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Leslie Campbell

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  1. A lack of balance on a June housing forum provides food for thought as to where the community needs to look for answers. DID YOU KNOW THAT VICTORIA is the “hottest” ranking “luxury primary housing” market in the world? According to Christie’s International’s Luxury Defined 2018 report, we beat out Paris and Washington DC and every other city due to our strong year-on-year luxury sales volumes and high domestic demand during 2017. At first blush this might seem rather exciting, something to be proud of. But earning this distinction means a lot of local homes are being bought up by wealthy folks from outside BC; Christie’s mentions an upsurge in buyers from the US and China. The building boom, here and elsewhere in BC, is obviously fuelling the economy: real estate is now BC’s largest industry by GDP, and construction is #2. Together they are about one-quarter of the economy—larger than Alberta’s oil and gas sector. But such glories come with a price. Besides being in danger of the bubble deflating, neighbourhoods and citizens are feeling squeezed as lower-cost units are demolished and replaced with taller buildings offering condos that most in the neighbourhood could never afford. The building boom corresponds with (some argue, has caused) a rise in all housing prices, from rentals through condos, from one end of town to the other. Victoria is now one of the least affordable cities in Canada. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the provincial government, besides funding non-profit housing, has brought in measures to “cool” the hot luxury real estate market. These include taxes like the foreign buyers tax, a school tax on properties over $3 million, and the poorly-named “speculation tax.” Promontory, one of several luxury condos in the Mariashes' 20-acre Bayview Place development in Victoria West. How those in the development and real estate industry feel about these taxes, particularly the speculation tax, was on full display at a June 12 luncheon presented by Kenneth and Patricia Mariash, owners of Focus Equities and developers of Bayview Place. It was misleadingly entitled The 2018 Global Issues Dialogue: Exploring the BC Housing Crisis. Marketing materials listed Kathryn White, CEO of the UN Association of Canada, as a host, and promised to “identify practical and realistic solutions that address housing affordability.” As it turned out, it was mostly a venting of grievances against new taxes and regulations standing in the way of ever-greater development. Even former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was there for some reason, telling us, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Enough people complained to the UN Association of Canada about its involvement in the event that it issued a series of clarifying tweets, one stating, “UNA-Canada did not sponsor the Kenneth W. and Patricia Mariash Global Issues Dialogue. Rather, we were the charity of choice.” THERE WERE ABOUT 300 IN THE AUDIENCE, which included many mayors, councillors and other big-wigs from the region. During the three hours we heard over and over again from the eight male speakers that the speculation tax was wrong-headed. Mariash said buyers were now “running scared” because of the Province’s new tax. BC now stands for “bring cash.” He also criticized the City of Victoria for years-long permitting processes, which he says can add $250,000 to a housing unit’s price. His most surprising remarks centred around how he first heard about Victoria many years ago in LA, and was told “Victoria is on the no-invest list” due to Councillor Pam Madoff. This was all before Mayor Helps gave a short “greeting” from the City of Victoria, assuring the audience that approval times are now down to 6-8 months in 90 percent of cases. One of the forum’s panelists, Jon Stovell, CEO of Reliance Properties (developer of the Janion and Northern Junk properties) and chair of the Urban Development Institute, rattled off all the taxes now faced by his industry: the transfer tax, vacant property tax, speculation tax, school tax, GST, along with the mortgage stress test, which itself is taking many out of the market, he claimed. Even with all these, he noted, we still haven’t done anything to fix the supply. One of the main speakers did at least mention what was needed to do that. Mike Harcourt argued that the lack of affordable housing is not a crisis so much as a permanent condition given global realities, including population growth and climate change. While he admitted city halls need to speed up approvals, and that the speculation tax “needed a second look,” Harcourt argued the solution is mostly about building affordable housing, and that the NDP government was on the right track with its commitment to build 114,000 new housing units over the next decade. No one on the panel offered any ideas on how to accomplish this beyond letting developers continue unfettered with what they do best. During the short Q&A, there was at least one dissenting voice. Nicole Chaland commented, “Many of us locals have noticed the intense building boom has corresponded to the greatest housing unaffordability…Increased supply doesn’t seem to be the most reliable way to meet the challenge.” Panelist Michael Ferreira of Urban Analytics attempted a response by pointing out the “compounding of demand” with people wanting to live in cities, investors wanting to get into the market, and people like him who want to jump in and buy another house to ensure their adult children have a place to reside. “Supply is part of the solution,” he concluded. But supply of what—more million-dollar condos? The developers’ own construction workers must find it difficult to afford decent housing here, not to mention the service workers in restaurants and shops. Even younger people with well-paying jobs fear getting permanently shut out of home ownership. NICOLE CHALAND WOULD HAVE ADDED BALANCE TO THE PANEL. The former director of sustainability at Simon Fraser (2007-2017) is so immersed in community activism right now, she’s put aside plans to start a business until after the civic elections in October. She sits on the Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan Working Group and on the steering committee of Cook Street Village Residents Network. I contacted her after the event and she sent me an op-ed she and Sheldon Kitzul penned in response to the forum and sent to the Times Colonist. In it they wrote, “This was not a genuine exploration of what possible policy solutions are available to solve the housing crisis. Far from it. This was a temper tantrum; a fist-bumping anti-tax political rally featuring an all-male panel of developers and former politicians. “At no point did any speaker give us the impression that they had actually read and understood how the speculation tax works. At no point did anyone explain that one could simply avoid paying the tax by renting out their second home for six months, by selling their expensive home and buying one that is less than $400,000, or by making BC their primary residence and paying income tax like the rest of us.” (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the T-C didn’t publish Chaland and Kitzul’s op-ed. The T-C’s before and after coverage of the Mariashes’ forum, along with three pages of puff pieces on the Mariashes last November, and a recent op-ed by Mariash, not to mention the big golf tournament the paper and Bayview jointly sponsor, all testify to the cozy relationship Mariash enjoys with the city’s daily.) Chaland does not believe there will be any leadership from the private sector in addressing the lack of affordable housing. She wants the Province to “stay the course” with the new taxes. She is also advocating that the City of Victoria demand more from developers in the way of “Community Amenity Contributions” in return for rezoning and density approvals. A draft report she’s written states: “From 2016-2017, Victoria’s approach to CAC’s generated $3,086,000. Some analyses suggest that, given our current building boom, we’re missing out on tens of millions of dollars. This would pay for affordable housing, new parks in the Downtown core and childcare—all amenities which are desperately needed in Victoria.” Chaland told me the City’s Director of Planning Jonathan Tinney seems overly cautious in his insistence that all such CACs must be voluntary. This is not the case in other cities, noted Chaland. IN OUR CONVERSATION, Chaland referred to research by John Rose, an instructor in the department of geography and environment at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He would have been another great addition to Mariash’s panel of speakers. Rose’s research paper “The Housing Supply Myth” seems hard to refute. Rose reviewed the rate at which housing cost increased between 2001 and 2016, alongside how wages increased. He did this for 33 cities across Canada, using Statistics Canada data. He found that in most cities during those years, the rate at which housing costs increased was never more than double the rate of wage increases—a situation that would still degrade affordability. But Victoria’s housing increases were almost three times those of wages. In Vancouver they were six times more. More number-crunching around building volumes allowed Rose to conclude: “the expensive markets are providing not only enough units to satisfy growth in the number of households between 2001 and 2016, but to also provide (in absolute terms) surplus units to the market at rates comparable to (indeed, slightly higher than) less expensive markets.” He continued: “In all of the seven ‘severely unaffordable’ markets where housing affordability degraded most significantly between 2001 and 2016, the relative amount of surplus dwellings, as a percentage share of total dwellings, increased in number.” Or, as he put it in a Globe and Mail interview, “Here [in Vancouver] we’ve had more than enough supply and yet the housing costs have gone crazy.” The same is true of Victoria. Here, as Chaland told the luncheon audience, over the past 15 years, for every 100 new residents, 113 new units of housing have been added. Other researchers looking primarily at Vancouver’s luxury housing boom have argued that a good number of new buyers of luxury homes are foreign buyers, some of whom are merely “parking” or laundering money this way. It is this global trend that is leading the Province to implement taxes and a just-announced public registry of who owns real estate in BC. Said Finance Minister Carole James, “Right now in BC, real estate investors can hide behind numbered companies, offshore and domestic trusts, and corporations. Ending this type of hidden ownership in real estate will help us fight tax evasion, tax fraud and money laundering.” It could well be that such regulations and taxes will not lead towards more affordable housing. But as the research of Rose and others makes clear, neither will unfettered development. The market has proven that, at least given the current global scene, it cannot be relied on to provide what is most needed by BC citizens: affordable housing. THE CRD RECENTLY REPORTED that this region needs 6,200 affordable units. Since these are unlikely to come from the private sphere, Mariash would have served his audience better by including in his speaker lineup some of the knowledgeable people building non-profit housing: Kaye Melliship, for instance, the executive director of the Greater Victoria Housing Society, an organization that has quietly been building non-profit housing for low-wage workforce members, people with disabilities, and seniors for decades. In 2018 the organization earned the “Non-Profit of the Year” Award. Among its 16 properties is Pembroke Mews, an apartment building geared to low-to-moderate income workforce tenants. Built in 2012, it is on the fringe of Downtown and offers 25 apartments on 2 floors above commercial space. Rents are pre-set and tenants are selected with an income no higher than $33,000. Other agencies in the non-profit housing sector locally include Pacifica Housing with 36 buildings on the Island, Cool Aid, which runs 15 supportive housing buildings, and Greater Victoria Rental Development Society (which built the Azzuro on Blanshard and the Loreen on Gorge Road E.) It’s in finding land for organizations like these, easing their approvals through local governments, and donating funding, that affordable housing will primarily be realized. But private developers can get in on the action too. If Mariash had included David Chard or a speaker from BC Housing, we might have heard how private developers could build something like Chard Development’s Vivid on Yates Street. Chard partnered with BC Housing to make the 20-storey, 135-suite condominium project affordable for lower-income and mid-income buyers: they have to have a household income of less than $150,000 and commit to being the primary tenant of their home for a period of two years. Its below-market pricing—condos start at $289,800—was made possible through favourable lending terms backed by BC Housing. Only a dozen units remain unsold. Another source of knowledgeable panelists is the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA), an umbrella group that has produced an “Affordable Housing Plan” with a ten-year roadmap towards sufficient affordable housing across British Columbia. Its extensive research shows exactly what we need and how much it will cost. After dealing with the backlog of nearly 80,000 units in BC (2016), an additional 3,500 affordable units will be required annually on average. How much will that cost? An estimated $1.8 billion per year over the next ten years. It’s a lot, but according to the organization, the non-profit housing sector “can bring $461 million to the table annually through land contributions, leveraging equity from assets, private donations and financing. This requires the provincial and federal governments to each commit an average annual investment of $691 million over the next ten years.” It notes the governments’ portions are not dissimilar to what they already committed in both the 2016 and 2017. This sounds promising. But how is it working out as developers buy up more and more land for luxury housing and inflate land values? Are non-profits being priced out of the core area, thereby threatening the diversity that makes a city vibrant—and making it harder to solve long-term transportation and emissions challenges? Will Downtown be transformed into a resort town where more and more people are just passing through? BCNPHA’s Policy Director Marika Albert (formerly director of the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria) would have been perfect on the panel to address some of these questions. Finally, another obvious choice for any discussion of affordable housing in BC would have been either Carole James or Minister of Housing Selina Robinson. Either could have discussed the government’s 30-Point Plan for Housing Affordability, which includes building 114,000 units over the next decade, along with various measures to dampen speculative-type investment. The ministers could have enlightened us about the new Building BC Community Housing Fund to which municipalities, non-profit groups and housing co-operatives can apply for funding of their affordable housing projects. Ken Mariash is obviously a man of many talents. It takes a visionary with much business acumen to take on a project as large, costly and complex as the 20-acre Bayview site. But his dream project—and the projects of other luxury resort builders—are having the effect of driving up land costs. And they are taking up too much of the City of Victoria’s time and attention. Our civic leaders’ and workers’ efforts needs to be directed toward assembling land—at 100 units per acre, 70 acres would be enough—in parts of the City where denser, far more affordable housing can be created. The CRD accepts that 6200 affordable homes are needed. Let’s focus on that. Focus editor Leslie Campbell has lived through a number of real estate boom-times in Victoria. This one feels different.
