecuted because of their drug use. Prime Minister Trudeau indicated in a meeting we had in March that he is working hard on decriminalizing cannabis. The implication was that this is enough for now. Decriminalizing drugs is a long, arduous process and controversial, too. It is a political quagmire, so I think this is why the government continues to stall on this. MSTH has also asked repeatedly for an anti-stigma campaign to be rolled out by the Feds. The newly created Federal Opioid Response Team requested a teleconference with the MSTH leaders in early December to consult with us on the best approaches. We are optimistic that a campaign will land quickly. Until the public is educated on the nature and science behind addiction, and about evidence-based treatments, it won’t fully support changes in drug policy. Q. What measures can local and regional governments take to help? A. I think that first and foremost, people need to know and understand what addiction is, what it feels like, how it manifests when people who are addicted cannot get the drug they need. So, an education campaign in the form of social and print media, town hall meetings, and simply talking about the issues surrounding drug use will help move harm reduction measures closer to reality. Regional and local governments must hear from their constituents that they are in favour of supporting the lives of people who use drugs. This is the only way we can move the problem toward the solutions, move people with substance abuse disorder forward into recovery and treatment. Recently there was a news item that neighbours bought up a house in their community [in Penticton] to prevent it becoming a treatment centre. This shows a lack of understanding and a lack of willingness to learn. We need to address this kind of thinking. Many municipalities in BC are independently on the move around this crisis, setting up de facto safe consumption sites. Governments move at a glacial pace, as we know. Thousands of people have died in the meantime. As the federal and provincial governments partner on this crisis, we see lowered barriers to opening safe consumption sites, we see health authorities receiving some funding and training on responding. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done on coordinating the best practices across the province. Q. A lot of people all over North America initially got hooked on opioids through a legal prescription for pain management, to oxycodone, which is highly addictive. The US and Canada prescribe more opioids per person than any other nation in the world. Is the number of such prescriptions for opioids at least declining—is the medical profession now wiser about issuing such prescriptions? What still needs to change on this front? A. My son Jordan is one of those statistics. Much of the medical profession has been made aware of the risks of over-prescribing opioids. As of November 1, 2017, over 2,000 clinicians have been reached through 54 seminars across BC to support the implementation of new clinical guidelines for treating opioid use disorder. This has been one of the initiatives of the BC Centre on Substance Use. All new and existing medical personnel should be trained or retrained. This again takes funding and the political will to support and mandate the training. Q. On Moms Stop the Harm’s website it’s noted that we need to address the reality that three out of four people who die by overdose are men. Why do you think this is and what does it mean in terms of policies? A. There are so many factors that lead men to use drugs, and to use drugs alone: stigma around drug use, economic pressures, mental health issues, family pressures, trauma. The same set of factors apply to women, but men traditionally take higher risks than women. The appearance of lethal, illicit fentanyl is what is killing people. Stigma drives people, especially men, to use alone. Thus we find the largest number of overdose deaths are men using alone indoors. It is a tragic circumstance of the war on drug users. The data being collected on these deaths can help inform anti-stigma campaigning and let us know how to target messaging. It will tell us who and how people will access harm reduction services. Q. One of the eight keys mentioned on Moms Stop the Harm website is “redefine recovery.” Can you elaborate? A. Over many years the term “recovery” has come to be associated with abstinence-based treatment for people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Abstinence-based recovery works for some, but for the vast majority of people with substance abuse disorder, and over the long term, it has a very low success rate. Let’s face it, we all want all people with substance abuse disorder to recover. So we are saying, let the term “recovery” include all forms of treatment. We advocate for evidence-based, medically-assisted treatment and therapy for all who need and want it. This means if a person should need and want abstinence-based treatment, they should have it. There is an alternative: The BC Centre on Substance Use, in cooperation with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, have rolled out injectable opioid agonist treatment (iOAT) guidelines. It may not be the end-all answer, but if people with substance use disorder could safely and easily receive the drugs they need to help them recover, they would be much further ahead in recovery. Recovery is recovery, no matter the pathway. Q. The toll the crisis is taking on families and communities seems immense. How have you coped and what gives you hope? A. We use a “soft” statistic to show the impact of an overdose (or drug poisoning) death to illustrate the impact on families. When an overdose death occurs, the number of people potentially impacted in a very tragic way is about 135 (family, extended family, friends, co-workers, health workers, church congregations, etc.). Given that over 4,000 people have died in the past 2 years in Canada from drug poisoning and overdose, that is about 500,000 people affected by preventable deaths. I see that as a profound rent in the fabric of our Canadian culture. How do I cope? Working towards mitigating the crisis, stopping the deaths and seeing some progress does help to cope. Advocacy for us moms who have lost children is very difficult, as our grief is renewed every time we have a new member join MSTH. The ultimate goal is to have no more preventable drug-related deaths. We still dream, we still hope. Someone once asked me if I do this work for my son. I replied that no, I do this work for your son. That is the truth of it. Leslie Campbell is the founding editor of Focus Magazine.
  7. A referendum on electoral reform is coming next year. Terry Dance-Bennink of Fair Vote Canada explains why it’s important. DURING LAST MAY’S PROVINCIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN, electoral reform was a central promise of the Green Party’s campaign, while the NDP promised a referendum on it. The new government has now made it official: Before the end of 2018, BC citizens will have a mail-in referendum on electoral reform. We’ve had two votes on it before: In 2005, after a Citizen’s Assembly recommended a single-transferrable vote (STV), resulting in a 57.69 percent vote in favour of it—but falling short of the government’s insistence on 60 percent; and then again in 2009, when 60.91 percent voted against STV. This time the government has promised that a 50 percent-plus-one vote to replace our first-past-the-post system will be honoured. So the year ahead is a pivotal one. During it, British Columbians will need to educate themselves on how best to modernize the voting system so that it allows for the fairest representation in all the land. If the vote is in favour of replacing first-past-the-post, we will have entered a new era that sees BC leading the way on electoral reform nationally. But enroute to that shining future, some are predicting divisive debates on the question and on how riding boundaries may have to be redrawn. Meanwhile, proponents are warning that if the referendum fails this time, it will be likely decades before any party would revisit the question. Among the most knowledgeable people locally on the subject is Terry Dance-Bennink, who is pretty much a full-time volunteer with Fair Vote Canada (FVC), a national, multi-partisan organization with chapters all over Canada and 12,000 BC supporters (see www.fairvote.ca). She’s just the type of active retiree Victoria thrives on. Formerly a vice-president academic of Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario, Dance-Bennink moved to Victoria 12 years ago. She devoted her first few years to Dogwood Initiative—again as a full-time volunteer, and has championed various campaigns for democratic rights—stopping the Kinder Morgan pipeline among them. Currently, Dance-Bennink serves as the chair of Fair Vote Canada’s BC Steering Committee and is a member of the BC Referendum Alliance Steering Committee. She graciously answered some key questions about the promised referendum and electoral reform. Terry Dance-Benninck Q. Why did you get involved in Fair Vote Canada? A. I’ve always been passionate about human rights, and fair voting is a basic right—it underlines all other rights. I grew up in the 60s and have supported many citizen-led campaigns around issues like adult education, climate change, pipelines, cancer prevention, and indigenous rights. But I’m tired of hitting my head against the wall. I’ve rarely helped elect someone who shares my values and I’m not alone. I believe our election system is the real obstacle. In Canada and BC, we constantly end up with false-majority governments that represent only a minority of voters, and often the most privileged. In the last provincial election, almost 50 percent of BC voters cast ballots that did not help elect a representative. What does this say about our democracy and our ability to influence the decisions we care about? We need a voting system that makes every vote count, so all voices are heard and policies reflect the wishes of a genuine majority of BC voters. That’s why I joined Fair Vote Canada (FVC) and am now leading our BC team as we prepare to win the referendum. Q. Why do you believe the current system of first-past-the-post needs to change? A. We live in the 21st not the 15th century, when first-past-the-post was first invented! It’s time we joined more than 90 western democracies using proportional representation [PR]. Countries like Germany, New Zealand and Sweden have higher voter turnout because their people know their votes really matter, no matter who they vote for or where they live. BC is a rich province with educated citizens, so surely we can help all citizens participate in decision-making, not just the most powerful or the first to race past the post. Q. With the BC government’s official October announcement that a referendum on electoral reform will be held by the end of November 2018, were you pleasantly or otherwise surprised? Do you like the idea of the mail-in vote? A. I was delighted to see the NDP, with support from the Greens, honour their election promise to hold a referendum on PR and campaign in favour of the change. What a contrast to our federal government. Once Trudeau secured a majority, he disowned his electoral reform pledge in order to maintain power. He may pay the price for this in 2019. And yes, I’m fine with a mail-in vote which has been used in past referendums in BC, but I’d also like to see some in-person voting options, particularly for students, along with broad public education. There needs to be a fair funding formula for the two sides, one that rewards individual and educational contact and donations (perhaps through a matching grant system) rather than encouraging massive media campaigns. 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. Finally, I also want assurance from the government that it will honour the result, regardless of voter turnout. We want explicit confirmation, as the PEI Liberal premier discounted a favourable vote for mixed-member proportional representation [MMP] last year based on “low voter turnout”—after the fact! Our government could include this in forth-coming regulations. Voter turnout in municipal elections is often extremely low but always considered valid. Q. When will we know what the question will be? What do you think would be the ideal question(s)—and why? Why is the question so important? A. That’s the million dollar question! The 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. I’m glad the government plans to consult further before deciding on the best question(s). The public will be able to weigh in on what the question should be at the government’s new website, due to be up any day now. We should see clarity by early in the new year. The bottom line, however, is that 65 percent of BC voters want to move to a proportional system of voting (Angus Reid Poll, Sept 26, 2017) and support runs across all demographics. This gives the government a solid mandate. FVC has presented a number of recommendations to government and we’ve suggested a generic question such as: Do you agree we should modernize the way we elect our MLAs through a proportional system that both preserves local representation and ensures the popular vote is better reflected in the composition of the Legislature? If the government decides to invite voters’ views on specific PR options, we recommend this be done through a second question, using a ranked ballot with various PR options, as was done recently in PEI’s plebiscite. But let’s not get into the weeds. We want to avoid a debate over an alphabet soup of electoral mechanics. Once you’ve chosen a plane to fly, you don’t need to know how it’s designed and how the costs are counted. Just that it will fly you to your destination, namely the land of fair representation. The real questions are: Should as many votes as possible count? Should voters be able to express their preferences? Should diversity of candidates be enhanced? Should we maintain some form of local representation? Should every politician be accountable to voters? Should parties work together? Should we be able to vote with our hearts instead of “strategically”? Q. Can you give examples of the experiences with MPP and STV in other countries that have used them? A. I listened to many of the international experts testify before the federal committee on electoral reform last year, and I was sure impressed with the 90 countries using PR, regardless of the system favoured. MMP is used in countries like Germany and New Zealand, STV in Australia and Ireland, but all share in common a higher voter turnout, reduced policy lurches, collaboration among parties, high scores on environmental performance and quality of life, and greater diversity of elected officials. Fair Vote Canada believes there are three broad categories of PR voting systems: those that involve multi-member ridings; those that call for regional top-up seats; or a combination of both. And just to be clear, FVC doesn’t endorse any one system as “the best.” We’ll support any made-for-BC model that is truly proportional and reflects our diversity. Q. How do you answer the critique that proportional representation is likely to be unfair to rural areas—which now enjoy a better ratio of representation than do urban voters? A. The so-called rural/urban divide is a tactic of those opposed to proportional representation. In the 2009 referendum, the tactic was “PR is too complicated!” Now it’s “PR hurts rural voters.” When I look at the map of 2017 election results, I see big swaths of red in rural areas, and orange/green in more urban and Island ridings. But half of BC voters outside of Metro Vancouver and the Island chose a party other than the BC Liberals, and yet the Liberals won 83 percent of the seats in those areas. In Metro Vancouver and the Island, the NDP won 64 percent of the seats with only 44 percent of the vote. Proportional representation doesn’t shift the balance of seats between urban and rural BC at all. Instead it gives every voter within every region a voice. And all models of proportional representation have strong local and regional representation. Voters will keep local MLAs and no seats will move to the cities. Every region will be rewarded with a team of representatives. And most importantly, all regions will have MLAs who are part of the government, rather than regions being shut out. Finally, teamwork among MLAs in a district [even in different parties] promotes good regional decision-making. Q. What systems still allow for the greatest “place-based” system, i.e. each community or riding would have a specific representative who knows the area—and the riding wouldn’t be overwhelmingly large? A. There are several great “made-for-BC” proportional options. They all maintain strong local representation and more voter choice. I’m thinking of systems like MMP, Local PR, and Rural-Urban PR. FVC has prepared a User Guide to PR Options that goes into depth on these and shows sample ballots. Q. Regardless of the form of proportional representation, it seems that riding boundaries would have to be revised. Would it make sense to have riding boundaries mirror those of the federal ridings, i.e., 42 BC ridings, with two MLAs elected from each? A. I think it’s too early to comment on riding boundaries. Some proportional models use existing boundaries, some require a degree of redistribution. But they all make every voter count and maintain strong local and regional representation. Let’s look first at what we want our electoral system to deliver—fairer results and better government. Q. Another complaint, particularly with STV, which was recommended by the Citizen’s Assembly in 2005, is that it’s too complicated. What do you think—can you explain it in a simple fashion? A. If you can use a cell phone, you can vote in a PR system! Most people today have no problem placing an X beside a single candidate. What about an X beside a local as well as a regional MLA—two “Xs”? No big deal. Or ranking several candidates in order of preference? Again, it’s not complicated. We’re asked to choose and rank options all the time by pollsters and companies and in choosing party leadership candidates. The ballot isn’t the problem. It’s true, the counting mechanism can be more complicated, depending on the system chosen, but that’s up to experts at Elections BC to master, not the voter. I don’t have to be a flight engineer to know which plane I want to fly. Most voters are more interested in the outcomes than mechanics. They want fairer results, more efficient and collaborative governments, and accountable representatives. Proportional representation will deliver on all of these. Opponents of PR will say every model is too complicated. They don’t give British Columbians enough credit—we are as smart as voters in New Zealand and Ireland. Q. Speaking of the Citizen’s Assembly, that body took 18 months to come up with what they believed was the best or most democratic system. Are we rushing it to have a referendum in 2018? A. The Citizens’ Assembly was a world-class democratic process which did amazing work on behalf of BC voters. So a lot of work has already been done. And 15 commissions/assemblies in Canada have recommended PR and models that are adaptable to BC. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel. The government needs to look at the excellent work that has already been done and deliver on what’s always been missing in the past—leadership. Q. Premier Horgan has stated that his government will campaign on behalf of an alternative to first-past-the-post—and that he will accept “50 percent plus 1” as a mandate for change. How would you advise people to prepare themselves to vote in the referendum? A. Get involved and get informed! The campaign for proportional representation is gearing up. We expect lots of town halls and community-led discussions, along with a government-led social media engagement strategy this fall/winter. Share your views on a new government website to be launched soon. Contact your local MLA. And join one of our local FVC chapters (visit https://fairvote.ca for chapter contacts and resources). You can also reach me directly at tmdance@shaw.ca. It’s our third time up to bat in BC, and it better be a home run. Just think of how this could impact the 2019 federal election—BC can lead Canada! Leslie Campbell is the founding editor of Focus. Please write with your views on this important subject: Do you feel like your vote has counted? Do you feel fairly represented in government? What system do your prefer? Email focusedit@shaw.ca.
