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    Gene Miller
    In these disruptive times, the idea that a good political leader is one who champions and promises the return of “normalcy” is preposterous. That's why Lisa Helps has been a great mayor for Victoria.
     
    SO EASY TO FANTASIZE Victoria’s beginnings as an oil painting: the European discoverer’s noble stance on the rocky shore, powerful and hostile nature poised to retreat, toss in a cleric and some noble savages. Historical facts, though, seem to favour the image of Victoria as a filthy port, an entrepot from which miners outfitted themselves with supplies shipped here from England before crossing to their mainland treasure-metal claims near the Fraser River.
    History: cherished as romantic origin story and source of local custom, hated as constraint or prohibition in times of change.
    When I came here in 1970, the place was begging for release from Olde England, desperate for a new story and fresh mission. “A little bit of Olde England” had run out of juice (and legitimacy) and, as a story of this place, even in Oak Bay, had retreated to the defensive and protective pettiness of land use regulations.
    So what has happened in a half-century? What has this place become?
    I answer subjectively: in my five decades and some here, I have tried to make Victoria a perfect human place. I’ll explain below, but if such a line seems rich in hints of exit, no, this is not my last column and I’m not dying.
    I state, without a lick of self-applause, that I’ve been the city’s unelected mayor over those 50 years. In five decades I’ve created Open Space Arts/Cultural Centre; Monday Magazine and its affiliated media siblings; The First Urban Conference; The Gaining Ground Urban Sustainability Conferences; the Harris Green Charrette; have written endless monthly columns for FOCUS Magazine; produced ASH (Affordable Sustainable Homes), inspired by the very successful multi-suite conversion of large Rockland, Fairfield, Fernwood and other area homes into houseplexes; and have for years, with my wife, daily cleaned Beacon Hill Park of litter. Calling myself unelected mayor is not self-congratulation any more than calling an elephant “large” or a snake “sinuous” praises those creatures. 
    I have worked to give expression to and, overall, to quicken the opportunity, the potential, that sits at the heart of this singular, urbane and cultured—that is, profoundly privileged—place endowed, as it is, with the capacity to undertake—not as task or burden, but as joyous human project—an important social mission: specifically, to be the best human community in the world, and a laboratory from which social successes might be exported. 
    For what other purpose do you imagine communities, cities, clusters of people like this one (there aren’t many) are handed such gifts of natural and constructed beauty, location, setting, climate, cultural and economic advantage, gifts of rationality, social equilibrium and a rich, remembered past, if not to demonstrate to the rest of the desperate world that things are improvable? What other purpose did you believe such largesse serves?
    The way I see it, privilege just increases obligation expressed as citizenship: that is, full identification and engagement with one’s immediate social setting. Citizenship, not community. Giving, not getting. A touch of mission and self-sacrifice. Citizenship’s the investment; community’s the payoff.
    The urgencies associated with social mission seem to me to be even riper now, more looming, more clearly defined, locally and everywhere. Honestly, I worry that civilization has already passed the “undo” step on the way to its next blowup, not yet at World War III nuclear fisticuffs (though heading there), but a stage in which complexity and the reflex for conflict block any form of resolution beside catastrophe; while head-spinning cultural novelty and unimpeded technological change leave everyone feeling like they’re dancing on marbles and just visiting, responsible for nothing more than their own well-being. 
    Notes the New York Times’ Charles Blow in a recent column about President Biden and current geopolitics: “Biden often drifts back into idealism, seemingly longing for and lost in a long-gone politics in which bipartisanship was more common and an antidemocratic opposition unfathomable. But then reality reminds him that he is in a war, not just a disagreement. He is reminded—and must remind the country—that these are dire times.”
    And dire times now include a novel feature: vast environmental damage and the risk of ecological collapse, all of which delivers enormous functional, psychological and health stress and harm to society.
    In Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe, historian-author Niall Ferguson writes, “Richard Evans’ meticulously detailed study of the Hamburg cholera epidemic of 1892 introduced me to the idea that the mortality caused by a deadly pathogen is partly a reflection of the social and political order it attacks.”
    However well disguised, this column’s intended destination from the outset has been outgoing Victoria mayor Lisa Helps. My cards: I believe Helps is the best mayor the city has had in this half-century.
    Best? Best at what? Best in what way? 
    I’ll answer immediately: best at designing and leading civic adventure; best at dragging the future’s looming truths into the present; best at removing the grounds for complacency; best at getting in the ring with uncertainty; best at steering with a moral compass; best at engineering wide-scale change; best at turning civic maundering into an action blueprint; best at reflexively rewarding any and everyone’s engagement in city ideas, issues and process.
    As you may imagine, Helps has lots of detractors, and had she chosen to run for a third term, might have proved un-re-electable. If so, the voting public could not pay her a greater compliment, or itself a greater insult.
    Look, social winds don’t bypass Victoria. Nobody bussed our homeless in from Vancouver or Chicago. Welcome to our One World: social problems don’t respect borders.
    Here’s my tally of global disruptions: that sociopath Trump’s transformation of US political reality and the world-changing threat he poses to working democracy, as right-wing values and policies surge, next door and globally. The inching advances of global warming, these days looking more like feet than inches. The revolutionary impact of online commerce on conventional retail (storefront) consumerism and service delivery (you can now receive psychotherapy online: “betterhelp.com—Talk to a therapist from the comfort of your own home”). The unknowable risk of ever-more-autonomous (and, loomingly, self-aware) AI. The imminent collapse of working class jobs as such work is captured by software and skilled machines. The increase of homelessness and the terrifying third world-ification of our downtowns. A growing realization that the entire liberal premise as the terms of social conduct may have run its course…These have not bypassed Victoria. We’re in the world.
    In such times, the idea that a good political leader is one who champions and promises the return of “normalcy” is preposterous. Apart from feeding delusion or momentarily reducing anxiety, there is no use or benefit in pretending that a roller coaster is an elevator. Under such circumstances, doesn’t it (grimly) comfort you to have had a mayor who gets all of this, who gets the world? Of course, none of this has impeded those luddites, the Trumpy Taxpayers of Greater Victoria, terrified by ambiguity and eager to leverage their terror as passage back to a lost world.
    My only disappointments associated with the Helps era? 
    First, that she was obliged by city council political math to abandon the so-called “missing middle” land use initiative (better described as “distributed density”). Its passage would have triggered a necessary social revolution and, in my view, would have been her greatest and most significant political accomplishment. I wish she had found a way to ram it through. (I gather there was significant public support for the initiative, but the City sowed doubt by doing a crappy job of explaining and selling this innovative urban development programme.)
    Second, that concerning all of the new downtown-area residential highrises, she seemed to have had a tin ear for architectural and public realm design. In my view, she let developers get away with murder, and I regret she didn’t, at the start of her first mayoral term, stand up at an Urban Development Industry luncheon and say to the crowd: “Okay, boys and girls, you want to do twenty, twenty-five, thirty storeys around downtown? Then you give the city beautiful, warm, welcoming buildings, architectural masterpieces, not soulless, standard-issue shit-boxes; and show up with detailed plans for heart-stopping beautification of the public realm outside your buildings. Have we got a deal?”
    Putting these two matters aside, Helps, I argue, has shown the political intelligence and fluidity, the values. the courage, and an appetite for the future that present conditions require. Now, it’s civic election time and the calendar pages are shrieking “Next!”
    Who’s next? What’s next? We’ll see. We’ll see.
    Beside the biographical notes in his column above, Gene is currently writing Futurecide˛ a book that argues that catastrophe is ecological, presenting and editing the website Shit Sandwich: the Best of the Bad News, and initiating the Centre for the Design of the Future, a Victoria-based host for new answers to old questions.
     

    Stephen Hume
    The so-called vandals make a reasonable point. Despite dire warnings for decades, we are still behaving and emitting like our convenience trumps a livable planet.
     
    A SELF-PROFESSED GROUP OF CLIMATE ACTIVISTS calling itself “the Tyre Extinguishers” (the movement started in the UK) recently let the air out of the tires of 34 SUVs in Victoria and Oak Bay.
    As demonstrations go, it was a small but effective example of asymmetrical protest.  
    The tiny investment of effort by little-known protesters yielded a full-on media-amplified eruption of exposure. 
    Well-heeled Tweed Curtain apologists expressed affront, outrage, umbrage, dudgeon and pompous, Colonel Blimp-like huffing about the imminent collapse of civil society. Yes, that’s a long list of overblown adjectives but purple-faced hyperbole deserves absurd overstatement in ironic response.
    The local media dutifully and predictably joined the pile-on, pontificating on the environmental fifth column—precisely the response for which the shrewd provocateurs doubtless hoped. Op-eds lectured on the folly of over-reacting to exaggerated global warming claims. 
    These predictable nostrums come from retired fossil fuel industry executives, former bureaucrats upset by the disorderly conduct of disrespectful protesters, business leaders warning of the perils that the homeless, the marginalized and the damaged pose to the economy and so on. 
    The Extinguishers were denounced as vandals. Note that word’s origin in the imperialist Roman slave state which got rich plundering its neighbours. Those resisting Caesar’s colonial plundering—the Vandals, for example—became the verbal antithesis of “civilization”. 
    Next the Extinguishers were labelled “creatures of the night,” a delicious stereotype cribbed directly from Hollywood B-list horror movies about vampires, werewolves and other soul-stealing apparitions from the Dark Side. 
    Um, some perspective please. This was not Friday the 13th in Uplands. The incident involved letting the air out of a few tires. And the protesters even politely left a flyer explaining the political rationale behind their deliberate and symbolic inconveniencing of a few unlucky and randomly chosen SUV drivers. 
    As far as “vandalism” goes, letting the air out of 34 car tires hardly ranks with the angry and disaffected folk going around actually slashing tires, of which there have been hundreds of examples over the last five years, sometimes a hundred in one night.
    Slash 70 tires in Oaklands and it’s “Meh, urban life.” Let the air out of a few tires in Oak Bay and it’s “Light your hair on fire, civilization is threatened!” 
    But wait, somebody lets the air out of your tire, you get it re-inflated and that’s that. Somebody sticks a knife in the sidewall and you are buying new tires at $150 a pop.
    So there’s “vandalism,” and there’s “vandalism.” It’s probably a good idea for serious media to try to distinguish between the two forms of mischief.
    However misguided or misplaced one might consider the Tyre Extinguishers tactic, this modest stealth protest did not represent the Night of the Living Dead experience invoked by terms like “creatures of the night.”
    What it did represent was effective (if expedient) street theatre. Targeting the stereotyped demographic of Oak Bay certainly got more media traction than targeting Gulf Islanders would have. (An aside: vehicle registration statistics indicate that Gulf Islanders actually own and drive more SUVs than folks who live in Oak Bay.)
    The deflation got people actually talking about something that our mainstream media generally doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about—the negative impact of consumers’ personal choices upon their own lives.
    Want to address those responsible for global warming? Look in the mirror. Single use plastics? Mirror. Food mono-cultures? Mirror. Factory farming? Mirror. Traffic congestion and urban sprawl? Mirror. 
    Individual consumers buy and burn fossil fuels by the billions of litres every year. That’s what enables, empowers and enriches the big oil companies which sell them. The revenue that provides big oil with immense profits—that’s our money, transferred to them in exchange for fossil fuels so that we can burn them in our over-sized, overweight cars.
    In this case, the activists (clearly on the right side of history) drew attention to the continuing decision by consumers to drive heavier, aerodynamically inefficient SUVs (gas guzzlers, the protesters labelled them), a decision which is having a disproportionate impact upon the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming.
    The media’s aversion to finger-wagging about this choice is understandable considering how important automotive advertising revenue is to its beleaguered bottom line. 
     
    SUVs and pickups are 70 percent of the auto market
    Before I go further, however, I should confess that I, too, am part of the consumer problem. I drive an SUV. But wait, I protest (or rationalize depending upon point of view). Mine is but a small four cylinder job, I need it for work because I travel frequently on rough roads and require the high clearance. Not to mention being able (important at age 75), to sleep in the back, dry and snug, and thus avoid the inconvenience of setting up and breaking down camp in the pouring rain. And what’s more, I only drive the darn thing when necessary, fewer than 5,000 kilometres last year when the Canadian average is 15,000. So even though my vehicle pollutes more than a compact sedan, it actually pollutes less because I drive it much less. Or so my rationalizations go.
    These are, indeed, all the standard rationalizations for the fallacy of Incremental Thinking. 
    The fallacy is that since one’s personal impact is tiny compared to the whole, it is therefore justifiable. In fact, it’s the combination of many such rationalizations that create the monstrous problem we now face.
    Apologists for the status quo will argue that BC only contributes about two percent of Canada’s fossil fuel production so it’s not that harmful. This is like arguing that it’s ok to throw gasoline on your neighbour’s burning house by the cupful because the arsonists are pouring it on by the barrel.
    The problem, of course, is not just the “them” of Oak Bay SUV drivers who drew the sanctimonious wrath of the Tyre Extinguishers. The problem is the larger “us” whose addiction to convenience drives the decisions.
    We are the problem because we like SUVs. We buy a lot of them. We have been buying more and more of them in larger and larger models, a process to which the profitability of both the auto industry and the media is closely tied.
    Auto manufacturers and retailers annually spend more than $10 billion a year on advertising—that’s about 25 percent of the total spent on advertising.
    And those advertisers have been highly effective. They have helped shift the market away from less expensive sedans. Ten years ago one in five new cars sold was a passenger sedan. By 2022, the market share for the more fuel efficient sedans had declined to one in 10. SUVs and pickup trucks now comprise about 70 percent of the entire auto market.
    In 1975, smaller car-sized SUVs were 0.1 percent of the market. By 2021, their market share had grown 1,700 fold. Today  these SUVs command 11.7 percent. But larger SUVs, designated by the auto market statisticians as Truck SUVs, had expanded market share over the same period from 1.7 percent to 41.4 percent. By comparison, pickup trucks market share is now 17.1 percent.
    Auto manufacturers responded to this consumer shift enthusiastically. In 2008, General Motors ceased production of eight sedan model lines. Ford Motors had plans to shift 90 percent of its North American production liners to SUVs by 2020.
    According to the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency, SUV manufacturing now comprises 50 percent of all new vehicles produced. And SUVs have been getting bigger and heavier in the process of responding to rising consumer demand.
    In 1975, the average sedan outweighed the average pickup truck by 20 kilograms. By 2020, the average pickup and truck-size SUV outweighed the average sedan by more than 700 kilograms. 
    Pickup trucks are even worse when isolated from the averages—they have increased in weight by almost 28 percent. At the same time, the weight of the diminishing numbers of passenger sedans has actually declined by 14 percent.
    Buy an SUV instead of a compact sedan and the average weight differential is now 42 percent.
    The heavier and less aerodynamic the vehicle, the more energy it takes to move it. And that’s a big part of the emerging problem consumers pose. Because, while there have been gains in improved fuel efficiency for internal combustion engines, they’ve been dramatically offset by the inefficiencies of weight and aerodynamic design.
    When business reporters at Associated Press compared the top 10 SUVs with comparable passenger sedans, the SUVs were 14 percent worse in fuel consumption on average. For example, the most fuel-efficient SUV tested in 2019 was 18 percent worse in fuel consumption than the most efficient sedan. 
    The research compared the Honda CR-V compact SUV with a Honda Civic with the identical power train. The SUV was at least 20 percent less efficient than the sedan; on the highway, where wind resistance at higher sustained speed is more of a factor, the SUV was 24 percent less fuel efficient. 
    A similar comparative study of the Toyota Highlander and the Camry sedan with the same engine found that the sedan had a 42 percent advantage in fuel efficiency.
    This is worth remembering when clamour about the rising pump cost of gasoline and the burden of carbon taxes starts affecting politicians’ judgment. If we drive an SUV or a pickup, we chose the higher cost of fuel to move it.
     
    Transportation is the single biggest emissions source
    So, the Extinguishers have a valid point when they make SUV drivers—like me—the target of their complaints about global warming and greenhouse gas emissions which, in BC, have increased by 20 percent since 1996.
    Transportation is still the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in BC at 38 percent of the total of 12.8 megatons of carbon dioxide emitted in 2020. That’s larger than the emissions from the next two sources on the list—the oil and gas industry and the manufacturing and heavy industrial sectors—combined. 
    According to the Environmental Protection Agency in the US, the typical passenger car produces 4.6 metric tons of pollution in a typical year of driving. Burn four litres of gas, your car will pump 8,887 grams of carbon into the atmosphere. Put another way, every kilometre driven sends more than 250 grams of carbon out the tail pipe.
    So, multiply that by the 3.7 million passenger vehicles in BC—and consider that based on statistics compiled by the Insurance Company of BC showing that the rate of vehicle ownership in the Capital Regional District is growing twice as fast as the human population—one can see that the Extinguishers have a pretty solid point.
    On average, car owners in BC drive a cumulative total of about 48.5 billion kilometres per year. Multiply that by 250 grams of carbon per kilometre and the simple calculator on my iPad gives me a consistent error message—too big to calculate,
    In denouncing the protesters, the usual and predictable arguments for driving SUVs were trotted out. More headroom and leg space for passengers; greater safety for passengers in case of a collision; winter driving; off road driving; more cargo space.
    All these arguments have been addressed by researchers and found wanting. They are based for the most part in the magical thinking of incrementalism and its rationalizations.
    Yes, there can certainly be more seating room for passengers in large SUVs compared to compact and sub-compact passenger sedans. But this is comparing apples with oranges. Compare larger sedans with SUVs and the seating advantage dwindles.
    Safety for SUV passengers proves to be a myth. The laws of physics dictate that people driving a heavy vehicle will indeed be safer in a collision—with a lighter vehicle.  However, if 70 percent of the market is buying heavier vehicles, that supposed safety advantage evaporates. Drivers who think they are safer in an SUV are simply gambling that they’ll collide with a lighter compact sedan. It’s a self-interested decision to increase their perceived safety by sacrificing the safety of passengers of the lighter car. Yet the odds don’t support the decision. The odds are that in any collision they’ll most likely collide with another SUV or with a pickup truck. 
    And new research indisputably shows that any safety advantage in a collision is offset by the propensity of higher rates of death and injury in SUV rollovers. A study of the accident records of 72,000 children recently concluded that the higher risk of roll-over offsets any potential benefit from the size and weight of SUVs in accidents.
    Contrary to widely-held public perception, SUVs do not contribute to greater safety for child passengers compared to sedans and, indeed, SUVs are twice as likely to roll over in accident because of their higher centre of gravity.
    A few car owners in Oak Bay and Victoria were indeed inconvenienced by having their tires deflated. No dispute there. But once again, it’s a proportional issue.
    The inconvenience of having to call BCAA to have tires re-inflated seems minor in comparison to the inconvenience that SUVs pose to the 1,900 people in BC who will die prematurely of respiratory failure this year (and next year, and the year after that) because of exposure to the aerosolized fine particulates emitted in car exhaust. SUV’s, remember, produce more of this pollution than smaller sedans.
    The typical passenger car averages about 4.6 metric tons of carbon emissions in a year of driving. There are more than 205,000 of them registered in the Capital Regional District, many of them larger, heavier, less fuel-efficient SUVs. On average, we drivers emit almost a million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year.
     
    We were warned—decades ago
    If, as the United Nations science agency studying global warming warns, we are running out of time to avoid a climate tipping point beyond which catastrophic effects will be inevitable, the Tyre Extinguishers have a reasonable point, however it might irritatingly contradict our desires for convenience and the magical thinking by which we seek somebody else to blame for our self-inflicted dilemma.
    Almost 50 years ago, when I first started writing about this and the threat seemed almost unimaginably distant, scientists were asked by a federal government committee about the magnitude of the threat. They were informed in an official report that only thermo-nuclear world war exceeded the danger posed by global warming.
    Over that half century, politicians did little. Politicians did little because we, from whom their political power is delegated, didn’t want to do what would inconvenience or annoy us. Now, with Europe in flames, disastrous floods and fires across North America, droughts afflicting the world’s prime food producing regions, and thousands dying in heat domes, mega storms and attempts to flee stricken regions, we are told that time is running out.
    Instead of buckling down to the grim task of self-sacrifice and changing our behaviour, we cast about for somebody else to blame—big business, big oil, politicians. The truth, of course, is that we and our demands for convenience, we’re the ones most to blame.
    We could stop our denialism and scapegoating.
    We could swap our super-sized SUVs for smaller hybrids and electric vehicles. We could stop whining about gasoline prices and support higher gas taxes to incentivize that switch. We could pressure politicians to provide greater financial incentives to switch from big, heavy SUVs to less polluting vehicles. We could demand investments, even if up-front costs seem high today, in clean and efficient mass public transit that will seem cheap tomorrow—like reestablishing rail on existing public rights-of-way down Vancouver Island that could link every community centre from Campbell River to Victoria.
    The Tyre Extinguishers, however irritating their tactics might be at the individual level, have a reasonable point. They are not the real problem. We are.
    See more at https://www.tyreextinguishers.com. Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. 

    Stephen Hume
    While it needs re-invention, the Royal BC Museum serves critical purposes and needs a safe, secure physical facility.
     
    OUR ON-GOING THOUGHT EXPERIMENT with the dysfunctional Royal British Columbia Museum appears to now be entering its Schrödinger’s Cat phase—simultaneously dead and alive as a provincial government seeking to be all things to all people dithers over political optics.
    The problem for government is that the museum is a mess and whatever it does to fix the situation now seems destined to give affront to someone:
    First Nations who see it as a racialized repository of stolen artifacts; folks who think it a memory lane where they can wax nostalgic about a golden past that never was; business folk who equate museum with mini-Disneyland theme park; scientists and historians trying to deal with government attempts to commercialize and monetize public collections of specimens and archival documents; and, of course, cynical opposition politicians see it as a convenient cudgel with which to belabour government.
    Organizationally, the RCBM has undoubtedly been a political trainwreck.
    The CEO hired in 2012 resigned in early 2021 after an independent study denounced it as a “toxic workplace characterized by a culture of fear and distrust.”
    This evaluation was itself triggered by the resignation in 2020 of Lucy Bell, a respected and well-liked member of the Haida First Nation and the museum’s head of Indigenous collections and repatriation, a program for returning artifacts to their rightful owners as part of the reconciliation process.
    She said she’d been subjected to continuous discrimination, white privilege, bullying and micro-aggressions from senior managers. Many museum staff signed a letter supporting her view.
    Next, Bell’s successor, Troy Sebastien, a Ktunaxa, bailed as Indigenous curator when his contract expired in 2021, describing the place as “a bastion of white supremacy.”
    “I am happy to leave that wicked place behind,” he posted to social media at the time.
    Then there’s the muddle of sorting out a perceived mission for the museum to reflect the post-colonial world that will—hopefully—emerge over the rest of the 21st Century.
    And finally, this whole ramshackle problem is taking place in structurally unsuitable buildings. They pose a substantial seismic danger to the public, to museum staff and, equally important, to the irreplaceable collections of archival documents, art works, specimens and historic objects in the custody, whether temporary or permanent, of the museum.
    Frankly, while the physical plant tends to be listed after all the other problems, it should be given priority because if there’s a failure there, all the other complaints will be moot.
    Let’s get one thing straight, though, this museum is a mess precisely because of government’s past political meddling—that includes the very same opposition politicians howling now about government ineptitude.
    Opposition leader Kevin Falcon was deputy premier and finance minister in Liberal governments that over 15 years allowed the backlog in filing archival records to reach a mind-boggling 33,000 boxes of documents. That shoddy oversight was amplified by imposition of inappropriate goals and expectations, chronic underfunding and crass deployment of the museum as a marketing tool for tourism, operating on a revenue-generating business model rather than something central to the province’s cultural identity.
    These chickens finally came home to roost in the form of internal meltdowns over direction and purpose, accusations of colonial attitudes, and systemic institutionalized racism that ran counter to government’s vaunted post-colonial reconciliation objectives.
    Thus, the plan announced in mid-May was for an ambitious reset—to rebuild the whole decrepit institution from the ground up.
     

    The Royal BC Museum, Victoria, 2006. Photo by Ryan Bushby (HighInBC), Creative Commons
     
    First, to house it in a seismically safe $789 million complex that addressed the need for reimagined public exhibits in the capital’s core.
    Second, to create safe storage for preservation and management of more than seven million objects including 110,000 boxes of documents, 180,000 historic maps and five million photographs.
    Third, to provide facilities necessary for state-of-the-art management of its science collections from fossils to fleas and for the research they generate to which they are essential.
    But then soon-to-depart Premier John Horgan abruptly announced on June 22 that he was slamming the brakes on this long overdue plan to demolish and replace seismically unsound structures which official studies acknowledge put the public, museum staff and the collections themselves at serious risk should there be a major earthquake in or near the capital.
    “I always try to act in the best interests of British Columbians,” the premier said, wearing his best “mea culpa” expression from the public relations apology playbook. “That involves listening. That also means taking responsibility when you make the wrong call.”
    Sorry to be the ray of sunshine at this expedient political self-flagellation fest, but the wrong call was cancelling a vitally important renewal. And it was made for entirely the wrong reasons—to appease, deflect and defuse political criticism.
    Yes, First Nations complained that they weren’t adequately consulted in the runup to the decision to rebuild the museum.
    Fair enough. Further, broader consultation on how to repatriate or display artifacts is clearly necessary. But planning how First Nations needs should be met in a redesigned museum has nothing to do with replacing the structurally unsafe buildings in which those objectives cannot be met.
    This is like saying we won’t replace the falling-down house until we agree on where to put the furniture.
    So, First Nations complaints alone weren’t the only thing behind Horgan’s sudden reset of his reset.
    Nope, this was a largely political decision triggered by fear of the zero-sum nay-sayers who emerge from the woodwork in droves every time there’s a prospect of some major public investment in culture.
     
    The zero-sum fallacy
    The zero-sum fallacy comes to us from game theory. It sees situations in which one person’s gain is balanced by another person’s loss; spending on one thing necessitates not spending on something else. If everything is perceived as a win-loss equation, then there can’t be a win-win outcome. But as every government that runs a deficit today against expanding surpluses tomorrow well understands, zero-sum thinking is based in a fallacy.
    Yet we hear it all the time:
    “Not one penny for a new concert hall for the symphony as long as there are homeless people!” the sanctimonious argument usually goes, the add-on assumption being that music is a frill that poor people don’t care about.
    Buy people do care, though. Three out of four Canadians attend live performances each year and such performances contribute about $3 billion to national GDP.
    “Not another dime for writers’ grants as long as people are using food banks!” This argument assumes that literature is a dispensable luxury like chocolates, not a necessity of civilization; that food for the mind is less important than food for the body.
    “The budget is tight. Reduce spending on frills—cut the school music program (theatre program, art program, creative writing program, classics department etc.)!” Well, we’ve just been through this one in Victoria area schools.
    And now, right on cue, here is the latest earnest iteration of the zero-sum fallacy: “Spending $789 million on a new Royal British Columbia Museum is a waste of money that could be spent on health care.”
    Sorry, but this argument is like saying let’s not fix the leaking roof when we can spend that money on travel insurance.
    This fallacious zero-sum thinking makes it easy for pundits to whip up opposition to any big ticket spending. All that’s required is to characterize the spending as a profligate frill and then juxtapose it with some other urgent need.
    And so, opportunistic mainland politicians begin diligently flogging their anti-culture, anti-intellectual, anti-tax ideology, obviously seeking favour with what they hope will be some kind of populist libertarian uprising against the reigning New Democrats, not to mention all those entitled folk in Victoria who vote for them.
    In this zero-sum calculus, money spent on arts and culture represents a subtraction from the health care budget.
    Well, no, it doesn‘t represent a subtraction, unless you also consider spending on fire-fighting represents a subtraction from funds better spent on the homeless—after all, what use are fire stations to people who don’t have homes? Or that annual homeowner grants are subtractions from medical funding—anyone for transferring those funds to the health budget?
    Yet our social landscape is rife with this selectively applied simple-minded libertarian nonsense.
     
    Olympics and traffic exchanges make $789m sound like a bargain
    Last time I looked, polling suggested 70 percent of British Columbians, mostly on the mainland, have now decided that spending money on a new museum that injects more than $50 million a year directly into South Vancouver Island’s economy is money wasted. Mind you, the $7 billion price tag of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver—which a subsequent report found neither boosted tourism much overall nor enhanced the international image of Vancouver or Whistler—is proudly held up as a triumph of value for money.
    And now we’ve got the Province ponying up $260 million to cover the costs of Vancouver hosting a few games in the 2026 World Cup for soccer. Got that? Spend maybe $50 million a game for events that last 90 minutes or so—about one-third the cost of building a new, safe museum complex.
    So, no, the polling doesn’t prove that this popular dog-in-the-manger anti-museum sentiment is right. Indeed, it’s a reminder that the masses—not to mention we in the media—have a sorry history of being profoundly wrong.
    Meanwhile, popular approval for $100 million for one exchange that moves traffic jams a few blocks closer to the city core, no problem. Need $1 billion for highway improvements that reduce commuter time by 15 minutes for millworkers who want to live in Nanaimo and work in Campbell River, yay! (The mill has since closed, by the way.)
    How about $16 billion for a third dam on the Peace River that has since morphed into the most expensive hydroelectric project in Canadian history, is plagued with geo-technical problems, and has been described by a former CEO of BC, Hydro as a gigantic game of Russian roulette?
    Or the $21.4 billion you and I will now be coughing up to complete the TMX pipeline which will double the export of dilbit from Alberta’s oil sands—not to mention doubling the tanker traffic that will have to carry it to market through the heart of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.
    Compared to such projects, all this zero-sum complaining about spending what’s needed to replace an unsafe, inadequate and ill-planned structure that currently houses most of BC’s critical archival history, many of the artifacts in which that history is embodied, and which enables public access to that history, is just profoundly misguided nonsense.
     
    All museums need to re-invent themselves—from a secure physical place
    Yes, there are problems with the museum as an organization. Its internal management culture has been criticized by its own staff as racist, misogynist, dysfunctional and so on. But those internal problems—a legacy of the failed oversight by the same politicians who now wail about the problem—have been clearly identified. There’s a new chief executive and a new management approach that presumably seeks to address them.
    Yes, the fuss raised about this is important, but it’s also been reframed as an indictment of the urgent need to replace the museum’s lousy structures in a media side-show that’s now been expediently appropriated by some opposition politicians.
    The long-term issues that must be addressed and which the redevelopment plan clearly intended to address have to do with both the physical plant and with the museum’s philosophical imperative to reimagine its mandate—what it can and should be for the rest of this century.
    In this regard, the RBCM’s problem is the same one faced by all museums as the world emerges from the arrogant assumptions of racialized Euro-centric imperialism into a post-colonial world that strives for greater cultural and ethnic egalitarianism.
    Like all significant museums, the RBCM is challenged by the entirely reasonable demand that it now redefine its role in the whole society it serves—and seeks to reflect—and which has changed rapidly around it.
    Serious museums are finished as curiosity cabinets; as trophy cases for imperialism; as self-aggrandizing cultural and historical propaganda tools. And they should be equally finished as the for-profit tourist theme parks that some business leaders and politicians wish they’d emulate.
    Theme parks feed back to the public its own cherished fantasies about itself; good museums tell it the truth, sometimes the unpleasant truth, as, for example, the Museum of London does in squarely facing the relationships between the city’s prosperity, the sugar trade, empire and the slave trade upon which it was all founded.
    What exact form the RBCM should take for the culturally diverse, pluralistic, inclusive society of the 21st Century is still a work in progress. And, yes, it’s up for robust debate. Whatever form it takes, though, it still must meet some basic needs.
    First, it must be structurally safe for the people who work there and for the average of 800,000 annual visitors to its exhibitions—that’s more visitors than the entire cruise ship schedule delivers to Victoria each year. About 35,000 of those visits every year are by school children.
    The current seismically unsafe structures pose a constant hazard to those in the building whether working there or visiting, and to the contents they are supposed to protect.
    Anyone looking at the large open areas, extensive overhangs, vast arrays of glass and the display of large, heavy artifacts in the RBCM’s exhibition building can see why that is so without needing a degree in civil engineering or emergency measures planning.
    Major seismic upgrades to urban building codes were redesigned and mandated on the West Coast after a devastating Magnitude 8.1 earthquake centred 250 miles west of Mexico City caused 3,000 buildings to collapse, seriously damaged 100,000 other buildings, killed 10,000 people and injured 30,000 more.
    But the RBCM exhibition structure was built and put into service 18 years before those building codes were revised to address the significant threat of earthquakes in this region.
    The provincial government says that trying to seismically retrofit the building, which would involve stripping it to its core to evaluate safety of both frame and foundations, would cost more than demolishing it and rebuilding with up-to-date state-of-the-art seismic applications.
    We now know that several large faults capable of generating major earthquakes of the same magnitude that severely damaged downtown Christchurch in New Zealand in 2011 pass either directly under or adjacent to Victoria’s city core.
    New research published last year concludes that what we have discovered about these faults “increases the seismic risk assessment results by 10 to 30 percent.”
    And, of course, there’s still the prospect of a huge subduction event off the west coast of Vancouver Island like the one that killed 230,000 people in the Indian Ocean in 2004 or the one that killed 16,000 people in Japan in 2011.
    It could release over 1,000 times more destructive energy than that released by the Christchurch earthquake, threatening Victoria’s downtown not only with the prolonged shaking but also with inundation of low-lying areas.
    We’ve an extensive history of large earthquakes in this region. A 7.4 Magnitude event on a fault in Washington State just before Christmas in 1872 caused such severe shaking in Victoria that people fled buildings. Another on Vancouver Island in December, 1918, woke people in the night as far east as Kelowna. A 7.4 on Comox Lake in 1946 caused a great deal of damage—it knocked down 75 per cent of chimneys in mid-Island communities and was felt as far away as Portland and Prince Rupert. In 1949, there was an 8.1 off Haida Gwaii and in 2012 there was a 7.7 there. And, of course, here was a Magnitude 9.0, possibly greater, off the West Coast on the evening of August 26, 1700, that destroyed whole indigenous communities and sent a destructive tsunami as far as Japan.
     
    Other central functions demand new space
    The second crucial function of the museum (and a legislated mandate) is to “secure, receive and preserve specimens, artifacts and archival and other materials that illustrate the natural or human history of British Columbia.”
    Those materials, numbering more than seven million items, include the critical records of government and archived court records. Those records, it’s worth pointing out, have recently played a central role as First Nations research land claims, their dispossession of lands and disenfranchisement. They will be crucial to any future process of decolonization, reconciliation and reconstruction of equitable economic inclusion.
    After the work of the legislature and the courts, the records of these proceedings and an unfettered public access to those records are the most important component of democratic government. Without those records there can be no political accountability and without accountability you can’t have a democracy.
    Yet the museum itself warned us years ago that: “Much of our collection and archives are stored underground and below sea level. They are at significant risk from earthquake and flooding.” The buildings might collapse and then they might be inundated by a subsequent tsnami.
    Independent risk assessments published every year note that the proportion of collections for which risk can be adequately mitigated declined from 88 percent in 2012 to 80 percent in 2022. Over the past decade, the number of artifacts, specimens and documents considered at serious risk has increased by 10 percent; 20 percent of the collections are at risk.
    To be sure, some of those priceless and irreplaceable collections are already destined for new, more secure management facilities in a more seismically safe location in Colwood and some have been dispersed to other storage.
    But for the museum to fulfill its other legislated mandate, which is “to serve as an educational organization,” and for the public to continue have safe and open access to the collections—however they may be reimagined for future educational display—there must be a new, exhibition space.
    To maximize ease of access it should be built in the city core. It deserves to be rigorously designed to the most modern standards; ones that can best withstand a great earthquake and keep anybody in the building as safe as possible.
    This time it should be done right. That demands doing it from the ground up. Our provincial government, commendably, appeared to grasp this reality—until it decided that appeasing the zero-sum faction took precedence over doing the right thing.
    If the premier can soldier on with the Site C dam and its critics, he can soldier on with the new museum and its nay-sayers. Frankly, $789 million for a world class museum is peanuts compared to $35 billion for a couple of fossil fuel projects which have a lifespan of less than a century and contributed to ther climate change that cost BC taxpayers more than $1 billion in damage last year.
    As for the zero-sum critics who think it’s ok to play seismic roulette with BC’s priceless and irreplaceable cultural heritage, they should be reminded of Oscar Wilde’s observation that cynics are those who know the price of everything—but the value of nothing.
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. 

    Ken Roueche
    The facts behind the slogan and what you can do about it—as a June 9 council meeting looms.
     
    THE CITY OF VICTORIA’S Missing Middle Initiative (MMI) would add density to existing neighbourhoods and that can be a good thing. New residents add vibrancy, city services can be delivered more efficiently, schools can stay full, smaller families can be accommodated and transit services become more viable.
    Victoria City planners say that MMI could be, “duplexes, three plexes, four plexes, etc.” But, the proposal before council is more far-reaching, it would re-zone all single family and duplex zoning across the city to six-plexes and to twelve-unit townhouse projects. As a new zone, individual MMI projects would not allow comment by neighbours nor oversight by city council. 
    Building size would increase by about 75 percent. Right now zoning on a typical lot allows up to about 3200 square feet of house, including a secondary suite or a garden suite and a height limit of 25 feet. MMI would allow about 5600 square feet of house, with six units and a height limit of about 35 feet. (As a point of reference, BC Hydro poles measure about 33 feet.) Parking requirements would be two on site spaces for the six-plexes and a similarly modest number for the townhouses. Any other vehicles would need to seek street parking.
    Many streets offer properties that could be candidates for MMI. I have counted 10 properties on two blocks of Howe Street that could become six-plexes, or even 12 unit townhouses in the near future, based on their age, condition, and small size. This is not “gentle densification.”
    There is little public awareness of these details. The 2000-page staff report is unreadable. Yet the MMI proposal can be highly disruptive of existing neighbourhoods. And it is not structured to return any significant community benefits such as affordability or renter protection. 
    In sum, the city is handing over the residential areas of the city to market forces constrained only by planning staff.  This is not a legacy that I would want to leave to my family, nor to my neighbours.
    Recently, Council instructed staff to take the MMI proposal out for more public consultation, to be followed by a public hearing in July. This was supported by Geoff Young, Charlayne Thornton-Joe, Ben Isitt, Sharmarke Dubow, and Stephen Andrew, who is running for Mayor. But this may change soon.
    Councillor Stephen Andrew is now asking that this plan for further engagement with the public be reconsidered at the Thursday, June 9th council meeting. If adopted, this would cancel the agreed upon public consultation process.
    In my view, before a hearing is held on this city-wide rezoning, every household deserves to receive a full description of the details of MMI and a chance to ask questions and comment.
    If you are concerned, please write to Stephen.Andrew@victoria.ca by Wednesday June 8 urging him to stand his ground and send MMI back to city staff to prepare a coherent summary for distribution to all residents of Victoria’s 12 neighbourhoods.
    Ken Roueche is a retired public servant, former economics consultant, author of three self published books, including A Fairfield History, a best seller in the ‘hood. 
    See a related article by UBC Professor Patrick Condon here. The agenda for the June 9 Council meeting is here.

    Rosemary Baxter
    An open letter to Premier John Horgan
     
    MY FAMILY AND I WATCHED your (gleeful) announcement about the demolition of the Royal BC Museum on CHEK TV news last week and your plans for a new one. CHEK then made your plan the “question of the day” and 86 percent of the replies were against it! Not a huge surprise to many of us.
    In the first part of your announcement you gave the number of jobs that would be created, but you didn't tell us the number of jobs that would be lost—within the Museum itself, in Tourism, not to mention the collateral damage done to other businesses in Victoria. You did mention that the buildings were seismically unsafe, that there was Asbestos involved, and went on to talk about a new Indigenous focus that would be given high priority in the new Museum. The cost of this new Museum is quoted as close to $1 Billion dollars and there will be no usable Museum for 8 years.  For those of us who have watched your other projects (Site C) I’d say that the $1 Billion quote is undoubtedly very low and that 8 years would be the minimum time Victoria would be without a Museum!
    It appears that both the asbestos problem and the seismic work can be done without demolishing one of Victoria’s cherished landmarks. And giving priority to Indigenous displays, historical and current, could be done by giving them the best and most accessible areas of the building. 
    Sadly, and in your usual fashion, you used local Indigenous leaders and your own Indigenous Minister of Tourism as back drops. To make it more palatable?  I personally cringe when I see that.  My maternal great grandmother was Ktunaxa and I have a hunch she’d do a bit of cringing herself.  And I cringe when I see how you use them as your “trump” cards yet on the other hand you send the RCMP into Indigenous camps (Wet'suwet'en) with military equipment and dogs to push them out of the way of your frack-based natural gas line construction. This action comes under “environmental racism” and definitely doesn’t come under working towards Reconciliation or honouring of UNDRIP.
    We have a severe doctor shortage in BC and our nurses are in burnout and quitting. This will take money and creativity. 
    BC continues to have record numbers of homeless people and too many addiction deaths, the highest in Canada now. The BC government doesn’t fund Hospice or Palliative care but if you did it would save the health system millions! Acute care beds are costly. That $1 billion should be spent looking after and solving these priorities and not going into building a new not-needed museum.
    And then there’s the elephant in the room.  We’re well into climate change, in fact it has become a crisis everywhere. How much money did the BC government spend on floods and fires cost last year? A sobering thought.
    We can only hope that the opposition parties will work together to stop this very unacceptable project.  If 86 percent voted against it in the CHEK poll just watch that number climb once more BCers  are made aware of the waste…all paid for by the taxpayers of course.  
    Rosemary Baxter and her family live in Courtenay, BC.

    Stephen Hume
    From driving a garbage scow to reporting for newspapers, Jim Hume had a rich and varied life. His son Stephen Hume shares some memories.
     
    JIM HUME, WHO COVERED POLITICS and politicians in this province for 70 years, starting with Byron “Boss” Johnson in 1952 and ending with John Horgan in 2022, died April 13. 
    He was well known to Victoria readers after more than half a century of writing about who governs us and how from the provincial capital, occasionally frustrated and mystified by an apparently widely-held idea that a democratically-elected  government is somehow not us but somebody else.
    He was also my father, so this is not an entirely objective account. And your narrator’s a bit unreliable, too, considering the self-serving way we all edit memory. 
     

    Joyce Hume, Stephen Hume, Jim Hume — 1947 before emigrating to Canada.
     
    When public personages die, obituaries tend to focus on the official and often officious record of career achievements. 
    Jim had many of them: lifetime achievement award from the Jack Webster Foundation, lifetime member of the press gallery, Queen’s Jubilee Gold Medal for public service, a writing career that spanned eight organizations, some of which he outlived, including The Nanaimo Free Press, Penticton Herald, Edmonton Journal, Victoria Times, Victoria Colonist, subsequently the Victoria Times-Colonist. He was a go-to stringer for Time Magazine in its mass market heyday (circulation 3.3 million), recruited by the legendary Time correspondent Ed Ogle with whom he became friends. His celebrity trapline ranged from actor John Wayne to Nobel Peace Prize winning Prime Minister Lester B.—“Mike” to his friends—Pearson.
    He, however, always urged the young reporters he mentored not to set much store by the official record. Every story has two sides, he’d advise, the official version and the unofficial version. 
    The official version is usually spoon-fed to you by bureaucrats, cabinet ministers, communications officers, corporate flaks and people with axes to grind, oxen to gore and secrets to leak to someone’s benefit or cost. It’s usually as smooth as soft ice cream served up for convenience of use. 
    The unofficial version, on the other hand, is most often found at the margins, in the dark corners and in the back eddies of events. It’s sometimes distasteful, prickly, irritatingly inconsistent and demands time and effort to verify. 
     

    Jim Hume as a young reporter hamming it up in the Alberni office of the Nanaimo Free Press mid 1950s.
     

    Jim Hume working (trench coat lower left) the street for The Edmonton Journal in 1963 during a tumultuous municipal election campaign.  
     
    He was a believer in knocking on doors, wearing out shoe leather and asking people what they’d seen, heard, felt, thought. 
    The official version is indisputably part of the record, he said, but that doesn’t discredit or obscure the unofficial version, the imprecise human rather than the precise institutional side of the story.
    Thus, his reporter’s alternate trapline included secretaries—a lot of secretaries; small town mayors; beat cops; barbers; third line hockey players; basketball referees; beer parlour waitresses; priests who didn’t mind an occasional dram, eccentrics like the Nanaimo black sheep of a famous family who made cannons for fun and whose moonshine rum made its way into at least one judges’ bottom drawer.
    That trapline consisted of all the folks who heard and saw what was said and what was done both off and outside the official record. 
    He wrote for readers, never to impress editors or premiers or corporate presidents. There are, he enjoyed pointing out, many more retail clerks than there are vice-presidents of sales—so he wrote for the clerks and left his publishers to deal with the complaints of disenchanted vice-presidents.  
    Perhaps in this context the human aspect of Jim Hume’s own story is more fitting than a list of benchmark achievements. 
    Jim was born in 1923 in the back room of a labourer’s brick row house in Nuneaton. A farm market town in the English Midlands whose history reached back to Mercia, it had transformed into a factory centre during The Great War when a famous regiment was mustered and barracked there.
    He, nevertheless, came into a world that didn’t yet have most of the technology we now take for granted. 
    The first self-contained household refrigerator was only invented the year he was born, not a trivial event—deaths from salmonella poisoning declined by 98.7 percent during his own childhood as cold storage took hold and food safety improved.
    Indeed, childhood was a dangerous journey when he was born. Of every thousand children born in 1923, more than 140 failed to survive, killed by poverty, malnutrition and communicable disease. Over his own lifetime, infant mortality fell by 94.7 percent. 
    He was born before antibiotics. Infectious diseases that are now easily treated claimed five of his own siblings before they left childhood. Both children, Edward and May, and his father’s first wife, Polly, aged 27, all died of TB between 1903 and 1907.
    “The White Plague” as TB was then called, claimed Phyllis, the first child of his own mother, Ann Startin, and father, Thomas Dodds Hume, in 1918. It took an older brother, Tom, whom he adored. It killed his little brother, Douglas, whom he cherished. Only Jim and an older sister, Doris, lived to see adulthood. 
    The other invention of his birth year was the traffic light—a curiosity since few people yet owned automobiles. When he went to visit his grandfather’s farm in Weddington, another farm village, one that hadn’t yet industrialized, he rode there sitting on the tailgate of a pony cart.
    He earned spending money delivering coal to neighbours in a wheelbarrow but dutifully turned his earnings over to his mother to supplement the small wages of his disabled father, who had been severely wounded in a 1915 First World War slaughter that yielded 600,000 casualties.
    In his future, awaiting invention, lay the reporter’s spiral notebook, the ballpoint pen, the polaroid camera, Scotch tape, tape recorders, television and television news, the atomic bomb—he would later visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as Auschwitz, Dresden and he’d revisit Coventry, where all that remained of the 900-year-old cathedral where he sang as a choirboy was a charred shell.
    He’d been in Coventry the night its cathedral burned. The bombing mission was code-named Moonlight Sonata, one of the Orwellian euphemisms of slaughter that he came to despise. 
    He had been present, he later said, for the advent of a new concept in warfare: total war, in which unarmed civilians became the front lines. Cities themselves became targets to be incinerated in deliberately induced firestorms, at first during weeks of bombardment then, on August 6, 1945, vaporized in a split second.
    And he wrote about the strange selectiveness of memory in the official record—how Hiroshima’s 70,000 dead are engraved into our collective sense of the past because they died in a flash but the 100,000 who died the night of the Tokyo fire raid, code-named Operation Meeting House, another of those banal euphemisms, recede from our recall.
    What he saw and was called upon to do as a teenager—abandoning the wounded in precarious circumstances because a living stretcher crew was deemed more valuable saving others than being risked for a dying bomb casualty; stepping over the body of a neighbour’s little daughter in the rain-filled gutter because getting to the living wounded took precedence over the already slain—confirmed his belief that making war could never be reconciled with his deeply Christian beliefs. 
    He became a pacifist and a conscientious objector, secure enough in his convictions to go to prison for them and doing field labour. He never wavered in that conviction.
    When he was born, electric lights were still a rarity. On misty winter nights he watched a lamp-lighter bicycle through the streets, igniting the gas lights with a wick on a long pole.
    The internet wasn’t invented until after he had qualified for his old age pension, yet there he was at the time of his death, managing his own website, www.jimhume.ca, posting to social media platforms and exchanging e-mails with his editor, contacts and readers.
    He was thought, at the time he died, to be the oldest working journalist in Canada, maybe the world for all anyone knows.
    At 98 he wrote every week about life in Victoria, British Columbia and Canada, the country he chose to make home in 1948. 
    He loved all three deeply and although he travelled widely, he never doubted his decision as a young man to emigrate from war-shattered England, where he’d watched whole cities burn, to what he once thought seemed the tranquil Eden of Vancouver Island.
    His view of Eden changed dramatically in later years as he dug into the racist, imperialist, colonial history of greed, avarice, plunder and cruelty that he came to see as the unacknowledged stain upon the many progressive triumphs of the place.
    “In the face of injustice,” he liked to say, “to be silent is to acquiesce to the crime.”
    The crime, which he came to see as BC’s original sin—he was never entirely separated from the biblical oratory of a world view shaped in a deeply religious youth—was the brutal dispossession of the people who already lived here by newcomers arriving from Europe and Asia .
    The residential schools and what they represent—an attempt by an occupying government, enabled by religious leaders, to eradicate culture and language; to separate children from their parents spiritually as well as physically; to crush the soul of whole social groups; all done in the prideful rationalization that this would improve their lot—came for him to epitomize that sin.
    And to his mind nothing exemplified the sin of the residential schools, he said, so much as the casual indifference of police, priests, school authorities and government to the disappearance and deaths of four little boys who froze to death at Fraser Lake one January night trying to flee a school that had opened there in 1922 and was characterized by brutal corporal punishment, sexual abuse and maltreatment. More than 40 children died there before it closed in 1976.
    He wrote about residential schools, about his awakening to the cruel reality of that past, our shared past, which arose from his education by—and lifelong friendship with—Tse-Shaht elder George Clutesi, whom he met while he was a reporter for the long-defunct Nanaimo Free Press and George was working as a janitor at the notorious and also long-defunct Alberni Indian Residential School. 
    Jim was not a pessimist about the possibility of reconciliation or about the need for it. Without reconciliation, he came to believe, British Columbia and Canada could never be whole. To forgive and to be forgiven requires facing the truth, he said.
    When he visited Coventry again shortly after the dedication of a new cathedral, built in part with the help of men who had flown the bombers that destroyed it, he came back with the Litany of Reconciliation adopted by the congregation. 
    I have it on my desk, a reminder from him that our future salvation comes not from anger and retribution, but from forgiving those who wrong us and from forgiving ourselves for the wrongs we do while being strong enough to acknowledge them and striving to make them right.
    The Litany of Reconciliation asks forgiveness for “the hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,” and for “the covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,” and for “the greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,” and for “our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee.”
    All those things were much on his mind as he contemplated the changing political, social, economic and environmental landscapes of his beloved British Columbia toward the close of his life. 
    Actually, the truth of it is that the decision to come to British Columbia was not his, but his young wife Joyce’s—my mother’s—and in an odd way I was the cause of her insistence.
    I was born one bitterly cold night in the midst of an epidemic. He wasn’t permitted into the hospital for fear of spreading contagion to the newborn. The hospital itself specialized in treating severe burn patients, my mother told me shortly before she died, and there were still wounded soldiers convalescing in its wards.
    Those soldiers asked to see the new baby. So I was wrapped in a tiny blanket and, while my mother slept after a gruelling labour, I was whisked away by the nurse. When she returned, my mother said, my feet dangled, blue with cold. She remonstrated. The apologetic nurse explained: She’d taken the baby to the wards and the men, so far from home, some grievously injured, had all wanted to hold my tiny feet in their hands. A glimmer of new life, perhaps, for those who had been marinated in the opposite.
    The next day, those men collected their special fruit rations, Choice Grade red delicious apples from Canada—I got one every Christmas until I turned 12 and never wondered why—and gave them to my mother as a gift. 
    When my parents discussed where to emigrate—Australia or New Zealand where she had relatives; South Africa where he had relatives—she made the decision for an unconsidered (by him anyway) option: Canada, from whence the apples had come—the Okanagan, to be precise.
    And that’s how they, and I, arrived in BC on the first train down the Fraser Valley after the 1948 floods, then across the moonlit Strait of Georgia on the midnight CPR ferry to Vancouver Island.
     

    Jim Hume with Joyce and four of their sons on a fishing trip on Saanich Inlet ca. 1953.
     
    The only job my father could find was driving a reeking garbage scow from the foot of Johnson Street out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca to deposit the city’s overnight garbage on the outgoing tide under a halo of squawking gulls. Each morning in the wan winter light he’d motor past the stately legislature buildings where he would later spend much of his working life sifting through the detritus of politics.
    “Same job, different location,” he liked to quip after a dram or two.
    And he did like a nip of scotch. If he’d been religious, self-righteous and stuffy in his early life, he told me, work as a reporter and with working people had knocked all the starch out of his attitudes.
    One of his oldest friends told me the story of my father’s first drink. He was a young sports writer with the Nanaimo Free Press covering the Timbermen, a lacrosse team which was starting a successful run for the Canadian championship and the Mann Cup.
     