  2. Leslie Campbell

    Letters to the editor

    Two sorts of truth Last month’s vote by City of Victoria council in favour of Abstract Developments’ 1201 Fort proposal at the former Truth Centre really solidified the neighbourhood’s sense of cynicism and despair about the development process and our representatives at City Hall. Abstract used the “community engagement” process as an exercise in public relations. They began with a proposed scheme of 6-storey and 4-storey condominiums and 8 to 10 townhouses. Then, for their official submission, they padded their proposal to 6-5-12. When, as anticipated, they were forced by council to make “compromises,” they conceded storeys and townhomes back down to their original 6-4-9 scheme. Even the concession on the townhome height was only the removal of a variance for extra height. By moving this proposal to a public hearing, council took the possibility of compromise off the table. As Councillor Madoff made clear, council was creating a win-lose situation where it didn’t need to. So rather than use its power to force a compromise between parties, City council created a crisis that it then resolved by being too worried about the terrible things the applicant might build. Despite hundreds of nearby neighbours asking for a compromise, Mayor Lisa Helps, joined by councillors Margaret Lucas, Marianne Alto, Charlayne Thornton-Joe, Jeremy Loveday, and Chris Coleman, sided with the developer’s windfall profits at the expense of the community. So if council is wondering about the source of Victoria citizens’ apathy, cynicism, and anger, it has an answer. These councillors helped to make the City like this. As neighbours and others stressed at several council meetings, under council’s current leadership, developers are cashing in by building expensive condominiums that most Victoria residents can’t afford. Abstract’s own presale video shows the development is for wealthier out-of-town folks who can afford these expensive condos and might move here. There’s a big mismatch between what Victoria citizens can afford according to their current income and what these expensive condos will sell or rent for. Councillors know this, but they keep approving these expensive condo developments anyway. 1201 merely adds to the problem. There is lots of evidence that just building more supply of these luxurious condos will not bring prices down. What many of us resent most about 1201 Fort’s approval is not the additional densification or the decision that ultimately went against us. We resent the way, intentionally or unintentionally, City Hall has stacked the deck in favour of rich developers and against local residents. We resent the way council has acquiesced to the City’s own Development Services unit in accepting their ludicrous explanation that no community amenity contributions or density bonuses were due for this application. Councillors seem to believe that the City will recoup costs through the municipal taxes paid by the new residents of the new units. But other cities do that too! However, on top of that, other BC municipalities ask for the developer to contribute to the true cost of the new amenities (bicycle lanes, parks, recreation centres) the new residents will expect. We watched with dismay as council struggled to find money for its many reasonable additional needs. Yet it sacrificed a source of income that would offset the true costs of this development, and others, in effect creating an upward redistribution of wealth. What nearby residents resented most of all is not that council made a decision against our wishes, but that council sold us out for so little: for the promise of only 10 slightly more affordable units somewhere else, in a deal that ties council to that later deal’s approval. Just weeks ago the Capital Regional District’s draft housing affordability strategy reported that we had a shortage of 6,200 units of affordable housing. Yet council traded the bonus density of this jewel piece of property for just…10 of them, maybe. In another city, the 1201 development might have entailed $2.5 million in community amenity contributions and a density bonus, and might have involved some public art for residents to enjoy. But our council sold us out for so little. A bench and a pathway. This experience taught us that rich developers can expect to manipulate neighbourhoods and council into building housing that current residents don’t need instead of building the housing we actually need. Council taught him and other developers that City Hall will not try to promote compromise densification, but will accept all kinds of rezoning for the purpose of personal enrichment—and that it can be backed into a corner through the development process led by Development Services, at which point council will feel forced to concede to the plan at the risk of the developer building a big ugly apartment block. And council has taught the rich-developer community that they can successfully stack the public hearing process with their developer pals, all scratching each other’s backs the next time round. Mayor Helps, and councillors Lucas, Alto, Thornton-Joe, Loveday, and Coleman have a lot to answer for. This process has made it clear that Victoria needs an external review of its community amenity contribution and density bonus policies. Council should pass a motion to have a couple of directors of planning from similarly sized BC municipalities come to Victoria in order to investigate the question of why our community amenity contributions and density bonuses are so atypical. Council is forgoing millions of dollars that might be used to build the amenities Victoria citizens expect and hold dear. Chris Douglas I thank you for the article “Two Sorts of Truth” by Ross Crockford. He said: “It’s debatable if 1201 Fort will be for ‘Everyone’: its one-bedroom units start around $400,000.” I would like to offer a correction. The website for 1201 Fort indicates that prices start at $600,000. A 1,298 square-foot 2-bedroom+den condo on the 4th floor in the 6-storey building is listed elswhere at $1,275,000. A two-bedroom+den penthouse is $3 million. These prices are before taxes, of course. Please add a monthly strata fee. Even for retirees who own an above-average house in Fairfield or Rockland, the selling price of the house will not translate well into downsizing into this particular development. The majority of our council approved a massive rezoning and numerous variances for 1201 Fort project’s sake. Who will benefit from this? Anna Cal Kinder Morgan link to Enron discomforting The latest issue of Focus was, in our opinion, the best. Everything from the fraudulent dealings with the (shall we say inferior) bridge; Horgan’s double-take on the LNG situation and Weaver’s waffle on that topic; the destruction being caused by Site C, another Horgan change of mind; the unhappiness in Oak Bay with the bid to build low-income housing on real estate which is the most expensive in the region; and, of course, the lies and falsehoods put out by our politicians about the Kinder Morgan pipeline, all of which makes us feel our province is going to hell in the proverbial hand basket. The fact that Richard Kinder was the past president of another infamous project—Enron—is discomforting. But what can we as ratepayers and voters do to combat all this mistrust and destruction? Many will fight, but sadly the majority of the population will assume that typical Canadian attitude in times like this—shrugging their shoulders and saying “Oh well, what can you do!” As long as we Canadians take this weak-kneed attitude, politicians will walk all over us. Ruth and Jason Williams Good candidates need to step up Ross Crockford has written a very accurate, appropriate and timely article. Well done and thank you. Chris Le Fevre If you’re not immersed in the minutiae of local political spats, you may be reflecting on the big picture—that which asks how a candidate serves the public interest? Where the common good lies in an economic and social environment dominated by private interests hungry for entitlements from the public purse? Who enjoys most benefit from an increasingly deregulated environment? Who bears the heaviest burdens? The loudest, most influential voices in municipal affairs are property owners (both commercial and residential). Although tenants may represent six out of ten households in Victoria, and pay taxes like homeowners, they can be ignored by decision-makers. Rental tenure remains insecure. The presence of tenants is now diminishing in a city that places greater value on high-end property owners and speculative investors. Ross Crockford suggests that “Victoria gets plenty of scrutiny in a town that eats and breathes politics.” If so, where’s the strong evidence of investigative reporting? Or even critical comment by the media in Victoria, other than Focus Magazine? That Victoria is home to the Provincial Legislature and City Hall is no guarantee any genuine public consultation exists. Or that openness, transparency, and accountability, which form the foundation of democracy, are upheld. Judging from the number of in camera meetings held, and stymied Freedom of Information requests, they are not upheld. What if we demanded that candidates or elected representatives reveal their monthly income and expenses? Their investments? Political donations? Potential conflicts of interest? Meetings with lobby groups or individuals? Those seeking public office might encourage public trust by disclosing such information. Crockford concludes as follows: “Victoria needs articulate people with common sense, experience handling employees and questioning consultants, practical ideas about how to improve the City, and the determination—and the time—to see them realized.” These important qualities are expected of an elected official. What is critical, however, is whom these elected officials intend to serve among the special interests and power brokers.Will such individuals disclose their personal beliefs and any biases that frame their choices? Have they ever disclosed publicly an error or misjudgment, and if so, what have they done to remedy the matter? Where are the candidates’ red lines? How easy it is—in our island paradise—to drift with the flow. What takes courage is challenging the City’s prevailing narrative, being open to criticism, and welcoming new ideas which may undermine our comfort levels. Individuals who can manage this kind of courage are rare. But they’re worth their weight in gold. We need elected candidates of this calibre if we are to build a healthy, inclusive and sustainable city. And, as informed and engaged citizens, we need to do our part to see that such candidates present themselves, earn our trust, and be held to account as valued members of Victoria City council. Victoria Adams Loggers harvesting ridiculously young trees Further to my letter to editor that ran in the past issue (“Why Bambi and Friends Moved to Town”), now I’ve learned that things have actually slipped farther down the tube here along the east coast of Vancouver Island. How? Well, after speaking with a few local residents here in the Comox Valley who are more up on what’s going down in the Oyster River Division, the local TimberWest private forest lands claim, word is that 40-year-old or possibly 30(!?)-year-old stands of timber have been harvested for some time now. Find this hard to believe? Then take a gander at the weigh station on the highway just north of Duncan. Perhaps if you are (un)fortunate enough you will catch a loaded logging truck just arrived from TimberWest’s Cowichan claim sitting on the scales stacked with what are no more than veritable sticks of trees on their trailers. You know, like the size of tree trunks in the cedar hedge you have planted along your property line. Rick James Electoral reform referendum The reaction from electoral reform opponents to last week’s report by Attorney General David Eby was as swift as it was predictable: “The deck is stacked!” and “it’s too complicated!” But is that really true? We find it normal that governments make many important decisions without holding a referendum, but now that we, the voters get to make the decision, the deck is somehow stacked? Really? The first referendum question will simply ask us whether we want to keep our current system, or move to a more proportional system. That is no more complicated than deciding which shoe goes on which foot. The second referendum question gives us the opportunity to express our preference between three voting systems. All three systems contain the principles which we find important: a local representative, more proportional election results, having (almost) all our votes count, a threshold of five percent to keep out fringe parties, no loss of regional representation, and little or no increase in the number of politicians or the cost of elections. BC had multi-member ridings in our history before 1990, when the last dual riding was abolished (without a referendum), so the Dual Member Proportional (DMP) system is not really new to BC. The Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system would give us one vote for a local candidate, much like what we have now, plus a second vote for a regional candidate. Is that so complicated? The Rural/Urban system proposes to use different voting systems in rural and urban areas because the Single Transferable Vote (STV) voting system works well when combining small urban ridings, but doesn’t translate to some of our already gigantic rural ridings, which instead would use the MMP system. Much information is coming our way, and we have five months before we vote in November to find a little time to look at these three systems, any of which could work just fine in BC. Then, should we decide for a new system, there will be another referendum after 2 elections in which we can decide to go back to our current system. This is about our democracy, about how we choose our governments. We are very lucky, because we, the voters get to make the decisions every step of the way. Considering the many benefits which introducing proportionality in our voting system could bring, a little effort to get