  8. Letters to the editor

    From parking lot to paradise? Congratulations Leslie! What an ingenious way to leverage older public assets—City-owned parkades—into much-needed affordable, workforce housing. (See July/August 2017) Too bad, the City isn’t committed to affordably sheltering the majority of its citizens. “Trickle-down” economics propels their “trickle-down” housing myth. City politicians, staff, and real estate investors have only one vision for Victoria: to create premium-priced properties that cater to tourists and privileged members of society, many of whom live in their towers on a seasonal basis. Developers want lucrative projects built in the shortest time, with as few restrictions as possible. Developers demolish affordable, older low-rise wood frame apartment blocks and erect expensive multi-storey condos for high-income retirees, well-paid high-tech workers, and professionals in government. What poses as city planning is rampant deregulation of unit size, increased density, and decreased parking requirements. Our capital city is now unaffordable to a large number of residents. Many face displacement. The City owns more than 600 properties and facilities, including the five parkades mentioned in Leslie’s editorial. Many of these are near the end of their life-cycle and will need costly seismic upgrading to avoid public liability. Two major geological fault lines lie beneath the city. These seem not to be a major concern to politicians, owners of rental properties, or even the financial institutions. The City is reluctant to undertake any risk-assessments and serious mitigation measures to reduce liability from earthquakes, storm surges, or toxic contamination in soil resulting from leakage of industrial chemicals from old underground storage tanks. What good is building high-priced Downtown condo towers, decorative pathways and segregated bike lanes when much of the City’s infrastructure (roadways, sewers and storm drainage system, and potable water pipes) need costly repairs and would almost certainly be destroyed during any major seismic event? David Broadland’s article “Dumb questions and their (possibly) profound consequences” is also revealing and thought-provoking. “Due diligence” of major infrastructure projects such as the Johnson Street Bridge and “the need for public oversight of council and the City administration” seems beyond the scope of our elected officials. Councillor Madoff’s admission re lessons learned from the Blue Bridge saga is an indictment of our current civic governance—the unwillingness of political representatives to face reality, assume responsibility, be held accountable for their own role (and that of the previous council who approved the project). All have contributed to this mess. Council’s collective failure on the Johnson Street bridge replacement, to sniff out inaccuracy and under-estimation and overselling by experts, has real consequences for citizens. Taxpayers will bear a heavy burden of hidden liability and debt which can be traced to these elected officials’ poor decisions. Those who do not recognize the two active fault lines that lie beneath our City have little interest in undertaking critical measures to mitigate the potential damage to property and loss of life during an earthquake. They are the same individuals who find no fault in their roles as elected officials. And find no problem with their decision to approve the construction of a less-than-fault-proof bridge. Victoria Adams Are the CRD’s climate change goals pie-in-the-sky? Leslie Campbell’s hard look at the CRD and climate change is timely and apropos. (Sept/Oct 2017) Perhaps even a game changer. The game is governance. The subtext is that the CRD can’t do what people want it to do. She notes three areas where this is true: Growth, transportation inaction, and consequent upon that, pie-in-the-sky climate change policy. The question is what should regional government look like? A recent report on CRD governance didn’t fully answer that, though it noted, “Getting to ‘yes’ on big contentious issues is a problem.” Well what are the consequences? Campbell pointed to important ones where the report did not. So where next? I think the Province should take a look at how this region is governed and ask is this what we want—to be the cop when things go pear- shaped? The region as provincial ward? I say: the region. Amalgamation is another issue. The sort of issues you raise are not going away. John Olson Re: Leslie’s editorial on the conundrum of urban densification vs greenspace preservation (or compact vs sprawl): Please write Part Two, namely the unavoidable conclusion that without population control (local and global), no other ecological problem will be soluble. I’m not sure why people, including environmentalists, always stop the discussion short of this stage, but it would be great if one of Focus’ writers tackled the issue. I find telling and haunting statistics at www.populationmatters.org. All our politicians are fiddling while Rome breeds. They fear to touch the subject. But Focus has been fearless in the past, so maybe about this? Barbara Julian Difficult conversations on the steep descent ahead I am reading the letters to the editor in Focus’ September/October edition around “Mayor Helps 1.5 percent solution” and I feel compelled to add my first-ever letter to this magazine. I just celebrated my 75th birthday. I did not ride a bike in my childhood. In fact I learned to ride one in my early 60s. I cycle on Dallas Road, in Oak Bay, around Fairfield, sometimes even up Shelbourne to Feltham. And on the Goose, of course. I love what’s happening with cycling paths in the core area. I totally support more protected lanes. It’s fine to nitpick how we go about it, but we do need to give more space to human-powered transportation. Helen Walker I cycle a lot, and support efforts to provide more room for bikes on roads, with as little disruption to vehicles as possible, and as cost-effectively as possible. The bike lane project timeline on the Victoria website shows an evaluation and monitoring process, so I hope future phases will benefit from lessons learned, and that the project will eventually result in fewer car trips and miles. I agree with David Broadland that, as the consequences of global warming worsen, our options for having a functional world in 80 years seem to be narrowing to a “moon shot,” or a collective generational effort like WWII. When looking for solutions, I urge readers to find Tony Seba’s “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation” on YouTube. Among other observations, he suggests that within a very few years, the convergence of driverless electric vehicles and web-based Uber-style services could provide a preferable alternative to owning a vehicle—at a tenth of the cost. In addition to climate benefits, there would be advantages in densification, affordable housing, clean air, less road congestion, productivity and less wasted time. There are many factors that could prevent positive disruptions like this. They include the mighty oil and auto lobbies, and good old-fashioned resistance to change. Another critical problem could be the lack of politicians to champion such innovation. Politicians often risk failure—think of all the time, money and effort spent trying to move the stars into alignment for LNG. Think of fast ferries, Site C (possibly), pipelines, seven-fold increases in tanker traffic, highway expansion, clean coal, and the local bridge and sewage projects examined in Focus. If politicians are willing to risk failure so regularly on projects like this, why not take a shot at carbon taxes, road pricing, vehicle standards, and public transport investment? Why not risk creating a city, province and country where existing innovations get us where we need to go? Bob Landell Victoria’s mayor and City planners’ dream to create another Amsterdam or Copenhagen for bicyclists is a nice pie-in-the-sky dream, but there are a few important differences that can not be overcome. First, Amsterdam and Copenhagen are very flat! No up and down hilly streets to master. Secondly, both cities are much older than Victoria. Meaning, their citizens are accustomed to use bicycles for their daily errands—for many generations. And much of biking and walking is done in combination with other transport modes. Children grow up to use a bicycle to go to school. (There are few school buses and parents don’t line up in autos to pick up children.) In much of Europe, grocery shopping is done almost daily, and the small amounts can be picked up with a bicycle. Rigorous bicycle traffic rules are in place in Europe. No bicycle is allowed to sit in a car-lane in front of cars for a left-hand turn. If no bicycle lane is available the biker has to follow the pedestrian rules. Extra bicycle-lanes will not encourage Victoria’s high percentage of senior citizens to suddenly climb on a bicycle and leave their BMW’s and Mercedes in the garage. Europe’s high percentage of bicyclists and walkers has to do with the fact that many grew up without a car in the family. Teenagers with a driver’s license? No way! As long as the world-wide car industry is rolling out new automobiles daily and electric cars are higher-priced than the fossil-fuel gobblers, not much will change in the foreseeable future, even as astonished voices cry: “I never saw such rising waters in my life. I never saw such hurricanes in my life. I never saw such wildfires in my life.” Right, baby—you never did! Hold onto your hat; it will get worse, not better. Gundra Kucy One man’s trash… I thought I was reading a lovely fairy tale with unicorns and rainbows when I finished the September/October Focus article “One Man’s Trash.” I have been involved in the recycling industry in Western Canada for almost 25 years and I can safely say that BC (and the rest of the planet) will never see garbage as “obsolete.” China has been responsible for the “recycling” of up to 85 percent of the world’s plastic. But as of September, China has notified the World Trade Organization that they would stop all recycled plastics and mixed waste paper from importation. In the last 30 years China has become the world’s home for the rest of the planet’s problems, and their government has had enough. Already the recycling industry worldwide is reeling from this development, and completely unprepared as to how to deal with it. So don’t expect any miraculous improvements in the future as far as materials going into your blue boxes—you may soon be putting some of that right back into your garbage container just like we used to do. Jeff Todd Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic responds: It’s true that China has been the world’s leading importer of raw recycled goods these past few decades and has now stated its intent to ban plastic and mixed waste paper due to unacceptably high levels of contamination. (Canada does not seem to be on its list of offenders.) It’s also true that China in this same era has been the world’s biggest exporter of cheap finished goods, which means, ironically, that much of the world’s recycling is a boomerang that has quietly been ricocheting back and forth in recent years. China’s ban will likely not affect us too much. The only commodity BC still sends whole-scale to China is mixed paper, and Recycle BC is working to change that by promoting new innovations and partnerships for keeping locally-collected materials in the local market. That’s the whole point, says Allen Langdon, managing director of Recycle BC. That’s the only way we will succeed in minimizing our carbon footprint and connecting recycling to manufacturing in a circular and more sustainable economy. Vast improvements in collecting, sorting, cleaning, baling and transportation systems over the last decade, as well as the development of increasingly more local end-markets ensure that recycled materials are becoming a valuable commodity. The nearly 1300 businesses in this province that collectively pay $83 million annually to have these materials properly recycled would not consider the long road to the landfill via the Blue Box to be acceptable value for their imposed tariff. Add to that the thousands of people working in the growing recycling industry in BC, and the probability of it all being a charade becomes quite unlikely. In the end though, recycling, even at a 100 percent recovery rate, is only part of the solution. As long as the world continues to buy a million plastic water bottles every minute, there’s a mountain of work to be done. I continue the discussion in this issue and recommend Recycle BC’s 2016 annual report, available online, for further reading. TDM Annie Leonard has a stunning insight in her charming free online “Story of Stuff “animation: Even if we recycle 100 percent of everything in the Blue Box, that is only 1 percent of the world’s waste. And CRD is nowhere near that. Recycle BC is the privatized and green-washed takeover of the formerly primarily public CRD program. The 1300 companies that comprise the “Stewards” list are not altruistic. The biggest among them realized they could now profit from certain waste-stream products. They are now benefiting from the past 20-plus years of public subsidy. This is what created a high enough Blue Box participation rate for the companies to profit from it. And the profitable products reflect inferior recycling quality: glass bottles crushed for roads benefit paving companies, but do little if anything to reduce the carbon footprint. Most “recycled” paper has less than 30 percent post-consumer content. And the “100 percent recycled” definition allows wood chip debris from ancient-growth trees. It has to say “100 percent post-consumer recycled” to truly be so. Same for recycled clothing and carpets. When companies pay us handsomely to get back and reformulate everything they sell us, including cigarette butts, then you’ll know we’re genuinely recycling everything. Better yet—lease products rather than sell them. That’ll keep plastic out of our waterways and off our beaches. It just takes legislation. Larry Wartels Don’t waste the Blue Bridge: park it The impending completion of the new bridge must bring great relief to many people, but it is distressing to consider the idea of the Johnson Street Bridge being demolished. What a terrible waste. A much better idea would be to re-develop the historic Blue Bridge into a fabulous new enhancement for downtown Victoria by turning it into parkland that everyone could enjoy as The Blue Bridge Park. This is not really an original idea but rather a proven success in other cities. New York re-imagined a downtown elevated railroad track into the High Line Park, making it one of the premier destinations in the city and revitalizing the neighbourhood that surrounds it. Google “High Line” to see what a beautiful idea it is. Stated simply, the approaches and the roadways of the existing Blue Bridge would be covered with grass and feature landscaped gardens, trees and pathways with strategically placed seating areas. The current approaches would become new parks on both sides of the water. I expect the passage would have to remain open since I doubt there would be any interest in funding the ongoing operation of the rising section. However, as a permanent tower the structure presents amazing possibilities in design and function. There is a sore lack of green space to compliment all the development and growth Downtown. The Blue Bridge Park would be an accessible and inviting public place for people to walk, to play, to picnic. It could showcase events and public art and provide a unique vantage point for locals and tourists to enjoy the harbour and city. Lloyd Chesley Province must act on professional reliance We have a fundamental problem in British Columbia, Canada, whereby the province is not living up to its constitutional obligation to look after natural resources in the public interest. The provincial government needs to re-draft legislation for all resources so that the respective statutes are subordinate to over-arching legislation for sustainability and for regional land-use planning. Professional reliance has done a good job of showcasing this fundamental problem of constitutional negligence. Now, our new provincial government must act to redress the problem—we expect no less. Anthony Britneff The costs of Site C: I attended the BC Utilities Commission hearings on Site C here in Victoria on October 11. I have hope for this review. If it is done honestly and with the deep interests of British Columbia at its core, it will determine what we’ve known for a long time: that we don’t need Site C and that it would open the way to enormous loss. The usual arguments against Site C are well known. I won’t repeat them here. What I’m hoping for is long-term vision for BC’s health in the broadest sense, for an honorable understanding of what reconciliation really means, for deep humane, environmental and ecological thought. For support for farmland. And of course, bottom line, for what’s best for the economic future of BC in the broadest, most open-hearted way—one based on “full cost accounting” of the environmental, social and economical costs and benefits. These are costs we sometimes overlook. Thus, the loss of prime farm land in a time of global warming is a huge financial loss. The loss of a First Nations burial ground, safe fish and ungulates, and most importantly, the loss of belief in the possibility of a respectful relationship is an enormous financial loss. The loss of one of the most beautiful valleys in the province is a loss to tourism, of course, but more importantly to all of us who love this land. The loss of the opportunity for green renewable jobs rather than the over-inflated, over-promised jobs forecast for Site C is a financial loss and a deficit of vision. The loss of wildlife corridors and their many species is an economic as well as an environmental loss. For First Nations and the rest of us, poisoning fish by methyl mercury is a huge loss. The increase in methane gas, and thus GHGs, is a loss we absolutely cannot bear at this time. Big dams are fossil thinking, especially a dam which is planned to support LNG extraction, with its accompanying risks of poisoning ground water and increasing seismic activity. We need now more than ever to apply both hearts and minds to the problems of our times. The fallout from the decisions we make may turn the Earth as we know it into a place where our grandchildren can’t survive. We need to feel our love and gratitude for our lives on this beautiful planet and then to act from that understanding. We need, in fact, to Stop Site C. Dorothy Field Shingles vaccine I am a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and I have treated shingles very successfully as any acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist could. Even difficult cases can be treated with TCM fast and effectively—without the controversial vaccine, utilizing the body’s own healing ability. I feel overwhelmed thinking of the task ahead, of the level of public education needed, given that the shingles treatment in TCM is not yet known to the medical society or the public. Chinese medicine can be such a great complement in our modern reality. We need to be open, and not prejudiced, against other medical systems. I enjoy reading Alan Cassel’s articles. I feel his work offers healthy criticism of the current medical system in our community. Dr Katrine B. Hegillman, Dr. TCM, BSc. R.Ac.