    Jim Hume, kneeling far left, with Velox Rugby Football Club, which now competes as Westshore in BC’s premier league. Hume founded the club with coach Gordie Hemingway in 1968; it had an undefeated season on Vancouver Island in 1970, the year this photo was taken.
     
    In the protocols of sports coverage, the reporter rode with the team, the coach got to ride in his own car.
    Driving home from a win, the slightly prudish young religious reporter was offended by the coarse language, off-colour jokes and locker room bragging about women. During a “leak” stop by the side of the road, he asked the coach if he could ride with him the rest of the way.
    The bemused coach agreed. The rest of the way led to a pub and a postgame beer. 
    “Look,” the coach said. “If you’re going to cover this team all the way to the Mann Cup—and we are going to win the cup—you’re going to have to come in here and listen to what they have to say. You don’t have to drink beer, drink tomato juice.”
    So, he went in. The team drank beer—a lot of beer—and he drank tomato juice—too much tomato juice. Another round came and he said no more juice, too acid.
    “Look,” said the team captain, “we’ll just cut your tomato juice with a bit of beer to make it less acid.”
    As the night progressed, less tomato juice and more beer. The team won the Mann Cup as promised. The coach became a lifelong friend and so did the team captain. And he went on to discover the pleasure in a good scotch.
    Indeed, when I was moving things from his apartment after his death, my brother Nic found his earthquake bug-out bag in the hall closet. In it was a high-end First Aid kit, no rations and half-a-dozen mini-bottles of booze. If the old stretcher-bearer was ready to step into the breach with First Aid supplies if needed, it wasn’t going to be without a nightcap.
     

    Jim’s 91st birthday: L-R, sons Nic, Stephen, Jim, Andrew, Timothy, Mark, Jonathan
     
    Every year, until he was too old to drive, he’d climb in his car and travel to a different, distant part of the province. He knew somebody in every community—horse loggers, town administrators, retired and near forgotten lacrosse stars, hereditary chiefs, rodeo cowboys on the way up and hockey players on the way down. 
    He’d like to think he was one of them. And so he was. The official witness to their unofficial stories. 
    Stephen Hume, following in his dad’s foot steps, has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. 

    Valerie Elliott
    Pacific salmon stocks at risk of collapse due to endemic virus
     
    ON APRIL 23, HEREDITARY CHIEF TSAHAUKUSE (George Quocksister Jr.) of the Laichwiltach Nation gathered together with the support of 97 BC First Nations. They’re demanding that Premier Horgan refuse to renew 79 fish farm licenses based on the damage being done to wild Pacific salmon stocks including disease and the loss of young salmon. The fish farming licenses are due to expire on June 29, 2022.  
    Tsahaukuse and his supporters demand the Horgan government accept the extensive scientific evidence that he and biologists have gathered. A federal government order was recently overturned that would have seen the phasing out of fish farms this year.
    “These salmon don’t belong here. These fish farms are owned by multinational corporations who farm Atlantic salmon—they’re not even Pacific salmon,” says Chief Tsahaukuse. “Our young salmon enter and are trapped in filthy pens. They become food for the Atlantic salmon, a free source of stock for the corporations, or they die from disease.“ 
    Tsahaukuse has extensively recorded every pen in the 40 fish farms in and around his territory. “I have hard evidence showing these farms destroying not only wild salmon species and herring but all life in our waters,” notes Tsahaukuse.
    A scientific study by five scientists found that 95 per cent of the farmed salmon on BC’s coast are infected with piscine orthorevirus (PRV), a virus originating from Norway that is responsible for steeply declining salmon reproductive numbers and their deaths.
    “Our 97 Nations want these licenses refused by Premier Horgan,” demands Tsahaukuse. “That’s the bottom line. Get all the farms out—watch our wild salmon rebound naturally.”
    Driving the same distance Pacific salmon swim every year to reach their community, Secwepemc Elders, including Mike Arnouse, traveled 13 hours from Kamloops to stand in solidarity with Chief Tsahaukuse. “We get really concerned,” says Arnouse. “They’re putting the farms right in the path of where the little smolt [young salmon] swim.”
    A July 2021 Insight West survey found that 86 per cent of BC residents voiced extreme concern about declining salmon stock, with 75 per cent believing that open-net salmon pens need to transition to land-based solutions.
    “Our communities depend on wild salmon stocks not only for our communities but for the 100s of species that depend on them,” adds Tsahaukuse.
    Chris Seitcher of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation (Tofino) invites all supporters to join them for a flotilla in the Tofino Harbour on Saturday, May 7, 2022 at 11AM. They want all BCers to join First Nations in sending a clear message to Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray and to Premier John Horgan — “Do Not Renew in 2022.” 
    Valerie Elliott (she/her) is managing director of ID@ Communications Inc. Flotilla Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/345923450905941 See videos of Tshuakuse and his supporters on April 23 and Tsahaukuse at the pens. Map showing salmon farms and sockeye salmon migratory route.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    Exercising conscientious consumerism—buying less—could be a powerful step towards salvation.
     
    I REMEMBER THINKING, about ten years ago, that, in the history of our species on this planet, we had probably arrived at the apex of our glory days. The world was our oyster, and the focus was completely on us. Everything we could think of needing and wanting from anywhere in the world lay at our fingertips. Amazon had already begun changing the way we shop, and the internet itself, having started as a tool for sharing research and development, had become first and foremost a world-wide marketplace.
    Food from everywhere made it to our table with such nonchalance that if it ended up in the compost bin, or even the garbage, it wasn’t a big deal. There was, as they say, more where that came from. And it could be had cheaply, because we hadn’t yet considered the fairness of reimbursing the environment for the burden that included oil-snorting barges on every ocean, and endless transports and raefrigerated trucks on every major road on the globe.
    It was the same for every other commodity and service. Everyone and everything on the move seemed to be headed for somewhere else on the planet. A world map showing the crisscrossing of all the ways in which we physically connected on a daily basis for pleasure and commerce—especially for commerce which gives us such pleasure—would have disappeared under a web of endless lines. (Kind of like my grandson’s blank page after he’s had a good go at it with his colouring pencils.) 
    Ten years ago, the evidence of climate change was already here but had not yet come to rest heavily on us. After all, we assumed, our leaders were busy fixing this problem, and we, either naïvely or audaciously, expected that they would do it without imposing any disruptions or inconveniences on us. (Kind of like expecting an electrician to rewire the house without interrupting dinner prep and Jeopardy! on TV.) 
    World leaders had recently attended COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, and while a binding agreement on climate change mitigation had (still) not been reached, they had acknowledged that global temperatures should not increase by 2°C above ‘preindustrial levels’. In using that term, the document pointed at human activity as the undeniable catalyst of an increasingly unstable and warming climate. Here was our summons to step up, roll up our sleeves and begin owning and tackling the problem. 
    Instead, we—the people and our governments—spent the next decade stonewalling, side-stepping, and quibbling about culpability. People grew increasingly polarized: If you cared about the economy, you hated the environment and vice versa, and so on. Politicians, meanwhile, kept kowtowing to pressure from the extraction industries, watered down environment protections already in place, destroyed a tonne of scientific data, and blew our emission reduction targets off the charts. 
    All was in the name of economic growth, which, according to politicians, bankers and other opportunists, is essential for continued prosperity (not to mention trickle-up wealth.) 
    At the 2015 Paris Accord, Ottawa jubilantly declared that Canada was back, and then…nothing. The announcement seemed to have been an end in itself.
    We continued to grow our global economy and all the infrastructure required to support it. We needed more of everything, including fossil fuels, electricity, minerals, plastics, food, cheap textiles, vacation destinations, the list was endless. Millions of vehicles and thousands of aircraft and shipping containers came and went and came and went. 
    It was all very convenient, frenetic, and stunningly unsustainable, but nonetheless profitable because Nature continued to be the unpaid servant exploited to the extreme.   
    The benefits of increasing globalization and perpetual economic growth have long been lauded, but left unchecked, these realities would inevitably lead to environmental collapse. We’re seeing the beginnings of this already: In the atmosphere supersaturated with runaway emissions. On the land that’s pocked with oil wells, spent mines, tailings ponds, sequestered uranium, and countless other toxic nightmares, And in the oceans harmed by contaminants including oil and plastics, noise, over-fishing, jellyfish proliferation and an already injurious increase in water temperature.  
    We’ve destroyed huge old forests for mining, logging and the commercial farming of commodities such as palm oil and beef, all for markets thousands of kilometres away. Many invasive species have hitched rides around the world, including, most recently, Covid 19, and the Asian Giant Hornet (vespa mandarinia), which is suspected to have ridden a container ship across the Pacific and is now possibly firming a toehold in the Pacific Northwest, including on our island. If it succeeds, it will pose a lethal threat to our already beleaguered pollinators and further erode our food security.
    This is how we find ourselves, less than ten years away from 2030, the very last ramp off the highway to climate hell. Already the wagons of a badly damaged environment are circling around and creating anxiety and mayhem. In BC alone, we’ve had floods, droughts, lethal heat domes, an ongoing pandemic we could not have imagined, and now another avian influenza on the horizon.    
    And still our leaders continue to waffle. Premier Horgan has eyes only for the extraction industries, and federally it would seem the same, although the prime minister tries harder to hide his fetish. On April 6, federal Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault announced approval of the controversial Bay du Nord project, a huge oil extraction enterprise to be built far off the Newfoundland coast by the Norwegian oil giant, Equinor. 
    One day later, the federal budget revealed that it’s full steam ahead with the fanciful notion of carbon capture, a yet-unproven technology intended to curb carbon emissions rather than carbon production. It’s a fallacious solution that, perversely, will be developed by the fossil fuel industry, using the lion’s share of a finally decent budget earmarked for alternate energy development. 
    (What a week for Guilbeault. Considering that he was once a gutsy Greenpeace activist, he must be feeling about as stage-managed as Gumby.) 
    Never mind investing in real solutions for sustainable energy. Never mind looking up and observing that if we can feel the heat of a source that’s 150 million km from where we stand, maybe we’d do well to explore it for our energy needs.  
     UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres wasn’t mincing words when he recently declared that the path we’re on is “moral and economic madness.” 
    It has to stop. By now we’re painfully aware that our politicians are far too encumbered with conflicting pressures and interests to move quickly and decisively. We know 2030 will be here alarmingly soon, and also that global economic inter-connectedness is such a huge and intricate entity and that there’s no top-down way to systematically wrestle it back into something more sustainable. The only solution lies with us, and it’s a disarmingly simple one: Buy, use and waste less. 
    Buy closer to home whenever possible. If it feels onerous, begin by doing just one proactive thing. If it feels futile, keep in mind that together we could calmly and methodically cool the entire economy just by exercising conscientious consumerism. 
    Shipping containers and delivery vans will not bring what we haven’t ordered. Stores won’t restock what we don’t buy. (Bottled water would be a very fine casualty.) Reducing demand will calm the market in a controlled and natural way. 
    We have incredible clout as consumers. We stopped renting videos, and subsequently shut that entire industry down. It wasn’t intentional, it just happened. We rarely reach for pay-phones and checkbooks, and they’ve mostly fallen by the wayside too. As long as there’s been a market, it has waxed and waned according to our demand. A new equilibrium always finds its way.
    The glory days have come and gone. Is the world going to have a viable next chapter? Only if it’s written by us. 
    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic lives in Saanich and is a passionate mom, grandmom, writer, gardener, and defender of the environment. 
    Image above: NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    Mariann Burka
    Mayor and Council expressed “deep sadness” at the loss of trees and affordable housing, but none had the courage nor imagination to refuse the proposal.
     

    AT A PUBLIC HEARING on March 24, 2022, City Council unanimously approved a new development in the heart of James Bay, despite overwhelming opposition. 
    The developer, Primex, proposed to demolish 45 units of affordable housing, to build a 6 storey building with 137 market priced rental units. All existing tenants are to be displaced and a row of iconic flowering plum trees lining the city’s boulevard are to be destroyed. An additional 13 of 17 bylaw-protected mature trees on the property are also to go. 
     

    A few of the flowering plum trees to be removed along Menzies Street in James Bay (photo Leslie Campbell)
     
    To say the community was not exactly keen is to state it mildly. To understand why, consider this. James Bay is already the highest density area of the City. With property values soaring, and its proximity to Downtown, development is fast and furious. Infill is rampant and older single family dwellings, even smaller multiple unit buildings, are fast disappearing to make way for bigger, higher and denser buildings. This trend threatens affordable housing for James Bay’s diverse population as older buildings are demolished and replaced by developments with greater profit margins. 
    To maximize land use, developers, with City Council approval, build more storeys, sacrifice green-space, reduce setbacks to almost nothing, cut down more and more mature trees and cut parking well below bylaw requirements, so it spills over onto the streets. Add this to City “improvements” which eliminate more parking and the strain of parking from people working or visiting downtown and you have a parking crisis.
    James Bay is a community faced with the threat of becoming a mere extension of Downtown and of losing the character and charm that makes it an attraction to visitors from all over Victoria and from around the world. They are drawn here to stroll or drive in horse-drawn carriages along its welcoming streets of heritage housing and fruit trees. 
    The magnitude of the grassroots opposition to this latest development is symptomatic of this ongoing threat. It gained momentum with the threat to cut down our decades-old flowering plum trees. Those trees may have been the trigger but they ignited long smouldering concerns that erupted to say: Look at what we have already given up and now you want more? Enough is enough. 
     

    Tenants will be displaced from 45 units of affordable housing like these. (photo by Mariann Burka)
     
    The community’s reaction should have been a wake-up call for City Council. There were over 150 responses from the community—a strong hint that there are fundamental concerns to be resolved. At the heart of these responses were key questions: How big is big enough? At what price density? Does more market rental housing justify eliminating affordable housing? Why are trees always dispensable?  Why must we lose the character of our neighbourhood? Why is Council not listening? Unfortunately, Council was asleep at the wheel.
    Over 85 percent of the submissions and presentations had concerns about the development and urged significant changes to one or more key elements. They included pleas to save the plum trees as essential to the heritage and character of the community, the environment and the health of its residents. They protested the magnitude of the development: 6 storeys is out of scale with the surrounding 2 to 3 storey buildings; it is triple the size and density of the current buildings on the property; onsite parking is inadequate; extreme setback reductions create loss of greenspace, privacy and sunlight to the neighbourhood; and the plan’s overall inconsistency with the James Bay Neighbourhood Plan and the City’s Official Community Plan objectives for James Bay is disrespectful.
    The most tragic consequences of this development is the human cost. Despite claims of creating 137 new units of market rental housing, the development actually results in a loss of 45 units of affordable housing and the displacement of tenants who cannot afford the higher rents. Councillors read and heard personal accounts from tenants impacted, some of whom had lived here for decades. They spoke of the stress of losing their homes, being separated from friends and community, their inability to find affordable housing and palpable fears of homelessness. 
    The Times Colonist reported there was also “a lot” of support for the project from “residents”. However, a review of all submissions shows support was less than 15 percent, most coming from last minute callers who identified they were not from the community. They did not share the concerns of the community. 
    In response to questions from Councillor Thornton-Joe, City staff admitted the plum trees were in fair condition and that it was the construction that would compromise their condition. Were it not for this particular development, they said, the trees would be retained and simply monitored to maintain their health.
    This information presented an opening for a compromise and possible win-win. Reducing the magnitude of the building could potentially also save the trees! Alas, calls to consider alternatives fell on closed ears. The Mayor and Council all expressed “deep sadness” at the loss of the trees. They “wished” there was another way but none had the courage nor imagination to demand one. 
    Council also expressed sadness at the displacement of existing tenants but were satisfied with the developer’s efforts at some compensation (which they are obliged by law to provide). Mayor Helps felt the developer went beyond expectations with their efforts to provide a tenant relocation advisor, a fund for tenants with special needs and a voluntary contribution of $75,000 to the City’s Affordable Housing Reserve. Prior to the public hearing, the developer had upped their offer of a right of first refusal from a discount of 10 percent to 20 percent but this is still unlikely to make the higher cost affordable. 
     

    All boulevard plum trees and 13 bylaw protected trees are to be destroyed. (photo by Mariann Burka)
     
    Despite the overwhelming opposition and appeals for alternatives, Council approved the development unanimously with no request for changes.
    The Mayor said she felt for the many neighbours who were experiencing “a sense of loss and worry at the prospect of change.” No doubt this will be a great comfort to the people who will lose the homes they have lived in for many years. And for the people of James Bay to know that their concerns are standing in the way of progress.
     
    Moving forward
    This development has been approved but it does not resolve the concerns for James Bay, especially with phase two of the development already planned. City Council says it had to find a balance. But what they need to balance is their zeal for “density intensification” and developments that provide real benefits to the community.
    To achieve a better balance, here are some suggestions for the issues at the heart of this hearing.  
     

    Trees
    City Council needs to demonstrate a greater commitment to the preservation of mature trees. Development and trees cannot be seen as mutually exclusive. Cutting down a mature tree should always be a last resort. 
    Council must require developers to retain trees where possible or clearly justify where they cannot. Without this, our tree preservation bylaws and Urban Forest Master Plan are no more than empty rhetoric.
    The City also needs to change their tree preservation and replacement policies to acknowledge that flowering fruit trees, while they may not be native to this region, have become an essential part of Victoria’s urban landscape. Recent studies show cherry trees, for example, are more drought tolerant than the City has indicated. Flowering fruit trees must be included for protection, preservation and, if needed, replacement.
     

     
    Density
    Approval of developments excessive in scale and density to the neighbourhood are dangerous precedents. Trends in the creation of ever higher, ever denser buildings, elimination of setbacks, deficits in on-site parking and other features that destroy the character of residential neighbourhoods must stop. 
    The James Bay Neighbourhood Plan has provisions to respect existing streetscapes and character and to encourage visual harmony of form and scale between new buildings and adjacent ones. All too often, Council overrides neighbourhood plans. 
    Neighbourhood plans must be observed and developments that are inconsistent must be denied approval. 

     
    Affordable housing
    Any development eliminating affordable housing is unforgivable. We desperately need more low income and affordable housing and cannot afford to lose any of the rare stock we have. 
    The City must require developers who seek to demolish any low income or affordable housing to replace it with an equal number of units designated low income or affordable. They also need to ensure that any tenant displaced has a right of first refusal to a unit at their original level of rent.   

     
    Transparency & accountability
    The extent to which Council failed to address the concerns of the community demonstrates its failure to listen and to understand. Council members need to take personal and collective responsibility for their decisions and no doubt will at the ballot box.
    Victoria’s municipal system of representation is in serious need of reform. It is time to require that City Councillors reside in Victoria to hold office. Residency is a sign that you have roots in the community on which you depend, through which you contribute and to which you are accountable. 
    It is also time for Victoria to move to a ward system of municipal representation where Councillors are elected to represent and be accountable to their community.
    Mariann Burka is retired from the provincial public service where she served as executive director and assistant deputy minister in several ministries. She has been a resident of James Bay for 32 years.
     
     
     
     

    Stephen Hume
    The truck convoy may try to occupy Victoria in the name of freedom but what it’s really about is denying democracy.
     
    WHILE THE WHEREABOUTS OF of the truckers convoy are at present unknown, there’s still a chance that the disgruntled “Honkies” will descend upon Victoria to deliver its message of “love, truth and transparency to counter the false narratives fed to us all through the media.” The organizers of the Canada Unity Freedom Convoy’s BearHug BC operation say they want to unify their fellow Canadians against the lies of vaccine mandates and other public health measures. 
    (I can’t take credit for that amusing “Honkies” tag. It was coined by a perceptive columnist writing in a Black newspaper in Tennessee who was thoroughly exasperated by the weird fetish for air horns that appears to so excite the toddlers indulging themselves in trucker tantrums.) 
    The constant tooting of the Honkies, while draping themselves in the sorrowful sackcloth and ashes of what they claim is a legitimate protest being suppressed by Canada’s repressive government, demonstrates a profound failure of imagination. 
     

    The poor turn-out of the anti-vaxxers on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at about 2pm, may indicate that BearHug BC is a bust. (Photo by Leslie Campbell)
     
    Victoria has already had an early foreshock of the impending stupidity. A flag-flying pickup truck mired bumper-deep in Beacon Hill Park says about as much as one needs to say regarding the kind of folks attracted to this sanctimonious Crusade of the Righteous Empty Heads. Let’s just say that thinking things through was obviously not high on someone’s agenda.
    There’s a degree of well-meaning leftish hand-wringing about trying to understand the “Honkies” motivation—there’s the argument that this protest represents left-behinds in a changing economy; or that it’s a civil liberties issue on behalf of oppressed truckers of conscience; or that it’s ordinary folk fed up with being condescended to by better-off urban elites. 
    But no, this “BearHug BC” convoy, supposedly a “humanitarian effort” out to “unite our communities in love and truth” actually meets none of those descriptions. 
    Ninety-percent of truckers chose to get vaccinated. Besides the health benefits, it was the regulatory requirement for crossing the Canada-United States border—in both directions and imposed by both governments—at the height of a pandemic that has now sickened 3.3 million Canadians, killed more than 37,000 and at its last peak left hospitals perilously close to being overwhelmed with admissions.
    The number for Canadians who died of other ailments because they couldn’t get beds already occupied by pandemic patients awaits a full tabulation. Right now, though, the pandemic fatality list is equivalent to the death toll from the Dieppe Raid disaster—if there was one every two weeks for two years. Dieppe, for those who don’t much care for history, was one of Canada’s bloodiest military defeats in WW2. And we don’t yet know the on-going bill for long-haul symptoms that may impair a million Canadians who got sick with COVID-19.
    Meanwhile, it’s a monumental stretch for owners of $200,000 trucks to cast themselves as threadbare workers while vilifying as high-living elites those secretarial and service sector workers who must to take in roommates to share sky-high rents and who drive compact cars worth less than a tenth of the value of the big noisy rigs the “Honkies” drive.
    In Fort St John, for example, one of the northern towns from which some of the supposedly impoverished and oppressed truckers claim to hail, census data shows the median family income is over $107,000 a year. In Victoria, home of those insensitive elites the “Honkies” plan to educate, the median family income is $64,000.      
    The “Honkies,” it seems, more resemble self-entitled folk who somehow conclude that chewing up a Victoria park strikes a blow for “freedom.”
     
    Convoy’s Orwellian logic
    Let’s cogitate on that Orwellian logic. In other places, people who protest disappear—into a prison or worse. Here, protestors can say what they like wherever and whenever they wish, so long as they don’t put the safety and security of others at risk, threaten and intimidate other parties or defy a court in which they can nevertheless defend themselves even if they do defy it.
    Hopefully the BearHug BC burlesque show won’t tolerate displays of the American flags that commemorate a culture of racist beatings, lynchings and slavery. It says anyone expressing messages of hate and division are not members of the BearHug movement and don’t represent the values of Canadian Unity. Such is the mission statement, at least.
    And one hopes that Victoria’s cenotaph won’t be desecrated as was the national monument in Ottawa, raised to honour the more that 100,000 Canadians—among them the 961 slain in the Dieppe disaster—who gave their lives defending the democratic freedoms of the very people who now protest loudly that it is they who are the oppressed.
     

    Police on Saturday, March 26, 2022 at Humboldt and Government Streets, ready to turn back BearHug BC vehicles, saw little action. (Photo by Leslie Campbell)
     
    That’s not us waving racist symbols, vandalizing cenotaphs and so on, the “Honkies” say, presumably having learned that the public is not amused. 
    Perhaps. But hey, as the foreman used to warn when I was building haystacks for a living: “Lie down with dogs and you get up with fleas.”
     So who knows what the latest convoy and its assorted hangers-on will bring to the Capital Region? Hopefully not the purveyors of received wisdom from the American right, historical illiteracy and constitutional ignorance.
     
    Timing—and target—off
    A reasonable person might assume the objections to public health policy are now moot. 
    After all, the things to which the protestors most purport to object—vaccine mandates, mask mandates, business closures and social distancing expectations—are all largely lifting even as the pandemic eases.
    This is thanks in no small part to the decision by more than 90 percent of British Columbians to do their bit for each other by getting vaccinated and masking up instead of indulging in confrontational belligerence.
    But now James Bauder, a founder of Canada Unity says the aggrieved plan to descend upon Victoria where they will make loving pests of themselves for “two, three, four months, however long it takes.”
    Canada Unity’s primary mission appears to be less concerned with unity than with irritating otherwise reasonable Canadians who tend to dismiss claims that making it harder for working people to get to work will magically bring us all together in denunciation of the work of Dr Bonnie Henry.
    In this Orwellian world, forcing the majority to surrender its freedom to get to work safe and unencumbered so that the community-minded many can then be coerced to share the narrow view of the self-entitled few is declared a unifying experience. 
    Canadian Unity purportedly objects to the temporary measures provincial and territorial public health authorities imposed—there are 13 of these independent, constitutionally mandated authorities in Canada—to regulate locally determined needs for vaccination, mask use and the circumstances of exposure in public spaces to a potentially lethal communicable disease. 
    This is not exactly new public policy. It has been done many times in the past to deal with lethal diseases like smallpox, polio, measles, cholera and tuberculosis.
    Indeed government, if it deems its decision to be in the greater good, reserves the right to do everything from expropriating your house to facilitate a highway widening for the benefit of truckers, to selling the mineral rights under your Alberta farm and requiring you to provide pipeline access to oil well pump jacks. It makes you wear seatbelts while driving, to produce proof of age when out for a drink, and tells you where you can and cannot smoke in public places. Oh, and it mandates how fast you can drive your car past school grounds, too. 
    Even today travel advisories warn that you can’t visit some countries without producing proof of vaccination for selected diseases—meningitis, yellow fever, tuberculosis, encephalitis and so on.   
    The “Honkies,” apparently not having bothered to read the constitution which clearly says health is entirely a provincial jurisdiction, took Ottawa hostage in January to complain that the federal government hadn’t overturned Alberta’s exclusive jurisdiction to impose mask mandates and New Brunswick’s or Saskatchewan’s exclusive jurisdiction over vaccination requirements. 
    But alleged federal intrusion into constitutionally-mandated provincial jurisdictions is precisely what is supposed to be driving Prairie alienation. 
    Now similar protests are bound for Victoria, purportedly to resist temporary local measures that are already being lifted. 
    So what gives?
    What gives is that this whole Hee-Haw theatrical performance, to borrow one of “Honkydom’s” beloved expressions, is actually a false flag operation in the sense that it’s not really what it claims it is. 
    The protest is not really about vaccine mandates. That became became evident when pandemic restrictions began to ease even as protestors doubled down and became more recalcitrant.
    It is about other things, though. 
     
    What it’s really about: an attack on democracy
    First, the vaccine mandate protest evokes a sense of entitlement on the American religious right that causes it to think it has the moral authority to interfere in Canada’s domestic politics. Half the initial protest’s funding was funnelled in from the US along with Q Anon slogans and those Confederate flags (not to suggest that Canada doesn’t have plenty of home-grown racists and wacko conspiracy theorists of its own).
    Second, there is the anger of populist Prairie social conservatives and the western rump of a Conservative Party still infuriated at being twice refused by those effete urban voters in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Greater Victoria (and even to a lesser extent in Edmonton and Calgary where the Conservative margins of victory dwindle with every election). 
    Alberta, Saskatchewan and the BC Interior—which BearHug BC claims to represent—continue to be dominated by rural Conservative Party voters only because electoral distribution so disproportionately favours rural ridings dominated by resource extraction. For example, Fort McMurray’s 110,000 people get the same representation run government as Edmonton-Wetaskiwin’s 158,000 people. This is equally true in BC where the growing polarization between northern and Interior regions and the intensely urban South Coast is distinct. For example, Skeena-Bulkley Valley’s 88,000 people have the same representation in parliament as Victoria’s 117,000 and the 108,000 of Cariboo-Prince George have the same weight as the 120,000 of Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke.
    As the late University of Victoria political scientist Norman Ruff observed just before he died in 2017, there are really two British Columbias. One, the rural regions where the BearHug BC protest comes from, is marked by its dependence on a natural resource economy that steadily dwindles in importance—just think about job losses and mill closures in the forest industry due to automation and corporate efficiencies. Basic forestry is now about 2 percent of the provincial economy while professional, technical and scientific services are about 6.8 percent. Mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction are about the same as information, culture, arts, entertainment and recreation—around 4.4 percent each. 
    The BC of logging trucks, Ruff astutely observed, “still looks backward for its future, the other (urban, cosmopolitan Victoria and Vancouver) continues an exponential growth in diversity and enjoys a transition to an entirely new economy.” 
    One of the forces behind the truckers’ convoy phenomenon, it appears, is a deep resentment that those pluralistic, progressive, latte-swilling city dwellers who are increasingly non-white enjoy the benefits of these vast economic transitions while those in rural regions find their once prevalent socially conservative values increasingly marginalized. 
    The language of BearHug BC, for example, is suffused with Christian allusions but the urban BC of Vancouver and Victoria now has the fewest inhabitants who self-identify as Christian. The fastest growing religions in urban BC are non-Christian—Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or just no religion at all. About 41 percent of urban residents on the South Coast told Statistics Canada they don’t follow any religion at all. The self-identified Christian population, on the other hand, has declined by four percent over the last decade. 
    For two federal elections in a row, these urban voters—ethnically and socially diverse, educated, secular, heavily populated by professional women and adopting the more progressive values held by workers in the emerging information economy—have rejected a succession of angry, white, male Conservative leaders appealing to a reactionary socially conservative western political rump in the resource extraction sectors of the old economy.
    Opposing protection for gay people from coercive conversion therapy, denying the reality of climate change and immigration bashing plays well in the rural reaches of “Honkiedom” but it’s a party-killer in immigrant-rich urban ridings with concentrations of gay voters and highly educated information workers who don’t doubt the reality of climate change—or the resource sector’s contribution to it. A national daycare program may be anathema in rural resource ridings but it certainly appeals to progressive female voters in town.   
    More than two-thirds of Canadians, including 45 percent even within the Conservative Party stronghold of Alberta, voted against these social conservative rural values and the electoral future looks bleak for those who think their political future lies in recreating the good old days.
    And so, having been thwarted at the ballot box and rumpified into a shrinking rural Canada—82 percent of Canadians are now urban—by their unappealing platform, these factions next decided to take their grievances outside the electoral process. 
    Along came the “Honkies,” the Freedom Convoy’s leadership including at least one prominent and politically active Alberta separatist. The movement seemed determined to undermine and attack the progressives who had refused their old-fashioned values at the ballot box. And who was cheering them on? Why the Conservative Party and its far right splinter, the People’s Party of Canada. 
    “I’m proud of the truckers and I stand with them,” current Conservative Party leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre told Postmedia. “They have reached a breaking point after two years of massive government overreach.”
    But wait, that vaccine mandate for truckers was only imposed as a temporary measure on January 15 of 2022. 
    And none of the dire warnings from the rural right came to pass. There wasn’t a mass exodus from the trucking industry because most truckers weren’t affected. There weren’t bare shelves in supermarkets, food shortages and hunger for Canadians because the protest barely disrupted the supply chain. And Canada’s largest trucking company said the vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the US border had an imperceptible impact on its freight business.
    Nonetheless, Conservative Party leader Candice Bergen who, initially, at least, although she subsequently distanced herself, rallied to the truckers’ rebellion against the so-called Ottawa elite. 
    This is the same Bergen for whom the opposition leader’s residence at Stornoway just had to be renovated to the tune of $20,000 before she moved in for a couple of months.
    The view that this protest was less an assertion of rights and more an attack on democracy has more than a smidgin of merit. At one point there was a zany proposal that the federal government just resign and replace itself with the Governor-General, the appointed senate and unelected members of Canada Unity.
    When Bauder announced that trucks loaded with self-sustaining supplies—including 16,000 hamburgers!—were on the way to Victoria, it sounded more like the logistics of an occupation intended to disrupt life than a simple anti-government protest. 
    And, indeed, an occupation seems to be exactly what Bauder hoped for in a video posted online: “We’re going to be occupying that area for two to three months,” he said.
     
    Why an occupation of Victoria?
    Well, Bauder was frank about that, too.
    “This is a very intense, deeply rooted NDP-Liberal stronghold down there,”  Bauder was quoted as saying in mainstream media interviews. “And they’ve had their way for too long. It’s time we get down there and show them what the laws are and not your opinion, folks.”
    So the truckers are coming to Victoria to give them a spanking for not voting conservatively enough, a bit of tough love for the big city wusses from the big boys in their big rigs.
    “Folks, there is so many laws that our government has violated, the media is supporting the breaking of these laws, and society has got to start getting back to the right side of the law and defending ourselves legally via lawsuits,” Bauder said. “We’re going to be really, really active.”
    Well, it’s one thing to say government has broken the law, it’s another thing to prove it. Just like it’s one thing to say a protest is illegal, it’s another thing to prove it. That’s precisely why we have independent courts, to examine the evidence and see whether the claims of wrong-doing have legal merit.
     

    An alternative type of protestor stood at the intersection of Government and Belleville during the March 26, 2022 anti-vaccine mandate event. (Photo by Leslie Campbell)
     
    But it is worth reminding BearHug BC that Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms clearly balances individual rights against the common good. 
    So, in all charity and good will to the “BearHug BC” crowd, the people of Victoria aren’t a jury and the place for assertions of law-breaking is the courts, not the streets of the capital. Unless, of course, there’s a different agenda, a much more self-interested political agenda.
    In which case dear truckers, just come, protest as many before you have done, make your point and depart. Don’t hang around as uninvited guests, who, as many a mother has told us, are like fish, okay at first but after three days they really start to stink.
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. 

    Karen Hamilton
    Canada must leave over 80 percent of its fossil fuel reserves in the ground if the world is to have even a 50 percent chance of meeting the 1.5°C threshold. Yet it’s still financing new projects.
    By Karen Hamilton and Shawn Katz
     
    THE FEDERAL ENVIRONMENT COMMISSIONER recently found that Canada’s record on combatting climate change was the worst among G7 countries since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. This was attributed in part to the government’s “policy incoherence,” as seen with investments such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
    These investments fit within a longstanding pattern of hefty federal support to oil and gas companies, mostly through federal agency Export Development Canada (EDC). At last count, this support, which Ottawa does not consider a subsidy, totalled an average of $13.6 billion each year from 2018 to 2020. This made Canada the largest provider of public finance for fossil fuels in the G20. Only Japan, South Korea and China came close to rivalling Canada’s support.   
    The government recently acknowledged the problem, and has committed to “developing a plan” to phase out public finance for the fossil fuel sector. 
    At the UN climate conference (COP26) in November, Canada joined over thirty countries in pledging to eliminate a portion of this finance—“direct” support for “unabated” fossil fuel energy overseas—by the end of this year. Uncertainties remain, however, as to how Ottawa will end up defining key terms, such as “abated,” which is often used to describe projects with carbon capture. It also has yet to define the “limited” circumstances under which exceptions may be made. 
    What’s certain is that the pledge will cover a mere fraction of Canada’s fossil fuel finance: roughly $1 billion, according to a preliminary government estimate. The commitment leaves intact the massive sums that the government provides to the industry in Canada, which in recent years has included billions in loans to projects such as the Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines.
    The natural resources minister stated in November that a timeline for eliminating Canada’s domestic fossil fuel finance would be announced “in the next few months.” He is collaborating with the ministers of finance and of the environment in hammering out the details of Ottawa’s phase-out plan. 
    This timeline must at a minimum reflect the same urgency as the COP26 pledge. The International Energy Agency has warned there can be no new oil and gas fields developed if the world is to hold global warming to the critical 1.5°C threshold. According to a recent study in the journal Nature, Canada must leave approximately 83 percent of its fossil fuel reserves unexploited if the world is to have even a 50 percent chance of meeting this objective. 
    Despite this, Export Development Canada has no plan to end its support for fossil fuels. It has committed to a moderate reduction of its support for oil and gas exploration and production, yet remains free to maintain or even increase its support for pipelines or refineries.
    The impact of Ottawa’s commitments, regarding both the overseas and domestic components of its fossil fuel finance, will thus depend on the speed and robustness of implementation, and in particular on the presence of gaps in the government’s plan that could allow EDC to continue propping up fossil fuel companies.
    Acknowledging a “climate emergency,” as Parliament has done, means that there can be no allowances for supporting new refineries or pipelines, whether for oil or gas. 
    And it means that there can be no loopholes for supporting oil and gas companies that simply promise to capture their on-site emissions. In a recent letter to the finance minister, hundreds of Canadian climate experts warn that carbon capture is “neither economically sound nor proven at scale,” and is being used to boost oil production, resulting in an increase in overall emissions when that oil is burned. 
    Carbon capture does nothing to address these downstream emissions that constitute 80 per cent of oil and gas emissions. Far from being a climate solution, they warn, the technology “prolongs our dependence on [fossil fuels] at a time when preventing catastrophic climate change requires winding down fossil fuel use.” 
    It’s time to end Canada’s half-measures on climate. Ottawa must initiate a swift and complete phase-out of all public financial support for fossil fuel development of any kind, in Canada or abroad. 
    Karen Hamilton and Shawn Katz work at Above Ground, a project of MakeWay Charitable Society that seeks to ensure companies based in Canada or supported by the Canadian state respect human rights and the environment.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    The author’s garden illustrates the ways Earth has been damaged—and also provides solace and resolve to go forward.
     
    MY GARDEN IS MY TEACHER, and during the recent winter weeks, it became an altered place of quiet beauty and study. Overnight, the snow started coming down, hesitantly at first but then with great purpose. By morning the late-autumn nakedness had been transformed into a sparkling white splendour. As the layers continued to pile on, everything softened—the contours of planters and tree limbs, the fence posts and steps into the gazebo. Even the usual neighbourhood sounds seemed to fall to a reverent hush.  
    By the time the snowfall stopped, the solar lanterns were glowing dimly from beneath the drifts and the shrubs, birdbath and planters all wore top hats. To the side, a tall lone clump of Karl Forster grass, now uniformed in crystal, still maintained its rigid sentinel stance. The maple tree, with its thousand, snow covered arms and fingers pointing skyward, looked ready to capture the wintry moon. 
    All the unfinished projects and abject clutter had been airbrushed away. This was, for the moment, a perfect winter garden.
     

    Trudy's perfect winter garden
     
    Then the melting started, and the thousands of red berries on the pyracantha shrubs along the back border resurfaced. Previously ignored, but now a touch fermented by the freeze, they drew in the birds that had waited for this moment.  The robins, especially, will gorge on them until they’re notably tipsy, but the towhees, sparrows, juncos and chickadees savour the buffet as well. 
    I also spotted the varied thrush pair that habitually visits when the snow in their woodland home becomes too deep for foraging. They dine on a berry or two but prefer to find their fodder in the leaf mulch beneath. 
    Days later, and with the lawn mostly bare by now, the resident squirrel returned to his daily chores. On an overcast afternoon, a pair of Northern Flickers visited just long enough to rummage for leftovers in the mulched vegetable beds. Then the starlings flew in and began pecking at the lawn for seeds and other morsels. Starlings move and feed frenetically, never linger, and always abruptly take wing together in a way that’s not yet understood. Starlings are nobody’s favourite bird, but you still have to admire them for showcasing what they know and we do not.
    A week of misty mornings followed, and a few times the garden was so enshrouded in fog that the world beyond its boundaries hinted at infinity. 
    Somewhere in that spell was a morning that was both foggy and frosty, and on that day I happened to drive through the Mount Newton Valley on my way home from an early morning errand. I slowed in wonder. The mystical alchemy of receding fog and expanding pink dawn was just then etching the fences and naked trees in black while also reflecting the frost that had glazed them overnight. The air was cold and still. The fields glistened with hoarfrost. All other colours had quietly vanished. 
    I felt as if I’d entered an impossibly perfect and beautiful snow globe. For a moment or two I profoundly wanted to stay there forever.
     
    NOW THE DAYS are becoming noticeably longer and the sun has begun warming both the air and the soil. On cue, bulbs and buds and roots and shoots are once again springing to life. Nature is gearing up for another season.
    But for how much longer? How long, before the irreparable damage of chronic exploitation starts warping the environment into something that can no longer support us in the manner we’ve so taken for granted? 
    We’re seeing many inklings of this breakdown already, in the form of ancient ice melting, catastrophic floods and fires, treacherous weather systems, killer droughts, unprecedented rates of species extinction, rising sea levels, increasingly pervasive contamination, and so on. But society scrutinizes each of these issues in separate silos, and dispenses prescriptions that are mostly about remediation and compensation. Never do we analyze the root cause of all these effects, which is wilful, opportunistic environmental degradation. 
    I can see the decline in my own garden. Rising summer temperatures and harsh drought are the most obvious signs. Pollinators don’t come around the way they used to: The first bee I spotted last spring was a freshly dead one covered in white powder. (It’s disconcerting when a healthy plant produces no squash because there are no bees or butterflies to transfer pollen between flowers that are just a half-metre apart.) 
    Some plants are slowly exiting our region, including the ubiquitous rhododendron that can live for a century, just not here anymore. Last summer’s heat dome was deadly for this shrub. 
    Meanwhile, new pests are arriving regularly. I first detected a non-native European Wall Lizard on the patio about six years ago and now they are everywhere. Two years ago, I had an infestation of whitefly, which normally wreaks havoc only in greenhouses. Last year the coreopsis beetle, originally from Texas and California, moved into my back yard and began to multiply. I dread to think what might be coming this summer. 
    The signs are everywhere that our biosphere is in trouble. And yet we keep looking the other way and waiting for Others to bring us painless, magical solutions. By now we should know that’s not going to happen.
     
    SOME DAYS I WONDER if we might be in for a replay of the Garden of Eden story.  According to the ancient narrative, which is sacred for several billion people around the world, the first humans were given a perfect, beautiful garden to live in and care for. The only instructions were to steward their new habitat and to keep their hands off one specific, singular tree. Before they’d even had a chance to test their commitment to stewardship, they stole from the tree and were swiftly banished from the garden for all time. 
    Fast-forward to now, and the trajectory we’re on. Are we fated to be banished again—this time by our own hand—for all eternity from the garden we call Earth? 
    Are we fated to take today’s and tomorrow’s children on that slow, sleep-walking march to self-destruction? Is that our legacy? Are we sure that we might not prefer instead to make significant consumer-related changes in our own life (i.e. buying and wasting less), and to begin demanding from our politicians more genuine and serious conservation measures and robust action on a just transition?
    This would be an excellent time for the silent majority—We, the People—to start making ourselves heard. For Nature, and for a child.
     

    Trudy’s garden in April
     
    I pause on a sun-soaked rock in my garden and watch the diminutive Bewick’s Wren couple flitting around for nesting material. It seems early, but they know their calendar. They’ll find what they need and use just enough to make a safe haven for their next generation. 
    Their resolve buoys me, and I go back to my chores with an eye and ear open. There is much to care for and much to learn. Through every season including this one, my garden is my teacher and I am its perpetual student. 
    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a writer, gardener and grandmom residing in Saanich.
     
     

    Kim Barnard
    Should additional parking for the Kinsol Trestle recreation area be allowed to destroy a sensitive ecosystem?
     
    A PANHANDLE PARCEL OF of environmentally sensitive, salmon-bearing wetland on Renfrew Road in Shawnigan Lake is being considered for gravel parking for upwards of 100 vehicles and construction of park amenities as part of a proposed “Kinsol Trestle Gateway Project.”
    This plan by the Cowichan Valley Regional District is slated to meet the present and future needs of parking and public rest area facilities for the Historic Kinsol Trestle recreational and tourist destination that has been growing in popularity since it was restored in 2011.
     

    One area of Taylor Park that the proposed parking lot would endanger. (Photo by Dawna Mueller)
     
    The plans were made possible by an application for a Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program (CERIP) grant to cover the costs of a 100-vehicle gravel lot, bus parking, washroom facilities with a well and disposal field (septic). The location and layout “aims to reduce existing trestle/trail visitor conflict with the local residential area and alleviate current use pressures on secondary neighbourhood roads” (CVRD Staff Report to the Board, CERIP, October 28, 2020).
    To qualify for this grant, an emphasis has been placed on Destination Development tourist infrastructure to “address vehicle traffic visitations and user experience”—over preserving the pristine wetland habitat and necessary drainage that this panhandle provides.
     

    Wetlands in Taylor Park show “Caution! Salmon at Work” signs. (Photo by Dawna Mueller)
     
    The water that runs through the property meanders amongst trees labelled with bright yellow “Caution! Salmon at Work” fish habitat signs from the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Amidst the pools of water are gurgling streams, crossing under Renfrew Road and draining into the West Arm of Shawnigan Lake. It’s possible to imagine Taylor Park as it was meant to be—an oasis for humans, fish and wildlife alike—respectful of the role that wetlands serve in our lakeside ecology.
    Shawn Taylor and his family donated the majority of the five-acre Taylor Park parcel to the CVRD in 2004, with the understanding that this natural oasis and vital wetland would be kept as a park.
     

    More wetland area in Taylor Park (Photo by Dawna Mueller)
     
    Taylor learned of the Gateway Project earlier this month through a press release from the BC Government announcing the CERIP funding, and promptly wrote a detailed letter to the CVRD “re: Pending Destruction of Shawnigan Lake Ecological Wetland” outlining his concerns. His letter concluded with a call for “a comprehensive environmental review of the property, community consultation, and input regarding future plans” for this parcel.
    To support the environmental protection of this sensitive property, Taylor reached out to the Shawnigan Basin Society and made the Taylor Park area available for viewing. Several members and interested residents attended, listening and making observations. While touring the property, it was clear to the group that demolishing the landscape would amount to an ecological travesty, as it did not meet naturally-level parking lot criteria and would suffer from the amount of gravel and other materials necessary to fill in the unstable terrain. Subsequent visits and conversations with the neighbours pointed to the bird life observed—such as kingfishers, owls, herons and eagles—that were drawn to the food sources sustained by these streams.
    Along with the ecological concerns, there are some challenges to the proposed plans. The CVRD received $459,000 or just over half of the $850,000 that was originally applied for under the scope of the project. The Destination Development funding was awarded to the CVRD through an application in October 2020, with the understanding that the proposed shovel-ready project would begin before December 31st, 2021. Furthermore it should be noted that the current 35-vehicle lot off Glen Eagles Road quickly outgrew its capacity, in less than 10 years. The 10-metre wide access and 200-metre long panhandle of the Taylor Park parcel barely allows for 2-way traffic and leaves no room to grow further in the future. It’s difficult to imagine buses navigating and manoeuvring in that space.
    Helpful suggestions from the Shawnigan Basin Society included checking out alternative locations such as the bedrock section of greenbelt on the other side of Renfrew Road with easy access to the Trestle Estates Park area bordered by the amply situated and paved Timber Ridge Road. To allow for future growth, cars and buses could be accommodated in a decentralized plan that used well-marked signage and routes to direct them to safe and solid ground on which to discharge their passengers.
     

    An aerial view of the alternate parking area proposed by the Shawnigan Basin Society
     
    With dreams of a “playground, grass, litter receptacle, trail development and signage” that Shawn Taylor had originally envisioned (based on the Shawnigan Lake Parks and Trails Master Plan, Appendix C), this area could become a delightful jewel of the CVRD’s Active Transportation Plan to attract cyclists, hikers and day picnickers to enjoy a shady rest area just off of the Trans Canada Trail on their way to and from the Trestle.
    It’s hoped that a Gateway Project to “accommodate destination-oriented traffic to the Historic Kinsol Trestle” will want to plan long term for a more robust and scalable parking strategy and leave Taylor Park in its natural ecological state.
     

    Area of Taylor Park at risk due to the proposed parking lot. (Photo by Dawna Mueller)
     
    The CVRD will be hosting a virtual community information session on Wednesday, March 2nd at 6pm to provide a detailed overview of the project, and address any questions from the public. Residents can join the virtual meeting at the following link: https://www.cvrd.ca/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=2388 —or call-in to the meeting by dialling 1-844-992-4726 and using access code 2495 059 5567. 
    Respect for places like Taylor Park prioritize the need for a healthy and functioning wetland, for mitigating rainfall and for supporting fish and wildlife habitat. A nearby section of Renfrew Road washed out for the first time ever in November 2021, with the impact of that unprecedented climate event. A qualified environmental assessment is sure to reveal the importance of treading lightly where water must flow—preserving paradise over parking.
    Kim Barnard is the secretary of the Shawnigan Rotary EcoClub.

    Zeb King
    Nurse Practitioners can offer care is equal to or better than that of family physicians and is more cost-effective—but there are some hurdles to overcome.
     
    THE EVOLVING PHYSICIAN SHORTAGE in BC and elsewhere in Canada is receiving a great deal of media attention. Our region is not immune to this growing shortage, as many residents know well. Most of the solutions proposed involve making it more attractive for doctors to practice here. There is an alternative. I firmly believe that if certain barriers were overcome, we could have comprehensive, patient-focused primary health care for people of all ages with better utilization of Nurse Practitioners (NP).  
    So what are some of the barriers that NP’s face, and why are they not more widely used? The public, doctors and health care administrators do not realize their full scope of practice and may not trust that they are as well trained as doctors in diagnosing and treating disease. According to Dr. Susan Prendergast, an NP professor at the University of Victoria, “the evidence strongly shows that their care is equal to or better than that of family physicians and is significantly more cost-effective.”
    NP’s are Masters prepared nurses who are trained and licensed to autonomously diagnose and treat illness. They can order and interpret lab tests and x-rays, prescribe medications and perform many medical procedures. They are trained to treat you as a whole person, to consider your health’s impact on your family and community, and to teach you about disease prevention and promotion of good health. They can also assist people with management of chronic illnesses such as diabetes or Alzheimer’s Disease. They work in medical clinics, community health centres, hospitals, long-term care settings and outpatient clinics. Most are hired on a salary which in Canada is estimated to be $98,000 annually. There are currently about 7,140 licensed NPs in Canada.  
    A recent NP client, Linda B., commented that “Following my NP doing my annual physical and lab work, I had an extensive interview with her, and I felt like I was really being listened to. My doctor retired, and now my NP does everything he did except surgery. I find that with the other members in her team practice, I get care that is complete, efficient and timely.” 
    Another major barrier is the current hiring practices of NP’s. Most are hired on contracts, with inadequate compensation that does not include benefits such as health care and maternity leave. Dr. Prendergast noted, “many leave high paying Nursing positions only to discover that after expenses, they are actually working much harder for less pay.”  
    A third barrier exists in the education of NPs. Because there are too few practicing Nurse Practitioners in the province, practicum placements for students are at a premium, thereby limiting enrolment size. The government had planned to double the number of enrolees in BC, but Nursing Schools are unable to comply. Physicians can—and sometimes do—supervise NP students, but they must do so without pay. Most prefer to take on medical students as the compensation rate for their supervision is significant. 
    It is clear that a partial solution to the current physician shortage is to fully engage Nurse Practitioners in our health care system. They have the potential to more fully involve patients in decisions about their health care, improve access to primary care and reduce pressures on the health system. As a health profession in Canada since the 1960s and regulated in BC since 2005, it is time to renew our commitment to NPs and address our primary care shortages.  
    Zeb King is a Municipal Councillor for Central Saanich and Royal Roads University student. He formerly spent 13 years in Health Human Resources at the Ministry of Health.

    Karen Hamilton
    FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES will likely figure prominently in climate policy debates when Parliament resumes sitting in the new year, with particular focus on how Ottawa will fulfill its recent pledge to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2023, two years earlier than originally promised. 
    Equally deserving of public attention is the government’s commitment to phase out public financing of fossil fuels. This support, which the government does not consider a subsidy, has led to Canada being singled out on the world stage for being among the biggest boosters of fossil fuels. 
    At the UN climate conference in November, Canada joined with over 30 countries in committing to eliminate “direct” support for “unabated” fossil fuel energy overseas by the end of 2022. Yet this accounts for only a portion of Canada’s overall fossil finance, much of which flows domestically. The natural resources minister said in November that a timeline for a full phaseout, including domestic finance, would be announced “in the next few months.” 
    As the government works on this timeline, three facts should be kept in mind.
    First, supporting the growth of the oil and gas industry is fundamentally at odds with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C—a level beyond which deadly climate impacts will become far greater, affecting hundreds of millions more people. Experts say that staying within this limit requires that no new oil and gas fields be developed, and that the vast majority of oil sands reserves remain unexploited. 
    Second, Canada is propping this industry up with more public financing than any other G20 nation. Most of this finance comes from Export Development Canada (EDC), which issued on average $13.6 billion in loans, insurance and other support to the oil and gas industry each year from 2018 to 2020. This includes billions in loans to projects such as the Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines. 
    Third, EDC has no plan to end its support for fossil fuels. It has vowed to reduce some of its support for oil and gas exploration and production. But it remains free to maintain or even increase its support for other types of fossil fuel development—new pipelines or refineries, for instance, which can play a critical role in enabling expanded oil and gas production.    
    The reality that we need to wind down the oil and gas industry must be faced. Credible climate leadership would require at the very least cutting off the flow of public money that is helping it thrive. 
    Ottawa should commit to ending all public financial support for fossil fuel development of any kind, in Canada or abroad, and to doing so right way. Anything less would be out of step with the urgency of the climate crisis.
    Karen Hamilton is the director of Above Ground, a project of MakeWay Charitable Society that works to ensure companies based in Canada or supported by the Canadian state respect human rights and the environment. 