informed is a small price to pay. Sjeng Derkx The business case for proportional representation Successful corporations prosper because they spend valuable time building “goal congruency” for both short and longer term corporate goals. This is achieved by working as a team with all levels of management and their employees in the annual budget and planning process. Corporations that are divided, adversarial and do not spend time discussing short and long term goals will be outmanoeuvred by their competitors. These benefits of goal congruency and objective setting can certainly apply to a country as well, especially if it has a proportionally elected minority government. A system where every vote counts makes voters feel more responsible. Coordination and cooperation are encouraged between parties to act in the interest of the people—goal congruency. Proportional representation ensures the most effective and economic use of labour, capital and energy in the long term. Countries that have adopted proportionally representative electoral systems, such as the Scandinavian countries, Germany and New Zealand, seem to have more success in developing progressive common goals. Sweden, a country of only 10 million, tops the Global Green Economy index and is among the top ten countries in World Competitiveness. Germany is phasing out nuclear power by 2021, with an emphasis on energy conservation and green technologies. New Zealand has successfully settled the majority of Maori treaty claims with both right- and left-leaning minority governments since 1996. Achieving common goals does not happen as naturally under “one party” government for they are essentially adversarial and there is very little opportunity to discuss common goals with other parties. For Canada we just have to think back to the composition of our recent federal parliaments, that have been dominated by the two traditional parties with 40 percent or less support of the voters while holding absolute power. Not only do these parliaments neglect to hear the voices of other parties but they continually lurch from each other’s polarizing economic and social policies with all the consequences of correction that entails. For instance, the present Trudeau government (39.5 percent support) spent their first year in office changing taxation and immigration legislation that a Harper government (39.6 percent) had enacted, just as Harper had removed Chretien’s earlier legislative initiatives. Probably the most important aspect of proportionally representative government is the more congenial style of party leadership, for any prospective premier must show some team-building skills and be able to work with other parties in the legislature. Government formation normally takes about a month and this a crucial time for all parties to review their positions on common goals in order to see what “goal congruency” exists between them. After having survived 150 years of “one party” government under the present system, surely we can take this unique opportunity to catch up with over 60 percent of the world. BC would be the first Canadian jurisdiction to try a Proportionally Representative electoral system in North America for electing our politicians. Colin Mackinnon Gene Miller: to laugh and/or cry? I want to thank you once more for producing such an important magazine for our times; it never fails to inspire me to continue social and political activism, no matter how dire the future appears. Speaking of which, Gene Miller outdid his brilliant dark self in the May/June issue; sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry (usually both) when I read his column. Because of the volunteer work I do at our local school, I was especially taken by Gene’s comments on how modern technology puts us at odds with our biology (and our better human instincts, surely) by supporting solitude and putting us all in states of anxiety, fear, depression and anger. Researchers like Dr Lucy Suchman at Lancaster University in the UK sounds similar alarms in her work, urging us to pay attention to what is happening to the parts of civil society that are being handed over to artificial intelligence. She gives examples like Google rebranding its research division as Google AI, and the fact that AI now controls important civic functions such as road safety, scholastic grading, health care and aspects of policing. All of this goes to support Gene’s final comment in his most recent column: think community. Yes, that is where our only hope of activism can make a difference—with people we know and with whom we can (as Mother Jones said) organize, and not just mourn. The warrior mentality does not work in groups where stories, music, art, and projects for the public good are a priority. With gratitude for all the work that goes into Focus. Susan Yates Alan Cassels’ articles appreciated Thanks to Focus Magazine for providing the public with well researched articles on pharmaceuticals. There are limited reliable sources for this type of information and good resources are invaluable to the public in forming decisions about drugs they may be prescribed. I’m not suggesting a person would refuse to take a drug as a result of an article in your magazine, but more likely be able to ask better questions of the medical profession and pharmacy staff before ingesting something. It’s good to know more about true efficacy rates, potential side effects etc. The articles provided by Alan Cassels are always helpful in raising awareness on drug testing, marketing, efficacy of drugs, and side effects, and where else are we going to get such well researched data? We can google until the cows come home, but would likely not be able to draw good conclusions from what we individually might glean from internet sources. Judy Spearing Editor’s note: Alas, in light of a new job with BC’s Therapeutic Initiative, Alan Cassels has penned his last Focus column for the forseeable future. We already miss him but congratulate him on his important new role. Tar sands operations = ecocide When governments cross a line and start destroying their own populations, we have words to label these actions: “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” These words tell the rest of the world that something is not right, and that action must be taken. As of 2013, 715 square kilometres of boreal forest had been destroyed by the extraction of bitumen from the tar sands in Alberta. As of October 2017, 242 square kilometres (The Guardian) stand in poisonous, sludge-filled tailing ponds. Less than one percent of this land has been certified as reclaimed. Alberta has destroyed much of it boreal forest (and plans to destroy more), poisoned its water, and accelerated climate change. Now, with the support of the federal government, it wants to extend its ecological destruction through the mountains and to the coast of BC, where the wreck of only one of a fleet of tankers would have disastrous consequences for the vital inland Salish Sea. While the logging and mining industries have modernized their practises to be more eco-friendly, the petroleum industry has not. Perhaps this bitumen should be left in the ground until a less destructive way of extracting it has been developed. (In the late 1950s, it was seriously being considered to use underground thermonuclear explosions to extract the oil. The proposed project was known as Project Cauldron. The Diefenbaker administration put a stop to it in support of an underground test ban that the USA and USSR were negotiating at the time, and aren’t we glad it did!) In the meantime, we need a word to describe the situation when a state supports methods of resource extraction that endanger the common good and exceed an acceptable degree of environmental degradation. Perhaps the word “ecocide” should be used to alert other countries that what is happening in Alberta is wrong, and that action must be taken. Arnold Porter Hit the pause button on Crystal Pool Hold on! Now we hear that the Crystal Pool rebuild in Central Park plan has morphed into “Let’s add in affordable housing.” The rebuild-instead-of-renovate choice by council was misguided to begin with. There was no consideration for the outdoor recreation facilities that the new pool would displace by moving from the northwest corner to the southwest corner of the park. No thought for the Steve Nash basketball court, the tennis court, the newly installed exercise equipment, the kids’ playground—all popular and necessary elements to the park. Instead, we were to get a parking lot with 140 spaces on the site of the current pool. When the optics in an election year of paving a park became obviously embarrassing, the tune changed to underground parking with affordable housing on top. Does council not see the increasing value of green space in an increasingly dense core? How is it that the City hasn’t done a full survey of its City-owned properties and offered up land for housing on suitable lots? How is it acceptable to, first of all, come up with a plan that ignores all but the pool structure and increased parking, leading to a bad decision to rebuild that jettisons the amenities already there? It looks to me like the agenda was hijacked by the regional swim clubs using the pool. Council went along with it, decided it didn’t need a referendum to spend the money [that may change given recent statements by the Province], and focused on the pool structure, ignoring those who use the green space and outdoor recreation facilities. Next thing you know we’re asked to consider building housing in the park, increasingly valuable in a city becoming more congested with development and traffic. Parks provide respite and space to breathe. We need parks to remain parks. It’s time to hit pause and do a complete rethink, starting with the extravagant decision to rebuild a grander structure offering something for everyone in the region—the price tag: over $69 million. Is this starting to sound like the Blue Bridge debacle? Never mind the Di Castri-designed current pool that would be consigned to the landfill. Never mind the need to protect every bit of green space we have. Allan Gallupe City aids Chinese bike companies at expense of locals As a long-term tenant of the City of Victoria at various locations and most recently at 685 Humboldt Street, and as President of Cycle BC Rentals, I recently wrote Mayor Helps and councillors to voice my concerns and objections in regards to the dockless bicycle program that has spread throughout Greater Victoria. I’m sure the mayor and council were full of good intentions when they headed to Asia, at local taxpayer expense, to attract foreign investment. However, they either didn’t do their homework or they didn’t care how their actions might affect local businesses when they rolled out the red carpet for U-bicycle, the Chinese company behind the green dockless bikes spreading throughout Greater Victoria. A quick check with cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Austin, Dallas, Beijing, Shanghai and on and on, would have shown that there are many problems associated with dockless bikes. We now have Greater Victoria councillors and mayors actively promoting the U-bicycle company within their municipalities, bylaws are being changed to accommodate U-bicycle, and to top it off, free rent is provided throughout Greater Victoria for their equipment. Who could wish for more!? I know we’re not the only bicycle business in Victoria that would have appreciated a visit from the mayor, a councillor or anyone else from City Hall. The cost to the Chinese company to buy and import the bicycles, using low-cost Chinese labour and Chinese steel, is less than what we pay the City of Victoria in annual rent, let alone what we contribute through local employment, taxes and community support. Within a two-year period we pay the City of Victoria in excess of $100,000 while a Chinese company, importing bicycles made and assembled in China at a cost of less than $100 / bicycle, can flood the City’s streets with over 1,000 bicycles for less investment. The City should understand the adverse effects their actions have not only on bicycle rental businesses like ourselves, but on many other bicycle-related businesses. Bicycle retailers will be adversely affected by the thousands of dockless bikes scattered throughout the city, and many bicycle tour companies will not be able to compete against U-bicycle tours departing from City-owned land. U-bicycles can park their equipment in areas that are unavailable to the rest of us, including but not limited to, the cruise ship facilities at Ogden Point, Fisherman’s Wharf, front of the Empress, Ship’s Point, Harbour Air, Provincial Museum, etc—pretty much any prime area in Victoria. U-bicycles brochures are being offered through Tourism Victoria, offering day rentals on bicycles at a fraction ($10/day) of what any of the competing bicycle rental companies can offer. Existing cruise ship bicycle tour companies are being forced to cut their tour rates due to undercutting by U-bicycles. Easy when you don’t have to pay real estate rent, don’t have to pay property taxes, don’t have to pay local wages, don’t buy locally, and effectively have the City looking after marketing. Clearly it’s not a level playing field. Think the U-bicycles are green? Do a Google search on “dockless bike piles” and you will see the only thing green is the colour. I am asking that the City reconsider its position on dockless bikes, and that it consult with existing bicycle rental and retail businesses throughout Victoria. The dockless bicycle program is resulting in serious financial losses for many of the existing businesses, and if left unchecked, will likely result in the loss of several businesses that depend on the summer tourism trade. Was the intent of introducing dockless bicycles to Victoria to provide short-term commuter transportation, as is the case with most docked bicycle programs, or to flood the streets with thousands of bicycles that will destroy many of the existing bicycle businesses and ultimately result in discarded bicycles clogging our waterways, sidewalks, parks and public spaces as has occurred throughout hundreds