  9. One key policy, densification of the core, makes little sense in the face of the CRD’s impotence in controlling sprawl. VIC DERMAN told his fellow CRD directors at a November 2016 board meeting: “The only thing that could possibly be more urgent to act on [than climate change] would be if a large asteroid was hurtling toward us.” A few months before he passed away last March, I interviewed Derman, Saanich counsellor, CRD director, former teacher, and creator of the “Natural City” approach. He lamented the lack of leadership at the CRD around climate change. It’s not that there’s any lack of understanding, or well-written reports or sensible goals, but too often, as Derman told me, policy seems at odds with practice. Some of the stated goals on reducing emissions reminded him of New Year’s resolutions; “I should lose weight; pass the chocolate pie.” The CRD’s Climate Action Strategy’s stated goal is a regional reduction of GHG emissions of 61 percent by 2038, from 2007 levels. This is certainly ambitious, but like Derman argued, there don’t seem to be realistic plans to get us there. During the interview, Derman lamented the hostile environment we are creating for our children. “Pretty much all the scientists agree we have already put enough carbon in the atmosphere to cause a 1.6 degree increase,” he said, which in effect means we need to suck carbon out of the atmosphere in order to meet the Paris Climate Accord target. He noted that at one degree of warming, you start to get feedback loops, like the melting of the permafrost, which jacks up the temperature more. Derman, who urged application of the “climate change lens” to all issues and decisions, said that the most critical thing to do on the transportation-emissions front involves land-use planning: urban neighbourhoods should be compact yet also allow for greenspace, local shops, pleasant walking and cycling. It’s “smart” growth. Otherwise known as “densification,” the CRD recognizes it is a big part of solving the transportation and emissions problems. The antithesis of suburban sprawl, compact cities have numerous benefits, but at this point in human history, chief among them is the ability to lower greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. The closer people live to core amenities, the less they need to use a fossil-fuelled car. With a more centralized population, it becomes more cost-efficient to provide better public transit. That in turn encourages more residents to shift more of their travels away from autos, thus reducing our community’s carbon footprint even more. Densification is essential to the decarbonization project upon us. But it’s not without its challenges. ON WALKS THROUGH MY ROCKLAND NEIGBOURHOOD, I’ve noticed numerous signs saying “Stop Overdevelopment: Respect Neighbourhoods.” There’s even a companion website for this “movement” which outlines concerns about Abstract Developments’ plans to create 94 residential units in 3 buildings on a well-treed, 2-acre park-like setting formerly home to the Victoria Truth Centre (www.concernedresidents.ca). The Concerned Residents group cites issues with height, massing and setbacks, and a lack of sensitivity to the need for both affordable housing and green space. Our letters section in this edition testifies to a growing unease among core residents about the increasing development in their midst. More citizens are calling me too, to express their concern over the changes to their neighbourhoods. They hope that Focus can do something. The common underlying tone of residents’ worries is a fear of loss—loss of green space, of old trees and their ecosystems, of quiet, of heritage, of the family-friendly character of their neighbourhood, of their children’s safety due to increased traffic. Critiques of the public consultation process around new developments are plentiful too: The process seems designed to frustrate residents who feel unheard despite open houses and so-called “consultation.” Given that the CRD is projecting 95,000 more people in the region by 2038—along with the goal of reducing emissions by 61 percent by that same year, core densification is both essential and long-term. So frustrations and conflict will likely grow and certainly continue—for decades to come. THE QUESTION THAT ARISES IS: Why put core residents through the trials of decades-long densification when at the same time the CRD is, at best, turning a blind eye to the continuing sprawl epitomized by Langford? The benefits of increasing densification in the core would no doubt be more palatable if local politicians could rein in Langford’s rampage over rural and wild lands. Unfortunately, the CRD and its member municipalities caved into Langford’s insistence in 2003 to make its municipal boundaries its “urban containment boundary”—meaning all of its 42-square-kilometres of land is able to be developed and serviced. Mayor Stew Young and his pro-development council, have taken full advantage of that dye-casting Regional Growth Strategy. They have approved big box stores that draw traffic from all corners of the region. They’ve offered fee reductions and tax holidays for developers. They’ve tried to lure businesses away from the core by announcing a 10-year tax holiday. And they are now creating a business park on land swapped with Metchosin. The result? Much of the region’s previously forested and agricultural lands, along with the many ecosystem services they provided, have been extensively mowed down, blasted apart and paved over. That sprawl has led to congestion and increased emissions on the highway because most people still work in the core even if they live in Langford or elsewhere on the West Shore. Allowing Langford its rampant growth strategy makes the trials of densification dangerously close to pointless. IN HER INAUGURAL ADDRESS to the CRD board early this year, before Vic Derman died, Chair Barb Desjardins spoke about climate change. She acknowledged “the passion and coaxing we have had from Director Derman that there is urgency to plan and more importantly act on this issue. I want to encourage the board to be bold, to leap forward with the required changes and actions that we must make.” The trouble is, the CRD, due to its nature and past agreements, is utterly incapable of taking the leap she urged. The update of the Regional Growth Strategy, which took 8 years to draft and win board approval, is now in dispute resolution mandated by the Province because half the region’s municipalities wouldn’t ratify it. Their concerns centred mostly around piping water into rural areas, which they correctly believe is a major driver of urban sprawl. These municipalities are trying to not add to the problem the former RGS created. But what will happen when, as is likely the case this fall, the municipalities and the CRD enter binding arbitration? There’s also an impasse on another key CRD goal related to climate change: the “strategic priority” of establishing a Regional Transportation Service to have authority to implement region-wide transportation goals, many of which address emissions reductions for the region. This has been stuck in limbo since 2014 because Langford, Colwood and Sooke nixed the idea. Though some CRD directors have voiced support for taking it to a referendum, the matter was left hanging until a consultant’s report on CRD governance was completed this summer. Susan Brice, the CRD’s transportation committee chair, told Focus, “Unfortunately there is nothing substantive in the report that will assist the CRD board in their deliberations.” Brice is convinced, as are many, that transportation is a region-wide issue and plans to continue pursuing the issue. “There may be some adjustments to the request that will get wider local government buy-in. Failing that, there are options under the legislation for the board to consider. However, the goal remains to have strong municipal support throughout the region.” The CRD has espoused very lofty emission-reduction targets. But given the sometimes contradictory visions of its 13 municipalities, it may well be powerless to carry out the central tasks around shaping growth and transportation. By enabling suburban sprawl and all the emissions that come with it, while at the same time urging more development in the core areas, it’s little wonder that some citizens are fighting back. Leslie Campbell hopes whoever fills Vic Derman’s shoes on Saanich council on September 23 will carry on his legacy.
  10. BC burning

    A forest and fire ecologist discusses her research on how to reduce the damage being done to BC’s forests by fires. BY LATE AUGUST there had been over 1100 forest fires in BC during 2017. With 1 million hectares burned, it was officially a record-breaking season. In the previous ten years, the largest area lost was in 2014 when 339,168 hectares went up in smoke. One would have to go back to 1958’s record of 855,000 hectares burned to come anywhere close. This fire season also resulted in the longest state of emergency in BC’s history. Interestingly, between 2006 and 2016 the average annual number of fires was 1,844. So this year’s 1000 (and rising) fires were, on average, a lot bigger than previous years. And the outlook does not look any better. Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Forest Service predicts a potential doubling of the amount of area burned in Canada by the end of this century, compared with amounts burned in recent decades. One of the more than 1000 wildfires in BC in 2017 Besides the devastation to forests and wildlife this summer, over 45,000 people were evacuated from their homes. While residents of the Interior bore the brunt of the unpleasant and sometimes tragic consequences, even those of us on BC’s coast experienced numerous smoky days, with attendant health issues. And, of course, there’s an impressive impact on BC’s economy. In 2014, when less than one-third of the area burned, direct costs were $300 million. So this year’s direct costs will be significantly higher. And then there’s all the indirect costs, from health care through impacts on tourism, small business, and agriculture. BC, of course, is not alone. Heat waves and droughts have led to horrific wildfires in Italy, France, Spain and especially Portugal. In California, 100 million trees are expected to be casualties of their drought and rising temperature. A changing climate has being identified as increasing the intensity of these events. A recently published meta-analysis by 63 scholars in Nature Ecology and Evolution found that trees in droughty conditions shut pores that let in carbon dioxide in order to conserve moisture. That also blocks the water transport within the tree, leading to dehydration and carbon starvation—in other words, dead, dry trees that don’t absorb atmospheric carbon and easily catch fire. Forest fires themselves are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. They function as a “feedback loop”—warmer, drier conditions caused by climate change produce more forest fires, which release carbon and thereby contribute to climate change. Forests fires are one factor reducing the ability of BC forests to act as carbon sinks (logging and insect outbreaks also contribute). According to the federal government’s Forest Service, in the past Canada’s forests absorbed about one-quarter of the carbon emitted by human activities, but in some recent years they have become carbon sources, emitting more than they absorb. Is there anything we, or our elected governments can do to lessen wildfires and their impact? Focus interviewed forest and fire ecologist Jill Harvey about the situation. Harvey, who graduated from UVic in 2017 with a PhD in geography and whose research was published in July in two peer-reviewed journals, looks both to the past and the future. “The mechanisms driving global climate change and ecosystem response are numerous,” she says. “Therefore, the research questions I ask target understanding changing disturbance regimes and tree growth-climate responses. Looking back into the past and into the future, my research examines both the causes and consequences of environmental change in temperate forests with a special interest in the outcomes for forest structure, ecosystem function and management implications.” Jill Harvey Focus caught up with Harvey (via email) in Greifswald, Germany, where she is doing postdoctoral research at the Institute for Botany and Landscape Ecology. She is there to gain international expertise in advanced tree-ring and climate science approaches, which she will bring back to Canada. Q. What does your research show about the history of forest fires in British Columbia? A. Historically, many sites in the Cariboo Forest Region burned every 15 to 25 years between 1600 and 1900 AD. These fires consumed fine fuels and maintained open forests. In the last 100 years, very few of these sites recorded a single fire. Effective and widespread fire suppression has resulted in denser forests throughout much of the Cariboo, providing more fuel for fires. For example, one of my research sites near Hanceville burned in mid-July in the Hanceville Fire Complex, which is over 200,000 hectares in size and only 25 percent contained [on August 21]. At that site, nine historic fires were recorded between 1769 and 1896, with fire occurring about every 16 years. No fires have burned at that site for over 120 years. All the fuel that has accumulated over the past 120 years is supporting the fire that is burning right now. Q. How did you conduct your recent research? A. The fires that are burning in the Cariboo Forest Region are intense due to the accumulation of fuels over the past century. As I mentioned, fires prior to the 20th century were more frequent and generally less severe. These lower intensity fires oftentimes “scarred” mature Douglas-fir trees, but did not cause the tree to die. These living Douglas-fir trees, that can reach over 500 years of age, are recorders of past fire activity. Fire scars are preserved in the chronology of the tree’s life recorded annually as tree rings. Using principles of dendrochronology, tree-ring science [done by tree core sampling], I am able to date the year of the fire and sometimes even the season that the fire occurred in. When you compile the fire records from multiple trees at a site you can gain a pretty clear picture of the history of fire activity at site. And when you compile many sites across a region, you can identify years of widespread fire activity—like we are experiencing this summer. I then link the years when fires burned to historical records of climate to see what kind of climate conditions are associated with different types of fires. For example, I found that fires that burned in forests next to expansive grasslands are associated with wet, cool springs. Wet, cool springs promote the growth of fine fuels, an important prerequisite to the spread of fire in fuel limited environments (eg. grasslands). In years when widespread fires burned at many sites across the Cariboo Forest Region, I found that multiple years of drought preceded these large fire years. Q. What changed so much 120 years ago? A. Around the end of the 19th century and towards the 1950s, European settlement in the Cariboo Forest Region increased. As it is now, fire was dangerous in areas where people lived, cattle grazed, and transportation corridors were constructed. Fires were suppressed and care was taken not to set fires. As stewards of the landscape, Indigenous people of the region had used fire effectively and carefully, thinning forests and promoting vegetation diversity. Indigenous burning was discouraged and forbidden in the early 20th century. Fires were perceived to “destroy” forests. That is the irony we are facing now. The measures that we have taken for over 100 years to “protect” our forests by suppressing fires, have actually predisposed forests to more intense, and much more damaging fires. Q. What does your research show about the way a forest fire changes ecology? A. I conducted an intensive survey of historical patterns of fire severity in the Churn Creek Protected Area, which is located in the Cariboo Forest Region. Many of my plots were in forested areas next to grasslands. When I collected data in 2013 and 2014 for this study, these forests were incredibly dense with many young trees in the understory. I sampled hundreds of these young trees and when I got back to the lab and determined the age of these trees—almost all of them established in the late 1800s over a 20-year period. Prior to the late 1800s, frequent fire in these grassland-adjacent forests eliminated seedlings and kept forests open, encouraging the growth of native grass communities and promoting habitat for many animal species. Now, these dense forests have changed the composition of the herbaceous understory and eliminated habitat for multiple ungulate and bird species. Q. Given your research and that of others, how should forest management practices change in BC? A. Considering the costs associated with fighting the fires of 2017 [potentially $1 billion] and the fact that scientists have already confirmed that more fire is expected in the future, more funding should be directed to fire management and research that reduces fire risk. Today’s forest management plans should continue to enhance practices such as thinning dense forests and using prescribed fire to reduce fuel loads. We also should consider expanding these activities in the province to include larger areas. Increased research directed at prescribed burning approaches, smoke dispersal and the effects of fire is crucial. If fires are to be more frequent in the future, we need to use the fires of this summer to improve our understanding of the ecological effects of fire. These insights would allow us to improve the resilience of both the forests and communities of BC. Q. What does climate change mean for the future of BC’s fires? A. Climate projections for the next 50 to 100 years clearly and consistently show an increase of one to three degrees Celsius or even more. Future drier and warmer climates will undoubtedly lead to more fires in the province and for longer periods of time. If we do not reduce the fuel load now, we can expect more intense fires across multiple locations in the future. Q. So we can’t necessarily reduce the number of fires, but we could work on reducing their intensity? A. Yes, I think that we can reduce the intensity with which fires burn in targeted areas, such as areas around communities. Efforts to thin forests can be focused in these settings to inhibit the spread of fire towards people’s homes and property. Q. Wasn’t reducing the fuel load and prescribed burning recommended, among other measures, after the 2003 fire season when 260,000 hectares burned with costs of $700 million? Were these not done—or not enough? A. Yes, prescribed burning and thinning were recommended following the 2003 fire season and these treatments were conducted in some regions. However, I do think that more can be done going forward, especially after this summer. Q. I understand the area burned annually in Canada is 2.5 times larger than the area harvested. Does that mean we should allow more logging? A. No, I don’t think we should log more! Many of the large fires that burn every year are in the northern boreal forests of Canada where it is very difficult and oftentimes unnecessary to suppress the fire (no people or communities nearby). Fire is also a very important part of the ecology of boreal forests and in these environments trees are generally not targeted for logging. The tree species and/or sizes are currently considered unsuitable. Q. What in your mind is the best path forward? Is there any good news about BC forests and fire? A. We cannot simply hope that a fire year like 2017 won’t happen again. It will happen again, and it will likely happen more frequently. We must use this summer as a catalyst for change in forest management practices and research. There are many stakeholders to consider when we plan our path forward after this summer. We must first consider those directly affected by the fires of 2017 and hear their stories and collectively recover from a very difficult time. We need to critically review how we manage our forests and look back to the 2003 fire year and see if we have made progress. We need to integrate insights from historical fire perspectives, Indigenous land management practices, and fire behaviour and meterology science. Immediate resources for directly reducing fire risk such as forest thinning and prescribed fire are essential. Fire-related research needs to occur at all scales, and across all involved disciplines. The 2017 fires present an exciting opportunity for fire ecologists to examine what happens next. Understanding how landscapes recover after a fire will help us develop appropriate management strategies important for the reforestation. We also need to look at how other forest agencies, such as in the US and Australia, are managing forests and fire and provide opportunities for inter-interagency and international collaboration between managers and scientists. Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus.