    Stephen Hume
    Some food for thought on the life of the bard Robert Burns.
     
    MIGHT AS WELL BEGIN WITH A DISCLOSURE. I am, indeed, as my name indicates, of Scots ancestry—on both sides, too—not that I had any choice in the matter and therefore can’t take credit one way or the other. 
    And, like many another citizen of Victoria, I do appreciate the poetry of Robert Burns, preferably enjoyed in the company of a good peaty Scotch (at this time of year putting a tang of smoke into an Atholl Brose that’s been steeping since November). 
    I also like the occasional kipper.  
    I’m no a fan of haggis or deep-fried Mars Bars, though, and, no, I don’t own a kilt and never will. More on that later.
    Another niggling confession: I was in fact born in England, as was my father, and his father before him, among the Sassenachs. That’s the not-very-affectionate Gaelic term for the English, as aficionados of the hit television series Outlander will know.
    In my defence, I was removed from England before I even knew where I was, and although I’m an immigrant to lək̓ʷəŋən territory, I nevertheless can now claim to have settled here in Victoria in the first half of the last century, before about 95 percent of its current living population arrived.  
    My great-grandfather, his wife and their ancestors, however—as I have never for one second been permitted to forget—all hailed from around the River Tweed south of Edinburgh and just north of Bamburgh. Fans of that other hit TV series The Last Kingdom will recognize Bamburgh as the the model for the fortress of Uhtred, the conflicted Anglo-Saxon strangely reinvented for TV as a Viking war lord with an identity crisis in the time of Alfred and Athelstan. 
    From there, and from the adjacent and unsparing North Sea coast, my ancestors ventured forth boldly as master mariners, fishermen, shipbuilders, and (sotto voce in the telling of family history) mercenaries, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, murderers, abductors of women, blackmailers, pillagers of isolated farms and eventually as displaced persons and economic refugees. 
    Every story, even the sunniest family story, has two sides as we journalists quickly discover and must report, which is presumably why we frequently don’t get invited to extended family dinners: “Hey, guess what I found out about Great Aunt Salome!” 
    And it’s why so many of us roll our eyes at the gilding of history during the public adulations of famous figures like Burns. Experience tells us the monumental feet are almost certainly made of clay.
    This small meander is just by way of acknowledging my own cultural connections before some personal musings on the peculiar, romanticized mania over Burns, the Scots poet, farmer, philandering seducer, collector of pornographic verse and seldom-acknowledged social iconoclast which convulses Victoria every January around this time. 
     
    HERE IN GREATER VICTORIA, the Burns Night agenda at time of writing, pandemic notwithstanding, was still for pipers to go piping, readers to give poetry readings at his monument in Beacon Hill Park, and tipplers to tipple bracing Scotch whisky at distilleries. There were stacks of haggises at Fraser Orr the Butcher’s, there was commemorative beer brewed by Twa’ Dogs Brewery. Pub nights were planned, not to mention well-lubricated suppers and even better lubricated formal dinners at which well-heeled members of the establishment in Montrose doublets and velvet gowns rise to pay homage to a poet whose poems dismissed their pursuits as greedy, self-righteous, pretentious, high-minded hypocrisy.
     

    Portrait of Robbie Burns by Alexander Nasmyth, http://www.nationalgalleries.org/collection/artists
     
    What’s most interesting is how disconnected the icon of Scottish cultural chauvinism has become from the reality of Burns the 18th Century versifier and the significance of what he said. 
    “Wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us; To see ourselves as ithers see us!” Burns wrote in To A Louse: On Seeing One On A Lady’s Bonnet, At Church. Odd how so many of us go to dinners in his honour and think somehow he was writing about somebody else, not us.
    The social critic of elitist class snobbery who blew up poetic convention by writing in the colloquial language of ordinary Scots rather than the prissy, pedantic English style that prevailed, is now celebrated by people who clearly don’t really read him with care and tend to get prissy and pedantic should the riff raff of reportage express an opinion in that regard. 
    For example, now is when Scots, honorary Scots, Scots-by-marriage, wannabe Scots and self-identified Scots of many ethnicities pay homage to Burns by donning their Highland finery.
    That finery was once the far more basic garb of peasants who didn’t get to dine on white linen with silver settings and would be amazed to see their cuisine of turnips, cabbage, oats and sheep offal so exoticized by people who drink $80 Scotch and pay $80 a kilo for steak. 
    It gets weirder. The kilt, for example, is widely thought (not without dispute, naturally) to have been invented by an English industrialist to replace the more cumbersome attire worn by the displaced crofters who were forced to come in from the fields to work in his factories. The Montrose doublet-sporting owners of the fields thought sheep, which ate only grass, made better and less costly tenants and so they cleared the whole lot of crofters off, which proved extraordinarily convenient for English factory owners in need of cheap labour.  
    The kilt has since been appropriated from the poor workers on the factory floor and fetishized as manly ceremonial attire for royalty, regimental brass hats and those aspiring to some romanticized notion of that same Scottish aristocracy which cleared the farmers off their lands to make way for sheep and then shipped the refugees off as cheap indentured servants and field hands for English plantation plutocrats or to be cannon fodder in England’s many wars—both real and proxy, military and economic—of brutal colonial expansion.
    If you want colonial symbolism writ large, look no farther than folks in doublets, ruffles and kilts toasting the Queen in proper English rather than the earthy Scots dialect used by Burns.
    Throw a celebratory dinner in honour of Hugh MacDiarmid or Edwin Morgan, among the architects of Scotland’s literary renaissance in the vernacular, and a few professors and their graduate students might show up.
    You wouldn’t expect, as Burns enthusiasts do, fans of Chinese ancestry showing up in kilts, or tipsy politicians and CEOs standing on their chairs to toast the arrival of a boiled sheep’s stomach stuffed with a mash of lungs and porridge, or ardent women’s rights advocates swooning over “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose” on behalf of one of history’s most accomplished “love ’em and leave ’em” experts.
    That’s because most of those who wish to be seen celebrating our literary rock star know not so much about him. I’m certainly not the first to notice this phenomenon. Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that “the people who care nothing for literature and poetry care for Burns.”
    For example, Burns mocked orthodox religion. And at just about all the formal occasions celebrating Burns, there’s a stuffy toast to the Queen—kind of a required observance when you have politicians, RCMP brass and naval commanders on public display. Yet Burns was contemptuous of royalty, its agents and what they represented to him. 
    An “insolent beef-witted race of foreigners” was the way he characterized his 18th Century royals and their ilk from which the present crew directly descends. 
    He was scarcely kinder to patriotism and its military servants. Both, he said, were beneath contempt and an insult to God.
    “In wars at home I’ll spend my blood, Life-giving wars of Venus,” he wrote in his not-so-often quoted poem Some Lines on the Occasion of National Thanksgiving for a Great Naval Victory. “I’m better pleased to make one more Than be the death of twenty.”
    As I’ve noted, Burns took up “this make love not war” philosophy with vigour and it must have been infectious (if one can use that term without irony these days) judging from the number of women who welcomed the great charmer into their beds. 
     
    BURNS APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN SMITTEN by every woman he met, married or unmarried, high society lady or barefooted milk maid, and he must have been remarkably charming, perhaps roguishly outré, considering how many appear to have reciprocated.
    Strangely, I recall none of this side of Burns from my high school English classes at Mt Douglas Senior Secondary.
    Mind you, my favourite English lit teacher at Mt Doug abruptly departed after a parent complained that we had been encouraged to read and discuss Mordecai Richler’s novel The Apprenticeship of Daddy Kravitz because, horrors, there was sex in the story. I mean, there was already sex at Mt Doug, not to mention pot—it was 1965 for Pete’s sake—and we all knew about it. I often wonder what that shocked parent subsequently made of Game of Thrones on prime time TV.
    Nor can I recall hearing any of the poet’s more bawdy verse—look it up for yourself, I’m not repeating it here for the same reasons—recited at Burns Banquets, either.
    I recommend Burns’ Complete Poetical Works. Browse it and you’ll find poems addressed to no fewer than 100 women.
    There are love poems, admirations, homages and romantic infatuations for: Mary, Bessie, Chloris, Clarinda, Mrs Riddel, Miss Fontenelle, Miss Burnet, Jean, Jenny, Mrs Oswald, Maria, Peggy, Rachel, Wilhelmina, Lesley, Jane, Margaret, Deborah, Mally, Lucy, Phillis, Euphemia, Maria, Miss Ferrier, Lady Elizabeth Heron, Polly —I’d go on but I really don’t feel like typing another 75 names. 
    Just to put this in perspective, in1786 Burns was involved with Jean Armour. She left. He took up with Meg Cameron, then he got back with Jean, then he settled out of court with Meg, then took up with Agnes M’Lehose, then settled a paternity suit with Elizabeth Paton, then got involved with Clarinda, a married woman in Edinburgh.
    In 1788, while Jean is giving birth to his twins, Burns is writing two letters a day to Clarinda. But in April, he does the right thing by Jean and marries her and then, in November, Jenny Clow bears him a son. In 1789, he settles a paternity suit with Jenny Clow but he’s since met Frances Grose—she bears him a son in August of the same year. Then comes 1790, another busy year. He meets Ann Park, she bears him a daughter on March 31, 1791; Jean Armour presents him with a baby boy on April 9. He breaks things off with Agnes M’Lehose and a year later in 1792, Jean Armour gives birth to his daughter.
    By 1793, he’s enamoured of Mrs Maria Riddell, whose husband is away in Jamaica, but in 1794 she dumps him after he attempts, during a recitation, to demonstrate The Rape of the Sabine Women with more drunken ardour than she thinks proper for a proper Edinburgh society soirée—perhaps a cautionary tale for local Burns Night revellers in 2022. Oh, and Jean Armour bears him another son.
    All is forgiven by Mrs Riddell in 1795 but on July 21, 1796, he dies, aged 37, presumably of exhaustion. His funeral takes place on July 25 and while Burns is being lowered into the ground in his coffin, Jean Armour gives birth to his last son.  
    It’s not that the priapic poet was simply callous, tempestuous as his love life appears to have been. His passions just seem to have been more robust than straight-laced convention could contain. He was formally pilloried by the local church, officially condemned as a fornicator and then responded with savage satires mocking the hypocrisy of sanctimonious church leaders prepared to send one soul to heaven while condemning 10 to hell to serve their own self-important vanity.
     

    Statue of Robbie Burns and Highland Mary in Beacon Hill Park
     
    Mary Campbell, possibly the Highland Mary of some of his tenderest lyrics, purportedly so-named because of her heavy Gaelic accent, seems to have been on his conscience. He met her in church, apparently seduced and may have abandoned her and yet, the poetry suggests, was still grieving years after her sudden death at age 23 in 1786 during “a malignant fever which hurried my dear girl to the grave in a few days.”
    Or, at least, that’s one story. Contemporary scholars are doubtful of it. Perhaps it’s true, or perhaps she’s a conflation of several women with whom Burns was involved. Most likely, like Burns himself, the inspiring ghost of Highland Mary is another myth concocted to amplify the larger myth of the poet and his cultural importance. 
    Yet Jean Armour later said that on the third anniversary of Mary’s death, Burns became extremely agitated, went out of a long walk from which he didn’t return until daybreak when he abruptly sat down and wrote the poignant To Mary in Heaven. 
    In any event, the two myths—the famous (or infamous) bard Rabbie Burns and his maybe muse Highland Mary—are still here in Victoria 228 years later, still being celebrated for all the wrong reasons, their bronzed faces gazing wistfully at one another atop their plinth in Beacon Hill Park while folks who know nothing about them, toast something, exactly what isn’t clear.
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. 

    Ted Lea
    Almost 100 percent of Garry oak meadow ecosystems in Saanich’s major parks are in poor ecological condition, dominated by invasive grasses. 
     
    GARRY OAK ECOSYSTEMS have been important to humans and biodiversity for millennia. Indigenous Peoples shaped and maintained these ecosystems for thousands of years. The District of Saanich has a significant responsibility for these ecosystems that remain in its parks system. Unfortunately, a high percentage of these special areas have become extremely degraded over the last few decades, with insufficient action by Saanich. 
    I created a report card to highlight this degradation that has occurred in Saanich Parks over the last few decades. Each category has been carefully considered and assessed.
    My wife and I moved to Saanich in 1985. Since then, we have regularly visited Mount Douglas (PKOLS) Park, particularly in the spring, and have enjoyed walking the trails with our family among the spectacular Garry oak meadows, which used to be throughout the upper open portions of the park. Over time, we noticed these ecosystems becoming more and more degraded by invasive species, in particular invasive grasses. Without restrictions, park users continue to walk on the rock outcrop communities disturbing moss and lichen species and compacting the meadows. Today, few wildflower communities, many of which used to be intact Garry oak meadows, remain in this and other Saanich parks.
    As recently as 2017 the camas meadow at the top of Knockan Hill Park was present and glorious. However, many years of trampling by people, and by dogs fetching balls, even when the remaining wildflowers are struggling to bloom, have severely impacted this meadow. 
     

    Knockan Hill, camas meadow,  April 2016 (photo by Ted Lea)
     

    Knockan Hill, dominated by invasive grass,  April 2020 (photo by Ted Lea)
     

    Knockan Hill’s dog ball fetching area in former camas meadow, October 2021 (photo by Ted Lea)
     
    People have full access to walk on special areas such as Glencove Cove-Kwatsech Park, which has multiple plant species at risk and federally mapped areas of critical habitat for these species. 
    The vision for Environmental Integrity in the 2008 Saanich Official Community Plan (OCP), known as “Sustainable Saanich” states: “Saanich is a model steward working diligently to improve and balance the natural and built environments. Saanich restores and protects air, land, and water quality, the biodiversity of existing natural areas and eco-systems, the network of natural areas and open spaces, and urban forests.” It goes on to say that to look after the natural environment “…requires awareness, cooperation, innovation, and action.”
    The 2011 District of Saanich Park Natural Areas Management Guidelines states:
    “While use of the parks will undoubtedly increase as the region grows, the rare and valuable natural resources within the park natural areas must be protected.” “Our use and access management goals are to meet the legitimate, appropriate and authorized recreational demands of park users while protecting areas of high or medium ecological integrity, and to educate park users regarding respect for park natural areas.” “It is important that we gain sufficient knowledge of the vegetation and wildlife makeup with our park natural areas. This will include inventory, mapping and monitoring of the ecosystems. As we move forward, we will integrate more active management in dealing with degraded sites and in protecting native plant communities and habitat.” 
    Earlier this year, the District of Saanich signed the United Nations (UN) Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021 to 2030 Proclamation.  At this time, Councillor Judy Brownoff stated that: “We are committed to restoring natural areas and biodiversity within our parks to benefit the long term health of our community.”

    Saanich has not met these commitments regarding natural ecosystems in its Parks in terms of mapping, assessment, protection, or restoration. Many biologists and UVic professors have pointed out the need for restoration in parks. Few restrictions occur in Saanich Parks to protect the areas of highest ecological integrity. Signage, restrictive use, and fencing are minimal or nonexistent. The signage that does exist is unclear in stating the requirement of park users to remain on trails within Environmentally Significant or Sensitive Areas.
    Many highly committed volunteers remove invasive shrubs in Saanich Parks and have had very positive success in the forested areas of Mount Douglas (PKOLS) Park and Doumac Park, and elsewhere, and within a Garry oak meadow in Playfair Park. However, the dominant invasive species in Garry oak and related ecosystems are the numerous invasive grass species, which volunteers have little ability to deal with. Many other Saanich parks remain covered in invasive trees and shrubs, such as hawthorn, holly, blackberry, daphne, and broom, as well as English ivy.
    Saanich’s lack of mapped information led to the destruction of an area of Trembling Aspen Woodland Sensitive Ecosystem ESA in Tillicum Park in 2020. The Saanich Parks Department did not know it existed. Saanich Council approved a development that destroyed this extremely rare ecosystem because a staff report indicated that there was no Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) present. 
    The Resilient Saanich Technical Committee (RSTC) was created in 2020 by Saanich Council to provide advice to Saanich on biodiversity, climate change adaptation and a stewardship program, mainly in response to the many negative issues of the EDPA. Early findings by the RSTC suggest that the Saanich Environmentally Significant Area (ESA) Atlas has major faults. The RSTC has not endorsed publication of the new ESA Atlas, “for a myriad of reasons” and states: “Primary among them is confusion for the public in the form of out-of-date information, inaccuracies, contradictions, and overlapping designations.” 
    A University of Victoria submission to the RSTC in April 2021 by seven academics states the following: “We applaud the Resilient Saanich stated goals of conserving existing biodiversity through a network of parks and protected areas. However, in an urban and urbanizing region with a small relict percentage of historically continuous and rare Garry oak ecosystems, Saanich must also place significant effort on effective restoration.” “More than 95 percent of Garry oak ecosystems in the Province have been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.” “Our expertise suggests that successful restoration depends on setting clear goals, measurable objectives, and monitoring to track progress.”
    Beginning in 2016, multiple community organizations recommended a private landowner stewardship program to Saanich Council. Since that time there has been no action by Saanich to initiate such an important program, which, by working collaboratively with residents, providing education and incentives, could create significant positive outcomes and biodiversity enhancements within the district. 
    I have recently been involved in a preliminary assessment of the ecological condition of the major parks in Saanich. Almost 100 percent of Garry oak meadow ecosystems in these parks are in poor ecological condition, dominated by invasive grasses. This is very troubling and should be a major concern to all environmentally minded individuals and especially to Saanich Council members.
    There appears to be no plan by the District of Saanich to restore the highly degraded Garry oak ecosystems and manage species at risk in Saanich Parks. It appears that the Saanich Parks Department is critically underfunded to manage natural park areas.
    Saanich Council needs to act now to provide the Parks Department with the necessary staffing and financial resources required to be able to undertake the management of parks restoration for ecosystems at risk, and species at risk. Saanich needs to prioritize ecological integrity over recreational values in these special ecosystems. This would also assist in honouring Indigenous Peoples and their long-term stewardship of Garry oak and other ecosystems.
    As the report card indicates, Saanich has a failing grade in many ecological categories. For Saanich to be a “model steward” or to be considered “Sustainable Saanich,” there must be immediate action to protect and restore its special ecosystems, and species at risk. 
    Ted Lea is an ecologist and provincial expert in ecosystem inventory and mapping, and Garry oak ecosystems. 
    For more information, see Saanich’s Natural Area Action Plan, the Resilient Saanich Technical Committee report, and a presentation made by the author to the Resilient Technical Committee. Also see  https://www.saanich.ca/assets/Local~Government/Documents/Committees~and~Boards/RSTC/Agendas/2021-12-16-full-agenda.pdf

    Stephen Hume
    The first child of European descent born in the Interior of BC, was guided into life with the help of a Secwepemc midwife.
     
    WHAT USED TO BE CHRIST’S MASS, second only to Easter on the medieval Christian calendar, is now pretty-much a global commercial phenomenon far more suffused with the secular than the spiritual—and yet the mythic outline of the story endures, perhaps because it offers profound lessons that transcend materialism, commerce and self-interest which can speak to those of all religions, creeds, beliefs or non-beliefs.
    So, as we all embark on a national journey toward reconciliation, still tested by simmering tensions over our colonial past, by immigration and shifting cultural tropes, by the manifestations of apparent differences of faith, ethnicity, wealth and social class, consider this a small Christmas story from British Columbia’s own creation myth—the discovery of gold in 1858 that unleashed a torrent of greed and avarice that utterly transformed the social, political and cultural landscape of what is now our shared province.
    Pedants might argue that this can’t really be a Christmas story because it occurred one mid-October day 159 years ago.
    But then, the original Christmas that we nominally celebrate didn’t take place in late December, either. As far as we can tell by studying the historical and astronomical records, that first Christmas perhaps took place around mid-October, too. It had migrated to December for reasons of politics, propaganda and expedience, conveniently draping itself as a Christian overlay upon pre-existing pagan celebrations—the earlier Roman festival of Saturnalia and Northern European winter solstice rites.
    How do we guess that? Thank the astronomers. Their computers determined that a rare conjunction of two of the night sky’s brightest objects, Jupiter and Saturn, occurred in October of the year 7 Before Common Era, or what used to be called Before Christ until science decided that dating methods were better detached from religion.
    The actual celestial event resonates with the story of the Christmas star, which, according to the story, led three wise men to the birthplace of the infant Jesus, where they then presented him with expensive presents. In that story, the heavenly beacon also served to signal his arrival to shepherds and, presumably, anyone else who was paying attention to the night sky on that chilly October night.
    There’s a bit more corroboration in the records that survive from the reigns of Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of Imperial Rome, and Herod the Great, the descendant of one of Alexander the Great’s generals who was reduced to local kinglet under the thumb of mighty Augustus.
    But back to that original story which occurs during a Roman census.
    The Christmas story tells of a young family—Joseph, a carpenter, and his new wife, Mary—travelling the roads when the young woman goes into labour. A nearby inn, jammed with similar wayfarers trying to fulfil their bureaucratic duty to register their existence with the Imperial authorities, has no room.
    Yet the compassionate inn-keeper lets the couple take shelter in his stable, warmed, at least, by the steaming heat of the livestock. And there, in the humblest of surroundings, the infant Jesus who, in the medieval rendering at least, is destined to be the king of kings, is born.
    BC’s story has interesting congruencies.
     
    IT’S THE TALE OF ANOTHER Augustus, August Schubert, his name only the faintest echo of that Roman emperor who founded an empire that lasted a thousand years. Our Augustus, too, is a simple carpenter—a feckless one, judging from the record—and he’s also travelling with his young wife, a gritty Irish woman born Catherine O’Hare, the youngest of nine children, in 1835 in County Down.
    She emigrated to the United States as a 16-year-old, one of the “famine Irish” fleeing the great potato blight which killed a million people and sent another two million into diaspora, many of them dying in cholera epidemics on the way.
    Catherine worked as a maid and spent her off hours learning to read. She married Augustus, about 10 years her senior, when she was 20, and in 1860 they emigrated with their three children to the Red River Settlement in what’s now Manitoba.
    When word arrived of a rich gold strike in distant BC, Augustus decided he was going to make his fortune. He signed on with a party of 150 “Overlanders” who were travelling from what’s now Winnipeg to Fort Edmonton and then over the Yellowhead Pass to the Cariboo gold fields.
    But Catherine was not about to be abandoned with three small children while her husband went prospecting. She insisted so strenuously that the party reversed its rule that no women could join the expedition and made a place for her. She didn’t trouble the expedition leader with the information that she was pregnant—after all, he’d assured them it was just a six week journey across the prairies by Red River ox cart, then they’d drift rafts down the Fraser River to the diggings and get rich.
    But the journey took six months and it was cruel. Drought, flood, thirst and hunger punished the expedition over the first 1,600 kilometres. At Fort Edmonton, Catherine sold the family’s cow.
     


    “Crossing the Pembina River,” 1862 sketch by William George Richardson Hind, who accompanied the Overlanders, travelling from Fort Garry [Winnipeg] to the interior of British Columbia in search of gold. Courtesy Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1963-97-1.85R)
     
    Nuns at St Ann’s mission begged her to stay with them but Catherine insisted on staying with her husband.
    They pressed on. They built eight bridges across icy torrents, lost pack horses that fell into canyons, crawled narrow trails above precipices carrying their children on their backs. It was August 21 when the last of their pemmican ran out, a long, hungry week before they reached the headwaters of the Fraser River at Tete June Cache.
    Rafts broke up and capsized in the thunderous rapids, men drowned. Augustus, Catherine and the children took another route to the Thompson River. They got lost. They were starving. They foraged for berries, snared squirrels and ate wild rose hips. They stumbled into a deserted First Nations village, learning only later it had been devastated by the smallpox epidemic which carried off thousands in 1862. But they found an abandoned garden and were able to dig up enough potatoes to keep them going for another four days until, nearing Kamloops, Secwepemc people gave them salmon and huckleberry cakes and pointed them in the right direction.
    On the banks of the Thompson River, near what’s now Kamloops, Catherine went into labour with her fourth child.
    Two Secwepemc woman took her into their lodge. They gave birthing assistance to the stranger whose language they didn’t share and together, on October 14, 1862, ushered into the world Rose Schubert. And thus, the first child of European descent born in the Interior of BC was welcomed into the hands of her First Nations midwife, a metaphor that should guide us into the uncertain future.
     

    Area where Secwepemc women helped settler woman give birth along banks of the Thompson River. This is a view of North Kamloops looking north from Thompson Rivers University (photo by AC Macaulay, Creative Commons)
     
    Catherine, it’s said, first thought of naming her new daughter Kamloops but decided on Rose because of the wild rosehips that had kept them alive during the last desperate days before they were saved by the Secwepemc band.
    Like the Christmas story that still resonates at the heart of all those other trappings, secular, religious, commercial or familial, the story of that birth at Kamloops, the story of Rose, Catherine and her unnamed but not forgotten Secwepemc midwives; of the refugee finding refuge; a story of love and determination, hope and perseverance, kindness and tolerance, sharing and goodwill to strangers—that story offers us a lesson for our own time.
    It reminds us that these are the true gifts we should celebrate with one another no matter the troubles or what the differing values and beliefs of those we encounter along the way.
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    While the politicians offer blah, blah, blah, we citizen/consumers can buy less to help cool down the planet and protect nature.
     
    JUST DAYS AFTER WE MOVED HERE three decades ago, the Welcome Wagon rolled by with a basket of coupons and samples from local businesses. One offering was a complimentary, in-home consultation with an interior designer. 
    She was an interesting person who had incorrectly assumed via telephone that I lived in an orange house. Something about my aura, I think, but never mind. I don’t remember any of her suggestions but I do recall her lamenting how hard it was to make a living when so many people in this town tended to “let their homes go,” in terms of style and décor. 
    “All those seniors in Oak Bay, they just keep using their old furniture and stuff, and they never change paint colours or lighting or flooring or anything,” she bemoaned. 
    Her comment came to mind when I heard that 109 shipping containers had fallen into the ocean off the deck of the MV Zim Kingston, a huge container ship besieged by both a rogue fire onboard and a fearsome storm just off the island’s west coast. The wind and water eventually bullied four of the containers onto the rocks at Cape Scott, where they strew their contents like battered piñatas. So far, more than a hundred fridges and hundreds of bags of packing material and assorted debris have been removed from the beach. All that from four containers. 
    The other 105 are now presumed to be drifting down to the ocean floor. According to various reports, they are filled with everything from Christmas decorations to yoga mats to industrial parts—and clothing, of course. It seems we can never have enough Christmas decorations and clothing.
     

    Zim Kingston, off Victoria, a symbol of our consumerism (photo Canadian Coast Guard)
     
    At least two of the lost containers held hazardous materials—potassium amyl xanthate, used in mining and pulp mills, and thiourea dioxide, used in the manufacturing of textiles. Two other containers full of the same toxins were destroyed in the fire that they also reportedly caused. Collectively the four released 57 tonnes of hazardous materials into the environment.
    Into the ocean and the air.  
    The Zim Kingston, on its way to Vancouver, was carrying at least 2000 containers when the mishap occurred, no small load of potatoes, but yet just a fraction of the 822,797 full containers (each at least 20-feet long) received at the port in the first 9 months of this year, according to the Port of Vancouver’s Accumulated Container Traffic Report. (Outgoing freight amounts to about half of that. Indeed, we’ve become a country of buyers.)
    This incoming volume to Vancouver alone boggles the mind. And yet it amounts to only a dewdrop on the gargantuan parade of goods zigzagging non-stop around the globe. We like our stuff, and besides, it keeps the economy going. The GDP robust. The factories hopping. The people employed. The extraction industry powerful, omnipresent and fully enmeshed with enterprise and life. And so it goes, around and around. On the back of the neglected, undervalued burro we call Earth.
    We are a people hooked on materialism, which has long been overprescribed by clever marketing as the surefire way to happiness and social stature. The consequences are now threatening to annihilate us, but who wants to brood about that? It’s a lot easier to ignore reality and accept breezy assurances from vested interests. 
    What we’re really waiting for/counting on is a “presto” type of government fix that will make all the climate change and global warming threats disappear without demanding any hardship or lifestyle adjustments from us. 
    Our prime minister is eager to be that fixer and he’s worked out a plan to make that happen. In Glasgow at the most recent feeble-toothed COP, he announced with great pause and emphasis that he would, “cap oil and gas sector emissions today, and ensure they decrease tomorrow at a pace and scale needed to reach net-zero by 2050.” This, he declared without offering details on the pace and scale, would be “no small task” for an oil and gas glutted country like ours.
    What he’s really saying is that Canada will not be reducing or even curbing fossil fuel production. Instead, we intend to capture the industry’s emissions as they’re produced, using as-yet unproven and underdeveloped carbon sequestration technologies that we already know are going to be costly and not without their own carbon footprint. In theory, such a plan would allow the extraction and burning of as much fossil fuel as the market wants without producing any new emissions. Presto—we have a license to keep on keeping on. (I’d love to see a Lorax-style illustration of this plan in action.)
    Many of Trudeau’s observers were notably unimpressed. “Trudeau has identified the problem correctly, which is oil and gas, but has come up with the wrong solution, which is looking at emissions and not production,” tweeted Dale Marshall, national program manager at Environmental Defence.
    With Trudeau glommed onto this new approach, we will continue to be burdened with unbridled extraction and it’s many devastating consequences—the oil spills, the plastics and other pollutants that have seeped into every corner of our biosphere, the continued destruction of irreplaceable habitat and species, the sheer waste of everything poured into obscenely huge garbage dumps, and the increasing inequity that all of this fosters. Politicians will talk about these consequences in their own separate silos, but they stubbornly resist the imperative to address them together as parts of the same problem and solution. 
    Years ago, it was predicted that unless we took serious measures to mitigate climate change, our economy would largely become one of misery. In BC, in 2021, this prediction is coming true. The mopping up after the miseries of an ongoing pandemic, an unprecedented heat dome, a prolonged drought, devastating fires and November’s catastrophic flooding has provided work for thousands and cost us billions. Ironically, we taxpayers, who’ll be shelling out for those costs, are indirectly giving the industry another hefty subsidy.  
    We can’t go on this way much longer. Our burro is buckling, and we along with it. The eminent journalist and writer Andrew Nikiforuk warned during a recent lecture at UVic that we must shrink the economy by 40 percent now, to ensure a livable planet in the near future. 
    The good news is that we can start trimming it today, by doing just one thing: buying less. That would concurrently begin cooling every system up and down the chains of commerce in every sector everywhere. Ultimately it would result in a much-reduced need for fossil fuels and other finite and carbon-laden resources. 
    While the politicians gum their way through endless conferences and meetings about carbon pricing and taxes and sequestration while quietly continuing to hand subsidies and free rein to the emitters, we can do better. We can collectively start reducing demand. 
    Thirty years ago, this might have been considered the quaint domain of seniors. Now our shared survival depends on it.  
    Trudy wishes everyone a happy holiday season in the company of your own special people. May your traditions, old or new, be gentle on our Earth and steeped in love and meaning. May there be food on your table and gladness in your heart. 

     



    Moira Walker
    Two giant sequoias, that have witnessed our city’s evolution, appear at risk from an impending development.
     
    TWO STATELY SEQUOIAS that may be 130 years old and are about 20 metres tall stand behind Thrifty Foods on Menzies Street in James Bay. If you look at their bark, one has some burn damage; both have been subject to the attention of woodpeckers. According to a forest ecologist who recently examined them, the trees are healthy. Given the lifespan of these giants is from 1000 to 3500 years, he thinks they may have many more years before them.
    But do they? Recently, the area around their roots has been compromised by the placement of a skirt of paving stones, limiting their access to water, according to a forest ecologist.
    But more troublesome is that the trees stand on land slated to be repurposed. An application to place about 100 units on the site is before the planning department—Development Services— right now. While a City planner has given his assurance that the trees will be “unaffected,” could they still be in danger? Developers aren’t particularly fond of trees, especially large ones. 
     

    The two sequoias, near Thrifty Foods, on Menzies
     
    These trees have witnessed so much. They must not be felled.
    The trees might have been part of a shipment of sequoias brought from California in 1889 by Robert P. Rithet, a one-time mayor of Victoria and wealthy businessman with commercial ties to San Francisco. Rithet oversaw the planting of 2,000 trees, 50 of which were Giant sequoias, in Beacon Hill Park.
    If they were planted by 1890, they would have been here when electric streetcar service began in Victoria on February 22. According to a 1902 map, Route 3, which originated in Fernwood, passed the trees, and turned east off Menzies Street onto Niagara Street before stopping at Beacon Hill Park. According to the 1891 census, Victoria had become a city of 16,841 people with 55 hotels and taverns. The five streetcar lines became a popular means of moving about the city.
    The trees may have been here for the 1892 smallpox epidemic, but they definitely were here for the 1911 diphtheria epidemic and for the three waves of the 1918 to 1920 Spanish flu.
    Certainly, the trees were here when the CPR Empress Hotel opened in 1908 and when a road to Mill Bay named Malahat Drive was built in 1911. They’d have witnessed with incredulity the scramble on New Year’s Day 1922 when cars on Vancouver Island switched to the right side of the road so as to be in keeping with the rest of the province and Canada.
    In 1915, the trees would have observed people in Victoria searching for an additional penny before boarding the streetcar. Fares, which had just been raised from a nickel to six cents, were paid to the conductor once on board.
    In 1917, a bird perched atop the trees would have seen the completion of the Ogden breakwater and the following year would probably have been able to see the opening in Saanich of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, which housed the largest telescope of its kind in the world.
    On October 2, 1921, over 5,000 people gathered along Shelbourne Street from Mount Douglas Park to Bay Street. On that day, the trees witnessed the planting of a memorial avenue of 600 London plane trees, one for each soldier from the greater Victoria area who died in WWI. British Columbia lost 6,000 soldiers in that war. Sadly, the trees have also witnessed in recent years the work of so-called developers: they have cut down 400 of those commemorative trees. 
    The James Bay trees may have been commemorative trees too. Over a hundred years ago, visiting dignitaries often selected sequoias to plant in Victoria.
    The trees’ growing root system would have been shaken December 7, 1918, by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake off the West Coast of Vancouver Island. They’d have paused in wonder when in 1925 a stately pleasure-dome opened on Douglas Street near Bellville Street: The CPR Crystal Gardens with its heated saltwater pool, the largest in the British Empire, and two ballroom-dance floors.
    In 1937, the trees witnessed the beginning of a new city tradition: hanging flower baskets affixed to light standards. The soil mixture remains the same in the baskets hung in 2021.
    The two trees have seen so much.
    The word “sequoia,” the name of the Menzies Street trees, was coined by an Austrian linguist and botanist, Stephen L. Endlicher, as both a descriptor of the plant genus and a way of honouring Sequoyah (1767-1843), the man who created the written form of the Cherokee language.
    Actual settlers, these trees occur naturally only in groves on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. Scientifically, the two Menzies Street trees are Sequoiadendron giganteum, but John Muir, the Scottish-US naturalist and writer who cofounded the Sierra Club and is said to be the “father” of US National Parks, affectionately called them Big Trees. Sequoias, in fact, are the most massive trees on Earth. 
    In 2011, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it, named the sequoias an endangered species, with fewer than 80,000 remaining. The 2020 and 2021 fires in California, coupled with fire suppression, drought, and climate destruction, resulted in the loss of up to 13,640 mature trees. 
    Speaking about his Big Trees, John Muir said, “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”
    For Garry Merkel, a member of the Tahltan Nation and a forester, the problem is that “We’re managing ecosystems—that are in some cases thousands of years old—on a four-year political cycle.”
    And for Jens Wieting, a senior forest and climate campaigner who has crunched the numbers, “We are currently losing about 10,000 hectares a year—that’s the old-growth logging rate—on Vancouver Island.” 
    How do we ensure the sequoias of Menzies Street are still here to see the end of the current pandemic and remain standing when your great-grandchild skips by them to cast a fishing line off Ogden Point or to watch a kite rise above her head on the grassy verge between Dallas Road and the Strait of Juan de Fuca? 
     

    The new paving stones near one of the sequoias.
     
    Well, that’s up to you and me. We can speak for these two trees. We can call City Hall. We can ask that the newly placed skirt of paving stones near their roots be removed. We can take our grandchildren to stand before them and tell them about all the trees have seen and all the carbon they’ve caught and will continue to catch, if we only let them. We can witness the trees’ existence just as they have witnessed ours. We can find our voices and speak for them. We can insist they are settlers who must be allowed to stay. We can become their keepers. We can do all this. We can.
    Moira Walker is a retired Camosun College instructor. An oral storyteller, she’s told stories at The Flame, UNO Festival, and Royal BC Museum. She recently completed an MFA from the University of King’s College in Halifax, NS. 

    Stephen Hume
    The rise of the e-bike—often sharing space with pedestrians while travelling at 25 kilometres per hour—may necessitate a rethink of local transportation plans.
     
    FIFTY YEARS AGO, I came to think I was the only adult in Yellowknife riding a bicycle. I never saw anyone else riding on my cycling treks.
    I’d buck the sharp wind that gusted off the not-so-distant Arctic barrens to punctuate my circuits around Frame Lake and then Jackfish Lake, juddering past Max Ward’s old bulbous-nosed Bristol freighter, frozen atop its modernist stela in some eternal bush landing—or maybe it was an eternally over-loaded take-off, which might have been more in keeping.
    The bike was a canary yellow CCM 10-speed. It was heavy. It had to be to withstand the washboard surface, potholes and clouds of grit that occasionally whirled off the Giant Yellowknife gold mine with its verdigris puddles and sickly-yellow trickles of who-knew-what. 
    Sometimes I’d ride out past the airport with the shiny silver DC-3 of Northwest Territorial Air that occasionally served as a courtroom for Justice Bill Morrow, and the golf course where a crashed C-47 fuselage had served as the clubhouse until the US Air Force arrived to reclaim it. The  “greens” were oiled sand and mulligans were formalized because ravens would routinely swoop in to steal balls. 
    Almost 1,200 kilometers of gravel road separated me from the next pavement, laid down in northern Alberta to ease the movement of drill pipe to the Keg River oil play. 
    Or I might ride out the Ingraham Trail—named for the same Vic Ingraham who built Victoria’s  iconic hotel of the same name and whose pub was beloved of the baseball, soccer and rugby set for post-game beers. I’d dodge the battered Ford F-150 drivers who’d do bemused double-takes at the spectacle. 
    I’d cycle out past the mine site until the tailings gave way to stunted spruce and granite outcrops, or, feeling lazy, I’d just head for Rat Lake down 52nd Street where I lived in a walk-up and used the otherwise useless balcony as a winter-long freezer for the caribou I shot that fall.
    The snows arrived in October and the days would narrow toward their nadir in December, dwindling to a few hours twilight. I’d hang the old bike on a hook and forget about it until the drifts vanished in early May, when I’d extract it for another summer’s riding.
    When did my propensity for taking these long, slow, contemplative rides start? I remember the first when I was about 12. I took my 10-year-old brother out to consecrate his new bottle-green birthday bike, a Raleigh three-speed, by riding a dusty lakeside track in the Interior.
    As I remember, the ride was punctuated by many stops to swim. He fell off once but didn’t cry, and we had a splendid expedition picnic of peanut butter and Cheese Whiz sandwiches. 
    Our mother, usually more inclined to goats’ milk, had secretly packed us a sinful surprise, a couple KIK Colas which we guzzled surrounded by patches of wildflowers. My brother hit a rock on the way home and bent his front rim, which did not thrill my father.
     
    I BEGIN WITH THESE CYCLING ANECDOTES to get something out of the way from the get-go. I am a cycling enthusiast. I have been for a long, long time. I don’t obsess about it. I’m not much for the fancy spandex duds, accessories and competitive spirit. But I’m all for getting on a bike and going somewhere, or nowhere for that matter.
     So this is a caution, not a criticism of the Capital Regional District’s master plan to build out infrastructure—with the ambition of increasing cycling from the current 3.2 percent base in Greater Victoria to 25 percent—as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and get us all involved in a healthier physical lifestyle.
     Just be careful what you wish for. 
    The old yellow CCM has long departed. So has its successor, another CCM that I rode until it literally fell apart. But I still have a 60’s vintage Bill Clements road bike, although the drop handlebars have been jettisoned for something kinder to my shoulders, and its sleek lines are marred by a grocery basket, and—back to the future!—I also have a Raleigh 18-speed that my wife thoughtfully rigged with saddlebags for my 16-kilometre sorties to the grocery store and back.
    So, really, I’m all for more investment in bike lanes that separate cyclists from motor vehicles; for prioritizing cyclists over motor vehicles where that’s practical and so on. 
    What I’m not in favour of is the canonization of cycling as a virtue-signalling entitlement that demonizes drivers for their ecological insensitivity and unintentionally marginalizes pedestrians as inconvenient dodderers who selfishly occupy spaces better reserved for somebody silently hurtling past them from behind at an intimidating 32 kilometres an hour.
     

    The Lochside Trail is shared by recreational walkers, runners, commuter and recreational cyclists using pedal and e-bikes (photo by Stephen Hume)
     
    Which is certainly how I felt while out for a walk the other day on a “shared” path when the rider of an electric bike with tires like a motorcycle gave me the finger as he flashed past close enough for me to feel the breeze. His curse drifted back: “Move over, you old @#$%&@! Stick to your walker!” 
    I have a thick skin. After more than half-a-century of reporting I’ve been called just about everything you can imagine and quite a few things I’m sure you can’t. Some surly young immortal yelling insults over his unhelmeted shoulder is the least of my worries. 
    That moment of road rage, if you can call it that, got me thinking, though. 
    If it was an isolated incident, I’d dismiss it as the rudeness of somebody having a bad day. But it actually happens frequently when I’m out afoot sharing the “shared” space. And when I ask friends and acquaintances, they concur with my perception: going for a walk is beginning  to feel less safe as power-assisted cyclists arrive in greater numbers travelling at greater speeds.
     
    THIS TURNS OUT TO BE TRUE almost everywhere. Studies in Israel, Australia, Norway, China, the United Kingdom, in Vancouver, Toronto, New York and Adelaide all confirm growing levels of apprehension among pedestrians who are seniors and those with hearing, mobility and visual disabilities. Participation surveys suggest that in many urban landscapes these categories of pedestrians feel they are gradually being pushed out of public spaces where they can walk safely. 
    One significant factor seems to be inexperienced cyclists who discover they can suddenly perform like triathlon stars simply because they have the money to buy a power-assisted electric bike—which they can then take into mixed-use spaces with no training, little regulation and virtually no accountability. 
    Their power-assisted bikes, which are almost silent, frequently travel narrow paths shared with pedestrians at the speed limit for cars on urban streets. Marketing ads tend to show elderly folk leisurely cruising along, the power used only for the occasional hill. They don’t show the reality of bike cowboys zipping past startled pedestrians. Yet research determines that the average e-bike user travels at about 25 kilometres per hour, a clip that wouldn’t be sustainable for any but the fittest recreational pedal cyclist. And these powered vehicle aren’t registered and they don’t have to carry liability insurance.
    Because of the usage protocols on shared-use paths, they approach pedestrians—who may not be able to hear them coming—from behind at the speed of rush hour road traffic in Metro Vancouver.
     

    Cyclists and pedestrians on the E&N Trail (CRD photo)
     
    These realities tend to be submerged in the bland, corporate mission-statement rhetoric that suffuses planning documents like the strategic masterplan. But this issue is not going away and it’s going to get worse as more commuters are attracted to electric bikes and the convenience of shared-use routes. We need some clear, dispassionate, tough-minded thinking about the trade-offs. How should we deal collectively with the rapidly expanding phenomenon of power-assisted bicycles and the nature and structure of infrastructure required to accommodate them? 
    For that to take place we need a lot more objective data, not just surveys by city planners and proposals from various lobby groups. Frankly, there’s not much relevant data out there.
    I thought over the nature of the offence in my own most recent incident. 
    I’d moved over a step to my left to make my way around a patch of ankle-deep mud. I wasn’t about to take the inside route around the mud hole. The bank was steep. It had soft edges. I’m pretty fit for my age, but I’m also a realist and I don’t tempt fate with unnecessary challenges to my much decreased agility, less certain balance and loss of strength.
    The cyclist, when I’d glanced over my shoulder, seemed distant. He approached at a much faster speed than I’d judged. Not surprising really, he was coming toward me at the speed of a world champion sprinter. As he closed from behind, I heard not a sound.
    Another disclosure. As is the case for about half those my age or older—I’m 75—I suffer significant hearing loss, particularly in the higher frequencies. So, again, not surprising that I didn’t hear him coming.
    Regulations say cyclists are required to signal intention to pass. Perhaps he did. I didn’t hear it. But then, regulations say the law requires cyclists to wear helmets and that law isn’t universally respected or enforced either. Some of the safety conventions that we’re all sanctimoniously urged to adopt are clearly deemed optional by a lot of us.
    I’ve been reading with great interest the vigorous conversation in various arenas about how we use this shared pedestrian-cycling infrastructure in the Capital Region.
     
     

    Lochside Trail in November (photo by Stephen Hume)
     
     Would it be better if pedestrians walked on the left while cyclists rode on the right so that walkers could see on-coming traffic?
     Well, there’s a certain logic to that since the Motor Vehicles Act—once again seldom enforced—compels walkers on roads without sidewalks to walk on the lefthand side so they can face and therefore see on-coming traffic they might not hear. 
    Others counter that it would be a recipe for chaos in shared pedestrian-cycling spaces. That’s a reasonable argument, too. Chaos on shared-use footpaths in the United Kingdom is the source of lively if tiresome debate there with cyclists blaming pedestrians and pedestrians asserting their ancient right-of-way, complaints about scofflaws who don’t leash their dogs and about parents who don’t control their toddlers and from parents regarding the stupidity of cyclists who don’t slow down when there are small children ahead and so on. 
    In other jurisdictions, there’s now a move to once again disentangle vulnerable pedestrian traffic from the hazard of faster cyclists just as shared space was itself first devised as way to separate vulnerable cyclists from faster motor vehicles.
     
    AMPLIFYING THE CONUNDRUM is the advent of the electric bike. It’s marketed as a green solution for commuters. It entices the less-fit who find recreational biking daunting. The public has embraced the technology. There are now 250 million electric bikes in China. Globally, electric bike use grows by about 130 million a year.
    Unfortunately, what little data there is indicates that the rise of the electric bike is not without its downsides. It has increased hazards for pedestrians—particularly for seniors and children—and for cyclists, too. Politicians seem uncertain about how and what to regulate, and what they do regulate they don’t seem inclined to enforce. Enthusiasts frequently dismiss concerns as  the fretting of entitled geriatrics.
    Yet one recent Australian study found that a shocking eight percent of pedestrians using shared bicycle paths had been knocked down. One-third of walkers said they’d been frightened by a cyclist passing too closely at a high rate of speed. It proved worse than the pedestrians reported. Researchers evaluating the data subsequently concluded that for every cyclist colliding with a pedestrian on shared-use paths there were actually 50 near-misses.
    When researchers concentrated on seniors who walked, they found high levels of anxiety. Perhaps this is because the burden of serious injuries in collisions involving cyclists and pedestrians is born mostly by pedestrians, especially those over 60 who are more fragile. In collisions, cyclists were most likely to suffer soft tissue injuries. Seniors suffered severe head injuries and broken bones ranging from skull to pelvic fractures incurred as they struck the ground.
    Even though the actual risk of physical injury from a collision between a fast-moving bike and a pedestrian remains relatively low compared to other risks, the fear-factor is already having a significant impact on seniors’ behaviour in shared-use public spaces.
    Another Australian study found that pedestrians have become much more likely to take pre-emptive avoidance action on paths they must share with high volumes of bike traffic. Although pedestrians nominally have the right of way and supposedly take priority on shared-use paths, more than 70 percent now feel they are required to keep close to the edge of the path and to walk single file. This precludes the social aspect of an elderly couple going for an afternoon walk. Almost 20 percent said they felt compelled to step off the path every time a cyclist approached. 
    Pedestrians over 70 were more likely than other groups just to try to avoid cyclists entirely “suggesting this group perceived a higher level of danger.”
    So here comes another unintended consequence of the increased blending of pedestrian and cycling traffic (complicated by the added threat of electrically powered vehicles) on shared paths. Pedestrians now express the same concerns about cyclists that cyclists directed at drivers—inattention, hostility, dismissal of their concerns as entitled whingeing. And cyclists “obstructed” by pedestrians sound remarkably similar to aggrieved drivers complaining about the inconvenience of cyclists. The problem, it appears, is simply being moved from one venue to another. 
    For seniors over 75, many of whom have agility and mobility issues due to everything from arthritic conditions to calcium-deficiencies and brittle bones, walking comprises 77 percent of their total physical activity, one group of researchers found. Geriatric medicine has long advocated that the elderly remain active and mobile as long as possible as a way of forestalling an inevitable loss of physical function and the high public cost disabilities associated with ageing.
    Denying these seniors access to walking because they are deemed an inconvenience to cyclists and because they feel menaced by increasingly fast electric bike traffic they have difficulty hearing seems likely to be counterproductive in terms of broader public health objectives. 
    Numerous studies show that walking on public footpaths increases steadily with age. The older people get, the more they take up walking as a safe, inexpensive recreational exercise with tangible health benefits. But the studies also show that this trend peaks at about age 60. Then it collapses by about one-third—just at the point where this segment of the population begins to express growing apprehension of danger from the the speed and silence of newly emerging electric bike traffic.
    “You don’t hear them,” one pedestrian complained of electric bikes to a New York newspaper earlier this year. “They have the momentum of a motorcycle…They go faster than the fastest cyclist…They go faster than some cars.”
    A peer-reviewed study by social scientists in Israel made the same point: “E-bikes and motorized scooters are virtually imperceptible by ear” which makes them dangerous to pedestrians, particularly seniors and young children.
    The Israeli scholars noted the dearth of statistical data on the electric bike phenomenon but said their findings led them to conclude that “e-bikes along with motorized scooters have become a significant national health, economic and social burden.”
    Israel recorded a sixfold increase in the number of injured patients due to electric bike and scooter incidents between 2013 and 2015. China saw electric bike-related injuries jump fourfold between 2004 and 2010. 
    “Some argue that walkers who don’t like sharing paths with cyclists can simply walk on footpaths instead,” observed one major Australian policy analysis. “Aside from the fact this overlooks the absence of footpaths in some areas, seniors, children and those with limited mobility should not be deterred from walking or using open space and recreation areas by inadequate or inappropriate infrastructure. 
    “Walking is by far and away the most significant form of exercise for seniors…Curtailing recreational walking would have significant negative implications for public health.”
    In Greater Victoria, census data shows there are about 100,000 people over 65. That age segment will grow. The median age by 2036 is expected to increase to 51 years of age.
    So this conundrum for planners is not going away soon—but there is a chance to get out in front of the issue.  
    Statistics Canada calculates that about 20.3 million Canadians walk recreationally compared to 6.2 million who cycle for fun and only 900,000 who use bicycles to commute to work or school. Where should the priority be?
    Appropriating safe space from walkers to accommodate cyclists’ needs for safer space while adding a clearly more risky element to the cycling mix doesn’t appear to solve the problem, it just shuffles it down the line.
    Once again, I’m a cyclist. I like to ride my bike, especially away from traffic. But perhaps this move to integrate pedestrians with fast, silent electric bikes deserves a cautious re-think.
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. 
     
