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.
Take down a parking lot and put up a paradise
I sent this suggestion, which relates to Leslie Campbell’s recent editorial, to both NDP and Green Party leaders on July 10, as well as to City Hall.
I would bring to your attention the fact that we in James Bay and other areas close to Downtown appreciate that both market rate and low-cost housing units are needed in our city.
Parking for government officials and employees is rightly provided on a large asphalt-covered block, bounded by Kingston, Superior and Menzies streets, and these vehicles sit in the sun, rain and hail throughout the day. On weekends the parking lot is mostly vacant.
I do not propose removing the parking lot. But I do suggest that at least one or more stories of housing units be built over the asphalt parking area. This would protect vehicles from the elements as well as derive income from rental of the suites. The green space where the Saturday James Bay Market is held could be left as-is for the enjoyment of new residents in the area and the new development.
I and many others in the area would surely find an attractive architectural development much more pleasing to walk by than the present expanse of flat asphalt which is, in fact, an eyesore and an underutilization of valuable urban space.
Given your last editorial on affordable housing and Downtown parking lots, I thought you and Focus readers might be interested in a look at the website www.ZEDfactory.com. It is UK-based and promises low-cost homes—ZEDpods— with low energy bills, designed to be built over existing parking lots.
Mayor Helps’ 1.5 percent solution
Both of the articles “Tear down a parking lot and put up a paradise” and “Mayor Helps’ 1.5 percent solution” were most interesting.
David Broadland suggests looking at Google Earth. I’d already done just that and was truly shocked how much of our city has been paved over.
Broadland says that Victoria council’s bike lanes seem like “social engineering.” Some would call it leadership. If all the bike lanes are built for $16 million, that’s less than 19 percent of what we’re shucking out for the McKenzie Avenue interchange, and an even tinier part of what Stew Young regularly hoovers up for pavement in Langford.
Copenhagen is indeed a good model for how far we can go with cycling. Looking at another European city, Ostrava in Czech Republic. Hardly anybody rides bikes, but 64 percent of people use the city’s tram, trolleybus and diesel bus routes.
Trolleybuses work great in Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco. They’d also be perfect on heavily-used bus routes like Esquimalt, Quadra, Gordon Head and Crosstown. Have you noticed how noisy and fume-spewing diesel buses are?
There’s one last way to get around, the only one which doesn’t need any mechanical aid at all. In Bilbao Spain, 60 percent of the population walks to work. Another surprising walker’s city is Paris, where unassisted footpower has a 47 percent market share.
Have a look at the massive parking lots at UVic and Camosun, all empty for months in the summer, vacant public and private school lots, all the huge lots for employers like the hospitals and Dockyard. Victoria isn’t the City of Gardens, it's the City of Pavement.
I appreciated David Broadland’s very detailed and disturbing article about Victoria’s new bike lanes, especially the costs involved.
At my local cafe, when chatting with members of the Trippleshot Cycling Club before their regular Sunday ride, I was told they dislike the Pandora Street bike lanes, and those curbed on Cook Street near the Quadra turn, preferring a simple white line which they said “is less dangerous.”
I read your informative, evidence-based Focus articles with great interest. We certainly need such well-researched journalism.
In his recent article and accompanying online video, David Broadland critiques the new Pandora bicycle lanes and the Biketoria initiative. While he presents a reasonable analysis of two survey methods, Broadland fails to mention the full range of data sources that informed Biketoria planning. Instead, his article implies that Mayor Helps and City staff used only these surveys to justify Biketoria. This is false. Broadland should speak to those who led Biketoria planning to learn about the extensive engagement, data collection, and analysis process it undertook. Biketoria involved a small army of urban planners, engineers, politicians, business people and community leaders—not to mention the sizeable public who support Biketoria, and voted for politicians who said they would enhance cycling in Victoria.
Unfortunately, Broadland’s article also contains a few long-debunked arguments against cycling infrastructure. For example, his video implies that car emissions will increase because the Pandora bicycle lane will be underutilized. In response, any cyclist or urban planner would ask “well, how many people use a half-built bridge?” The intersection shown in the video is the end of the Pandora bicycle lane (at Cook Street) at one single moment-in-time on a single day. For someone with an interest in data collection methods, Broadland could use a refresher on how to conduct valid traffic studies— something he could learn from speaking with Biketoria’s leadership.
Finally, his article suggests that many Victorians will never switch to a bicycle. While he cites no data to support this claim (even though relevant data exists), I encourage him to investigate any city he considers similar to Victoria that has pursued similar cycling infrastructure to Biketoria. Forget Copenhagen and Amsterdam; try to find cities that regret inviting in cycling. Through this investigation, I’m confident Broadland will warm to the range of benefits Biketoria will yield for Victorians. Who knows, he may even pull his bike out of the shed and give the Pandora bicycle lane a try.
Critiques of government spending are in the public’s best interest. However, critiques should be balanced and include all the facts—not just those that support the author’s argument.
David Broadland’s article on the wisdom of spending millions of taxpayer dollars on bike lanes gave valuable analysis to the debates I’m hearing all over the neighbourhood here in Fairfield. Most of us have one car, and do lots of errands on foot and by bicycle. Most of us are also appalled at the amount spent on the Pandora bike corridor. In Italy and in Spain, we noticed that bicyclists were protected by putting up a 10-inch by 6-inch cement barrier between the car lane and bike lane. In other cities, bicycles and pedestrians shared the sidewalk, with a paint colour showing which side was whose. Both formulas were a lot cheaper and safer than anything we have in Victoria.
Poorly-thought-out spending is especially frustrating when we are told there isn’t sufficient money for more affordable housing, or food programs for low-income residents, or for subsidies/loans for solar panels, or for the city’s anti-violence programs for women and children. It also doesn’t leave us much money for regional transportation planning, a long-awaited dream of many living on the West Shore.
I would be happy to provide a bus-only lane for the cost of some paint and a brush—thus giving the express buses in Duncan and Langford a chance to actually get Downtown and back faster, and convince more people to use them. This isn’t rocket science.
Let’s give it shot.
David Broadland’s article dismisses the findings from the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) that 10.6 percent of City of Victoria residents cycle to work, implying that because it was a voluntary survey, it’s not good data. He then goes on to extensively use data from the 2011 CRD Household Travel Survey to make his argument that rates of cycling are significantly lower. What he fails to mention is that the CRD survey was also a voluntary survey. In addition, the CRD survey was based on a sample of 6172 households—about 3.5 percent of households in the region. By comparison, the NHS sampled about 30 percent of households in the region. So if Mr Broadland considers the NHS to be a poor data source because it’s a voluntary survey, how can he rely on another voluntary survey with barely one-tenth the sample size? Mr Broadland also ignores the fact that the 2006 Census included a mandatory question on commuting to work, and it found a similar result to the NHS—with 9.5 percent of City of Victoria residents cycling to work.
Broadland’s article seems to imply that Victoria’s protected cycling lanes are just a pet project of Mayor Lisa Helps and were not based on evidence-based decision-making. Conveniently ignored are the hundreds, if not thousands, of cities across North America and around the world that are currently installing and expanding protected cycling networks. They are doing this, not as pet projects, but because the evidence in cities where these have already been implemented is that they lead to large increases in cycling by people of all ages.
David Broadland replies: Steven, as I pointed out, the 2011 National Household Survey poses a single question about transportation to the person filling out the survey: What mode of transportation do you use to get to work? Respondents can choose only one travel mode, and only one per household. The NHS provides no information about how far they travelled, how other people in the household travelled, and misses all the other purposes for travelling—which actually constitute the majority of daily travel in our region.
The CRD’s Origin Destination Survey is voluntary in the sense that when a household is contacted by phone and asked to participate, they can decline. If they agree to participate they are asked to provide extensive information about the travel behaviour of everyone in their household over a 24-hour period. This method is used around the world to understand the transportation dynamics of a community. The margin of error for the survey results is estimated at ±1.2 percent at a 95 percent confidence level. DB
To Broadland, the installation of new, protected bike lanes in Downtown Victoria “carries a whiff of social engineering.”
What is it, if not social engineering, that has fostered the supremacy of the private automobile for the past 50 years? As the planet and our province bake and burn, motorists are still subsidized, accommodated, and glorified—at the expense of public transit, biking, walking, and safe human-scale urban design.
Broadland says that “Most people prefer to use four-wheeled motorized personal transport.” In the 1800s, most people preferred slavery, but thankfully it came to an end.
He is worried about “that huge chunk of cash” required for bicycling infrastructure. It costs money to run a civilization. It’s about time that we who choose a healthy, non-polluting, practical form of transportation finally get a slice of the pie. Welcome to the 21st century, where people of all ages and abilities are able to traverse their cities by bicycle in protected car-free lanes.
David Broadland replies: Anne, the article states: “For people who drive a car, truck or van Downtown and don’t see themselves as likely to ever switch to a bicycle, the new situation feels like an attempt to force them to make a change they can’t or don’t want to make, and carries a whiff of social engineering.”
That statement is a reflection of some of the positions expressed publicly about the Pandora protected corridor, which are controversial on a few levels. You missed the point of the article, which was not a criticism of bike lanes, but an appeal for a higher level of transportation planning that goes beyond simply responding to bicycle activists.
My worry is not that a huge chunk of the Gas Tax Fund will be spent on bicycle lanes, but that none of it will be available to develop a realistic plan to mitigate our continued use of fossil-fuelled vehicles. Bicycles and walking have limited potential for helping us make the shift and meet our emissions goals. We need a huge investment in public transit. Please see “Difficult conversations on the steep descent ahead.” DB
Here’s news for the Helps gang: The issue at hand is self-reliance, not telling the public how and where to live, and how and what to think.
Hundreds of millions worldwide use cycling for transportation of kids, moving goods, shopping, schooling, getting to and from work—without bike lanes and patrolling brigades of police or intrusive legislation on what to wear. Utility is the focus, unlike the Helps’ model where public cycling has been hijacked.
Victoria has over 450 kilometres of concrete sidewalks and more than 250 kilometres of paved roads for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to determine how best to use. The mayor, her troops of worthies, curators and lobbyists have determined themselves to be the seers in the mix, arbiters of the correct, ever ready to treat the public purse as personal finance.
Come October 2018’s municipal election, send a message. No one should have to tolerate a repeat of this.
Over the years I have appreciated much of the analysis done by Focus, but David Broadland’s recent article on Victoria’s new bike lanes (“Mayor Helps’ 1.5 percent solution”) contains so many fallacies that it would be impossible to counter them all in a short letter. But here’s an effort to deal with a couple of them.
First of all, I admit to being an “avid bicycle commuter” similar to Mayor Helps. I am also a 63-year-old man who became a dedicated bicyclist at the age of 56. I moved to “hilly” Victoria from San Francisco 8 years ago.
Broadland claims that the 10.6 percent mode share of cyclists in 2011 used in reports to justify the new bike lanes is inflated. This may be, but Broadland’s metric—using the percentage of total miles travelled by mode—is just as flawed and seems designed to minimize the positive impact of cycling. It makes sense that bicyclists travel less distance than drivers do to accomplish the same things. After all, if you are bicycling you are much more likely to shop locally and unlikely to whip up to Uptown to save 20 percent on toilet paper at Walmart. Broadland’s metric penalizes us for this.
Broadland criticizes the cost of the project—which he claims will be $16 million—over twice as much as the City says it will cost. In the eight years I’ve lived in Victoria, this is the first time that any entity has spent any significant amount of money on bike infrastructure. Meanwhile, just off the top of my head, I can count three significant projects for automobile traffic within the CRD in the last few years—the McTavish interchange at $24 million, the Johnson Street bridge project at $100 million and counting, and the McKenzie interchange project at at least $85 million. So that’s at least $210 million for car infrastructure just in major projects. Maybe even $16 million for something that promotes a clear social good isn’t so much?
David Broadland responds: Paul, these are all good points, worthy of further discussion. I have responded in detail to your and other responses in “Difficult conversations on the steep descent ahead”. Thanks to everyone for their letters. DB
How to lose at bridge, and pool As usual, great articles on the bridge and other infrastructure projects which make me relieved to be living in Ladysmith and not having to deal with the outcomes of decisions from the Greater Victoria politicians.
Re the Broadland and Crockford pieces, I was brought up to believe there are no dumb questions, only dumb answers. Local politicians are generalists, interested hopefully in serving their communities, and are not experts in any or many subjects. Hence the need for expert staff and consultants who should not be afraid to speak truth to power and to provide open and honest advice to their political bosses. Unfortunately the pols have not been well-served in these respects, staff seemingly not being knowledgeable and consultants preferring to obfuscate and pass the buck so that future contract opportunities are not compromised.
That said, politicians are culpable by not paying attention to the project and financial risks, believing that any form of cost-sharing from the provincial and federal governments is sufficient to justify any new inflated, ill-conceived and multiple-objective project, while ignoring required maintenance and reports that say the sky is not falling.
The process regarding the new pool definitely shows the pols have not learned their lessons from the bridge project and are indeed over their heads.
Counter-cyclical government spending may seem out-dated, but why compete and pay top-dollar for projects such as bike lanes and bridges when the private sector is already going gang-busters providing more housing and commercial/institutional space and ultimately tax dollars for the local governments?
Politicians should cool their jets, do some more data gathering and planning, and ask all the questions they like until they get decent, clear responses from their very high-priced help.
Recently Mayor Lisa Helps was interviewed on CBC’s On The Island morning program. I was amazed to hear that the cost overruns for fendering on the new Johnson Street bridge would not cost taxpayers any money because they would be paid for out of the City’s contingency fund.
That’s like claiming the family holiday was free because it was paid for out of the savings account not the chequing account.
It’s scary to think we let these people manage multi-million dollar projects. If the contingency account is so flush with funds that this charge will have no impact, then City taxes have been historically too high. Otherwise, taxpayers will be on the hook for replenishing the contingency account so funds will be available when Victoria has a true emergency. There is no way the City can spend additional millions and taxpayers won’t be impacted.
Resurrecting music that got buried alive Dr Suzanne Snizek briefly mentioned a reference that weaves a strange thread from Jewish exclusion during fascism to Canada today. She said that “refugees fled to ‘friendly’ countries like Canada [where they] were not necessarily welcomed with open arms...”
Prime Minister Mackenzie King turned away 907 Jewish refugees in the desperate 1939 MS St Louis’ journey. Hundreds perished in the Holocaust after the boat’s forced return to Europe.
King met Hitler in 1937. Wikipedia has evidence King was sympathetic to Hitler. Many Nazis and their sympathizers fled East Europe, including Ukraine, after the war.
The gifted Ukrainian pianist and patriot Valentina Lisitsa had her Toronto Symphony Orchestra performance axed in 2015 due to statements she made about the Ukrainian regime. She was not appreciated for being honest about the links between current Ukrainian violence and Western-denied Neo-Nazis.
Read about the very disturbing history of Western support for fascism from World War II through the present in Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism by Dr Michael Parenti.
HPV vaccine discussion continued Dr Gina Ogilvie and I would like to respond to Alan Cassel’s response to our critique of his column on the HPV vaccine. I can assure readers that we do not feel obligated to defend vaccines at all costs. Rather, we hold the tenet that individuals should make decisions based on the balance of scientific information and not cherry-picked criticisms from vaccine sceptics.
Following up on that point, we would like to address the statement that: “parents should be aware of the controversies surrounding the research around the vaccine, the many unanswered questions and the growing number of girls around the world who appear (my emphasis) to be harmed by it.”
Logically, if a vaccine causes serious side effects, we would expect that these occurrences would be more frequent in those who received the vaccine when compared to those who did not. As we noted in our earlier response, scientific studies from different populations, over a period of nine years, and involving more than one million pre-adolescent girls, adolescent girls and adult women show that this is not the case. Events and conditions reported as side effects (such as auto-immune diseases— including Guillain-Barre syndrome and multiple sclerosis—anaphylaxis, venous thromboembolism, adverse pregnancy outcomes and stroke) happen just as frequently in unvaccinated girls and women of the same ages. These events are sad and tragic, but extensive study shows that they are not caused by this vaccine.
Alan Cassels also states that so far there is no proof that the HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer. As we noted, there are excellent data from around the world that the vaccine effectively prevents the pre-cancerous lesions that precede all cervical cancers. We would not characterize these as “surrogate markers.” Not all these lesions will become cancers, but no cancer will occur without a preceding precancerous change. And, to conduct a study where we wait for women to develop cervical cancer to show the proof of the HPV vaccine compared to placebo would be highly unethical.