  11. Affordable housing—for low- and moderate-income people working Downtown—should be a City of Victoria priority. VICTORIA'S CURRENT HOUSING SCENE is now recognized in official circles as in “severe crisis”—both in terms of affordability and availability. The Capital Region Analysis & Data Book shows 50 percent of households can only afford 13.7 percent of the region’s homes. The City of Victoria has responded to the crisis in numerous ways. It has removed the necessity of rezoning for garden suites. It has given preliminary approval to a moratorium on granting demolition permits for rental housing, as developers salivate over replacing those three-story 1970s-era apartment blocks that form the bulk of the City’s affordable housing. It is considering special taxes on vacant and derelict properties. It is fast-tracking applications for rental developments and encouraging developers to include some non- market “affordable” units in their buildings. And, upon learning that at least 300 Downtown housing units had been diverted from their intended purpose of housing to money-making tourist accommodation, it started debating ways to restrict that practice— those developments, after all, got building permits on the basis of supplying housing, not hotels. These are all necessary, but wholly insufficient steps to turning the tide on the affordable housing crisis. But promises of help are coming from both the feds and the NDP-led, Green Party-supported provincial government. The NDP promised to build 114,000 affordable rental, non-profit and co-op housing units over 10 years, and to provide social housing to middle-class workers who have been priced out of BC cities. The Greens were willing to spend $750 million per year building and renovating social housing, to construct about 4000 affordable housing units per year. And the feds’ new $180-billion infrastructure funds are geared, in part, to affordable housing projects (some of it in the form of federal land to build on). It’s timely and crucial for local communities to make concrete plans for projects in the region that will attract federal and provincial funding. It’s clear that the private sphere will not, and likely cannot, build the homes that are truly needed. Centennial Square Parkade. A seismically-vulnerable and low-value use of Downtown space? ONE POPULATION THAT IS ESPECIALLY ill-served by the housing market is Downtown workers of modest income—the folks who cook and serve us in cafés and restaurants, who clean hotel rooms, who are the helpful receptionists in offices we visit, and who help us find the perfect shirt or gift in Downtown’s stores. There are over 24,000 people working Downtown, about half of them in the hospitality (4183), restaurant (3834), and retail (3225) sectors (2013 figures). Despite the building boom throughout the city, but especially in or near Downtown (see the slide show at www.focusonvictoria.ca), none of the newer and under-construction buildings, with one notable exception, offer “affordable” rents for those making the low-to-modest living that many thousands of Downtown workers earn. Downtown employers are paying competitive wages, but tell me they have trouble finding and keeping good employees simply because of the difficulty and expense of parking and travel from their far-flung homes—in Shawnigan or Langford or Sooke. Transit and cycling are both often highly inconvenient for someone who is forced to work two jobs, as many do. But owning a car—and parking it Downtown—is prohibitively expensive for these workers. (My 1-hour-40-minute visit to the dentist the other day resulted in a $7 parkade charge. Double ouch!) A minimum-wage job currently pays $10.85/hour. If the BC NDP government keeps its promise around minimum wage, this will rise incrementally to $15 per hour by 2021. Many Downtown employers already pay above minimum wage, so let’s take the example of a worker currently making $15/hour. At 40 hours/week, he or she makes about $2500/month before taxes and deductions. That means their affordable rent would be $750/month. (The accepted definition of “affordable housing” is housing that costs no more than 30 percent of household income before tax.) What can one find now in that $750/month range? When I looked at online ads for apartments in or close to Downtown, I did find one “$750 Downtown loft apartment.” On further inspection, however, it turned out to be a 10-foot-square room within a loft apartment. And when I stumbled on a fully-furnished “large one-bedroom” in Esquimalt for $650, and emailed to ask if it was just the bedroom (I thought I was getting wise to the scene), I was soon contacted by Used Victoria to let me know it might well be a scam. It was: I was sent photos of the lovely interior, saying I should drive by 1194 Esquimalt but wouldn’t be able to see inside since they were out of town. Verbatim: “If you are interested. I want you to remember that I’m in (Portland, Oregon.). and the keys and documents are here with me, so you will not be able to see inside the apartment, you can only view from the outside. I will send the keys and documents to you via FedEx and you will receive it within 48hrs…” Of course, with the application, I was to send $950. Besides the too-good-to-be-true price, the brackets every time they mentioned “Portland, Oregon” gave it away. But I digress. There were actually quite a few of the second-bedroom-for-rent type ads. In Esquimalt that might cost you $600; closer to Downtown (e.g. on Pembroke) it’s more likely to cost $750. (And these were not “short-term vacation rentals”—those are about twice as much.) There are a lot of folks advertising themselves as great tenants in the “apartments for rent” section—everything from “professional couples” willing to pay $1400 to $2400/month, to a “sober nerdy vegan” who can afford $475-$625/month. Craigslist has a whole department devoted to “rooms & shares.” If you really want your own, albeit tiny, apartment Downtown, expect to pay a lot more. For example, a 452-square-foot studio (with a 50-square-foot balcony) at Hudson Walk One on Caledonia is asking $1510 per month—certainly not affordable for the Downtown worker making $15/hour, or even $20/hour. That price tag is also about 50 percent more than rents at Hudson Walk One were when it launched a year ago. The Janion has an even smaller pad—350 square feet—for $1280. Again, unaffordable for a full-time worker at $15/hour. In fact, at the 30 percent definition of affordable, one would have to make $4300/month—about $26/hour—to rent 350 square feet. If you are determined to have your own space for just shy of $800 then you might find one at the Dominion Rocket—but it might be only 179 square feet. While the City sometimes demands developers include some non-market units in new buildings, they are usually only just a small handful per complex. The Greater Victoria Rental Development Society’s Azzurro project across Blanshard from the arena One non-profit thankfully stepped up recently to help more workers of modest means. The Greater Victoria Rental Development Society, paired with Realhomes Development Corp to develop the 7-storey, 65-unit Azzurro right across Blanshard from the arena. Forty-three of its units are non-market: $925 for a one-bedroom and $860 for a studio. Despite the low rents, Alanna Holroyd, the executive director of GVRDS, says she can make it work financially. It helps that she was able to do much of the work herself, and that the $5 million in development costs were waived. She has assembled a great team, including locally-based builders Knappett Projects. She also credits BC Housing financing—100 percent financing [of 14.8 million] through construction at 1.6 percent, interest only—as making housing lower- income people a feasible business model. Holroyd notes, “The lower two levels of commercial also played a significant role in getting financing from BC Housing. After the sale of the commercial spaces, a further $2.5 million will be raised.” While grants of $495,000 from the CRD and $544,000 from the City helped make Azzurro happen, Holroyd believes she can do such developments without any grants in the future. If we want a liveable, vibrant Downtown, we need more such creative, bold moves. By supplying affordable housing in the core for the the core’s workforce, they will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions—and help make the heart of our city more truly liveable. AMONG THE RECOMMENDATIONS of the City of Victoria’s Housing Affordability Task Force last year was one urging the contribution of City-owned land at no cost or at reduced market value for the development of affordable housing projects. The Task Force report noted that “Under current law, the City can donate land or enter into long-term lease agreements with organizations that commit to providing affordable housing. The City can also enter into land swaps with other public institutions or the private sector and use those properties for affordable housing purposes.” The most visible form of City-owned property Downtown, besides City Hall, are parkades. Could we develop a plan to transform one or more of them into affordable rental apartments—a Downtown workers’ paradise? The City of Victoria owns five parkades. We can rule out the one below the Central Library, so that leaves four, all above ground. Most were built in the 1960s when seismic standards were much lower. From past research via FOIs, we know that City-owned parkades have not been seismically evaluated. It’s highly likely that once they are assessed for seismic vulnerability, they’ll have to be replaced, otherwise the City would be faced with a huge liability issue if an earthquake did strike. In that case, do we simply put up replacement parkades? That seems crazy in light of land values, needs for housing, and climate change. Why not consider replacing them with affordable homes for Downtown’s service workers? Start with the one which has the fewest parking spaces—it just so happens that’s the one adjacent to Centennial Square. You could retain some or all of its 188 spaces by putting them underground. They can be designed with smaller parking spaces to match the smaller cars we’ll be driving, as well as outfitted to provide charging for the electric vehicles we’re expected to drive. The main floor would have space for retailers paying market-based rents. Above, build a high-rise of varying-sized suites, all rented on an affordable basis to those who are eligible: people who work at jobs Downtown and have incomes in the target range suggested by the City’s Housing Affordability Task Force: $18,000-$57,000/year. Oh, but what about losing precious parking spaces, you ask? It’s surprising how many parking spots might be available underground. Under the Central Library, for instance, there are 544 parking spots. (It’s worth noting that there are also 11 privately-owned parkades and 40 parking lots Downtown.) There might even be a net gain in parking spaces if Downtown workers no longer need to drive a car to work. This means there’s an important added benefit: a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. (In BC, transportation accounts for 37 percent of our total annual emissions.) Another possible objection: That particular parkade, and the attached one-storey part of the building on Douglas, were designed in 1963 by renowned architect John Di Castri. It’s a heritage building. Yet that same pedigree belongs to the Crystal Pool, which Victoria council seems determined to replace (see story, page 22). In the case of the Centennial Square parkade, the seismic issue alone will mean its eventual demise. Let’s make sure what we build there is beautifully designed (perhaps incorporating or echoing Di Castri’s work), durable, and aimed at a higher purpose like affordable housing. Think how such a transformation would enliven Victoria’s central plaza, especially if families with children are housed there. The Centennial Square side of the John Di Castri-designed parkade But why stop at one parkade? There are three other above-ground City-owned parkades, each seismically questionable: at Bastion Square, View Street, and Johnson Street. The City should be planning now for how to deal with them over the next decade, in ways that will best align with our future needs—around housing, transportation, and climate change. Most likely, the City would and should involve one of the local non-profits involved in building low-income housing—the Greater Victoria Rental Development Society and the Greater Victoria Housing Society, for instance, have each built quality apartment buildings throughout the city in which units rent at non-market rates. Those in the social-housing industry can figure out the details, including eligibility criteria and precise rental rates, but all of the apartments should be geared to Downtown workers of modest means. The buildings will ideally house 300 or more residents per building. Our theoretical full-time worker, with a $2500/month income, could get a decent studio or small one-bedroom for $750. A couple, perhaps with a child, working Downtown with a monthly income of close to $5000, could get a larger suite for up to $1500. Incomes would be reviewed annually and rents reassessed. Sure there’s nitty-gritty details like “what happens if a person leaves their Downtown employ for a job somewhere else?” But surely we can dream up some fair-minded policies to deal with such situations. Perhaps they are given six month’s notice. I like this parkade-to-housing concept simply for the compassion it shows to those who enliven Downtown through their work, not to mention how it places value on homes over cars. But other benefits would also flow. Besides the already-mentioned reduction of green house gas emissions, it would help local businesses retain employees, a crucial ingredient of stability and success. And that would help the City’s economy, as those businesses would be far less likely to pull up stakes for the suburbs. It might even cool the housing market a tad, a good thing, as one glance at real estate ads will attest. Since the City owns the land, that cuts out a huge cost of development. According to GVRDS’s Holroyd, “if the site has a Certificate of Compliance [from the Ministry of Environment[, it could be worth $250 per square foot and up depending on what density is allowed after rezoning.” But, she warns, “the variables are massive.” Regardless, “it could easily be half the cost of construction…without a development fee of course.” Holroyd agreed that having land donated makes a lot more things possible. So the City supplies the land, perhaps waiving some fees, and other levels of government provide funding, and non-profits take care of the rest. Unless we are willing to have our governments step up and provide non-market housing, we’ll face a city bleached of its diversity and vitality, and we’ll witness more lives, especially young ones, stunted by unbearable costs. Remember Portland, once held up as a shining example of how to deal with homelessness? It now has 4000 homeless, including many families living in shelters, and is currently working on a pilot program to supply government-constructed “pods” of 200 square feet, placed in the backyards of willing homeowners. And they are not cheap; the pods cost about $75,000 each (but here too the land is free). Victoria has the opportunity to avoid such drastic measures by moving more aggressively to actually initiate development and put up the land. If this community is willing to tear down a di Castri-designed swimming pool and spend $70 million to replace it (even though it could be fixed for far less), I think we have a moral obligation to affordably house the people who work to make the Downtown experience so fine. Leslie Campbell invites other dreamers to send us your ideas on how to create a liveable, green, compassionate city.