     
     
     

    Mike Larsen FIPA
    An open letter to the BC government protests amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
     
    To Premier Horgan and Minister Beare:
    We, the undersigned, believe transparency matters and, because of this, we write to you to express our grave concerns about the Bill 22 amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).
    Bill 22 would see substantive changes made to FIPPA for the first time in over a decade. Unfortunately, if passed, this Bill will undermine access to information and make public bodies less transparent. It is a step backwards for openness and accountability, and a missed opportunity to protect the privacy and improve the information rights of British Columbians.
    This legislation would extend the ability of current and future governments to keep people in the dark about vital matters of public interest. Its introduction at this time short-circuits the work of the special legislative committee responsible for reviewing FIPPA, preventing meaningful public consultation. If passed, it would immediately put up more barriers for people seeking access to information.
    You have made prior commitments regarding the value you place on transparency and about the need to improve government accountability, but this legislation would make it harder for everyone – concerned citizens, experienced researchers, and you – to get facts rather than spin.
    We recognize this majority government can readily pass this regressive Bill quickly. If that happens, it will impact the citizens of British Columbia now, haunt us into the future, and set a dangerous precedent across Canada.
    Our message is simple: Transparency matters to all of us. Stop Bill 22.
    We call on the government to:
    Withdraw this Bill Recognize the role of the all-party special committee and allow it to complete its work, including an open consultation process Commit, on record, to introduce comprehensive amendments to FIPPA that reflect the recommendations of past and current special committees As interested individuals and members of organizations, we call on you to demonstrate your commitment to democratic values by taking action to improve–not reduce–the transparency of public bodies.
    Mike Larsen President
    Jason Woywada Executive Director
    BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association—with support from our partners:
    The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA)
    The British Columbia General Employees’ Union (BCGEU)
    The Canadian Association of Journalists
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives BC Office (CCPA-BC)
    Canadian Institute for Information and Privacy Studies (CIIPS)
    Centre for Access to Information and Justice (CAIJ)
    The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD)
    Democracy Watch
    Fairley Strategies
    Forest Protection Allies FORPA
    Independent Contractors and Businesses Association
    Lawyers Rights Watch Canada
    Open Media
    Privacy & Access Council of Canada (PACC – CCAP)
    Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
    Student Press Freedom Act Campaign (SPFA Campaign)
    The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC)
    West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (West Coast LEAF)
    The Wilderness Committee
    An online version of this letter is here and is continuing to gain support. Email transparencymatters@fipa.bc.ca to add your name. Here are some who have signed recently:
    Jason Austin
    John Brady
    Lynn Copeland
    FOCUS Magazine
    Carla Graebner, Librarian for Research Data Services and Government Information, W.A.C. Bennett Library, Simon Fraser University
    Sean Holman, Wayne Crookes Professor in Environmental and Climate Journalism, University of Victoria
    Patrick Jardine
    Victoria Lemieux, Associate Professor, Archival Science, School of Information, Co-Lead, Blockchain@UBC research cluster, Distinguished Scholar, Sauder School of Business, Faculty Associate, Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems, The University of British Columbia
    Lisa P. Nathan, Associate Professor, School of Information, University of British Columbia
    Marcus Ooms
    Dawe Pope
    Ken Rubin, Investigative researcher and transparency advocate
    Dan Schubart
    Chad Skelton, Chair, Department of Journalism and Communication Studies, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
    Stanley Tromp, FOI journalist, researcher
    Maureen Webb, FOI Author
    Sierra Club BC
    Simon Fraser Student Society
    Robert Wotton
     

    Anjali Appadurai
    Sierra Club BC Climate Justice Campaigner Anjali Appadurai responds to today’s updated CleanBC plan announcement, Roadmap to 2030.
     
    SIERRA CLUB BC WELCOMES today’s Roadmap to 2030 announcement, but we maintain that the agreement does not provide the level of ambition and detail needed to ensure that BC’s 2030 targets are met or exceeded.
    While the Roadmap outlines strong steps to tackle emissions from transportation and buildings, key issues that remain unaddressed include fossil fuel subsidies, uncounted forest emissions, and fracked LNG.
    We are disappointed that today’s announcement offered no clarity on when the province will end fossil fuel subsidies and financial incentives, which would ensure that those industries that profit from fossil fuel pollution pay their fair share of the resulting climate damage.
    Additionally, uncounted forest emissions are much higher than officially reported emissions, yet they remain largely ignored. We note the significant omission from the Roadmap to 2030 of a clear path to reduce the staggering emissions caused by clearcut logging.
    For example, the Roadmap calls for an end to slash burning, but not until 2030. Allowing this practice to continue another nine years is a clear indicator that this government is not grasping how little time is left to avoid climate breakdown.
    There was also no information provided on how the province will ensure emissions increase from building LNG terminals and expanding fracking will be kept below a certain level. The provincial government claims they will not allow emissions from the sector to impact the ability to meet its targets but there is no cap for LNG production or other binding mechanisms.
    This means that some of the good steps the province is taking to reduce emissions in other sectors are at risk of being neutralized by emissions from fossil fuel extraction, production and export to other countries where they will cause even more emissions when burned and compete with renewable energy solutions.
    Of significant concern to us is that the Roadmap focuses mainly on 2030 targets, nine years away, and does not include binding targets and pathways to set or achieve milestones in the intervening years. B.C.’s emissions have increased every year from 2015 to 2019; this calls for immediate action to curb emissions in the short, medium and long term.
    Overall, we welcome the current effort but continue to push for a CleanBC plan that treats the climate crisis like an emergency, similar to the public health emergency that was the COVID-19 pandemic.
    A roadmap to 2030 with most policy milestones in 2030 and beyond would have been appropriate 10 or 20 years ago, but in the present day, it does not reflect the state of emergency that B.C. should recognize when it comes to climate change. BC is already experiencing climate-induced wildfires, smoke-filled skies, heat waves, extreme weather events and sea-level rise. These and other impacts will get worse as climate change progresses.
    Anjali Appadurai is a climate justice advocate, communicator and consultant. She works to strengthen climate change messaging and discourse in Canada by centring the stories of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis. She brings a strong justice lens to climate change messaging and connects climate issues to socioeconomic and political realities. Anjali works with the Sierra Club BC team to support our role as a strong contributor to the Canadian and global climate justice movement.

    Kukpi7 Judy Wilson
    Indigenous organizations take BC government to task for inaction on climate crisis.
     
    Dear Premier Horgan and Minister Heyman:
    The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC), comprised of the political executives of the BC Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN), First Nations Summit (FNS), and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), writes to express our deep concern with the direction that the Province is heading with respect to our climate commitments, and the need for urgent action that reflects the climate emergency.
    In recent weeks, we have heard loud and clear in a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which the UN’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called a “code red for humanity.” What was made clear by the IPCC was that governments don’t have the time or luxury to continue delaying the fundamental shifts in how our communities and societies live and relate in order to avoid deepening the climate disaster. The IPCC said that today’s choices will have long-lasting consequences.
    Closer to home, we experienced another devastating fire season, one that was coupled with the worst heat wave our Province has ever experienced. Many lives were lost and whole communities razed. And this is just a taste of what is to be more frequent and intense. We have been warned that what we are seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg—if we don’t act with urgency, we simply may not survive.
    One of many things we have in common is a commitment to our children and grandchildren. They do not deserve to be inheriting the world that we are creating. We must do better for them.
    This leads us to where BC stands on climate change. We know that the CleanBC plan falls short of BC’s targets and based on what we know about the forthcoming provincial Roadmap to 2030, BC will still fail to raise the bar enough to meet the IPCC’s warning and call for action. Anyone suggesting that these plans are “good enough” will haunt our Province’s legacy in the future.
    Instead, we ask for your commitment to overhaul CleanBC in ways that substantively enhance our climate response and shift our economy and society to a liveable future. These need to include:
    Updating BC’s GHG emissions targets to be aligned with the IPCC and to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C. Halting incentives, resources and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and accepting that a phasing out of this industry needs to happen in the near-term, accompanied by an immediate and long-term investment to transition the people and communities that currently rely on this part of our economy. Addressing the failure to reflect Indigenous Rights, Title and Treaty Rights in the CleanBC plan and policy development, and ensuring that all climate laws, policies and initiatives going forward reflect the Declaration Act, and make space for First Nations as true partners with inherent jurisdiction. With respect, we believe this is more than simply holding engagement sessions and then dismissing our input. Acknowledging that climate change is connected to the damage that has been done to our communities and territories, such as the severe threats to biodiversity and subsequently, our food security. Understood this way, a revamped CleanBC is an opportunity to address the biodiversity crisis, to support conservation and Indigenous stewardship, all which support both reducing GHG emissions and our ability to adapt to the effects of human-caused climate change. Advancing the development of local renewable energy as a focal point for BC’s transition to net-zero emissions. Many First Nations in BC are prepared to lead this process. An updated CleanBC plan must strongly support First Nations capability to participate in the production, generation and transmission of clean energy. Creating Indigenous Utilities is connected to this approach. In 2019, BC and the FNLC committed to engage on climate change through the BC-FNLC Technical Working Group on Climate Change (TWG) to engage in dialogue, exchange information and develop recommendations on climate change laws and regulations undertaken by the Province and First Nations. To be clear, the purpose of the TWG is to engage in constructive staff-level dialogue, not to rubber stamp the Province’s work.
    During the last two years the FNLC technical staff has been providing input to many government initiatives. Despite the value of the TWG, there are major limitations that constrain the TWG’s work, primarily the failure by BC to meaningfully reflect our input or First Nations’ feedback on the need for systemic changes, such as the ones mentioned above. The overhaul of the CleanBC should enhance the mandate for the TWG that includes addressing the substantive and cross-sectoral aspects of climate change.
    Furthermore, we know we are not alone with the concern that the CleanBC plan is insufficient to respond to the global urgency of limiting global warming to 1.5oC. More than two hundred diverse organizations, including the FNLC member organizations, have issued an Open Letter calling on your government to implement 10 bold actions to confront the severity of the climate emergency. We reiterate our support for these actions here.
    Our respective organizations and member First Nations have a lot to share. We lived carbon neutral for millennia. Our peoples and communities retain important Indigenous Knowledge and ways of relating as humans and communities that are urgently needed at this time in order to survive as a species and adapt to the climate crisis.
    We ask for your commitment to listen to this deep well of knowledge, to do what is needed and to act now. We are ready to do our part.
    Sincerely,
    FIRST NATIONS LEADERSHIP COUNCIL
    On behalf of the FIRST NATIONS SUMMIT: Cheryl Casimer , Robert Phillips, Lydia Hwitsum
    On behalf of the UNION OF BC INDIAN CHIEFS: Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Chief Don Tom, Kukpi7 Judy Wilson
    On behalf of the BC ASSEMBLY OF FIRST NATIONS: Regional Chief Terry Teegee

    Pam Harrison
    I AM PROFOUNDLY DISCOURAGED AND ANGRY. Yet another deer was killed in front of our rural property on October 3rd. I do not think the person in a small white sedan who hit the deer with full-on impact, who did not stop, or slow down, has any idea of the damage caused. The damage starts first with the pain and suffering of the animal. I saw it start to cross, hoped it would make it, and then heard and saw the impact.
    The rest of the damage is for the people who are left to deal with the situation. This included me and the two kind passers-by who stopped and provided traffic control as the deer with broken legs and other injuries kept trying to get up the steep slope, could not, and kept falling back into the road. 
    We phoned all the correct numbers, waiting on hold each time. Then we waited nearly an hour, slowing traffic. Covering its head with a blanket calmed it and kept it still, but unfortunately Conservation, one of our calls, said not to do that. However, leaving it uncovered resulted in the animal moving uncontrollably, which was even less humane and risked more traffic problems. So I re-covered its head. I did not feel at risk, given its small size and the seriousness of the injuries.
    Saanich Animal Control attended towards the end of the hour. The deer was shot but not before it scrambled around again. The Animal Control officer followed prescribed protocol, but this added to the elapsed time. He was kind and calm.
    Although wildlife collisions are sometimes unavoidable, I know many could be avoided by slowing down and attentively scanning the sides of the roads. This collision could be in that category. Deer signs are put up for a reason. 
    If you do hit an animal, have the compassion to stay and assist. Don’t leave it to others. Maybe dealing with it would convince you of the need to slow down. This is one of five recent incidents nearby, three at this location. At least four of the drivers did not stop.
    Two further facts are concerning. First, it was challenging for the two citizens to actually get people to really slow down. One was sworn at and given the finger. 
    Secondly, the previous day we had observed the Tour de Victoria on this beautiful road. Although a number of drivers were considerate of the many riders as they laboured north up a narrow road between a blind hill and a blind corner, many behaved thoughtlessly, if not dangerously. We saw many who drove north fully in the oncoming traffic lane around the blind corner instead of waiting. And many who crested the hill from the south in the oncoming lane. And many times these same cars had to slow down to avoid oncomings, then move back into their lane, squeezing riders.
    Was there an accident or injury? No. Did riders thank us for trying to slow the traffic down? Yes. Did a significant number of drivers behave impatiently, indicating that they really do not understand what it is like for cyclists to be passed with speed and noise? Absolutely. This was a sanctioned, publicized event, but we see this frequently.
    Has Saanich done enough to address rural traffic concerns, major causes of which are speeds and aggressive driving? No. Solutions do exist, when are they going to be adopted? These are neighbourhoods: residents, wildlife and all users are affected. 
    Pam Harrison lives in rural Saanich.

    John Threlfall
    Journalist Sean Holman, through a new professorship at University of Victoria, will examine the media’s role in the climate crisis.
     
    WILDFIRES, DROUGHTS, FLOODS, EXTREME STORMS: we are living in a time when climate change should be the biggest story of our time. Yet, as the recent federal election proved, all too often it doesn’t even make the headlines. As the new Wayne Crookes Professor in Environmental and Climate Journalism with the University of Victoria’s Department of Writing, Sean Holman hopes to bring a more human dimension to the climate crisis—what he sees as part of the solution.
    An award-winning journalist whose five-year appointment began September 1, Holman brings his research expertise in the areas including freedom of information and climate journalism. He will also co-lead the first-ever survey of journalists and scientists regarding climate change media coverage, as well as launch a “climate disaster survivor” memory vault with at least nine other Canadian journalism programs. Formerly a public affairs and legislative journalist, Holman comes to UVic from Calgary’s Mount Royal University.
     

    Wayne Crookes Professor in Environmental and Climate Journalism Sean Holman (photo by John Threlfall, UVic)
     
    Q.  What is the media doing wrong—and right—when it comes to reporting the climate crisis?
    A. The news media has extensively reported on the environmental, economic and political dimensions of climate change. But journalists have struggled to humanize that phenomenon—something Greta Thunberg pointed out in a recent interview with the New York Times. She said the news media hasn’t been telling the stories of “people whose lives are being lost and whose livelihoods are being taken away” by climate change. As a result, global warming can often seem like it's a remote phenomenon that’s happening elsewhere or in the future, rather than something close at hand and already harming people and families around the world. That dampens the urgency to act on climate change. And it means those who have been harmed can feel alone in their experiences, rather than being supported as part of a shared community of climate disaster survivors—a community we are all part of.
    Q. How do you propose to help solve that problem as the Crookes Professor?
    A. I’m working with a consortium of journalism programs and talented colleagues at post-secondary institutions across the country to create the climate disaster project. This project will amplify the stories of those who have experienced such disasters. With their permission, those stories will be shared with news media partners, as well as preserved in a climate disaster memory vault, similar to the Holocaust testimonies collected by the Shoah Foundation. In doing so, we hope to better understand the commonalities in those experiences, launching investigative journalism projects that can surface these shared problems, and solutions to them.  
    Q. Why wasn’t the climate crisis a bigger issue in the federal election?
    A. I think a large portion of the blame for that rests on the problems my colleagues and I are hoping to help solve: the need to humanize the costs of climate change, the need to create a community around the shared experience of climate change, and the need for journalists and scientists to work together to improve coverage of that phenomenon. In this new age of disaster, climate change should be the biggest story of our time. It should be the biggest political issue of our time, and what to do about it should be the top ballot-box question. Because if we don’t do this right, everything that we have built together as a society and everything we could build together will be put at risk.
    Q. Are there any other ways climate change coverage can be improved?
    A. I think there are. And this is also a question I think scientists and other journalists should be talking to one another about too. Both professions have a lot in common: we are part of a shared community that contributes to evidence-based decision-making by the public and policymakers—but its members need to be speaking with one another about climate change communication more than we are right now. So my colleagues and I will be starting more of those conversations by surveying journalists and climate scientists and asking them what they think about environmental coverage and how it can be improved. And the first phase of that survey project is scheduled to launch in advance of the international climate talks (COP26) in November in Glasgow.
    Q. How will your background as a freedom of information researcher factor into researching and teaching environmental and climate teaching journalism?
    A. As a freedom of information researcher, I’ve focused on trying to understand why we have historically valued information in democracies. And one of the conclusions I’ve reached is that we do so for two reasons: control and certainty. With information, we can better understand the past and present, as well as anticipate the future. And we can then use that understanding to make wiser decisions in our personal and political lives, and in doing so, exert some measure of control over the world around us. 
    But, in the current post-truth era, that process has broken down. People have sought other kinds of control and certainty in the form of denialism, authoritarianism and conspiracy theories. As a result, many governments have failed to effectively respond to the pandemic, just as they have failed to effectively respond to climate change. In other words, climate change isn’t just the result of greenhouse gases, in the same way the pandemic isn’t just the result of a virus—it’s the result of a failure to use information in the way we would expect to in a democracy. So, if we want to address the climate crisis, we need to figure out how to reinforce the value of information while finding other means of affecting change.
    The Crookes Professorship in Environmental and Climate Journalism was created in January 2021 through a gift of $1.875 million to the University of Victoria by Vancouver business leader and political activist Wayne Crookes. The above Q&A was conducted by John Threlfall of the Fine Arts Communications department at University of Victoria.

    Esther Callo
    By Esther Callo and Dorothy Field
    WE ARE ANTICIPATING the announcement of the public hearing on the Caledonia housing proposal on the site of Victoria High School. With Victoria’s ever-increasing housing crunch, supporting this proposal may seem the obvious choice, but the issue is more complex than that. Our community is also facing a financial crisis in our public education system, but few are aware of the severity of the problem. The Vic High land-use conflict shows just how deep and wide the problem has grown. 
    Vic High is the oldest high school west of Winnipeg and north of San Francisco. In 2018, residents were faced with the choice of tearing down their 1914 school building in order to create a brand new campus (as Oak Bay High did), or doing a seismic upgrade to maintain the heritage facade and the most important heritage interior details. The community clearly favoured the seismic upgrade. 
    The Province provided $77.1 million in funding (including funding for an upgrade to SJ Willis), an exact match with the financial report prepared by consultants. The District has claimed that they are required to make an additional $2.6 million contribution due to the cost of preserving Vic High’s heritage. But to date, they have not substantiated the need for the additional funding, and documents (available at https://www.vichighsaee.ca/) do not support their claim. 
    To address this $2.6M, a relatively modest amount, the District has negotiated a 60-year lease of Vic High land for only $3.3 million after expenses. However, the proposed 158-unit housing complex causes a land-use conflict with Vic High’s long-held plans for a revitalized and expanded track and stadium. During consultations for Vic High’s future, we weren’t told that Vic High’s seismic upgrade could have such consequences. 
    If built, the Caledonia housing proposal will take up more than 2 acres of Vic High’s grounds.
     

    Architectural illustration of one corner of the Caledonia
     
    The District, the City of Victoria, and the Capital Regional Housing Corporation (CRHC) negotiated a land swap to accommodate the large housing development with no real public consultation. At the first public information session hosted by the CRHC, many neighbours were troubled by the size of the proposal. When we asked about lowered heights or less density, we were told: “That’s the math.” That was our neighbourhood consultation. 
    Another consultation hosted by the District failed to disclose the land-use conflict with Vic High’s stadium plans. And the public was never given options about funding the $2.6M other than a lease of Vic High land. 
    Fernwood has long been known as a progressive neighbourhood, one that welcomes organizations that serve low-income people and those with substance use issues and other challenges. The idea of affordable housing fits into Fernwood’s ethic. But publicly funded education is also a part of our community’s ethic. The community has been split in a hurtful and unnecessary conflict between housing and education. What’s behind it?
     
    School District 61’s financial crisis
    As they say, follow the money. This spring, School District 61's Secretary-Treasurer Kim Morris gave a public presentation regarding Lansdowne Middle School land disposal (7 acres for $15 million). In it she revealed the District has $278M in deferred maintenance costs; this dwarves the recently announced $7 million in operating deficits. 
    Morris stated that the District receives only $4M annually from the Ministry to maintain facilities, noting, “[I]f we were to apply the $4M to the $278M deferred maintenance, it would take 70 years to ever pay for those and the compounding age and decline of the condition of the buildings occurs during that.” 
    In response to this colossal problem, the District has developed the School Rejuvenation Strategy that proposes to lease public school land for revenue. 
    But much like the annual injection of $4M, the strategy does little to offset the District’s $278M financial crisis. 
    And for Vic High, the land lease proposal quashes important, pre-existing infrastructure plans for Vic High’s 1,000 students. 
     
    How the financial crisis exacerbates inequity in School District 61
    Vic High is often referred to as our “inner city school.” Its catchment includes James Bay, Fairfield, Rockland, Fernwood, Downtown, North Park, Hillside and Burnside neighbourhoods. It has a high percentage of First Nations, People of Colour, and new immigrants, many from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Approximately 75 percent of students at George Jay Elementary, one of Vic High’s feeder schools, are at risk and systemically marginalized, according to the George Jay PAC. 
    It’s no secret that marginalized communities face barriers to self-advocacy. This disadvantage makes Vic High especially vulnerable to the District’s strategy to lease land to offset deficits. Oak Bay High was not required to make such a sacrifice during its seismic upgrade, even though the school received District funding. 
    Vic High’s facilities have long been neglected. For decades, an upgrade of Vic High’s Memorial Stadium, completed in 1951 in honour of staff and students who died in World War II, has been in the works. Vic High’s yard track was to be upgraded to an 8-lane metric track so students could once again experience the benefits of track and field amenities at Vic High and take pride in their school’s athletic potential.
     

    The red area approximates the area of land the housing project would need for a fire lane, but that a metric-size track would need as well.
     
    Teachers know that sports participation builds body, mind, and spirit. They know that sports are often a boon for students who struggle academically. They know that physical success can raise students’ self-esteem and fuel better academic outcomes. Sports can lead to career opportunities and a lifetime sense of well-being. Without a full field and metric track, Vic High kids are at a disadvantage compared to kids at better endowed schools, schools that have sports academies, that host other schools for sports competitions, and draw students from other catchments. The construction of the Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project is needed to keep students physically and mentally fit and to support the development of pro-social skills.  
    Clearly, this is an equity issue. In a time when we are increasingly aware of how easy it is for less privileged kids, BIPOC and Indigenous kids, to be left behind, we must not allow Vic High’s inner-city students to be short-changed. 
     
    How did Vic High’s plans for a revitalized Memorial Stadium go awry? 
    The Vic High Alumni Association, starting a decade ago, spearheaded the campaign for a revitalized Memorial Stadium at the request of the District and City. The School Board gave unanimous support in 2012. In 2014, the City committed to matching up to $250,000 for the plans that included the metric track; and the public and Vic High alumni donated over $150,000. That’s a considerable amount of support, both in principle and in cash. 
    Unfortunately, while the Alumni continued its fund-raising activities, the School District, City, and CRHC were cutting land deals for the Caledonia housing proposal that undermined the original plans for Vic High’s upgraded stadium. This was months before the public was even consulted about Vic High’s seismic upgrade. (The timing suggests that the proposed lease was not motivated by the public’s choice to save Vic High’s heritage.)
    During the seismic upgrade consultations in 2018, respondents chose school amenities, including athletics, as the “item they valued most,” above heritage protection. (See page 123 of this document)
    In the 2019 announcement about Vic High’s seismic funding, former Minister of Education Rob Fleming committed to a renewal of Vic High’s sports infrastructure. And in Vic High’s 2020 Amenities Survey, teachers chose a new track and field as the school’s #1 priority.
    Yet the Alumni Association was led to believe by the District that beyond the $500,000 they had raised (which was their Phase 1 green-light objective), no other funding would be available. And after Vic High’s Amenities Survey in 2020 (that confirmed widespread support for the upgraded track and stadium), the public was told that the track and turf field were no longer viable due to funding issues.
    But funding had been committed for such projects. In 2017, the BC NDP committed $30 million to fund sports and arts facilities. North Delta Secondary just opened its own 8-lane metric track with the help of the program. 
    Funding is not the issue for Vic High’s revitalized Memorial Stadium plans. A land-use conflict with the housing proposal is the root of the problem.
    In the end, only $700,000 was made available for a reduced turf field and 2-lane walking track.
     
    Fernwood area discriminated against around green space
    In 2017, the City of Victoria put forward its 25-year Parks and Open Spaces Master Plan. In comparison with other neighbourhoods, its maps show Fernwood with a few tiny and scattered green spaces. The largest is Stadacona Park, which isn’t convenient to central Fernwood. Fernwood is 8 out of 13 in terms of total hectares of parkland, 10 out of 13 in terms of hectares per 1000 residents. 
    The plan states that “public schools, which provide some of the same functions as neighbourhood and community parks, are under the greatest threat of change and potential loss of open space...As the urban density and population increase, demand for parks, open spaces and outdoor amenities such as gathering and social spaces also increase.” 
    Fernwood is one of seven neighbourhoods that have less than half of the City-wide recommended municipal parks’ land per capita. 
    The loss of land to the Caledonia project would put Fernwood even lower on the comparative list of neighbourhood open spaces. As well, Vic High’s catchment area has higher population density when compared to other catchments, and the families whose kids attend Vic High are less likely to have access to private green space of their own. 
    This inequity will only get worse if the Caledonia project is built. (A CRHC fact sheet misleadingly states: “The Caledonia development has enabled the City of Victoria to acquire additional parks and green space to be preserved for future generations, including the existing Fernwood Community Allotment Gardens, the Compost Education Centre and the lots adjoining Haegart Park.” But these already exist—the proposed land swap just shifts ownership from one entity to another.)
    It’s also worth noting that new developments around Pandora and Cook will add to already rising school attendance as they are completed, bringing greater stress on both our schools and our green space. 
    The City seems oblivious to its own 25-year plan on protecting parks and open spaces, though it is only four years old. Should Caledonia be built, we will never see the metric track built, never get that land back. No one suggests that Oak Bay or Mt Doug give up their open space for affordable housing. It is, always and ever, the “inner city” schools and neighbourhoods that lose due to competing needs for space and poor planning.
     
    Lack of trust: an independent inquiry needed
    Before we can effectively address housing issues facing Victoria and the financial crisis facing the District, we must first address the moral crisis that has permeated all levels of government involved with Vic High. 
    The District has been recently criticized for systemic racism, resulting in Trustee Jordan Watters’ resignation as Chair. Vic High, a school with a high population of BIPOC and economically disadvantaged students, is vulnerable to this problem, one that spans the BC education system, according to a recent report.
    The public can no longer trust that the District, City, CRHC, or Ministry of Education are at arm’s length regarding the proposed lease of Vic High land. The long-term consequences to the quality of education and well-being of Vic High’s 1,000 students, some of Victoria’s most vulnerable and marginalized citizens, need to be our primary concern. 
    The public hearing regarding the proposed rezoning of Vic High land—expected this fall—must be put on hold until an independent inquiry into the land-use conflict involving High’s stadium revitalization project and the proposed lease of Vic High land can be conducted.
    Our kids are our greatest assets. The 1,000 students of Vic High, current and future, deserve fairness and equitable treatment; they deserve a revitalized Memorial Stadium with a full field and 8-lane metric track—as well as a safe school.
    The citizens' group Vic High Spaces and Ethical Engagement's website has a wealth of documentation: https://www.vichighsaee.ca , much of it obtained through Freedom of Information requests. See an earlier comment on the track issue here. 
    Born and raised in Victoria, Esther Callo is the parent of two Vic High graduates and served on the Vic High Parent Advisory Council for five years. She has a BA (Hons) from UVic and is a passionate advocate of public education. After working for several years as an Educational Assistant in SD61, Esther is currently completing the Secondary BEd post-degree professional program.
    Dorothy Field is an artist working in print-based media and the writer of three volumes of poetry and and three non-fiction books. She's lived in Fernwood for the last 16 years and serves as a director of the Fernwood Community Association..

     
     
     
     

    Anne Hansen
    ON AUGUST 23, there were big province-wide rallies against the RCMP’s brutal and illegal treatment of people sitting in a forest at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island.
    One of the placards read:  Murray Rankin, BC NDP minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation:  Pepper-spraying his way to “Reconciliation”.
    Fairy Creek has been in the news for over a year.  The whole world now knows that the BC government wants to cut down the trees that Emily Carr made famous in her paintings.
    As far as I can see, no premier, cabinet minister or MLA has risen to the occasion to work for a peaceful resolution to the civil rights emergency at Fairy Creek.
    Instead, handcuffs and 700 arrests (at some $1500 apiece) have become forestry policy to substitute for Premier John Horgan’s broken election promises to protect the old-growth.
    For a political party that was founded on the principles of social justice, the silence and inaction of this government is breathtaking.  So I asked myself, who exactly, are these people who comprise the BC NDP government?
    According to the Legislative Assembly website, they include a former head of the BC Sierra Club, a past executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, a volunteer at a Romanian orphanage, a two-time marathon swimmer of the entire 1375 kilometre length of the Fraser River, an election observer who had travelled to El Salvador, a fisheries biologist, an activist against lawn pesticides, a leading advocate for solutions to vessel abandonment, a teacher of human rights courses, a certified organic vineyard operator, an anti-violence organizer, and a dedicated advocate for climate action.
    One of them even went into politics to “disrupt the status quo”.
    Wow, that’s quite a pool of public service, talent, and moving and shaking.  Surely somebody could come up with a civilized solution to the Fairy Creek stalemate.
    But no. 
    What we have is a bunch of impotent barbarians, unrecognizable from their parliamentary bio’s, a fence-sitting cabal of neutered, silent invertebrates, gagged and whipped and absent from public view while half the province is on fire and it’s so hot that towns practically spontaneously combust.
    Rumours suggest that there’s internal trouble afoot with the NDP.  No surprise there.  One can only hope that the present caucus will collapse under the weight of its own greed and indifference to voters.
    Anne Hansen, aka Oystercatcher Girl, is a Victoria artist.

    Stephen Hume
    Even in our perfect Eden we are experiencing drought, ravaging fires, disappearing salmon and a viral plague.
     
    SO, HOW ARE WE LIKING the unwelcome drop-ins by a variant of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse? 
    Let’s see, here in our “perfect Eden”—as the first Europeans to lay eyes on the landscape of Garry oak and wildflower meadows described what they promptly paved over and turned into an endangered ecosystem—we’ve had recent unannounced visits from Pestilence, Drought, Fire, Flood, Heatwaves, Wind Storms, Deep Freezes and that rider on the pale horse we generally don’t like to talk about, Death, who generally canters in to clean up after the others. It’s been a busy time in Eden for Thanatos over the last 18-months what with (by mid-August) at least 1,800 dead from COVID 19 in BC—and that’s an almost certain undercount; 500 more heat deaths; wildfire deaths; flooding deaths and so on. 
     

    Forest fires and smoky air are just a couple of the apocalytic outcomes of global heating (these flames from the Chutanli Lake Fire, July 30, 2018 were fuelled by clearcut slash)
     
    It used to be that the Horsemen show up every couple of generations, sometimes longer. Now they are as persistent as spam robocallers or ill-disguised overseas call centres demanding pre-paid gift cards if we want to avoid prison sentences for tax evasion or unpaid duties on stuff we never ordered.
    War and Famine haven’t yet rung the doorbell but don’t worry, the main takeaway from the UN’s latest depressing memorandum on global warming and what we’re generally not doing about it provides ample evidence that the heavies are almost certainly waiting in the wings for their own grand entries.
    Indeed, the Pentagon now classifies climate change as the source of “catastrophic and likely irreversible global security risks” for what’s generally conceded to be the most powerful military machine assembled in human history. And the Centre for Strategic and International Studies characterizes climate change as a strategic “existential threat” to global food production and distribution. 
    There’s big science behind these big fears of growing global instability, too. One major paper published in the journal Science back in 2013 correlated increases in interpersonal violence and intergroup conflict directly with major changes in rainfall triggered by global warming—whether in prolonged droughts or floods. Too much or too little—dramatic swings from wet to dry and back again have major impacts of food production and distribution.
    In the meantime, here in Eden, we cope with tens of thousands of fire-dislocated environmental refugees, hundreds of vulnerable people dying in urban ovens, a plague disrupting everyday life, and whole economic sectors facing massive job loss because of our environmental mismanagement, of which there is a great deal. It ranges from rapacious harvesting of natural resources (“Trees pay for our hospitals!” “Fish pay for our highways!” “Coal pays for our universities!”); to heedless me-first pollution (“That’s jobs you smell, not pulp mills!” “LNG exports mean jobs, jobs, jobs!”); and the corruption of public policy by private interest groups that empower regulatory capture of the very agencies which supposedly protect us from environmental excess. 
     How long, then, before the Horsemen all decide not merely to visit every few years like that badly-behaving party-animal relative we all dread, and instead just move in permanently? Not long, says the data tabulated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
    As I write, we’re told that the present heatwave, the second scorcher in a month, has put 150 million people at risk across North America as extreme weather generates lethal temperatures that in turn spawn tornado swarms—one mid-western state got 14—and are driving huge wildfires, one of them now the largest in California history.
    Here in BC we’ve had 1,231 wildfires since April 1, 253 were burning last week. So far they’ve blackened an area about twice that of Luxembourg.
    It’s not just here, either. Conflagrations have swept through Greece and Turkey and are laying waste to Siberia. Entire underground subway systems were drowned during floods in China and rainstorms of mind-numbing intensity roared through Germany carrying away whole town centres in flash floods. Oh, yes, Campbell River got a flash flood, too. 
     

    Campbell River's flash flood in August 2021 (photo by Mike Maxwell) 
     
    On top of all this we learn that the Gulf Stream may be about to stop carrying warm water from the tropics to New England, Atlantic Canada and Western Europe. If that happens, Halifax is going to feel like Iqaluit in mid-winter and Trafalgar Square in London may feel more like Red Square in Moscow. 
    The message in last Monday’s IPCC report really does signal an apocalypse that’s coming for all of us.
     

    IPCC's latest report warns of Code Red for Humanity
     
    “It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide,” one of the report’s authors told Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press last week. 
    This July now goes into the books as the hottest in human history. I kind of guessed that when my thermometer hit 39 degrees on my back deck the other day. The rivers are running dry, particularly in regions where logging has denuded hillsides and the stream beds that filled with migrating gravel now look more like paved roads. Severe drought conditions grip southwestern BC from the Okanagan to Vancouver Island. And the south Okanagan has announced a Class 5 drought, which is the worst on the scale, with water rationing and serious risks from irrigation farming—that would be orchards, vineyards, mixed farms, etc. 
    The salmon are disappearing—the total return of steelhead to the once-abundant Chilko River system has just been tabulated, I’m told. The count was 19 steelhead—that was the complete return of the prized game fish to an area larger than 32 of the member nations of the UN. And salmon runs in general, one of the miraculous gifts of nature, are now in collapse almost everywhere from California right around the North Pacific to Japan. 
    Bears, eagles, orcas, seals, sea lions, sea birds are starving and dislocated as they try to adapt to the fish famine even as powerful lobby groups agitate for a restoration of trophy hunting of grizzly bears, and culls of seals and sea lions so that the vast recreational fishing industry can enjoy business as usual.
    Gardeners demand culls of urban deer that have fled to the suburbs in search of safety and browse from the wastelands we’ve made of their wild range.
    The extinction of trout populations is deemed a fair price for the tax revenue generated by open pit coal mining. 
    Wells run dry in the already arid and vastly overpopulated Gulf Islands. Entire lakes that supply water to the even more densely populated Sunshine Coast are drying up. Water rationing is now in place from California to BC. Indeed, one of the dire warnings in the IPCC report is a confirmation of what earlier models forecast. As more energy gets injected into the vast machinery of the atmosphere in the form of heat, swings in the water cycle can only become more extreme, more erratic, more frequent and more intense. The laws of physics compel. You can’t bargain, negotiate or deny them away.
    The new norm that’s emerging is for once-in-a-century events to start happening every 10 years, then every five, then every year. As air heats up, it expands and that creates more space for moisture, which means higher humidity (this is why the tropics are muggy and the Arctic experiences dry cold), which makes heat waves far more unpleasant and also means that when that atmosphere cools there’s the potential to shed rain in Biblical volumes.
    But the corollary to more frequent rainfall extremes in places that already get a lot of rain is extended hot spells and prolonged, more intense drought in the dry season. If this scorching, smokey summer spell of abnormally low water on the South Island seems inconvenient, consider that you may look back on this one with nostalgia as the good old days. As one web wag puts it, think of today’s scorcher as the coolest summer of the rest of your life. The new normal is going to be a lot more brutal than you imagine. 
    This is just the foreplay. 
    Forests surrounding our urban centres on Vancouver Island and which thread through our Shire-like urban sprawl from Coombs to Hornby and from the Discovery Islands to the Outer Gulf Islands are as dry as a tinderbox in the midst of what’s now the second worst drought in recorded history (it would be the worst but for one brief afternoon spray of rain that evaporated as it hit the ground). 
    Those of us on the city margins await a dreaded spark—one Island fire was deemed to have been started by a broken piece of glass that focused the sun’s rays—to set off some conflagration like those that have already consumed small towns like Lytton, Paradise, Monte Lake, Greenville and Fort McMurray.
    Which brings me back to what we’re not doing about it. Well, hats off to the fire fighters, smoke jumpers, rap attack crews and pilots who are trying to limit the damage but a big raspberry to the woman in the white SUV who left me gaping as she cruised down a road in the Saanich Peninsula last week, puffing away on her cigarette, window down, flicking her ash and who knows what embers into the breeze.
    I’ve spent enough hair-raising—perhaps that should be razing—time on fire lines to know how quickly an ember in the dry grass transmogrifies into a 50-metre high wall of flame coming toward you at racehorse speed while whole trees explode in puffs of vaporizing flame. One recent fire whose dynamics were analyzed by comparing satellite images was found to be consuming a hectare every 10 seconds.
    One has to see a fire tornado to fully absorb the power of a forest fire under optimum fire conditions. And, if you actually look at the fuel load of dry grass and underbrush in our urban parks, gardens and untended ditches, patches of scrub, vacant lots and even unwatered back yards, you quickly realize that the urban fire conditions are optimum.
    In a way, perhaps that heedless SUV smoker serves as a fine metaphor herself—for those of us who don’t seem to have quite grasped the magnitude of what the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change signifies for what’s coming if we continue to suck our collective thumbs and wait for somebody else to do something about it.
    That light ahead is growing, the IPCC is clearly warning us, not because we are nearing the end of the climate mitigation tunnel but because the global warming freight train is barrelling toward us so fast. Because it’s a fully loaded freight train and is moving so quickly, it can’t stop. The momentum it has will run right over the spot we now occupy. Our best hope is to try steering it onto a siding where it can slow down as it runs out of fuel.
    That “runs out of fuel” phrase is the important bit. As long as we’re simultaneously playing rabbit frozen in the headlight while furiously stoking the speeding locomotive’s boiler—yeah, I know, it’s a mixed metaphor but bear with me—that train is going to barrel right over us and everybody behind us, too, a whole generation of young people, their children, their children’s children and their children’s children’s children.
    The IPCC report warns us to expect “very large” temperature increases across the temperate regions of North America. We are going to know more frequent and far more intense heatwaves than the one that recently cooked a billion marine creatures in BC’s intertidal zone and brought temperatures sufficient to barbecue a steak to sidewalks in the Interior. The charred ruins of Lytton and Monte Lake are just the opening act in a show that’s coming soon to a major suburb near you.
    Sea level rise is accelerating and will continue to do so for centuries to come. This does not bode well for neighbourhoods at sea level. Oak Bay, Sidney, Parksville, Richmond, Mission and Chilliwack—are you paying attention? You’ll soon be out of time. 
    Fresh water resources are dwindling. BC has always thought of itself as having a surplus of fresh water. The illusion has been fostered by the glaciers and the winter snows in the Interior mountains. They serve as a bank, storing fresh water from the winter and releasing it into the rivers that carve though the arid Interior rain shadow during the summer. This cool water flow in summer and fall is what has sustained salmon runs. But as it dwindles, water temperatures rise and oxygen levels fall. In recent summer they have frequently approached the lethal level for fish, amplifying the effects of parasites and pathogens and in some cases exceeding the physiological boundaries that dictate fish survival—not so different from the plight of those humans who perished in this summer’s heat wave (although fish can’t purchase air conditioners or escape from the heat in the local supermarket). 
    There’s an economic price tag here, too. Less water from winter snow and ice means less potential energy to be stored in the hydroelectric reservoirs which supply 95 percent of BC’s electricity needs
    So what to do? Well, let’s start with what not to do—throw up your hands and do nothing. The runaway climate change can’t be stopped but it can certainly be slowed and that buys time for adaptive policies that we perhaps haven’t even thought of yet. Special interests that benefit from exploiting fossil fuels keep saying we have to focus on adapting. Indeed, we do. And one way of adapting is to reduce our profligate use of fossil fuels for inefficient transportation, technologically primitive heating, convenient but expedient recreation, cheap entertainment and so on.
    It’s true that in the short term we can’t simply stop using coal, oil and gas. But we can certainly use a lot less. Which means addressing those who want us to use more coal, more natural gas, more methane and so on.
    How do we get there? Go big, not small. Put the same kind of effort into the transition to clean, renewable energy that will help us avoid a runaway greenhouse effect that we put into developing an atomic bomb to incinerate cities.
    “Think globally, act locally” is one of the mantras of the environmental movement. It has merit, incremental improvement is good. But when the IPCC report told us it was delivering a “Code Red” for humanity, it was warning us that we’re almost out of time. 
    Put another way, bike lanes in Victoria are certainly good but it’s equally certain they are not good enough. In fact, they primarily are a way for politicians to appear to be doing something. Getting cars with internal combustion engines right off the streets of Downtown is better. Truly adaptive thinking is figuring out how to enable people to travel to Downtown to shop, dine and enjoy themselves without using their cars. That means a major radical rethink of our attitudes toward public transportation and how we deliver it. Cost recovery models may be the exact opposite of what we should be considering. In the big picture, the cost of cars on the road may far outweigh the cost of subsidies to public transit. 
    The usual clamour of denialism from vested interest groups arises whenever a report like the IPCC’s comes down but the denial seems irrelevant now, marginalized and clearly delegitimized. Of much greater concern should be the political policy makers who so often seem willing captives of the agencies they are supposed to regulate. 
    So one thing everyone can do is tell elected representatives that we’re done with greenwashing and talk, talk, talk about reducing carbon emissions while carbon emissions continue to climb. Scientists are warning us of an existential crisis; we need our leaders to lead. And if they can’t lead, we want them to get out of the way and make room for somebody who can. That message needs to be delivered forcefully. Deliver real, quantifiable solutions or depart.
    Delivering that message to leaders is something constructive that everyone can contribute to managing the climate crisis. There’s an election coming. Get involved. Hold the folks asking for your vote accountable.
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. 
     

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    IN THESE PAST FEW WEEKS we’ve been given more than an inkling of what it’s like to have the deck perpetually stacked against you. What it’s like to be swamped by a crippling cascade of unjust circumstances that keep you hopelessly disadvantaged, that keep you beholden your entire life to oppressive systems and the privileged people who own or run them. 
    First came news on May 27 of the horrendous discovery of human remains buried on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The discovery shouldn’t have surprised anyone, but it gave grim reality to what First Nations people have been claiming for decades: They had children who never came home, who simply vanished. 
    At least 215 sites have been identified, all containing little ones, some as young as three. Their small maltreated skeletons have been there for decades, pressed beneath the innocuous grass and the muted layers of soil, subsoil, time, and indifference. They are not located in one mass grave but individually scattered around, as if spit out by the building itself, one by one by one. 
     

    The Kamloops Indian Residential School in an undated photo (via Archives Deschâtelets-NDC)
     
    When I close my eyes, I see them being lowered into the ground, in their tattered school uniform or other rags, their cheeks tear-stained, their bodies ravaged by neglect, and broken, maybe. The mother in me sobs for them, and as much for their agonized parents and families who were never told their cherished children had died, never given the decency of having the little bodies respectfully returned to them, and who never—even to the present—received more than shoulder shrugs when they pressed for the whereabouts of their missing sons and daughters. 
    I cannot know the depth of their anguish and never-ending loss. That this could happen, and at the callous, cold hands of those who professed to love God no less, is utterly unforgivable. 
    The federal government is no less complicit: It built schools that were more like prisons and handed thousands of children over to “educators” who were utterly unsuitable for the job, who by virtue of their calling alone, knew nothing about children, little about nurturing, nothing about parenting, and had, for the majority, taken vows against having children themselves. (Roughly 70 percent of the 139 official residential schools in Canada, including Kamloops Indian Residential School, were operated by the Catholic Church.)
    I can’t imagine how desperate, distraught and terrified these families and communities all across Canada would have been when the mighty triumvirate of Government, Church and the RCMP came calling for their children. 
    What was this, if not outright genocide? Can we start calling it that now? 
     
    NEXT CAME OUR NDP GOVERNMENT’S long-awaited release on June 2 of an “intentions paper” on a much-needed overhaul of forest management in this province. With tensions rising at the Fairy Creek blockades and public outrage mounting over the steady loss of Vancouver Island’s last ancient forests, I harboured hope that Premier Horgan and his forestry team might finally call an immediate halt to old growth logging while other options are explored. (It makes no sense, and seems ill-intentioned even, to keep destroying a recognized treasure while exploring options for its survival.) 
    But my hope was dashed. Viewers were instead treated to an industry love-in, a self-serving fête of the industry’s renewal with nary a mention of forest renewal. In front of a huge backdrop showcasing a lush wilderness, the premier went on about an entirely different visual—cutblocks, tenures (agreements), volume (hauled out of the woods), fibre (trees on the trucks) and jobs. There was plenty of flushed talk, big smiles, and industry-affiliated endorsements of the kind usually reserved for infomercials. 
     

    Premier Horgan announcing his new forest policy intentions
     
    In the end, you could tell the premier felt he had it in the bag, with his bright, triumphant smile and the impromptu wink to his right (where Minister Conroy was standing) as it all wound down. 
    To be fair, the industry is unquestionably in need of a thorough overhaul, and the intention to reduce raw log export and instead increase value-added capacity in our own province seems progressive. So does the plan to begin sharing the forestry pie with more and smaller local companies, some of them owned by First Nations.
    But the few prickly questions from reporters on the ever-rising Fairy Creek imbroglio were a snag. There, and in his own riding no less, the premier has increasingly been finding his image squeezed between a log and a hard place. Could he not do something to protect the ancient forests, he was asked. 
    He could not, the premier replied. While he was passionate about the wilderness and loved old trees as much as the next person, his hands were tied when it came to saving them, he said. (How convenient, I couldn’t help thinking.) 
    Here’s why, he elaborated. “The critical recommendation that’s in play at Fairy Creek is consulting with the title holders. If we were to arbitrarily put deferrals in place there, that would be a return to the colonialism that we have so graphically been brought back to this week by the discovery in Kamloops.”
    Had I just heard that right? I was aghast. It sounded as if he had just used the travesty of residential schools, and in particular the horrific discovery in Kamloops, to justify delaying the protection of old growth forests. In other words, out of respect for Indigenous people, he was going to continue allowing their forests to be destroyed for paltry compensation. 
    If Fairy Creek has succeeded in exposing the plight of our dwindling old growth inventory, it has also, and perhaps inadvertently, shone a light on the entrenched government prejudice against First Nations and the suppressive colonial tools and agreements still being used to keep Indigenous people subjugated and all-too-often impoverished. Tools like the excessively constricted logging agreement that the government drew up for the Pacheedaht nation earlier this year. It has all the flavourings of snake oil: The Pacheedaht could sign it and receive a scant $350,000 over three years—less than half of one percent of the $132 million worth of old growth logs that Teal Jones would cut and haul away every three years—or they could refuse to sign, and receive nothing. 
    That they chose to sign is not surprising, but what a reprehensible, dead-end pair of choices. What they confirm is the government’s ongoing preference for seeing old-growth forests turned into lucrative lumber, and its mulish resistance to being educated in the value of living ancient trees. 
    Unfair as the agreement is in itself, it has an even uglier side. The Pacheedaht also had to agree to keep the government informed on how they were spending this picayune windfall. This is a shamefully insensitive and insulting demand that drips with racism, malevolent insinuation and antiquated paternalism. I’m willing to bet this clause doesn’t appear in any government contract with non-Indigenous people. 
    And still there’s more. The Pacheedaht also had to agree that they would not speak out against the contract nor obstruct any aspect of the clearcutting operation. Nor could they allow anyone else to stand in the way. A person can’t help wondering if, as resistance grew and heels dug in at Fairy Creek, the government might have reminded the Pacheedaht of their obligation to denounce the objectors. 
    If so, it would explain the Pacheedaht’s sudden public directive to the blockaders in mid-April to pack up and go home. The timing was perfect for the premier, and it gave him an opportunity he couldn’t resist—to admonish the defenders (who included First Nations youth and Elders) for not showing respect for First Nations people.
    Evidence has since surfaced that the government quite likely had a secretive hand in the crafting and release of the Pacheedaht statement. The favourable timing for the premier, it turned out, had been based more on choreography than coincidence.
    Clearly the government will use First Nations in any way then can to get at their resources. Including calculated manipulation and disadvantage.
     
    BUT THAT IMBALANCE may finally be starting to shift. On June 5, the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations declared their intention to the government to immediately defer old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek and Central Walbran areas for the next two years. They need that time, they told the government, to develop their own land and resource management plans that will be based on their own needs and values. 
    The Declaration is forceful and straightforward. There’s no cap-in-hand meekness in any of it. 
    When one of the signees, Chief Councillor Robert Dennis of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, was asked by a CBC journalist if he thought the Province would agree to the deferral, he replied, “They’d better.” 
    It was, after all, a declaration, not a request.
    Two days later, Premier Horgan announced that he would acquiesce. “We have allowed, as a Province, the title holders to make decisions on their land,” he said. 
    The wording betrays a subtle undermining, a waft of arrogance rising out of centuries-long power and privilege. Old idioms tend to die hard, especially those that have always solidified the upper hand. 
    But inevitably that grip will continue to loosen. Other First Nations have started busting out of their own forestry agreements with government, including Squamish, which has declared an actual moratorium on old-growth logging in its territory. Members of the Gitxsan Nation near Prince Rupert have installed a gate on a forest road in their territory and told loggers they are no longer welcome.


    Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones and Victor Peter lead a procession demanding access to their territories in Fairy Creek area (photo by Alex Harris)
     
    First Nations people here and across the country are finding their voices and emerging strong and articulate. They are full of resolve, unapologetic, increasingly well-versed and well educated, and no longer intimidated. They know with certainty that they are equally entitled to the same rights, privileges and respect that settler Canadians enjoy. They are done with having land, children, opportunity and prosperity stolen from them. They are done with unfairness, with agreements and deals that have unendingly been stacked against them. 
    We settler Canadians, with our thoughts and prayers for the lost little ones—these 215 and the thousands yet to be discovered—we must applaud and abet this courageous evolvement. 
    And we settler Canadians, with our lowered government flags reflecting ourselves bowed in shame and regret, we must acknowledge and accept that we owe a debt to the people, our equal and fellow citizens, who lived here first.
    Writer Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic recommends Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America to anyone in search of a “fascinating, often hilarious, always devastatingly truthful” read. It is all that and very enlightening.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    A visit to Doumac Park in Saanich comforts—yet reminds of the über commodification of nature and BC’s farcical forest management strategy.
     
    WHENEVER I'VE FELT ANXIOUS AND DISCOURAGED by all the exceptional challenges of this past year, I’ve found myself walking to the trees. It feels odd to say that they speak to me, but when I start down the long set of stairs into the Cordova Bay ravine known as Doumac Park, the sounds of civilization fall quiet behind me and I can feel Nature beckoning. 
    A small rainforest thrives in this basin, in the filtered sunlight and almost prehistoric setting. Stately Douglas firs, grand firs, bigleaf maples and western hemlocks stand as stoic sentinels up and down the ravine’s steep sides. Their roots are prominent; the downhill ones look like giant toes, braced to avoid sliding down into the creek. Many generations are intermingled here, the elders among them reaching 40 metres high, the juveniles in their shade straining for sunlight, and underfoot, the hollowing trunks of ancestors busy giving themselves back to the earth. 
    Just two months ago this place was blanketed in snow, impossibly quiet and pristine, the conifers skirted in white from top to bottom, the bare maple branches heaped with white icing. The sun was brilliant, the sky azure, the woods full of secrets. I wanted the scene to last forever.    
     

    Doumac Park, January 2021. Photo by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
     
    These days moss carpets almost everything, and already the Western sword fern, an age-old creation in its own right, has burst forth for another season. Here and there are nurse stumps—ancient rotting stumps that nurture fallen seeds into seedlings, saplings and full-grown trees whose roots will eventually spill over them like octopus arms and engulf them entirely. 
     

    Doumac Park, near the ravine. Photo by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
     
    The air in the ravine is soft in my lungs, and I breathe in unison with the trees. They make me feel protected but I worry about how much longer they—and more specifically their non-urban brethren—will be safe, this being the era of über commodification of all natural resources and farcical forest management strategy. It’s both galling and appalling that while BC politicians keep jawing tirelessly on the same old cud of insincere management rhetoric, they meanwhile allow the industry to keep sawing away all the old forests. At this rate, there’ll soon be nothing left for them to discuss, except perhaps the unheeded lessons in Dr Seuss’ The Lorax and Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, (both prescient gems from 1971).
    The trail I’m on wends down to Revans Creek on the ravine floor. Currently it is burbling with ample spring water, funnelled from the capillaries of its watershed for delivery to the sea. It all fits together so exquisitely and interdependently, these puzzle pieces of Nature that collectively support a fragile balance and complex symbiosis that keeps so many life forms, we included, alive and thriving. There’s so much to learn in this small, four-hectare sanctuary—and in any small section of Nature—that one could spend a lifetime studying here and still not know everything.
    Walking in Nature has, for decades, been my own effective remedy for whatever has ailed me. It rouses happiness, gratitude, wonderment and awareness of my own ephemerality in the face of all the incredible beauty and complexity that has been loaned to us for our duration. If there is any bond to be had with a Creator, I feel it most acutely here, in a place of veneration that was created for us rather than by us. Here it is easy to commit to stewardship as our part of the bargain. But take the worship out of this place, to a human built edifice elsewhere, and it becomes much easier to re-interpret the call for stewardship as a permit for dominion over everything. The credo of dominion has destroyed so much.
    Climate change remains our biggest challenge, and I worry about the times to come. We’ve surely learned lessons from COVID-19, but will we remember them once the light at the end of that tunnel grows stronger? Already we are champing at the bit to gear everything up and start regaining lost time. We can’t wait to fly again—those enticing vacation ads!—and to buy again, because we deserve it, we’ve suffered so much. Never mind the centuries-long concomitant exploitation of Nature that’s now reached a critical point. We’ve never factored that into our cost and are not terribly keen to start doing the math now. 
    I start back up the hill and pass the centuries-old nurse log near the second landing. I feel reverence for it. I feel it wanting my humility. I feel it wanting to tell me, “If you’re going to be humble in the face of anything, let it be Nature and let it be now.”
    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a writer, grandmother and Master Gardener. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    A look to the recent past shows how humans have hurt the Earth and its creatures. We need to do better.
     