Alan Cassels asks whether “given that 90 percent of HPV infections are asymptomatic and will clear within two years…is it possible that public health officials have reconfigured a small risk factor into a deadly disease?”
Well—your readers can be the judge of that.
Most infected women will in fact clear HPV infection; only a minority will have persistent infection leading to pre-cancerous changes. Most of these can be picked up through cervical screening and surgical procedures (colposcopies) will be used to treat these changes. In BC in 2014 around 16,000 of these surgical colposcopies were performed—procedures which, though clearly beneficial as they have been shown to prevent subsequent cancer development, are sometimes associated with complications for women’s future reproductive health, including leading to higher rates of low birth weight and preterm labour, as well as the inherent risks of the colposcopy treatment itself. Despite these interventions, in 2015, 178 cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed, and 42 women died from it.
Is this acceptable? It might be to Mr Cassels, but we think this is a cavalier attitude. There are good data that the HPV vaccine prevents 100 percent of infections with HPV 16/18, the most oncogenic (cancer-causing) types, and has been shown to prevent a substantial proportion (20-45 percent) of pre-cancerous changes in vaccinated women. These reductions in precancerous lesions avert many thousands of colposcopies and, it is reasonable to presume, will reduce the number of women developing cervical cancer and the associated morbidity and mortality.
In BC alone, even with fewer than 70 percent of eligible women vaccinated against HPV, we have seen a substantial reduction in pre-cancerous cervical lesions in the young women vaccinated in grades 6 and 9.
Given [this] are we really still asking “does this vaccine work?”
Our real question and focus should be: “How do we improve uptake of the HPV vaccine, so that all young women (and men) no longer develop HPV-related cancers?”
We assert, based on the evidence, that the available HPV vaccines are both safe and effective. We hope that individuals who are wavering on the question of having their children vaccinated will make up their minds based on fact rather than innuendo. We also believe that publicly funding this vaccine is a sound use of finite health care resources.
Dr Perry Kendall, Prov. Health Officer
Dr Gina Ogilvie, professor, UBC
Alan Cassels responds: To write me off as a “vaccine skeptic” who cherry picks his evidence, and relies on innuendo is an ad hominem attack and the lowest form of debate. There are still major questions around this particular vaccine’s efficacy and safety. One should always question the major cheerleaders of any drug or vaccine, because as vigorously as they say they are striving to improve public health, the history of medicine is littered with good (but disasterous) intentions. AC
“Undue hardship” for whom? A developer is seeking permission to build a five-storey, 14-unit luxury condo building (“The Quest”) on a 10,588 square-foot residential lot at 2326 Oak Bay Avenue in Oak Bay. The plan includes underground parking: the entire size of the lot will be excavated by prolonged and extensive blasting to a depth of 12 feet. All existing trees, shrubs and topsoil would be removed. Not surprisingly the proposal violates many Oak Bay Official Community Plan objectives. As well, the proposal would result in the destruction of a significant, protected, approximately 200-year-old Garry Oak tree at 2340 Oak Bay Avenue.
The Advisory Planning Commission considered the proposal on July 4, 2017. The developer’s consultant and Oak Bay staff agreed the protected Garry Oak is healthy and has many more years of life left and the proposal would destroy the tree.
Since Garry Oaks are protected in Oak Bay, any alterations to the tree must comply with Bylaw 4326. The relevant clause in this case states that the tree at issue can only be removed if “a requirement to construct the building or structure in an alternate location would impose an undue hardship.”
The 2326 property was purchased by the developer for $900,000. It is estimated that the total list price for the proposed development will be approximately $13 million. Alternate proposals have been previously suggested for this site that would not require destroying the tree. The developer would still make a tidy profit—albeit not as large as the one he’d earn by destroying the tree.
This begs the question: Is requiring a developer to earn a slightly smaller profit in order to comply with Oak Bay’s Tree Bylaw an “undue hardship”?
Or is the true “undue hardship” our community’s loss of a majestic iconic symbol of Oak Bay and our commitment to the environmental benefits of protecting and enhancing an urban forest, pursuant to Oak Bay’s Urban Forest Strategy?
Mike Wilmut, Oak Bay
Development process broken My neighbours and I have closely watched the development application process for the Truth Centre Property at 1201 Fort Street. It’s made many of us realize our city planning and development process is utterly broken.
Abstract Developments intends to transform the park-like area of almost two acres into a dense apartment condo and townhouse complex. Most of the trees will be replaced by two large and out-of-place condo buildings, and a row of ten, three-storey townhouses. In total, 94 units.
The community has stated its overwhelming opposition to the scale of the development. The proposed six-storey condo facing Fort dwarfs anything in the area. The wall of 10 townhouses with little setback dominates the small street. The scale of a second condo apartment in the rear is too massive. The architecture does not reflect the heritage corridor or the surrounding homes. The removal of trees is inconsistent with the Official Community Plan and denies Victoria a much-needed urban greenspace. The impact to wildlife is sobering.
City Council heard us, sending Abstract back to the drawing board to address questions of scale, height, and heritage architecture. But Abstract’s response was to increase the proposed units from 93 to 94!
If this proposal is accepted, Mayor and council will be promoting overdevelopment and demonstrating their lack of respect for neighbourhood input—even after Abstract has ignored theirs. Let’s hope they can repair the broken development process by saying “No” to Abstract’s proposal.
Gonzales Neighbourhood Plan I am forwarding you a note I sent today to Victoria City council about tomorrow’s meeting of the whole to consider approval of the draft Gonzales Neighbourhood Plan:
The survey was full of leading and misleading questions. The public consultations were insufficient and were more akin to telling us your plans than listening to the needs and wishes of voters. The time span between alerting the public to your plans and bringing forward a draft plan for approval has been woefully inadequate. There is simply too much information for residents of the neighbourhood to have reviewed in order to have understood your plans and commented in a meaningful way.
I contacted all councillors; only three bothered to respond. I have reached out several times directly to the council representative for the area and have yet to hear from Councillor Coleman. None of this supports approval.
Neighbours have made the same comments. The proposed plan has many components that will significantly alter the community and it would be in everyone’s best interest to take the time for full and meaningful public consultations. The City has not done that. To date, the process has not earned you social license to proceed, and in fact promises to further alienate the public, many of whom see this plan as emanating from outside the community to serve someone else’s interests. Under the circumstances I implore you not to approve the draft plan unless and until full and proper public consultations have been completed.
If this council is sincerely committed to transparency, accountability and public engagement, here is an opportunity to demonstrate that commitment. I recommend that you do so.
To create a realistic pathway to a low-carbon regional transportation system, science—not activism—needs to lead the way forward.
IT HAD LONG BEEN MY UNDERSTANDING that cycling—all on its own—would become a significant part of the solution for reducing local transportation emissions. However, when I used the Capital Regional District’s most recent comprehensive travel survey to estimate the amount of energy supplied by each form of transportation at the regional level, I was flabbergasted to find that cycling accounts for such a tiny share: 1.5 percent in 2011.
The amount of energy each transportation mode provides can only be compared when you consider the total distance travelled each day by CRD residents using each type of transport. Replacing the work done by fossil-fuelled automobiles is essential if we’re going to reduce emissions. But how much of that work can be replaced by humans exerting themselves by cycling or walking instead of driving?
More than is currently the case in our region, no doubt. But when we consider how to shift enough of the work done by automobiles to more energy efficient modes of transportation, like walking, cycling, and transit, the magnitude of the challenge facing us becomes clear. There has to be a huge shift in how people move around, quickly. Why time is such a critical part of the equation should be obvious, and the Trudeau government’s announcement late last year of a mid-century emissions goal establishes the rate of descent for making reductions. The perplexing question is: What do we shift to?
Cycling and walking are part of the solution, but there needs to be a massive shift of the work done by cars to public transit. If other places that have already made this change are any indication of what Victoria will choose to do, the role of cycling and walking will largely be for making the first short leg of a trip made by public transit. While we’re seeing local governments create isolated pockets of inordinately expensive improvements for cycling, there’s little evidence that the region is on the verge of making sensible (let alone massive) investments in public transit.
I pointed this out in the last edition in “Mayor Helps’ 1.5 percent solution,” which was subtitled, “Local government’s response to reducing transportation emissions may be wishful thinking. Or foolish.”
New two-way protected cycling corridor in Downtown Victoria
Responding at a local level to the existential threat posed by climate change, rising sea level and ocean acidification—all caused by carbon emissions—will be a transformative, Herculean task that requires constant, difficult conversation about the path we should be on. If we Earthlings don’t do this work—including the conversations—we’re cooked.
What is the task facing us? According to the CRD, 55 percent of emissions generated in the region come from fossil-fuelled vehicles. Unless there is a significant and quick decline in their use, the planet will be at increasing risk of runaway warming. We simply can’t take a long-term approach to this shift. How rapidly do we need to act?
The Trudeau government’s overall emissions goal is to lower them by 80 percent (compared with 2005 levels) by 2050. As yet, no targets have been set for individual economic sectors, but it’s reasonable to assume that the transportation sector’s contribution would have to be on the order of 80 percent, give or take a few percentage points. To be on the most gradual descent that would get Canada to that goal, transportation emissions, and those from other sectors, would need to be reduced by about 34 percent over the next 12 years.
Canada’s mid-century emissions target, announced in late 2016, means an overall emissions reduction of 34 percent by 2030—12 years from now.
To put that time frame into perspective, consider that the City of Victoria started the process to replace the Johnson Street Bridge in 2008. It will, hopefully, open for traffic in 2018, ten years later. The amount of time left before 2030 is only a little longer than the City of Victoria needed to build a 156-metre-long bridge.
What would this rapid transformation mean for drivers of fossil-fuelled cars in Victoria? Collectively, over the next 12 years, we will have to either drive 34 percent less distance each day, get new vehicles that use, on average, 34 percent less fuel, shift 34 percent of our travel to non-fossil-fuel modes of transportation, or employ a strategy that combines some or all of these.
What is the CRD’s plan for responding to the goals announced by the Trudeau government in late 2016? In its already-outdated 2014 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), the CRD noted: “Long-term transportation planning efforts and investments are therefore needed to help reduce GHG emissions and adapt to a changing climate—both requirements are fundamental principles to all of the themes elaborated in this RTP. This means focusing on integrating land use and transportation planning to support sustainable transportation choices and reduce trip distances.”
The CRD’s short-term plan is to double ridership on public transit by 2030 and build more cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
Will this suffice to meet our national emission reduction target? The short answer is a definite “No.” I’ll show you the arithmetic for that conclusion later on.
In “Mayor Helps’ 1.5 percent solution” I used the CRD’s most recent and most comprehensive survey of the region’s transportation system, done in 2011. It showed that autos accounted for 88 percent of the distance travelled in the CRD each day. By comparison, public transit accounted for 7.1 percent, walking 1.7 percent, and bicycles 1.5 percent. I questioned whether the CRD’s plan would be able to significantly shift the share of the work being done by the various modes of transportation enough to significantly reduce emissions.
These numbers baffled cycling advocates, who were more familiar with “mode share” to describe cycling’s contribution to our transportation needs. Mode share is a way of comparing the number of individual trips made by each form of transportation in a day. Using mode share, both a 3-kilometre trip on a bicycle and a 10-kilometre drive in a car are given equal weight. Although the CRD’s 2011 information shows bicycling had a mode share of 2.8 percent in the region, in certain places and for certain trip purposes, such as commuting to work in the City of Victoria, cycling’s mode share can be considerably higher. The Victoria area isn’t much different from Vancouver, where cycling accounts for about 1 percent of total distance travelled. Notably, Metro Vancouver’s equivalent of the travel study done by the CRD includes such information, whereas the CRD does not.
Share of total distance travelled by each mode of travel (Source: 2011 Metro Vancouver Regional Trip Diary Survey Analysis Report)
Presenting basic information about the work done by components of transportation systems in this way might be discouraging to cyclists. However, when the primary consideration is reduction of emissions, “mode share” provides no useful information. As laid out in the CRD’s emissions reduction plan, the task will be to shift some fossil-fuelled auto use to a combination of transit, cycling and walking. Only by including the distance travelled, which reflects all the current realities about where people live, study, work and play and how far they have to travel each day to accomplish what they need to do, can we gauge how much energy needs to be shifted from autos to other modes. To put it as plainly as possible, a 34 percent reduction in emissions would require, after factoring in small increases in fuel efficiency and a small shift to electric vehicles, a shift of about 25 percent of the distance travelled in fossil-fuelled autos to non-fossil-fuelled modes over the next 12 years. I’ll elaborate on this later.
AS MENTIONED ABOVE, my use of “total distance travelled” to compare the current energy contribution of different modes baffled cycling advocates. Former City of Victoria councillor John Luton, who has played a lead role in promoting cycling infrastructure projects in the region, wrote on Facebook, “Stories emerging from unreliable sources claim that CRD numbers show that only 1.5 percent of trips in the region are bicycle trips.” Luton went on to state, “Promoters of this theory are dishonest or unable to understand statistical information…The premise used to sell this fairy tale is that total mileage equals number of trips. That is false.…lying about the numbers is not a useful contribution to these discussions.”
Edward Pullman, president of the board of directors of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, responded to Luton: “Spot on John. By focussing exclusively on total distance travelled, folks that commute long distances become more important than those that live closer to their destinations. It’s a bizarre perversion of commuter choices.”
Contacted by email, neither Luton nor Pullman could explain what their comments had meant. The story did not propose that “total mileage equals number of trips,” as Luton claimed.
Former MLA and cycling advocate David Cubberley asserted: “There are no useful analytics involved in focussing on total distance travelled.”
In a letter to Focus, Paul Rasmussen wrote, “Using the percentage of total miles travelled by mode… seems designed to minimize the positive impact of cycling.”
The idea that our story was intentionally “designed to minimize the positive impact of cycling” occurred to other readers, as well.
Transportation planning consultant Todd Litman wrote a lengthy response to our story in an online blog in which he claimed I had written that bicycle lanes were “wasteful” and “unfair to motorists.” On the basis of those claims—neither of which were made in our article, or intended—Litman continued on to assert what possessing such beliefs must indicate about the writer, including this zinger: “Critics like Broadland imply that cycling facilities only benefit a small number of serious cyclists—those who ride expensive racing bikes wearing lycra.”
Nothing like that, though, was either stated or intended in our story.
Luton, Pullman, Cubberley, Rasmussen and Litman are all in a position to influence the CRD’s plan for reducing emissions and the expenditure of many millions of dollars in public resources, yet none of them seemed able to understand what the CRD’s own numbers say about the magnitude of the energy shift that will be required to meet the federal target. Instead, they mounted a defense of cycling on the basis of other details we reported—or didn’t report—about the new Pandora Avenue protected bike lanes.
Litman complained: “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.”
But the City’s record of underestimating and hiding project costs is a matter of public record. For example, when City councillors voted to replace the Johnson Street Bridge in 2009 they understood the project would cost $40 million. It’s now close to triple that. A more prudent reporter would have pushed the City’s bike lane estimate much higher. I simply extended the City’s actual cost per kilometre for the Pandora lanes—which was higher than the City’s budget estimate—to the full length of the protected corridor it plans to build.
Merely reporting the likely cost of the planned Downtown protected network was, it seemed, enough to set the cycling advocates’ sense of fairness on fire. Rasmussen wrote, “Broadland criticizes the cost of the project—which he claims will be $16 million—over twice as much as the City says it will cost. In the eight years I’ve lived in Victoria, this is the first time that any entity has spent any significant amount of money on bike infrastructure. Meanwhile, just off the top of my head, I can count three significant projects for automobile traffic within the CRD in the last few years—the McTavish Interchange at $24 million, the Johnson Street Bridge project at $100 million and counting, and the McKenzie Interchange project at least $85 million. So that’s at least $210 million for car infrastructure just in major projects. Maybe even $16 million for something that promotes a clear social good isn’t so much?”
Rasmussen could have included the $30-million Leigh Road Interchange (aka The Bridge to Nowhere) in Langford on that list, but let’s examine his claim a little more closely. The cost of the new McKenzie interchange, for example, includes the cost of space for cyclists, pedestrians and public transit. The new Johnson Street Bridge also includes space for those three non-car modes. In fact, 53.5 percent of the bridge’s available deck space is dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists. If the final cost of the bridge is $115 million—which it will be once hidden and as-yet undetermined costs for landscaping and additional protective fendering are included—should 53.5 percent of that cost be assigned to cycling and walking? That would be $62 million. Moreover, the public record of how this project unfolded shows that cycling advocates greatly overstated the extent to which the old bridges were being used by cyclists and their exaggerations helped to inflate the project into the public works nightmare it has become (See “Juking the stats,” Focus November 2011).