  12. Letters from readers

    A perfect storm for Victoria renters Clearly the government has been negligent in not making any kind of decent effort to build social housing for the past number of years. The result is money being spent on mopping up the mess of lives that become broken and dysfunctional. But I don’t like to see landlords being targeted as the root of the problem. One of the biggest costs to a landlord, after the initial mortgage on the property, is taxes. There is something unsustainable when it costs almost $500 a month just for property taxes. People who own their own homes are struggling to hang on and so end up adding one more room to an existing suite in order to make it a two bedroom. Sometimes people are moved to take a serious look at the idea of an Airbnb because the income is so much higher—anything that will help with the crushing taxes. Our house taxes went up 10 percent this year. The money has to come from somewhere. It’s hard not to increase the rent allowed by the BC rental rules [for 2017, 3.7 percent] every year when your taxes go up by 10 percent. So it is no wonder that there is a rental problem in Victoria. My point is that taxes are suffocating people who own any kind of property. It’s not about greed. It’s about families trying to make ends meet. Deryk Houston Cash-for-access flourishes in BC politics Houston oil dude Richard Kinder is one of the most loaded guys around, meaning really loaded. Net worth what? Nine billion or something. Friends call him Rich, and the joke is that Rich should be his middle name and Very his first. Kinder Morgan co-founder Bill Morgan isn’t picking up cans and bottles for extra spending money either. So these guys need more money? Your article “Cash-for-access flourishes in BC politics” shows how money poisons the palace of mirrors in this province. As you point out, Justin Trudeau is trying to kiss the oil biz’s lardy ass and paint himself as a climate warrior at the same time. You’re in or you’re out, Mr 10,000-Selfies-and-Counting. Alan Cassels’ article about the Health Ministry firings shows a criminally-warped ministry treating hard-working public servants with contempt. Good on Cassels and Ombudsperson Jay Chalke and his staff for exposing a disgraceful episode. Louis Guilbault An Orwellian path to fraud in BC forests Now that the BC Green Party has established a foothold in the BC Legislature, and holds the balance of power assuming that it votes as a block on legislation, we’ll see if Briony Penn’s exposure of the plunder of BC resources abetted by “professional reliance” is addressed in any substantial way. I am not holding my breath. Richard Weatherill It seems when the professionals are hobbled and threatened by their superiors and not able to voice their concerns and be a professional for the greater public good, there is no fairness. Shame on the federal and provincial governments for strong-arming these public servants who have a greater awareness of the public interest. The upper management and upper government seem to prefer the public blind and ignorant. We grow up and try to instill fair and just traits in our children, and the governments train those under them to be conniving and withholding of the truth. The norm is going out the window. Gasper Jack Biketoria woes The mayor has been an avid if not fanatical bicyclist since childhood and still is. Waywardly, unconcerned by adult objections from merchants on our principal east-west arteries, she is determined to turn our once graceful city into a child’s playground she rejoices in calling Biketoria. Could there possibly be an uglier name? Such ludicrous transformation defies all mature opinion and all logic. Lower Fort Street, like Pandora, in no way will benefit from bicycle traffic swishing past its many shops and businesses. The mayor seems complacently ignorant of the fact that for many, many years Victoria has had the largest percentage of elderly in all of Canada. With a compliant City council, Helps is determined to push through with this scheme by September. Already she is threatening Cook Street. Indeed there is no end to her profligacy. Last year Helps “felt like crying when people say she doesn’t care about seniors or people with disabilities,” but the evidence is there before our eyes. These bike lanes cost us millions of dollars, money which could well help feed our many destitute and house some of our many homeless. David Price Time for Metro Victoria Metro Victoria is now a reality. A mid-size city region of some 350,000 souls. Some, like Gene Miller, and no doubt others in the Eastern Communities, yearn to hang onto the Victorian past. Others are on to the future—as evidenced by recent manifestos from the Chamber of Commerce and the Grumpy Taxpayers. While their concerns arise from tax and commerce issues, their critique of the political/cultural status quo—dare I say nostalgiaville—point to the dismal effects of not recognizing that the region is now a large metropolis and needs to be governed accordingly. The dark effects of an absence of regional government are manifest, not the least in the pages of Focus. All should hope that the provincial panel looking at this issue will set the metropolis on a path to progress through effective governance. John Olson Gene Miller responds: It’s very important to respect readers’ feelings, so I want to acknowledge that the writer, John Olson, a director of Amalgamation Now, feels that governance within and among the region’s individual municipalities is retrogressive, out of step and not effective. This, in spite of endless studies by objective analysts that have determined that local rather than regional or metropolitan governance delivers more and better service at a lower cost. (My, how counter-intuitive!) What does it matter if Greater Victoria has a metropolitan population of 350,000, or 2,500,000, like the Vancouver Region? Oh, right, the Vancouver Region which, in fact, consists of the politically and administratively autonomous cities of Vancouver, West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Port Moody, Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, Delta, White Rock, Langley, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows, Abbotsford, Mission and Chilliwack. What’s the matter with those Lower Mainland people? Uncourageously hanging on to the past? Nostalgiaville? Failure to embrace the future? How do they survive? Olson uses the word future as if he and his gang owned it. This is a moral and intellectual hat trick—to claim to speak for the future, or progress, while suggesting that those who have a different perspective are hopelessly stuck in the past. Invoking the complaints of the Grumpy Taxpayers and the Chamber of Commerce, pronouncement-prone Olson notes that “the dark effects of an absence of regional government [here] are manifest.” Can anyone tell me what CRD stands for? Couldn’t possibly be Capital Regional District—the regional structure here that provides all necessary extra-municipal administrative services. Gene Miller Christie Point Development impacts bird sanctuary I am writing Focus in an attempt to find someone who can help prevent an environmental disaster from occurring here in the CRD, specifically in View Royal. Recently the Times Colonist ran a front page story about Realstar, a Toronto developer wanting to replace 161 rental units from the 1960s with 473 units comprised of eight six-story apartment blocks on a peninsula, known as Christie Point, inside the Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Portage Inlet. The proposed project is three times taller than the existing RM 1 zoning allows and, despite the developer saying the buildings will be put on the same footprints of 8700 square metres, the proposal is for 18,000 square metres. The proposal does not say many things clearly and View Royal’s report, at 254 pages, is misleading and lacking the full disclosure to allow a reasonable person to make a proper decision about the future of the neighbourhood or the environment. An example of this is when View Royal’s planners asked Realstar if fill would be brought to the site. Realstar answered that fill would be used from the site itself. The conclusion one might come to is that not much fill will be needed for the project. But, in fact, the developer will be changing the grade up to 50 percent on the 15.8-acre site by breaking rock and crushing it on-site to build up the peninsula by 1-1.5 metres. The area may require retaining walls hundreds of feet long along the shores of the tidal waterway that is a salmon spawning route that also contains endangered clams. The quantity of crushed rock may approach 150 tandem dump-truck loads, which would be a row of trucks nearly 2 kilometres long. Further issues are: The present height for the RM 1 zone is 7.5 metres and the proposal is 26 metres plus. Also, some buildings will be built on existing footprints that are outside the building envelope and inside the riparian 15-metre setback on the shore adjacent to midden and archeological areas on the site map. There are so many things wrong with this plan I can’t even tell you how much this is contrary to what the people want, but View Royal is getting around everything by creating a special Development Permit Zone called CD-22. Most people want new buildings. We would even be happy with four-story buildings, but it needs to conform and avoid destructive cutting and filling. The planned 473 units will put over 1000 people in a very ecosensitive area. It can’t end well for our delicate waterway. On a recent Tuesday evening, View Royal council pushed through first and second reading even after Mayor Screech scolded people saying something along the lines of, “I know most people do not want or like this proposal.” He has also discounted Saanich residents because “it’s none of their business.” The Official Community Plan says rental units are needed in View Royal and we are in a rental crisis. But these high-end waterfront buildings will not be affordable. The Province and the federal government says it’s View Royal’s jurisdiction. This municipality is not paying attention. If the project size is reduced by two stories, the permit and associated fees might be reduced (i.e. 30 percent property taxes reduced to 17 percent). If the developer built to a higher quality, those figures would reduce further and rental rates would be higher, so its returns would balance despite the reduction in units. Unfortunately, the developer claims it is not financially feasible at a smaller scale. But why should its wish for an 11-year return mean our loss of our wildlife and environment? We need as many people as possible to write Mayor Screech and View Royal council about the negative environmental impact. Shahn Torontow Why are we in thrall to Seattle on sewage? What with the announcement in the Times Colonist on May 6 of the “retirement” of Mr Floatie, I find it strange that this announcement had to be made at the Canadian Consulate in Seattle. Mayor Lisa Helps is doubtless aware of the existence of Focus Magazine. The article by David Broadland, entitled “Washington’s phony sewage war with Victoria” in May 2016 definitively put the pollution of Puget Sound in Washington State’s court. I again find it strange that virtually every bit of information presented by Mr Broadland has been completely ignored by not only Mayor Helps, but by all of the municipalities impacted by the sewage plant, as well as by the Province which, in my estimation, could care less if the sewage system chosen actually works. Why are we in thrall to Seattle over this? Are we that gutless? I refuse to believe the impact of a boycott on tourism is so monumental that we must crawl on our knees as supplicants, grateful for any wee morsels thrown our way. In a conversation I had with the late and lamented Saanich Councillor Vic Derman a year ago, he mentioned then that he was seriously thinking of not running in the next municipal election because, in his words, “nothing gets done.” The retirement of Mr Floatie speaks volumes to that conclusion. Richard Weatherill Provincial Health Officer on HPV vaccine We are writing in response to the article and subsequent responses by Alan Cassels in which he urges readers to be cautious about the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine. He focuses his concerns and his arguments about the efficacy and safety of this vaccine on two issues. Neither position stands up to critical analysis and unfortunately he omits some very important evidence from his arguments. Firstly, he states categorically that the manufacturer’s claims that this vaccine will prevent cervical cancer are unproven. This is technically true as the vaccine has not been in use long enough for any statistically measurable reduction in cervical cancers to appear. However, there are a number of important considerations that Alan Cassels has not communicated. The natural history of cervical cancer is very well established. Pre-cancerous lesions precede all cervical cancers. As such, the vaccine manufacturers appropriately used pre-cancerous lesions as their clinical trial endpoints, as it would have been highly unethical to let women progress to cervical cancer as part of a study. What Alan Cassels fails to mention are the numerous, published, peer-reviewed articles (including from BC) that demonstrate significant reductions in pre-cancerous lesions of the cervix (Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia or CIN) in women who have received this vaccine prior to the onset of sexual activity. In summary, they demonstrate that the vaccine results in 90 percent reductions in infections with HPV 6/11/16/18 (which are responsible for the majority of cancers and genital warts), a 45 percent reduction in low grade cytologic cervical abnormalities and an 85 percent reduction in high grade cervical dysplasia. In BC alone this has resulted in thousands of women not undergoing colposcopy (a surgical procedure) to check for and treat pre-cancerous lesions. Is it too much of a stretch to conclude that preventing pre-cancerous lesions will prevent cancers? While it remains a possibility that the gap left by preventing these four strains of HPV may be filled by other strains, there is, as yet, no evidence that this is happening, or will happen. His second argument is that administration of the HPV vaccine has resulted in thousands of reported adverse reactions and hundreds of deaths. He does note that these reports are anecdotal and not proof of causation. However, many, perhaps most readers will take away from this that the vaccine is unsafe and dangerous. We think it shows a definite bias in that he omits to note that there are published, peer-reviewed studies comparing the frequency of these reported adverse reactions in vaccinated populations against their frequency in unvaccinated populations. These studies include a 2009 Journal of the American Medical Association analysis of adverse events reports, showing the HPV vaccine is as safe as any other vaccine and that the most common adverse event related to the HPV vaccine is fainting. A more recent British Medical Journal study, involving about a million girls in Denmark and Sweden, found there was no association between the vaccine and a range of harms, including autoimmune, neurological and venous thromboembolic adverse events. While there is much to critique about big pharma, and we need to be skeptical about many of the claims originating from that source, Alan Cassels does a great disservice to the readership of this magazine by presenting such a biased, one-sided view of a vaccine that is helping whole generations of women (and men) avoid preventable morbidity and mortality. Perry Kendall, BC Provincial Health Officer & Professor Gina Ogilvie, UBC Alan Cassels responds Thank you Drs Kendall and Ogilvie for your letter. You have made me look closer at this issue and I have consulted with peers and spent more time looking at the literature—at least the unbiased literature, which doesn’t cherry pick the good stuff and ignore the uncomfortable which, may I humbly suggest, is the approach that often describes those who feel that vaccines need to be defended at all costs. I direct readers to my original article in Focus’ March/April edition. While I mentioned some of the adverse reports associated with girls receiving the vaccine, the article was really questioning the wisdom of vaccinating all boys in Grade 6 in BC. I accepted that all girls are already being vaccinated and as I noted in the article, boys with “increased risk” are already eligible for free vaccination. I also noted that the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) recognizes over 40 distinct types of HPV infection which can infect the genital tract, and “about 90 percent of infections are asymptomatic and resolve spontaneously within two years.” Further, I wrote: “In the marketing of the two HPV vaccines which target a few strains of the virus believed to lead to some forms of cancer, they often downplay one simple fact: The vast majority of us will get HPV in our lives and clear it like the common cold virus.” Is it possible that the drug manufacturers, with the help of public health officials, have reconfigured a small risk factor into a deadly disease? I believe Drs Kendall and Ogilvie have missed the mark widely on the HPV vaccine. While glossing over the very real dangers of the vaccine that have been experienced by many girls around the world, they also fail to address the many flaws surrounding how the vaccine was studied. Dr Tom Jefferson at the Cochrane Collaboration, for example, is an unbiased scientist who has looked closely at the registration of trials of the HPV and wondered to me, in an email, “why they compared HPV vaccines with their adjuvants, hence testing only the antigenic part of the vaccine?” What this means is there was not a true placebo used in the HPV trials. Hence if it is the adjuvant that is damaging to the young girls being vaccinated, the rates of adverse effects would appear equally in the intervention and the control group, thus “appearing to show” the vaccine is as safe as its controls. The use of the vaccine in the “real world” cannot be ignored. There is no evidence (yet) on the effect of the vaccine on cancer. Instead we have noted the vaccine may alter the appearance of surrogate markers, things which may or may not lead to cancer. In other words the defenders of the vaccine misleadingly overstate the potential of the vaccine to prevent cancer. I believe parents who are being asked to vaccinate their children, whether girls or boys, need to know this uncomfortable fact. There are a number of scholars outside the orbit of public health or the pharmaceutical industry around the world who have studied the Gardasil vaccine and believe it to be an utter scandal. Should parents also be aware of the controversies surrounding the research around the vaccine, the many unanswered questions, and the growing numbers of girls around the world who appear to be harmed by it? I think so, even as I see Drs Kendall and Ogilvie would beg to differ. Alan Cassels