    THIS PAST CHRISTMAS I gave my guy a device that converts slides to digital images, the perfect project for these COVID at-home hours, days, weeks and months. Secretly I plotted that we—mostly he—might finally comb through boxes of old slides and negatives, teasing the prized keepsakes away from the celluloid chaff. As a result, we’ve been rediscovering hundreds of images and innumerable memories from the early days together, four decades ago. 
    The most startling thing we noticed, notwithstanding our short shorts, tube socks and poofy hair, was how much the landscape has changed since then. It’s not subtle. 
    Here we are, playing on my childhood beach, the stately cliffs tall and dominant in the background. When I last saw them two years ago, they looked hunched and forlorn, resigned to the merciless onslaught of ice riding in on ever-rising waves. One section has gone entirely to rubble.
    Here I am in an Ontario meadow, sitting with my camera trained on a monarch butterfly while at least a dozen more flutter within my reach. Back then, they and several other species were a common sight, beautiful and totally taken for granted. So were the legions of bees that buzzed in the thistles and goldenrod surrounding the hayfields of my childhood. Not anymore. The monarch has all but disappeared and many species of bees are at risk everywhere.
    When we moved to Victoria 30 years ago, I was especially captivated by the iconic Olympic Mountain Range along our southern skyline, its splendid peaks generously robed in snow even throughout summer. But, that’s all changed too. These days the summer coverage amounts to a few, shrunken daubs of white scattered on and around bare gray peaks. The US National Park Service confirms the decline, reporting that the Olympic range lost 82 glaciers between 1982 and 2009. That’s an alarmingly high disappearance rate of three glaciers per year.
     

    Repeat photographs of Anderson Glacier in Olympic National Park. Arrows in identical locations illustrate the dramatic retreat/disappearance of this south-facing glacier. (Photos: 1936 by Asahel Curtis; 2015 by Byron Adams)
     
    Locally there’s plenty of micro-evidence that nature is struggling and changing—animal species in decline or on the move, native forests and other flora stressed and foundering, unusual or erratic weather bouts year-round (including an incredibly forceful thunder storm last summer and a bona fide snowstorm as I write), and now, a pandemic.
    COVID-19 arrived at our shores—or, more likely, airports—just as it seemed we were finally beginning to acknowledge our own involvement in the degradation of every aspect of the environment. Just as we were starting to notice our sullied, suffering world and concede that we couldn’t rightfully go on like this. 
    Weren’t we finally beginning to connect some dots, say, between pesticide use and insect decline, and wanton habitat destruction and animal extinction (not to mention the spread of their diseases to other species, including ourselves)? Weren’t we finally beginning to understand that our carbon-rich lifestyle is altering the climate and putting immeasurable burdens on the planet and our descendants? 
    Hadn’t we just recently tried (as we’re doing again) to ban single-use, plastic shopping bags? And hadn’t we just marched 20,000 strong through our downtown core to demand, finally, some real government leadership on climate change? 
    COVID-19 sidelined everything. A huge silence fell on climate change. Now was not the right time. We were in a full-blown, unmatched human health crisis.
    The height of any crisis is never a popular time to question how it happened and how we can prevent it from happening again. Could we inadvertently have been the cause? That kind of querying wasn’t wanted, was considered callous and tone deaf, when Canada’s costliest wildfire consumed Fort McMurray in 2016, and when Manitoba experienced “the flood of the century” in 2017. It isn’t really welcomed now either, what with every hand required just to keep the virus—and now its variants—under control. Not to mention concern for the battered economy.
    The problem, however, is that no one wants to hear this between crises either. No one wants to hear that we’re near to arriving at the outer edge of what our environment can support. That the changes required to keep the Earth liveable will be uncomfortable, and impossible to kick further down the road. That each and every one of us will have to adjust to new standards and realities. That “natural” catastrophes are only the beginning if we choose to do nothing. 
    We know by now how governments work, even in the face of impending climate catastrophe. They go nowhere because they keep trying to walk in opposite directions at the same time. The most dramatic example of this was the pairing of Prime Minister Trudeau’s 2015 declaration in Paris that Canada was back as a climate leader with his bewildering purchase of an old, overpriced pipeline just three years later. Then, having painted himself into a philosophically incongruous corner, he lectured without irony that, “Canadians know you have to protect the environment and grow the economy at the same time.” 
    That’s been his modus operandi ever since. 
    Meanwhile, our provincial government has been simultaneously walking on both sides of the fence for so long that surely there has to be chafing going on. Horgan and his team want to be both champions for climate action and champions for every extraction industry in the province. That especially includes liquid natural gas—a heavily subsidized pet project that, as the fairy tale goes, will use the “clean” energy of the Site C Dam to save Asia from dirty coal. The reality is a long and destructive path of carbon-heavy enterprise that starts with the contentious Site C project itself, and reaches all the way to yet-to-be-determined Asian ports, and beyond. 
    LNG is where many of our provincial tax dollars hit a dirty dead end.   
    Then there’s Clean BC, the government’s beautifully worded, all-encompassing plan to “reduce climate pollution” and “build a low-carbon economy.” Except that it falls so short of these goals as to seem intentionally deceptive in both messaging and accounting. Writer Russ Francis reveals what’s really going on here, in a recent detailed analysis for Focus.   
    All the top-down deception and dithering would lead us to believe that the situation is hopeless, but perhaps it isn’t. Real change has always started as a groundswell, building upwards until politicians finally feel it’s safe enough for proclamations and ribbon cutting. It’s why we need to stay persistent with our petitions and calls for change, all the while bettering the way we live and work and play in our own community. 
    The pandemic has not quashed our community groundswell. Even in these trying times our ongoing enterprise and activism remains quite remarkable: The University of Victoria is moving $80 million out of fossil-fuel investments. Camosun College will soon start training tradespeople on net-zero construction. Combined with all the solar innovation and expertise we have here, it’s a solid step towards the inevitable requirement that all new buildings be closer to net-zero and have at least some solar-powered infrastructure.
    Torquay Elementary School in Gordon Head has just installed a $60,000 solar project, a giant step towards its goal of net-zero energy consumption. Esquimalt is banning single-use plastic bags, and more municipalities will follow suit. Zero waste groceries and many household goods are increasingly available at locally-owned stores. 
    Victoria has committed to a complete transition to green energy by 2050, and Saanich is one of the first communities in the world to adopt a One Planet strategy, which means that every decision the municipality makes must also pass through the lens of climate change. The CRD has the same intent under One Planet Region. 
    All this and more keeps us resilient and our hope alive.
    I hope that years from now the people will be alive and well, and shaking their heads at the memory of us and our folly. I hope they will have a re-stabilized climate and thriving, prized environment. 
    I hope there’ll be summer snow on the Olympics once again.
    I hope the monarch butterflies are back.
    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a writer, grandmother and Master Gardener living in Saanich, BC. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    Give this new year a fighting chance at being a happy one by nurturing social connection.
     
    AND SO HERE WE ARE, having laboured our way over the threshold into a fresh new year and decade, our backs solidly turned on 2020 as if that year in itself incited the pestilence.
    But only one week in, 2021 already feels like an aging clunker dragging along on under-inflated tires. The short, cheerless days of early January don’t help at the best of times, nor does the inevitable post-holiday letdown, especially when the holidays themselves have been a letdown. 
    Add on the omnipresent stress of COVID-19’s persistent second wave, and all the implications of the recent unnerving chaos in Washington. Pour on the days of rain that have been coming down, from morning to night, then night to morning. The backyards of a few people I know have become so soggy that trees have relented and toppled over, their bony roots yanked out of the ground, desperately clawing at the air on the upswing. 
    With the pandemic approaching a sordid anniversary, we are becoming a community of isolated people. I hasten to add that, like so many, I have nothing to complain about: My good fortune includes a loving partner, the security of a home, food in the pantry, plenty of projects on the go, and a stack of books to read if I ever find the time. Like everyone else, I miss my loved ones, but we stay well-connected virtually. I have my worries about the pandemic—and what we’ve witlessly done to nature to bring us to this and other critical points—but the current constraints are not a terrible hardship for me.
    However, for those of all ages who live alone, it’s been a long and arduous marathon. In early December, their world became even smaller when Dr Bonnie Henry decreed that for the holiday celebrations they could bring just one or two others into their bubble, more accurately a mini-bubble now, compared to earlier directives. 
    According to my daughter who has many friends in their 20s-40s who live alone around town, that started a desperate round of requests to form or share holiday mini-bubbles. Inevitably some were left on the sidelines, alone and crestfallen during the most emotionally profound days of the year. 
    “This was hard on everyone, and felt like high school (without the meanness) all over again,” she said, recalling the anguish of having to decline several invitations after accepting the first one she received. Ongoing concern prompted her to keep checking in virtually with lonely friends who were just waiting for the celebrating to be over.  
    December is always a hard time to be alone, but this year’s imposed isolation made it excruciating. I think of the thousands of seniors who live here by themselves and were not able to hug children, grandchildren and friends during the most family-oriented time of year. 
    I think of the people who don’t live alone but because of COVID-19, are hemmed into a particular purgatory of loneliness and isolation in the confines of a dysfunctional relationship or difficult family setting. I think of all the heightened worry in such a setting—about job loss or other financial strain, personal safety, food insecurity, ailing health, ailing parents, at-risk children of any age, drug or alcohol dependency; the list, like the rain, goes on and on.
    I thought of them all as they soldiered alone while the chimes of Christmas seemingly rang out for everyone else. (I’ve been on that side of the fence too.) Again they were on my mind, especially the young people, as I drove past Mayfair Mall on Boxing Day—with shopping the last thing on my mind—and saw the parking lot filled to overflowing. There was no visible lineup outside so I assume that hundreds of shoppers were intermingling indoors.
    Tell me again where we are with our isolation logic, I said in my outside voice to no one in particular. 
    I’m not here to criticize our dedicated public health team, and I understand that they wade through myriad considerations in developing the best route for saving lives and trouncing the virus. But I like to think that they haven’t forgotten that what works best for the population can, and almost always does, let some individuals down. I like to think that they work hard to buffer that unintended consequence whenever they can.
    We, in the meantime, shouldn’t forget either, that we are social beings who absolutely need connection and community. We can help offset mental health strain—our own and that of others—by seeking and bolstering our own social connections and virtually reaching out to the isolated people we know. 
    Staying distanced is imperative, but this is not the time to be insular. We can go outside when the weather allows, breathe deeply and restoratively, and be kindly to everyone we meet. We can share gratitude for our peaceful and compassionate society, for the vaccines that have been developed at record speed, for the beautiful nature all around, and for all the local resources devoted to seeing us through this onerous time. There are so many, and they continue to exemplify as they always have, that when we help others, we help ourselves too.
    In these gloomy and uncertain days, virtually reaching out and touching someone is a very good way to help make 2021 a happy new year.  
    If you are feeling hopeless or think you might be in crisis, please reach out to the Vancouver Island Crisis Line at 1-888-494-3888 and/or the BC Mental Health Support Line (also Island based) at 310-6789 (do not add area code). They both offer free emotional support and services 24 hours a day. Check them out online for more information.
    Trudy Duivenvooden Mitic is a Victoria-based writer and longtime Focus columnist.
     

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    The ultimate festival of mingling and consuming is being revamped this year into a celebration we’ll likely never forget.
     
    IN THE DAYS LEADING UP TO CHRISTMAS, I enjoy getting cozy on the couch with stories and reminiscences of Christmases gone by. I know it’s a bit of sentimental self-indulgence, but my “research” clearly reveals that the celebrations people remember with the greatest affection are almost never about extravagance, and almost always about the trials and triumph of getting home for the holidays and being together with loved ones. 
    “Home” is perhaps the most enduring holiday sentiment of all, embodied in cards, décor, music, food, sumptuous seasonal aromas and every childhood memory and memento. Even snow. Especially snow, for those of us who grew up in a more wintry clime. I felt pretty dismal on our first Christmas day in Victoria, and almost burst into tears when the rain started, shortly after a sprightly runner in shorts had jaunted by.
    Home is rootedness. Years ago, my daughter was at one of her Christmas concerts clutching a songbook she’d received from her Oma the previous Christmas. Suddenly I noticed a woman staring at it, her eyes widening and then welling. “My mom gave me that book when I was a child. I so regret losing it and have been looking for another ever since,” she said, before asking if she could borrow it to have a quality copy made. I remember her gratitude and her gladness. 
    Home is at the core of who we are. 
    But sadly, home as we know it is off the table this year. Although we’re good at getting home for Christmas—at persevering through the snow, finding the money for travel, pleading for a few extra days off work, and hanging out at airports when scheduling falls apart—the barrier this year is in a class of its own. 
    This year we have an insidious and deadly virus that can make anyone the vector you’re trying to avoid. Or you the vector that everyone should avoid. It’s wreaked grief and havoc, and has forced us to change nearly everything in life. Vaccines are coming, yes, but not in time for Christmas. And since Christmas is the ultimate festival of mingling, it is exactly the festival that we now need to revamp.
     To be frank, we saw this coming, in the doggedly upward trajectory of the pandemic’s second wave, and in the pained and tired faces of our public health team as they weighed the hardship of imposed holiday bleakness against the reality of a merciless virus not under control. In the end, caution won out, and rightly so. No family gathering around a turkey dinner is worth the risk of a stint on a ventilator. 
    It wasn’t surprising when all the usual holiday events around town began toppling like dominoes. All parades were nixed, including the much-loved Santa Claus parade in its 39th year. Plugs were pulled on the venerable Christmas light show at Butchart Gardens (a favourite annual outing for my most elderly friend and me). 
    Places of worship were ordered to stay shuttered, to the chagrin of many who had hoped for a Christmas reprieve. Concerts, theatre offerings, the venerable Nutcracker—all have been mothballed or sent to virtual platforms for the rest of the year. All told, dozens of community events, even those just drawing small crowds, have had to throw in the towel or completely redesign their delivery systems.
    This could so easily have been the year Victoria went dark for Christmas, with everyone fearfully hunkered down indoors, alone or in their own small bubble with curtains and soul tightly drawn in true Dickensian fashion. 
    But no, that’s not who we are. If anything, we’ve gone a little wild with this year’s outdoor décor, our way of punching hard against the COVID darkness. Local innovation turned the Santa Claus Parade into the “Light up the City” campaign, which, in partnership with the Times Colonist’s annual Christmas Lights Map, spurred a friendly Griswold-type rivalry that’s resulted in a grand string of holiday bedecked homes to savour from the safety of your car. And also some pretty cool drop-off sites for your food and toy contributions.
    Against all the odds, donations are up in all categories this year. And apparently, we’re still baking up a storm, with the intent of leaving care packages on the stoops of those we would otherwise see during this time. The Christmas tradition of not leaving anyone forgotten is a strong one.
    Meanwhile, various polls reveal that we’re spending less on the holidays this year.  Perhaps we’re realizing that we don’t need stuff as much as we need human connection. 
    The Zoom learning curve has soared in 2020, and many will be using it and other platforms to stay virtually connected over the holidays. Our tiny bubble will be Zooming with several loved ones, ranging from my mom back east to our first grandchild just up the road. It’s his first Christmas, but everyone’s safety overrides our desire to see him in person during the holidays. That’s for next year. 
    We can make it work this Christmas—and Hanukkah, Winter Solstice and all the other transcendent celebrations at this time of year. Whether alone or with our small group, we can be buffered by music, candlelight, favourite foods, a good book or puzzle, and online access to family, friends, spiritual comfort and holiday entertainment. Add in a nearby park or beach for walking, and even a crackling fireplace on TV, and we can say that we are safe, blessed and truly at home. 
    However we choose to celebrate this Christmas, it will be unforgettable. Years from now we might even find ourselves writing about it.
    Trudy wishes FOCUS readers a safe and happy holiday.


    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    A close-to-heart climate hero instills hope, courage, and solidarity.
     
    EIGHT MONTHS INTO A PANDEMIC that as of yet shows no end, I’ve found a new hero and guiding light—my youngest brother Carl. I know he’ll fidget with discomfort when I tell him this, maybe suggest I ease up on hyperbole, possibly even wonder if I’ve gone off my rocker. 
    But I’ll insist I know a hero when I see one—a selfless, genuinely good person who, even against formidable odds, chooses to devote life and livelihood to the betterment of a greater common cause. Heroes are resourceful and resilient, typically lead by example, and persevere in the face of overwhelming adversity. My Canadian heroes include David Suzuki, Stephen Lewis, and now Dr Bonnie Henry, who’s been steering a very steady ship through the iceberg-infested waters of COVID-19. 
    Our best-known Canadian hero is probably Terry Fox, who, with steely determination and only one leg, was running his cross-country Marathon of Hope the summer my husband and I honeymooned from the Maritimes to the Rockies. What slouches we are, I thought, fiddling daily with the car radio dials to find a local station and update. Sadly, Terry wasn’t able to finish his quest, and died when he was only 22, but not before he’d managed to move an entire country with a dream and mission that resonate to this day. 
    Every year my brother Carl laces up for the Terry Fox Run, in honour of our dad and sister who were both lost to cancer. But there’s a lot more to know about Carl than that. He’s always lived and studied close to the land, and saw climate change looming long before most did. His disquiet intensified when his sons were born. It stewed up protracted grappling at his core, then steered him to the decision to trade his secure government job for uncertain work as a champion for nature.
    He immersed himself in the science of climate change and the art of presenting, learning French in the process so he could connect with all New Brunswick audiences. Then he began sharing his knowledge and findings in school auditoriums, conference rooms, boardrooms and town halls throughout the Maritimes. Like all true leaders, he focused on teaching, not preaching. 
    He started a blog, became a consultant, and for years wrote a bi-weekly newspaper column, until the Irving dynasty bought the paper and shut him down. (The wily Irvings now own all of New Brunswick’s presses as well as its fossil fuel and forestry industries. They may not have invented the concept of monopoly but they sure know how to play the game.)
    All the while, Carl chipped away at his family’s own carbon footprint in many small and then bigger ways—which amply compensated for their financial reset. Eventually he bought a used hybrid car, which was later traded in for a fully electric one, also pre-owned. This past summer he installed a bank of solar panels that now power both car and home.
    But back to the 2020 Terry Fox Run, and the day he truly became my hero. Due to pandemic restrictions, participants had been asked to run on their own, and as Carl pondered this, he started envisioning an entirely different mission.
    Months earlier, he and his wife had gone hiking on beautiful Campobello Island. As they rounded a coastal trail to an idyllic sheltered cove, they came upon the atrocity of a 300-metre stretch of beach almost completely covered with discarded plastics.
     

    Carl Duivenvoorden with the plastic he removed from the beach on Campobello Island 
     
    “It was so disheartening, especially all the water bottles,” he told me later. “I felt overwhelmed. And when I realized that my Terry Fox run would be solo this year, I decided to come clean up this beach instead.”   
    On what coincidentally was World Cleanup Day, he worked alone for several hours, collecting more than 400 water bottles, more than 1000 pieces of Styrofoam that ranged in size from fingernail to surfboard, about 75 kilograms of nylon rope, including bits and pieces washed up everywhere, and four fishing totes that he filled with smaller plastics, including countless lobster claw elastics. He crammed another four commercial-sized garbage bags with miscellaneous litter and then lugged everything well above the high-water mark so it wouldn’t be swept out to sea again. Island park staff later hauled it all away for proper disposal.
    He cleaned the entire beach. He did it for nature, for the plovers that tiptoed gracefully along the shore, the seal that bobbed by to check on his progress, the Fundy tide that played out a full cycle while he worked. He did it for the world. He did it out of hope.  
    He makes me want to be and do better. That’s what heroes do: instill hope, courage, and solidarity. Inspire the hero in each of us.
    Everyone needs a few heroes, especially right now. I’m grateful I’ve found one so close to my heart.
    Trudy also extends kudos to BC small-ship tour operators who, sidelined by the pandemic, pulled together last summer to accomplish an “industrial-sized cleanup” along our rugged central coast. Over a 42-day period, they and their collective crew of more than 100, and in collaboration with First Nations along the way, collected 127 tonnes of marine debris (which amounted to just “a dent”). Check out the story and photos here: https://thenarwhal.ca/bc-tour-boat-operators-clean-up-ocean-debris-coronavirus/

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    This time, vote as if your life depends on it.
     

    Another forest fire threatens another community in BC
     
    IN MY HOME IN SAANICH, recently socked in under a persistent dome of noxious smog, I had everything on my mind. It was not a comfortable feeling, stacked as it was on top of pandemic perturbation and a clatter of intertwined environmental, social and economic crises, all seemingly now coming to a head. They spun like bumper cars in my brain, colliding wildly in all directions, bashing, smashing and revving up anguish.
    One crashed into the memory of a line from the 1973 movie, Jesus Christ Superstar, and knocked it free. But as it rose to the surface after all those years, it morphed into a despairing dirge for our times: Every time I look at us I don’t understand; Why we let the things we did get so out of hand.
    Millions of acres have burned in Washington, Oregon and California, and millions more in the Pantanal wetlands—wetlands!—of Brazil, where the carcasses of jaguars, caimans and fallen birds have reduced the landscape to a charred boneyard. Add to that, the immense fires that have burned almost everywhere in these last few years, including in Australia where more than a billion fleeing animals died in their tracks, and in Fort McMurray, the heart of oil country, where a 2016 fire chased everyone out of town, ravaged 1.5 million acres and left behind almost $10B in damages.
    Add to that the parade of hurricanes on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the rapidly melting Arctic ice, the oceans full of toxins and plastic, the loss of tundra, old growth forests and untold species—in summary, the exploitation of just about everything.
    Add to that the polarization of society, the increasingly skewed disparity between privilege and poverty, the resigned acceptance of lies as truth and of broken government promises and international accords as the legitimate new normal, and the restless volatility that thrums ever more loudly in a very tense (and trigger-twitchy) undercurrent.
    Add to that our long-time individual and political stonewalling on action and legislation for sustainability in every aspect of life, and on the building of a new and better economy around that.
    Real progress escapes us. Instead, we continue to stumble over a long string of consequences, always earnestly preoccupied with the most recent ones while carefully avoiding their intertwined link back to root causes that should have been dealt with decades ago. Implausibly, many of us still fill the air with skepticism about human responsibility for this slurry of a mess, still question the validity of science (while reaping its benefits every single day), still consume and discard as if the world is one long, never-ending buffet table.
    Surely we are awaiting our judgement day at this rate, and it won’t be coming from on high.
    Thankfully the skies have restored to blue, and—deep breath—the world is still full of kindness and good. But let’s not be lulled. Things have to change. We cannot go back to the normal we enjoyed before 2020 started going down. If the pandemic has a silver lining, it’s that we can see this now, can no longer ignore what we’ve been discounting for years.
    Better days can start right now, and indeed, they must. A provincial election is happening this fall, and other elections may yet be called.  Don’t walk away. Yes, all the political gobbledegook and evasion and ill-explained monkey business is galling, but it is still our province, our country and our world. We are key, and right now we hold the most powerful key.
    Voting is action. It is redemption. This time, vote as if your life depends on it.
    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a writer, new grandmother, and Master Gardener. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).

    Gene Miller
    The project of civic renewal needs us to bring our many gifts to the table—and set an example for the world.
     

     
    SWOONING. Do people still swoon?
    Informative and very entertaining liner notes with a CD of Charles-Valentin Alkan’s piano music comment that “by the mid-1830’s, Alkan had taken up residence in Paris’s fashionable Square d’Orleans, with the younger Dumas, the ballerina Taglioni, and later, Chopin and George Sand as neighbours,” and friend of the admiring Liszt “whose pianistic style in concerts was capped with such histrionic gestures as swooning at the piano.”
    “The pianistic rivalry of Liszt and Thalberg,” the writer adds, “could pack the largest halls and polarize Parisian society.”
    Wow!
    Lest you imagine that such romantic excitability left the tent two centuries ago and is beyond contemporary expression, here are listeners’ quite recent online comments posted below a YouTube live recording of pianist Vladimir Horowitz’s 1976 Toronto recital: Horowitz, seismically dangerous...don’t touch him...the most brutal and incredibly beautiful piano recital I’ve ever heard... very rare moments of a man facing his own demons...Horowitz swallows the Chopin Ballade whole, like a hungry tiger devouring a porcupine…if I had one millionth of his ability to be fearless in spite of fear, I would count myself blessed. 
    I know, you can’t get “like a hungry tiger devouring a porcupine” out of your mind.
    Isn’t it obvious? Victoria needs to be, to become, the cultural crucible in which such emotional excess becomes everyday, a habit. Victoria, a 21st Century Paris in which we average citizens spend all our free time parsing musical performances, judging brush-strokes, sniffily critiquing some emergent downtown architectural monsterpiece and, over lattes, picking out the most overwrought paragraphs in Gene Miller’s latest FOCUS column.
    I’m really asking: isn’t this place, the singular character of this place, worth fighting for?
    If there was ever a time to add romance, over-gesture, a generous dose of Paris or Italy to the local social formula, this is it. We need to start relating to each other and to this place operatically. Victoria needs a heartbeat, blood circulating, some passion and pride. Why? Because the city has become its problems. (Memo to Tourism Victoria: “Welcome to Victoria—The World’s Unsolved Problem Capital!”)
    Apart from existential urgencies like Trump (a metaphor for America’s risky and terrifying courtship of social oblivion), the COVID-19 pandemic, the emergence of the total surveillance state, and looming eco-apocalypse, what turned my mind toward such elaborate redemption strategies is that, like it or not, Victoria has achieved “currency” and the place now has an urban identity that, to be generous, outstrips Burnaby’s on a good day. Everything that made the city special has faded or diminished; everything that makes the place like anywhere else is rampant. The times caught up to us and found us, to be generous, un-poised.
    History, tradition and cultural identity (legacy and reputation) no longer define or protect this place, no longer lend it gravitas or singularity. The city, in fact, seems beyond protection. “Seat of provincial government” now carries little weight. Even the Tweed Curtain seems like a torn curtain, the doddering wave-away of a palsied hand, not a social bulwark. Whatever made this city a singular place no longer does, and social agreement—some widely shared and understood statement that we’re going this way or that way, and for what reason—has disappeared. The city, defeated by the challenges (and threats) of currency, based on physical and social evidence, seems to be shuffling toward some late-arriving ditto of Vancouver’s West End, surrounded by a mile-wide crap meringue.
    This seems to be how civic renewal works: the Old Way is no longer supportable; the New Way bristles with ambiguity, threats and challenges; the Response reveals the limits of creativity, attention, passion and energy that can be brought to the project of civic reinvention. The outcomes never deliver opera. Everybody shrugs, something like life goes on.
    Pity.
    In spite of the communications-saturated environment that we live in, community-wide conversation in Victoria is a challenge. There is no tool or protocol—barring local elections which are more verdict than conversation—that allows civic leadership to convene everyone for a meaningful review of the city’s state and fate. But however difficult, there’s great need right now to discuss things at that scale and to foster entirely new means by which Victoria’s remarkably talented public can be a driver, rather than a victim, of circumstance, before we wake up irreparably mediocre, our civic promise misplaced and unfulfilled.
    I wake up to just such fatal concerns, and if you don’t mind a long reach, I invoke the Lady Galadriel’s words to Gimli the Dwarf, in Tolkien’s great work: “...for the world has grown full of peril and in all lands love is mingled with grief.” Like the one great organism it is, the world is building toward its next spasm.
    I’m calling for opera and celebration, but I’m aware that Victoria’s great dispositional gift to the world has been its reason and calm, and the conspicuous expression of human hope in the city’s physical appeal. Victoria over the years has sent a signal not to trigger theatrical passions, but to answer quieter, deeper hungers.
    Can those qualities and strengths be resurrected, recast?
    Harder now, but I don’t care if our motivations are self-serving and superficial or selfless and sacrificial; Victoria needs again to be a place with a purpose, “fixt like a beacon tower above the waves of Tempest,” as Tennyson beautifully put it. The world needs this desperately: some place (or places) willing and able to undertake the effort of outsize social messaging: “Order and informed hope look like this in the 2020’s and beyond.”
    The ingredients for such messaging, while scattered, are closer to hand than you might realize, and all that’s needed is the alchemy of strong intention linked to effective, inspired leadership and lots of enormously good luck. Consider...
    Victoria has an astonishingly low level of COVID infection and mortality. We’re well-behaved, mask-wearing. Don’t you think the rest of the infected world is poised, eagerly awaiting the video in which, without making a mockery of tragedy, we display our vast creativity in mask decoration, turning the entire grim life-preserving experience into a ritual of public courtesy, collaboration and reciprocity?
    Don’t you think that cities everywhere, as beset by homelessness as we are, would love to “buy the book” in which we explain that we dumped handwringing and useless, do-nothing, grumpy rhetoric and sophomoric ideology in favour of actually marshalling resources and building widely distributed small-suite house-plexes, each with a manager’s apartment; and then got on with the challenging work of liberating the addicted, giving avenue to the under-engaged and the purposeless, firmly managing the predatory, bringing all the outsiders in? In other words, solving the fucking problem?
    Don’t you think the world would love to find in Victoria a successful model of urban sustainability and living within ecological limits? Do you know how busy it would keep us generating all the policy, protocols and practices, strategies for successful urban reinvention (mobility, energy use, lifestyle choices, reduced consumption, and so on) required to generate that result?
    Don’t you think places everywhere would love to learn about our strategies for successful civic re-engagement—the conversion of sleepwalking residents into active citizens—and the resurrection of communities of participation, responsibility and opportunity?
    Look, Trump is an emotionless narcissist, a pathological, reflex liar and a murderous sociopath, but the more penetrating question asks why so many Americans think he’s the ticket and vote for him and, even more importantly, why everything he stands for is not being utterly repudiated by the American public. Failures of consensus there endanger the entire human family. America is a people desperate for example, new direction, demonstration. Even tiny Victoria might have something to offer.
    Many sour places in the world are desperate to witness and extract lessons from a polity that is a model of productive collaboration, a successful community and a happy place. (In a complete aside, treat yourself to Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite’s “The Statement” a short, highly expressive reflection of crazy code, language ever-more-filled with words we don’t understand, instructions or guidance we cannot follow.)
    All of this—manufacturing the joys of creative public expression, summoning the power and responsibility of example—presents itself to Victoria as opportunity, a citywide “job.” Taking on such a task requires open-hearted insight, the realization that we sit at a table of gifts: profoundly low COVID rates, a remarkable social tone, tremendous community intelligence and creativity, the most appealing physical setting in Canada, a broad-based capacity for ecological leadership, and a currently dormant but ready-to-spring appetite for destiny.
    There’s a clicker, a “start” button somewhere. Look around. Pat your pockets.
    Founder of Open Space, founding publisher of Monday Magazine, originator of the seven Gaining Ground urban sustainability conferences, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an innovative affordable housing concept, and writing “Futurecide,” a book that argues that catastrophe is ecological.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    We have no future without seeds and seed diversity. They are our food and medicine, a sacred and essential resource.
     
    WE ARE INTO THE FINEST SEASON OF ALL—the harvest time—and despite all the unprecedented tumult this year, the Earth is again offering up abundant bounty. I am both awed and grateful as I make my way around garden beds crammed with carrots, beets, Swiss chard, kale, tomatoes and a medley of summer and winter squashes. I say “crammed” because in amongst our planned crops are the volunteers sown by nature.
    While I can’t say enough good about the dependable, open-pollinated seeds we order every year, especially in light of the panicked shortage this past spring, I find the volunteer seeds more intriguing because we never quite know what we’re going to get. The pumpkins are an interesting example. Every year we have some form of them zigzagging throughout the garden, even though we never plant any. That all started years ago, with a bought pumpkin whose seeds we threw into the compost. This activated a cycle that we’ve been happily perpetuating ever since.
    Two years ago, we ended up with an entire bed of butternut squash plants, all because late in the spring I had bought one (grown in Mexico) for dinner. Turns out it was full of sprouting seeds, a veritable bonus that I potted up and then transferred to the garden to see what would happen. What happened was that we harvested enough delicious butternuts to feed us late into the fall.
    Our most prolific tomatoes this year are all volunteers. Early in the spring they surfaced in the cold frame, presumably the seedlings of tomatoes tossed and buried there last year. They took off and thrived, despite a late cold spell that shrivelled most of the tomato seedlings we’d carefully grown and coddled indoors.
    Every flower promises seeds, and once you start noticing them you can’t turn away. This year we forgot to pick one radish, which responded by growing a vine with white flowers that now is dripping with small, swollen, pea-like pods that can barely contain the seeds within. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a radish seed still in the pod.
    Occasionally the seed is the most exotic part of the plant. A small clump of wild peony brought home from Haida Gwaii a few years ago offered two flowers for the first time this summer. A few weeks after they had faded, a flash of hot pink drew me back to the peony. I was astonished to see that one of its drab pods had opened to reveal rows of seeds that were brighter, glossier and more luminescent than any I had ever seen before. Nature is nothing if not ostentatious.
     

    Peony seed pod
     
    And then there are the seeds that we love to hate, in my case the dandelion with its fecund puff and the yellow wood sorrel with its spring-loaded pods that each bear ten seeds, no more, no less. They might infuriate me but they also deserve to be here, as important food sources for pollinators (especially the dandelion in early spring) and even for humans, in a pinch.
    We have no future without seeds and seed diversity. They are our food and medicine, a sacred and essential resource. To safeguard seeds is to safeguard the plants—all plants—and their ecosystems: soil, water, air and climate.
    We each have a role to play in that. For now and for life.
    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a Saanich-based writer, new grandmother, and Master Gardener. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).

    Leslie Campbell
    The one-visitor limit for care home residents, along with a lack of outings and other stimulation, could well be posing a greater risk than the coronavirus.
     
    TWO MONTHS AGO, on June 30, the BC government announced a “relaxation” of their essential-visitor-only policy for long-term care facilities that had been in place since the pandemic’s first victims in the province in March. The earlier no-visitor policy had caused much anguish among elders and their families, but it’s debatable that the new, still highly-restrictive rules are much better.
    The policy, which went into practice in mid-July, allows one family member to visit by appointment and with many precautions in place. Promises were made to reassess these restrictions in August (“the hope is to be able to expand this to safely include other family members or friends going forward”), yet as of August 26, that hasn’t happened, or if it has, nothing has been changed.
    What did happen on August 26 was Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie stepping forward to launch a survey of care-home residents and their family members around the visitation rules in particular. More on that in a moment.
    I understand the Ministry of Health orders are in force to protect our vulnerable elders, as well as the essential workers who staff nursing homes, but there are serious flaws in the policy and its application—and they are causing a lot of heartache for a lot of people. The current rules allow only one person from the family (or one friend) to visit. Not one person at a time, but one person period—the “designated visitor.” For my own family it meant a difficult choice. My 92-year-old mother Jade lives in James Bay Care Centre. Which of her three daughters would take on the role? In the end, we decided for various reasons that my Vancouver-based sister Brenda, would do so.
    We assumed, incorrectly as it turns out, that we could switch the designated visitor from time to time, or that they would soon, after getting the bugs worked out of the new system with one visitor, allow more designated visitors per family. My two sisters and I get along well, and but it’s easy to imagine that for many families, choosing that one and only visitor poses serious issues.
    The frequency of allowed visits was left up to each facility. Brenda has visited as much as she has been allowed to—every other week since late July. That means only 3 visits so far. Jade, who has been a trooper through it all, is now showing signs of losing heart. She asks, “Will I ever get to see my whole family again?” and “What’s it like out there?” She was crying at the end of Brenda’s last visit despite my sister’s attempts to be cheerful.
     

    Leslie Campbell (l) and her sisters Brenda and Karen on a pre-COVID visit with Jade at her home in James Bay Care Centre (Photo: Serge D’Allaire)
     
    Jade is unable to walk but she can think, read, and communicate well. She spends much of her time reading books and the daily newspaper. She understands that COVID could be with us for a very long time. Will she ever be able to see not just her other daughters, but others she loves—her son-in-laws, her sister-in-law Marlene, her friend Julie? With BC’s COVID case numbers on the rise recently, running between 60 to 100 new cases per day, it seems less likely that my family’s assumptions about a relaxation of rules will work out any time soon. And Jade’s mental and emotional health is beginning to suffer from the isolation and lack of stimulation.
    Pre-COVID, Jade was used to getting out on a weekly basis or more. With my husband David pushing her in her wheelchair, we would go to a park, or Downtown or along Dallas Road to the breakwater. We’d visit cafés and shops or just take a thermos of tea, with China tea cups and sweets, and enjoy them in the sunshine. With Jade bundled up, we could do this even on a sunny January day in a favourite sun trap on Dallas. My sisters and brother-in-law Serge, who came over for a long weekend each month, spent the majority of their time with Jade, whether in her room or out and about. So mom had lots of engagement with her family and the community despite her lack of mobility.
    But for six months now, all such activity has been completely off limits. She really misses the togetherness and the sight-seeing, as do we. Also prohibited are residents’ regular bus outings. At James Bay Care Centre, residents were taken in a Handi-dart bus for scenic drives through the area, usually stopping at a beachfront like Willows to be served tea and cookies on the bus. But the Ministry of Health has recommended that care homes “limit outings to essential medical appointments only to reduce the potential risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the community.”
    My sister Karen notes that besides the lack of visitors, “With enrichment programs like the bus trips, visiting entertainers, and parties with other floors all cancelled, it’s really too prison-like when it’s supposed to be their home. It’s been six months of lockdown, so given Mom and other residents’ ages, there needs to be more stimulation. Maybe some approved volunteers or designated family members could take wheelchair-bound residents for a walk with an abundance of PPE…”
    Though the staff do get residents into the garden at Jade’s home fairly regularly—a huge blessing for her—the weather won’t permit that much longer.
    My heart breaks when I think how confined Jade is, how lacking in a change of scenery. A whole six months has gone by where she’s had exactly no outings and three short visits. At James Bay Care Centre, only one 45-minute visit per resident is allowed every other week. We have been able to do some Zoom visits with staff help, but it’s not the same.
    Just to be clear, my sisters and I attach no blame to the staff at my mom’s care home. In her two-and-a-half years there, they have proven to be impressively competent, compassionate, cheerful and helpful, even now when stretched and stressed trying to keep up with the extra work involved with COVID policies. We certainly want rules in place that help protect staff members. But as my sister Karen says, “I understand the government needs to protect the staff, but staff get to go home after their shifts and see their family and friends. Residents don’t.”
     
    I WAS IN THE MIDST of writing this piece when the Seniors Advocate for BC, Isobel Mackenzie, launched her new survey around the visitation rules directed at families like my own with an elder in care. She seems to have a good understanding of the situation: “Of the many hardships that COVID-19 has brought, one of the most heartbreaking has been the need to limit those who can visit residents of long-term care and assisted living,” said Mackenzie. “Restricting visitors…has been an enormous sacrifice for our seniors and their families, but it has been necessary for us to protect those who are most vulnerable to this virus. The impact however is having a profound effect on many people and it is time for these people to have their voices heard and their stories told.”
    While we would all no doubt prefer no deaths from coronavirus in our loved ones, she pointed out at her news conference, it’s important to look at the “totality of impacts.” Since March, when the first COVID outbreak occurred in a mainland care home, 46 care homes of the total 560 in BC have had outbreaks—about 8 percent (not one of them on Vancouver Island). “We need a balance,” she said. “Yes, we want to keep people safe from COVID-19, but what are we keeping them safe for if it is not to enjoy what is the rest of their life? And for some, their only enjoyment is the time that they can spend with their loved ones.”
    Some statistics help put the risks in perspective. There are 40,000 people living in BC’s care facilities. Of the 355 residents who have contracted the coronavirus, 123 have died of it (233 staff have been infected with COVID-19 with no deaths). But during the same period of six months, Mackenzie pointed out, more than 2,000 longterm and assisted living residents died of other causes. “What was life like for them and their loved ones in the final months, weeks and days?” she asked.
    The simple math of it is that unless restrictions ease, many families will lose their elders in care without seeing them at all during their final months—or years even— given that this virus will be with us for another year or more. Mackenzie is rightfully concerned about the impacts on the well-being of both the residents and their family members (a lot of whom are seniors themselves). At this point in residents’ lives, family is a critical factor in their over-all well-being.
    While COVID deaths in BC care homes are high percentage-wise—61 percent of the 204 total deaths in BC—what else could be expected given that population’s age and infirmities? That percentage is also a reflection of the skill with which Dr Henry has kept COVID at bay throughout the general population, not to mention the skills of health workers in treating COVID patients.
    At her news conference, Mackenzie noted that while the one-visitor policy is province-wide, the frequency, duration and nature of the visits vary widely from facility to facility. My mom’s facility allows 45-minute visits every two weeks in a sterile room. Other facilities allow them more frequently, but others only monthly depending on staffing issues. This despite the fact that the Province has provided funding for four full-time equivalent positions for each care home to facilitate visits and the extra precautions needed. (Temperature checks, sanitization, and masks are de rigeur.)
    In BC, it doesn’t matter that not one Vancouver Island nursing home has had one COVID-19 case, or that there have been only 173 cases in total here on the Island as of August 27—as opposed to the 1,737 cases of COVID-19 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and 2,818 in the Fraser Health region. Perhaps we should take a more nuanced, geographical approach. In Washington State, for instance, different counties are in different phases of “re-opening” depending on the number of COVID cases—and care home visitation policies vary accordingly.
    I am not advocating a free-for-all expansion of visitation and outings. But allowing more family members to visit, setting a standard or minimum frequency for allowed visits (e.g. weekly), and permitting some carefully planned outings, would be a good start towards a balanced approach. As Mackenzie has noted, there is no situation that is risk free. While there is a risk to opening up, there are also risks to not relaxing restrictions for care homes.
     
    The survey, Staying Apart to Stay Safe: The Impact of Visitor Restrictions on Long Term Care and Assisted Living, is asking residents and family members about their experiences before the pandemic and how these have been impacted over the past seven months. The survey is anonymous. It can be completed until September 30, is available at www.carehomevisits.ca
    Leslie Campbell is the editor of FOCUS.

    Gene Miller

    A walk in the park

    By Gene Miller, in Commentary,

    The vast resources invested in Victoria’s homeless—without apparent success—provide incentive and the means to fashion a new narrative about this city.
    All these beauties will already be familiar to the visitor, who has seen them also in other cities.  But the special quality of this city for the man who arrives there on a September evening, when the days are growing shorter, is that he feels envy toward those who now believe they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time.
    —Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
     
    I BEGIN WITH THIS CALVINO FANCY to remind myself and you, reading, that when any of us says “I love Victoria” or “I love Beacon Hill Park,” we are declaring a romantic connection; and that in such a declaration we are committing ourselves to care, which is love’s great task, and to stewardship, which is necessary citizen-work. I’ll pick up this thread a bit later.
    We’re two-thirds of the way through 2020, The Year of No Summer. The Year of Maybe. Witnesses to world history, we appear to have our toes resting on the close of one of humanity’s chapters and searching, half-blind, for the currently uncertified dawning of another. History, like atmosphere, is everywhere, all at once, and not an easy candidate for framing; we don’t get to stand outside and gain perspective. Snapshots (and claims) are approximate, tentative, matters not of fact but opinion. Still, there seems to be no missing that COVID-19 is Nature’s latest experimental attempt to cull the herd and send a last, prefigurative, cracks-of-doom warning about the impacts and consequences of looming climate change. (No, wrong, Gene, it’s God’s way of giving Donald The Healer Trump yet another opportunity to demonstrate his caring leadership skills and qualifications for a second presidential term.)
    Given such Wagnerian conditions, it’s no surprise that the “physics” of current history is this: a large, menacing near-future is hurtling toward our communities and global society; we feel uneasy, edgy, want to move out of the way, but lack the internal social poise to make, and the tools to execute, a Plan B. And besides, where the hell do we go? There’s no Planet B (apart from this one without us).
    Maybe we could, uh, alter human behaviour and get right with life?
    Nah, don’t be silly!
    I read recently about French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard who defines postmodernism as “incredulity toward metanarratives,” by which he means ideologies that “totalize all knowledge and experience.”
    I haven’t done much totalizing lately, but I get that postmodernism is characterized by “sensitivity to the [claims] of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power.” I would add “or maintaining social and cultural dominance.” Lyotard, had he had a gift for the vernacular, might have said that we’re in an age when we have all been shot out of cannons and are wandering or lost on the landscape.
    But to leave such maundering and thread-pulling behind and firmly establish local relevance and scale, consider: what is, or was, Victoria’s metanarrative?
    “A little bit of Olde England.”
    Always an illusion at the deepest levels, but a credible and intact public belief when I arrived here in 1970, that cultural metanarrative—that way of explaining and understanding this place, its propriety, its boredom, its safety and social tone—has evaporated; and these days, for better or worse, we’re more “a little bit of West End Vancouver” than of Dedham, Essex.
    I’d like to swap out “metanarrative” for the more digestible and modestly scaled “purpose” or “story” and suggest that places (including this one) don’t have stories anymore, or are losing their stories, meta or otherwise. There’s something in the nature of modernity (or postmodernity), something in its trends and forces, that leaves story behind, consigns story to “back then.” Blame any or all of globalization and the loss of locational distinction; the spread of Walmart and Costco retail monoculture; the socio-cultural and existential shift or drift from “us” (the human group) to “me” (the individual); the disembodied “connectivity” of cellular and internet; the transformational impacts of AI, robotics and “smart” processes and systems; an evolutionary shift in human consciousness.
    Increasingly, this puts all of us in a strangely fictional relationship to place: where’s home without visual or distinguishing cultural cues, without boundaries and a behavioural map? Humanity is becoming something different, and fluid times make cultural compass-work, community identity, challenging.
    Shoshana Zuboff writes about this in the opening chapter of her ominous book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: “We can choose [home’s] form and location, but not its meaning. Home is where we know and where we are known, where we love and are beloved. Home is mastery, voice, relationship, and sanctuary.” Zubroff continues, “The sense of home slipping away provokes an unbearable yearning. Now, the disruptions of the 21st century have turned these exquisite anxieties and longings of dislocation into a universal story that engulfs each one of us.”
    “Where we know and are known”…Isn’t that a definition of community?
    You have to look no further than the conspicuous homeless camping in Beacon Hill Park to realize that just such monumental, symbolic concerns are raging right here in Victoria’s home and, by legend, its front yard. A petition protesting the camping use of the park, the visual and physical appropriation, the loss of appeal of Victoria’s outstanding natural asset, has attracted an extraordinary 25,000-plus signers. To be generous, the City, perhaps overwhelmed by other exigencies and out of additional bandwidth, has done a poor job of acknowledging that tents scattered throughout Beacon Hill Park exert a profound change on the place and on peoples’ feelings about the park, and somehow damage the fragile bonds that make this place an “us.”
     

    Tents in Beaconhill Park
     
    So, Beacon Hill Park is the skirmish line in an urban and social sorting out of values and practices—none lacking in complexity, nuance or counter-argument. With some regret, I wonder if, in our de-institutionalized times, conditions (and socially successful outcomes) don’t require higher levels of direct community engagement, intervention and management—more citizens. I write “regret” because the call for more social investment, more citizenship and participation, can seem annoying and retrograde. Many people argue that they give and invest enough, through tax dollars and volunteering and contributions, and so on. But in abstracted times like our own, it may not be a matter, or just a matter, of enough, but of what, and how, and by what social means, resources are directed and delivered.
    On the subject of enough, let me pose this windy question: if you took all of the “homeless industry” cash and the calculable human budget including the people, the program delivery efforts, the buildings, the offices, the direct cash allowances and subsidies, donations and contributions, senior government investment, the costly and reactive responses by police, other security, health emergency and social safety professionals, costs from theft and property crime, insurance costs, and the consultants and policy design costs, and the political time, and the reporting and data-gathering, and community social fabric damage that may not have a price tag, but certainly has a price, and divided all of that by the number of homeless—a “universe” of about 1,500 in our region—what might the real per capita cost or social investment be? Might better service and housing delivery protocols and models be found?
    I mean, please, provide me with some novel explanation, something I haven’t yet considered, to help me to understand how, even with all of these targeted resources, a vast, socially damaging problem coalesces and endures? All of that investment, and it isn’t working better; isn’t—even putting wider social impacts and other considerations to the side—doing a better job of protecting the homeless themselves from a host of adversities and isn’t, at a minimum, housing them?
    Such an initiative—the successful care and protection of all—might be the start of, and part of, a new social story for this city that waved goodbye to Olde England some time ago, and has lacked a compelling, binding story, some firmly held and widely shared self-definition, something aspirational, ever since. (Sorry, “We tend our own gardens,” good try though it is, doesn’t qualify.)
    Like it or not, times have changed and social risk—both its atmosphere and its particulars—has intensified. It’s impossible to shut your eyes to this. Well, not impossible, but foolish. And saturated as our society is by communications, it’s still hard for us as a community to have a real conversation about social risk and possible responses—to identify our options, resources and social capabilities. Hard, outside the formalities of occasional municipal elections, for a community to say to itself: “Let’s go thataway!”
    By way of setting an urgent context for this idea of broad social narrative and its significance, I can offer this excerpt from a recent New York Times column moist with shock and sorrow, entitled “Sadness and Disbelief From a World Missing American Leadership.” Commentator Katrin Bennhold writes: “The pandemic sweeping the globe [and the incompetence of the fumble-fingered US response] is shaking fundamental assumptions about American exceptionalism. The United States should take an urgent warning from a long line of empires that rose and fell. It’s a very familiar story in world history that after a certain amount of time a power declines. You accumulate problems, and you can carry these for a long time. Until something happens and you can’t anymore.”
    True for great nations and true, in its way and at scale, even for this small city with its special genius for inertia.
    Founder of Open Space, founding publisher of Monday Magazine, originator of the seven Gaining Ground urban sustainability conferences, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an innovative affordable housing concept, and writing Futurecide, a book that argues that catastrophe is ecological.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    We’ve made a fine mess of this blue dot…but nature has incredible healing powers.
     
    MY GARDEN’S ONGOING VARIETY SHOW currently has the effusive Stargazer lilies owning the stage, their clusters of bold and magnificent flowers vying with each other for audience attention. They look like the hybridized confections they are, the planned offspring of two lesser, Oriental-type lilies, using science that was unlocked by Gregor Mendel more than 150 years ago.
    That’s impressive tinkering for sure, but it would all amount to nothing if it weren’t for nature. We can plunk a pixel of seed or homely bulb into the ground, but only the holiest communion of natural forces—healthy soil, air, water and pollinators, specific temperatures and just the right intensity of sunlight—can transform it into a beautiful, living plant that is the essence of all life on earth.
    In the garden, I wander past the emerging squashes, tomatoes and other crops that will nourish us in the coming months. I greet the flowers, some still tightly budded while others are ready to shed their seeds. I take pictures of the Stargazers strutting their stuff.
     

    The author’s Stargazer Lilies
     
    Earlier this summer, star gazers of a different kind cropped up everywhere, their upturned faces scanning the night sky. The comet NEOWISE had briefly surfed within our view on its 6800-year loop around the outer reaches of our solar system. We could see it with the naked eye, and it rightly made us feel small and humbled.
    I imagined myself a traveller on the frozen NEOWISE who has endured the harsh monochromatic loop for all of 68 centuries and then suddenly spots a single blue dot—blue!—just 103 million kilometres away. The discovery would be unbelievable. Here was the only mass among untold millions with an accidentally perfect, life-supporting biosphere.
     

    The view of Earth and its moon from space
     
    Consider that dot, the eminent astronomer Carl Sagan urged a hushed audience some 30 years ago. “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.”
    We’ve made a fine mess of our priceless blue dot. Our individual greed, folly, indifference and denial have driven it to the brink.
    And yet, nature has such incredible healing power that we could still turn things around. It will be hard. It will feel like too much, after we’ve put in so little for so long. But the choice is urgent and clear. Either we change, or carry on unabated at our own great peril.
    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a writer, new grandmother, and Master Gardener. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).

    Gene Miller

    Remember normal?

    By Gene Miller, in Commentary,

    It’s only when normal takes a holiday that we get an intuitive glimpse of the vast, unseen social and environmental forces that sustain normal.
     