Comparison of the space for autos (red) and cyclists and pedestrians (green) on the new Johnson Street Bridge (Source: PCL drawing)
In Litman’s response to our story he wrote, “Cyclists just want a fair share of public resources (transportation funding and road space). What would be fair? You could argue that it should be about equal to cycling’s mode share: if 5 percent of trips are by cycling then it would be fair to invest 5 percent of public resources in cycling facilities. But this is backward looking since it reflects the travel patterns that occur under current conditions, ignoring ‘latent demand,’ the additional cycling trips that some travellers want to make but cannot due to inadequate facilities. To respond to these demands it would be fair to invest the portion of money and road space that reflects the mode share after those programs are completed; if comprehensive planning is likely to result in 10 percent cycling mode share, it would be fair to invest 10 percent of transportation funds and road space in cycling facilities.”
Litman’s point isn’t particularly relevant to a discussion focussing on whether proposed bicycle and LRT infrastructure will effectively address emissions reduction, but it’s worth exploring. The record at the City of Victoria shows that transportation infrastructure decisions have been wonky, but not in the direction Litman claims. Again, consider the new Johnson Street Bridge. In the only reliable survey comparing trips across the bridge—published in a 2010 economic assessment used by the City to promote a new bridge—cycling and walking accounted for about 6 percent of mode share during periods of the year when those modes are at their peak. In the winter that share drops. Yet the new bridge will provide them with over 53 percent of the available deck space. So far there is no evidence to suggest mode share for cycling and walking will ever reach 53 percent, but they got it anyway.
The City of Victoria Engineering Department's traffic counts on the Johnson Street Bridge used in a 2010 economic impact analysis to support a new bridge: Autos on left, buses centre, bicycles on right.
Reading the various responses to our story, I got the strong impression that cyclists were not willing to consider the story’s core idea: Transportation infrastructure decisions need to more strongly reflect the urgent need to reduce transportation emissions, and we need better, more timely information on vehicle use in the CRD in order to gauge the effectiveness of the strategies that are being employed to reduce emissions. By “better” I mean more trustworthy information, the gathering of which is insulated from the influence of special interest groups like the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, engineering and project management corporations, or current and former politicians.
In email exchanges with Litman and others, it emerged that, in their minds, Focus had written the wrong story. The cycling advocates were furious that our article focussed so narrowly on the issue of emissions reduction rather than fully explaining all the other benefits that more cycling infrastructure would bring, such as cleaner air, greater personal safety for cyclists and a reduction in vehicle congestion.
Litman wrote, “Public investments should be evaluated based on total benefits and costs. My report, ‘Evaluating Active Transportation Benefits and Costs’ (vtpi.org/nmt-tdm.pdf ) provides a framework for doing just that: it identifies about a dozen categories of impacts (benefits and costs) that should be considered when evaluating walking and cycling policies and programs, including direct impacts on users, and indirect impacts on society. Your column only considered two benefits: increased user safety and climate change emission reductions. That is grossly incomplete and undervalues cycling improvements.”
Our story, in fact, made no attempt to examine “increased user safety” beyond presenting Mayor Helps’ publicly stated position. Nor was it our purpose to present any of cycling’s other benefits. Our focus was on emissions reduction and getting better information.
Litman encourages us to evaluate cycling infrastructure on the basis of total benefits and cost, but this would be an exceedingly speculative endeavour. Consider cost. The 2011 CRD Pedestrian and Cycling Master Plan—the only plan for building cycling infrastructure in the member municipalities of the CRD—estimated the cost of a region-wide bicycle network at $275 million. But that plan didn’t include any cycling improvements on Pandora Street. Yet it’s still the “Master Plan.”
Indeed, the plan estimated costs of $3.3 million for 22.7 kilometres of “priority” bike lanes in the City of Victoria. But that’s a lower cost than the actual cost incurred for only 1.4 kilometres of protected bike lanes on Pandora (which wasn’t in the plan). And, optimistically, the plan estimates the cost of “all projects” (54.7 kilometres) in the City of Victoria at $12.4 million. Yet that won’t even cover the four legs of the 5.3-kilometre-long protected network in the Downtown core.
The plan’s estimates for other municipalities seem even wilder, if that’s possible. For example, it put the cost of 26.5 kilometres of bikeway in View Royal at $36 million. Why would $36 million be spent way out in View Royal and only $12.4 million in Victoria? By the way, the consultant who wrote the CRD’s Master Plan lived in Oregon.
Even if we did have a good grasp of the benefits an advanced cycling network might provide, the cost estimating that has been done so far is deeply flawed. So how can a useful cost-benefit analysis be conducted? Again, the CRD needs more trustworthy information gathered by a process that’s insulated from special interest groups.
In any case, cyclist-centric claims about mode share, costs and fairness—and the backlash from other parts of the community those claims generate—are diversions for which we no longer have time. Shouldn’t the choice about how to transform our transportation system be simpler than that? Shouldn’t it be: Are we going to make a serious attempt to meet the federal emissions target or not? If we are, what do we need to do to accomplish that? Personally, I’m not interested in writing about all the benefits of a “sustainable” transportation system if that system won’t come anywhere close to meeting our 2030 emissions reduction target.
So here’s the crux of the problem: The emissions reduction potential of an improved cycling network, if that’s all that’s executed, is limited. A paper published by Litman quoted results from “a detailed study of five US communities with active transport improvements” which found the improvements resulted in a reduction of “one to four percent of total automobile travel.” A “one to four percent” reduction would be the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs as the ship is sinking. We need a 34 percent reduction in 12 years.
Let’s shift back to what our regional transportation system would need to look like by 2030 so that we could meet that target. To get a clearer picture, let’s start in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands has invested billions of dollars in public transit and infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians. Is this a solution for Victoria?
STATISTICS NETHERLANDS REPORTS that, in 2015, with 1.1 bicycle for each of its nearly 17 million inhabitants, that country had “the highest bicycle density in the world.” Featured prominently in its depiction of that country’s transportation system is a chart showing the percentage that each different mode contributed to transportation of people on land—bicycles, cars, buses, trains, walking, etcetera. Percentage of what? The percentage of the total distance travelled:
Domestic distance travelled by transport mode in the Netherlands (Source: Statistics Netherlands)
According to Statistics Netherlands, cars accounted for 73 percent of the total distance people travelled within their country. Public transit provides 12 percent, bicycles 7 percent and walking 3 percent.
The City of Amsterdam, considered to have the greatest regional participation in cycling of any large European city, also publishes comparisons of the extent to which each transportation mode is used within that city, both by mode share and total distance travelled:
Mode share (left) and share of total distance travelled (right) in the City of Amsterdam (Source: City of Amsterdam)
The combined mode share for cycling and walking amounts to 54 percent (30 + 24). Yet when the total-distance-travelled lens is applied, together they account for 14 percent (12 + 2). The Dutch, rightfully proud of their extensive use of bicycles for transportation, have no problem being transparent about how much of the work of transporting people is done by each mode. Cars, at 54 percent, still account for the majority of the work done. (According to TomTom, an Amsterdam-based company that measures vehicle congestion all over the globe, Amsterdam’s traffic congestion is increasing; it’s already at a level higher than many American cities.)
In the CRD, 88 percent of that work is being done by cars. The 34 percentage points of difference between Victoria’s and Amsterdam’s reliance on fossil-fuelled cars to transport people is, completely coincidentally, equal to the shift Victoria would need to make by 2030 to be on a path that would meet the federal mid-century goal.
In other words, Victoria would need to become Little Amsterdam (Amsterdam has a metropolitan population of 1.6 million, Victoria’s is 368,000) within 12 years—the equivalent of a moonshot.
Amsterdam’s achievements, it should be noted, include extensive bus, tram, metro and railway networks which provide the means to extend the length of a trip that a person starts and ends as a pedestrian or a cyclist. This achievement has taken many decades and many billions of dollars. For example, the city’s 73 kilometres of underground metro lines have a current value of $30-40 billion.
Amsterdam’s highly developed public tramway, metro and railway system. Bus routes aren’t shown. Estimated cost? Unknown, but the 9.5-kilometre North-South Line (shown by the blue line), a new metro line currently under construction, will cost the equivalent of $4.6 billion CAD.
What would Victoria need to do to knock 34 percent off its emissions tally? Let me take you through that exercise, but keep in mind that this is an arithmetical exercise performed only to provide you with a sense of the magnitude of the challenge we face. To do it we need to start with some basic assumptions.
First, let’s assume 4 percent of fossil-fuelled auto travel in the CRD shifts to electric cars over the next 12 years (it’s currently less than 1 percent). That would take care of 4 percent of transportation emissions and our reduction requirement would fall to about 30 percent. If there’s a quick breakthrough in super-capacitor technology, which could replace the lithium ion batteries currently used in electric vehicles, this shift could eventually be much higher. But even such an unexpected breakthrough wouldn’t have a big impact over the next 12 years.
Secondly, let’s assume there will be only minor emission reductions as a result of people using cars with higher fuel efficiency. In the USA earlier this year, Trump ordered a review of Obama’s regulations requiring much greater fuel efficiency by 2025. There’s broad expectation in the US that those standards will be rolled back, partly because car manufacturers have made the case that Obama’s regulations can’t be met without making cars unaffordable. Canada harmonizes with the US on such matters, so higher fuel efficiency seems like a long shot. Still, let’s include a conservative five percent reduction in car emissions due to fuel efficiency gains by 2030. Now we’re down to the need for a 25 percent reduction from taking other actions.
Most people are aware of the need to reduce emissions and believe they already limit their travel to only what’s essential. That leaves government only one option: somehow persuading drivers to replace 25 percent of their current auto travel with a combination of public transit, bicycling or walking. How will we be persuaded? There would be no need for a carbon tax if people would voluntarily limit their auto use to the level governments told them was necessary. But we’re not like that, so implementation of a much higher carbon tax to start pushing the most cost-sensitive drivers out of their cars would have to occur soon. The Province’s account of BC’s emissions shows the current level of the carbon tax doesn’t appear to be having much bite, especially with gas prices as low as they are. So our last assumption is that much more serious fuel-cost persuasion will begin soon.
With current total travel by autos in the CRD running at approximately five million kilometres each day, 25 percent of that—or 1.25 million kilometres per day—would need to be shifted from cars to buses, walking and cycling. However, in reducing the distance driven by autos by 25 percent, we would also likely displace 25 percent of the 1 million kilometres travelled in autos by passengers each day. So the shift to public transit, walking or bicycles would need to amount to about 1.5 million kilometres per day.
Doubling the mode share of buses by 2030—the CRD’s stated goal—would cover about 500,000 kilometres of the required shift. The remaining 1 million kilometres of the shift would fall to walking and cycling. When added to their current levels, that would mean that cycling and walking would account for about 1.2 million kilometres each day, or about 18 percent of the total distance travelled—in just 12 years time.
Now compare that with Amsterdam. Its combined total for bicycles and walking is 14 percent of the total distance travelled—a level that has taken several decades and billions of dollars invested in infrastructure for walking, bicycles, buses, subways, trams and commuter rail. Moreover, Amsterdam has packed 1.6 million people into an area about the same size as Victoria’s metropolitan area. That high population density, over four times Victoria’s, is essential for the financial viability of Amsterdam’s expansive, complex and costly public transit system.
For the CRD’s vaguely-outlined plan to work, the distance travelled by cycling and walking would have to increase by about 600 percent (over levels in 2011) within 12 years. For a City with a steadily aging population and a so-so transit system, is this realistic? Has the CRD come up with the moonshot plan that will reduce the region’s transportation emissions by 34 percent within 12 years?
So far, only minimal information has emerged into public view about how the region’s public transit system will evolve so its mode share doubles by 2030. What seems evident is that the rationale stated in the CRD’s Regional Transportation Plan for very expensive rapid transit is much more of a response to brief periods of traffic congestion—along the Trans Canada Highway out to Langford, and the Pat Bay Highway out to Sidney, during peak commuting periods—than it is a response to the need to cost-effectively reduce emissions throughout the day.
The assumption that such congestion will continue on the Trans Canada, even after the new McKenzie Road interchange is complete, is founded on the debunked theory that most future growth in the region will occur in Langford. The 2016 census data shows that over the past 15 years—Langford’s glory years—the Core’s share of the metropolitan population has hardly changed, dropping from 68 percent to 65 percent. That strongly suggests the best place to focus future investment in public transit is where most of the people already live—in Victoria and Saanich. Instead, the CRD could be the first government in history to plan for an LRT to Nowhere.
After the next 12 years, of course, the same rate of shift from autos to public transit, cycling and walking would have to continue—right through to 2050. Keep in mind, too, that transportation emissions in Canada amount to about 24 percent of total emissions, so to be on the most gradually descending path to 2050, all the other sectors would need to be reducing their emissions as well. That will impact all of our lives in ways that, at this point, we haven’t yet imagined. But unless we do it—according to the world’s best scientific minds—we’re cooked.
Is Victoria’s political culture up to the task of getting us through this daunting challenge? The short answer may lie in the record of the attempt to build a new Johnson Street Bridge. An even more chilling possibility is hinted at by the misplaced effort to convert Victoria’s safe, source-controlled, low-cost, tidal-powered marine-based sewage treatment system to a land-based system that will cost Victorians billions of dollars over the life of the infrastructure that’s being built. According to DFO scientists, land-based sewage treatment will have negligible effect on environmental conditions in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The existing marine-based system was endorsed by an overwhelming number of Victoria’s marine scientists and current and former public health officials.
One of the DFO scientists I spoke with during those deliberations was Sophie Johannessen, the lead author of the peer-reviewed study that found land-based treatment would have a negligible environmental effect on environmental conditions in the Strait.
I asked Johannessen if there was anything the community could do that would have a more positive effect on marine ecosystems than moving Victoria’s marine-based sewage treatment system onto land.
“I think so, yes,” Johannessen said. “We could reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, enact source control for persistent contaminants, and reduce other local pressures on the marine biota.”
The local political culture didn’t listen to the scientists. Instead it followed Mr Floatie to Seattle and started the never-ending process of flushing billions of dollars down our toilets. On atmospheric emissions, the scientists have spoken loudly and clearly: there’s a pressing need to act. In response, will our politicians be led by special interest groups? Or will their decisions be based on science and evidence?
David Broadland is the publisher of Focus Magazine.
A forest and fire ecologist discusses her research on how to reduce the damage being done to BC’s forests by fires.
BY LATE AUGUST there had been over 1100 forest fires in BC during 2017. With 1 million hectares burned, it was officially a record-breaking season. In the previous ten years, the largest area lost was in 2014 when 339,168 hectares went up in smoke. One would have to go back to 1958’s record of 855,000 hectares burned to come anywhere close. This fire season also resulted in the longest state of emergency in BC’s history.
Interestingly, between 2006 and 2016 the average annual number of fires was 1,844. So this year’s 1000 (and rising) fires were, on average, a lot bigger than previous years. And the outlook does not look any better. Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Forest Service predicts a potential doubling of the amount of area burned in Canada by the end of this century, compared with amounts burned in recent decades.
One of the more than 1000 wildfires in BC in 2017
Besides the devastation to forests and wildlife this summer, over 45,000 people were evacuated from their homes. While residents of the Interior bore the brunt of the unpleasant and sometimes tragic consequences, even those of us on BC’s coast experienced numerous smoky days, with attendant health issues.
And, of course, there’s an impressive impact on BC’s economy. In 2014, when less than one-third of the area burned, direct costs were $300 million. So this year’s direct costs will be significantly higher. And then there’s all the indirect costs, from health care through impacts on tourism, small business, and agriculture.
BC, of course, is not alone. Heat waves and droughts have led to horrific wildfires in Italy, France, Spain and especially Portugal. In California, 100 million trees are expected to be casualties of their drought and rising temperature. A changing climate has being identified as increasing the intensity of these events.
A recently published meta-analysis by 63 scholars in Nature Ecology and Evolution found that trees in droughty conditions shut pores that let in carbon dioxide in order to conserve moisture. That also blocks the water transport within the tree, leading to dehydration and carbon starvation—in other words, dead, dry trees that don’t absorb atmospheric carbon and easily catch fire.
Forest fires themselves are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. They function as a “feedback loop”—warmer, drier conditions caused by climate change produce more forest fires, which release carbon and thereby contribute to climate change. Forests fires are one factor reducing the ability of BC forests to act as carbon sinks (logging and insect outbreaks also contribute). According to the federal government’s Forest Service, in the past Canada’s forests absorbed about one-quarter of the carbon emitted by human activities, but in some recent years they have become carbon sources, emitting more than they absorb.