  13. Letters from readers

    HPV vaccine for all BC boys? Great writing (Alan Cassels’ “Letter to Victoria soccer moms,” March/April 2017) and—wow—I am surprised that Focus published this article on HPV in the time of prohibited discussion of vaccine issues, but good for them! The Gardasil vaccine has been associated with many severe side effects and long-lasting immune system dysregulation, likely for several reasons: First, the vaccine uses a novel, more immunogenic form of aluminum adjuvant. Aluminum is strongly immunogenic as well as neurotoxic and capable of inducing all sorts of auto-immune and neurologic disorders. For a list of research in this area, please see the Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute, cmsri.org. Second, during trial phases of this vaccine, the control group received an injection containing all the adjuvants, including the novel aluminum adjuvant present in the vaccine, minus the antigens. This is completely unacceptable and unscientific, as the control group was given something that was anything but inert. The researchers concluded that the rate of side effects in the vaccine-treated group versus the control group was similar. And last, there is evidence that the antigens in the Gardasil vaccine share many similarities with human proteins, increasing the likelihood of a cross-reaction, i.e. auto-immune disease. (Quantifying the possible cross-reactivity risk of an HPV16 vaccine, D. Kanduc, J Exp Ther Oncol. 2009;8(1):65-76.) Therefore, the potent aluminum adjuvant, in combination with this particular antigen, creates an especially problematic vaccine. Dr Anke Zimmermann, ND, FCAH I appreciate you bringing the issue of vaccination against cancer-causing viruses to our community. As a carer who has witnessed the colossal suffering and deaths from cervical, tonsillar, laryngeal, tongue, anal and penis cancers, I have long dreamed of practical preventative approaches as opposed to the current “wait for it to get big enough to be detected then slam it with surgery, radiation and chemo” default which is always difficult and expensive, and sometimes unsuccessful. Whether you feel that these viruses are the “major risk factor” for these cancers (like many felt HIV was for AIDS) or the direct cause, there is no doubt immunization will reduce these diseases. While “90 percent of these infections are asymptomatic and resolve spontaneously,” with only a few going on to cancer, I would suggest the “crime against humanity” is more the lack of vaccination against preventable diseases rather than a family’s human rights suit to obtain the vaccine! I was interested to read Alan Cassels’ idea [in "Letter to Victoria’s Soccer Moms”] that by vaccinating boys who identify themselves as being at “increased risk” for contracting the virus, we will have adequate coverage. Few grade 6 boys that I know would self-identify (“Sir, I am thinking of having high-risk sex in a few years”) just to have the joy of a needle in the arm. Years of biology and public health research suggests that vaccinating populations can bring “herd immunity” with drastic reductions in disease occurrence for all members if we can achieve high enough rates of acceptance. Vaccine refusal and failure will always ensure a reservoir of the virus, but going forward, women, too, will be protected by the vaccination of boys in terms of reduced exposure to these cancer-causing viruses. Attacking governments and the pharmaceutical industry is easy pickings, as is citing case reports of possibly-linked adverse reactions, and while I respect much of Alan Cassels’ past work, the picture looks different form the vantage point of a front-line carer. I have not investigated the economics in terms of overall cost/benefit, but likely the government has, and if you want to attack the program on economic grounds, go ahead and present the case. I just know that I paid hundreds of dollars to get my kids immunized, as there was no government funding at that time, and I could never live with myself if they contracted one of these largely preventable diseases. The time has come for a more universal approach to preventing these cancers, and these vaccines are our best hope. Dr Stephen Ashwell Alan Cassels responds: While I can understand Stephen Ashwell’s earnest desire to use whatever means possible to tackle preventable diseases that cause a lot of suffering and death, I wish I could share his sense of certainty that the HPV vaccine will reduce these diseases. When he says there is “no doubt that immunization will reduce these diseases,” I, and many of my colleagues, beg to differ. In fact, I’d argue that what we do have is a lot of doubt around the ultimate effectiveness of HPV vaccines. As you know, cancers can take many decades to grow, and exposure to the human papilloma virus is only one of many potentially causal factors. I admit that, on this one, I remain old-fashioned and ultra-conservative, believing that we do need to have solid proof that a vaccine will do what its proponents claim before we start offering it, en masse, to the entire population. If there is one thing I’ve learned in studying drug policy, it’s that technology bites back, and the history of medicine is littered with numerous instances where the early, enthusiastic embrace of a new medical technology often involves unforeseeable downsides. While those in the oncology community may say my caution is irresponsible, I think it is equally irresponsible to write off the mounting global numbers of case reports of adverse reactions. As Anke Zimmermann correctly points out, major questions around the safety of the HPV vaccine that linger—particularly the risk of auto-immune diseases associated with them—cannot be ignored. Worldwide, we have witnessed girls who appear to have been hurt by this vaccine, and thankfully those numbers seem small, but we also know it has been administered to those girls without any definitive proof it affects the rates of cervical cancer it is supposed to reduce. I wonder what is the proper response to parents who say: “I could never live with myself if my child was hurt by an as-yet-unproven vaccine?” I thank both Stephen Ashwell and Anke Zimmermann for taking the time to weigh in with their thoughts, because I think our “best hope” is a global conversation about new technologies and whether they may involve more harm than benefit. Alan Cassels In your last edition of Focus you have an article by Mr Alan Cassels recommending that we do not vaccinate boys against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This is the virus that is the cause of cervical cancer in women. The argument is that as men do not have a cervix, they cannot get cervical cancer. During the South African War, the British Army had the greatest loss of life due to disease. The prime cause was enteric fever, which killed more men than the enemy action. Research into this matter by Sir Almroth Wright identified the cause, and a vaccine was produced. Since then, every British soldier has been vaccinated as part of his initial training. During WWI, there were six deaths due to enteric fever. Enquiry showed that these six were men who “knew better” and had managed to dodge the needle. In my early professional career, because of a distressing family history I was determined to know something about cancer, so I became a house surgeon at the (then) Royal Cancer Hospital in London. Young women would be diagnosed with cervical cancer often at their first visit to confirm a pregnancy. Treatment then would involve a radiotherapist packing the vagina, under anaesthesia, with packets containing radium needles. Then, knowing the amount used, he would calculate the dose and when the radium would have to be removed. This was my job, regardless of when the time came for the removal. It was often in the middle of the night. The immediate result was a miscarriage as she suffered the effects of the radiotherapy. She would be sterile, and subsequent treatment was often disappointing. We knew that the cancer virus had been brought into her body by a penis, but this was never mentioned. Vaccination has now almost eradicated smallpox from the Earth. Poliomyelitis is now rare: it persists in some countries as a result of ignorance and prejudice. Please let us eliminate this cruel and horrible cancer of young women. With regard to the high cost of drugs, research is very expensive because everything must be tested and retried. M&B 693, the first drug to have any effect against syphilis, was named because it was the 693rd medication to be tested against the disease. How much do you think that research cost? Who paid for it? As a student, I was told that the penicillin doses we were injecting into really sick patients cost 600 British pounds a shot. In those days, it was a green mould growing in a flask and had to be cultivated, collected, extracted and condensed. But it saved lives. A little later, a penicillin tablet could be purchased for a few cents. Is not life worth the cost? Dr Donald North Alan Cassels responds: I think the key point made by Dr North is that we have seen great advances with vaccines in terms of eradicating the threat of smallpox and polio. I agree and we should be thankful we have those vaccines. At the same time, if we had any proof that there were similar lifesaving effects of the HPV vaccine, which was the subject of my article, I would be very pleased to see those vaccines used. The problem is that worldwide experience is pointing in the other direction and sometimes medical preventative treatments can harm. If the vaccine turned out to save lives of women dying of cervical cancer, yet injured many thousands of girls along the way, we would hardly say this is a huge medical advance. Life is priceless, but a vaccine that may protect your boys from genital warts seems a stretch to me. Victoria’s iconic, world-class blunder The comparison of France’s Milau Viaduct, which came in on time and on budget, to the disastrous Johnson Street Bridge fiasco was very interesting. Closer to home, the Tsable River Bridge, 15 kilometres south of Courtenay on the Inland Island Highway, is another excellent example of a well-designed bridge, engineered to fit a unique river crossing, that was completed in 27 months and within a budget of $15.3 million. The 400-metre-long, 4-lane bridge reaches a height of 60 metres above the valley floor. Construction of the bridge took place between 1996 and 1998. Several construction options were considered to meet Provincial specifications, which included protection of the Tsable River salmon spawning runs, a forest floor with trees up to 60 metres high, and seismic strengthening requirements. A cast-in-place design was chosen over a heavier steel structure. Besides coming in on-time and on-budget, this bridge won an Association of Canadian Consulting Engineering Award of Excellence in 1999. Properly managed, large bridge projects can be completed on time and on budget, as was the case with the Tsable River Bridge. Colin Nielsen In the Spring issue of This England magazine there is a small article about operating the Tower Bridge in England. Some statistics mentioned were that it was built 120 years ago and sees 40,000 people go over it every day: motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. The bridge is lifted, on average, 15 times a week and the lifting mechanism is much more complex than Victoria’s Blue Bridge. Everyone can visit The Tower Bridge Exhibition and it has its own website. It is a true icon of England. Will we say the same thing about our new bridge? William Jesse The power of words I admire Focus very much, and I always feel relieved when I read the articles you publish, because I feel strongly that they represent me! I just want to draw your attention to something that seems small, but that has come to bother me more and more. The subtitle in your article “The refugee crisis” reads, “America is slamming its door...” The United States is not America. It is in North America, a continent that includes Mexico, United States and Canada. As a Chilean-born person, I have been tolerating the appropriation of the name of our huge continent, America, by one of its countries, the United States, for a long time! Specially now, with Donald Trump at the helm, with his racism and arrogance, it feels even worse. America (including North America, Central America and South America) is a wonderful, exciting , diverse continent that includes many languages, ethnicities and cultures. We, as a continent, are great because of our diversity, and hopefully we will succeed in living, collaborating and understanding each other peacefully. Again, my congratulations for the wonderful work you do. We are so lucky to have you in Victoria! Lina de Guevara Tales of two booksellers Ross Crockford calls a couple of bookstores in Victoria “monuments to the written word” and Timothy Vernon reportedly said about one of them that it was a “temple to the life of the mind.” Crockford’s comment is a monument to the written exaggeration and Vernon’s speech is a temple to the life of his own hyperbole. I have nothing against Munro’s Books and Bolen Books, but I am all for Russell Books. This is because the best books are used books; all used well, but not all used up. Anyone who goes to Amazon but not Munro’s and Bolen will not hug a tree. Yet anyone who goes to Munro’s and Bolen but not Russell cannot let it be. Benjamin Livant The sewage treatment issue The president of the James Bay Community Association recently circulated a document stating that our new sewage plant’s standards to reduce odour will not be consistent with best practice. The document states the “no odour promise is no longer believed as the Esquimalt agreement shifted from a best practices approach to outdated odour maximum targets, with the plant to be constructed to a standard of 5 Odour Units; 5 on a 10 maximum scale. Other jurisdictions are constructing plants to a 3 Odour Unit standard in non-residential areas and 1 Odour Unit when residences are nearby. If the plant emits an odour of 5 OU during a period of dominant westerly winds, there is a serious risk of a very unpleasant odour spreading across the harbour.” If this information is correct, the CRD must act immediately to correct the problem. Otherwise we will live with the results of bad planning for generations to come. John Amon According to a little-known June 2010 CRD impact study, the massive trench required to adequately bury the 4-foot wastewater pipeline from Clover to Ogden Points will follow the Dallas Road right-of-way, which dissects Beacon Hill Park. This was confirmed in a September 27, 2012 CRD procurement document. However carefully the work is done, it will have an enormous impact on the park, whose lands were first set aside by James Douglas in 1858. Founded by the City of Victoria in 1882, the park has been subject to 25 applications for major projects since 1882: All have been denied. Where in the Dallas Road right-of-way (rights-of-way are usually 66 feet wide) is there room for the pipeline? The pipeline, according to award-winning wastewater engineer John Motherwell, would need to be buried 12 feet deep to avoid existing underground services and achieve a one-foot underlying protective bed. However, WorkSafeBC requires that unless shored, a trench of this depth must be at least 40 feet wide to protect workers from collapse. There must also be room to deposit the huge mounds of excavated soil and the heavy equipment. Heavy equipment placed in the park will destroy the fragile vegetation. Then, along the inner side of the Dallas Road waterfront, homes are virtually on the curb, with no boulevard, most of the way from Clover Point to Ogden Point. Third, excavating the trench along the ocean side of Dallas Road would require the removal of many ancient trees and the distinctive seaward-slopes scrub close to the curb. This permanent transformation of Victoria’s scenic marine drive would be unacceptable if not intolerable to many residents. Fourth, tearing up the 36-foot-wide pavement of Dallas Road to accommodate the 40-foot trench for the 3.3 kilometres to Ogden Point would cost an estimated 35 percent more. (Installed asphalt now costs approx. $300 per square metre.) Now to the archaeology. These lands were for centuries the home of the Lekwungen (Songhees) people, who lived in a defensive village on Finlayson Point directly below Beacon Hill. Their burial cairns marked the hillside and the park preserves this sacred Songhees area in perpetuity. Museum Curator of Archaeology Dr Grant Keddie reports there was a second defense location at Holland Point near the southwest corner of the park, and a third on the bluff at the northwest corner of Clover Point. Carbon-dating of the midden at Finlayson Point shows that the site was first occupied about 1000 years ago. Accordingly, Victoria’s 165-acre jewel gained heritage status in 2009 and “is considered one of the most significant Canadian public parks of the nineteenth century, comparable to Mount Royal Park in Montreal.” According to Senior Heritage Planner Steve Barber: “The heritage designation will provide an appropriate level of protection and recognition and provide a mechanism for heritage values to be considered in future changes to the park.” (Planning Report, October 8, 2009). Seemingly oblivious to this, and lacking transparency, the land-based sewage planners have called for at least four registered archaeological sites to be intersected by the pipeline between Clover and Ogden Points; indeed the whole proposed route through the park is believed to have archaeological potential. Then there is the flora and fauna. The park preserves much native flora: Friends of Beacon Hill Park list 51 wildflowers, noting that these are vulnerable to soil compaction. In the giant field where the totem stands, over a million blue camas bloom each May; present also are shooting stars, wild bleeding heart, and the rare yellow prairie violets. The park is home to 72 bird species (Christmas bird count 2010), and to raccoons, squirrels, river otters, and deer. The proposed noisy ongoing construction cannot fail to stress the park’s flora and fauna, perhaps driving species away, as indeed three eagles drove dozens of herons away from their nests in 2007. According to a CHEK-TV poll last week, over 80 percent of local residents believe that “brakes should be applied” to this project. CFAX polls have consistently shown that two-thirds of people are opposed, raising questions as to why there has been no referendum for the largest mega-project ever conceived for the capital region. The CRD plan is not the solution to a low-risk ocean problem. It is time to insist that the provincial and federal governments take a close look at the science and do comparative cost-benefit analyses and environmental impact studies on the existing vs the proposed sewage treatment project. Before one back hoe hits the ground. Before the CRD makes costly and irreparable mistakes. Elizabeth Woodworth, Board Member, ARESST