    THANK GOD, things are getting back to normal!
    You remember normal, don’t you? You can see signs of its return all around: more people on the streets, more shops with “open” signs, more job-resumed rush hour traffic. Why, the way things are going, it shouldn’t be too long before you’re back complaining about how nothing exciting or out of the ordinary ever happens here.
    But below that, closer to the bone, how to explain the feeling that things aren’t normal, that you’re struggling with memory—Was it like this? Was it like that?—and can’t entirely shake the sense that normal is never coming back, that this virus gave the entire sno-globe a shake and things won’t settle quite the same way as before?
     

    Pre-pandemic normalcy at the Bay Centre Food Court
     
    Suddenly, you have the novel insight (who ever had to think about this stuff before now?) that normal is not just social practice and a certain degree of things just sitting still—predictability, in other words—but also something qualitative, a state of mind; and that discontinuity and interruption damage the experience of normal and leave a scar. We’re operating—or trying to operate, as best we can—in a state of emergency, and panic places demands on behaviour and sensibility that normal does not. This has been a fact of life for every society that has experienced a geophysical cataclysm, a military invasion, a cultural or religious transformation, a social revolution, social oppression (a social revolution-in- the-waiting), extermination or ethnic cleansing, an economic upheaval: maybe you survive, but you don’t survive intact. History, someone observed, consists of all the places where the corners didn’t meet.
    Long years ago, I was in a relationship where the mutuality of love was assumed: “I love you.” “And I love you.” And once, in such an exchange, Michelle said “I don’t love you.” She wasn’t joking in that moment, and it passed…she re-loved me. But nothing after that declaration was ever the same. Normal was never normal again.
    Seems to me we’re all in one of those moments, where meaning itself—that pyramid of assumptions with us celebrating on top—judders. These are not perfect words for what I’m trying to frame, but in my defence, who ever needed a precise vocabulary before now to describe such an experience? Someone, last week, attempting to illuminate the way things now feel, called it “feathers on a cow.”
    Normal, or its absence, raises interesting questions about ideology, the entire body of theoretical positions about human purpose and social practice, those vast idealizations of how our happier, better, more constructive life together might be undertaken. Much in the way that an earth tremor challenges the idea of solid, this virus invites provocative questions about the difference between should and is; and you think: “The hell with the perfected life. I’d settle without a complaint if each of my footfalls just met the ground, and I could shake this sense of uncertainty and danger.”
    Isn’t that just what our neighbours in the US are going through at the moment: a shit sandwich filled with the terrors of COVID-19 infection and death; the eruption of long-simmering racial angers; challenges to conventional police culture and the prescriptions of authority; broad-based and, for many, almost apocalyptic economic anxiety; and horrible damage to the country’s identity and national purpose, its social momentum—much of it authored or aggravated by that emotionally damaged boy in a man-suit in the White House? Actually, normal took a powder when the 2016 US presidential election outcome gave the world “a creature” whose “instinct is base and animalistic, survival-centered, without core conviction of a prevailing character,” in New York Times columnist Charles Blow’s nearly Shakespearean imagery.
    (Oh, and memo to all of us up here: the idea that “what happens in the US stays in the US” is a fantasy. If the US blows, we will quickly learn the meaning of the phrase “porous border.”)
    Tie a string around all of this and ask if the itchy feeling, this movie you’re powerless to stop watching, isn’t exactly what you would expect or imagine in End Times—Eschaton, the biblical climax of world events. At its heart, normal’s vanishing act asks you to consider just how history happens, and whether history is a progress line on a growth chart, or just mud, sadness and cyclicality.
    I’m advised that Sweden might beg to differ, but I’m toying with the idea of placing large, conspicuous signs at all of our city’s entry points: “Welcome to Victoria: The Last Rational Place.” In my defence is Tom Edsell’s recent New York Times column, “The Whole of Liberal Democracy Is in Grave Danger at This Moment.” Edsell writes: “In the continuing debate over whether liberals or conservatives are more open-minded, whether those on the left or the right are more rigid in their thinking, a team of four Canadian psychologists studied patterns of ‘cognitive reflection’ among Americans. They found that a willingness to change one’s convictions in the face of new evidence ‘was robustly associated with political liberalism, the rejection of traditional moral values, the acceptance of science, and skepticism about religious, paranormal, and conspiratorial claims.’”
    I mean, sure, you had to order your sashimi through a sheet of plastic; and true enough, a blue face mask went with nothing in your wardrobe; and the endlessly-relocated homeless folks playing musical campsites in Beacon Hill Park forgot occasionally to say “have a nice day;” and the noticeably, shockingly merchandise-thin shelves and racks at Winners were a foretaste of retail apocalypse; and if you had to brake to a stop one more time to allow a dozen peacocks or unpredictable and nervous deer to slowly and meanderingly cross Dallas Road, you were going to lose it and lean on the horn. But, on balance, what a gift Fate has given this place. The gift? Just check the municipal or regional stats on identified local COVID-19 infections, recoveries, deaths to-date, while the rest of the world heaves and groans, braced against the downdraft at the edge of the void.
    According to Wiktionary, “normal” as a noun means “the usual, average, or typical state or condition.” And it’s only when normal takes a holiday that we get an intuitive glimpse of the vast, unseen social and environmental forces that sustain normal. How does the song go?
    But now that you left me
    Good lord, good lord, how I cried
    You don’t miss your water, you don’t miss your water
    ‘Til your well runs dry.
    Still, normal as a social definition gets little respect. Said Carl Jung: “Normality is a fine ideal for those who have no imagination.” And online, you can find a lot of noise and graffiti asserting that normal is boring and the opposite of creative and original.
    Nowhere have I encountered the helpful insight that normal is the condition that permits the exceptional, the platform, so to speak, on which the statue sits. Poor, uncelebrated normal: the very clockwork of the universe, but, still, can’t get no respect.
    In a recent review of Frank Wilderson III’s Afropessimism, Vinson Cunningham highlights the book’s insistence that “the spectacle of Black death is essential to the mental health of the world.” Cunningham continues: “For Wilderson, the state of slavery, for Black people, is permanent: every Black person is always a slave and, therefore, a perpetual corpse, buried beneath the world and stinking it up.”
    It’s roughly in this sense, I believe, that most people form an opinion about normal, not very different from the way they think of gravity: something to hate (culturally if not personally) and fight against, something to escape, something which, if un-conquered, will remain an enemy of accomplishment and release—as if gravity had, or embodied, a will of its own. And in our collective imagination, the society that perfected normal, turned regularity into cultural expression, into a folksy, nutty art form (care for a yodel?), has lent its name to something approaching a curse or a joke: “Swiss.”
    “Scriabin’s music,” Donald Garvelmann comments in some CD liner notes, “embraces the past and the future, formality and freedom.” That’s what we ask of normal: just enough leash, just enough play.
    All of this raises a locally relevant question: Will Victoria forever be “a little bit of Olde England?” Would we be that even if we demolished the Empress Hotel and put up a cluster of shitty, copycat condo towers in its place? (What do you think: “Empress Place” or “Harbour Landing?”) Or if we de-cute-ified and de-sweet shoppe-ed Government Street? Or is it more culturally-pervasive, more normal and embedded, than a few bits of architecture? Is it the please-and-thank-you reek of the place, rising from every proper residential street and trimmed lawn? Do we need to replace nice with hard and rude to be more contemporary, more exceptional, less English, less…normal?
    Founder of Open Space, founding publisher of Monday Magazine, originator of the seven Gaining Ground urban sustainability conferences, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an innovative affordable housing concept, and writing “Futurecide,” a book that argues that catastrophe is ecological.

    Stephen Hume
    While taking down monuments and renaming sports teams can seem Orwellian, why shouldn’t we rename “British Columbia” and “Victoria” given they were acts of renaming themselves.
     
    TWO YEARS AGO, following a full year’s discussion and cogitation, Victoria City council removed a statue of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, from its prominent place outside City Hall.
    Sir John A. did represent Victoria as an absentee MP but his connection with the city is actually measured in the few days 134 years ago when he came out to drive the last spike in the now defunct Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway. That, it should be remembered, was an era when politicians campaigned on platforms promising to keep British Columbia a “white man’s country.”
    Macdonald was the engineer of a bold attempt at cultural destruction using residential schools, as well as an Indian Act which disenfranchised and disposed indigenous populations. He was also behind the first Chinese Immigration Act which was aimed at excluding Asians, violent suppression of Metis language and land rights on the Prairies, and the ethnic cleansings and separation of First Nations from economic resources that resulted in “Indian reserves”—a far more comfortable euphemism than “concentration camps.”
    Council persevered despite affront from those who frequently wrap an apparent angst over social change in the increasingly threadbare cloak of patriotic loyalty to the monarchy, the supposed integrity of history, devotion to the continuity of Canada’s public institutions, keeping up tradition and so on.
    In retrospect, council’s decision looks downright prescient, which is saying something for the folks who spent more than a million dollars-a-metre to replace a bridge so short a good high school sprinter could cross in 10 seconds.
     

    A peaceful demonstration beside the statue of Queen Victoria in front of the BC Parliament Buildings. This demonstration was not directly related to Queen Victoria’s well-documented role in colonization and expansion of the British Empire. Victoria and British Columbia were colonized early in her reign. Should her statue be removed and Victoria and BC be renamed?
     
    Desire for decolonization, acknowledgement of the racialized ethnocentrism that has been the engine of imperialism, nationalism and a host of other unpleasant “isms,” and striving for reconciliation with the colonized seems to be gathering momentum, particularly with young people.
    Concerns have moved on from the graven image of Canada’s principal engineer. Everywhere, it seems, statues of merchants who created and benefited from the monstrous economic machinery of slavery, politicians and jurists who legislated and legitimized colonial theft, and the adventurers and soldiers who enabled and defended the slave trade are now being removed by officials or toppled in public protest.
    Are there excesses occasionally rooted in ignorance? Sure, but they pale in comparison to the excesses rooted in ignorance and malice that were perpetrated by the people whose legacies are now under review.
    We’re removing the names of racists once celebrated as upstanding citizens from schools and universities, public buildings, parks and landmarks. We’re now co-naming places with both indigenous and mainstream names that better reflect the dualities inherent in the emerging culture of our “here” as opposed to the psychologies of the colonized seeking to import and impose a distant “there” from Europe or Asia or Africa.
    The colonized mind gave us replicas of Greek temples, Roman pantheons, Gothic cathedrals, Egyptian obelisks, Bavarian villages, Japanese tea houses, Chinese pagodas and even English faux Tudor thatch cottages—in a rain forest, yet—almost everywhere we look.
    And the accusing finger of accountability has now properly moved on from the institutions of governance to those of popular culture, sports in particular.
    Some, alert to the changing mood, have moved swiftly to change common racialized nicknames. Junior B hockey’s Saanich Braves is changing the name because, its owners say, it’s just the right thing not to give offence to the many indigenous communities that surround and permeate the Capital Region.
    The Edmonton Eskimos, on the other hand, having resisted and rationalized for years in the face of calls to change a nickname that many Inuit find insulting, decided to find another moniker for the professional football team only after a major sponsor threatened to abandon ship, thus putting a whole new spin on the club’s colours—green and gold.
    In the US, the Washington Redskins reached the same conclusion when a major sponsor threatened to depart, causing wags to suggest the most appropriate new nickname might be the Washington Greenbacks. Plenty of other teams from high schools to college and professional ranks are getting the same message.
    You’d think, from the subsequent gnashing of teeth and cries of enraged anguish from some fans and sports pundits in Edmonton that changing a name that many find objectionable is somehow equivalent to blowing up the Parthenon or pulling down the temple of Solomon.
    Well, not quite. Sports franchise owners who make money from branding are quite happy to change nicknames, team colours, team logos and even cities whenever the prospect of greater returns from their business is perceived elsewhere.
    One need look no further than Victoria for a prime example.
    More than a hundred years ago, Victoria had a terrific professional hockey team, the Senators. The Senators renamed themselves the Aristocrats, then they moved to Spokane as the Canaries but came back to Victoria a year later as the Aristocrats, again. Then they played four years as the Cougars, won a Stanley Cup from the Montreal Maroons and immediately cashed in by selling all their players to new owners and moving to Detroit to join the new National Hockey League in which they first played as the Cougars, then became the Falcons and finally the Red Wings..
    Their foes, the Portland Rosebuds, transformed into the core of a new NHL franchise in Chicago. They got renamed the Black Hawks and then were rebranded again from a double-barrelled to a single-barrelled name as the Blackhawks—almost the reverse of the geographical renaming going on here where Gulf Islanders reject single-barrelled Saltspring for double-barrelled Salt Spring, although perhaps a better change would be to the SENĆOŦEN place name for the island, W̱ENÁ¸NEĆ, which certainly has a longer and more authentic pedigree.
    The process of decolonizing won’t be quick, painless or as easy as toppling a few statues or changing the hurtful names, mottos and mascots of sports teams. It will involve reimagining the way we relate to the landscape itself—and through it to one another.
     
    A PALIMPSEST IS A PARCHMENT which has been repurposed for a new text only to have the script and images of the older story reemerge through the new narrative.
    It’s most often used in reference to documents from the ancient world in which pages capable of preserving text were so valuable and books so rare that as cultural values changed over lifespans and even centuries, one hand-written document might be erased so that a new one could be superimposed.
    Among the most famous examples are sections of Homer’s Iliad and Euclid’s writing on geometry that were transcribed in the 6th Century but then, 300 years later, erased and covered with the writings of a Christian patriarch.
    The only surviving section of a 4th Century copy of Cicero’s writings on Roman politics was found beneath a 7th Century copy of St Augustine’s writing. And the work of Greek mathematician Archimedes that had been copied onto parchment in the 10th Century was later found beneath a 12th Century liturgy.
    In a way, our whole cultural history is a series of palimpsests, and succeeding generations seek to edit and propagandize (one way or the other) the past and the accomplishments of previous generations they wish to either diminish or aggrandize as affirmation of their own worth.
    The United Kingdom, to which our monarchist enthusiasts and defenders of tradition so fondly hearken, is a series of overlays in which successive conquerors imposed their place names upon the landscape as a way of asserting control and superiority over the colonized.
    Eburos of the Eburorovices becomes Eboracum under the Romans then becomes Eoforwic under the Angles, becomes Jorvik under the Danes and finally becomes York.
    In a more brutal example of erasing evidence of what went before, Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan soldiers, fired by iconoclastic religious zeal, rampaged through cathedrals smashing the stained glass, carved crosses and effigies on 400-year-old medieval graves whose coats of arms they associated with the hated 17th-century monarchy.
    One can see parallels here in the use of residential schools to erase language and social cohesion, the wholesale looting and destruction of art and artifacts, the casual renaming of places and even people, the outlawing of cultural and spiritual rites and traditions and other transgressions against the colonized.
    And so it has been through history, from Egyptian pharaohs erasing the stone glyphs of previous and subsequently-reviled dynasties to Taliban zealots blowing up ancient Buddhas in Afghanistan.
    Lord Elgin, later governor of Canada, presided in 1860 over one of history’s great examples of such imperial vandalism, sending 3,500 drunken troops to sack China’s ancient Summer Palace in a vindictive orgy of looting and arson. China isn’t without fault, either. It has destroyed 6,000 ancient monasteries in Tibet since invading in 1946. Romans pulling down Jewish temples, Muslims and Christians seizing, renaming and repurposing the religious sites of each other—the unpleasant legacy is long and ubiquitous.
    In a way, all our maps represent cultural palimpsests. The movements of peoples bring new languages and as places are occupied new place names are superimposed. Sometimes it’s merely for the convenience of new settlers who can’t be troubled to learn the languages of people who preceded them. Sometimes it is to affirm and imprint the authority of new overlords upon previously-owned and since stolen landscapes. Sometimes it’s a conscious effort to make manifest George Orwell’s observation from 1984 that controlling the past ensures control of the future.
    And yet, what seems so permanent in the present can be entirely ephemeral in the passage of time.
    Thus, in the historical blink of an eye, the indigenous Camosack becomes Fort Camosun with the arrival of the fur trade in 1843, then becomes Fort  Albert in 1845, then Fort Victoria with British colonial status, then just Victoria. Is there a compelling reason that it shouldn’t revert to Camosack, other than a desire to cling to the belief that for some reason the ugly icons of imperialism, occupation and the deliberate disenfranchising and dispossessing of indigenous minorities somehow deserve to be fossilized and commemorated?
    Place names change all the time. They reflect dynamic patterns of occupation, the amended political needs of the moment and evolving cultural values.
    Saint Petersburg becomes Leningrad and reverts to Saint Petersburg. Constantinople, the great capital of Byzantium, becomes the Istanbul of the Ottomans. The United Kingdom has changed its name twice and may have to change it yet again if Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales decide they might have a better future inside Europe rather than out of it and dominated by England.
    On some ancient maps, what’s now British Columbia appears as Fusang from a legendary Chinese exploration, probably mythical, but who knows? On others, it’s New Albion, supposedly from an expedition by Sir Francis Drake who got his financial start as a pirate and trader in slaves.
    Captain George Vancouver called it New Georgia and New Hanover.
    Fur trader Simon Fraser, approaching overland from the northeast, called it New Caledonia because he supposed it looked like the Scotland he’d never seen and would never see.
    The northwest corner was the Stickeen Territory. To the south it was the Columbia District; to the west was Quadra and Vancouver’s Island, later shortened to Vancouver Island as English bureaucrats dumped the Spanish connection when it became a British colony; further north was Haida Gwaii—Santa Margarita to the Spanish—renamed Queen Charlotte Islands after his ship by a trader in sea otter pelts and finally, after 200 years or so, reclaimed by its original inhabitants as Haida Gwaii. All these names were changed, abandoned, subsumed or remerged from the palimpsest of colonization and decolonization.
    The Fraser River was Lhta:ko to some, Tacoutche Tesse to yet others. It was  Sto:lo, the Quw’utsun’s River, Rio Floridablanca, New Caledonia River, Jackanet River, and finally was named by explorer, trader and cartographer David Thompson after Fraser, the first European to descend to its estuary in 1808.
    Indeed, many of the province’s place names were bestowed by upwardly mobile British surveyors to please friends or toady to bureaucrats, politicians or minor royalty who might look favourably upon them someday.
    And yet, the magnificent landscape we, for the moment, at least, call British Columbia is the same despite the startling transience in its names.
    Considering that the British presence here has been about 200 years out of probably 14,000 of occupation—which is about 1.4 percent of the time of human habitation—why not rename the province for something more representative of the braided narrative of our emerging collective history?
    How about Saghallie Illahie? It is a term from the Chinook trade language invented by European and indigenous traders to communicate with each other for mutual benefit.
    Saghallie Illahie can mean either Heaven, or the High Country, both of which seem to apply here. In any event, proposing a new name for our home, one that’s from here and not from half a planet and a couple of centuries away seems neither outlandish nor unreasonable.
    At least no more unreasonable than sticking with British Columbia which creates a strange amalgam of analogies. British, of course, excludes the people already here, not to mention the other European, Asian and African settlers who helped make the place what it is. And Columbia, at its kindest, evokes the female national personification of another cruel, imperialistic and colonial country—the United States—while at its unkindest, it evokes Christopher Columbus, the brutal and avaricious slave trader who unleashed upon the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere one of the greatest calamities in human history.
    How about a name that seeks to speak to and for all of us and not the worst in some of us?
    Stephen Hume spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. His byline has appeared in most major Canadian newspapers. The author of nine books of poetry, natural history, history and literary essays, he lives on the Saanich Peninsula.
     

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    July 4, 2020
    Reflections as the pendulum swings between hope and hopelessness.
     
    THE CONFIDENT RESILIENCE that I felt just a month ago in the face of this near-unprecedented pandemic has started giving away to the occasional wobble. It began subtly enough, with small ephemeral anxieties that suddenly took to hovering overhead, and a vague irritability, directed mostly at myself, for playing too close to the pendulum swinging between hope and hopelessness and occasionally getting knocked in the head.
    At first it was easy enough to stay positive. Adrenalin drove our preparations; it all felt a bit surreal, and indeed it was. This was our opportunity—in tandem with the masses—to practise resilience and self-sufficiency. We baked, gardened, stayed cocooned, and felt grateful for our resources.
    Across the country people did the same. Puzzles, seeds, gardening supplies, bicycles, knitting supplies, pantry staples and home renovation products all flew off the shelves. It almost seemed as if we were reaching back in time for help with the present.
     

    In the author’s neighbourhood, this Lochside Trail sculpture appeared to encourage cyclists and others
     
    On our street, people were unfailingly kind: I’m thinking of the many offers of help we exchanged back and forth, the easy and encouraging chats over the fence, the safely distanced cul-de-sac concert that brought everyone together, and the sweet little painted stone I found on my doorstep one day, its liquid-bright colours exuding reassurance.
    As a region, we pulsed with ingenuity. Local manufacturers retooled their systems and began producing hand sanitizer and face shields for health care workers, and ventilators for a possible worst-case scenario. Suddenly you could chat with your doctor by phone, and your pharmacist could authorize your prescription refill. Grocers invented new ways to shop. Almost everything local could be ordered online and delivered to your door.
    Businesses, struggling through a marathon of uncertainty and debt, came up with creative adaptations once restrictions were somewhat eased. Jam Café on Herald Street, for example, hung clear shower curtains between the tables as a low-cost, low-tech way of keeping diners safer without making the space claustrophobic. The University of Victoria transformed a parking lot into a drive-in theatre, a perfect, everything-old-is-new-again antidote for our times.
    And then there was the patchwork quilt of emergency relief programs, each announced daily over several weeks by the federal government. Billions of dollars were quickly distributed among millions of Canadians and our identity as a civilized and compassionate society was duly reinforced.
    But there’s no denying the quilt’s awkward, and no doubt costly, inefficiency. We are in the midst of several astounding crises: a pandemic that is nowhere near finished with us; inequity that keeps rising to new all-time highs; societal divisiveness that threatens to turn us into each other’s enemies; and climate change that looms over everything as the most urgent and lethal threat of all. What we really need is a daring reset involving some complex and multi-pronged solutions.
    One is the Guaranteed Annual Income. If ever there was an opportunity to give serious traction to this concept—which has twice been pilot-tested in Canada with notably positive results, and twice been mothballed by partisan politics—this is it. This is our chance to move away from a tradition of ineffective, compartmentalized aid for all the persistent miseries—child poverty being one—to real and lasting equity in an efficient and streamlined program that leaves no one behind.
    And if ever there is a time to at least consider promoting a four-day workweek as a way to begin shifting the emphasis from “having more” to “living better,” surely this is it. After the initial pocketbook panic, we might be able to envision the possibility of a better work/life balance focused less on the hamster wheel of earning and spending, and more on the benefit of extra time for self and family. We might come to understand the often-inverse correlation between time and money, and that it isn’t always money that leaves us feeling more enriched.
    Can we change? We must. Every day I hope we will have the courage and resolve to do so, and to see each other through the undoubtedly rocky transition that must come first.
    On other days, I’m not so sure. It seems like a long shot, given our checkered record for compromise and getting along. On those days I lay low and keep my head away from the pendulum. I go outdoors and lean on nature for strength and solace. Then I come back in and carry on.
     
    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a writer, Master Gardener and proud new grandmother. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).
     

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    Much about our old ways seem reckless now—the indoor visit, sharing of food, and shoulder to shoulder camaraderie.
     
    SO MUCH HAS CHANGED during these unprecedented times. For one thing, we’ve all been learning the strange, new social distancing dance, the classic one-step-forward-and two steps-back manoeuvre that has you yearning for the embrace of your loved ones while propelling yourself away from anyone else who comes too close.
    These days we always enter our house through the laundry room and head straight for the sink—newly coined as the disinfecting station—to scrub our hands, groceries, cell phone, car keys, and whatever else is brought inside. Washing groceries is an odd and tedious exercise that now must follow the nerve-wracking task of shopping for groceries.
    Did I say shopping? It’s more like post-apocalypse mission for nutrition. Wearing a mask, and with gloved hands gripping a sanitized cart, I navigate the one-way arrows and try not to linger at any displays, nor touch anything I’m not going to buy. We’re all in this together, we’re told, but every shopper I see has their head and eyes down as we all quickly collect our victuals and work our way to the cashiers behind Plexiglas. We look resigned and alone in our confining bubbles.
     

    The new normal: Constant warnings to keep your distance
     
    These are the days when emotions run high and mental health takes a battering. Life feels uncertain, worrisome and melancholy. My spouse and I are fortunate to have plenty to keep us busy at home, but I long for more human touch, especially the easy presence of our children and new grandchild. Previously they would all drop by often, come right in, have coffee and settle for a visit. Everything about that seems reckless now—the indoor visit, sharing of food, and shoulder to shoulder camaraderie. Now we stand tentatively on the driveway or sit in the garden, always well apart from each other. Instead of hugging we wave. A lot.
    On a chilly day back in April, the crock pot had been burbling on the counter for hours when a daughter and her partner came by with a load of compost for our garden. “Stay for dinner; we can make it work,” I urged, which triggered flashes of both Yes! and No! across their faces. They settled on Yes.
    We banished the car to the driveway and then set up a card table in the middle of the garage. The chairs were placed several metres apart. I served the food and we ate heartily, all the while enjoying each other from a safe distance. I was so happy to have them “inside” that I almost wept.
    Recently she and I were gardening together while staying safely apart. (She has time for this now, since all of her band’s summer music festival bookings have sadly been cancelled.) We talked about how COVID-19 has changed everything for everyone. Suddenly she reached a gloved hand around a shrub and said, “Look! We can still hold hands.”
    I extended my own gloved hand. Her grip was firm, full of hope and encouragement. It felt so good and reassuring that I again almost wept.
     
    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a Saanich-based writer and Master Gardener. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).

    Gene Miller
    View Towers
     
    ACROSS THE WORLD, politics and political structure as a system of social management, as a social vocabulary, as a way of apportioning individual and social power, as a way of getting at human aspiration, is either failing or waning. It lacks the tools to respond to the complexities of a global civilization anaged electronically—something that never existed before in human history—a civilization rendered geographically global by economic interactivity and the abstractions of finance and digital technology. We are, if I can resort to cliché, being ruled by money, by financial flows. Rulership, leadership, governance is passing from the various historical arrangements of political power to the power of capital and those who run its systems. People everywhere, in every nation and culture, are feeling a growing bewilderment and powerlessness, losing social meaning; and this may conceivably presage the dissolution of the nation-state, the national ‘tribe’—the current retreat from globalism, assertive nervous boundary conditions and national drum-beating attitudes notwithstanding.
    Today’s terrifying lurch to the right and the rise of the autocratic, authoritarian personality—the US under Trump, Brazil with Bolsanaro, Hungary with Orban and so on—itself implies a near-future bereft of citizenship as we currently understand it.
    Remember: the modern administrative state as a social model and a guarantor of rights and freedoms didn’t always exist or come with assurances. It’s a relatively new and still-evolving experimental tool for social management. Consider that a mere dozen generations ago, society was a largely familial proposition run by kings and queens. 
    Politicians no longer dream of changing (improving) the world, daunted by the sheer chaos of its contemporary design. All political leaders can do is cosmetically manage the thinly veiled control that financial services, tech, and energy companies exert over all of us, while offering narratives of good and evil, or of limitless possibility, that seem increasingly vapid and hollow. All of these forces and trends are producing a mounting, spreading state of unreality in social life and significantly weakening the foundations beneath a number of social institutions. Privacy, for example, has practically evaporated and given way to surveillance and commodifiable transparency; and with that, a certain kind of selfhood or autonomy is vanishing. (You can tell privacy is going when you receive so many assurances that your privacy is being respected.)
    We are facing the central question of how to (and who or what intellectual regime should) manage a post-political future, and what is the shape, what are the goals, of human culture in such a future. (Structuralists might add that the arrival speed of such a future will determine if humanity can even endure such change.)
    This is human and social evolution—not progress necessarily, but change. Our protocols and culture, structures and institutions are still based in political sensibility, in ideology, and the rhetoric of social improvement. But all of this, argue contemporary thinkers including sociologist and social theorist Ulrich Beck, is a remnant condition simply caught in a final moment of poise, and steadily hollowing out in favour of economic management—management by finance—and the information flows such management requires.
    Ideological ideas about social management decreasingly define this emergent human condition. It’s all being washed aside, like the Age of Royalty before it. Ironic and telling, isn’t it, the accumulating social commentary about our new “financial aristocracy.”
    All of this connects to a local point, if I may circle back to built form, by which I really mean the scope and degree of consciousness that a community brings to built-form decisions. The point is that there really is a connection between physical form and social empowerment, that feeling of being a stakeholder in a community, of being a citizen. Yes, this stuff is abstract and resists measurement, but it isn’t imaginary. (This, by the way, is something Victoria’s regional amalgamation, bigger-is-cheaper advocates seem not to get. Bigger isn’t cheaper; it’s just bigger and it generates other less quantifiable costs.)
    NIMBY, for its part, gets half, but only half—the “I want to protect and preserve what I have”—of the social equation right. What it gets wrong is that you can’t simply say “No!” Active citizenship requires that you conceive and implement affirmative (and inevitably compromissory) ways to say, “Yes!” You have to build and reinforce and re-strengthen democratic civic practice every day. You have to solve problems and produce outcomes through your own direct engagement, and not with a taxpayer’s delegation sensibility: “we have people who look after that.” You have, in other words, to re-engage and re-earn your rights every day. The current culture trap makes active citizenship of this kind seems antiquated and almost silly, a waste of mental and physical time in the face of other social priorities. But I will tell you with certainty that social passivity is spreading, and that it is increasingly reinforced by electronic infrastructure and online culture that between them mediate ever more reality for us; and that our doom lies in that direction: a likely combination of the evaporation of authentic democratic protocols, ecological ruin and AI domination.
    Set within such concerns is an explanation of Victoria’s appeal. Our urban character and traditional architecture—the planning and land use principles they express—convey the social message that Victoria is a place in which traditional, comprehensible human arrangements are still alive and well, where community and its social transactions and political opportunities are still valid. Visitors ooh! and ahh! when they come here, and use words like “charming” and “cute,” but they are actually conveying their own deep yearning and a deep loss, or fear of loss, elsewhere. With every ooh! they mean “your city is a rock in a world adrift.”
    Imagine yourself a visitor to Victoria: say, a walk along Dallas Road; a walk through Beacon Hill Park; then funky, relaxed, still sort-of heritage-y Downtown and intriguing, memory-rich LoJo and Fisgard/Chinatown; other reasonably well-ordered, mixed-form neighbourhoods. The nature/culture balance, the proportion, success and human safety of it all…the containment!
    Visitors may never articulate this to their hosts or even themselves, but don’t imagine for a second that they aren’t aware of it, taking it in through their skin and senses.
    The world is not a relaxed place. It is terrifying; and order, safety, are—well, not illusions, exactly, so much as a set of islanded conditions exposed to the roil of history.
    Do such places, like our city, come with a forever, a guarantee? You know the answer. Everyone knows the answer. While in the short term they may appear to be the gifts that keep on giving, their perpetuity should never be taken for granted, but met with humility and citizenly reinvestment. There, quite bluntly, is the case for engaged citizenship.
    However understandable and forgiveable, our failure to eradicate homelessness and associated social risk and outsider-ness; our failue to conceive innovative built forms and the appropriate policies to deliver urban density without social damage; or to achieve high (or higher) levels of urban and architectural design in public and private settings; to serve as a model and a beacon of ecological practice; and to invent new public ritual around all such achievements (“Ritual,” states social critic Richard Sennett, “is an emotional unity achieved through drama.”)—in summary, to engage and innovate—are the challenges that confront our civic community. They never go away.
    View Towers still stands to remind us of the costs of inattention; and high above it is this message written in the ether: stick with the hard work of citizenship because disregard carries the greater cost.
    Founder of Open Space, founding publisher of Monday Magazine, originator of the seven Gaining Ground urban sustainability conferences, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an innovative affordable housing concept, and writing “Futurecide,” a book that argues that catastrophe is ecological.

    Gene Miller
    VIEW TOWERS. It sat there, like a spaceship in a cow pasture, between Quadra and Vancouver, Fort and View Streets, a 19-storey heartbreaker silently announcing to everyone who walked or drove by: “Beauty is tricksome and fleeting, and Death awaits thee.”
    A description in the Islandist states: “The building, completed in 1968, has been locally notorious for much of its 50 year existence, having been the site of several murders, suicides, fatal overdoses, destructive fires, countless violent assaults and several hundred 9-11 calls besides. Its unflattering nickname of ‘Crack Towers’ has persisted since the 1990s.”
    (Crack’s so passé, don’t you think?)
     

     
    The building radiates that history out through its mercy-free concrete skin. If buildings convey messages and operate as narratives about human worth and destiny, View Towers is our Statue of Misery.
    The property owner/developer, George Mulek, had intentions, as I understand it, to put up a second, presumably twin or similar building, along the Fort Street frontage of his property, but was prohibited by a shocked and rueful city that curtailed his property development entitlements after the first building went up. Mulek, anecdote has it, left Victoria angry and frustrated and built nothing more here. Mulek is dead (I wish I could report that, in an attempt to restore moral equilibrium, he jumped; but no) and Edmonton-based family members now own View Towers, Orchard House (in James Bay) and numerous residential towers in Vancouver.
    I don’t know how the property acquired its original development entitlements; that is, why anyone thought twin 19-storey buildings in that location would enhance or benefit Victoria. Clearly, there are few enlightening lessons to be taken from the hard mind of the developer, but many from the effort to understand why people in the City of Victoria’s political and administrative circles thought such land use entitlements were a good idea in the first place.
    Progress? Need? Someone’s careless idea? Stupid season?
    Remember: Everything bearing on land use expression is someone’s idea, conceived to respond to an apparent need or exploit some opportunity or produce some beneficial social outcome. Of course, what often happens in the process is best described by a single word: “Oops.”
    Each individual land use outcome can be labelled a microscopic event in the city’s overall life, and we all want to believe the city is large and elastic enough to forgive and endure its mis-calls, but it doesn’t take too many ill-considered choices before a place becomes this instead of remaining or becoming that. All of which has special relevance now as Victoria slowly but surely, building by building, at Victoria scale, turns, either by design or accident, into this (both images Vancouver):
     

     
    And this:
     

     
    So, what’s so bad about that, you ask? After all, you go to Vancouver and it’s people just like us, not zombies or faceless automatons, right? And Vancouver’s dynamic, exciting, important!
    And this is the point at which you and I need to take a two-directional excursion into the recent past and near future, developing some ideas about current social evolution and how Victoria fits with all of that.
    Find Gene’s excursion (part 2 of this story) here.
    Founder of Open Space, founding publisher of Monday Magazine, originator of the seven Gaining Ground urban sustainability conferences, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an innovative affordable housing concept, and writing “Futurecide,” a book that argues that catastrophe is ecological.

    Maleea Acker
    ...and the space that saying “no” creates, and what you would be willing to give up to keep that quiet in your head, in the world.
     
    IN THESE LAST DAYS (for now) of BC’s version of a full lockdown (few stores open other than essentials, most people laid off or working from home, no tourism, no going out to eat), consider the silence.
    The silence of the streets. At night, I walk my dog around the block: up Regina, up to Wascana, down Lurline, and back along Seaton. Usually, in pre-COVID-19 times, as I crest the hill at Lurline, the blanket of traffic noise from Burnside Road, Tillicum Road and the Island Highway hits me like a growling wall. But in these last eight weeks, it’s been the wind in trees that is the loudest sound. An owl. Someone’s radio. Someone talking. We continue down into a valley of quiet, broken by the occasional car’s faraway whoosh. The sound is an individual car; it’s not traffic. It’s not a wall.
    This isn’t just at night. It’s at 4:30 on a Tuesday. It’s at 10am with bird song on a Saturday. Consider being able to hear your neighbour’s spoon clinking in its bowl as she eats her breakfast in her kitchen with the window open. Consider hearing children from four doors down. The wings of a raven passing overhead. A dog barking. Your own heart beating.
     

    Empty roads and sidewalks equals quiet
     
    Consider also, the silence that may have found its way into some of our thoughts. I think, “I could use a shirt; this one is losing its shape.” Then I think, “but the shops are closed.” And I turn back to the garden, or to walking somewhere in the forests nearby, or to what I’d like to do after dinner, after marking my students’ online essays. As we turn away from buying things, because there is little to buy, consider the space that silencing of want leaves in one’s head.
    Consider the silence (very like the silence I experienced in Cuba) of little advertising, of few or no ads telling you what you lack. How much could we really do without? Will I go shopping when things reopen? Probably not. I like this space that saying “no” creates. I like the extra time that “making do” gives me. Days stretch out longer. I like that “no” creates many other “yeses.”
    Then, consider the silencing of frivolity. Little on the news about Hollywood stars (other than Matt Damon’s sojourn in a small Irish village). A focus, in social media, on how to grow food, how to support local business, the intricacies of mental health, a plethora of community check-in groups. This pandemic has seen an intensifying of focus on what matters and is critical to human life—health, food, shelter, community. The rest—luxury travel, gossip, speculation—has largely fallen away.
    I walk down the middle of streets around the city. People say hello when I pass them. Places I’ve travelled to unspool as memories in my head. I am writing to the people I love, rather than meeting them. I’m also measuring the decibels where I walk using a free App on my phone. The level right now at that rise on Lurline is at 35 decibels. That translates to the noise level of rustling leaves. It’s the same level you’ll find 5 kilometres North of the Island Highway, in the Highlands.
    What is your neighbourhood decibel level at? What will it be at next week? Consider the silence of a world in this delay. What does this mean for how we might live once these strictures are removed? What would we like to keep? What spaces? What stretches of time? What sounds? What are we willing to do without? What can we do without? What would you be willing to give up in order to keep that quiet in your head, in the world?
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.

    Gene Miller
    May 13, 2020
    The Jawls provide us with examples of how buildings can reflect and build a rational, respectful social vision.
     
    I HAVE THIS WAKING FANTASY…Mayor Lisa Helps, just after the start of her first term, back in 2014, is invited by UDI, the property developers’ organization, to be the luncheon speaker. Understandably, the membership wants to get a sense of the priorities, policy directions and “body English” of this new mayor.
    There are about a 140 attendees, seated at round tables, munching rubber chicken. Finally, lunch eaten and announcements announced, it’s showtime. The mayor is introduced, steps to the rostrum to warm applause, utters the usual pleased to’s and thank you’s, then says:
    With niceties out of the way, let’s get to the meat: If you have any intention of undertaking development in or near Downtown, and especially if you are considering a high-rise, do not—I repeat, do not—show up at the planning counter with anything less than a beautiful building design.
    You want to do a Vancouver building? Go to Vancouver.
    You want to put up some soulless piece of crap that’s going to reduce the special and unique character, the true value, of Downtown and the city? You want to do cold and inelegant, when Victoria needs warm, appealing, detailed? Uh-uh. Not here. Goodbye.
    You now have a mayor who will do everything possible to stymie such buildings and frustrate their approval at least until Oblivion.
    You don’t know what beautiful and graceful and distinguished and character-filled means? You don’t understand those words? “Like, what does she mean, beautiful and graceful?” Maybe you should choose another profession. Or maybe you’re professionally under-educated.
    Margins are thin and the market won’t support what I’m asking for? You can’t make money if you do a beautiful building? Please, before you utter those words, warn me and give me time to step away, so I don’t get hit by lightning when God strikes you dead for lying. Guys, I know how to read a development pro forma, I know market conditions, and I know you’re doing just fine.
    Your responsibility is to your bottom line, your lender, your investors? My responsibility is to the character, history, singular identity, destiny—the social, cultural and even spiritual future—of this city.
    You think your proposal really is beautiful and maybe I just can’t see it because our ideas of beautiful are different? Are you that debased? Look, this is Victoria, named for a powerful queen, not Dystopia, named for the end of the world.
    But I tell you what: you bring us a beautiful building, and the City will process your application at light speed.
    Any questions? Well, thank you so much for this speaking opportunity!
    Poof!
    Now, back to the real Downtown, overtaken, mid-makeover, by an increasing number of ice-cold towers. The city is about to wake up from this Downtown “facial,” when the building boom ends in five or so years, take one look in the mirror, and start screaming. It is being ruined by developers who operate in a moral vacuum that excludes any interest in, or awareness or understanding of, Victoria’s singularity, and by a City that doesn’t have the courage to announce: “We will only survive this hard age if we keep our soul intact.” History, in case you hadn’t noticed, is manufacturing great risks to social order and is producing everywhere a collapsing public realm.
    Victoria’s mission to redeem the future has never faced challenges like those now materializing.
    The problem is either caused or aggravated (maybe both) by ever-spreading cultural bankruptcy: a loss of civic story. If Mayor Helps told developers that their real project client was the city’s soul and future, they would think she was out on a day-pass.
    In a potent December, 2019 essay, “The 2010’s Were the End of Normal,” former NY Times chief book critic Michiko Kakutani wrote: “Apocalypse is not yet upon our world as the 2010s draw to an end, but there are portents of disorder. The hopes nourished during the opening years of the decade—hopes that [the world] was on a progressive path toward growing equality and freedom, hopes that technology held answers to some of our most pressing problems—have given way, with what feels like head-swiveling speed, to a dark and divisive new era.”
    If any of this mood-painting carries meaning for you and stirs your own worries, I urge you, for reasons of counterpoint and the restoration of emotional equilibrium, to journey out to Selkirk Waterfront Project, the Jawl family-owned and managed development on the Gorge.
    Other Jawl projects—Mattick’s Farm, Sayward Hill, the emerging Capital Park in James Bay, 1515 Douglas/750 Pandora, across the street from city hall, the Atrium at Yates and Blanshard—all share with the 25-acre Selkirk Waterfront Project a “signature,” a subtle but recognizable message about proportion and “enough-ness”; and none presents a sociopathic, chin-first challenge to destiny. Given the emergent crop of Trump Towers in Downtown Victoria, this is saying something.
     

    The Selkirk Waterfront Project as seen from the trestle across Selkirk Water (click to enlarge)
     
    Your mind registers the nomenclature: waterfront, farm, hill, park, atrium—the suggestion that by intention, where possible, buildings and projects are named as objects in a familiar experiential landscape and, even in their naming, take on responsibility to promote connection and continuity. (Interestingly, “1515 Douglas” is their least successful essay.)
    Walk, bike or drive around the Selkirk Project’s curving boulevards, study its buildings, their architectural variety, range and intermix of purpose, their respect for each other as objects or sites of human endeavour, their restraint and rationality. It’s this rationality, the elusive presence of design thinking, that I wish most to consider.
    I want you to imagine the Jawl family, to flow in and occupy and study the Jawl mind, a mind that seems by intention to promote composure about land use planning and architecture and, by extension, a framework of composed thought about how the world-at-large should be ordered, at least in the ways that land use speaks to human arrangements and possibilities.
    Remember: every idea and decision about form and architectural character, about shape, massing and height, colour and texture, building proximity, juxtaposition of uses and location/choice of external amenities, adjacencies—building citizenship, in other words—is informed by a social vision. Sure, by economics, but more essentially by a vision of how the human project should be shaped and should unfold, what consequences it should produce.
    In many developments around town you can read self-absorption, a trivial love of trend or novelty, synthetic drama, risk-taking, and the not-so-hidden violence of opportunity capture—fragile, adolescent ego, children playing grownups, in other words. And in many other projects it’s easy to detect a passionless actuarial sensibility in which physical results express only an economic calculus and communicate complete aesthetic, moral and cultural abdication.
    However, you can read in the Jawl property portfolio a rare and important calm, a long or at least longer view, a rationality and patience, an investment in something—some outcome—beyond the real estate.
    I’m suggesting that Jawl Properties somehow projects, through a set of architectural behaviours and choices, or design problem resolutions, a profound belief in rational human governance and social equilibrium.
    Jawl's various projects, in an almost mystical process, embody and advance the purpose and essential social promise of Victoria itself: Safety.
    You understand, of course, Victoria was conceived to be Heaven on Earth. Can’t you read that in its DNA, in its various parts and pieces? Did you think “a little bit of Old England” was just or only a joke? Victoria ever strives to meet its promise. You must have some sense of the stakes, the risks, facing any transcendental social experiment, especially in crippled human chapters like our own: the challenge of keeping chaos from ruining what we have built.
    This is why every architectural miscall, every bad building, diminishes the place, reduces its value. There is some quality of human blueprint, of a larger, longer purpose, still (if waningly) evident in our current Victoria—a sense of mission, and clear proof that cities are ideas about, and expressions of, human intention.
    In a world now catching fire this is a calm place, “fixt like a beacon-tower above the waves of Tempest,” as Tennyson wrote. Victoria’s job was to project the message, and its art form remains to deepen the protocols, of successful social collaboration in a world of fraying partnerships.
    Darran Anderson, in his remarkable Imaginary Cities, notes that the Egyptian hieroglyph for city also means “mother.” He considers this a rare and significant historical admission “that cities were founded according to nurturing and social environs and not the heroism of mythic individuals, often enshrined to justify dynastic rulers.” Safety, not danger.
    As civilization readies the terms of some next vast spasm, consider the contribution the Jawls, as social artists, have made to defining Victoria as a world capital of safety.
    It’s a big job and they can’t have too much company.
    Founder of Open Space, founding publisher of Monday Magazine, originator of the seven Gaining Ground urban sustainability conferences, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an innovative affordable housing concept, and writing “Futurecide,” a book that argues that catastrophe is ecological.
     

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    March 2020
    A plant-based diet came simply and gradually—and with many rewards.
     
    IT WASN’T ANYTHING SPECIFIC that led me to becoming a vegetarian many years ago; in fact, I never consciously “became” a vegetarian. There was no pivotal deciding moment, no fervent, “from-this-day-forward” declaration. Those were the days when food choices were still pretty straightforward, when they had not yet been conscripted into moral, political and health-related tug-of-wars. In my case, meat just slowly faded off the plate. 
    Growing up on a dairy farm probably had an influence. Our farm was well run and we were blessed to have wholesome, home-grown food security—all the milk we could drink, rows of ripening vegetables in the garden, and meat from an occasional cow selected for culling.
    The butchering of that cow, wide-eyed with primeval fear as she was led behind the barn on a tight halter, was a hard reality, including for my dad, who always hired someone else to get the job done. For a while afterwards, we felt a heaviness, a vague culpability in the heavy-handedness of it all, but those agitations were easily enough reconciled over plates of meatballs with gravy and mashed potatoes.
     

     
    I never was a big meat-eater, and over the years I came to realize I’d never much cared for its unadorned taste, nor look. The seasonings and sauces were what made it flavoursome; the butter that braised it and enhanced the gravy; the garlic, onions and red wine that perfected stews and roasts.
    It was when my own kids were blossoming into adolescents with iron-clad opinions that I proposed a non-meat dinner one day a week. I was getting dreadfully tired and uninspired in the kitchen. Meat is perishable—it can go bad in a really bad way. It’s a lot of work (including clean-up) and expensive for the household on a budget. Over the years, I’d boiled our meat choices down to ground beef, chicken breasts and, on Fridays, chicken nuggets. Nobody liked ham anymore, and we’d already ditched the wieners: Even back then, there was no good reason to feed them to anyone.
    It will be fun, I told them brightly. Everyone, my husband included, looked at me as if I’d suddenly sprouted a tuft of chin hairs. (I hadn’t, although I’m rather familiar with them now.)
    Our youngest lived at home until she’d finished university, and by then we three were mostly done with meat, having discovered the elegance and simplicity of a plant-based diet. Who knew that almost any type of winter squash, which is locally grown and storable for months, would make such a hearty and delicious pasta sauce? Who knew that lentils—grown right here on the peninsula—could be transformed into a full-bodied tourtiere? And that grilled vegetables could taste so sweet and delectable?
    There are many good reasons for becoming vegetarian. The health benefits have been well established. The land-use and carbon footprints are substantially smaller. Food security is enhanced, since grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and legumes (dried lentils, beans and peas) can be stored for months, years even. Add fruit and vegetables from the garden or local markets, and you’re all set.
    Food factories have jumped on the vegetarian bandwagon, but it’s worth knowing that not every new product is necessarily good food. Avoid anything that’s overly processed, salted, packaged, and expensive. Many offerings try to mimic meat. You don’t need them, unless you have strong cravings. Just keep using your most loved seasonings, and apply them to everything.
    Recipes abound, and many have been adapted from meat-based cuisine. Once I figured that out, I started modifying my own simple recipes. If I can do it, anyone can.
    A plant-based diet generates very little waste. Very little to wheel to the curb for barging over to Richmond for processing. Surely that counts for something.
    Slightly off topic, but then again not, I’ve recently started scrutinizing and reducing our energy use in the kitchen. Now we often make two meals at once, the second one requiring just a quick reheat. If we must use the oven, we’ll load it up with extras to bake and roast for later. We never have all four elements going at once—no recipe is that important.
    One last thing. My food evolution did end up being about animals after all. As kids are apt to do, I filed away everything I saw back then for inevitable processing much later in life. Today I’m content that no farm animal has to die for my dinner.
    I believe that eating vegetarian is eating more humbly. A little humility in the diet is never a bad thing.
    And on another front, Trudy can’t help wondering where we could be now if our $12.6 billion investment in the Trans Mountain pipeline project had been directed towards alternate energy solutions.

    Gene Miller

    Gimme shelter

    By Gene Miller, in Commentary,

    March 2020
    Scenes of homelessness challenge any illusion that our city is well-ordered—and call for a new blueprint for community.
     
    I DON’T WANT TO BREAK A SWEAT attempting to conflate hope and home, but it’s hard not to notice that they share three-quarters of their architecture. 
    I know: you’re sorely tempted to note, so do hole, hone, hose and hove.
    Remember when you had that stupid idea to create dinner-flavoured ice cream (I recall you said pork chops and Brussels sprouts would “go monster”)? I kept my mouth clamped shut, even when everybody suggested you might, for a change, want to start receiving your mail on Planet Earth.
    So, like, work with me now, okay? Hope, home.
    Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog made the news down here this past December suggesting that for some of the street population—the mentally ill and the thoroughly (I won’t write “hopelessly”) addicted—housing was less the appropriate response than institutionalization and some updated package of professional health management.
    Predictably, he caught shit for this from the handwringer contingent that, in its opposition, invoked horrific, Dickensian images of turreted insane asylums and the baying of the hounds.
    Me? I dunno. I’ve been around too long to have much faith that the rhetoric of perfect solutions bears any relationship to our (diminishing) ability to successfully manage social outcomes. The reasons for my doubts follow later in this column. But, despite those doubts, I cannot heap enough praise on everyone associated with Our Place and other places of protection who, daily, practice hope/home in every way possible.
    I recall a recent 5am coffee run to McDonalds at Pandora and Vancouver. En route, I spotted a lump—a garbage or duffel bag—on the far sidewalk, across Pandora from the restaurant. As I made the turn, the image resolved in my headlights: a man, hunched over into the smallest possible volume, his bare toes, knees and forehead in contact with the cold pavement, a crutch or cane beside him. He remained there, still as sculpture. He might have been lost in the intensities of Islamic prayer; he could have been dead.
     