Is there anything we, or our elected governments can do to lessen wildfires and their impact?
Focus interviewed forest and fire ecologist Jill Harvey about the situation. Harvey, who graduated from UVic in 2017 with a PhD in geography and whose research was published in July in two peer-reviewed journals, looks both to the past and the future.
“The mechanisms driving global climate change and ecosystem response are numerous,” she says. “Therefore, the research questions I ask target understanding changing disturbance regimes and tree growth-climate responses. Looking back into the past and into the future, my research examines both the causes and consequences of environmental change in temperate forests with a special interest in the outcomes for forest structure, ecosystem function and management implications.”
Focus caught up with Harvey (via email) in Greifswald, Germany, where she is doing postdoctoral research at the Institute for Botany and Landscape Ecology. She is there to gain international expertise in advanced tree-ring and climate science approaches, which she will bring back to Canada.
Q. What does your research show about the history of forest fires in British Columbia?
A. Historically, many sites in the Cariboo Forest Region burned every 15 to 25 years between 1600 and 1900 AD. These fires consumed fine fuels and maintained open forests. In the last 100 years, very few of these sites recorded a single fire. Effective and widespread fire suppression has resulted in denser forests throughout much of the Cariboo, providing more fuel for fires.
For example, one of my research sites near Hanceville burned in mid-July in the Hanceville Fire Complex, which is over 200,000 hectares in size and only 25 percent contained [on August 21]. At that site, nine historic fires were recorded between 1769 and 1896, with fire occurring about every 16 years. No fires have burned at that site for over 120 years. All the fuel that has accumulated over the past 120 years is supporting the fire that is burning right now.
Q. How did you conduct your recent research?
A. The fires that are burning in the Cariboo Forest Region are intense due to the accumulation of fuels over the past century. As I mentioned, fires prior to the 20th century were more frequent and generally less severe. These lower intensity fires oftentimes “scarred” mature Douglas-fir trees, but did not cause the tree to die. These living Douglas-fir trees, that can reach over 500 years of age, are recorders of past fire activity. Fire scars are preserved in the chronology of the tree’s life recorded annually as tree rings. Using principles of dendrochronology, tree-ring science [done by tree core sampling], I am able to date the year of the fire and sometimes even the season that the fire occurred in. When you compile the fire records from multiple trees at a site you can gain a pretty clear picture of the history of fire activity at site. And when you compile many sites across a region, you can identify years of widespread fire activity—like we are experiencing this summer.
I then link the years when fires burned to historical records of climate to see what kind of climate conditions are associated with different types of fires. For example, I found that fires that burned in forests next to expansive grasslands are associated with wet, cool springs. Wet, cool springs promote the growth of fine fuels, an important prerequisite to the spread of fire in fuel limited environments (eg. grasslands). In years when widespread fires burned at many sites across the Cariboo Forest Region, I found that multiple years of drought preceded these large fire years.
Q. What changed so much 120 years ago?
A. Around the end of the 19th century and towards the 1950s, European settlement in the Cariboo Forest Region increased. As it is now, fire was dangerous in areas where people lived, cattle grazed, and transportation corridors were constructed. Fires were suppressed and care was taken not to set fires. As stewards of the landscape, Indigenous people of the region had used fire effectively and carefully, thinning forests and promoting vegetation diversity. Indigenous burning was discouraged and forbidden in the early 20th century. Fires were perceived to “destroy” forests.
That is the irony we are facing now. The measures that we have taken for over 100 years to “protect” our forests by suppressing fires, have actually predisposed forests to more intense, and much more damaging fires.
Q. What does your research show about the way a forest fire changes ecology?
A. I conducted an intensive survey of historical patterns of fire severity in the Churn Creek Protected Area, which is located in the Cariboo Forest Region. Many of my plots were in forested areas next to grasslands. When I collected data in 2013 and 2014 for this study, these forests were incredibly dense with many young trees in the understory. I sampled hundreds of these young trees and when I got back to the lab and determined the age of these trees—almost all of them established in the late 1800s over a 20-year period. Prior to the late 1800s, frequent fire in these grassland-adjacent forests eliminated seedlings and kept forests open, encouraging the growth of native grass communities and promoting habitat for many animal species. Now, these dense forests have changed the composition of the herbaceous understory and eliminated habitat for multiple ungulate and bird species.
Q. Given your research and that of others, how should forest management practices change in BC?
A. Considering the costs associated with fighting the fires of 2017 [potentially $1 billion] and the fact that scientists have already confirmed that more fire is expected in the future, more funding should be directed to fire management and research that reduces fire risk. Today’s forest management plans should continue to enhance practices such as thinning dense forests and using prescribed fire to reduce fuel loads. We also should consider expanding these activities in the province to include larger areas. Increased research directed at prescribed burning approaches, smoke dispersal and the effects of fire is crucial. If fires are to be more frequent in the future, we need to use the fires of this summer to improve our understanding of the ecological effects of fire. These insights would allow us to improve the resilience of both the forests and communities of BC.
Q. What does climate change mean for the future of BC’s fires?
A. Climate projections for the next 50 to 100 years clearly and consistently show an increase of one to three degrees Celsius or even more. Future drier and warmer climates will undoubtedly lead to more fires in the province and for longer periods of time. If we do not reduce the fuel load now, we can expect more intense fires across multiple locations in the future.
Q. So we can’t necessarily reduce the number of fires, but we could work on reducing their intensity?
A. Yes, I think that we can reduce the intensity with which fires burn in targeted areas, such as areas around communities. Efforts to thin forests can be focused in these settings to inhibit the spread of fire towards people’s homes and property.
Q. Wasn’t reducing the fuel load and prescribed burning recommended, among other measures, after the 2003 fire season when 260,000 hectares burned with costs of $700 million? Were these not done—or not enough?
A. Yes, prescribed burning and thinning were recommended following the 2003 fire season and these treatments were conducted in some regions. However, I do think that more can be done going forward, especially after this summer.
Q. I understand the area burned annually in Canada is 2.5 times larger than the area harvested. Does that mean we should allow more logging?
A. No, I don’t think we should log more! Many of the large fires that burn every year are in the northern boreal forests of Canada where it is very difficult and oftentimes unnecessary to suppress the fire (no people or communities nearby). Fire is also a very important part of the ecology of boreal forests and in these environments trees are generally not targeted for logging. The tree species and/or sizes are currently considered unsuitable.
Q. What in your mind is the best path forward? Is there any good news about BC forests and fire?
A. We cannot simply hope that a fire year like 2017 won’t happen again. It will happen again, and it will likely happen more frequently. We must use this summer as a catalyst for change in forest management practices and research.
There are many stakeholders to consider when we plan our path forward after this summer. We must first consider those directly affected by the fires of 2017 and hear their stories and collectively recover from a very difficult time.
We need to critically review how we manage our forests and look back to the 2003 fire year and see if we have made progress.
We need to integrate insights from historical fire perspectives, Indigenous land management practices, and fire behaviour and meterology science.
Immediate resources for directly reducing fire risk such as forest thinning and prescribed fire are essential.
Fire-related research needs to occur at all scales, and across all involved disciplines. The 2017 fires present an exciting opportunity for fire ecologists to examine what happens next. Understanding how landscapes recover after a fire will help us develop appropriate management strategies important for the reforestation. We also need to look at how other forest agencies, such as in the US and Australia, are managing forests and fire and provide opportunities for inter-interagency and international collaboration between managers and scientists.
The practice may have played a leading role in creating some of BC’s most high-profile environmental blunders.
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, as a reporter for CHUM TV (aka The New VI), I got a call from a professional wildlife biologist in Port Alberni called Mike Stini. He’s an Island guy to the core—understated, drives a pickup, knows the bush like the back of his hand and, more than anything, loves this place and isn’t afraid to share his knowledge.
He was clearly upset. The BC Liberals had changed all the rules on forest management, and suddenly wildlife experts like him, who were hired by government prior to harvest plans to identify the old growth where elk and deer overwintered, or find and map the bear dens and the goshawk nests, were being shoved out the door. His concern wasn’t about losing the work; he could always go back full-time to taxidermy. It was about what was going to happen to his habitat on McLaughlin Ridge, the forested mountains that were about to be levelled by industry.
But the government seemed to reason that biologists like him were dispensable. If what was standing between a company and profit margins was a bear den, an ungulate winter range, or a goshawk nest, then the best thing to do was to get rid of the people who have that knowledge.
My reporting crew travelled all over McLauglin Ridge to do the story, looking at the hard-won designations of old-growth management areas, riparian zones, wildlife trees, and habitat for species at risk. We even crawled right up to one bear den that Stini had been monitoring for years, to check out the condition of the bear who looked out at us in a torpid state from the old-growth tree that served as his home for six months. Stini had data stretching back decades on the bear dens that he had found in the region. Up on the south-facing slopes of the ridge, under the big old Douglas-firs laden with arboreal lichens, he pointed out the signs of the deer and elk that overwintered there, surviving on lichens that blew down from their canopies in each winter storm.
All these areas, under the old designations, were about to be put under the control of logging company biologists—in a system that was referred to as “professional reliance.” The Forest Practices Code had been gutted, and the discretion to manage 45 million hectares of our public forests for the public’s interest, which included the protection of wildlife, water, recreational opportunities, cultural sites, subsistence hunting and so on, was now in the hands of industry.
Under the new regime, there was no legal requirement to have the forest surveyed for ecological or cultural values prior to logging; it was up to the professionals hired by industry to judge. If the public wasn’t happy with “the results” in this “results-based system,” they could take issue. But what use would taking issue be after the fact? And how did one assess results when the evidence for what had been there was gone? Especially when no one had been mandated to collect it.
Stini forecast that all the places that we visited would be logged under the new system. In 2015, I revisited those sites and he was right—everything was levelled, from the bear den to the winter range. Even worse, under the current designation of working forest, there is no chance the forest can even recover. In an industry-led cutting cycle of under 50 years, the trees will never mature long enough to produce a tree with a suitable diameter for a bear den, goshawk nest, or arboreal lichen to grow.
Logging on McLauglin Ridge
As Stini said in 2002 for the TV show, “Basically the wildlife is being punished by changing the rules all of a sudden. We are removing the checks and balances and turning it over to industry that is in the business of making money. All the habitat biologists feel strongly that this is backwards; they need to review the plans prior to logging, because once an area is logged, the habitat is gone forever. The real big danger is we are going to lose so much and no one will know. This legislation is so far-reaching that it will make it difficult for future generations to rebuild wildlife habitat. It is going to be a major problem. This legislation is wrong. It shouldn’t be happening.”
The government extended the practice of relying on resource extractors’ own professionals to evaluate the environmental aspects of mining and other projects.
“SILENT BUT DEADLY,” is how Green MLA Sonia Furstenau describes professional reliance. “Most people have no idea what it is. It’s only when you encounter it that you recognize it for what it is.”
What is professional reliance for those who haven’t encountered the beast? After 17 years in the media following this slippery, seemingly innocuous monster that couldn’t make a headline if it drove itself off a cliff, I describe professional reliance, at best, as an elegant euphemism for deregulation and privatization. At its most egregious, it is this century’s master weapon for white-collar crime. Those who utilize these weapons—knowingly putting the public interest at risk—are referred to by David O. Friedrichs, a Distinguished Professor of Criminal Justice, as “trusted criminals.” Wendell Berry, land reformer and activist, calls them “professional vandals.”
How do the proponents of professional reliance define it and defend it? And why is reviewing it one of the top four priorities in the 2017 Confidence and Supply agreement between the BC Green and NDP caucuses? With all the issues they could have picked, why did it push its way to the top?
Forest Practices Board legal counsel Mark Haddock, who was with the UVic Environmental Law Centre in 2015 when he did a lengthy analysis of the failures of the professional reliance “experiment,” says it is a grey term and has multiple interpretations that can easily mislead. His definition is “the substitution of professional opinion from experts inside of government for that of professionals in the employ of the [resource development] proponents.” He suggests renaming it “decision-making reliance.” Furstenau thinks it should be rebranded for what it is—conflict of interest.
British Columbians are not unfamiliar with how deregulation, with a loosening of standards around conflict of interest, can spiral into corporate white-collar crime. The Mount Polley disaster is a case in point of how badly it can go wrong with no third party oversight. The fact that the company, Imperial Metals, can continue to operate with no penalties, after destroying a lake for generations, clearly pushes citizens to the edge. Citizen groups are pursuing private prosecutions, and Premier Horgan has now committed to determine why a deadline was missed by the BC Liberals to lay charges against the company.
Furstenau feels the blame should lie in the failure of government to protect the public interest by handing over the responsibility to industry.
Over the years, corporate spin-doctors have found devious new ways to shed rules and government oversight, but professional reliance was a stroke of pure genius. Many were lulled into thinking that handing the management and oversight of our public lands and interest to a coterie of smiling, reliable professionals, with their reputations and professional associations hovering above to keep them in line, was a grand solution. After all, it was expensive to fund government-hired professionals.
MLA Sonia Furstenau
Furstenau’s close encounter with professional reliance was over the issue of South Island Aggregates and Cobble Hill Holdings filling an active quarry in the Shawnigan watershed with contaminated soil. She realized that not only could industry legitimately hire people who had a personal stake in that business (as employees, business partners or shareholders) to assess the environmental impacts of their activities, but there was no way to stop harm as long as those people were “up front” about their relationships. If the case hadn’t found a “deliberate concealment” of the discussion of ownership with the company hired to conduct the environmental assessment, South Island Aggregates might still be shovelling dioxins, hydrocarbons and furans onto what an independent hydrogeologist warned was fractured limestone “that provides no natural protection for the established drinking water sources in the region.”
In the last 17 years, virtually every news story about damage to public forests, lakes, rivers and oceans, affecting wildlife, water, air, soil, climate, and First Nations rights, with repercussions on every aspect of our health, can be traced to flaws in professional reliance. The big issues like Mount Polley, the Testalinden Creek landslide, and Shawnigan Lake are what catch the headlines, but they represent a fraction of the damage to our forests, communities and wildlife that Mike Stini predicted.
Citizens’ only recourse is to take the matter into their own hands, which is what they did in Shawnigan Lake. Haddock summarizes this state of affairs this way: “The deregulation takes government out of the picture and leaves health, safety and environmental protection outcomes to the ‘social license’ to operate for a given proponent or industry.”
Removing that “social license” at Shawnigan Lake cost local citizens $2 million in legal fees and thousands of volunteer hours with the very real possibility, still, of a contaminated watershed. As Furstenau says, “I want to be able to live my life without having to monitor and watchdog every aspect of my life from the water I drink, to the bridges I drive over. This is the main reason I got into provincial politics—to build trust in government again to protect its citizens.”
The lack of trust pervades not just government, but the professional associations themselves. As Furstenau points out, it isn’t their job to look after the public interest. And in a deregulated environment, with narrow terms of reference, there are virtually no laws to break, therefore no disciplinary actions to be taken.
The whole thing is a Machiavellian bag of worms. Haddock, along with a recent report by Evidence for Democracy, both revealed the level of concern that many professionals themselves have with provincial decision-making on natural resources. Few professionals are willing to talk openly. But, under protection of anonymity, they told Haddock of the many problems: “expert shopping”; clear conflicts of interest, but no way to address it; lack of checks and balances; loss of expertise in government; lack of confidence in government monitoring; problems with independent monitoring; lack of confidence in the disciplinary process of professional associations; reduced formal public involvement; greater user conflicts; no one out in the field who knows what is going on; filtering of information by proponents; too many grey areas; inexperienced crews operating; cavalier approach to risk…and the list goes on.
With the professional reliance model no longer being tied to the public interest, many professionals found it intolerable to work in an environment in which the term “stewardship” has largely been stripped out of their duties.
And now, at least one has resorted to legal action: Professional forester Martin Watts has accused the Province of blacklisting foresters for raising concerns over the quality of inventory data. Watts is spending his retirement savings to fund a case he might not win, but which will certainly lose him clients.
Furstenau, now overseeing the professional reliance file for the Green caucus, is at the information-gathering stage, helping Minister of Environment and Climate Change George Heyman set out a direction for the review. For her, citizen involvement is essential. It is important to hear from everyone who has been impacted by professional reliance, both within the professions and as citizens who have fought these issues. As she says, “this needs to be a robust review.”