  14. Corporate donations and lobbying make meaningful climate action—and democracy—impossible. THIS MONTH OUR MAGAZINE features art on the cover (above) by Luke Ramsey. It seems to reflect perfectly the sort of magical thinking that abounds these days. Just as the dinosaurs did not dodge the asteroid, humans will not dodge catastrophic climate change unless we quickly wean ourselves off fossil fuels. Donald Trump’s dinosaurish insistence on bringing back coal, and, closer to home, the Trudeau government’s magical belief that it can be a climate champion while developing and exporting as much bitumen as possible, illustrate the magical-thinking theme well. Another deep vein of magical thinking here in BC is the idea that political parties can accept vast sums of money from industry without being influenced by it. Or, in reverse, that corporations and unions can donate millions with no expectation of access or payback. While it applies to many different industries, donations from the coal, oil and gas industries seem especially worrisome. The climate has already changed in dangerous ways; if we are to have any success at maintaining a liveable planet, we must leave most known fossil fuel reserves in the ground (68-85 percent, according to Oil Change International, to avoid going beyond a 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase). But BC’s industry-friendly policies won’t get us there. At the very least, the next government must remove the extraordinary ways we’ve allowed the fossil fuel industries (and others) to have influence over public policy. BC has no limits on how much donors can give to political parties. And it’s all tax deductible. The real estate, pharmaceutical, tourism and fossil fuel industries have fuelled the Liberals for decades, and unions have donated generously to the NDP. Besides the lack of limits on amounts, unlike most other provinces and the federal government, BC has not banned corporate and union donations. Worse, political parties in BC are allowed to accept unlimited generosity from outside the province and country. It’s truly scandalous. And it’s earned BC a lot of negative attention. A recent story in the New York Times was titled “British Columbia: The ‘Wild West’ of Canadian Political Cash.” A Globe and Mail investigation showed that lobbyists were breaking one of the few lax rules that do exist—often being illegally reimbursed by corporations for donations made under their own names (some felt they’d be blacklisted if they didn’t give regularly). That led to an RCMP investigation, and to the BC Liberals returning $174,000. This spring, Postmedia investigated the connection between Liberal Party donors and government-awarded contracts, and found that “Among the top 50 donors to the BC Liberals—who have collectively given more than $30 million in the past decade—more than half have received supplier payments or transfers from the BC government.” The Dogwood initiative also did impressive analysis on the relationship between top donors and road-work contractors. Laughably, or perhaps magically, both Liberal politicians and corporate donors dismissed as “ridiculous” the idea that donations could influence contracting. Integrity BC has reported on donations from Chinese and Malaysian state-owned companies, international cruise lines, and other generous foreign corporations—and, for the NDP, foreign-based unions. The Wilderness Committee recently noted that “donations to the BC Liberals from fracking, gas pipeline and LNG companies have totalled $1,007,456 since the last election.” The Committee’s Peter McCartney stated, “This industry receives billions of dollars in Provincial tax breaks and subsidies from the very government they’re paying to elect.” Local concerns lose out as a result. “We see time and time again this government side with frackers and LNG companies over the people they represent. All this money in our politics sooner or later costs local communities and the global climate.” Democracy Watch and the PIPE UP Network have gone to court (the case will start to be heard a few days before the election), claiming that $560,000 in political donations from project proponent Kinder Morgan and other companies connected to the pipeline sector tainted the Province’s environmental assessment so it should be overturned. Their lawyer, Jason Gratl, told the Globe the facts are not in dispute so “The legal test is whether a competent, informed observer would consider the amount sufficient to taint the decision making so as to lend the decision making a conscious or unconscious bias.” Well here’s a hint about what that “competent, informed observer” might think: A March 2017 Angus Reid poll found that 76 percent of British Columbians felt that the Liberal government “is only interested in helping its political donors and big business.” The Liberals, however, seem blinded by the money they rake in. They’ve had lots of opportunity to change things in the last 16 years, but all they are willing to promise if elected is to establish an independent panel to “recommend” possible revisions to the rules. Fortunately the two other main parties are ready to overhaul the rules quickly, banning corporate, union, and foreign donations and setting a limit on individual ones (e.g. the federal limit is $1550/year). The Green Party voluntarily refused to accept corporate and union donations starting in September 2016. As I write at the end of April, I don’t know who will form the next BC government. But the chorus for change on the donation front—and the evidence for its need—is loud and consistent. So there is room for cautious optimism that the rules around donations will change. Unfortunately, a lot of damage has already been done. And, as a new report notes, lobbying rules are also working to corrupt governance on the climate action front, so they too must change. “MAPPING CORPORATE INFLUENCE,” released in March by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and the Corporate Mapping Project, zeros in on spending-for-influence practices of the fossil fuel industries. It found “a remarkable and disturbingly close relationship between industry and the provincial government—one that not only contradicts the Province’s stated aim to fight climate change but also undermines democracy and the public interest.” On the donations front, its team of researchers combed through the Elections BC database, taking a line-by-line approach, explained Nicolas Graham, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Victoria. This was very time-consuming but necessary because, as Graham told me, “a lot of companies give under different names, so you can easily miss companies.” UVic Professor Bill Carroll and doctoral student Nicolas Graham comment on Mapping Corporate Influence The researchers found that, since 2008, the fossil fuel sector donated $5.2 million to political parties in BC—92 percent of which went to the BC Liberals. “The top 10 fossil fuel industry donors account for more than three-quarters (78 percent) of total donations, with the two top firms—Teck Resources and Encana—contributing nearly half.” A “distinct geography of giving” was noted, with the majority of the top 10 firms headquartered in Calgary. Only two of the companies are headquartered in BC. Their generous donations to BC parties allow fossil fuel firms to be heard by key political decision-makers. As Graham told me, “If you have a political party that feels heavily indebted to political donors, it’s certainly going to help [donors] gain access or at least develop this familiar relationship.” Like so many others who have looked at the facts, Graham and his co-authors recommend simple, straightforward fixes: banning corporate and union donations to political parties outright; and limiting individual donations to people whose primary residence is in BC—“and these should be capped at a modest level that prevents those with deep pockets from skewing the democratic process in their favour.” What’s not so simple to fix, and constituted the second half of their report, is the undue influence fossil fuel corporations have on public policy through lobbying. Donations and lobbying work hand-in-hand, said Graham, and “paint a troubling picture, a kind of troublingly close relationship between the sector and the government and raise concerns about the ability of the government to regulate the industry in the public interest.” Lobbying activity was more difficult to research than donations because, said Graham, “there are major transparency issues” to contend with. Still, going on the basis of what information was available, the team came up with 22,000 lobbying contacts between fossil-fuel companies and government officials between 2010 (when the lobbyists registry was set up) and 2016. By comparison, environmental organizations had only 1324 contacts over the same period. Almost all of the corporate contacts (19,517) were made by 10 firms—many of them the same as the top donors. Graham found the sheer volume shocking, especially when he realized that it worked out to 14 lobbying contacts per business day from that sector alone. Ministries lobbied by the fossil fuel corporations and associations include Energy and Mines, Natural Gas Development; Environment; Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation; Finance; Forests, Lands and Natural Resources; as well as the Oil and Gas Commission. Rich Coleman is the most targeted cabinet minister, but as the report notes, “Twenty-eight percent of lobbying by the top 10 most active lobbyists is with cabinet ministers—an unrivalled level of access.” And then there are all the bureaucrats (48 percent) and MLAs (24 percent)—both NDP and Liberal—who are also lobbied. NDP leader John Horgan is one of the top three lobbied MLAs. Remember, this is just from the fossil fuel industries. The real estate industry is even more active. Which means BC’s public servants are spending a lot of their precious taxpayer-funded time listening to skilled pitches from corporate lobbyists. As the report states: “Considering that a handful of organizations and state officials are the target of most lobbying by the fossil fuel industries, the network amounts to a small world, dominated by the few large corporations that control much of this economic sector. While it is not possible to determine the extent to which a given lobbying effort directly influences a specific policy outcome, what shines through is the extent to which well-funded and well-organized corporations (and their industry associations) exert continual pressure on, or work in tandem with, key decision-makers to develop policies that align with their interests.” Co-author Bill Carroll, a UVic Sociology professor and co-director of the Corporate Mapping Project, drew my attention to the fact that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP)—with 29 registered lobbyists in BC—is the most active lobbyist, bar none, at both the provincial and federal levels. This helps explains a number of things. Like why the provincial government ended up endorsing a weak climate plan despite their Climate Leadership Team’s recommendations for a more aggressive lowering of emissions. CAPP alone, in an 11-month period, made 200 lobbying contacts with government in relation to development of its Climate Leadership Plan—a plan condemned by environmentalists for doing little to reduce global warming. It’s also now clearer for me why pipelines have been approved despite so much opposition and their role in fostering climate change. One of the Liberals’ most generous donors and most active lobbyists is pipeline promoter Encana. The lobbying efforts—combined with hefty donations—also explain how LNG became so central in the 2013 election and why in spite of everything, the Liberals continue to beat that drum. If proposed LNG processing and export facilities come to fruition, they would represent a major new source of emissions. Christy Clark said it was about jobs, but maybe that’s because so many gas promoters had her ear long enough and often enough to help her figure out the way to sell it. They also had the ear of the Oil and Gas Commission, which was heavily lobbied, including by its former CEO Alex Ferguson. The corporate largesse and lobbying pay off in policies favourable to the extractive industry. Issues such as royalty rates from hydrocarbon extraction, land access, corporate taxation, consultation processes with First Nations, greenhouse gas emissions, and LNG development, are among the areas lobbyists weigh in on. “The influence can most clearly be seen in the government’s strong advocacy for the development of an LNG export industry,” writes the Corporate Mapping team. Cited as examples are credits provided to industry for deep drilling and road infrastructure assistance. It notes too that natural gas royalties have plummeted in BC since 2008/09 despite substantial increases in production levels, and that in 2014 the Liberal government cut its proposed LNG income tax in half (from 7 to 3.5 per cent). “This made its already highly unlikely claim of a $100 billion ‘Prosperity Fund’ arising from LNG over 30 years (Office of the Premier, 2013) even more far-fetched. In addition to a reduced LNG income tax, companies can deduct the full capital costs of their LNG plant investment before they pay the full tax (locked in at 3.5 percent).” IT’S HARD TO SHOCK PROFESSOR CARROLL. He’s done scads of research over the years on corporations and their influence. He knows corporate power is highly concentrated. Still, he admitted, “It was interesting to see the extent of overlap between the top lobbyists and the top corporate donors. Seven out of ten are the same company, and these companies account for three quarters of all the lobbying and all the corporate donations coming from this key sector. So it’s an extreme concentration of corporate influences. And, obviously, that’s very worrying from a democratic perspective because the logic of this runs against the grain of one person, one vote.” When I asked about the Liberals’ promise to set up an independent panel to review the situation, Graham characterized it as “dancing around the issue” and “ a bit of delay tactic.” The only argument proffered by the Liberals in defense of the current donation free-for-all is that without corporate and union donations, taxpayers would have to fund election campaigns. Carroll dismissed this as perplexing if not hypocritical, especially in the face of glitzy pre-election-period government ads—paid for by tax payers. The government spent $15 million, in fact, of taxpayers’ funds blanketing TV airwaves and social media bragging about their 2017 budget; the auditor general expressed her concerns, though had no power to stop it. In terms of what to do about lobbying, Mapping Corporate Influence advocates an overhaul of the Lobbyists Registration Act, “which creates major loopholes that impede true transparency.” At minimum, it recommends lobbyists be required to report who they have lobbied—rather than to list who they expect to lobby—including the specific date of communications and a more detailed description of the type of contact that occurred, and its subject matter. “Lobbyists should also be required to disclose meetings initiated by public officials. And disclosure of the costs of lobbying—fees paid to professional lobbyists and firms by clients—should be reported.” It’s not rocket science; and many others have recommended similar interventions. Who knows—maybe we’ll have a new party in power come May 9. Both the NDP and Green Party have promised to change the rules around donations at least. That would give developing a good climate change strategy a fighting chance, despite the baggage left behind by all the cozy corporate-cash-for-access-and-influence of past decades. In the words of the Mapping Corporate Influence authors, “At this climate crossroads any realistic strategy for tackling climate change must involve a gradual wind-down, rather than expansion, of fossil fuel industries, leaving the majority of oil, gas and coal reserves in the ground and fully transitioning to renewable energy sources.” In an atmosphere befogged by carbon and money from the fossil fuel industries, that’s just not possible. The Corporate Mapping Project hopes to encourage dialogue on this subject. On May 10, it will present David Lavalleé’s award-winning documentary To the Ends of the Earth. 7pm and 8:45pm at Cinecenta at UVic. www.cinecenta.com. Leslie Campbell is the founding editor of Focus. See www.corporatemapping.ca for more information on this topic. For another instance of provincial magical thinking, see Briony Penn’s article in this edition.