    Homeless man on Pandora Avenue
     
    Victoria, we are producing—not allowing or enabling, but authoring—a new normal: the every night/overnight tent city in front of Our Place on Pandora, the ever-proliferating camperati in Beacon Hill and other city parks, the Downtown doorway crashers, the cardboard real estate everywhere, the tarp-covered shopping cart third-world-ification of the city’s sidewalks. I’m less interested in individual whats and whys than I am concerned about the social messaging and emotional impacts on the community-at-large, whose failure to more constructively manage this entire human tragedy is reinforced daily, as we disappear ever further into our individual electronic privacies. If you hit the right street at the worst time, the scene effortlessly conveys the atmospherics of one of sci-fi author William Gibson’s terrifying and apocalyptic futurologies.
    Welcome to Downtown Victoria 2020—real scenes that challenge any illusion that our community is well-ordered, socially coherent, or a place of practiced comfort and safety. When you have a public that effectively says “they’re homeless, so fuck ’em,” you court—no, you may count on—overall “fuck it” city life; and, owing to some strange social alchemy, all of us rendered separate human atoms, outsiders.
    Headlines gathered from the December 30, 2019 Times Colonist front page: “Police release video of stabbing attack;” “Man being sought by Victoria police after attempted kidnapping;” “Police look for men who broke into Oak Bay liquor store;” “Security guard stabbed after confronting suspected shoplifter.” And with bright promise for the new year, the January 3rd paper added, “One man arrested after fight with weapons in Centennial Square.”
    Just what brought and keeps you here, yes?
    Community, to the extent the word speaks to public life, realm, and assets, is not an afterthought and it cannot, beyond a certain point, be offloaded to City departments. Community begins with co: together, shared, us, everybody, mutuality, reciprocity. And big shock: community takes work, time, purpose and structure. Community has to be behaviour, about something; otherwise, it’s not community, only a cultural conceit, social lipstick, starry-eyed blab, an artifact.
    Columnist Nicholas Kristof and colleague Sheryl WuDunn recently penned a painful-to-read New York Times piece entitled “Who Killed the Knapp Family?” It chronicles five adult Knapp siblings, born and raised in rural Yamhill, southwest of Portland, Oregon, all but one of whom died from drugs, alcohol and similar misadventures and excesses (the surviving fifth served a long jail term). As Kristof and WuDunn make all too clear, the Knapps were victims of social and economic despair. Yamhill, the writers assert, is everywhere now—a condition incorporating addiction, lack of work, lack of a social safety net, lack of purpose, lack of exit. Suicides, note the authors, “are at their highest rate since World War II; one child in seven is living with a parent suffering from substance abuse; a baby is born every 15 minutes after prenatal exposure to opioids.”
    “We have deep structural problems half a century in the making,” they finish.
    Build the wall, Justin!—but no, too late: the same conditions that increasingly colour the American social and political landscape easily penetrate the Canadian membrane. While we do social management better here (health care, notably), we still have our own fish to fry, and our own talent for us-and-them identity politics.
    Don Evans, recently retired CEO of Our Place, has written of his own shock at the scale of the homeless. He cites poverty and its consequences as an obvious factor, but worriedly notes other constituencies that “we never imagined would end up on the street: neglected youth, injured workers, abused women, and people suffering from brain injuries and mental health issues that can strike anyone, at any income level, at any time.”
    We’re living in bad-dream times, a spreading hallucinatory condition that intrudes on the everyday, the customary, with ever-greater presence, a revolution not just of perception, but meaning and connection.
    With surprising suddenness, it’s a challenge to stand firm, to identify fixed points, to know exactly where the solid ground and the corners are. Take away even some of the “common”—shared experience, practice, sense of purpose and reinforcing protocols—and you no longer have community, just people shuffling around the same postal code.
    Look, “resilient” was only ever “fragile-with-prayer.” Things are breaking— conventional social behaviour, the terms of safety and security. Various economic and cultural certainties are diminishing, wobbling, and life is soon to be more…well, different. And when AI /robotics take all the jobs…?
    Imagine, however novelistically, a spooky, not-too-distant future Downtown filled with half-empty apartment towers and long stretches of shuttered shops, victims of online commerce, unsupportable costs, and vanished shopper appetite; the streets witness to an increasing Calcutta of shopping-cart homeless, bolstered by untold numbers living in their parked cars—not because the wife threw them out, but because life threw them out. Lots of car-campers here now, by the way, if you know where to look besides Dallas Road.
    History—our two- maybe three-generation experience of comfort and certainty—is rolling up, suicidally jumping into some dark void, trailingly calling bye-bye. Terrifying! You don’t like that idea? You don’t like any of this? What are you going to do about it? Not a taunt, but an honest question: what are you going to do about it?
    You want to understand Victoria’s continuing and remaining appeal—so precious, so rare, and so at risk? It’s not that the city is still “cute” or “charming” (the recent and continuing rash of tombstone high-rises has put paid to that), but that the social messaging conveyed by still-orderly residential streets in the close-in neighbourhoods, and a few isolated islands Downtown (LoJo for example) suggest Victoria still offers social redemption and is not (yet) a zombie stage set like many other overtaken places. There are in Victoria still places of beauty, proportion and memory, places of comprehensible social narrative—streets, blocks, neighbourhoods—that calm the soul and that promise protection and continuity.
    These places are community’s physical expression: they project connection, and silently rebuke us for the wider social inheritance we’ve squandered or misplaced.
    The message—hell, it’s a shout—to our still-reasonably-healthy, still-promising city society, better equipped than most to survive (the worst of) the future, is that these are times for the hard work of community renewal. Indifference and passivity have revealed their limits and generated predictable consequences, including the tragic streetscape of the homeless. Now it’s time for a movement, a new activist programme, a new blueprint for community, to reconnect the city to—to re-express the city as—the all of us.
    The hopeful news? Again, social alchemy. Merely convening to restore community creates new community.
    Founder of Open Space and co-founder of Monday Magazine, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an affordable housing concept.

    Leslie Campbell
    March 2020
    A growing budget, a lack of transparency, and a boundary-challenged City Council all merit voters’ attention.
     
    IN THIS EDITION OF FOCUS, Ross Crockford interviews candidates running in the April 4 City of Victoria by-election. Who voters choose will provide the current council with some feedback on its direction thus far, so it’s a good time to reflect on recent governance issues and talk to candidates about them.
    One area of concern is the growth of the City budget and residents’ tax burden. This is central, especially in the face of a climate crisis. Keeping spending in check is both highly practical and a matter of planetary survival. Growth costs us in earthly resources and climate stability. Reducing our collective footprint is the best way to ensure future generations have a place to live.
     

    Victoria City Council, sans Laurel Collins
     
    The City can’t be a climate leader without figuring out how to make government more efficient and less demanding of more and more resources, in the form of tax dollars or otherwise. Ultimately, it’s nature that pays for it all.
    The City’s budget for 2020 will be finalized at the end of April after property assessments are finalized. Land values have gone up in recent years due, at least in part, to City policies around development.
    The City’s new budget, with its proposed $265 million for operating expenses and $43 million for capital expenses, will require an approximate hike in property taxes and utilities of 3.32 percent. The mayor has boasted about adding new programs and services, while keeping tax increases to the rate of inflation plus one percent.
    For an average residential home ($805,000 assessment), the proposed total municipal property taxes and utility user fees will be approximately $3,605, an increase of $116 over 2019 (on top of a similar increase last year). Property taxes ($140 million) and utilities (about $40 million) comprise the lion’s share of the revenue side of the budget, with parking fees, grants and other revenue providing the rest.
    In 2019, the “New Property Tax Revenue from New Development” provided an extra $3.7 million and was used to fund such things as more mayor’s office support ($114k), the urban forest management plan ($858k), an Indigenous artist in residence ($72k), a disability coordinator ($128.5k), a climate outreach specialist ($106k), and a climate grant writer ($117k). The draft 2020 budget notes that it is only in recent years—since 2015—that council has used this revenue to fund services. It used to be used solely to reduce taxes and help fund reserves.
    In a survey about the budget, residents were asked how the City should allocate new tax revenues from development: 55 percent of the 5,100 respondents said “reduce the tax increase.” Half of respondents also said “save for future infrastructure investment.” Only 16 percent responded “invest in new initiatives,” yet that appears to be what the City has done since Mayor Helps was elected in 2014.
    That same survey showed over half of respondents wanted service levels cut in order to maintain or reduce taxes. An exception in terms of increasing the budget was made for VicPD, where 67 percent judged current spending too low. Council has resisted the Police Board’s requests for additional funds in the past, forcing the Province to step in and order increased funding. This year, it looks like VicPD will get its requested four extra officers.
    Every new initiative has costs—even if you get a grant from the Feds or Province, and especially if it’s from new development which increases the need for—and maintenance of—all sorts of public infrastructure, from libraries and schools to roads, parks and sewage treatment, as well as services like policing. The new revenue from development is a pittance when considered against all the costs.
    Reducing our footprint cannot be achieved with continual growth in spending, whether on an individual consumer level, or by government. Climate leadership, then, involves showing how we can do more with less. And sometimes do without.
     
    TRANSPARENCY IS AN ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT of an accountable government, and another issue worthy of consideration on voting day. The City of Victoria likes to think of itself as transparent and communicative, but a recent example shows it needs to do some work.
    In looking into the City’s climate action plan last December, and finding that its greenhouse gas inventory had been done by Stantec, we wondered how much that had cost. The City’s Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) for 2017 and 2018 noted Stantec had been paid $249,629.95 and $211,874.53, respectively.
    Municipal governments are required by the Province to produce a SOFI annually. It’s supposed to provide a basic level of accountability. Our inquiry was about one line on a long list of outside suppliers who, in 2018, charged the City a total of $110 million. That amounted to 42 percent of the City’s operating budget. The SOFI names the vendors and puts a dollar figure beside each name. But how can the public know how its money is being spent without a little more detail? Could we find out what work Stantec did for the City that cost taxpayers nearly a quarter of a million a year?
    Focus asked the City’s “engagement” office what services Stantec provided for those sums. It seemed a simple request to the office that responds to simple requests for information from media. But our simple request for information was directed to the City’s information access and privacy analyst. In a number of lengthy, confusing emails, the analyst noted the “complications” in answering Focus’ question: Two days of work would be required due to, among other things, the accounting system, the multiple departments that might have used Stantec, the 7 different vendor record types for Stantec (with 37 invoices, for example, for just one); and the fact that 2017 records were stored offsite. The official concluded with: “Therefore, under section 6 (Duty to Assist) the City is not required to provide the information you are seeking as it would ‘unreasonably interfere with the operations’ of the City.”
    We persisted, and eventually we asked a question simple enough that the City could answer. In February, we received a one-page record (see link at end of story) from the City’s FOI office showing City ledger entries for Stantec in 2017 and 2018. Among other things, it showed a 2017 charge for over $83,000 for climate action consulting, and another $924 in 2018. (Which was interesting because we had been told earlier that Stantec was paid $17,587 for the emissions inventory —which, as shown in Focus’ last edition, the City manipulated in such a way as to be unrecognizable.)
    We found the Kafkaesque response to our simple inquiry revealing. No one at City Hall could easily tell us where nearly $500,000 was spent. The City is meeting its legal requirement to produce an annual Statement of Financial Information. But its ability to provide even a slightly deeper level of detail is very limited. There’s no true transparency.
    Supplier payments, by the way, have increased a whopping 40 percent since 2015 when Mayor Helps took office. It wouldn’t be so bad if, say, staff costs had gone down, but they have increased 10 percent over her mayoralty, with more coming. In 2020, the number of employees will rise another 20-plus to 882.
     
    A THIRD, CENTRAL QUESTION TO CONSIDER on by-election day is: What is the role of City Council, anyway? This has become important to answer because Victoria councillors have pushed the boundaries about what a councillor should spend time on—from the removal of Sir John A’s statue through proclamations on subjects that civic governments have no authority over. Is council wasting precious time and resources? It has been argued that council’s amorphous mandate is not just wasteful, but is causing unnecessary divides in our community as councillors move from overseeing City operations to more ideological stands.
    Questions about council’s role peaked when Councillor Ben Isitt lobbied for a 50 percent raise for council members to a base salary of over $70,000. In the survey of 5,100 mentioned above, 86 percent said, in effect, fugget about it!
    Some councillors—Isitt included—already make close to $70k with CRD board and committee activities (Mayor Helps about double that). They also get full dental and extended health benefits, and their pay is indexed to the cost of living. They do have to prepare for and attend a lot of meetings. Maybe a $45-70k salary is not enough, but in what kind of fantasyland does one imagine a 50 percent raise? Should it be viewed as a full-time professional-level job? Or modestly-compensated community service, representing City residents on policies? I am looking forward to hearing the views of by-election candidates on such matters.
    One thing the City Council and those 5,000 citizens agreed on was that priority number one is “Good Governance.” And surely that includes being careful, frugal even, with resources.
    On the eve of both the by-election and the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Leslie Campbell reminds readers that a healthy, climate-stable environment needs citizens who don’t forget to vote. She also gives thanks to the candidates for sticking their necks out.
     
    FOI release of records from City of Victoria: Payments to Stantec in 2017 and 2018
    VIC-2019-121 Responsive record.pdf353.51 kB · 20 downloads

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    January 2020
    Used clothing is no longer solely the domain of the poor, and for good reason.
     
    ONE DAY MANY YEARS AGO, I stood as a meek and awkward adolescent in front of an older girl’s burgeoning closet. Her mother was pressing me to pick out some clothes for myself. Her mother had also been my grade five teacher a few years earlier, and was one of the more outspoken voices in the community. I cringed as if I was back in her class.
    She must think we’re really poor, I thought, as I tentatively slid the hangered shirts and dresses along the rod. Anxiety tightened my throat. To please her, I’d have to wear her daughter’s clothes in public and deal with that fallout. But if I went home empty-handed, I’d be rejecting her charity and maybe invoking annoyance, a risk I didn’t feel brave enough to take.
    In the end, I chose a pair of black tights, blurted out my thanks and dashed for home.
    Those were the days when you faced palpable shame for wearing other people’s castoffs. You could accept a pie or pickles or freshly knit slippers, but someone else’s old clothes—that was too personal, too stigmatizing. It was the distinction that consigned you to the have-not corral and then used your new-found status to keep you there.
    Fast-forward to 2020, and everything has changed. The used-apparel industry has become a darling, a feel-good shopping option that’s trendy, thrilling, and much easier on the budget and the planet.
     

    The clothing resale market has grown 21 times faster than retail over the last 3 years
     
    In the US, it will grow to $51 billion by 2023, more than double its worth in 2018. In truth, it’s beginning to leave the retail market in the dust. According to a 2019 Resale Report by thredUP, a San Francisco-based, online, used-clothing marketplace now accessible to Canadians, the resale market has grown 21 times faster than retail over the last three years.
    That’s not surprising, given that resale shopping options now include efficient, fashion-savvy online markets, some of which allow you to return clothes for credit when you’re finished with them. Also—and this is a key driver—everyone has become a potential client. No longer is “used” the domain of the poor. According to Kijiji, 35 percent of Canadians who shop the overall used market have an annual income exceeding $80,000.
    High-profile shout-outs haven’t hurt either: The Los Angeles Times recently declared buying second hand to be one of the hottest trends of the year. Fashion designer Stella McCartney has declared, “the future of fashion is circular; it will be restorative and regenerative by design and the clothes we love [will] never end up as waste.”
    Anna Wintour, fashion diva and editor-in-chief of Vogue, recently urged consumers to become more mindful in their shopping choices. It’s about “valuing the clothes that you own and wearing them again and again” before finally passing them on to someone else, she told global news service Reuters last November.
    All this helps to begin pushing back at the ugly and destructive side of the fashion industry—that the planet has $40 billion worth of clothing languishing and burning in landfills, 95 percent of which could have been reused; that the industry’s carbon footprint is estimated to be larger than that of the shipping and airline industries combined; that most clothing is produced in Third-World factories where conditions and wages are deplorable, and is sold here by retail staff whose earnings are among the lowest in our work force; and that no mass-produced fabric can really be called sustainable.
    Even natural fabrics require copious amounts of water and other resources in the course of manufacturing, tailoring and shipping, resources that are wasted when they end up in the landfill. But if you donate it instead—let’s say your t-shirt—and someone else buys and wears it, now its carbon footprint is reduced by 82 percent, according to research firm Green Story Inc. (The same can be said for almost anything that’s repurposed.)
    Locally we’re fortunate to have a vibrant used market. Each year we collectively support it with untold thousands of donated clothes, thereby advancing a circular economy or, as Kijiji calls it, community commerce. As long as the clothes continue to change hands, they continue to make money. The revenue stays local; some of it goes to charity. Jobs are created and budgets aren’t broken. The stores are clean and organized. Nothing smells like mothballs.
    In 2020, shopping for used clothing is trendy and forward-thinking. I no longer tremble when facing the hangers. I love the hunt, and the fact that I’m being a “radical” for the environment. We know we’re going to have to start treading more lightly to avert a crisis. Used clothing is an easy way to make a difference.
    Trudy wishes everyone a Happy New Year and happy new adventures in community commerce. Once you go there, you'll never look back.

    Gene Miller
    January 2020
    The planet is circulating a new memo: intervene abusively in natural systems—and pay the price.
     
    SOMEONE RECENTLY INFORMED ME that this column—not the installment you’re now reading, but the entire oeuvre—is “operatic.” The news was delivered in language that could only be construed as judgment: no ambiguity, righteous voice, with the wordless hint that harsh sentencing might follow a guilty verdict.
    Me? Operatic? Please! Not that I don’t appreciate opera, but I’m always the levelest head in the room.
    Smarting, I went straight to dictionary.com seeking redemption. Synonyms and analogues to “operatic” include “hysterical,” “hyperbolic,” “florid,” “overly emotional and dramatic” and “wildly exceeding limits of conventional emotional expression.”
    There, dodged all of that by a mile!
    Liberated by such third-party validation, I went for a kind of online victory lap: a wandering trot from “operatic” to “opera” to “operetta” to “musical” to “Broadway musical” and on…you know how it goes (and yes, all roads lead eventually to online porn—not me, of course, but other people). A few zigs later, I landed on a YouTube video of long-ago matinee idol Georges Guétary singing the Gershwin movie tune from An American in Paris:
    I’ll build a stairway to Paradise
    With a new step every day.
    I’m gonna get there at any price;
    Stand aside, I’m on my way.
    I’ve got the blues, and up above it’s so fair.
    Shoes, go on and carry me there!
    I’ll build a stairway to Paradise
    With a new step every day.
     

    Brave and hopeful Georges Guétary and friends, singing through the Great Depression
     
    So brave and hopeful in the face of the economic tribulations of the late 1920s and history’s ominous and steadily amplifying 1930s drumbeats. (Funny, I write “1920s” and “1930s” trippingly, like it was just over our shoulders, and it’s almost a century ago. Shit, I’m almost a century ago!)
    Our cultural memory suggests that life’s troubles back then were met with a lovely optimism, a better-times-coming, future’s-assured courage, and not today’s cracks-of-doom futility or sense of handicap, immiseration and paralysis. (I believe I have already reported to you that current public mood-testing everywhere indicates rising levels of social unhappiness and, specifically, climate pessimism.)
    Life back then still held an innocent gosh’n’golly feel, at least south of the border. Canada, whose welcome signs then, as now, stated: “You Must Declare All Fun and Happiness” was, with a bureaucrat’s bloodless passion, busy re-casting the Ten Commandments as the Ten Thousand Bylaws.
    By the way, in our edgeless age of shopping and self-improvement, the Ten Commandments will likely fall victim to marketing (if they haven’t already) and be re-packaged as “Ten Fabulous Chances for a Better You!” or “Open All Ten Doors Of Your Happiness House!”
    The social optimism of the Fred Astaire age is long spent everywhere, our own times simply that era’s lost and weeping grandchild. So I’ve put my hand to producing lyrics appropriate to today’s worries:
    I’m on the highway to climate change,
    Run my engine all day long.
    [Whisper chorus: “High test, high test”]
     
    You think my actions are very strange
    Setting planet death to song.
    Just one lane? What’s the matter with ten?
    Drain your brain,‘cause you never know when.
    I’m on the highway to climate change
    Flooring it can’t be wrong.
     
    Don’t you remember the good old days,
    When garbage just was junk?
    [“Toss here, toss there”]
    Now we’re trapped in an eco-maze—
    “No, you may not drop that hunk!”
    Re-use, recycle, and the rest of that crap,
    Nothing left to like without consulting a map.
    Sure, you remember the good old days
    When garbage just was junk.
     
    Now, global warming is scaring some,
    But most don’t have a clue.
    [“Dumb ‘n’ deaf, deaf ‘n’ dumb”]
    Should we use a bike getting to and from?
    Please, tell us what to do.
    I have to say I still want to use and toss
    Hands clasped, I pray for a world filled with dross
    I say delay climate worry—I’m the boss…
    Run my engine all day long.
     
    A recent newspaper headline reports: “People talk about deep sadness: scientists study climate change grief.” Such melancholy even has a name: solastalgia.
    And if I haven’t already thrashed the last smidge of can-do out of you, here’s an excerpt from the widely circulated summary of an academic paper by Jem Bendell, professor of sustainability at the University of Cumbria, England: “The purpose of this conceptual paper is to provide readers with an opportunity to reassess their work and life in the face of an inevitable near-term social collapse due to climate change. [Anticipate] inevitable near-term collapse in society.”
    Hmmm. “…inevitable near-term collapse in society.” For God’s sake, don’t we have bylaws here prohibiting that sort of thing? Okay, maybe not in outlaw Langford, where “mega” and “ultra” stalk the subdivisions, but at least in Oak Bay, still the home of Canada’s largest in-ground reserve of good manners.
    I have been suggesting to all I know that the Victoria region, if it has any instincts for survival, needs to direct its intelligence and planning skills toward critical assessments—what-ifs—of looming climate impacts and to prepare, much in the same way any of us and our jurisdictions would prepare, for cataclysmic meteorological prospects like hurricanes and blizzards, or for pending social turmoil.
    The likely impacts and social consequences of global warming are not that hard to fathom: ever-intensifying degradation of the physical environment resulting in ever-diminishing habitability, triggering productivity, supply, distribution and social service breakdowns which will, with amplifying speed and great force, precipitate general social chaos accompanied by panicked behaviour and survival-driven population movement, most familiar to us from end-of-the-world movies…as the world itself turns into an end-of-the-world movie. Not here in Victoria, of course—we’ll just meet such a future with professionally facilitated multi-stakeholder workshops.
    Almost all of us alive now have lived our entire lives inside the frame of social stability, free of major crisis or threat, and sufficiently elastic to deal with minor social frictions and perturbations. Social upheaval—the turning upside-down of entire populations, catastrophic loss of life, complete social collapse and the ruin of homes and cities—has to-date shown the decency to take place elsewhere, to be news from afar, near-fictions in the media that happen to other people “over there.”
    Understandably, most of the challenge around preparation rests with the psychological and cultural groundwork, sensibility-shifting, the learning and believing, the normalcy-abandoning: “You mean this wonderful life of pleasure, plenty, peace and well-being that has made us utterly soft and rendered us children incapable of anticipating and responding to ever-mounting risk and adversity, is not going to continue forever? You mean something bad could happen, soon, for which we are utterly unprepared culturally, psychologically or functionally? You mean, the grounds for relaxedness can be withdrawn?”
    In movies, when the going gets tough, when social or physical catastrophe threatens or arrives, the previously un-self-aware hero discovers his/her purpose, puts on a grim, determined face (which signals an instantaneous transformation to emotional maturity and responsibility-taking), neutralizes or defeats the threat, and leads the community to safety. This is one of our cornerstone cultural myths, limitedly installed in our real-world behaviour. It explains Trump and much else. We are children and the skies are darkening. There are too many of us, we’ve developed some bad habits, and we’re destroying the environment, the one (the only) cushion we might otherwise fall back on.
    “Serious” is fun-free and requires emotional gravity and a grim sense of purpose. “Grim” is almost impossible when an entire culture has been smoking weed for 60 years. Makes it hard to strap on. Now the planet is circulating a new memo: intervene massively and abusively in natural systems—and pay the price.
    Jem Bendell, cited earlier in this column, writes in the preface to his 2018 Initiative For Leadership and Sustainability paper, Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy, that he believes his is “one of the first papers in the sustainability management field to conclude that climate-induced societal collapse is now inevitable in the near term.” He goes on to ask and then answer this terrifying question: “Can professionals in sustainability management, policy and research—myself included—continue to work with the assumption or hope that we can slow down climate change, or respond to it sufficiently to sustain our civilization? This was the question I could no longer ignore, and therefore took a couple of months to analyze the latest climate science. I concluded that we can no longer work with that assumption or hope.”
    This past October-November, McDonald’s was doing its “Coast-to-Coast Monopoly” thing. There, on beverage containers, in big, bright letters, was the message: “1 In 5 Chances To Win!”
    What, I wonder, held it back from announcing “4 In 5 Chances To Lose?”
    Founder of Open Space and co-founder of Monday Magazine, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an affordable housing concept.

    Leslie Campbell
    January 2020
    The biodiversity and climate crises are a reflection of our culture’s emphasis on economic growth.
     
    WHILE I WON’T BE ALIVE when the worst effects of the climate and biodiversity crises play out, children born today will be; and I think we owe it to them to be clear-eyed and fierce in our efforts to leave them a healthy planet. This edition of Focus, our entry into a pivotal new year and decade, provides thought-provoking reporting and analysis about the challenges of growth in the region, and what we are and are not doing to maintain the natural world on which we depend.
    Like Focus’ writers, Greta Thunberg is a refreshing witness to our current situation because she doesn’t skirt around the truth. At last September’s UN Climate Action Summit, she famously told world leaders, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
     

    The dark side of planet Earth (Photo by NASA)
     
    It seems apparent that “business as usual”—especially eternal economic growth—is a recipe for the end of much that we cherish on this planet. Many species are going extinct with predictions of more to come as climate change wreaks its havoc. Our own species may have difficulty feeding itself, and many parts of the Earth will simply become too hot and dry for habitation. As Stephen Hume writes in this edition, sea level rise and flooding will progressively render coastal areas unliveable. Climate refugees are already searching for new homes and will grow in numbers, challenging the rest of us to make them welcome.
    As disasters unfold, however, our GDP (Gross Domestic Product), as a measure of economic activity, will go up. This shows the inadequacy of the GDP as a yardstick of well-being or progress, and certainly of sustainability. Even the economist who developed it in 1934 warned it couldn’t be considered an indicator of well-being. Through the decades, its ups and downs have been reliably in synch with ecological destruction. It has always been easy to notice that rising GDP or economic growth comes with noise, waste and pollution, and that it is perfectly compatible with worsening poverty. But the reality that economic growth also ripped up the Earth and its ecosystems—and warmed the atmosphere—was somewhat hidden behind the scenes. Science and the environmental movement have removed our blinders. We now know (or should) that infinite growth on a finite planet is beyond unsustainable, it’s disastrously destructive.
    Many advocate replacing the GDP with other yardsticks as a truer reflection of the well-being of a population—from Bhutan with its Gross National Happiness, to University of Waterloo’s Canadian Index of Wellness. The Green New Deal seems to have a more holistic approach, as does the “triple bottom line.” And there’s a growing chorus in support of a “steady state economy” or “degrowth.” Proponents include the likes of E.O. Wilson, Jane Goodall, and David Suzuki.
    According to the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, “In a steady state economy, people consume enough to meet their needs and lead meaningful, joyful lives without undermining the life-support systems of the planet. They choose to consume energy and materials responsibly, conserving, economizing, and recycling where appropriate…Personal and societal decisions about how much to consume take into account sustainability principles and the needs of future generations.”
    Technological progress still exists in such a vision, but is driven by the need for better goods and services, as opposed to quantity.
    A UK scholar, Joe Herbert, takes it a step further, writing: “degrowth argues for establishing more localized economies, which reduce the reliance on high-emission international trade flows. By strengthening the role of co-operatives, solidarity and sharing economies, production processes could be democratically organized around social and ecological well-being, rather than the resource-insatiable profit motive…degrowth not only provides a practical route out of climate breakdown but also offers the prospect of simpler, more fulfilling ways of living, where more time can be dedicated to community, relationships and creative pursuits. To reframe [Robert] Kennedy’s words, degrowth truly has the power to prioritize the things which make life worthwhile.”
    On the other hand, a system which relies on continual growth will continue to exploit the planet’s natural resources, destroying ecosystems and the atmosphere that supports us all. As David Broadland shows in this edition, we are trashing our coastal forests, a natural gift, centuries in the making. The BC government and industry brag that such forestry—much of it in the form of raw logs shipped to Asia—is our largest export and a valued contributor to our GDP. But as David’s numbers illustrate, given an accounting of the carbon emissions involved, it is utterly nonsensical, resulting in a “carbon bomb” surpassing even that of the oilsands. Moreover, we are blowing the opportunity for an incredible carbon capture and storage system. Our forests, if re-imagined, could transform BC and Canada’s carbon footprint and the well-being of future generations.
     
    THE HIGH LEVEL OF CONSUMPTION we in the developed nations engage in results in high levels of global CO2 emissions. Even our purchases of electric vehicles and solar panels have both emissions and other environmental costs associated with them, as they involve resource extraction, manufacturing, and shipping. Every time the Earth is forced to cough up more resources, biodiversity is impacted.
    The luxury condos we’ve gained throughout Greater Victoria add to the biodiversity and climate crises. Often marketed to wealthy people from away, often as second homes which they will fly to and from regularly, they strain our infrastructure and have immense environmental costs. The planet and our communities would be better off densifying existing housing stock by encouraging single-family homeowners to host secondary suites and garden suites through innovative programs. Could the CRD or BC Housing help launch local industries to make modular or tiny-home garden suites that could be rented or purchased by homeowners willing to rent to others at an affordable (but not money-losing) rate? Right now it’s simply too costly for most homeowners to finance such homes themselves.
    While there’s a growing call for a stable or steady-state economy that works for everyone, you won’t find many politicians advocating anything but continual economic growth. In fact, any proposal that might cause just the rate of growth to decline, risks condemnation. This helps explain why, for instance, at the municipal level, virtually all development is welcomed with open arms by city councils (see stories by Judith Lavoie, Briony Penn, and Ross Crockford). Most of them appear to believe growth is always good—so it’s up to us to educate them, or vote them out of office.
    At the provincial and federal levels, the growth-is-good philosophy plays out in the abuse of forests and the continuing subsidies to the oil and gas industry (see Russ Francis in this edition).
    Canada’s GDP largely parallels our greenhouse gas emissions which, on a per capita basis, are more than double that of the average of G20 nations. Relevant to coverage in this edition, the Climate Transparency organization highlighted this observation: “In order to stay within the 1.5°C limit, Canada needs to make the land use and forest sector a net sink of emissions, e.g. by halting the expansion of residential areas and by creating new forests.” And it’s critical to start making such changes in 2020, says the research body.
    But it will be far from easy, and perhaps that’s why, once people get elected to office, they do things like buy an oil pipeline or encourage a bigger tax base through carbon-intensive development.
    Such government decisions mean our role as citizens, actively encouraging wise, far-sighted policy change, is our most important role. While there are other things we can do at a personal level—from eating a plant-based diet to foregoing fossil-fuel-powered travel and home heating—the larger part of our per-capita footprint comes from our collective economy and the reality that 76 percent of the energy that supports it is from fossil fuels. Taken together, Canadian industries, institutions, the jobs they create and the taxes they and their employees pay, provide public health care, education, transportation infrastructure, waste management, care homes, pensions, social assistance, and on and on. We all benefit from Canada’s collective, carbon-intensive economy. Transforming it will not be easy or comfortable.
    I think it’s safe to predict the 2020s will be a decade of transformation for us all, on many levels. A well-informed public is crucial to make that transformation happen, so Focus will continue to work on that front—aided by our readers. As our “Readers’ Views” section makes clear, you have a lot to contribute to the discussion.
    Editor Leslie Campbell wishes Focus readers all the best in 2020, mindful that the best things in life are free, including a sense of community, peaceful times in nature and with friends, meaningful work, watching kittens play…

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    November 2019
    But both the new federal government and citizens must dig deeper to face it.
     
    THE ELECTION IS OVER, and by now the members of our 43rd parliament will have settled into their hallowed Ottawa seats. Notwithstanding the new faces and bustling rearrangement of desks in the house, our most urgent reality remains the same: we have a climate crisis on our hands. We left it idling unattended for decades, and now it’s speeding full bore to the crossroads of no return.
    Such a statement is no longer hyperbole. We can see for ourselves the strain on nature. We can see it in the fires, floods, storms, melting polar ice, and erratic weather systems, and in the exquisite microcosms of our own gardens and local parks. We can understand it too, the folly of filling our atmosphere to the breaking point with untold and unchecked volumes of ancient and sequestered carbon. (Generations from now, researchers will puzzle over why we let things get so out of hand. Why we didn’t look up, see the potential of the sun, and then begin vigorously innovating to harvest its endless clean energy.)
    But now, perhaps, things might at last start to change. This past election finally saw climate change emerge as a top-of-mind issue, despite some early foot-dragging by the big-party politicians. Throughout the country it was robustly debated by local candidates at more than 100 town halls. Locally it drew well over 20,000 people of all ages to a Downtown climate strike. Across the land it propelled a million people to the streets, all thirsting and champing for a justly tenable future.
     

    16-year-old Greta Thunberg talks with a group of climate-active citizens during a climate strike event
    The prospect of such a future has become somewhat brighter now, with the Liberals returning as a minority government enrobed in the mantle of newfound mindfulness for cross-party cooperation and collaboration. The prime minister and his pared-down team would do well to feel chastened by hard evidence that two-thirds of Canadians have climate change concerns that will not be placated by further distraction and detour. We’ve made it pretty clear that we want our leaders to quit their feeble and perfunctory pecking at the trifling edges of this all-encroaching threat. In ever-increasing numbers, we are demanding strong and overarching action on climate change, and that persistence will not fade away.
    It’s going to be challenging—no, daunting—for our leaders to fix this, considering the deep and bitter regional divides, and the seemingly inevitable collision course of one Canadian’s livelihood with another Canadian’s right to a protected local environment.
    Here’s what Ottawa really needs to understand: You can’t appease one region by sacrificing another. You can’t champion both the fossil fuel industry and serious climate action. You can’t continue to pour billions of dollars into fossil fuels while claiming there’s no money for renewable energy. You must start clarifying that jobs will be changed, as is already the case, not lost. You can’t keep favouring the traditional economy just because your investors and supporters and lobbyists have not yet finished their business there. You can’t keep standing in the way of real and required change.
    As for ourselves, evidence is growing beyond anecdotal that we’re ready to do some heavy lifting of our own. A recent, CBC-commissioned survey of 4,500 eligible Canadian voters revealed that almost three-quarters indicated a willingness to make “some” or “major” lifestyle changes themselves.
    Those changes included buying local (75 percent), lowering the thermostat (66 percent), reducing overall consumption (55 percent), reducing driving (47 percent) and becoming vegetarian (17 percent). These combined actions alone would make a huge difference, but they are still not far-reaching enough, given how we’ve let this slide to the eleventh hour.
    We must dig deeper, and people already have, by forgoing a car, becoming vegan, living in smaller spaces, eschewing or cutting back on air travel, and choosing to remain childless. We don’t all have to make every dramatic change, but we each have to make some.
    If we want to continue living in a clean, diverse and sustainable environment.
    If we want this for all of the world’s citizens.
    The season of renewed peace, hope and goodwill is just a few weeks away. Maybe this year there’ll be gifts for the Earth, which in the end are priceless gifts for all of humanity. We can do it. Just look around: We’ve already begun.
    I hope our team in Ottawa can too.
    Trudy thanks you for reading and wishes you a happy and hope-filled holiday season. May peace and wellbeing be upon your home and loved ones.

    Maleea Acker
    November 2019
    A plea for action on this column’s fourth anniversary.
     
    I TEACH A GEOGRAPHY COURSE at the University of Victoria called Landscapes of the Heart. In it, I take my students out into local landscapes—Mount Tolmie, Mary Lake, Tod Inlet—with the goal of opening their eyes and hearts to this region’s species and ecosystems. We paint and draw in the field. We look at how poets, visual artists, philosophers and geographers are trying to connect us to place. Students spend the fall immersed in landscape, producing some of the most thoughtful, emotionally engaged work I’ve had the pleasure of seeing as a teacher. The course begins with a three-hour class called “Why are we in trouble?”
    This issue, I want to posit some answers to this question. I’ve been writing a column on volunteer stewards in the region for four years with Focus and I love the work. It’s inspiring getting to meet so many people who are passionate about our local ecosystems and who try to improve life for the multitudes of creatures with whom we share these islands.
    But this month’s column turns the lens on my own experience as an environmental steward. I think one answer to why we’re in trouble can be illustrated by my own history. In 2011, during the writing of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, I began nurturing a native plant garden in my 5,300-square-foot yard. It’s a project that has raised no end of protest from my neighbours. I live in Saanich’s Gorge-Tillicum neighbourhood, where former farmland was planted with houses in the 1930s and 1940s. The clay soil supports boulevards of blackberry. On my street, trees are sparse and gardens infrequent. People mow their dandelions.
    Since I began the transformation of my sterile lawn into a wild ecosystem, I’ve been cited by Saanich bylaw enforcement officers twice. The first citation (for cultivation of noxious weeds) was in 2011, when I had let the grass grow long to see if camas lay buried in the lot. The fight I launched against the municipality’s citation landed me on the front page of the Times Colonist. I won. Since then, I’ve cultivated a native hedgerow (of Oregon grape, Nootka rose, snowberry, red osier dogwood, salmonberry, and Pacific ninebark). I’ve also planted 17 native trees. After eight years of seeding and growth, the hedge is 10-12 feet tall and supports a wide variety of bird species through the year. Camas, nodding onion, vetch and fawn lily bloom in the meadow. There are Garry oaks, Douglas-fir, arbutus, several mock orange, honeysuckle and ocean spray. When a kid entered my yard on Halloween last fall, he exclaimed, “it’s like walking into a forest!”
     

    Left: The author’s front yard in 2011, around the time of the first citation. Right: Flourishing native plants, around the time of the second citation.
     
    The wildness has encouraged more wildness. Last summer, I hosted a family of weasels. There are crickets (which I transplanted from Mount Tolmie), over a dozen species of songbirds, hummingbirds, lizards, raccoons, dragonflies, mason and bumble bees. A raven pair, a barred owl and a Swainson’s hawk use the yard to hunt. This fall, I harvested my first edible mushrooms (lepiota rachodes), which shows that the yards of mulch I’ve brought in and the undisturbed soil are now supporting a healthy mycorrhizal layer (which supports the health of trees). All this in a desertified neighbourhood largely barren of boulevard trees or anything approaching native habitat.
    In April 2018, when Saanich council struck down the Environmental Development Protection Area bylaw (EDPA), along with it went changes to whole series of bylaws; they had been rewritten to exempt naturescaping property owners like myself from being cited. When the EDPA died, these bylaw changes died too. And so, I received my second citation from Saanich last summer, when at least two complainants reported me for noxious weeds and impingement of the hedge into the sidewalk right of way. Saanich sent a regular post letter, a registered mail letter, a bylaw officer, then two environmental services officers to the house. After their visit, charges were dropped. How many native boulevard trees could Saanich have planted for the costs of chasing an imaginary foe? How many camas bulbs?
    Without the EDPA and associated bylaws, there’s little to stop developers and property owners from cutting trees, and little to encourage them to plant native species, other than their own stubbornness and vision. Fortunately, there is a great deal of that in the region (look to Oaklands’ Tamara Batory and her plan to transform boulevards on Lang Street into pollinator corridors as a recent wonderful example), but there needs to be more.
    In September, Cornell University published a seven-university study showing that since 1970, bird populations in Canada and the USA have dropped by 30 percent. Billions of birds have vanished, including over 1 billion forest birds, 700 million grassland species, and 160 million dark-eyed juncos (a favourite at my feeder). The cause? Habitat loss. The results of the study, says its lead author, Ken Rosenberg, are “a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife,” indicating a “coming collapse of the overall environment.” The collapse isn’t limited to birds. Similar studies have shown precipitous drops in the population of insects, amphibians, freshwater, saltwater and terrestrial megafauna.
    Last year, Jan Zwicky and Robert Bringhurst—Quadra Island philosophers, poets and scholars—published Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis. They mourn what they see as a fundamental change in how humans live on the Earth: a loss of “genuine connection to the natural world [that] is fundamental to human flourishing.” When we try to make something into what it isn’t (a lawn is a nostalgic memorial to England’s sprawling estates), we disconnect from what is actually here: moss, liquorice fern, fairy cup lichen—all the species Langford is mowing down for housing tracts and cedar hedges.
    The planting I’ve done connects me to the Earth—to the place I’ve chosen in this world, with its rocky outcrops, its plethora of food sources, its clemency and beauty. It helps others do that as well. The Native Friendship Centre’s daycare leads kids past my house every morning. The teachers stop and point out the native species. They eat salmonberries in spring.
    The collapse of ecosystems is being hastened by climate change, making our remaining natural areas (including those on private land) all the more valuable. The stewardship of parks in our region is laudable; we couldn’t do without the tireless volunteers who keep these places beautiful. But we need every single resident in the region—whether you rent or own or live in a condo—to plant and care for native species. Take a trip around the region and count the trees that have succumbed this summer to the increasingly unstable weather that climate change is bringing. I counted over two dozen on one walk in Thetis Lake Park. As species die, the pressure mounts on those of us who are still lucky enough to harbour some form of biodiversity in our yards.
    What if we looked at stewardship as a task not just for parks? What if care of our yards and boulevards were a responsibility as profoundly important as that for the Sooke Hills or Playfair Park? I hear stories from neighbours who don’t water their boulevard trees because it’s “not [their] responsibility.” Actually, it is (both legally and philosophically). Our parks won’t compensate for Garry oaks lost to viewscape improvements or meadows lost to development. Or laurel hedges (a species on the invasives list in Washington State) and English ivy, instead of salmonberry and honeysuckle. Or Kentucky blue grass instead of bunch grasses and kinnikinnick. The rich complexity of nature needs to supplant our nostalgia for tidiness and control.
    Why are we in trouble? We are adhering to outdated ideas, attempting to manage, not garden, the life outside our doors. We’re okay with wildness in parks, but fear its appearance in our own yards. Why does long grass look wrong to us? Why are Garry oak trees considered messy? It’s time to jettison these damaging preconceptions. Time to live in place, where we are, not some tidied-up version of suburban glory. Let’s bring the beauty of our parks home, so that other species can also live outside those refugia. We can’t support every species in our backyards, but we can certainly help. It’s not going to happen, however, if we keep mowing our dandelions, and everything else, into submission.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Gene Miller

    Outside

    By Gene Miller, in Commentary,

    November 2019
    Victoria society’s “service engine now” light is flashing with bright urgency.
     
    MIDDAY ON A RECENT SATURDAY, I was picking up litter in Beacon Hill Park (hypodermics capped and uncapped, sterile wipes, empty cigarette packs, fast food packaging, beverage cups, spent vodka bottles, condoms, soiled underwear, feces-covered napkins, used menstrual products, discarded diapers…the usual—our parks workers deserve a heartbreak bonus), when I was accosted by a kid, early twenties, emanating strong no-fixed-address vibes and lots of psychic static, who wanted to know where I kept my wallet.
    I patted my jacket pocket: “Right next to my box-cutter.” He spat at me and stumbled off.
    This happened where? In Beacon Hill Park. In what city? Victoria, BC. Honestly, why travel, with such exotic, low-carbon-footprint adventures available in your own front yard?
     

    Victoria's Inner Harbour
     
    I sense that things are getting noticeably free-form in the park, also in parts of Downtown and even throughout the city, if news reports of car, residential and business break-ins, stickups, rapes, abductions and killings project an accurate current image. Too much “outside” pushing against the only somewhat elastic limits of social order. Not tent-in-the-park outside, or crashed-under-a-tarp-on-Harris Green outside; that is, not outdoors, but outside: the territory beyond social agreement, where the glue weakens, the protocols (and the values and convictions undergirding them) appear iffy, amorphous, and your radar tells you that everything bearing on rules of conduct now is improvised, exigent, based on opportunity and self-interest, not structure, principle, mutuality and grace.
    Regardless of the number and visibility of people wearing uniforms, packing heat, or wielding butterfly nets, Victoria society’s “service engine now” light is flashing with bright urgency. As you know, I’m not given to sweeping, apocalyptic theories of everything, so I won’t flirt with the idea that all of these little skirmishes and frictions, locally and elsewhere, are dress rehearsals for, or early signs of, imminent social breakdown or catastrophe.
    I read that AI and robotics are poised to steal—no, are presently stealing—millions of jobs. Locally, fewer service staff, more self-checkouts, more people sleeping in their cars; and things are just getting started here. A counter clerk recently told me that McDonald’s expects to be “all voice-recognition, all robotic/no people” within a few years. Scoring a “10” on the crap-meter, only because there isn’t an “11,” are the preposterous assurances from the smoothocrats that, liberated by all this emergent technology, exciting new careers and vast new worlds of work and employment will open. Welcome to Liarland.
    AI and robotic replacement of human work is, in our current system, an economic and evolutionary imperative that will not be denied or reasoned away. As jobless, income-less numbers swell, you may expect the incremental straining, then the complete rending, of all social safety nets and social welfare systems, as the entire clockworks of the economy goes sproing! and society’s capacity to absorb change is critically ruptured. Anticipate a stew of social panic and chaos; angry, hungry displaced fellow-citizens bent on survival—basically, every apocalypse movie you’ve ever seen—and safety, public or private, a relic.
    How soon? Soon. Not in some sci-fi movie neverland, but in the near-now—in line with the speed of current change. Globally, millions of info-techies being paid six-figure salaries to “liberate” us from jobs and work. That soon.
    You hold the social contract, the “deal,” up to the light and see that we’ve been careless, inattentive, distracted. We’ve misplaced the habits of citizenship and “public-y,” that is, social mutuality, a shared ownership of place and space beyond one’s home, a deep and active appreciation of shared assets.
    Ironically, “we take care”—emphasis on “we”—has always been Victoria’s true semeiotic message: all those beautiful public buildings, hotels, homes, gardens, clipped lawns, the gorgeous postcard vistas. Are they real at present or just glimpses of the past, memorabilia, tourist props? The suspicion hovers that while the lawns are clipped, the social infrastructure’s rusting.
    Into the vacuum of fading mutuality have flowed unsurprising expressions of privacy, self-protection, disengagement, delegation: signifiers of self-interest married to social passivity. Small wonder if there’s a rise in the sense of public risk and diminished feelings of comfort and safety—a loss of citizenship, proprietorship—in the public realm, accompanied by an up-spiraling of the lockdown aesthetic…the full NIMBY.
    But as history confirms, build a better-defended public realm and life just grows more creative (and aggressive) predators.
    When I got here in 1970, there was an atmospheric message: “we’re in it together.” Likely, the Depression years and war years still resonated in social memory, and both of these reinforced the values and practices of common cause, mutuality and cooperation. Then came the ’70s and ’80s, a heady payoff for that legacy of enforced emotional repression, of holding it in. While we were busy shaking off gravity, who could be bothered to consider that the terms of community—ritual, shared values, shared history, shared want and need, reciprocity, a capacity for self-subordination—were diminishing; and that while social relations were becoming looser, more voluntary, less ritualistic and seemingly more authentic and expressive, the foundations of public-y were collapsing beneath the values and messaging, the dark magic, of our cornucopian culture. Fun! Fun! Fun! Me! Me! Me!
    We’re at a pregnant moment, and a city conversation must be convened to consider social infrastructure, values and intentions, and obstacles to ideal social functioning. In the absence of that conversation, life will intervene, jarringly, with some catastrophic smack, unsympathetic that such conversations are hardest to organize when they are most needed.
    In my view, greater personal enlistment in public life, despite any “inconveniences,” is obligatory. I don’t mean that every single person in Victoria has to down cell phones and laptops, link arms and start singing “Solidarity Forever!” But consider: existing bureaucratic structures, seen to be efficiencies within the social project, are also surrogations, abstractions, emotional distancers: “Homeless? Oh, they look after that.” And so on.
    Community: a stirring idea invoked with great fondness, just when the signals are most faint and the reach for more understanding never more challenging. “Community” is becoming a nostalgia word, like “grandma’s house.”
    In the setting of such thoughts, it’s interesting to consider social sleepwalking: we see things deteriorating, but we abstract—essentially, disregard—what we witness, so it doesn’t register as grounds for worried action. Anything to preserve our psychotic belief that good things come from the good-things fairy rather than from herculean, continuous social effort.
    What’s impaired is not our ability to see such declines or threats, but our distractedness and the ambiguous structure and protocols of social alarm—roughly, the difference between “Somebody should do something about that” and “Omigod, this could tear our house down!”
    The smallest gestures and efforts to acknowledge and respond to today’s looming threats are met with Lilliputian annoyance, exasperation, disapproval, counter-view. Victoria’s Mayor Lisa Helps must sometimes wonder if she’s bucking the totality of social inertia in her effort to secure the future with a bike lane network. Social justice champions Ben Isitt, Jeremy Loveday, Sarah Potts and their similarly-disposed council colleagues come in for incredible amounts of contempt and scorn for their efforts to use the tools of civic policy to modestly expand housing affordability in our pricey town.
    Jared Diamond in Collapse notes that social success requires “the courage to practice long-term thinking, and to make bold, courageous, anticipatory decisions at a time when problems have become perceptible but before they have reached crisis proportions.”
    Diamond effectively says in few words what I’ve tried to say in a thousand; but both Diamond’s words and mine point toward a proposition that colleague Rob Abbott and I are elaborating in a book-length writing project, working title Futurecide. The idea is that catastrophe, ultimately, is ecological, nature’s problem-solver. Catastrophe, collapse, breakdown are all messages from nature about limits and tolerances and, in humanity’s case, a cautionary note about the value of caretaking.
    Remember, in an ecology, including the social ecology of this city, nothing is parenthesized and there’s no outside.
    For better or worse, it’s all in.
    Founder of Open Space and co-founder of Monday Magazine, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an affordable housing concept.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    September 2019
    Tired of being used by the corporate world? Revolt by exercising the common-sense muscle.
     

     
    WE HAVE A UNIQUE LITTLE EXPERIMENT going on right here in our own corner of Canada. You will recall the City of Victoria’s ban last year on single-use polyethylene shopping bags at all retail establishments. Other than stirring up a few anticipated moans and groans, it came into effect with very little protest. 
    That’s not surprising, considering how many people had already made the switch to reusable bags or at least acclimatized to the notion that reducing plastic is a good thing. Retailers didn’t mind either, given that they were all being equally “disadvantaged” and, more notably, alleviated from the hefty and ongoing cost of buying single-use bags for the same customers over and over again.
    No, the only real lament came, predictably, from the plastics industry, whose justification for their single-use products employs the kind of skewed logic that’s getting increasingly more awkward to defend with a straight and sincere face. The Canadian Plastic Bag Association—its name a billboard flashing self-interest—wasted no time clamouring its outrage. Depriving the people of their convenience is not fair, it insisted, even as several island communities were fine-tuning their own bans, and people all over were already eschewing single-use plastics without legal prompting. Faster than one can say “Polyethylene lasts forever,” the Association challenged the ban in court, claiming the City did not have the jurisdiction to regulate business. The CPBA won that round recently, but the battle is not over, and in any event, the City’s end goal of eradicating some plastic from the landscape will probably be achieved.
    Why? Because it’s hard to keep momentum reined in when the public has decided to move forward. Courts can order municipal governments to back off, but people can’t be forced to buy or use what they no longer wish to consume. A recent Nanos poll shows that most Canadians now favour banning single-use plastics, including the ubiquitous plastic bag. Grocers already know this. The Canadian food giant Sobey’s will remove plastic checkout bags from all 255 stores by next February. That change alone will keep 225 million plastic bags from having to be absorbed by the planet every year. (Thrifty Foods, owned by Sobey’s, turfed these bags from their 25+ stores 10 years ago.)
    The federal government, in a hardworking election year, has jumped on this accelerating bandwagon too, by announcing a ban on single-use plastics by “as early as” 2021. The faraway date and lack of concrete plan might make a cynic wonder if this is just more cheap campaign chatter, but never mind the politicians. It’s people who create change— by getting enough of the grunt work done to propel a growing shift in thinking that eventually results in legislation to pull along the rest of us who’d never get there on our own.
    There’s plenty out there needing public resolve: apparently, Imperial Metals can walk away from the catastrophe it caused at its Mount Polley mine, and still go hunting for a new site to exploit in the Manning Park wilderness.
    Apparently, watershed areas can be logged in this province because, you know, jobs, jobs, jobs; and apparently, towns like Glade in the Kootenay region have, alarmingly, no legal right to clean water, having recently had this clearly laid out by a BC Supreme Court Justice. Apparently, our government is falling seriously short of protecting everyone’s drinking water from the ravages of climate change and industrial enterprise, according to BC auditor general Carol Bellringer.
    Apparently, federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has promised the food industry that he will “review” the new Canada Food Guide if he wins the upcoming election. We finally have a food guide based on solid, independent research in nutrition—that’s neither imposing nor forbidding any food choices—and he would let it be reshaped by businesses that are intent on defining the “healthy” foods as the ones they have to sell.
    Apparently, so much is happening that we can’t keep track. Still, we have the muscle to wrestle government attention back onto our concerns and priorities. For starters, we can vote next month, with the future, rather than the past, in mind. We can sign petitions, write letters, and stand or march in peaceful determination for the things that absolutely need to change.
    The greatest impact will come from being a cautious and conscientious consumer. Business can only afford to make what we want to use. They’re forced to either fold up or reinvent themselves when we turn away.
    We’re already saying no to redundant plastic. What happens next is truly up to us.
    After finishing this column, Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic retreated to her garden, where the laws of nature still reassuringly prevail.

    Gene Miller

    Ecocide cometh

    By Gene Miller, in Commentary,

    September 2019
    Mahler, artificial intelligence, and Victoria's genius for safety
     
    “URLICHT,” or “Primal Light,” is a brief vocal and orchestral introduction to the fourth and final movement of Gustav Mahler’s massive Second Symphony, “The Resurrection.” Against a spectrally beautiful orchestral accompaniment, the mezzo-soprano sings:
    O Röschen rot,
    (O red rose)
    Der Mensch liegt in gößter Not
    (Humankind stands in great distress)
    Der Mensch liegt in gößter Pein
    (Humankind suffers great pain)
    Je lieber möcht ich im Himmel sein.
    (Ever would I prefer to be in heaven.)
    Mahler composed his Resurrection Symphony 130 years ago, between 1888 and 1894, the latter by coincidence the very year that Red Rose became a tea company in New Brunswick, Canada. (“Only in Canada, you say? Pity.”) History does not record if beverage company founder Theodore Harding Estabrooks was aware of the German composer’s music and lyrics; for that matter, neither does it tell us if Mahler was a tea-drinker. It’s clear, though, that each man had a different conception of grounds for pity.
     