As for predicting the outcome of the review, she can’t speculate, but one thing is certain: She wants an outcome in which she can return to her community and not feel as if all the responsibility for safeguarding the environment is in the hands of volunteers like herself on the Shawnigan Lake issue. It is a powerful motivator, and biologists like Stini will be cheering from the sidelines.
Briony Penn has been reporting on regional environmental issues for over 20 years. In the 2000s, she hosted the TV show “Enviro/Mental” which was nominated one of the top three magazine shows in Canada. She lives on Salt Spring Island.
Our new provincial government faces a litmus test in how it deals with diabetes-mongering.
THE FIRST LINE of Diabetes Canada’s 2017 Report on Diabetes in British Columbia contains a whopping big lie. But let me get to that in a bit.
The report outlines outrageous levels of diabetes in BC, how it costs the provincial health-care system over $400 million per year and how BC is awfully stingy in paying for diabetes-related products. For example, did you know that in BC not everyone can get a subsidized insulin pump? Nor do we pay for the newest diabetes medications. And don’t ask about foot care, because the state of foot care for people with diabetes in BC is appallingly bad. In other words, we’ve got an epidemic on our hands and we are inadequately supporting people living with diabetes. The report is basically saying to our new NDP government: Time to ante up.
Thank you for waiting, here’s the whopper:
Today, more than 1.4 million British Columbians, or 29 percent of the provincial population, are living with diabetes or prediabetes.
I remember standing on a parade square, an officer cadet in boot camp, with a bunch of other skinny teenagers with shaved heads and a sergeant yelling at us: “Look to the person on your left, then look to the one on your right. And by the time we’re done here, one of youse will be gone.” That’s the kinda drama that certainly gets your attention—because you, or your closest buddy, could easily become a statistic.
But wow. Nearly a third of us have diabetes or almost have diabetes? Diabetes can be serious, and if so many are at risk of getting it, it surely demands a weapons-grade response from someone. Hence the report and the eye-popping stats. But we are nowhere near having 29 percent of British Columbians living with diabetes or prediabetes. Why? It’s waaaaay more than that. Statistically, almost everyone who lives long enough will develop some kind of elevated blood sugars that are associated with diabetes. Not only do we all have pre-prediabetes, let’s not forget that 100 percent of us are also “pre-deceased,” struck by a condition that is universally fatal. But I digress.
Diabetes Canada is—how do I say this nicely—marinating in pharmaceutical funding. Able to hire some of the best public relations firms in the business, their job is to get provincial health officials focused on their bottom line, increasing the market for drugs, insulins and assorted diabetes paraphernalia. Maybe their report reads like it was written by a drug company because it is funded by Novo Nordisk Canada, one of the world’s largest producers of insulin; and it directs questions to Hill and Knowlton Strategies, a PR behemoth.
BOTH TYPES OF DIABETES, the adult-onset type, known as Type-II, and Type-I which typically develops in childhood and requires daily use of insulin, can undermine the quality of one’s life. The vast majority (over 90 percent) of people living with diabetes in BC are type-II diabetics, and so that’s where most of the marketing is targeted.
The term “prediabetes” has long been a controversial term so I turned to a colleague, Colleen Fuller, a Vancouver-based diabetes policy expert, and asked what she thought of the report. Fuller started her answer with a question: “Why does Diabetes Canada use terms like ‘prediabetes?’ In Europe they are highly critical of the term. Why? It causes panic. It is designed to scare people,” she said.
Fuller thinks that current Canadian diabetes guidelines should be used with caution, “because they are mainly designed to increase sales of drugs and devices.” She adds, “It is clear that the drive for these companies is to consistently grow the market.”
Sure enough, the report’s three key recommendations are focused on public spending for more diabetes stuff, recommending that “the Government of British Columbia immediately…Expand the provincial insulin pump program to include all British Columbians with type 1 diabetes who are medically eligible, regardless of age.” It also urges the government to “List diabetes medications with proven efficacy on the provincial drug formulary” and “Commit to public funding of offloading devices and foot care specialist visits, and improve screening for diabetic foot ulcers and education.”
I asked Don Husereau, an Ottawa-based expert on evidence-based policy who has a graduate degree in pharmacy, whether he thought the recommendations had any basis in evidence. He was quick to respond: “The first one will significantly increase expenditures for little advantage—pumps are only useful [for a] few people and necessary in fewer.” As for the paying for diabetes drugs, Don Husereau asks: “What is ‘proven efficacy’? Is that code for A1C [a test for measuring the blood glucose level] or code for heart attacks?” The latter, drugs that prevent heart attacks, might indeed be a good thing, yet the former, drugs that do nothing but alter the level of haemoglobin A1C, he says, could be “useless.”
As for avoiding diabetic foot ulcers, which the report says costs us up to $120 million a year, Colleen Fuller supports that recommendation, because “people need to pay attention to their feet,” but she adds, “they should educate people generally about diabetes, not just about feet.” She reminded me that we used to have very good diabetes education programs operating out of hospitals in BC. “If you went to a diabetes educator [she went every year for 20 years] it was good—you found out about food, and different aspects about what you need to know about diabetes.” In her opinion, “the lack of education about food is a major contributor to the increase in Type-II diabetes.” But what has happened in BC? “They got rid of the education programs,” says Fuller.
Even though the World Health Organization tells us that “unhealthy diets and low physical activity are among the key risk factors for major chronic, non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes,” this merits a small mention in the Diabetes Canada report: “about 40 percent of residents are not physically active, 60 percent do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, and half of the adult population is overweight or obese.”
Instead of suggesting ways to get people more active and eat better, let’s just berate the BC government for not paying for more diabetes stuff. As Don Husereau reminded me, the bulk of the evidence on diabetes drugs shows that they may be very effective at lowering blood sugar, but have very little effect on the things that matter: the complications of diabetes that include kidney disease, strokes and heart disease. In fact, despite the piles of medications available to treat type-II diabetes, there is shockingly little evidence of overall benefit. A recent report by the Therapeutics Initiative at UBC was an eye-opener. It found that most of the drugs that lower glucose for people with type II diabetes are “approved without any evidence that they reduce mortality or major morbidity.” They are, of course, very effective at making massive amounts of money for the companies producing them.
DIABETES COULD BE the poster-child for what happens when we allow the medical-industrial complex to “educate” governments about diseases: disease-mongering on a massive scale. Convince policymakers that we have an out-of-control epidemic of “predisease” (which some say doesn’t really exist) and then promote the most expensive drugs and devices to deal with it.
Colleen Fuller, who has watched the diabetes industry for decades, has a suggestion about such “polluted” recommendations: “The government needs to raise the bar of evidence to justify public funding.” She wants more independent study, and more objective analysis of public coverage of diabetes paraphernalia, and adds that “Pharmacare as our public drug program has to be an advocate for rigorous studies around diabetes.”
Groups such as UBC’s Therapeutics Initiative have spent the last decade in the wilderness, sidelined by the Liberal government, the Ministry of Health firing scandal, and numerous attempts to disrupt their work. Things now may be looking up, especially since Premier John Horgan recently mandated our new Minister of Health Adrian Dix to, among other things, “provide the Therapeutics Initiative with the resources it needs to do its job effectively.” This means better science and independent advice—not tainted by the drug companies and the societies they fund—so that our diabetes-related resources will be used to maximum impact.
This was confirmed when I asked the Ministry of Health what they thought of the report. Spokesperson Laura Heinze wrote that the ministry “will be looking at enhancing evidenced-informed decision-making for new and existing drugs in relation to formulary coverage decisions.”
As a final note, Colleen Fuller reminds me that the World Health Organization has linked the growth in diabetes to poverty. Too often, she says, people with type-II diabetes are “blamed for being lazy and fat, yet if we want to prevent diabetes we’d address the socioeconomic or environmental causes of the disease.” Those don’t seem to be priorities of the disease-mongers, which Fuller characterizes this way: “Their job is to push products—not strategies, not things that would prevent people from getting diabetes in the first place.”
There is hope. However, this new report shows the Diabetes-Industrial Complex has targeted our new NDP-Green government. The ministry will need all the help it can get to stand up to them. Will the ministry have the cajones to take on the Diabetes-Industrial Complex? This is a litmus test. We’re watching.
Alan Cassels is a Victoria writer and health researcher. His most recent of four books is The Cochrane Collaboration: Medicine’s Best Kept Secret.
Expect hotter summers and winter deluges. Retaining trees could reduce the worst impacts, including the cost of mitigation.
AS SUMMER FADES, along with memories of warm, sunny days, three recent reports help us turn a thought to the future and what Greater Victoria’s weather will look like three decades from now: Start stocking up on triple-strength sunscreen and waterproof storm gear.
By the 2050s, with an average annual warming of about 3°C in the Capital Region, the number of scorching hot days will triple; fall and winter will see more extreme weather events, with deluges replacing Greater Victoria’s trademark showers, says a report prepared for the Capital Regional District.
Climate Projections for the Capital Region, written by Trevor Murdock and Stephen Sobie from Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium and Gillian Aubie Vines from Pinna Sustainability, looks at how climate change will unfold over the coming decades—and the future is hot. “Monthly high and low temperatures show that the new normal for the region may be very unlike the past,” says the report, which is based on the assumption that global greenhouse gas emissions will continue at their current rate. “Rising temperatures will lead to hotter summer days and nights, milder winters with the near loss of frost days and snowpack in all but the highest elevation locations.” Overall, it predicts a 69 percent decrease in the number of frost days and a 90 percent decrease in snowpack depth in the mountains by the 2080s.
That translates into the number of summer days with a temperature above 25 degrees Celsius rising to 36 days a year, from an average of 12 days a year from 1971 to 2000. The temperature for the 1-in-20-year hottest day will soar to a scorching 36 degrees from the current 32 degrees, with an increase to 38 degrees by the 2080s. By that time, Greater Victoria will also be experiencing an average of four “tropical nights,” meaning the overnight low temperature is higher than 20 degrees. “This measure is important as a series of hot nights can cause heat stress in vulnerable populations (e.g. those with compromised immune systems) and will have an impact on energy used for cooling buildings during warm spells,” says the report.
There will be less rain in summer, with a 20 percent reduction in precipitation, but fall and winter will have more extreme wet weather events and could see 68 percent more rain falling during very wet days. Overall, there is likely to be a five percent increase in precipitation by the 2050s and 12 percent by the 2080s.
The changes will affect all aspects of life in the Capital Region, from health to food supplies. A longer summer tourism season could be a bonus, but might be offset by a decline in winter tourism, and long periods of hot, dry weather could put pressure on lakes, beaches and coastal waters used for recreation, according to the report. “With the potential of increased nutrients deposited in freshwater lakes, we can expect to see more algal blooms become a challenge for ecosystems and recreational water users,” it says. “When hot, dry summers are combined with extreme storms in the wet season, we can expect shoreline access, water quality, wildlife habitat and recreational infrastructure to require ongoing maintenance.”
Although there will be a longer season for growing food, migrating pests and water availability are likely to become problems for farmers and “in some cases, land including agricultural areas, could suffer from saltwater intrusion from rising sea levels, or need to be restored as wetlands to manage storm water across the region.”
The aim of the report is to allow local politicians, organizations and the public to plan and adapt to the coming changes, said the authors. Lead author Gillian Aubie Vines tells Focus, “I think it’s really time for greater awareness of what we are projecting. It’s a great opportunity for public policy-makers, scientists and engineers.”
The report will help map out changes in engineering designs and urban planning, says Aubie Vines, who has helped prepare similar reports for the Cowichan Valley and Metro Vancouver. “It gets our minds around what we can do—like cooling stations and insulating buildings so they are efficient.”
The wider implications include agricultural plans that can deal with heat, pests and flash floods, and the possibility of an increasing number of people moving to Vancouver Island because of its comparatively mild climate. “As California becomes hotter, Vancouver Island is going to look nicer and nicer,” predicts Aubie Vines, and she believes both mitigation and adaptation are required. “We need to stop emitting and we need to adapt to what is happening.”
Many political leaders at the CRD understand the urgency, but surprisingly, climate change deniers—or those who believe it is a problem best ignored—still have a voice, and that is why the report, setting out scenarios in plain language, is so important, according to Aubie Vines. “After a process like this, after people are forced to think about it more deeply, it’s impossible to deny,” she said.
AS BC’s CLIMATE HEATS UP and becomes more unpredictable, the province’s forests can help mitigate problems. Climate researchers with the Forest Carbon Management Project have concluded that relatively minor changes to forest management could meet more than one-third of the province’s 2050 carbon-emissions reduction target.
Better forest management, removing slash from the forest and using it for bioenergy—rather than burning it on site—is one measure that will assist in carbon dioxide management. The research also shows that promoting the use of wood products, instead of concrete and steel, and converting a small percentage of fibre destined for pulp and paper into longer-lasting wood panels are other measures needed to increase the role of forests in carbon dioxide management. The multi-year project, led by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions and based at the University of Victoria, includes scientists from Natural Resources Canada and UBC.
Small changes to forest management, including reducing the harvest by two percent between now and 2050, could have a major impact, delivering 18.2 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, project leader Werner Kurz explained at a recent public presentation in Vancouver. “By 2050, 35 percent of BC’s emission reduction target can be contributed by the forest sector at less than $100 a tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent.”
Although $100 a tonne may sound expensive, other methods, such as carbon capture and storage, come in at between $200 and $300 a tonne, explains Kurz, a senior research scientist with Natural Resources Canada. The measures, he says, would also provide socio-economic benefits by creating 2000 new full-time jobs, as more intensive forest management would be required. He points out that the changes would also mean healthier forests, and emphasizes that the project needs investment now so that the science can inform policy decisions.
BC has a legislated greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 80 percent below 2007 levels by 2050. To meet those targets, Kurz says, it is necessary to not only reduce the burning of fossil fuels, but to find ways to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
While 44 percent of greenhouse gas emissions remain in the atmosphere, the remainder is taken up by forests and oceans, Kurz told his audience in Vancouver. “That leads to ocean acidification, so it is not desirable, and there is also a question of how long forests will continue to be carbon sinks,” he said.
The province’s 55 million hectares of forest lands are already being affected by climate change, according to UBC researchers working on the project. Wetter areas are benefitting from warmer conditions and increased carbon dioxide levels, while drier areas are struggling with slower growth and increased tree mortality.
The provincial government (under the Liberals) announced in February that it would spend $150 million to rehabilitate forests damaged by fire and disease and to increase BC’s carbon sink. The new NDP provincial government has pledged to renew BC’s forests by (among other things) expanding investments in reforestation. It has also created a ministry of the environment and climate change strategy with George Heyman as minister.
A THIRD STUDY, also involving trees and the weather, provides evidence that streets without trees are uncomfortably windy, and that buildings around which trees have been removed use more energy. The paper from UBC scholars was published in July in Advances in Water Resources. It found that losing even one tree increases wind pressure and drives up heating costs in nearby buildings.
Lead author Marco Giometto, a postdoctoral fellow in civil engineering, says that a single tree can help keep pedestrians comfortable. “We found that removing all trees can increase wind speed by a factor of two, which would make a noticeable difference to someone walking down the street,” he said in a news release. “For example, a 15-km-per-hour wind speed is pleasant, whereas walking in 30-km-per-hour wind is more challenging.”
Researchers, who used laser technology to create a model of a typical Vancouver neighbourhood, found that removing all trees around buildings drove up energy consumption by 10 percent in winter and 15 percent in summer. Even winter trees, with bare branches, can moderate airflow and wind pressure, which makes for a more comfortable environment, the study found.
The information could be used to improve weather forecasts and predict the effect of storms on buildings, or on pedestrians walking along certain sidewalks, says co-author and UBC geography professor Andreas Christen. “It could also help city planners in designing buildings, streets and city blocks to maximize people’s comfort and limit wind speed to reduce energy loss.”
Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith.
Can a swimmer, First Nations and Thomas Berger, QC, turn the tide on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline?
AS RAMA DELAROSA emerged from the water after her week-long, 86-kilometre swim to “Save the Salish Sea,” she was sparkling. She had completed her mission—to swim around Salt Spring Island to raise awareness and money for RAVEN’s Pull Together Campaign aimed at stopping Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. As she waded ashore at her final destination of Xwaaqwum (Burgoyne Bay), nearly $12,000 had already been raised.
Her swim also brought in a circle of volunteers to accompany her on the swim—the most notable of which was an orca who joined her one evening around Beaver Point. A group of islanders scattered flowers in her path and DelaRosa sat down on solid ground to dig into a potluck feast after spending up to ten hours a day over the last seven days in the sea, snatching meals and sleep when she could. The inevitable question of “What are you going to do first?” elicited a big smile: “I’m really looking forward to dinner and then resting in my garden that overlooks the sea.”