of other cities around the world? Doug Turner / Cycle BC Rentals The Malahat and the E&N Premier Horgan suggests that a bridge from Mill Bay to North Saanich would be a better idea than the E&N to provide an alternate route to Highway 1 over the Malahat. I don’t think so. After paying for feasibility studies, environmental studies and interchanges on both sides, building a bridge across Saanich Inlet, widening secondary roads and purchasing land, we will be left with the Pat Bay Highway being more crowded or West Saanich Road being straightened out and widened, but only after successfully convincing three First Nations that this would be in their best interest. Green Party MLA Adam Olsen improves on Horgan’s idea by suggesting a car ferry to cross to the Peninsula. On the west side of the inlet, the ferry will start at Cowichan Bay thus ruining that area with car traffic, and end at the Pat Bay float plane dock. Ferries will have to be purchased and terminals built; infrastructure will have to be provided to park and stage cars at each of the ferry terminals and to accommodate passengers. This idea would be good for anyone going to the airport, but how many would be doing that? While it avoids the construction costs of the bridge, where do the cars and passengers go from there: West Saanich Road? Pat Bay Highway? Where do cars line up to board? Where do the 50 cars that arrive at the same time go? Horgan and others have suggested replacing the Mill Bay Ferry with one of a larger capacity. This would require replacing the docking and loading infrastructure at both ends to accommodate the larger ferry. Would the streets in Brentwood be able to handle the increased traffic when a ferry lands? Those vehicles would then have to use West Saanich Road or any of the cross-peninsula roads that were not designed for heavy traffic. We know from the Pat Bay Highway experience that ferry traffic puts a heavy burden on the roads for only a short period of time but they need to be able to handle it safely. If there is going to be a ferry, picture what would happen when the Malahat was closed: hundreds of cars would immediately be diverted to a ferry that carries a maximum of 50 cars and would have a round trip of close to an hour. Of course, this is the same problem with roads: they have to be designed to handle rush-hour traffic, but for most of the time they are overbuilt for the amount of traffic they carry. The above ideas assume that everyone using the Malahat is going to, or coming from, downtown Victoria. In reality, traffic will also be going to Esquimalt naval base, Royal Roads University, Langford, Colwood and Sooke. If those people have to take the bridge or a ferry to North Saanich, they will then increase the traffic on the connecting roads leading to those destinations. Finally, both ideas seem to ignore the fact that there is a considerable amount of truck traffic and some bus traffic on the Malahat, which will be more difficult for the infrastructure to accommodate than cars. Another idea that has been suggested is to put a road through the catchment area for the reservoir that provides Greater Victoria with its drinking water. Victoria has a safe, secure supply of water that requires a minimum of treatment for drinking. Why would we want to build a road through that area to introduce pollutants that would then have to be removed from the water? An idea that I haven’t heard proposed yet is to tunnel through the mountain. It’s what the Swiss would do. Every time there is an accident on the Malahat, ideas for an escape route abound. So far, the solution has been to widen portions of the highway and put in abatement barriers in an attempt to eliminate accidents. However, we know from experience that even the best designed roads have accidents, usually because of human error, so it is unlikely that road improvements are going to eliminate them. I don’t see any of the above alternatives being better or cheaper than the E&N which would run on a frequent daily schedule, giving Islanders an alternative to driving the Malahat. They will learn to appreciate the safety and convenience of rail travel. Diverting vehicle traffic from the Malahat to an already traffic-burdened Saanich Peninsula is not a good solution. Let’s face it: the problem is cars; there are too many of them and they go too fast. If you make the roads easier to drive on, there will be more cars, and they will go faster and they will cause more accidents. Errol Miller
  3. The fuzzy thinking of Canada’s mainstream political establishment is driving some good citizens to despair. DAVID DODGE, a former Bank of Canada governor, recently gave a speech in Edmonton in which he predicted “there are some people that are going to die in protesting construction” of the Trans Mountain pipeline. As reported in the Edmonton Journal, he was warning his audience to be prepared, that the deaths would be a test of will for the Canadian government and its people, but certainly not a reason to stop the pipeline. “It’s going to take some fortitude” to face the deaths and continue, he said, but continue we must: “We have to understand this is a resource where the long-term viability isn’t there, not because we’re running out of muck in the ground, but because we actually, collectively, as the globe, are going to have to stop using as much of this stuff.” Dodge obviously understands the dictates of global climate change. His response is to urge Canadians to continue to exploit the main source of the problem in the closing window of time we’ll be allowed to. Even if it means people die. Meanwhile sensible, caring people who try to stand in the way of such exploitation are viewed as fanatics and felons. MURRAY REISS, an award-winning poet who lives on Salt Spring Island, is 72 years of age, just a few years younger than Mr Dodge. Arrested on March 23 for standing in front of the entry gate to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion construction site, he told BC Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck: “nothing less than the impending end of the world gets me to put my body on the line. I wish I was exaggerating. Tripling the Trans Mountain pipeline’s capacity will recklessly escalate tar sands extraction. James Hansen, who knows as much about the science of climate change as anyone, has stated, repeatedly: maximum tar sands exploitation puts civilization at risk.” Murray Reiss “The laws of physics are non-negotiable,” continued Reiss, “the notion of selling more fossil fuels today to pay for climate action tomorrow is sheer delusion. By that ‘tomorrow’…runaway global warming will be locked into the system. Already every year—almost every month—sets a new record for heat, for flooding, for wildfires, drought.” Lisa Baile of Pender Island, also in her 70s, had a long career as a medical researcher. The long-time mountaineer, wilderness educator, and author of the book, John Clarke, Explorer of the Coast Mountains, told Judge Affleck: “Knowing that climate change is reaching an irreversible tipping point, I cannot stand by and allow this pipeline to be built knowing that it will be contributing to a local and global catastrophe. I have to stand up for my home, the coast of BC and the planet—to do my utmost to leave a better world while there is still a chance—for my three-year-old granddaughter, my two grandsons and for all the youngsters and unborn children in the world. To do nothing would be irresponsible.” She is doing her 25 hours of community service at an alternative transportation organization. Lisa Baile Reiss and Baile are among the 203 people arrested and charged, mostly with criminal contempt of court, for protesting on Kinder Morgan’s construction site after the court granted the company an injunction—an injunction that now covers all BC work sites related to the pipeline. Criminal contempt is a step up from civil contempt. According to BC Civil Liberties Association, criminal contempt is “where a court order is breached, but the nature of the conduct interferes with the public’s interest in the ‘proper administration of justice.’” Kris Hermes works with Terminal City Legal Collective and Protect the Inlet Coalition, helping to demystify the legal system for the protesters. He’s in court every day taking notes and reporting by email to arrestees what the judge is saying so people are more aware. He feels that from the beginning there seem to have been problems with the administration of justice. For instance, notes Hermes, “Despite being told by the RCMP that they were being charged with civil contempt of court, and signing a PTA [Promise to Appear] to that effect, arrestees were surprised to find out [later] they were being prosecuted for criminal contempt of court.” He also notes that “people of colour and indigenous land defenders were often treated with a heavier hand, with some being violently arrested by the RCMP.” Unlike other criminal court cases, arrestees are not being given access to “duty counsel” to make sure they understand the process and what pleading guilty means. As well, the vast majority of those arrested, says Hermes, fall into an income bracket that makes them ineligible for legal aid—which has a high threshold these days—yet unable to afford a lawyer. Thus many people are representing themselves, which makes for interesting court sessions, says Hermes. They are given a bit of latitude by the judge but “they are often pleading guilty without advice of a lawyer on how to defend themselves.” “A lot of people are struggling with this process,” says Hermes. “This has been raised numerous times…but the court seems not to care.” One defence lawyer complained in court that defendants were being subjected to a “factory cookie-cutter process” geared to expediting the 203 cases through the courts. Judge Affleck admitted he was aiming for an expeditious, though fair, process and added, “the issues are narrow, and on issues of whether the pipeline is an environmentally wise structure, I will not hear that evidence.” Instead, the judge has ruled that people’s defence is limited to consideration of the evidence put forth by the Crown—were they standing or sitting at the gate or not? Despite that, says Hermes, there have been attempts to use unorthodox defences—“the necessity defence” for instance. The judge, however, ruled against it as there wasn’t evidence of “imminent peril,” and defendants had not exhausted all of their legal defences. They could, for instance, challenge or appeal the injunction (a costly process, no doubt). The statement made in court by Barbara Stowe, a writer and movement teacher who lives on Pender Island, illustrates the gulf between the expeditious legal process and a citizen’s moral sense: “Coming to this court with no criminal record, never having been arrested before, I have been overwhelmed by this process and had much need for guidance. I recognize the fortunate position I am in, having legal counsel, and perceive that many have none and are at a disadvantage.” In pleading guilty, Stowe told the judge “if such a plea were allowed, nolo contendere would more accurately reflect what I feel in my heart, which is that I am guilty, but acted solely to oppose a greater crime. When doctors, professors, politicians and faith leaders start committing civil disobedience, it begs the question: who and what is the real danger to our society, to all that we hold dear? Are people sitting in front of a fence, putting their freedom at risk, willing to pay fines and do community work service or go to jail, displaying a greater contempt for the law than those riding roughshod over the rights and safety of tribes, communities, cities, this province, and the environment that sustains us all?” Barbara Stowe Stowe’s brother, a physician, also protested and was arrested. He was fined $500, while Barbara will serve 25 hours of community service. She and her probation officer will determine where. WHILE WE HEAR ALL SORTS OF STORIES that give the impression that our justice system is terribly bogged down and slow, they are moving through the pipeline protesters’ cases quickly. The efficiency is due in part to a Crown-approved roster of sentences issued on May 23. The document shows how sentencing is being used to deter those charged from pleading not guilty, and to discourage others from further protesting. As time wears on, penalties increase. Those arrested in the early days of the protest (prior to April 16) who pled guilty quickly, received a $500 fine or 25 hours of community service. That escalates to a $4500 fine or, if unable to pay, 225 hours in community service for later arrestees, as long as they plead guilty quickly (usually meaning by the first day of their trial). That latter proviso meant that the sentence for Victoria resident Gordon Bailey, a retired Capilano College teacher, was ten times that of other protesters arrested on the same day as he was. Says Bailey, “I was sentenced to a $5000 fine or 240 hours community service or jail time. If I hadn’t been sick earlier and had a medical test for which I’d waited three months, I might have had the earlier sentencing. Interesting.” (He is now volunteering 10 hours a week at Our Place in order to meet his November probationary deadline.) Gordon Bailey Bailey, who has written books and articles on social theory, ideology, education, and a trilogy of eco-detective fiction, also finds it “interesting” that “the historic concept of civil disobedience carries no power or sway in the hallowed halls of our judicial system. To protest and resist injustice is now seen as not only civil contempt of a court injunction but also as criminal contempt. It’s as though the judge and the Crown prosecutors are historically illiterate. Tolstoy, Gandhi, Thoreau, and such celebrated people as Rosa Parks are deemed irrelevant to the modern intelligent consciousness.” Those arrested after May 8 who plead guilty face a mandatory seven days in jail—and likely higher if they plead not guilty, go to court, and are found guilty. The escalating sentencing appears to be giving the Crown what it wants: Few have protested since May 8. On June 19, however, 69-year-old grandmother Laurie Embree