  15. Open Forum

    Submission from Thor Henrich regarding the proposed sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point An open letter to Janet Bird, The Project Board Chair, March 31, 2017 Dear Janet, Thank you very much for your reply (March 15, 2017) to the concerns I raised (letter of February 20), about the proposed CRD STP (sewage treatment project). However, as the concerns I raised were not fully addressed I am very concerned that we are entering a Trumpian World where alternative facts and magical thinking predominate. I will try to make my points of concern as clear as possible. I again thank you for your indulgence and attention. By signing contracts to begin building the pipelines and sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point, CRD directors will have begun a process which will not solve, but exacerbate many of the major issues regarding sewage in the CRD, and will force commitment to a flawed treatment process. Briefly stated, these unaddressed issues are: 1. Questionable premises for taking action: The federal regulations on sewage treatment, are subjective, assuming a one-size-fits-all, land (not ocean) based system, with artificial deadlines, and inadequate in today’s world. There are cogent reasons for delaying the present treatment system until the year 2030. That these concerns were not even raised during the recent visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was an opportunity missed, and which could have saved the CRD and the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and needless wasted energy, resources, and time. In addition there were the bully tactics and threats of a tourism boycott from persons in Seattle (see *endnote below), and the ‘Mr. Floatie' Campaign. Phobias regarding germs, chemicals, odours, and faeces, and Nimby-ism also contribute to public apprehensions. The CRD Board members themselves were cajoled and coerced by threats of fines and/or jail time to vote for only one option for the sewage treatment project (STP). In the rush to judgment good science has been ignored . 2. Inadequate knowledge, sampling, and treatment of chemical toxins and pathogens. Proxy measurements such as BOD (biological oxygen demand), TSS (total suspended solids), ADWF (average dry water flow: nb. we here in the CRD do have substantial rainfall events) and DV (discharge volumes) give some understanding of the dynamics, but not the physical contents (ie. chemical and biological inputs or outputs) of the system. The truth is that we have only some understanding of the dangers of pathogens and heavy metals, and even less about which off the tens of thousands organic chemicals are presumed to be present in our sewage, but without good data of their concentrations or volumes. These enter as raw sewage and exit as effluent (treated sewage wastewater) back to the ocean and as slushy ‘biosolids’ at the Hartland Road Landfill. Pathogens such as fecal coliforms (Escherischia coli), Enterococci, Salmonella, viruses, etc. are presently showing resistance to antibiotics, as seen in hospital settings and retirement homes. Some heavy metals such as; lead, mercury, zinc, copper, arsenic, and chromium will be treated, but they will not magically vanish (Law of Conservation of Matter). There are thousands of organic chemicals such as: PCBs, PAHs, flame retardants, phthalates, phenols, pharmaceuticals, hormones, plastics, etc., many of which are known to disrupt and/or alter immunological responses, also endocrine, neurologic, motor, and other physiological pathways, and are already known to be toxic in very low concentrations. They are termed Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Given that the majority of the tens of thousands of potential pollutants in Victoria’s raw sewage have not been identified, the citizens within the CRD are being put at risk. How can sewage sludge be properly treated if we have no idea of the identification or nature of the chemicals under treatment? The lax provincial government standards for treatment of noxious chemicals offer little protection against unscrupulous persons (eg. a government which knowingly permitted the dumping of highly toxic wastes into a rock quarry in the Shawningan Lake watershed; the Rule being ‘Catch me if you can’). We cannot afford this kind of complacency when designing a multimillion dollar sewage treatment plan for 350 thousand people. 3. Major Human and Ecosystem Health Issues. Recent studies relating to the toxicity, persistence, bioaccumulation and biomagnification of organic chemicals in sewage, with their deleterious effects on humans: weakened immune systems, increased carcinogenicity, disruption of neurological, digestive, respiratory, metabolic, and other physiological pathways, have not been adequately addressed. The emerging issue of ESOCs (Chemicals Of Emerging concern), and specifically how they are to be treated have been noted, but not addressed. For example, plastics are beginning to be recognized for their their toxicity (health issues), persistence (essentially forever) and bioaccumulation (increase over time though biomagnification). Microbeads, microfibers, nurdles, plastic bags and wrappings, as well as larger slowly eroding plastic materials, are known to alter marine ecosystems, food webs, and the overall health of marine life. Birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals are starving to death from their plastic-occluded intestinal tracts, and filter-feeding invertebrates such as clams, oysters, etc) are absorbing plastics and other chemicals into their tissues, and end up as food on our tables, or eaten by top predators such as killer whales, eagles, and bears.The Great Northern Garbage Patch in the North Pacific is composed of a predominance of plastic junk. ESOCs should be considered a priority in the sewage treatment plan, with plans for remediation. 4. ‘Class A Biosolids’ problematic. The term ‘biosolid’ is an industry, not scientifically based one (need for scientific definitions of ‘bio’ and ‘solid’). The CRD sewage treatment process is supposed to dewater, concentrate, and magically transform the original dilute sewage sludge into a ‘biosolid’. CRD directors have been mandated to find a beneficial use for biosolids, while ignoring their more serious, deleterious side effects. Broadcasting biosolids 24/7 onto forest or agricultural landscapes is not a solution. Many studies by the EPA and elsewhere show that chemical residues from biosolids leach into the soil, changing the microbiota, which, as is the case in marine ecosystems, uptake and bioaccumulate throughout food webs, from mycorrhyzal fungi in the soil, which connect to and sustain plant root systems–into grasses, crops, orchards, and forests, which move up the food chain to feed the grazers, such as deer, rabbits, wild birds, cattle, horses, and humans. The statement that ‘There are no data to suggest that biosolids contain toxic substances’ should be translated as ‘There are no data’ (either pro or con). After de-watering at Hartland, any toxic chemicals in the effluent wastewater will be piped back into the ocean from Hartland. As the identity, concentration, and volumes of the chemicals in the returning effluent are not known, accurate risk assessment is impossible. Neither can sewage sludge application onto landscapes as biosolids be considered in any way safe in the absence of the scientific facts. Recycling them back into the environment, whether marine or terrestrial, is no solution and obviates the reasons for having a complex sewage treatment in the first place. 5. Global Warming and Climate Change ignored. A multimillion dollar sewage treatment plant will require high inputs of energy, not only for construction, but for decades of maintenance, repair, and upgrading far into the future. The production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane from organic sludge is a major issue, from a global warming perspective. Sea levels are already rising, along with GHGs such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and other gases. Our oceans which produce roughly half of the all the oxygen we breathe comes from photosynthesis by tiny planktonic algae, are getting warmer and more acidic, threatening offshore fish nurseries, coral reefs, and calcium-based skeletons of invertebrates and marine fish. Already ‘dead zones’ depleted of oxygen and life have been found in locations close to metropolitan areas. Modern BOD studies have been amended to cBODs (biochemical oxygen demand) to include not only oxygen, but other related chemical measures of biological parameters. Why are the major issues relating to global warming and climate change being ignored by the CRD in the sewage treatment process? 6. Location, Location, and the ‘Ick' Factor. Given that the new treatment plant at McLoughlin Point, near sea level, will become a permanent, visible landmark on the western side of the entrance to Victoria harbour, and opposite Ogden Point, where visiting cruise ships discharge thousands of visitors weekly during Victoria’s tourist season, there is problem with the ‘ick’ factors: noxious odours, machine noises, and questionable aesthetics, as 108 Megalitres ADWF of raw sewage: water, faeces, urine, pathogens, grit, plastics, toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and organic chemicals etc. pour in daily, for primary, secondary, and tertiary treatment. People in neighbourhoods close by (James Bay and Esquimalt) are rightly concerned that their voices have not been heard. Additionally, many neighbourhoods within the CRD have old and deteriorating sewer and storm drains and pipes. During stormy events, stormwater with its pollutants mix with sewage waters.This increased load will be added to the treatment plant at McLoughlin Point. Why was the highly visible McLoughlin Site given chosen? nb. The issues around Hartland Road regarding its location, feasibility, functions, and costs have not been addressed here, as this site also has a significant number of unresolved issues. 7. Geohazards a Present and Growing Future Problem. Given that the three locations at Clover Point, McLoughlin Point, and Macauly Point are close to sea level and the Leech River Fault, the probability for excessive damage from large earthquakes, a Megathrust Event (of increasing probability), or a damaging Tsunami, high tides, and stormy waters are greatly increased. Also issues relating to Sea Level Rise as glaciers and ice sheets melt at an accelerating rates worldwide, means that risk factors in the future will get worse, not better. From the plethora of other sewage sites suggested, what was the scientific rationale for selecting the sewage treatment plant at McLaughlin Point, given its increased geohazards? 8. CRD Directors Responsibilities Thwarted. Despite their best efforts to obtain accurate information, find answers to substantial problems, CRD directors have been stymied, cajoled, and threatened, to think only inside the box (ie. the single sewage treatment and location option). The work of credible marine scientists, action groups, and others have been ignored, in a process biased towards a preconceived result. In a functioning democracy, ideology should not suppress factual scientific information. I would expect that the protection of human and environmental health should be uppermost in the minds of the CRD Directors. It is especially egregious that the CRD directors have been mandated to find a ‘beneficial’ use for ‘Class A Biosolids’. Biosolids may containt nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, possible nutrients for plants in the short term, but this ignores all the other potentially deleterious chemicals with those problematic properties of persistence, toxicity, and bioaccumulation. It would be unwise to broadcast these biosolids over the landscapes, or sell as ‘safe’ or ‘organic’ compost, and Type to enter promote farmed products such as vegetables, fruit, and root crops as ‘organic’,when they were grown in contaminated soil from biosolids. Why has this been allowed to happen? 9. The Big Financial Burden, Justice, and Accountability. At present, approximately 74 million dollars have been wasted on discussions, planning, and spinning wheels, with no tangible results. Now another $765,000,000 will be spent on a the sewage plant at McLoughlin Point for primary, secondary, an tertiary treatment, and pipelines, and an unknown ‘XXX’ millions more for the facilities at Hartland Road. The annual costs of $14.5 million will continue to be paid by taxpayers long into the foreseeable future. Unforeseen expenditures will undoubtedly accrue, as normally happens with megaprojects of this kind. Especially odious is a lavish $20 million given to Esquimalt to financially persuade them to vote favourably to allow the treatment plant in their backyards, and the obscene $20 thousand per month paid to the Project Board members, with no accountability or rationale given. Many homeowners in the CRD, who are already ‘property rich’ but ‘income poor’ will be faced with having to sell their homes, as they have to pay for the rising costs of the sewage treatment facilities, without their approval by referendum. Wherein lies the justice, trust, and proper accountability with the people’s money? 10. The Precautionary Principle, to do no harm, to humans or the environment, should prevail. The idea of connectivity, that we are all linked together means that proper sewage treatment is a health and environmental problem shared by us all. As a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement, Canada is already well behind its stated target reductions of GHGs, so why are we resorting to an old-fashinoned, costly, energy-wasting, greenhouse gas-producing, sewage treatment process? We have the know-how, energy, means, and will to do much better. *Puget Sound compared to Victoria: Given that Puget Sound, even with their many sewage treatment processing plants, produces manifold more industrial toxic chemicals, and in greater concentrations and volumes than Victoria, shifts culpability to them, not we of the CRD. The Laws of Gravity still obtain: Water flows downhill, from hilltops to watersheds to rivers to marine waters; and Simple Diffusion means that chemical pollutants move passively from areas of high concentration to low concentration, meaning that it is highly improbable that Victoria could ever pollute Puget Sound. The reverse is true: lying within the Strait of Juan De Fuca. Victoria receives the outgoing toxic sewage sludge from the waterways of Puget Sound. Unresolved issues will only fester and create bigger problems for future generations. There are better alternatives to the present CRD Sewage Treatment Plan, which would mean involving dedicated people who are willing to seek reality-based, truly scientific solutions to the sewage issue. “To Sin by Silence, when we should Protest, makes Cowards out of Men.” —Rachael Carson Thank you for your interest and attention, Thor Henrich
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