Rama DelaRosa (far left) with a flotilla of supporters off Salt Spring Island
DelaRosa is just one of many creative and passionate people who have swum into this cause. Andrea Palframan from RAVEN (a non-profit whose mission is to raise legal defence funds for Indigenous peoples in Canada to defend their treaty rights and the integrity of their traditional lands and cultures) was there to greet DelaRosa at the shoreline.
Palframan shared more examples of these “incredible people inspired to do small actions”: A group of burlesque actors put on “a dirty show for a clean coast” called “Strip Tide.” A group of cyclists rode “the rising tide” of concern from Montreal to Vancouver. There was the summer “Walk 4 the Salish Sea” in which several pods of islanders and puppet orca, hosted by Tsawout and other First Nation villages along the way, joined forces and marched or swam to the Kinder Morgan facilities in Burnaby from Mile O. Over 90 islanders took to their kayaks and canoes around the Salish Sea for five days with the Turning the Tide paddling initiative. Across the border, San Juan Islanders and mainlander friends raised over $100,000 to help the alliance of First Nations bringing their legal cases to a federal court.
Leading the charge spiritually is Grand Chief Stewart Philip and his wife Joan. The court date is October 2; the First Nations bringing the court challenges are Tsleil-Waututh, Coldwater, Squamish, and Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc. They are challenging both the National Energy Board report and the decision by government through their Judicial Reviews. At press time, over $500,000 had been raised of the $650,000 target. Palframan, an artist and RAVEN’s social media coordinator, said, “We are using our culture on the islands—that is threatened—to fight oil culture. It is a great way to counteract those forces.”
DelaRosa’s achievement is no “small action.” The waters around Salt Spring range between 10 to 14 degrees Celsius, only occasionally reaching a balmy 16 in the slower-circulating bays in the north. Except for two instances, she swam without a wetsuit. Starting her cold water training in 2015, she told her welcoming committee that continuous immersion was necessary to “build up the brown fat that insulates my body.”
DelaRosa has indigenous roots in Guatemala, though she was raised in Port Alberni. Part of her swim was “to deepen my relationship with this land and First Nations people so that I can be at home.” That relationship was strengthened working with the nuances of the strong currents and tides of the island. “I could feel every turn of the tide, the cold flows and warm ebbs twining like ribbons against my skin.”
Her average speed was 2.2 kilometres an hour, but each leg of the trip was dependent on sea conditions. “One day it took me 13 hours to go just 10 kilometres,” she said. She had to be helped twice when the current overpowered her. One of those times was at Cape Keppel when she couldn’t make any headway into Sansum Narrows. Mariner Guy Gamache, in his boat Earth Sea, gave her a brief tow out of an impossible eddy and back into the mainstream. He described DelaRosa as “intrepid and inspiring.”
Having regained her health after a bad concussion, DelaRosa, a singer, composer and educator, is no shrinking violet when it comes to challenges. A huge supporter of community events, she founded an activist choir called Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters formed a relationship with the Unity Drummers, founded by Bradley Dick at the Native Friendship Centre, as part of her choir’s commitment to decolonization. But it was during her participation in another event, Turning the Tide People’s Paddle for the Salish Sea, that she came up with the idea of the swim to express her political activism in a joyful way: “I am in love with the Salish Sea!” she readily proclaims.
Unlike other notable open water swims, this was a grassroots initiative. Six local organic farms donated food for the team. Accompanying her each day was a rotating list of community volunteers in their kayaks, many of whom were first-time paddlers, new to the complex logistics of a major swim. DelaRosa managed the lists of volunteers and logistics each night after a full day’s swim. “I’d do it differently next time,” she admitted. Alistair Dell, Molly Murphy and Lisa Small took the lion’s share of the paddling through the wilder parts, even swimming with her at times.
Her other favourite companions were the wild sea life. Harbour seals escorted her out of the bay at the start of her swim and into Xwaaqwum at the end. She was also joined by harbour porpoises and, most memorably, an orca that dove down underneath her and swam briefly with her one evening.
On that day she hadn’t planned to be swimming so late, but was trying to position herself well for the next day’s leg and a very early low tide. “I was fighting the current and that was when the orca appeared,” she said. She was prepared for the adrenalin surge of running into an orca, having practiced with the seals: “I didn’t flail like bait!” But DelaRosa also feels a special affinity with orca: “It was the first animal I ever dreamt of, growing up in Port Alberni and,” pointing to her left calf, “my first tattoo was this Nuu-chah-nulth [orca] design.” Joe Maillet, who was accompanying her at the time, said, “Rama was singing a whale song [given to her by Bradley Dick] and then we heard their vocalization. I was half expecting her to grab hold of the dorsal fin and be a whale rider.”
THE DAY AFTER RAMA DELAROSA came ashore at Xwaaqwum, the BC government announced their appointment of the legendary Thomas Berger, QC, OC, OBC as external counsel for government legal action related to Kinder Morgan. Berger has been retained to determine the best judicial course. By the end of August the Government of BC was granted status to intervene in the court cases by First Nations challenging the National Energy Board’s approval of the pipeline—despite Kinder Morgan and the Province of Alberta fighting against such participation. BC is going to do its homework regarding its duties as set out in the environmental assessment certificate process. New Attorney General David Eby stated: “Until these consultations are completed in a way that meets the Province’s legal obligations, work on the project on public lands cannot proceed.”
This is a powerful turn of the tide for those wanting to see other voices being represented. And the selection of Tom Berger is a symbolic and strategic move to rebuild public confidence in a process that is very broken.
Justice Berger oversaw the enquiry for the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline project back in 1974. At the time, it was the biggest private development proposal in history. The arguments against the development were that there were already severe impacts to the north and on native people, due to the decimation of wildlife populations, pollution, and mineral exploration with its destructive infrastructure. The first discussion by scientists in Canada about cumulative impacts took place at that time.
Two years earlier, the oil and gas companies had commissioned and funded their own environmental assessment panel, but it was criticized on many grounds, mostly by the scientists they hired. The scientists argued that there needed to be an independent board that took into account cumulative impacts and indigenous voices. They also stated that the review panels had to be “insulated politically and economically from the project developers.” They recommended a larger interdisciplinary team to consider the broad questions of energy, transportation, and development in the north.
These recommendations resonated with the earlier Trudeau government and Justice Thomas Berger was appointed to conduct the government’s own inquiry into the Mackenzie pipeline. He brought in many innovations: funding for First Nations, environmental organizations and health authorities to bring in their own witnesses, and providing a year to get ready for the hearings. They held hearings in a public space, which were broadcast in four languages over the CBC; school children were invited to the formal hearings of the experts. The Berger Inquiry shook the nation. As Berger points out, “Once the hearings got started Canadians were interested. No one had ever heard aboriginal people speak.”
The Berger Inquiry set a new international standard for energy hearings that considered the larger global energy context; the local impacts to aboriginal subsistence; and the impact of not just a pipeline but an expanded concept of energy corridors, complete with roads, platforms and infrastructure. The ability to secure funding for First Nations and environmental groups captured the interest of the international community and was copied around the world. This was Canada in 1974.
How ironic that 43 years later, the federal environmental impact assessment process, now under the watch of Trudeau Junior, failed to meet any of the standards set by Berger. Trudeau has greenlighted a project that wouldn’t have passed in 1974. How encouraging that Berger will now be heading up a legal review of this flawed process in a federal court.
Berger is providing a beacon of hope to people like Rama DelaRosa. As she said: “We are turning the tide in so many ways—with each other and with the land. It is really easy to engage with people in a positive way when you are doing something you love, in a place that you love.”
Briony Penn’s most recent book The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize.
First Nations children’s art, created at residential and day schools, opens pathways for healing and reconciliation.
MARK ATLEO (Kiikitakashuaa) of the Ahousaht First Nation is a survivor of the Alberni Indian Residential School. He was there for nine years, beginning when he was seven years old. Away from his family, he had to be brave not just for himself: “I had a younger brother who I had to watch over when I was there,” recounts Atleo. “He was crying every day that he wanted to go home, wondering why we were there. So I had to console him in the classroom, just being a big brother.” Atleo recalls running away, only to be brought back, during his last year there. He ran away because he was not allowed to attend his grandmother’s funeral.
I had the honour of hearing Atleo’s words in the upstairs curatorial spaces of the University of Victoria’s Legacy Downtown art gallery. He was there with Andrea Walsh, PhD, the curator of There is Truth Here: Creativity and Resilience in Children’s Art from Indian Residential and Indian Day Schools. It was an emotional conversation; the three of us were each weeping at some time during our hour together.
Andrea Walsh and Mark Atleo with a painting Atleo created while attending Alberni Indian Residential School. Photo by Tony Bounsall.
A visual anthropologist at the University of Victoria, Walsh collaborates with First Nations groups across Canada to research and repatriate artwork that was created by residential and day school students. In 2008, a collection of paintings was bequeathed to UVic from the family of Port Alberni artist Robert Aller, who volunteered at the Alberni Indian Residential School (IRS) teaching extracurricular art classes. Shortly afterward, Walsh got involved in the process of repatriating these artworks to the survivors who had created them as children between the late 1950s and early 1970s. Following cultural protocols and collaborating with survivors, these paintings formed an exhibition at Legacy Downtown in 2013 and the Alberni Valley Museum in 2015.
In September 2013, the Commissioners for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission invited the Alberni survivors to share their stories and paintings at the closing ceremonies in Vancouver. Again following cultural protocols, Walsh and her group used the opportunity to reunite Mark Atleo with a painting he had done as a child. In front of 1000 witnesses, “I cried,” Atleo says in his quiet voice.
Before this painting came back to him, Atleo had been through therapies for his experiences, and says, “I thought I was ok—but I wasn’t…It’s like I was looking in a telescope upside down. Everything was locked up.” He had completely forgotten the painting, but now he had a direct, focused sightline back to the child he was. “When you turn the telescope the right way, it opens up the hurt, and see what happens when you get the help you need to see the better life that is out there.”
That child painted a vibrant blue fish—“a sockeye; that’s our favourite fish”—adorned with yellow and green, in a style mimicking what he would have seen at home. It rests in a net above a swirling blue and purple poster-paint sea. Recalling the painting of it, Atleo says, “All it was is that dark, shady background. Mr Aller said, ‘paint what you really like; what’s in your life.’ I just thought about fishing. [What] I wanted when I grew up was to be a fisherman. We were taken away when I was just starting.” His grandfather had taught him all about fishing.
Mark Atleo's painting
After his residential school experience ended, Atleo did go on to be a fisherman for 36 years. Now 65, he is a BC Transit driver. He acknowledges BCT’s support of his journey; the organization posted photos on their website of a later trip to Ottawa he and his Alberni classmates took to record their experiences for the Canada Hall at the Canadian Museum of History. At work, “people talk; they come and ask questions,” he says. “[My work colleagues and I] met years ago, and now we are much closer. And there are still people asking questions.”
“To get this [painting] back was something else,” he shares. The painting “opened me up towards my other classmates, our group. We had been apart for so long; now we see more of each other. It’s great.” Atleo has since shared his story on panel discussions and with university students.
While they remain owners of the work, many survivors of the Alberni school have chosen to keep their paintings at the University of Victoria so that they may be used as teaching tools. “What a generous thing,” Walsh declares with emotion. While most people have countless photos and mementos from childhood, “these [survivors] don’t have pictures. They don’t have little things from their school time… But the way they share so selflessly…saying, ‘Let’s talk about this.’”
Fifty paintings from Alberni Indian Residential School survivors, including Atleo’s, will be displayed as part of There is Truth Here, along with collections from students who attended the McKay Indian Residential School in Manitoba, the Alert Bay Indian Day School, and the Inkameep Indian Day School in the Okanagan, between the early 1950s and early 1970s. Works will include drawings, paintings, exquisite handmade buckskin costumes, and many photographs depicting dramatic children’s performances of Okanagan stories.
All the works on display will be put into context. For instance, the Alberni and Inkameep collections exist due to teachers who would be considered renegades for encouraging the children to express themselves and their culture authentically, without censorship. Other collections show a more practical intention, but still contain marks that connect to and evidence an individual, a unique person, a person of value in an impossible place—one that had been wiped from collective memory. Displaying these works is a step toward correcting that erasure.
Painting by Edith Kruger, age 12, while she was at Inkameep Indian Day School
Walsh reflects, “When we think about the visual legacy of the [residential] schools, they are in the thousands of pictures of children. But they were taken of children, not by children. And they were taken to demonstrate the value of what the government saw as this assimilative policy that was being carried out in the schools. So these pictures are often of [children] in uniforms, and they are anonymous. But they are not, because they were brothers and sisters and cousins and daughters and sons and grandsons and granddaughters. And although we can’t—nor should we—feel like we have access to those relations, what the art does is highlight that all of the children in those pictures were wonderful little children…they had ideas and they had creativity. There is a creativity to these pieces and there is a resilience to them. [The children] were staying strong. The pieces here were evidence of that strength.”
These works are truths, but also pathways to understanding and reconciliation. Says Atleo, “I would hope other people would see there are stories to these artworks. We are always taught, culture-wise, when people carved or made anything—like that costume,” he says, gesturing to the archival storage box containing a tiny buckskin dress, “that’s a story in that box there. My painting has a story to it—to share with other people…What’s here being displayed is an eye-opener. It’s not just to look at…I think it’s a teaching tool for younger people nowadays. It’s a good tool. It’s like we were hidden away from society. Now it’s open.”
There is Truth Here: Creativity and Resilience in Children’s Art from Indian Residential and Indian Day Schools is at the Legacy Downtown Art Gallery from September 23, 2017 to January 6, 2018. Panel discussion with survivors September 30. Contact Legacy Downtown for more information. 630 Yates Street, 250-721-6562, www. uvac.uvic.ca/Locations/legacy.
When Aaren Madden discussed the subject of this article with her family, she listened as her son jumped in to explain to his younger sister what residential schools were. Rightly, finally, he had learned about them in school.
The beloved Victoria-based Canadian roots band continues to evolve and thrive.
CHRIS FRYE AND I meet at the Discovery Coffee shop Downtown. As I walk in the door, I recognize his tall, lanky frame immediately, even though he’s way in the back by the sugar-and-cream station. We take our beverages into the quieter, next-door space, sit down at a big, dusty wooden table, and I ask him about The Bills—how they formed, how they keep it alive, and where they see themselves heading as they enter their third decade.
Although The Bills are technically a “Victoria-based band,” only two of them still live here in town, and there are precious few local gigs these days. (In 1998 you might have seen them at Pagliacci’s.) In September, the three current members of the band’s 1997 founding roster will join with three who got away to perform a 20th anniversary concert. The jovial, energetic Frye plays guitar and sings lead, as he did from the start, and his fellow enduring Bills veterans are Marc Atkinson on mandolin and guitar, and Scott White on upright bass. The current roster is rounded out by Victoria fiddler Richard Moody and Vancouver multi-instrumentalist Adrian Dolan.
The Bills: (l-r) Scott White, Marc Atkinson, Richard Moody, Chris Frye, Adrian Dolan
Atkinson and White formed the Juno-nominated group in 1997. “They decided they wanted to do something acoustic,” Frye says. “I was actually a guitar student of Marc’s, and there was a bass student of Scott’s—Oliver Swain—who Victorians will know…and another guy named Paul Dowd, who was a guitar student of Marc’s as well.” Atkinson,White and Dowd abandoned their familiars in order to diversify the instrumentation of the group. “Marc started out playing this tiny little keyboard accordion that he had. Scott picked up the fiddle—even though he was a bass player and hadn’t played much, if any, fiddle. I was playing guitar and singing, and Ollie was playing bass. Paul picked up the banjo.”
Since most of them were learning as they went, “It was a place to workshop, and to grow our musical palette,” says Frye. “We all just dove into this thing to learn together. ‘Let’s pick up the greatest acoustic music from anywhere; anything you hear, bring it to the band, and we’ll start learning it.’” Local music lovers flocked to hear what was then called “The Bill Hilly Band.” (After a few years, they shortened it to “The Bills,” which, Frye says with a laugh, “we had been calling ourselves internally anyway…we call each other ‘Bill’ still, to this day. If you say ‘Bill,’ you know at least one of the other four members of the band will respond.”)