from 108 Mile House sat at the Westridge Terminal gate and was arrested. She said she wanted to tell the government: “We have the technology to make the change and to stop using fossil fuels and transition to renewables. We have the people to make these changes and there are jobs in making those changes. The only thing lacking is the political will.” She will likely be going to jail soon. The escalating sentences, along with the sweeping expansion of the injunction to cover all BC worksites, says Hermes, mean that “Essentially the company is using the courts to stifle meaningful protest.” (After the sale of Trans Mountain is finalized in late summer, it will be the Canadian government.) IN ALL THE STATEMENTS I READ, people alluded to their concern for First Nations. Sentenced on May 29 (the day the federal government announced it was buying the pipeline), Nan Gregory, a retired storyteller, children’s writer and lay chaplain of the Unitarian Church, told Judge Affleck: “I’ve never before been an activist…I’m here to stand up for a just and honourable reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.” Murray Reiss, mentioned earlier, asked, “How could I not oppose this pipeline, whose sole purpose is to gouge ever more bitumen from the ancestral lands of Lubicon, Mikisew and Beaver Lake Cree, Athabasca and Prairie Chipewyan First Nations? Whose existence would make a mockery of Canada’s pledges of climate action in the Paris Agreement and decolonization in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Whose construction would mean turning our back on negotiating free, prior and informed consent with First Nations, with whom we must learn to share this land.” George Rammell, a sculptor (who assisted Haida artist Bill Reid for 10 years) and retired art teacher, told the judge, “We were there because we saw a multitude of injustices perpetuated by our prime minister and Kinder Morgan to push this reckless pipeline expansion forward at the expense of Aboriginal nations, animal species and the environment. Our actions at Kinder Morgan’s gates were necessary to help press the pause button until real justice is restored.” He noted, “It was under [the] Canadian apartheid system that the first pipeline was built from the Alberta tar sands to Burrard Inlet in the early 1950s. The Tseil-Wauthuth were vehemently opposed to it then as they are to Kinder Morgan’s current proposed expansion. Many Aboriginal Nations in BC were not adequately consulted or warned of the dangers of the proposed massive increase in dangerous diluted bitumen moving through their territorial lands and waters. These people’s rights are being violated by our own Federal government that espouses to be championing reconciliation, yet we’re expected to stand idly by in complicity.” FOCUS CHOSE TO GIVE THESE CITIZENS a little space here, not just because of the strength and eloquence of their words, but because of the resounding lack of coverage in the mainstream media of what’s happening to them in the courts. With the exception of the arrest and court appearance of Members of Parliament Elizabeth May and Kennedy Stewart, Victoria’s local daily hasn’t covered the protesters’ court cases at all. In fact, the Times-Colonist’s editorials have been consistently in favour of the pipeline. On May 30 it wrote: “We don’t believe [MP Elizabeth] May should lose her seat…but she should perhaps consider what would happen if everyone decided to be selective about the laws they obeyed.” This is over-simplifying things in a way that would rule out any cases of civil disobedience ever. An earlier T-C editorial, shortly after Kinder Morgan threatened to pull out, urged the federal government to “fight for the pipeline.” In June, the paper ran a highly partisan op-ed on the subject by Gwyn Morgan (retired founding CEO of Encana Corp) in which he stated, “the battle has been zealously joined by [MLA Andrew Weaver’s] many local ground troops and international NGO professional protesters who share his fantasy that the end of fossil fuel era is nigh.” I think the protesters would protest: it’s not a fantasy; it’s a moral imperative if we want to prevent death and destruction from climate breakdown. Gordon Bailey wrote an op-ed, as yet unpublished, in which he cited H.L. Mencken’s observation on the subject of civil disobedience: “The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime: he is a good citizen driven to despair.” Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus.
  4. VISA faces eviction by School District ARTS ORGANIZATIONS LIVE PRECARIOUSLY, often in need of funds. But now, with the city growing and real estate going crazy, it’s even harder. Just ask Wendy Welch, executive director of Vancouver Island School of Art (VISA). She is planning her fall semester without knowing whether the school will remain in its current venue. Since 2004, VISA has been renting the 1921 heritage school in Quadra Village from the Greater Victoria School District. VISA' home on Quadra Street Last year the School Board upped VISA’s rent by 40 percent (to over $4000/month), and also hinted that they might need the building in a year or so. At the beginning of 2018, though, it appeared from discussions that VISA’s 200 students would be able to enjoy its five classrooms and their great natural lighting for another 18 months—with perhaps some space shared with the School District. On April 2, however, Welch was told VISA had to leave by the end of this summer. The School District intends to do extensive renovations and, by fall 2019, house one of their own programs there. The School District’s Mark Walsh told Focus that fresh numbers indicate that an estimated 2000 new school spaces will be needed over the next 10 years. Right now, spaces that seem on offer (and affordable) to VISA are much smaller and primarily on the outskirts of the city, said Welch. VISA offers a wide selection of courses and workshops, an artist residency program, and hosts the Slide Room Gallery where student works are exhibited. In honour of its 10th birthday several years ago, it painted the exterior of its beloved home with a design inspired by the Razzle Dazzle ships from the early 20th century when the school was built. Welch just recently went public with the “renoviction” news. Since then, she said, there’s been an outpouring of support from her students and the wider community. Because of it, she said, “I have decided to fight the School District and try and get a five-year lease. I have come to the realization that they have several buildings that are newer, larger and in better shape than VISA (they just need seismic upgrading). It doesn’t make sense to evict a thriving arts organization in the heart of an urban centre when there are other alternatives.” She is asking people to write to the district’s MLA Rob Fleming, who is also BC’s Minister of Education, and Victoria City Hall. Welch said she has some great options long-term, including possible space in the new Crystal Pool building, with perhaps another branch at the planned Juan de Fuca Performing Arts Centre. “I am interested in both propositions (we could have two branches). However these are long-term plans not to be finished until around 2021. We need the School District to let us continue in the Quadra building until we can move to a more permanent place. It feels the right move to fight rather than to surrender, because the arts always get swept away to the background.” Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus Magazine.
  5. Leslie Campbell

    Letters to the editor

    Math & ethics argue against Trans Mountain Canada’s federal and provincial governments have squandered billions of taxpayer funds to perpetrate the myths that ongoing fossil fuel development will be a net employment generator and revenue producer for the country. The only obstruction to achieving that economic utopia are those “anti-business,” “left-wing,” “drum-beating,” “tree-hugging,” “foreign-funded” environmentalists. That’s bovine crap, paid for with our tax dollars. The fact is, subsidizing fossil fuel expansion in genera,l and the Kinder Morgan project specifically, is as much or more about BC’s and, ultimately, Canada’s economy as it is about the environment. Continuing to commit more taxpayer dollars to the billions that have been poured into this financial black hole to date would be a crime against those taxpayers who, as evidenced by recent federal and provincial budgets, are being increasingly burdened with additional taxes to fund the subsidies to these non-viable projects. Don Gordon Focus continues to inform me, to encourage me, and to delight me. I very much admire your Editor’s letter opening the March/April edition. It’s understandable that we here on the West Coast and in the western-most province should be nervous about probable tanker mishaps and the escape of dilbit into the sea and onto our coastal shores—to the point of protesting the pipeline’s expansion and rerouting. But your letter takes on a related, truly national aspect: the incongruity of increasing fossil-fuel-export-related emissions from Alberta, while countrywide, reducing overall the fossil-fuel carbon released in order to meet our commitment made in the Paris Accord. And your piece does it with “math,” with reliable numbers displayed graphically. Then the conclusion—from the facts, from the math—is rendered in your column’s final paragraph. Many thanks. George Kyle Victoria’s marijuana regulations Thanks for your article. Good balance, I thought. I became acquainted with this issue because of the circumstances of Chris Zmuda, but that was just a portal to a realization of the proliferation of cannabis retailing. The City has strived to meet this challenge (with some success). However, this issue is not improving city life (it seems to me), and it’s not going to go away when the Province and the Feds enter the picture. I hope you will keep your eye on this issue in the coming months. Dave Rodenhuis Bridge names, continued With reference to Steen Petersen’s suggestion for a name for the new Blew Budget Bridge: two or three years ago, in a letter published in Focus, I suggested the name “Fortin’s Folly.” In my imagination, this new monstrosity spans Jackass Gulch. Jeremy Hespeler-Boultbee Gonzales Hill development alarms citizens Thanks for Leslie Campbell’s fantastically well-researched and well-written article. I was at Gonzales Hill Park today with my mom, brother and nephew and we spent quite a bit of time on the area sited to be developed. To allow this to happen reveals a complete lack of environmental stewardship. Anybody who spends five minutes on this property can immediately see that it is completely inappropriate to develop on it. This is rare land in the area especially because it is in an almost pristine state. For this reason alone, development should not be permitted. Some of the rocks here are millions of years old. And somehow the CRD considers that it would be appropriate to dynamite and blast these rocks out of their natural location to create a flat ground for a single-family luxury home? It is a travesty that the CRD did not purchase this small parcel and make it part of the park. With all the rampant development and need for increased densification in the Greater Victoria area, we need to take into consideration that development and densification should be balanced with some recognition for the need for humans to have green spaces. During our time in the park and surrounding area, we met several people who were coming to check out the spot that is going to be developed. One local resident, who has been making use of this park for decades, was extremely upset about the development plans, and she was stopping everyone who was visiting the area today to tell them about the plans for the site. All those hearing the news for the first time expressed utter shock and disbelief. Not one person thought it was a good idea. Of course these people were a biased audience in that they understood the importance of public green spaces as they were making use of one of them. I recommended to all that they read your article. People were taking photos of the signs that have been posted with the email address to contact to protest the development. One person who lived nearby said that if she had even known the land was for sale, she would have petitioned all her friends in the neighbourhood and easily raised $1,000,000 among her Oak Bay contacts to buy the land for the park. It seems this was all done in secret, which reveals that something is amiss with the plan. This is something definitely worth fighting for because once this piece of land is lost to private development, it is lost forever. Wendy Welch I thought your article on the Gonzales Hill Regional Park was excellent—what some might call a disastrous private/public sector interface. The owners/proponents bought a topographically-challenged property on spec. In order to justify their million-dollar property investment, they needed a bigger house than the zoning allowed, and requested variances. If the variances are not approved, then too bad, so sad. There is no obligation to approve the variances or bail them out. Caveat emptor, buyer beware. It’s all about due diligence. I’m usually pro-development, but the two remaining variances are egregious, do not pass the litmus-test, and should not be approved in order to accommodate the proposed residence. Boards of Variance should be accountable to someone, but then the City of Victoria could refuse the request somehow? CRD staff could be criticized for their ho-hum non-comments regarding the development, and then not approving the requested driveway easement/land swap which would ameliorate the development somewhat. The CRD politicians have not been helpful in this situation, which brings to mind Gene Miller’s column on “Amalgacide” and the distant non-accountability of our fourth and well-paid level of government. The CRD should have bought the property. It’s an obvious solution. I felt the neighbours’ frustration, a combination of NIMBYism and the inability of the proponent and government to work out compromises or solutions to the problem. Based on what