Early on in their successful first year, White landed a job in Germany, playing bass for a Cirque du Soleil production. This inspired the band to undertake a nine-week busking tour of Europe (and inspired Atkinson to shed his extra accordion pounds by taking up the much-lighter mandolin). “We played on streets from Strasbourg to Copenhagen to Prague…Venice, Berlin…we really gelled as a band,” Frye recounts happily. “We learned so much music together. We were just there to play. We’d wake up in the morning, we’d learn some new music, then we’d go down and try it out somewhere.”
Big-city busking was the purifying fire that helped them distil their first big hits. “That instant feedback you get in a busking environment is really valuable,” Frye explains. The band quickly purged any numbers that were duds, and refined the ones that gathered crowds and tips. As they got hired to do paid gigs indoors, they brought along the riveting presence and repertoire they’d developed through trial and error on the unforgiving street-corners of Europe.
Returning to Victoria, bolstered by their overseas success and determined to grow, the band took on fiddler and “great experienced showman” Calvin Cairns to fill the slot left open by White, who remained in Germany. “We realized we got this thing that’s happening—it’s acoustic music, high-energy, playing global anything we hear…it might be African or Brazilian or the British Isles, eastern Canada…we put it all together in this melange that was just really exciting.”
Their first album, The Bill Hilly Band, came in 2000, Frye says, and included a few of their own compositions (today, it’s all original material, penned predominantly by Frye, Atkinson and Adrian Dolan) plus some “super original arrangements,” and included the band’s signature improvisational style. Having picked up three new young string players, the Bills were now a sextet, the white-hot incarnation that hit the road and toured the Canadian festivals, putting The Bills squarely on the national musical map.
The Bills, Frye says, think of themselves as a rock band as much as a folk band. “In our hearts and in our minds and in our ears, and what inspires us” ranges from Led Zeppelin to The Beatles to Django Reinhardt. The latest record, Trail of Tales, has a more “pop and rock” sound, he says. “There’s even secretly some drums on this record,” he adds with a diabolical grin, “and we never had drums before…don’t want to tell anybody we did that, but there it is, on the record.”
While roots will always flavour what The Bills create, “One of our goals as a band is to keep working on something that people might someday identify as a ‘West Coast sound,’” Frye says. “‘Early 20th century roots music from the West Coast of Canada’ is our objective.” A fingerstyle guitar instrumental on the latest album is called “Pebble Beach,” named for a secret spot on Hornby Island, which is Atkinson’s current home. This sense of place is important to Frye. When it comes to penning lyrics, “I have always been very interested in where we come from. Stories from here…imagery that’s very ‘Southern Vancouver Island’ or ‘British Columbian.’”
Nominated for another Western Canadian Music Award (“Best Roots Record” this year; they won “Entertainer of the Year” in 2006), The Bills are independent, self-produced, and book their own gigs. “It’s pretty interesting to run a band in the 21st century,” remarks Frye, “there is so much access to everything so easily, electronically. There are a lot of really good bands out there; the competition is tougher than it’s ever been.” This drives them, he says, but not to tour constantly; it’s now quality over quantity, and they savour their opportunities to convene. “We won’t have seen each other for a month or two, we land in Heathrow and say ‘hi everybody!’ at the airport, and off we go to do the tour, and then we jet off again. It’s kind of a fun way to live. It’s like we’re some secret underground espionage folk squad.”
The Bills—20th Anniversary Celebration at Alix Goolden Hall, Friday, September 22, 7:30pm. Tickets: $30.50 with some discounts available. 250-386-5311 or ticketfly.com/event/1529046
Victoria writer and musician Mollie Kaye sings with The Millies, a secret underground espionage vocal trio.
Victorians can enjoy a wealth of made-in-Canada works being staged locally this fall.
AS I LOOK OVER THE LIST of productions opening this fall in Victoria, I feel heartened by the high number of both Canadian and local plays and operas. This is something to celebrate. In years past, the majority of plays produced in town would have more likely been American or British in origin. We now have a well-developed national theatre culture, and that means our regional theatre, the Belfry, can more easily program a whole season of Canadian fare.
That is as it should be for a professional company receiving a lot of governmental support. But I am cheered to see that our local community theatre, Langham Court, is also presenting two Canadian plays this fall. The Phoenix Theatre at the University of Victoria is inviting back two alumni to present their plays about historical figures from BC history. And Pacific Opera Victoria will be presenting two new Canadian productions in November at their second performance space, the Baumann Centre.
I have to say I don’t think I have ever been as thrilled by the Belfry’s lineup as I am about this upcoming season. (Not only are all four mainstage plays Canadian, so are the four being brought in as part of the Spark Festival in March.)
Opening September 12 is a play by Hannah Moscovitch, directed by her frequent collaborator and life partner Christian Barry. Raised in Ottawa, Moscovitch is a national and international award-winning playwright with a fiery intelligence and a cutthroat wit. Her plays are always intriguing, at times provoking, and often give actors big challenges due to the psychological depths she plumbs. The Children’s Republic tells the story of survival and hope in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. A number of Moscovitch plays have appeared at the Belfry as Spark Festival touring productions, including What a Young Wife Ought to Know earlier this year, along with Little One and The Russian Play in past Spark Fests.
I am also eager to see the Belfry’s production of the musical Onegin, based on the verse novel by Alexander Pushkin. Its premiere made a huge splash at Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre and it has gone on to be produced at the National Arts Centre. Created and directed by former Victorian and Phoenix alumni Amiel Gladstone (one of the founders of Theatre SKAM) and musician Veda Hille, the October and November production will also bring back to town Phoenix alumni and prominent Canadian theatre actor and director Meg Roe, alongside her partner Alessandro Juliani. This one will sell out, so don’t delay in booking tickets soon.
Over at Langham Court Theatre, the fall season begins with Vancouver playwright and director Morris Panych’s The Girl in the Goldfish Bowl, directed by Janet Munsil. Winner of the 2003 Governor General’s Award, this touching comedy traces the journey of Iris, a young girl whose goldfish comes to life as a human just as her mother is planning to leave the family.
Next at Langham is a Canadian classic (and one of my favorite Canadian plays of all time), Michel Tremblay’s 1969 comic masterpiece Les Belles Soeurs, directed by Judy Treloar. This all-women play shows us the lives of working-class French-Canadian Catholic women, oppressed by their husbands, poverty and too many children. These harsh realities are countered by the gathering of sisters and friends in Germaine’s kitchen. They are there to help her paste one million stamps she has won into booklets in order to claim her prizes. But her family and neighbours’ jealousy of her good fortune leads to betrayal, theft and total chaos.
In October, the Phoenix Theatre is presenting WEST: A Tribute to BC Trailblazers, a double bill of short, one-person works by alumna and native Victorian Danette Boucher. After graduating from UVic, she moved to Barkerville, BC, creating historically-based pieces like Lady Overlander, the tale of BC pioneer Catherine O’Hare Schubert (1835-1918), the sole female member of a group of gold prospectors who travelled together from Winnipeg to Kamloops in the spring of 1862. The Schubert family made the arduous journey over the Rockies with three young children in tow while the tenacious Catherine (played by Boucher) was pregnant with her fourth. She gave birth en route, with the support of indigenous women, in a village on the Thompson River.
Danette Boucher and James Douglas
The Fred Wells Show will be performed by Boucher’s fellow Phoenix alumnus and husband James Douglas. Fred Wells (1861-1956) was a Depression-era American entrepreneur who believed that a second gold rush was possible in the Cariboo. With the support of investors, he prospected and found a gold seam. The miners who flocked to the area developed the town of Wells, BC, which bears the name of its founder.
In an email interview, Boucher explains how she and Douglas find a lot of poignancy in bringing WEST to Victoria. “We attended the Phoenix in the 80s and 90s, and again for graduate work in the 2000s. Our professional work is, in many ways, the fruit of our educations at the department. Presenting at this wonderfully familiar theatre feels like a circle completed. Like the theme of WEST, this feels like coming home.”
In the midst of witnessing the wildfires plaguing the Province’s interior, Boucher writes that “WEST has become much more to us than stories we love performing. [It] has become our love letter to BC. We hope audiences feel a connection to these stories that celebrate the idea of finding home.”
November brings two new and locally-composed operas, premiering at Pacific Opera Victoria’s Baumann Centre on Balmoral at Quadra. The first is Rattenbury by well-known local composer and sound designer Tobin Stokes. Architect Francis Rattenbury (1867-1935), who designed both the Legislative Buildings and the Empress Hotel, was murdered by his second wife’s teenage lover (their chauffeur!), and the subsequent trial was a cause célèbre in the 1930s. The second new opera, Missing, is composed by Brian Current, with a libretto by indigenous playwright Marie Clement. Addressing the absences and deaths of so many indigenous women in Vancouver and on the Highway of Tears, Missing is a timely artistic statement on a national tragedy.
During Canada’s 150th birthday year—as contentious as that event may be for communities who have lived on this land for much longer—our local theatre and opera companies are offering a broad and exciting range of homegrown and national fare.
Monica Pendergast teaches drama and theatre education at the University of Victoria. Her new research project intends to survey key Canadian Theatre for Young Audiences companies which do high-quality artistic works for children and youth.
Victoria poet laureate Yvonne Blomer combines literary forces to appreciate and protect our large salty neighbour.
HERE ON THE WEST COAST, we’re on the edge of something big. Quite literally, I mean the ocean, but also more. For now is a time of urgent concern and, hopefully, a shift toward responsive action to help save our big blue neighbour.
Those twin engines of fear and hope have propelled Yvonne Blomer, Victoria’s poet laureate, into curating a new anthology, Refugium: Poems for the Pacific (Caitlin Press). These works invite us into greater conversation with ourselves and others as we contemplate just how we face the sea—with everything that means—here on our shared fragile edge.
Refugium collects the voices of over 80 poets and takes its title from the biological term meaning a place where something can survive a period of unfavourable conditions. While the Pacific is huge and daunting in its power, it is in peril. Rising water temperatures, increasing acidification, accumulation of plastics, over-fishing, increased shipping noise and tanker traffic, toxic residential and industrial waste (everything that runs off or out of the greedy core of a commerce-driven civilization)—all threaten various ocean creatures and ecosystems. But the overarching unfavourable conditions producing those threats are less tangible: our attitudes. Can the ocean survive us?
Blomer, who also recently published Sugar Ride: Cycling from Hanoi to Kuala Lampur (Palimpsest Press, May 2017), a memoir of her travels—as a longtime diabetic—by bike through Southeast Asia, is an idealist at heart. She intends Refugium itself to be a kind of refugium for the Pacific. Which is why, in a nuanced word choice, these are not poems about or to the ocean, but for it. “I hope the book isn’t the only place that the Pacific Ocean thrives in 20, 40 or 100 years from now,” she tells me. “But in creating a book that is for the Pacific, a refugium for it, I hope we’ll inspire creation of real-world or outside-the-book refugia.”
The project was first conceived in 2014, when Blomer was applying for the City of Victoria’s poet laureateship, and initially focused on local poets. Eventually, Blomer decided the theme warranted a broader call-out. For one thing, she explains, “issues like Kinder Morgan are known across North America.” But also, she finds that many poets express a more personal link to the Pacific. “We have a connection to this large salty body. Fewer of the submissions were about creatures than our social or individual connection to the ocean. ‘I go to the ocean to grieve.’ Or ‘I enter the ocean to feel whole again.’ Even if you’ve only done it once, you’ll remember it.”
And so the anthology brings together coastal locals (like Jordan Abel, John Barton, Brian Brett, Lorna Crozier, Gary Geddes, Anita Lahey, Isa Milman, Arleen Paré, Patricia and Terence Young, Jan Zwicky) and farther-flung voices from across North America and as far away as Hawaii, New Zealand, and even 19th-century Japan, in a modern translation of a poem entitled “The Memorial Service for Whales.”
While some of Refugium’s poems have been previously published, many were written specifically for this book, as fresh expressions and explorations covering a range of emotions big enough to suit the subject.
We share in specific, place-based remembrances, observances, and stories—praise for the beauty of a particular beach or cove; how a daughter holds her aging mother’s hand as they walk into the ocean, feeling powerful. We are brought to focus on individual ocean inhabitants going about their business, like urchins, sea turtles, orcas, and tideline birds picking through the plastic-choked seaweed. We can delight in wordplay, like Nancy Pagh’s “Moon Jelly” evoking “a name to spread on evening toast/ and eat/ bite by tiny bite” or Tim Bowling’s collection of Shakespearean-sounding ocean insults: “Yeah, you heard me, you Suborbicular kellyclam Twelve-tentacled parasitic anemone.… You’re nothing but a Flap-tip piddock with an Aggregated nipple sponge.”
And, of course, we can mourn with those who chronicle losses and issue warnings. For example, Fiona Tinwei Lam questions what will be left, grieving for “That beauty/ we remember, but/ cannot resuscitate.” And in the timely-titled “Northern Gateway,” Lorna Crozier imagines “every spirit the salmon feeds,/ every man inside a bear, inside a whale,/ inside the throat of frog and eagle,/ every woman whose chopped hair/ tossed into the sea, grew into eel grass” all singing “a lamentation that will not cease./ You don’t want to hear that song.”
Like the ocean, Refugium pushes and pulls us, comforts and terrifies us, in poems that are playful, grief-stricken, awe-struck, hopeful, condemnatory, speculative, historical, personal. But the undercurrent is all of love. For as newly elected Green Party MLA Adam Olsen writes in his introduction, “No matter how long you have been here, one month, one year or a thousand, the Pacific is part of the family.”
That sense of relationship deepens through contact with so many individual perspectives in this book. For instance, relatively recent Victoria transplant Anita Lahey tells me that the call for Pacific poems gave her the nudge she needed “to try to get a sense of my relationship with this ocean and even perhaps to help build one.” And native West Coaster Barbara Pelman explains: “I can’t imagine living so far from the sea that I’d lose the rhythm of water as part of my cells. There is nothing quite so soothing as the tide coming in, and the rituals around its waters: throwing stones, skipping stones, walking on sand, collecting shiny things. A book that would both celebrate the ocean we live beside, and warn of its degradation, is a book we all need.”
But with relationship, as we all know, comes challenge. How do we engage, and how deep do we go?
Often, what we see looking out from our edge is just surface—the ocean’s impassive enormity. And enormity can create a false sense of security. We’ve said “too big to fail” before. Refugium takes a stand against seeing shallowly, and reorients our perspective—not just about the Pacific, but about our ability to act. As Heidi Greco’s simple poem “Edgy” asserts, “Here at the shoreline, a world/ begins:/ waves lapping,…granting a second/ chance.” And in “Three Peninsulas” Sijo Smith reminds us of our collective power: “I alone am a drop,/ but we are an ocean.”
Refugium will launch, with an accompanying exhibition of artworks inspired by the poems, on October 5 at The Maritime Museum, 634 Humboldt Street. Doors at 6:30; reading at 7:30. Early bird tickets $15 (available through the Maritime Museum), $20 regular. Ticket sale profits will go toward supporting eco-education at the Maritime Museum.
Daughter of a world-renowned glass sponge biologist, some of writer and editor Amy Reiswig’s most cherished childhood memories involve Pacific tidepooling with her dad. So much love starts in the sea.
With David Butterfield’s passing, Victoria has lost one of its major investors in social capital.
BECAUSE A LIFE TAKES PLACE IN, and is significantly defined by, a social and historical context, a here and a now, let’s reflect on the times.
We have a back foot still resting in the vestiges of something recognizable as history—that is, agreed-upon terms for living and a legible arrangement of hopes—and a forward foot poised above states of discontinuity that a catastrophist (not me, of course) could easily interpret as oblivion’s hot button. Someone presumably as rational as Elon Musk of Tesla and soon Neuralink (linking human brains and computers) fame, calls A.I. a “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.” (Musk’s blind eye to Neuralink noted.)
This threat didn’t emerge yesterday. Humanity has been building toward this sci-fi third act for a while, and you would have to lack all emotional radar not to pick up on the atmosphere of growing agitation surrounding our lives, or the increasingly tormented and nihilistic output in every branch of contemporary culture and social practice. Some academics would say frenzy and hints of destruction are characteristics of and precursors to all transformational moments in social evolution. I think that’s an academic view.
Our southern neighbours just chose for president the personification, the apotheosis, of their own current suicidal despair: an unrestrained, crazy, angry child—the kind of human who tailgates you, high beams on, punishing you for driving the posted speed limit or having the gall to occupy his private passing lane. He’s a conscienceless, divisive, self-aggrandizing, always-right-never-wrong monster who, pledging to make America great again (crap, but also a world-risking formulation), has pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord, even though credible climate predictions are, in a word, apocalyptic. He’s a living guarantee that four years of everything wrong with and within the US will get wronger, and of Code Red danger levels for all of us. Like evil foretold, he embodies some unknowable break with our imperfect but operable social contract; or maybe, representing only its imperfections and deficiencies, he’s its culmination.
The “base”—whoever that is, whatever that means—no longer recognizes risk or its signs, because things have gone past any chance of national recuperation or repair, intensifying an anxious and pessimistic mood which, in case you hadn’t noticed, doesn’t respect national borders. Everyone feels it; no one knows what to do about it.
In such times of duress, “small L” liberal expressions, practices and values are just social conceits and cocktail chatter nice-to’s, almost laughable irrelevancies; and as political or social practice they are collapsing before this Shakespearean tragedy of red meat politics and looming social tumult. If there was ever a moment for the call, “All wise hands on deck,” this is it.
Why David Butterfield left the world, just when his aptitudes and his attitudes are most required, is beyond my comprehension.
David expired at his Shoal Point home around 7pm on Saturday, June 17, ravaged by cancer and little more than skin, bones and defeated innards. He was just sub-70 when he died, and left behind lifelong wife, partner and soul-mate Norma, talented and successful son Stewart (Flickr, Slack), older brothers Alf and Lyman, and hundreds upon hundreds of friends, colleagues and admirers (and a few critics possibly judgmental about his accomplishments, not, God knows, disappointed by his lack of them).
David Butterfield (l) and Gene Miller. Photo by Denton Pendergast.
As you could easily learn from the testimonials and remembrances delivered at a mid-July celebration of his life, held in the orchard of St Ann’s Academy, David was impulsive and uncommonly openhearted, philanthropically generous, eager to make a difference and to believe that doing so mattered, making all of us beneficiaries of his remarkable capacity for conceiving and executing aspirational, community-creating, aesthetically meaningful and ecologically-attuned development. His Trust for Sustainable Development carried the vision (though not with universal success) to Bamberton, Civano in Tucson, Mexico’s Loreto Bay, Shoal Point, Spirit Bay...a prodigious and prestigious roster of would-be utopias from a man who, in my experience, chose to integrate, not separate, the values of business, lofty aesthetics and the social/environmental agenda.
More personally, I’ll remember him as a Master of the Long Pause, as he made room within his mental apparatus for novel considerations or formulations. There was a rare quality to his thought process: You could practically hear him thinking his responses, judging, weighing, long before he spoke.
By the way, his last words were: “On the other hand…”
Okay, I made that up.
You could pose to him: “David, you know those small seeds with the hairy hooks that attach themselves to your pants when you’re walking through the park meadow? Science says it’s a propagation strategy, that the seeds are hairy and hooky so they can attach themselves to passing furry animals. But that implies plant consciousness and intention, an anticipation that there would, in future, be furry animals walking by; and that’s impossible, because plants don’t think or forward plan.” Instead of an eye-roll suggesting your concerns were, uh, subjective, you would get serious consideration from David and, eventually, a contributive or an amused but novel response.
Of his various gifts, I most appreciate that he had an instinct and aptitude for community. I sense that he attempted, much of the time with most of his projects, to create the conditions within which social capital could expand and the human family could flourish.
“Community” requires explication because the word has become somewhat rote in usage, one of those uh-huh words like “democracy” or “freedom” or “progress” or “private sector” in an expanding list where common meaning is assumed but ideological spin prevails, and also because the prospects for community—the palpable, the lived sense of shared endeavour, of mutuality—are rapidly disintegrating. In a historical eye-blink, it seems, the conditions nourishing community have diminished, lost their potency, and in this new, atomizing, technological world with its shape-shifting, post-truth politics, community has become as antique and quaint as square dancing.
I need to take a slightly roundabout path to explain this to a finer point. Rolling Stone political writer Matt Taibbi has written a new book, Insane Clown President. The book is not just a postmortem on the collapse and failure of American democracy. It offers the riveting, surreal, unique, and essential experience of seeing the future in hindsight.
A reviewer notes: “Years before the clown car of candidates was fully loaded, Taibbi grasped the essential themes of the story: the power of spectacle over substance, or even truth; the absence of a shared reality; the nihilistic rebellion of the working class; the death of the political establishment. The stunning rise of a ‘bloviating and farting’ Trump marks the apotheosis of the new post-factual movement.”
Ask yourself: Where, in such a state of things, do you find room even to frame the requirement for personal obligation to the civic group—that is, effort in behalf of a civic entity larger than oneself, such effort also known as social utility? It’s also reasonable to ask what, in such a self-aggrandizing, self-absorbed, humility-deficient culture does social utility even mean? Promote or practice such values in the US, and you’re like a bunny amongst the carnivores, a sucker, a dope, a mushy throwback, an irrelevance.
In The Political Economy of Attention, Mindfulness and Consumerism: Reclaiming the Mindful Commons, Peter Doran acerbically describes the American new normal: “Minds and culture are being colonized by markets, and the hidden political and economic struggle of our times is focused on shaping our inner lives.”
He continues, “This is a large, complicated story based on neoliberal capitalism’s impact on everyday life: frantic work schedules, declining wages, wealth inequality, and austerity politics, all of which have led to a degradation of public services, social amenities and neighbourliness. It turns out that consumerism and market growth, diligently supported by the state, are not in fact ‘maximizing utility,’ as economists would have it. They are breeding personal despair, precarity, alienation and social dysfunction.”
The challenge, then, is somehow to remain an accomplished optimist on a bloody and dangerous battleground. David was that and more. He was, in the best sense of the word, a social romantic. A romantic, as I mean it, isn’t someone who gilds reality, but someone who’s mindful of and navigates by humanity’s dream for itself: hopes for equity, personal fulfillment, the righting of wrongs, common meaning and purpose to life, authentic social connection, creative expression, surprise, delight, fair-dealing, and so on. While it’s difficult to know what lies at the root of someone’s thoughts and acts, I think I would apply an uncommon term to David: publicly hopeful. This made his intentions lofty, to use that out-of-fashion word. Or, as the carved inscription on the beautiful Skidmore Fountain in the oldest part of Portland, Oregon states, “Good Citizens Are the Riches of a City.”
That’s our boy: a good citizen.
My take? The world needs much more David Butterfield.
Founder of Open Space and co-founder of Monday Magazine, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an affordable housing concept and, with partner Rob Abbott, has launched the website FUTURETENSE: Robotics, AI, and the Future of Work.
A field trip to northern Europe is “offset” by the ripple effect of knowledge gained.
THIS PAST JULY, the Larsen C iceshelf calved, leaving a free-floating iceberg in Antarctica twice the volume of Lake Erie. Meanwhile, President Trump signed an order to take the US out of the Paris Climate Accord. Closer to home, BC faced a provincial state of emergency triggered by over 200 wildfires that saw the evacuation of Cache Creek and devastated Chilcotin Nation lands. Heading to press, BC’s wildfire total this season has exceeded 1000, and the heat of another dry summer has broken records. An article making the rounds on social media cautioned that we are in for cataclysmic global warming much sooner than we had thought; it won’t be pretty.
One could be forgiven for feeling a little hopeless.
Seeking reasons to be optimistic, however, I was fortunate in not having to look too far. This summer I acted as teaching assistant to 20 University of Victoria geography students who spent a month in Northern Europe learning about sustainable transportation, green building, pollinator protection, and inner city greenways. Because of their enthusiasm and dedication, despite this summer’s headlines, hope for the future still seems possible. With students bringing their knowledge back to the Capital Region, their international experience is contributing to local environmental needs. One student, Riley Thackray, is looking for suggestions on where to put her passion to work.
The UVic Sustainability Field School takes place every spring, alternating between Northern Europe and the Cascadia coast (from Victoria south to San Francisco). This year’s participants landed in Paris and finished in Copenhagen. Along the way, geography professor Cameron Owens arranged meetings with planners, designers, food forest proponents and nature school teachers, allowing UVic students a first-hand look at how Northern Europe is building its cycling infrastructure, providing greenspaces for native species in Paris’ Clichy Batignolles, turning Rotterdam rooftops into gardens, and lowering Amsterdam’s carbon footprint through “Sustainist” neighbourhood design. Students gain credit for two courses during the five-week program, and then return to gain their third course by completing a legacy project in their local community.
Thackray, a 21-year-old geography student, received a $5000 grant from Nature’s Path’s Organic and Sustainable Food Systems Award for her project. She will build a rainwater harvesting system with a community partner in the CRD and document the process. “In places like Victoria, where we have wet winters and dry summers, rainwater harvesting systems can be designed to store water for the drier months and alleviate water costs,” says Thackray, who has studied these systems in her coursework. She hopes to collaborate with a local grower, farmer or community organization to support urban farming and pollinator habitat. “There are lots of negative connotations around sustainable practices that close individuals off to possibilities. I think we need more education…and community engagement.”
International travel, even for the sake of learning, can be hard to justify on a warming planet. Virtual research can take the place of in-situ learning; meetings or tours can unfold via video. How can a field school in environmental sustainability rationalize the considerable carbon output of 20 students and two teachers heading overseas?
Owens has led field schools for decades, and through UVic since 2009, when he joined the Geography faculty. “When I read recently about the Great Barrier Reef dying, I thought, ‘I never want to do another overseas field school again,’” he says. But he stresses that the consequences of the trip can’t be quantified only using carbon counts. Thanks to the hands-on approach he takes, including stressing “creative offsets” like legacy projects rather than simply buying carbon offsets, the reach of student learning often extends well beyond the field classroom, into the lives of those visited and those at home. Student-produced videos, interviews, improved critical thinking and empathy are just some of the outcomes of field learning. The reach and ripple effect from first-hand experience, says Owens, impacts a growing cohort of students who return determined to make a positive difference in the world. Thackray concurs. “I learned way more in the field than I would have ever learned in a classroom. I see a future for myself in this field.”
Hosts overseas also benefit from the students’ visits. Field school students visited Pôle Innovant Lycéen, an alternative school in Paris, which uses recycling projects to help youth aged 16-24 integrate back into the school system. The school will now use a video created by Thackray’s cohorts as its first English language promotional material. The video could lead to additional grants for the school, which provides help to immigrant and low-income youth throughout the city.
Thackray’s project is modelled for urban agriculture initiatives like TOPSOIL on Vic West’s Dockside Green development lands, or Spring Ridge Commons in Fernwood. But these growers already have systems in place. Thackray is hoping Focus readers might have an idea of where she could put her energy, creating a lasting legacy project that would see a reduction in the “urban heat island effect,” provide pollinators with habitat, and the city’s populace with healthy food.
Thackray also hopes to create a simple infographic brochure on how residents can build their own rainwater harvesting system. The brochure will be distributed at irrigation supply and gardening stores. Her goal is to alleviate costs for the grower in the summer months, while also reducing the draw on the regional water supply—increasingly important in light of longer summer droughts. “I feel a sense of empowerment in myself, the community and my peers that we can create positive change,” she says. “I’m excited for the outcome of the project.” Bertrand Smith, whose image accompanies this article, is creating a photo series for the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, what he describes as a kind of “Bikers of Victoria” take on “Humans of New York.”
Thackray is just one of dozens of field school students who have completed projects in the Capital Region and beyond. Scott Mellett now works on soil health at TOPSOIL. Sarah Lax came home from her trip and helped contribute to Biketoria, Victoria’s plan for an urban, protected cycling network. This year’s students Rylee Christensen and Natasha Ewashen are working on the creation of a community green map in their hometown of Creston, BC, with a focus on parks and wildlife corridors.
Professor Owens provides significant support and direction to the students throughout the process to help beat the odds. “Seventy-five percent of these types of university-community projects are found unsatisfactory by the community partner…due to problems stemming from lack of effort and time invested, lack of communication, and unclear expectation,” he says. He recognizes that a new semester gets in the way. But with support, university students can gain the skills to facilitate a meaningful partnership. “I call it action with traction—action that is sustained,” says Owens.
“I encounter a lot of doom and gloom in my class-based courses,” says Thackray. “This leads to a sense of hopelessness for the future of the planet.” The field school and its after-effects helped her regain “an immense amount of hope and confidence that sustainable practices are achievable in today’s world.”
Personally, I watched students’ faces light up in disbelief, then joy, as the group arrived at one of Amsterdam’s city centre streets. There were no cars. Instead, a path of grass and wildflowers curved between two trolley tracks, with dual-direction bike and pedestrian lanes on either side. The urban landscape was so quiet you could hear wind rustling the trees. “Imagine this in downtown Victoria,” said Owens.
Despite BC’s record-breaking temperatures this summer, some argue that the planet isn’t too hot, yet. A plethora of young students like Ewashen, Christensen, Smith and Thackray, thanks to inspiration drawn from Copenhagen’s nature school and Rotterdam’s songbird-filled rooftop meadows, are working to create a future we can feel hopeful about.
Readers can offer suggestions to Thackray by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.
EVERY TWO WEEKS and exactly on schedule, an Emterra truck rolls onto our street and begins taking up the contents of the brimming Blue Boxes at the foot of each driveway. It’s an efficient operation: After just a few minutes of purposeful clattering the truck moves on to feed somewhere else.
Have you ever wondered where all that stuff goes? Welcome to the complex world of recycling.
First, a little background to help keep things clear. While garbage and organics are the jurisdiction of municipalities (or private enterprise, as in the case of North Saanich), recycling is the CRD’s responsibility. Prior to 2014 the CRD oversaw its own collection program and used municipal funds (meaning our tax dollars) to pay for it.
But then the Province upended all that by transferring province-wide recycling costs from the taxpayer to the 1300 companies up the line that make and sell all the materials we recycle. The move wasn’t without precedence but it certainly was brash: Now food processing companies, for example, would pay “stewardship fees” for the recycling of food packaging, not the family buying the groceries. Now the print media would be paying to recycle newspapers and magazines, not the readers. (But let’s not be naïve, dear readers. We ultimately still pay through increased product pricing—how could it be otherwise? At least now the recycling costs are affixed to consumer usage rather than municipal tax dollars.)
Despite bitter protest from the industry, the Province was unwavering and tasked the Vancouver-based non-profit Recycle BC (then known as Mixed-Materials BC) with a huge two-pronged mission: collect the stewardship fees from the industry—currently about $83 million annually—and use that money to pay for and expand recycling services in BC. As part of that agreement, municipalities would relinquish all aspects of collection to Recycle BC.
Such blanket power and money for one small non-profit does invite valid and lingering concerns, but there’s no denying that Recycle BC has made some notable progress in a relatively short time. Almost every BC community now has access to recycling services. We’re keeping more recyclables out of the waste stream and finding increasingly viable and more local markets for their re-use. Last year 185,000 tonnes were collected province-wide—that’s 185 million kilograms—of which 92 percent was successfully recycled.
In most of BC, collection now happens either curbside, at multi-family collection points (apartment buildings, for example) and through established collection depots. For much of this heavy lifting Recycle BC has partnered with Green By Nature, an all-Canadian triumvirate that includes Emterra Environmental (the collector), Cascades Recovery (the sorter) and Merlin Plastics (the refiner). Big business has indeed discovered recycling.
Back in the CRD, the Emterra truck unloads at the local Cascades Recovery depot on Bridge Street. Emterra charges $5 million annually for collection services in the CRD—some 20,000 tonnes last year, or about 53 kilograms per resident. Recycle BC now pays that fee with stewardship revenue as described above. (I wonder if my municipal tax bill has been reduced accordingly? But again, I digress.)
Cascades Recovery begins tackling the load. The separately collected paper is baled for shipping to China, still the only market where it can be processed into boxboard. We’ll see it back as cereal boxes and egg cartons. Glass, also collected separately, is trucked to Duncan to be made into aggregate for roadway construction.
The mixed metals and plastics are cleaned and separated. Metals are trucked over to a Victoria company that readies them for shipment to Ontario to be refined into rebar and other products.
The plastics are shipped to Merlin Plastics in Delta for processing into pellets to be sold for manufacturing. The pellets come in several grades and can be made into a wide range of goods including non-food bottles, clothing, carpeting, garbage cans, CD cases and plastic lumber.
Recycle BC envisions an increasingly circular and more sustainable economy in which materials will continually be reused and repurposed. It is working with the industry to develop more lightweight packaging, cleaner adhesives, and even a more easily recycled K-cup pod.
I’ve only just scratched the surface here, but now we know this: We’re reaping where we previously didn’t see bounty; someday garbage will be obsolete; and landfills are bulging with the next motherlodes.
In “Part II” in the next edition of Focus, Trudy will explore the ins and outs of everything else we can recycle in the CRD.