I read, I hope the development does not proceed and the property owners are not in any way “kept whole” by government. Tony Beckett Editor’s note: In late March, the City of Victoria’s Board of Variance denied both requested variances by the owners of the property. It’s not clear what the lot owners will do now, but neighbours are hoping to help purchase the lot for public use. Saanich’s EDPA I am the President of SCRES, the Saanich Citizens for a Responsible EDPA (Environmental Development Permit Area). I believe the article by Briony Penn is very one-sided with significant misunderstandings and mistruths about the issue. I have been the public face of SCRES since it was created. Penn made no attempt to contact me, despite saying that she did try to find a spokesperson for SCRES. Penn implies in the article that loss of property value due to the EDPA bylaw was something that SCRES or landowners made up to try to get rid of the Saanich EDPA. The Rollo report that the District of Saanich commissioned stated that “some recent public concerns regarding the adverse impact of the EDPA on property values are justified, with substantial impacts on some” and then goes on to specifically list the types of properties that are likely to be impacted. BC Assessment, in meeting with SCRES, indicated that most properties in their report were bought and sold with no knowledge of the EDPA’s existence on the part of the buyer and real estate agents, and that sale prices likely did not reflect any potential impact of the EDPA on property value. Most landowners did not know that their property was in the EDPA because Saanich did not directly tell them. Saanich never told BC Assessment about the EDPA when Saanich passed the legislation. Real estate agents mostly had no knowledge of the EDPA. When the EDPA was disclosed in property sales, we have seen losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in what was a very hot market at the time. Penn indicated in her afterward to the article that she was involved in the original Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory (SEI) which was used as the basis of the mapping for Saanich’s EDPA. What she failed to point out was this mapping was never verified on the ground, as was done in many other jurisdictions. If she had, she would have found out that many of the Garry oak ecosystems, mapped in areas that have been developed for many decades, no longer exist. They consist of homeowners’ lawns, gardens, homes, driveways, and areas covered by invasive species, all which no longer meet the criteria of Sensitive Ecosystems as required by the bylaw. As an example of how poor the EDPA mapping is, the photo in Penn’s article shows a Garry oak ecosystem that is not actually mapped as being in the EDPA. The EDPA on this property was mapped in the back of the property which no longer had any natural vegetation remaining. The reason Saanich has had such a pushback on the EDPA is because it is still trying to protect fully developed lots that have not had natural vegetation for 50 to 100 years. This, and what many people have called heavy-handed implementation. Penn talks about measurables from the bylaw and 20 cases of successful plantings of native species and removal of invasive species. What Penn failed to find out was that these were just native plant gardens that were required in exchange for a building permit, that were placed in areas that did not have any native species before. Not only is this not required by the bylaw, but this is not restoration of Garry oak ecosystems, or any natural ecosystem. These are small pockets of areas that now have common native landscaping material. Other landowners were required to place large covenants on their properties, in some cases up to sixty percent of the property, in areas that were completely covered by invasive species, with no restoration planned. Penn missed an opportunity to put a focus on Garry oak ecosystems in Saanich Parks, which are mostly severely degraded, and overrun with invasive species. Many hard-working volunteers remove invasive shrubs; however, invasive grasses have severely degraded many Garry oak ecosystems that were wonderful wildflower meadows just a few decades ago. Saanich needs to find funding to maintain what still exists and restore the rest. This will have far more impact, and less conflict, on the remaining Garry oak ecosystems than expecting landowners who no longer have these ecosystems to leave their properties alone, in which case invasive species will dominate in perpetuity. SCRES has always supported a well-crafted and well-implemented EDPA bylaw. SCRES has put forward recommendations for a landowner stewardship program to Saanich Council and provided significant recommendations for improving biodiversity in Saanich in a report to Council that is front and centre on our website. I feel that Penn has provided a biased, unsupportable article on the Saanich EDPA which misleads and ignores many important facts and information. Anita Bull Briony Penn responds: Anita Bull raises an important point about Saanich’s capacity to maintain and monitor the ecological integrity of their own parks, and the ongoing issue of invasive species on both public and private lands. However, it was not the focus of the article. Mayor Atwell and fairness of the public process/governance was the main focus. There was also no intention to verify or provide evidence for the various claims which Bull makes on behalf of SCRES. The issue was the toxicity of the debate, and the failure of a council to bring different parties together with accurate information and provide a forum for constructive dialogue. Citizens’ charter rights to ask questions and get straight answers about why information wasn’t made available, and why recommendations were not implemented, was the issue being discussed. There are a lot of important questions to be discussed, and the issue requires a respectful forum. Residents on both sides of the issue that I spoke to early on showed a great deal of fear of speaking to the issue, which was consistent with the Diamond Report—this is why it became an article on the toxicity of public discourse. Should farmland be reserved for food? In the lucid article by Judith Lavoie, Kent Mullinix, director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, states: “We have got to get real. We can no longer allow a bunch of capitalist cowboys to run roughshod over the natural resources and the ecosystems that all our lives, livelihoods and—literally—happiness rely upon.” Capitalist private profit is the problem Dr Mullinix shows. Ten other accompanying Focus stories also covered private profit’s various impacts and defects: The bridge, nuclear bombs (investors profit from these too), Trans Mountain, Gonzales Hill Park development, EDPA, drug over-prescription, marijuana regulations, the Holocaust (scapegoating Jews to mask Germany’s capitalist crisis), “Amalgacide” and Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic’s citation of the Site C Dam. Albert Einstein, in an essay “Why Socialism?” in the socialist Monthly Review Magazine’s inaugural May 1949 edition, stated: “Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.” Evo Morales, Bolivia’s President, speaking at the United Nations Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2008 put it this way: “If we want to save the planet Earth, to save life and humanity, we have a duty to put an end to the capitalist system. If we do not put an end to the capitalist system it’s impossible to imagine that there will be equality and justice on this planet Earth. This is why I believe that it is important to put an end to the exploitation of human beings and to put an end to the pillage of natural resources; to put an end to destructive wars for raw materials and for the market; to the plundering of energy, particularly fossil fuels; excessive consumption of goods and the accumulation of waste. The capitalist system only allows us to heap up waste.” Larry Wartels Not in our space Monica Prendergast’s piece in the latest issue prompts me to write. Ms Prendergast regrets that “fifty years of feminism” has not changed some negative aspects of male behaviour. Personally, I do not see any reason why it would. It seems that society as a whole has not yet come to terms with the way we have viewed men over a long stretch of history. We are still subjecting little boys to conditioning aimed at suppressing elements of tenderness and vulnerability within them. Male roles have kept men set in the hardest and most dangerous jobs, including soldiering. Psychosocial inclinations have pushed men toward the darker reaches of human imagination and interaction. In story and symbols, and in actual life, men are typically the ones to be regarded with suspicion and fear. The worst thing in all of this is the resistance by a lot of men to change. Maleness, almost certainly, evolved as a necessity for survival in much earlier stages of human development and it had to be programmed into male psyches. And it still is. Many men continue to view being a “real man” as an indispensible part of their existence. It is necessary that we come to see that the behaviours of certain men can be linked with the reality that they are, in fact, themselves victims and casualties. This understanding does not obscure the criminality, nor the culpability surrounding their deeds. But the fact that men are operating in that part of the field serves to illustrate that it is they who are driven to playing the B side, not women. In order to foster the degree of change that women claim to want, and which some men, including this writer, want, we need to evolve more progressive movements deeper and farther-reaching than what feminism has been. Even with that, it’s probably liable to take some time before we see the kind of change where numbers of men can more easily transcend the confines of traditional maleness. Then we really might be able to honestly claim that we have gender equity. Peter Halling Backyards fight climate change I thought, in terms of neighbourhood planning, that people might like to read a recent article in the New York Times: “A Secret Superpower, Right in Your Backyard.” It states: “Your average backyard has hidden superpowers: Its soil can absorb and store a significant amount of carbon from the air, unexpectedly making such green spaces an important asset in the battle against climate change. Backyard soils can lock in more planet-warming carbon emissions than soils found in native grasslands or urban forests like arboretums, according to Carly Ziter, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.” Aside from the abundant lifestyle and health advantages (gardening and recreation) of preserving generous backyards, this research shows a definite climatological benefit as well. It has become commonplace in Fairfield to tear down one house and fill the lot with two big houses almost completely filling the lot and leaving scarcely enough room for a narrow strip of green in front and back. Is this really the way we want our neighbourhoods to go? Is it good for our community values, our health, our food security and, even more importantly, helpful to the environment? Arnold Porter Amalgacide & governance review One cannot think of anything much healthier that citizens asking each other if there are better ways that they might be governed when confronted with realities of their life that give them pause. Greater Victoria is now a region of some 350,000 people. Politically it comprises 13 governments. They all have to deal with issues that cross their borders. Transit does not end at these borders, neither does sewage. Growth affects everyone in the region. So does traffic congestion. The list is long and the issues often divisive and requiring intervention. When they boil over, the Province has to provide what the region cannot: government. Thus we are not really in control of our own affairs. Edith Slack of the Munk Centre—a doyenne of local government thinking—suggests that this state of affairs is not to be endured for it is a drag on citizen efforts to enjoy better lives. To become “masters of our own house,” the region needs to be in charge of its own affairs while local governments—however many—do likewise. Calls for a review of governance—local and regional—are increasing. It’s time to heed them. John Olson Human impacts wide & deep: witness the orca The impact of human activity on the planet has been identified and discussed at great length by Focus. If you look around the planet it is impossible to ignore the changes we have wrought in the past half century. Our species is only 1000 centuries old by most reckonings but our impact is wide and deeply ingrained in the world we currently occupy. Some of us are deeply concerned by what has changed, and even more concerned by what will change in the next few centuries. Some of us are desperately insisting that many things must change very quickly before it is too late. Can we revert back to an earlier time? Can we revert to a past that did work for most of human history? I am concerned that many people do not fully appreciate the ramifications of what they propose should happen. Let’s take some simple examples that I think illustrate my concerns. The orcas in the Salish sea are dying. As Focus’ David Broadland illustrated through available scientific research (November/December 2017), they are starving. Their food is no longer as readily available as it was a few decades ago. Their normal migratory and hunting patterns are being widely disrupted due to human activity. The waters they swim in are less friendly to their physical well-being. Yet ecologically-minded people propose that we stop farming fish and eat more wild salmon, their historic food source. In other words, they propose we compete more aggressively for the orca’s food source. I think we can guess who will win that one. Another example. Between 1830 and 1870, whales were the world’s primary source of liquid hydrocarbons. The demand for it resulted in the decimation of whales worldwide. The first successful oil well in North America was drilled in Oil Springs, Ontario in 1857, and soon followed by one in Oil Creek, Pennsylvania. The subsequent oil rush and new source of liquid hydrocarbons saved the few remaining whales. We can all be thankful to the oil industry for that. Look out whales if we shut down all the oil wells. The next time you go for a walk or ride your bike, glance down and see where 10-15 percent of the 90+ million barrels of oil currently consumed per day ends up. Concrete produces a ton of carbon dioxide for every ton of cement used. The return to cobblestone streets is our current best future road surface option. An electric vehicle should be in everyone’s garage. However, I am sure that electric planes are not going to be a travel option any time soon. Can the world support 9 billion humans? How about 1 billion? By what process do we transition between what we have and what is sustainable? Do we revert back to the 4 horsemen to ride herd on our future? As Pogo said over 60 years ago, “We have met the enemy and they are us!” Jim Knock Why Bambi and friends moved to town Many of us long-time Island residents have wondered why deer have invaded urban areas all along the east coast of Vancouver Island over the past 10 to 15 years. I put that question to both the guys at a local sporting goods store up here in the Comox Valley, which caters to local hunters, and Focus’ Briony Penn. They had the same answer. To quote Dr Penn: “Our coastal black-tails are very dependent in the winter on arboreal lichens which accumulate on older trees and most particularly on the old growth of south facing slopes where the sun hits the slope and the combination of sun and old growth canopy reduces snow cover. It is places like McLaughlin Ridge (near Port Alberni and recently mowed down by TimberWest) that provide critical winter habitat, especially when bad weather hits. When you lose this habitat the deer die or move to the cities to munch in garden beds in the winter. And, of course, cougars follow the deer. It is the fundamental reason we have cougar problems…” Just another environmental disaster (like the flooding and subsequent boil water alert up here in the Comox Valley last winter) all thanks to the creation of the Private Managed Forests Land Act back in 2003 by a newly elected Liberal government. In essence, the bill served as one colossal giveaway to TimberWest and Island Timberlands since there’s been virtually no government oversight of their operations here along the east coast of the Island since. As one old logger so aptly stated, “the fox was left in charge of the chicken house.” As a result, not only has all our incredible first growth virtually disappeared but now any mature second growth (70 to 120 year old timber) is going, going…gone! All of which would have provided ideal habitat to blacktail deer and their close associates, the cougar. Rick James
  6. ONE DAY, Focus may tell you about a housing proposal that everyone in the neighbourhood is happy with, where the public process surrounding it is hailed as transparent, inclusive, effective and painless for all involved. But that day isn’t here yet. When it was announced last summer that Oak Bay United Church wanted to build some affordable housing on its property at Granite Street and Mitchell—just one block over from Oak Bay Village—it sounded refreshingly bold and in tune with the times. Affordable housing is the region’s number-one need. Oak Bay United Church in Oak Bay Soon afterwards “Stop Overdevelopment by Oak Bay United Church” signs popped up like mushrooms on neighbourhood lawns. A “concerned citizens” website was created, and media reports citing divisions and alarm were heard. Some early concepts for the development indicated up to five-storey buildings and 160 units could be proposed. For a 1.2-acre lot in a leafy, mostly single-family neighbourhood, it did seem perhaps too bold. Now, church representatives claim they have listened, and in their recent plans—unveiled at open houses at the end of April—have tried to meet neighbours’ concerns as much as possible. We shall see how that works out. IN HER OFFICE in a 1920s-era duplex behind the church, Oak Bay United Church Minister Michelle Slater told me the idea of developing the property stems back to 1994 when the heritage church was “condemned” as unsafe, and the congregation had to conduct services elsewhere. It wasn’t clear that the church, built in 1914, could be saved, so everything was up for consideration, including selling off the whole property. Eventually, it was decided that restoration was possible, and the congregation worked hard for years to raise $1.5 million. In 2010, 16 years after its closure, the church reopened. Oak Bay United Church Minister Michelle Slater Once back in their church, congregants had little appetite for further change any time soon. But, said Slater, “it was always accepted that that was just the first step to renewal.” There are five structures on the 56,000-square-foot property. The church occupies 9000 square feet. There is also a large storage shed; an office building (often called the “duplex”); the cinder block, seismically-challenged Gardiner Hall (with a gym); and Threshold House, which is rented to Threshold Housing Society, and has nine studio apartments for vulnerable youth. With the exception of the church, the latest plans call for demolition of all these structures. Slater said that if the 200-strong congregation was dwindling, they would look at amalgamating with another church and selling off the property. But it’s actually growing, though that includes those who use the church’s many services. “We’re becoming increasingly aware, particularly through our ministry to children and families, of the real crisis with diverse and affordable housing,” said Slater, mentioning seniors who attend weekly coffee meetings and young parents who come to church activities. Sometimes congregants can’t afford a prescription they need, so the church steps in. It has also provided food vouchers, or even a funeral for those in need. In all, she estimates that Oak Bay United provides about $2.5 million annually in community services (calculated by a formula arrived at through research by the Halo Project at McMaster University). Some of it, she noted, comes in the form of saving the community money—for instance when members notice another congregant is unwell, and ensure they receive help before needing an expensive hospital bed. At this point, Slater stopped herself, noting wryly that it sounded as if she’s trying to justify the church’s very existence—perhaps in reaction to the heated atmosphere in the neighbourhood of late. The social services she alluded to have added an extra layer of complexity to the debate. Do such services mean the church deserves more right to develop as it pleases, despite neighbours’ concerns? Continuing the historical overview, Slater told me that a few years ago, the board asked a couple of members to look into options for developing the 56,000-square-foot property, in keeping with the mission and purpose of Oak Bay United Church. That led to them devoting $20,000 to a feasibility study led by Chris Corps, a land economist, which in turn led, in March 2017, to the church board giving unanimous support to applying for a $500,000 loan from BC Housing to do a thorough proposal involving “diverse, inclusionary and affordable housing,” said Slater. “We could make a lot more money if we just put up some luxury condos. But that’s not what this community needs,” said Slater. “And making the most money is not the most important thing to us.” The church got the BC Housing loan, and by last August, its board members had started knocking on doors to inform immediate neighbours that the church was thinking of developing its property. Some became alarmed, Slater said, and asked for a meeting. About 60 people came. They wanted to know the plans, but, said Slater, “We’re not a developer; we wanted input first.” In November, four sessions with “near neighbours” were held. “We asked what would you be most concerned about?’” said Slater. Feedback was all over the map, she said. “We got everything from ‘nothing’ to ‘six stories.’ [On style], we got ‘traditional’ to ‘contemporary.’ We gave all the input to the architect. In mid-December we presented four scenarios for siting and massing to test people’s responses.” (The scenarios involved three-, four- and five-storey buildings; many neighbours were aghast there were no smaller options.) The biggest concerns were around height, density and traffic. “We’ve worked hard to mitigate or solve the concerns people have—which are for the most part legitimate,” said Slater. However, she argued, Granite Street, running parallel to Oak Bay Avenue, is viewed by the municipality as a transition street, from the busy Oak Bay commercial zone to residential. “It is not solely a single-family-home neighbourhood,” said Slater, pointing to the boxy, 3.5-storey Granite House condos across the street towards the Village. “Our project will be much more attentive to the character of the neighbourhood than Granite House.” Reverend Slater is diplomatic when speaking of the resistance to the development: “I am not surprised at the depth of feeling, because everyone values their neighbourhood and wants to preserve what’s best about it. I was distressed by some of the personal comments about our consultants,” along with the level of distrust. “We feel we’re really trying to do something good,” she said. “This is a good way for Oak Bay to contribute to the region and show leadership.” She seems bewildered and dismayed that some people do not trust the church. AN INDICATION OF THAT DISTRUST, and perhaps another brick in the wall between the church and its neighbours, occurred at a meeting of Oak Bay’s Committee of the Whole on January 15. The last item on the agenda was a request from the church that council approve a process to expedite the church’s development application, once submitted, as a pilot project for affordable housing projects. It brought citizens out in force; they filled all the seats and the hallway. Numerous letters of concern had been sent in. Kim Fowler, the planner on the church’s team, explained that they are working on “a minimum, break even” budget, and delays would be costly. She pointed to other municipalities that have adopted streamlined processes or a “concierge”-type service with staff dedicated to ushering non-profit proposals through various hurdles at City Hall. (Fowler played a similar role at the City of Victoria when she worked as the project manager for the Dockside Green redevelopment project). Councillor Tara Ney, noting the evident community interest, voiced a concern that “the amount of time for making decisions, the amount of time for consulting thoroughly with the community—that those parts of the process are not compromised.” Fowler assured her that that would not happen. When Councillor Hazel Braithwaite warned that “it takes a long time to get something correct,” there was applause from the gallery. Braithwaite also suggested that shepherding the application through City Hall was Fowler’s job—and that it would have been “friendly” if the church had notified citizens of its request for expedited service. When Councillor Tom Croft asked, “Where is the extra cost of delay when the church owns the land?” Fowler alluded to an existing mortgage (it is about $300,000), and the escalation of construction costs. At 6 percent, she said, that translates to $170,000 in carrying costs per month. Other councillors noted that with “complicated applications like this,” the best way to expedite it is to have a good application, and to not short-circuit public engagement. Councillor Eric Zhelka advised studying the case of Oak Bay Lodge—which came to council two times with proposals that were both rejected. The lesson being: “Find a design with everyone here [meaning the audience] before you come to council, that everyone can support.” The Committee decided not to even vote on Fowler’s request. Later, Ney told Focus the request for an expedited process was “not an example of good timing.” On a Saturday morning in April, I met with five members of “the resistance” at Sue MacRae’s house, right next door to the church property. They expressed many concerns: about Oak Bay’s infrastructure not being adequate to handle another 100-plus residents on the one-acre site; about the unfairness of the church having $500,000 to put towards developing their plan and doing PR, while their group relies on volunteer time and digs into their own pockets for signs and flyers; and about the size and scale of the proposals they’ve seen and how it will impact their beloved streetscape, characterized by lots of trees and 100-year-old single-family homes. But they were most perturbed by the public consultation process, and the distrust they feel it has fostered. Both Reverend Slater and the church’s development team co-chair Cheryl Thomas have told me that what they were actually trying to do in consultation sessions in the fall was get neighbours’ input before designing anything. But it seems to have backfired, as these neighbours believed that there was a plan, but it was being kept secret. They pointed to the church’s application for a BC Housing loan, which they obtained through a Freedom of Information request. Though 90 percent redacted, it shows that as early as March 2017, the church was outlining options to BC Housing and Oak Bay municipal staff—whereas the neighbours only got notified in August that the church was considering development. Cheryl Thomas assured me that only financial models went to BC Housing, not actual designs, yet it seems clear those would have required some assumptions about size in order to project costs and revenues. Diana Butler, a former mayor of Oak Bay who lives on Granite Street, suggested the fall consultations were mostly for show, and as evidence, pointed to the short time lapse between the November “consult sessions” and the “reveal sessions” in December, at which the scenarios involving 101- to 160-unit buildings were presented. The development team’s unwillingness to entertain a project with a much smaller profile fuelled suspicions around the church’s motivations, as well as its strategy. Two of the church's neighbours, Wayne Todd and Diana Butler At our meeting, neighbour Wayne Randall said he believes it’s now the church’s strategy to focus solely on the wider community and ignore the neighbours. Butler concurs. She has written extensively on the Concerned Citizens’ website (ccn-oakbay.com), at one point writing: “We have spent hours and hours working with the development team to design a better consultation process. We placed our trust in the development team truly wanting to engage the neighbourhood in a meaningful discussion. We are very disappointed that they have so abruptly abandoned this route, in preference to taking their project to the wider community where they hope to get more support.” The development team contracted Gene Miller to help with consultations with this group of neighbours, who say he sincerely tried to help. They told me he met with them separately a couple of times, to try to work out a better process. But, they said, “he failed.” (Disclosure: Gene Miller writes for Focus. I did not know he was involved until recently, and have not had any communication with him about the project.) Curtis Hobson, a special education teacher who lives directly across from the church, told me, “We feel excluded, manipulated, and are being painted as against change or affordable housing.” Hobson and other neighbours I spoke with said they are in favour of affordable housing on this site, but not at the scale the church has in mind. Curtis Hobson and Sue MacRae, both close neighbours of the church's property. Threshold House (in the background) would be demolished to make room for the project. At the meeting, these residents provided me with an outline of what they would accept: A maximum three storeys, with massing along Granite Street, with some variation in height, and a more traditional design in keeping with the neighbourhood. Ideally, they’d like the buildings broken up or clustered so that pedestrians can move through the site. They want to keep Threshold House, but if it must go, they want alternative housing to be provided on the site for the nine vulnerable youth (age 16-22) now housed in its studio apartments. This heritage-style building, they argued, is only 25 years old, fits into the neighbourhood well and serves a valuable purpose. The main stumbling blocks towards agreement, however, will be the massing and the number of units: the neighbours’ wishlist calls for 25-40 suites, whereas the latest church plans (not unveiled when I interviewed them) call for 98. AT A MEETING WITH the Development Team co-chair Cheryl Thomas and architect Rod Windjack, I was shown rough drafts of the plans that will be unveiled at the late-April open houses. Thomas lived in Oak Bay when her kids were growing up, and got involved in the church in 2012—mostly to sing in the choir. She ended up on the board and came to realize “we’ve got to make this place sustainable.” As a congregation, she said, “we wanted to live our values and provide something that was truly needed. Obviously affordable housing is desperately needed.” Windjack, an architect who was involved with the design for the new Oak Bay High School, had his work cut out for him, trying to accommodate the needs of both church and neighbours. Besides the concern over size, he said, one thing that came through loud and clear from neighbours was that the development shouldn’t result in additional parking on nearby streets. This, he noted, created a burden on the church financially, because underground parking is so costly. After numerous iterations, Windjack eventually came up with a 3.5-storey (four floors), L-shaped building with 98 units (predominantly one-bedrooms) and tilted it, so it’s not monolithic from the street. “We’ve tried to deal with how the building responds to neighbours, through how it sits on the site and by playing with the massing of the building—using articulation in front, further extended by our use of materials,” Windjack said. Materials include some brick, echoing the church. The main building has a gently-sloped roof with dormer elements that are common in the neighbourhood. At 51 feet high, it is slightly higher than the ridge line of the church. Oak Bay United Church's 98-unit proposal, unveiled at the end of April In the location where the church office now stands on Mitchell, the project is proposing a three-storey “brownstone” building with four market-priced leasehold units. Parking—for 116 vehicles—would all be underground. Virtually the whole site would need to be blasted (through granite) to create a two-storey parkade, costing about $5 million of the $26-million total price tag. About half would be for church-goers and the other half for project residents. While they cannot prohibit a resident from having a vehicle, they can tell prospective renters that units do not include parking. Residents would have good bike storage and likely a car-share vehicle, perhaps even bus passes, noted Thomas. Everyone with the church and the neighbourhood was in agreement that a green strip, with majestic Garry oaks, that runs along the back of the property, had to stay. Units would be small, even by present standards: one-bedrooms approximately 420-455 square feet, two bedrooms 650-700 square feet, and three bedrooms 850-900. “That’s what makes them affordable,” said Thomas. (Brownstone units are larger.) Rents for the affordable units would be set by BC Housing and CMHC, and rent increases would be tied to the cost of living (not the market). A one-bedroom unit would cost about $1000 per month. Thomas stressed that the development team has tried to accommodate all that they heard from neighbours, but the financial realities are limiting. In their attempt to keep the height to 3.5 storeys, only 50 units will be officially “affordable,” though 44 others are characterized as “market affordable.” The feedback at the Open Houses planned for late April might help them “further refine what we’ve got, but we don’t see major changes,” said Windjack. CURTIS HOBSON DIRECTED ME TO an interesting 2014 article in the United Church’s Observer magazine, called “The Perils of Redevelopment.” In discussing the trends for many churches—declining congregations, rising costs, and the sale or redevelopment of their properties—it warns, “Even a plan conceived with the best of intentions can go horribly wrong.” The article stresses the importance of constructive community outreach, without which, it warns, years can be spent fighting with neighbours and municipal governments. Neighbour Wayne Todd researched every development mentioned in the article and found virtually all of them had been sold or failed, with congregations forced to rent other facilities. But he also inadvertently stumbled on one church project, not mentioned in the Observer article, that worked out well; in fact it may become Canada’s first net-zero-energy multi-family building. Andrew Gregory chaired the planning committee of the North Glenora Community League during the time (2013-2015) the Westmount Presbyterian Church in that Edmonton community sought rezoning for its property in order to put up affordable housing. In a report on it, he stated: “It took dozens of meetings and hundreds of hours of focused effort on both sides to get to ‘YIMBY.’” He mentions the wisdom of arriving at “a mutually understood definition for community engagement.” He writes: “It seems that the Achilles heel of most re-development plans in the city is that too many decisions are made too early without involving the community…committing the developer to a plan before engagement has taken place and derailing authentic dialogue before it can happen.” Certainly in the Oak Bay case, it does not appear that the church went to neighbours with a blank slate. It had priorities and financial realities that led it early on to think big. One major difference between the Edmonton church and the Oak Bay church is that in Edmonton, the North Glenora Community League’s planning committee (all volunteers)—took the reigns to negotiate a community engagement process. Then it took minutes of every meeting which were posted, hosted periodic town halls, and conducted surveys on specific aspects. In Oak Bay, there’s been no similar body providing such leadership. (The Oak Bay Community Association did host a community forum on housing affordability that both sides appreciated.) Another difference: the Edmonton church seemed willing to take its time—two years in total from announcement to passing at Edmonton City Hall—whereas Oak Bay United Church representatives seem in a hurry, and seem to believe they’ve already done much of the community consultation necessary—not the hundreds of hours allowed for in the Edmonton case. By the way, it too started out on shaky ground, but in the end, at the final Edmonton City Hall public hearing, two residents spoke in favour of the development, none opposed, and it passed unanimously. Another noteworthy difference: the Edmonton church’s proposal was for a 16-unit townhouse development for families. EVERYONE I SPOKE TO for this article seems to care deeply about their community and be in favour of some affordable housing on the church property. No neighbours expressed concerns about property values. Even the vociferous ad-hoc group I spoke with would accept a three-story building. Yet even if the church wins wide community support for its project, it may be embarking on a perilous journey. Its financial straits have been alluded to time and time again, in church minutes, at consultations, at council meetings, and during interviews. The church has a $300,000 mortgage now. To create a development on its property, it has borrowed $500,000 from BC Housing (which needs to be repaid, regardless of the outcome). If it gets rezoning approved, it will be borrowing tens of millions more from BC Housing to finance it. Yes, it will get rental income to pay down its debts, but it will also be sacrificing significant space for its activities, along with $100,000 in annual revenues from its thrift store, and $54,000 in annual rent from Threshold Housing Society. These revenues currently get fully spent on church operations and maintenance. Right now, the sanctuary needs an estimated $300,000 in repairs. When Threshold leaves, the church will also have to refund the balance of a loan the housing society provided for renovations—about $40,000 now. But the church is committed to the project. And as of last August, it’s doubtful the congregation could back out if it wanted to. The church board transferred all decision-making to its project development team. In church board minutes, it’s noted that the team, composed of four church representatives as well as some external advisors and consultants, has “commission status,” meaning they have “complete authority” until their mandate expires at end of the rezoning process. “The governing body or executive [of the church] may not debate the commission’s decision and come to a different decision.” Reverend Slater told me she hopes their proposal goes before council in May, and that it’s approved in advance of the municipal election in October. Given the usual pace of the development process, this seems wildly optimistic. Interestingly, the church is already permitted, under its “institutional” zoning, to build three floors of multi-family housing on the church property. But the proposed density will make it necessary to apply for rezoning. For instance, the minimum square footage for a one-bedroom apartment has to be 603 sq ft, not the 420 the church is planning. The project would also take up a far greater portion of the land than its institutional zoning allows. Will a majority of councillors be willing to “spot zone” the development as proposed? Will they give weight to the church’s provision of services and financial need? In light of citizens’ complaints, will they send it back to the drawing board? When I asked Councillor Ney about this, she reiterated the message of the January meeting, that the way to ensure success is to have a robust consultative process, developing rapport with the community and coming up with something that is amenable to all. “For whatever reason,” she said, “the consultation with this proposal went off the rails,” resulting in people being scared and nervous—especially about the massing. Historically, Ney said, Oak Bay was not planned with adequate transition zones between areas of multi-unit buildings and single-family homes. Ney noted that council often has to “soften the edges” of developments so they are not pushed hard against neighbours. But there appears little room for compromise on the part of the church. Thomas said, “Our reality is we’ve made it as small as we realistically can. We are now [in the late April open houses] putting all our cards on the table. This is the best we can do.” So what is the church’s fall-back position if rezoning is refused? Thomas said they would probably have to subdivide, selling off the Threshold building to get enough money to do the needed repairs of other buildings. “There would be no housing. And it puts the church in a precarious long-term position,” she said. It is admirable that Oak Bay United has stepped up to create some desperately needed affordable housing. Reverend Slater might be overly optimistic, but she’s correct in her assessment that the project proposal is “an opportunity for the community to wrestle with the ‘over-development’ issue, and how a community has that conversation.” Leslie Campbell attended the first open house on April 25. She overheard one gentleman saying, “Well, at least it’s going in the right direction.”
  7. 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.
  8. Leslie Campbell

    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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Leslie Campbell

    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
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Leslie Campbell

    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.
  15. 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.
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