    Gustav Mahler (Photograph by Moritz Nähr)
     
    “Urlicht” laments the paradoxes and pain of life itself, addressing God as the embodiment of certainty, and Heaven as the house which doubt may not enter. From humanity’s beginnings, civilizations and cultures shared an instinctive belief in a force set in opposition to life’s randomness and chaos, its sideways threats and unpredictability; and all had (holdouts still have) a religion filled with rules, rewards and peeks at some Hell and Heaven to help manage life’s contradictions and our own worst tendencies. As you will have observed, Heaven, God’s house, regardless of religious doctrine, is all Answer and no Question, placing it at complete odds with generally silent, answerless reality.
    Could you pass me the caramel popcorn, please? No, the whole bag, thanks.
    Social historian Morris Berman helps us to understand faith-based, communitarian (Middle-Eastern and other) culture’s contempt-filled perception of the West: “Faustian cultures such as those of the West never experience a moment’s peace. Their adoration of progress… is but a pseudo-faith devised by people who have lost all inner strength and now believe that economic success will save them. [The West] operates in a world of unacknowledged spiritual despair.”
    Powerful stuff, and a perspective resonantly explored by dozens of today’s prominent social thinkers and critics. But it’s also possible that argumentation between faithful and faithless cultures is yesterday’s rock fight, given technological and futurological trends. We appear to be poised before a novel human chapter likely to render much or all of human civilization “post-historical,” by which I mean freed (or adrift) from all conventional navigation, personal and social.
    People’s offhand view of the AI and robotics-dominated near-future is that it’ll be like the present but with lots more whiz-bang—cell phones that cook breakfast, maybe. But I sense a discontinuous near-future less about rocket cars whisking us Jetsons-style to some orbital Wal-Mart, and more a time of shocking and stressful species evolution. (Read Sean Silcoff’s Sept. 7, 2018 Globe and Mail story “She looks like a human. Can she be taught to think like one too?” and Science Daily’s piece about Artificial Intelligence starting to show “subjective” indications of prejudice and preference.)
    History doesn’t make mistakes; it operates as a record of evolutionary favourabilities, choices and foreclosures. Nature permits a tolerance, within limits, of all living forms, but evolution, “the development of living forms of greater complexity,” is not known for forbearance or mercy. With AI, we are culturally table-setting for a post-human era—represented by AI with ever-more-human qualities and super-human capacities—essentially, an expanded and profoundly altered definition of “living form.” In this view, AI is not accident but inevitability… the embodiment of our species’ evolutionary mission: to perfect ourselves, to triumph over nature by outstripping its creative talents and “monopoly,” its controls, limits, rules, ambiguities, indifference, our physical frailty, the sheer (or mere) meat of us… and all that vegetative, biological stupidity.
    From the perspective of such looming possibilities, it seems both inspired and prescriptive that sci-fi has featured beings who communicate telepathically, who can move or immobilize things with their minds, levitate, release lightning bolts from their outstretched palms, time-travel, move about the universe at will, know the future; that is, everything “bio-logical” us can’t.
    The convergence of this almost magical robotics/AI evolutionary climax with human-caused biospheric collapse is itself the stuff of top-drawer sci-fi: that is, we are consciously— you might say intentionally—crafting a suicidal last human chapter worthy of its nickname: ecocide. I’m speculating that climate change is, in its deepest expression, a goodbye note, a knowing act of human self-extinction; in other words, we don’t care, even though our environmental misbehaviour will kill us.
    How to account for this?
    We are an unstable mix of gratitude (love and celebration of life) and implosive anger (conscious foreknowledge of decay and death). We had to labour for 200,000 years to perfect our capacities, to be able, in a final ecocidal act, to show Mommy Nature what we think of her plan and her domination.
    Civilizations, confronting unanticipated and novel structures of thought and opportunity, allow more room for risk. People dismiss climate warnings as fiction or lefty hand-wringer hysteria because humility, a “sense of right place”—the reflex that you’re part of some living (and social) endeavour larger than yourself—has evaporated. The liberations and empowerments of consumerism married to the irresistible masteries of technology, combined with other evolutionary conceits, have fostered a state of triumph (however illusory), rendering each of us ever-more-autonomous—gig citizens, if I may coin that term. Why form or practice values based on mutuality and interdependency—responsibility for and connection with others, and with a living world—when your experience tells you that nearly all relationships are voluntary and transactional? Why practice humility or self-subordination? Why give up all that freedom and personal power, even if, culturally, socially, it simply produces competition of all against all?
    This rangy and fretful preamble lands us, unsurprisingly, at Victoria’s doorstep.
    I invite you first, in this global atmosphere of specific and growing threat, to consider how community safety is manufactured and sustained—where it comes from, how it’s reinforced, what story, so to speak, supports it, and second, to give serious thought to what city and community actually mean; that is, the singular purpose of a city or a particular place (really, the people gathered within, including you). Nobody says that Victoria’s a small Toronto or a big Prince Rupert. Victoria is, well, itself—but what does that mean?
    This city seems to trigger a powerful sense of yearning in people; it tugs deeply on our hearts. People in our city of strongly delineated and self-declared communities crave authorship over physical and social change. Life here is intensely and appealingly local, a compelling reason for Victoria’s magical appeal. I believe Victoria, through a thousand bits of “body English,” covenants with its citizens to keep threat and worry at bay—no small or common thing, or condition to be assumed, as we near the dangerous clarities of 2020.
    I contend the work of citizens here is to sustain and to bring new energy to the civic story—that is, to invest effort and to reap the harvest of pleasures of such continuity (stability, social sanity, identity). Victoria, by cultivating its past, its customs, as living memory and social practice, persuasively advances the project of human safety for those who live here, which is a noble and exemplary thing to do in these ambiguous and clearly parlous times.
    There are synonyms for all the above: “community” and “citizenship,” by which I mean structures of cooperation, activities— duties calling for a certain amount of self-subordination, even—for civic engagement, city-making.
    Victoria was the stern parent for long years. It hit me like a force of nature when I got here in 1970. There was a legible social landscape, and behavioural borders at which disapproval stood like a sentry (dim, remnant echoes remain). The place had edges and limits, ensuring certainty, and a subtle security and comfort. Yes, it was a bit stuffy and suffocating, un-modern; trendy Vancouver made jokes at our expense, but at least we knew where the corners were. (Now, Vancouver’s just another identity-less urban nowhere.)
    And we in Victoria today are left with… what? Pricey real estate (always a sign of devitalized cultural certainty). Now, to our shame (and rue), we practice the dark architectural art of creating buildings that render people anonymous, absent, unconnected strangers with diminishing grounds (or call) for civic allegiance… just when Victoria, in this rudderless world, needs the strongest possible and most widely shared sense of community identity.
    The skills of creating and sustaining civic community are so vulnerable to ambush by the world’s anxious novelties, leaving people with the vague sense that “things were better when,” but with little idea of how to constructively adapt, or to re-cast and renew those conditions.
    As 2020—that year of perfect and terrifying visual focus—looms, ask yourself, really, what tools beside the intentional practice of community—our connection to each other—do we have to face the dark?
    Founder of Open Space and Monday Magazine, Gene Miller is now a small-time real estate developer, currently promoting his affordable housing concept ASH.

    Leslie Campbell
    September 2019
    The “duty to document” may sound like boring bureaucratese, but it’s crucial to a functioning democracy.
     
    SOMETIMES A MEDIA STORY TAKES SO LONG TO UNFOLD that readers might well wonder why it’s still being told. I imagine that’s the case with the story of former Chief of Police Frank Elsner’s fall from grace. Court battles kept most players—including the Office of Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC)—quiet for years.
    But policy-wise, we can lay a lot of the blame for dragging out such stories to highly imperfect access-to-information laws. Information that government relies on to make critical decisions is often just not available to journalists or citizens. Unless the public, often via journalists, has access to all the records behind such decisions, it’s impossible to shine a light on how and where costly mistakes were made, or poor judgement was exercised, and thereby hold public officials accountable—essential ingredients for a healthy democracy.
    The Elsner case implicates both the City of Victoria and Mayor Helps, as well as the provincial government, for denying the public’s right to know. That denial was made possible, in particular, through a lack of legislation around what’s called “duty to document.”
    In October 2018, Focus’ David Broadland filed an FOI request with the City (shortly after the OPCC issued its investigation report) for communications between Mayor Helps and Mayor Desjardins during their three-month internal investigation of Elsner. The City transferred that request to the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board. In the Board’s response, there were virtually no communications between Helps and Desjardins about the drama unfolding around them during September, October and November 2015. When Broadland asked about this, he was told Mayor Help’s emails had been deleted due to “email retention schedules.” But when he asked to see those schedules, the Police Board admitted there were none. Moreover, the Police Board did not have custody and control of Mayor Helps’ emails. The City of Victoria did.
    In January, Broadland submitted a formal complaint to BC’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) that the City of Victoria had failed to provide complete records. As he pointed out in his January/February Focus report, the City of Victoria has a policy requiring that both electronic and paper records created to “document the operations of the mayor” must be “retained for 10 years overall, and then transferred to Archives for selective retention.” The email record in question was only three years in the past.
    Finally, in July, we received a response from OIPC Senior Investigator Trevor Presley. He wrote, “Subsequent to your complaint, Rob Gordon [the City’s Information Access and Privacy Analyst] did a second search with a relatively new eDiscovery tool, which did a much more thorough and comprehensive search, including searching for deleted emails. After doing this, he found an additional 271 emails plus 152 pages of attachments which he believed were responsive.”
    Those emails were released to Focus and, though highly redacted, they did allow some details to be filled in, including around both mayors’ knowledge of sexual harassment and bullying charges against Chief Elsner in the fall of 2015. This is all covered in Broadland’s July/August feature report.
    Broadland then asked OIPC for an inquiry because he questions some of the redactions. The inquiry has been granted and a date set for October 2020.
    But right now I want to draw your attention to the way Investigator Presley summed things up: “The main problem here seems to be the deleted emails. I would note there is nothing in FIPPA [Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act] which would require either the City of Victoria or the VEPB [Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board] to retain these emails, nor can the OIPC enforce record retention schedules set by public bodies.”
    Therein lies a big problem for a functioning democracy.
    The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) and other like-minded groups have been advocating for years that FIPPA legislation must include the duty to document, which “would compel government to document their decision making process so that citizens can exercise their information rights.”
    As the non-profit organization notes on its website: “The original lawmakers who drafted the FIPPA did not anticipate that government would hold meetings in person and over the phone without writing anything down (a phenomenon known as ‘oral government’), use personal email addresses to conduct government business, and maliciously delete records in order to circumnavigate freedom of information laws (a practice known as ‘triple-delete’). But unfortunately that is now the reality in which we are living.”
    The NDP promised two years ago to amend the almost-30-year-old FIPPA to include a duty to document. When the Liberal government was caught in 2015 purposely “triple deleting” communications about the Highway of Tears, the NDP had a lot to say. And well they should. It involved willful destruction of publicly owned, government records—records essential for transparency and accountability. (In the end, one government employee got fined $2,500—not for destroying the records, as there are no rules or penalties for that, but for lying about it under oath during Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s investigation.)
    Current and former Information and Privacy Commissioners have urged the provincial government to amend FIPPA to include a duty to document. Denham’s cogent and strongly worded Access Denied report describes it as necessary to restore public confidence and make clear that the government does not endorse an “oral culture” devised to avoid accountability.
    BC’s current Attorney General David Eby, as part of an all-party special legislative committee on the subject in 2016, made a specific recommendation to include a duty to document within FIPPA. Among the many risks of poor record retention cited in that all-party report was this one from David Loukidelis, QC (a former Information and Privacy Commissioner): “Loss of public confidence in government over time due to the perception that the absence of documentation reflects a deliberate tactic to hide, among other things, wrongdoing (including corruption or favouritism).”
    During the 2017 election campaign, the NDP unequivocally committed to updating FIPPA and including a duty to document. Unfortunately, since they’ve been in power, nothing has been done. In fact, they muddied the waters last spring when they passed changes to another act, the Information Management Act, bragging about them as a Canadian first. Vincent Gogolek, FIPA’s executive director, called the changes “a pathetic excuse for a response to massive pressure for action on this issue. A legal duty uses the words ‘must’ or ‘shall,’ not the word ‘may.’” BC’s current Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy condemned the NDP’s legislation as ineffective and cynical: “As it now stands, the Information Management Act designates the Minister herself as primarily responsible for ensuring her Ministry’s compliance with the duty to document decisions. Citizens would find it very surprising that, on its face, the current law makes a Minister responsible for investigating her own conduct.”
    And it gets worse: guess who, within a couple of months of the bill passing, was found to be using her personal email address to conduct government business in order to circumvent Freedom of Information laws—laws which she oversees? Minister of Citizens’ Services Jinny Sims—who had a year earlier already been caught doing the same thing. Seriously.
    Perhaps the capper is that the Information Management Act applies to only 41 public bodies, not the 2,900 that come under FIPPA legislation, where duty to document really needs to be enshrined—as mandatory (the City’s non-mandatory records retention policy illustrating why). And it has to have significant penalties to be meaningful. Finally, implementation and enforcement of proper documentation must come under the jurisdiction of the independent Information and Privacy Commissioner.
    Unfortunately, it seems once a party is in power, at any level of government, the public’s right to know how decisions have been made sinks way down the priority list.
    Looking at the federal situation, a duty to document was never part of Bill C-58, the long-overdue federal attempt to update information access legislation dating back to 1983. In 2016, federal, provincial and territorial commissioners issued a joint resolution calling for—the third time, they noted—a legislated duty to document accompanied by effective oversight and enforcement provisions. Passed in June 2019, the new federal regulations were largely panned by those on the side of transparency for, among other things, excluding prime ministers’ and cabinet ministers’ records from access coverage, and for not including a duty to document.
    In my research, I was surprised to come across an example used by the federal Information Commissioner to illustrate the importance of duty to document. It related to Transport Canada’s behaviour in relation to the Victoria harbour airport, the focus of my feature report last month. The investigation of Transport Canada, the commissioner’s report stated, “revealed that the institution had taken no notes or minutes at some of the regular meetings officials had held with the City of Victoria, especially meetings related to the expansion of the harbour in 2010.” At the commissioner’s urging, Transport Canada eventually came up with 10 pages.
    I could give more examples of how journalists and citizens alike have been frustrated—perhaps disgusted is a more apt description—at the seeming disregard of public officials, all paid by taxpayers, to maintain proper records of how they arrived at their decisions. Given the paucity of records, it sometimes seems decisions are made in a cavalier fashion. A recent Victoria example of this, shown through a citizen’s FOI, was the removal of the Innovation Tree at Humboldt and Government Streets. And there’s always the worry that some sort of corruption or influence from improper quarters is being applied. How can we know—unless it’s all fully documented and accessible under the law?
    Did you know September 28 is Right to Know Day? Editor Leslie Campbell recommends the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association’s website fipa.bc.ca. Empower yourself through one of their free FOI workshops.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    July 2019
    There are lessons we need to learn about the meaning of “consultation.”
     
    IF THERE'S ANY WORD that’s undergone a moulting of sorts in these modern times, it’s the now politically overused and clichéd term consultation. Not so long ago this was a respected word, a solid and honest word that intimated the benefits of putting two or more heads together to discuss an idea or plan with the goal of making it a better one. Then Politics started watering it down. 
    In the last few years I’ve grown increasingly more curious and cynical about government consulting, a now ballyhooed process that mostly seems to happen with First Nations and environmentalists, and mostly when huge, land-razing projects are on tap. What do they talk about? Is the process respectful and meaningful? Are both sides equally weighted in authority and stature, and are the initiators prepared to make concessions? How do they achieve a workable consensus? When someone talks, does anyone really listen?
    When the prime minister says he still needs more time to “engage in meaningful consultation” with First Nations before finally announcing the decision he’s already made on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, what is it that he still needs to do? Talk people to the brink of exhaustion and capitulation? Offer incentives, the way my dad long ago offered a case of beer to the highway snowplough driver for taking a quick veer up and down our hopelessly plugged lane? (We used to call that “bribery” back then.) Is the exercise of political “consultation” mostly a charade that we all play along with? Are we satisfied with just the optics of due diligence?
     

    First Nations protest Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project
     
    It’s not hard to imagine the hodgepodge of authoritarian tactics governments might once have used to get business interests rolling, colonial-style, on Canada’s vast tracts of territorial land. But that would have been curbed in 1982, when former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau amended the Canadian Constitution to include Section 35, which cemented the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canadian law.
    That forced governments at all levels to begin developing careful protocols for consultation, a trickier process in British Columbia because 95 percent of our province is still unceded territory, meaning that the land claims, treaties and ownership of almost the entire 944,735 square kilometres have yet to be sorted out. Consultation became a fine dance for governments because, while they typically want to discuss ways to get a mine going or a pipeline pushed through on a particular tract of land, First Nations communities ensconced on that land are astutely more interested in first raising their ownership issues, a deviation that can end up in a legal battle that stalls projects for years.
    All this has reshaped the exercise of consultation, especially after several court cases around fishing, hunting and forestry all ruled in favour of First Nations. The latter, a 2004 Supreme Court case involving a forestry dispute with the Haida Nation, reinforced Canada’s constitutional “duty to consult” with First Nations on any and all decisions that affect them. You would think that would count for a lot, at least legally if not morally.
    But here we are, with the Pandora’s box that is our Trans Mountain pipeline. The federal government is champing for its expansion, and the National Energy Board—its in-house “regulator” of all things relating to non-renewable energy—has twice conducted public consultation, and twice dutifully recommended in favour of expansion.
    The first hearing was so flawed in its consultation and environmental assessment processes that the Federal Court of Appeal flatly overturned its recommendation last August. Justice Eleanor Dawson, who presided over the ruling, rebuked the Crown for its failure to engage in meaningful consultation, amounting to little more than note-takers of the proceedings. “The meeting notes show little or no meaningful responses…to the concerns of the Indigenous applicants,” she wrote.
    That forced a hurried second round of consulting that, not surprisingly, drew considerable skepticism from First Nations participants. To no one’s surprise, the NEB announced last February that the pipeline expansion could again go ahead, adding that its “considerable benefits” justify “the likely significant adverse effects” it will someday wreak on our coastal and marine ecology.
    So much for putting heads together.
    What frustrates even more is the Crown’s apparent presumption that, except for First Nations people and the clusters of protesters who show up at disputes, the rest of Canada is in accord. But that’s where the Crown is seriously misguided. First Nations issues are everyone’s issues. Environmental degradation hurts everyone.
    There’s been so much consultation, and so little real talk. But these are pivotal times, and an election looms. So do the summer fires. We’ll see how that all goes.
    Writer Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic was not surprised when, on June 18, the pipeline expansion was approved by the Canadian government. See Briony Penn’s column in this edition for more on the Trans Mountain pipeline issue.

    Gene Miller

    Water torture

    By Gene Miller, in Commentary,

    July 2019
    Parsing the promo material for a new development near the Esquimalt Lagoon.
     
    HERE’S A RULE OF THUMB: when, or wherever, you see the word “nestled” in real estate advertising copy, make the sign of the cross and run at top speed in the other direction. You need nestling? Go to your partner, or the park, to your therapist, guru or support group, your pet corgi; hell, your pet rock. I urge this in behalf of the last remnant shred of authentic human emotion. That was emotion, not emoticon.
    The torn genius employed by Rennie Marketing—a Vancouver-based company engaged by various real estate developers to find a route to your dreams (and your credit limit) via any orifice that can be pried open and penetrated—has advanced to Hell by at least six damnations for seduction in behalf of a new townhouse/condo project, Two Waters, that has in its crosshairs a large, verdant, ocean-side ex-paradise in Colwood bracketed by nearby standard-issue suburbs and, if Lagoon Road project signs can be trusted, other quick-sprouting projects for neighbours.
     

    Two Waters' online promotional material
     
    There’s a whole lotta nestling going on these days in real estate promotion. Presumably, “nestled” will be claiming overtime pay because “Hidden gem!”, “Opportunity knocks!”, “Dreams do come true!” and “Was that an eagle calling to its young, or star-song passing over an angel’s wing?” all have exhaustion breaks and time off for good behaviour.
    The language in the promotional copy is skillful, self-aware and coy—if those terms don’t overly contradict each other—and loaded with manufactured longing in roughly the same way that all us young guys used to protest, “No, I’m saying you’re beautiful and I love you because you’re beautiful and I love you, not because I want to get into your pants. Why do you always have to think I want something?”
    Consider the totemic name of this Colwood project: Two Waters. My instincts tell me this has nothing to do with “hot” and “cold” (though “still” and “sparkling” bear further study). The project moniker pole-vaults over the likes of Meadowview Acres (never a meadow in view) or Marlene Estates (developer’s girlfriend). No, this is all “one with the land,” along with a conspicuous cultural and linguistic mortgage in favour of First Nations culture.
    Online promotional copy for this master-planned development states, in part: “We respect the land and each other. We carry the responsibility of stewardship. We share resources and nature.” Definitely that “nestled” guy, finally off the crystal meth but now clearly high on grass and kumbayah.
    The heraldic logo for the project, which floats at the edges of a full-page newspaper ad and a promotional mailer, both of which now sit in front of me, features two sets of wavy lines drawn at right angles to each other, encircled by “Two Waters In Balance.”
    Balance. What is balance? Sounds like a good thing, like something you need and from which you would benefit. Ironists might claim “balance” should never be caught un-tethered from “bank;” but, then, that kind of cynicism is just heartbreak’s porch door. In today’s world of multiplying angers and rising dangers, and trapped, as we are, in a global community whose last shred of equipoise could vanish in a risky heartbeat, “balance” is powerful cultural code. The word invokes a mountain of Zen-inflected ooga-booga and is, of course, enshrined in the Victoria Charter of Rights, Vibes and Gimmes. It has enormous market heft because it all but claims parentage from some holy book. Remember the good old days (I’m casting back to the ’70s and ’80s) wearing your “truth face” to advertise your rarified spiritual credentials, and to get laid? Kind of like that. “Balance,” in other words, is a t-shirt, a bumper sticker, the adult option, I suppose, to “Paint With Rainbows.”
    “A new vision of community begins with a bird’s eye view,” warbles the full-page ad. And there, just beside the aerial photograph of the property, and within reach of the gag-worthy banner “It will take a village” (I swear I’m not making this up), is a picture of a heron in profile—clearly on the payroll for now, but soon to be served with a scram notice when the ‘dozers start to rumble. Is that a heartbroken, prefigurative tear rolling from its eye down its long beak? Can’t quite tell.
    But wait: the copywriter moves way past all this manipulative child’s play with a statement in the mail-piece so mystical, ambiguous, recondite, code-loaded and indivisible that you might easily conclude its various claims had been annealed in Heaven’s smithy:
    “Today, progressive living is as much about thoughtful architecture and design as it is about sustainable practice.”
    …There’s a tricksome little smile on your face. You’ve just pulled the cork on a very decent white; the hints-of-brown-sugar sockeye and your secret-spiced mustard greens will be ready soon; the killer Caesar salad’s already on the candlelit table; and once again you have perfectly timed the cork pop with the punch line of your by-now-patented ski adventure story about being chased by and outrunning, actually out-skiing, ha-ha, a mini-avalanche rumbling down the slope mere feet behind you. Your brother and his new (second) wife are over; so are neighbours Ben and Elissa from the next building (you’ve bonded over herbicide-free landscaping).
    You hope tonight you can shoulder-check your brother if, a glass or two in him, he starts in again with that anti-bike-lane rant. Besides, you have an important announcement to make about the Canada/Mexico inter-cultural project that you’ve been working on for two years….
    Ahhh, progressive living!
    I’ll attempt a less novelistic deconstruction. “Progressive living” is code for a lucky life—the life you want for yourself—filled with self-celebration, apotheosis, the happy marriage of intelligence, education and good taste, all of it validated and made worry-free by a terrific income and a gilt-edged investment portfolio. “Living the dream” is a passable colloquial synonym.
    As for the rest of that Two Waters promotional meta-poetry above, consider: how could you possibly see anything in your mind’s eye but those two cha-cha-ing pixies of “thoughtful architecture and design” (to be fair, the project is designed by brilliant architectural practitioner Paul Merrick) and “sustainable practice?” On closer inspection, those pixies appear not just to be dancing, but copulating, for God’s sake!
    Wal-Mart, by the way, if blunter and slightly less iambic, is no less aspirational: “Save Money, Live Better.”
    Real estate has always been about better tomorrows, a projection of some hidden you yearning for release and expression. The text, the written thesis, of Two Waters hypothesizes and then beckons to a you still capable of emotional sunrise, innocence, hope for the future and strong skills of bad-news management; that is, insulation from today’s abrasive social noise and all those worrying headlines. Honestly, what is a home if it can’t keep risk at bay?
    René Girard, French philosopher of social science, developed a theory of mimetic desire. That is, we borrow our desires from others. Far from being autonomous, our desire for a certain object or experience is always provoked by the desire of another person—the model—for this same object. This means that the relationship between the subject and the object is not direct: there is always a triangular relationship of subject, model, and object. In the case of Two Waters, the voice or persona of the promotional material itself has skillfully appropriated the model role.
    So, you’ve made up your mind? You’re going to buy in Two Waters beside the Esquimalt Lagoon? Best to give a read first to David Wallace-Wells’ new book, The Uninhabitable Earth—Life After Warming, just so you have a good feel for the melting speed of the Arctic Ice Sheet and its likely impact on sea rise. After all, you don’t want to buy near-waterfront only to discover you’re the chagrined owner of a float-home.
    Also, news junkie that you are, you will have noticed that demagoguery and autocracy, not democracy, is a growing global political trend led, and cheer-led, by that orange-haired sociopath south of us. Frankly, given mounting prospects for international fisticuffs anywhere, at any scale, Two Waters might do well appealing to our need for safety as well as lifestyle: “Today, progressive living is as much about an assured berth in Two Water’s fully stocked underground bomb shelter as it is about the cornucopian food-and-medicine survival kit included with every home…and an added thoughtful touch: a ‘surrender’ flag in every front hall closet.”
    I know, doesn’t quite have that ring. Those two poor pixies, backs now bent in defeat and sorrow. But trust me: when slogans like “Make America Great Again” are working, it’s a sign that little else is.
    Oh, if I may indelicately remind you: Trump is a property developer.
    Two Waters whispers a solemn promise to return you to a lost paradise when nature was your friend and partner, and was the source of material and spiritual bounty. Two Waters pledges to restore some utterly lost harmony.
    Crippled nature, unfortunately, has retreated, its very essence jeopardized by human intervention.
    Retreated, but not utterly or permanently—Genesis 3:19 (King James Version): “…for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” The ultimate real estate advertising headline, if you think about it.
    Founder of Open Space and Monday Magazine, Gene Miller once ran an advertising agency in Victoria (Broughton Communications Group).

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    May 2019
    It is in our gardens that wisdom and humility are nurtured.
     
    PATRICK LANE, one of our most loved and celebrated writers, died suddenly in early March, just as his garden was wakening anew. I did not know him personally but found myself thinking of him and contemplating his words as I began gearing up for spring chores in my own garden.
    If I was to be banished to an island somewhere with only an hour’s notice, I’d be packing some seeds, a clutch of gardening tools and my well-worn copy of Patrick Lane’s 2004 memoir, There is a Season. In this one book I’d have a library’s worth of slow-release wisdom and perspective to nourish me through unlimited rereading. Central to the memoir is Lane’s lifelong love for gardening and for nature, which he juxtaposes so exquisitely with his own life’s story—the years and years of hardscrabble existence in isolated towns where the living was hard and misery ran rampant; the turning to alcohol and a small manual typewriter on which he hammered out late-night words against hopelessness and defeat.
     

    Patrick Lane in 2004 (Photo by David Broadland)
     
    The words bought him freedom but addiction plagued him for decades until his journey to sobriety took him back again to the foothills of his own garden, where he found himself standing “as a strangeling in this simple world.” Slowly and humbly he began rebuilding both his life and neglected garden, his ever-keen mind revelling in the miracle of a dewdrop, a chickadee, an emerging bloom, and the papery wall of a hornet’s nest.
    Throughout the book, Lane deftly weaves between the past and the present, dredging up unreconciled pain from the one, and half-buried empty vodka bottles from the other. He faces both with unvarnished courage. He is ready to acquiesce to his garden—his teacher—and achieve with it a symbiotic stasis: Each can rehabilitate and heal the other.
    Like Lane, I labour willingly “in the daily meditations of earth, air, stone, and water.” Caring for a piece of nature, even a contrived piece like the suburban back yard, is good for both body and soul. This is where thoughts often swirl like spring pollen, where I sometimes feel as if I am on the cusp of some new understanding or perspective. This is where I see that a hundred years of studying nature would not reveal everything there is to know about this evolving place, a fact I find oddly comforting.
    In the garden you can take the memories of your regrets and compost them into something amenable enough to let you get on with life. You live in the present. You feel gladness for tasks that involve your hands in the warm soil, for the privilege of anointing emerging seeds with clean water burbling from the hose or watering can. You check in on your resident tree frogs, their tiny green bodies bizarrely incongruent to the weight and timbre of their call. (Of them, Lane adds this gem: “A green frog does not sit on a red leaf unless he’s gone a little mad.”)
    In the garden you don’t need a politician to tell you about climate change and the damage we’ve done. You can see it in the thousands of tiny assaults on the ecology—the tree that drops a branch without warning, the butterflies and dragonflies mostly gone, the lizard you didn’t see until five years ago, the thermometer’s increasingly erratic dance across the calendar. You know it as you haul water to plants that were previously satisfied with the occasional summer rain.
    Still, the garden is perhaps the most basic and precious thing we have, not so much as owners forever but as stewards for a time. A garden can help us through any transition, any season in life. It can lead the way. It always has.
    “Every stone in my garden is a story, every tree a poem,” Lane wrote in his memoir. “I barely know myself in spite of the admonishments of wise men and women who tell me I must know my life in order to live it fully. What I know is that I live in this place where words are made. What we are is a garden. I believe that.”
    I believe that too. I believe that by taking care of our land and the miracles of nature that happen upon it, we are taking care of ourselves and each other and the Earth that we all share. It is the purest and most joyous way to live a fleeting life.
    Trudy encourages everyone to plant kale this year. It’s easy to grow and loaded with nutrition, the bees and butterflies love the flowers, and the greens can be picked throughout the winter.

    Gene Miller
    May 2019
    Do those of us who behave immodestly do so because we resent our mortality?
     
    WHEREVER YOU STORE OLD LOVE LETTERS, pics of your exes, slowly fading family photos, those Broadway “Cats” ticket stubs—a cigar box, a binder, under the spare linens—please write four words, “The Death of Modesty” (with or without a question mark at the end—your call), on a sheet of paper, date it, then tuck it into your collection of treasures.
    I’ll explain.
    Apart from certain religions whose imperatives attempt to constrain the appetites and consumption behaviour of adherents, modesty would seem not to be broadly social or community-based—in other words, not a public value or practice. Yes, we say, “Waste not, want not,” but while we advise humanity not to waste, we don’t tell it not to want.
    Instead, modesty comes off more as an individual practice, the result of a personal emotional and spiritual process, perhaps, a hard-won agreement between the mind and the heart about the management of appetite.
    Modesty is about the self-management of craving: will over hunger in all its forms, you might say. But the fossil record (right to present times) suggests that under certain natural conditions modesty has its price and is subject to a rule: consume (or be very good at hiding) or be someone’s lunch.
    In current times, a modest life, a turning away from the values and acts of acquisition and consumption, can seem heroic and almost saintly, which is to say, out of the ordinary if not a bit weird. Saying no to more may well involve a personal struggle—some conscious journey into values and choices—and others may find it hard to fathom the modestee’s reasons and motivations; it sets one apart and suggests “uncomfortable” moral intensity.
    Of course, modesty, like other conditions calling for judgement, may be a matter not of principle, but of degree. Acquisition, consumption and never-ceasing need for more may form the core of social ideology. Still, we reserve a word for insatiable hunger for things, the failure or unwillingness to say no to too much, the seemingly pathological failure even to recognize or acknowledge the idea of too much, even in our culture of too much: greed.
    Greed, also known as unchecked appetite, has a moral valence; it hints at bad mental wiring, moral deformity, obsession, a distortion of the self’s landscape and boundaries, a false and damaging view of the world. In our Grimm-Brothers-fairy-tales-imagination, we want people who are greedy to look greedy: grotesque gobblers, repulsive hoarders, people who appear to put their hungry arms around everything (or around themselves) in some fevered act of self-securitization, self-safety.
    We have plenty of cultural messaging around wants and needs, and sufficient social radar so that when caught red-handed wanting something, we are quick to recast and justify it as a need. We regard greed as want taken too far, a moral disease akin to the difference between people who like to pet small animals and those who like to squeeze the life out of small animals.
    But consider how, in an almost mystical act of cultural nuancing, we don’t call our business titans and zillionaires greedy. In fact, we lionize them. And in the corporate milieu we call greed “strategic acquisition and positioning.” You will have noticed, though, that we are entering a time when corporations, the über-wealthy and even the not-so-über are coming in for excoriation as wealth-gobblers, hoarders, have-ers of more than their share: if they have more, we have less. The era feels eruptive, existential, ready for a fight or a spasm. It wouldn’t be the first time that free-market social Darwinism had a comeuppance.
    The dictionary claims greed is “an insatiable longing for material gain, be it food, money, status or power.” The inclusion of status and power is revealing. Greed, Webster’s continues, is “an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs.”
    What’s the source or locus of that “insatiable longing?” What would an “ordinate desire” look like? How much does a person need?
    The etymology of greed emphasizes this idea of voracious, incorporative, assimilative hunger. The German word for greed, habsüchtig, translates roughly as “having sickness.” In other words, greed renders appetite pathological. Still, we say: “Why rent when you can own?”
    The Indian godhead Meher Baba believed that greed “is a state of restlessness of the heart, and it consists mainly of craving for power and possessions which are sought for the fulfillment of desires. Man is only partially satisfied in his attempt to fulfill his desires, and this partial satisfaction fans and increases the flame of craving instead of extinguishing it. Thus greed always finds an endless field of conquest and leaves the man endlessly dissatisfied.”
    Meher Baba raises provocative questions: what is the fulfillment of desire, what is the locus, the taproot, of this “endless dissatisfaction”—an impulse distributed to every cell of our being, the same thing that makes a tree “want” to grow a new branch? The dictionary defines, but he explains greed, giving it the larger frame it clearly requires. My friend Denton speculates that greed might in part be some recapitulation in the form of sensibility and behaviour of the physical architecture of the nervous system, some principle of consolidation: the gathering of nerves within the spinal column and their urgent, expanding highway to the brain.
    All explanations, though, even Meher Baba’s, overlook a natural fact: the sheer exhaustion of things. Everything tires, degenerates and re-arranges eventually, everything on Earth and, cosmic science explains, even the Earth itself.
    The MiceTimes of Asia (yes, a real thing) provocatively suggests that the greedy forget one simple fact: “that life on this Earth is not eternal.” This assertion opens a line of thought that may have crossed your mind: that the condition of mortality hovers at the edge of any explanation of greed.
    Which leads to the speculation that greed—that hunger for more—is a grab at eternity, the life impulse itself, the spark that fills us with a desire to live forever and makes us unable to imagine the world without us. This generates in the human imagination a profound resentment of Nature that has given life and will take it back. We say, “I don’t want to die!” and we really mean it. We don’t want to die because when the music stops playing, the dance is over. When consciousness ends, imagination collapses. Our “ownership” of everything we compass through our eyes and thoughts ends. We imagine we own and eventually, jarringly discover we were just borrowing. Tragic!
    In this formulation, greed is, or is about, power: the power to live forever, to surround ourselves with stuff, to absorb both its literal and symbolic energy, its cushion-value as protection against finality.
    Wanting to live forever (nothing stops you from wanting), is against the terms and principles of life, and we fight this impasse with the same anger and umbrage we feel toward the parental, non-negotiable “Why? Because I told you so.”
    Nature is, in this sense, the ultimate parent, and in a bizarre act of self-destructive, anti-ecological spite, we attempt to appropriate nature’s secrets and powers, and try to kill the world. Ego set against eco.
    In Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra, reviewing 250 years of European history, references the gigantic intellectual project led by European and Russian intelligentsia in the early 1800s that produced “the view of God as only an idealized projection of human beings rather than a Creator.”
    Think, in this macro-historical way, of current ecological collapse at our hands as a next and possibly last chapter in some weird, profound, evolutionary oedipal re-enactment.
    Greed isn’t rational; it starts in a deeper, darker place and generates nothing but mystery and answerless questions regarding accumulation as an expression of securing a future. “More life, fucker” says bioengineered, Frankensteinian Roy Batty, with his inbuilt four-year life span, to his human maker in the movie Bladerunner. What are all of us if not bioengineered? Roy’s four, our eighty….
    More life, fucker.
    Returning through this set of speculations to our starting point, I’d like to propose a role for Victoria as consumption-driven global ecological damage intensifies and the danger-points quickly multiply beyond correction: “The Capital of Modesty.” That is, Victoria as social sanity and demonstration: living within means, a model of ecological truth, a place that practices and communicates a message to the hungry, greedy, crazy world about living modestly with and in nature; making a peace of it; greeting the newborn, burying the dead. Surviving. Continuing.
    Victoria, named for a queen, flirts with, then, losing nerve, retreats from this exalted, leaderly and crucial role that history offers it—the role (a complicated, somewhat selfless and thankless but necessary task, really) well expressed by lines in Tennyson’s lengthy story-poem, The Princess, A Medley:
    “She stretched her arms and called
    Across the tumult and the tumult fell.”
    Founder of Open Space and co-founder of Monday Magazine, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an affordable housing concept.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    March 2019
    There’s no end of dire news, so seek out the glimmers of progress.
     
    THE HAUNTING CHOREOGRAPHY of the January eclipse involving Earth, Sun, and super blood wolf moon left me feeling deeply humbled, and then unexpectedly stung by anguish. The beauty of it was immense. There it hung, an antediluvian orb undergoing metamorphosis more than 357,000 kilometres overhead, its feral colours still eons older than the smudged pigments of ancient cave art. Here stood I in a darkened schoolyard, an undeserving spectator fully dependent on, and yet habitually oblivious to, the Earth and its crucial sliver of atmosphere. As the moon began glowing red, I felt the burn of raw contrition for all the short-sighted harm we humans have done here.
     

    Super blood wolf moon eclipse
     
    We’re getting frightfully close to the brink of pandemonium, and still there’s no action plan in sight. Only 12 unescapably challenging years remain for getting it all fixed, according to an urgent 2018 report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That’s the equivalent of just three more terms of office, with scarcely a truly committed politician in sight.
    It’s become a twisted, top-down world that we live in, where corporations seem to rule through beleaguered governments that are not much more than latex gloves on lobbyist hands. Any small policy advancement proposed for the common good is too often thwarted by a business interest intent on safeguarding its market share and profit margin. Throw in constant warnings that jobs will vanish if things change, and it’s no wonder that many working people stay entrenched as keepers of the status quo.
    The struggling mainstream media has been co-opted too, probably with their eyes wide open. Our local daily paper now puts wrap-around ads where the news once appeared, and prints cheap filler pieces without fully disclosing the writer’s affiliation. I’m guessing that’s how Gwyn Morgan, a “retired Canadian business leader who has been a director of five global corporations,” came to preachify last month in a wildly biased essay that pipelines are Canada’s most urgent need. His motives become clear when the internet reveals that his clutch of corporations are steeped in fossil fuel. Besides being the former CEO of Encana, he’s the former chairman of the not-so-law-abiding engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, known for its cozy ties to the notorious Ghadafi family of Libya (and perhaps the Trudeau government, which is now the subject of an ethics investigation over its replacing of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Reybauld).
    The World Health Organization recently released a list of the top 10 health threats in 2019. Number one is air pollution, which it bluntly calls “the greatest environmental risk to health.” Last month Times Colonist columnist Trevor Hancock meticulously pinned almost all ten threats on environmental degradation and concluded that “when we protect the environment, we almost always protect our health.” (Hancock’s byline does disclose who he really is—a now-retired expert in human health. His views are rooted in science and bring him no financial gain.)
    All the stonewalling is enough to make one despair, but despair alone is just more useless idling while the clock ticks on. Better to find glimmers of progress and focus on them. Focus on the wealth of innovation in our town, including Project Zero, a brand-new incubator program that will guide and support entrepreneurs who envision turning waste materials into new products.
    The tipping point days are inching closer. Decent sustainable investment opportunities are cropping up quite regularly now—although you won’t yet find them at your local bank—and the Supreme Court of Canada has just decreed that energy extraction companies will, in fact, be held financially responsible for all environment damage left in their wake. No more declaring bankruptcy and walking away. Taxpayers are done being the mop-up crew.
    Perhaps the biggest indicator of change yet is Canada’s new Food Guide, finally based on the best and most current independent evidence instead of industry junk science. Health Canada deserves applause for standing firm where they had previously caved to partisan pressure, for not compromising health in favour of profits, and for resisting the jump into inane entrenched discussion on, among other tired topics, the question of whether bean-eating humans fart more than cows.
    Every unaffiliated dietitian has praise for this guide. What’s more, the fact that we finally have it provides a telling snapshot of where the government thinks society is now, and where it is headed.
    Palpable change is thrumming in the air. Maybe, just maybe we can still fix this. Maybe we’re ready to start preparing now. “Yes,” says a thoughtful friend, a seasoned psychologist who still feels hopeful. “More and more people are getting pissed off over inaction.”
    I agree. People love living here, on this protective blue and green Earth. From this perfect vantage point, the moon looks unfailingly beautiful.
    While we wait for big change to happen, Trudy recommends checking out www.zerowasteemporium.com for a growing list of local businesses ready to help us become zero-waste shoppers for the stuff that we need.

    Gene Miller
    March 2019
    Will new Downtown buildings help our resiliency and community in the face of social upheaval?
     
    LEONARD BERNSTEIN announced his retirement from conducting on October 9, 1990, and five days later died of a heart attack at his Manhattan apartment in The Dakota. At his funeral procession through the streets of Manhattan, construction workers removed their hats and waved, calling out “Goodbye, Lenny.” A city family big enough to have heroes and small enough to weep at their passing. A place, not an anywhere.
    Cities, communities of people, need identity and are bound by story; they need to be a who, and need as an urban culture to share that story, to feel like participants in its abstractions, its history and practices—things that can be seen and felt. I’m so glad I live in “a little bit of old England,” a city where everywhere you turn, you’re presented with remind—what, that’s gone, too?!
     

    The Jukebox under construction on View Street
     
    Victoria’s current Empire State Building frenzy of Downtown highrise development should abate in the early 2020s, the market (temporarily) exhausted, the last cement truck off to its Bay Street home. Then, we may witness our works. It is certain that Downtown’s visual identity, personality and place-mood—its qualities, to use that old-fashioned word—will have been transformed; and clear that the city missed (or forewent) the opportunity to try to understand the why, the secret sauce, of this (fadingly) singular place, to figure out how to re-fashion Downtown’s best qualities within some new urban and social design expression.
    Ever visited someone who lives on the upper floors of one of Victoria’s Downtown-area highrises or, for that matter, driven or walked to the top of Beacon Hill? It’s the breathtaking views, baby! The vista! At even a modest elevation, our surrounding land- and waterscape become legible. You part the living room curtains, you crest the park hill, your eye takes it in, your spirit lights up. The panorama offers perspective, permits context and clarity; you know where you are. Lucky you!
    As an upper-storey highrise resident, even if you have not yourself become a god, you mingle with the gods. View confers both social and spiritual status. View delivers something humanly important. You need only consult the imagery and symbolism of Medieval and Renaissance religious art to be fully exposed to the meaning and value of such elevation. Higher is liberating. Higher implies supervisory status. In a symbolic act whose meanings can hardly be missed, royalty sits on a throne: authority, author, self-maker, creator. Higher magnifies and places one closer to the energetic source—at a guess, the timeless, essential influence of the sun working on human consciousness, rituals, social protocols…and real estate pricing!
    The human roil is, by contrast, in the opposite direction, grounded. Hell is the hard game of the sidewalk. Consider that Christ was down with the people, a real mingler, before God bumped him upstairs. (Miracle explained! You’re welcome.)
    Enough exegesis; it’s my point that highrise and lowrise embody different webs of meaning, different human expressions—the one individuating, self-spotlighting, isolating; the other democratic, compromissory, socially binding, messy.
    It isn’t that Victoria skipped on the opportunity to stand athwart the Highway to The Future, stern arms held out straight to reject the furies of the highrises as they marched into town. Rather, it skipped on the opportunity to initiate strategies to neutralize and even convert their fortifying and privatizing tendencies and impacts.
    The defensive materiality of each new building, palpably projecting a guarded, gated, securitized response to unspecified forms of stranger danger, the impermeability—glass, metal, concrete, gating—of these buildings tells you much: not architectural welcome or community, but defense, privacy, protection, isolation.
    And the visual poverty, the shab and physical disrepair, the indifference and lack of aesthetic programming, of the adjacent public realm wordlessly articulates a perverse and unhealthy public/private partnership: public dangerous/private safe, the very opposite of a blueprint for human connection and successful city-making.
    In some small way, I cite the absence of social literacy amongst developers. This is not a crowd that sits up nights reading history and philosophy. They don’t teach Utopian Urbanism 101 at the School of Developology.
    The largest responsibility, though, falls to civic leadership, both elected and managerial, and equally with us so-called citizens who, increasingly bemused by public life and alienated from its meanings, find interaction much beyond the coffee shop patio unsanitary and risky.
    I understand: cultures lose sensibility or, to be generous, swap old aptitudes (and attitudes) for new, voluntarily discarding and forgetting the old, in the relentless push for currency. But novelty, which we reflexively celebrate, also disguises or embodies cultural dislocation—a turn too sharp to navigate, a gap too wide to comfortably jump. It takes time (if time’s even the cure) for a culture to make meaning of and to integrate various forms and expressions of novelty, to test them for truth and utility…and consequences—the “oracular and critical potencies of the commonplace,” as Mike Davis puts it in his book of essays, Dead Cities.
    Nothing will substitute for a community-wide dialogue, however faltering and argumentative at the start, about the idea of urbanity here, and the various possibilities of its physical expression in buildings and the public realm. If a community, through its municipal structure, can’t or won’t tell public realm designers and city budgeters about its values and priorities, and tell Downtown newcomer buildings how to behave, nothing else will.
    Developers are risk managers, not social rhapsodists. The gleam in their eye is profit and return on investment, not some vision of a better world. Actually, I correct myself: I can think of at least four industry philosophers and/or visual poets in Victoria. First, Max Tomaszewski and partner David Price, (Essencia Verde in Cook Street Village, and the former Medical Arts Building, Cook and Pandora, now re-branded The Wade). Next, mad artist Don Charity (Mosaic, Jukebox). Third, Chris LeFevre (Railyards, and numerous Downtown heritage renewals). Last, Bijan and Faramir Neyestani, responsible for the Aria, the Paul Merrick-designed masterpiece on Humboldt Street.
    Glimpse, imaginatively, a more empowering and citizen-esque Downtown Victoria furnished with useful or whimsical public realm features (including soapboxes), and buildings that meet the street generously in an aesthetic and social partnership; people (including yourself) acting more publicly connected, more owners of the public realm, their behaviour more extroverted, engaging, less wary, estranged and carapace-like.
    In his intermittently wise book Twelve Rules For Life, Jordan Peterson observes: “Before the Twin Towers fell—that was order. Chaos manifested itself afterward. Everyone felt it. The very air became uncertain. What exactly was it that fell? Wrong question. What exactly remained standing?”
    Peterson’s clever phrasing begs for local application: “There are compelling economic and land use arguments in support of all the new Downtown residential highrises. Are the buildings generating a new story about Victoria? Wrong question. What’s the message?”
    Please, don’t leave this column thinking I’m just being fussy about “frosting” or decorative trivialities Downtown. There are other, deeper reasons to foster powerful public community Downtown.
    Cities concentrate human potential in all its physical and cultural expressions. But remember: with grace comes gravity. Inherent in this, in any, urban concentration, however rich in promise, is an anarchic, explosive, counter-social impulse (people who don’t want to play) whose mildest expressions are inertia, social disaffection and petty crime, and most powerful, widespread anomie and serious damage to the urban fabric. (“Violence is a quest for identity. The less identity, the more violence,” noted Marshall McLuhan.) Believing these are normal times, we take normal steps to define and patrol social boundaries and identity, and in so doing we take as faith the durability of an invisible, shared public code that transmits and stabilizes the personality and the culture of the city. But social codes wane, lose their potency and relevance, and no amount of authority—or repressive propriety—will compensate for their decline.
    It’s hardly alarmist to describe these times as a corner-point, a civilizational moment. National politics is in many places shattered and, concurrently, life’s becoming a risky technological tomorrowland. Ever the crucible, the US is home to increasing social absenteeism. In American social critic James Kunstler’s words: “we can’t construct a coherent consensus about what is happening to us, and therefore we can’t make any coherent plans about what to do.”
    Can we in Victoria remain or re-become an identifiable and coherent urban community, not simply a crowd of people to whom the future happens? Healthy urban culture must be authored and constantly renewed. And land use, urban form and urban design—what goes where, and why, and with what consequences—is central to that process. Such concerns address social resilience and the almost painterly conditions required to sustain it. (A powerfully enhanced advisory design process couldn’t hurt.)
    History’s knocking hard everywhere, right now—a moment astutely decoded by architecture critic and writer Nathaniel Popkin: “Ours is an age of loss disguised as plenty.”
    Despite all urgency, in this vast fog-state of paradox we’re lost and immobilized, amorphous, not focused, stupid about history, stupid about the future.
    Time to be smart, fellow citizens...before the page turns.
    Founder of Open Space and co-founder of Monday Magazine, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an affordable housing concept.

    Leslie Campbell
    March 2019
    Holes in the new local elections financing act give an advantage to incumbents. That’s not necessarily in the public interest.
     
    SOON AFTER the BC NDP formed the government in 2017, they delivered on some promises around election financing for both provincial and municipal elections. On the announcement regarding local elections, everyone seemed happy. News reports from that fall quote multiple politicians and organizations like the Union of BC Municipalities, not to mention Minister of Municipal Affairs Selina Robinson, saying it’s about time to get money out of politics, to end the Wild West reputation we’d earned, and level the playing field.
    Chief among the new rules were, first, a ban on donations from corporations and unions, donations that in the past often fuelled many campaigns; and, second, a cap of $1,200 per year for individual donations.
    I assumed such regulations would rein in the campaigns of higher-spending candidates and level out the playing field somewhat.
    I was wrong. And it appears the government knows that more needs to be done. Even before last October’s civic elections, when it became clear there were some big holes that money could still flow through, Minister Robinson was already promising to review the rules.
    All candidates had to submit their disclosure reports on their campaign donations and expenditures by January 18. They were posted at Elections BC soon thereafter. Somewhat surprisingly, there has been no analysis in local media, at least that I could find.
    I suppose the new regulations have helped, but seasoned political operatives have, by the looks of it, found ways to play by the new rules while still drumming up lots of money to promote their candidates.
    Let’s look at Mayor Helps’ disclosure statement as an example of what can be done within the rules.
    The new formula upon which campaign expense limits are based resulted in Helps being limited to $54,121.50. (The formula is $1 for each resident in the municipality up to 15,000 and then $.55 for each additional person.) Helps spent $52,611 during the campaign period, so was within the limit.
     

    Lisa Helps (right) outspent Stephen Hammond (left) 4 to 1 in winning the Victoria mayoralty contest in October 2018
     
    However, the “campaign period” only covers the month before voting day. During the “election period,” which runs from January 1 to “the 29th day prior to voting day” (nine months), she spent an additional $51,359. Or $103,970 in total—quite a bit more than the $88,564 she spent in the 2014 election. There is no limit on how much a candidate can spend during the “election period.”
    Elections BC Communications Coordinator Melanie Hull told Focus, “The expense limits apply to campaign period expenses only.” Candidates had to record their donations starting January 1 of the election year, but spending limits didn’t take effect until the official campaign period began on September 22.
    This timing loophole favours incumbents who know they will run in the next election. Hypothetically, the new rules would allow unlimited lobbying for donations during the period an incumbent was still in office and making decisions. That incumbency could attract potential donors. Money raised early on could be spent, for example, on staff dedicated to fundraising and/or on a long-term social media campaign. Based on the description of Helps’ heavy spending during the “election period” in her disclosure form, she could have had a fundraiser and robust social media campaign well ahead of the campaign period. These days, that’s a big advantage.
    As it turned out, Helps’ spent a surprising amount of money for each vote she received. Her nearest competitor, for instance, was Stephen Hammond. He got 8,717 votes, compared to Helps’ 12,642 votes. So Helps spent $8.22 per vote, while Hammond spent $2.20 (he spent a total of $19,143, including $3,716 for his own campaign and $15,427 from newcouncil.ca, an electoral organization). On a per-vote basis, Helps spent about four times what Hammond did.
    Other mayoral candidates in Victoria also spent far less than Helps. In a weird sort of way, it’s reassuring that even with all the funds at her disposal, all her experience and name recognition, she still earned only 44 percent of the votes for mayor. While the money strengthens a campaign, and definitely makes for an uneven playing field, spending a lot more money may have diminishing returns.
    It’s also interesting to look at other municipalities of roughly the same size to see what their per-mayoralty-vote expenditures are.
    Maple Ridge, whose politics I know nothing about, has a population close to that of the City of Victoria. As a result, the campaign period spending limit for mayoralty candidates was similar: $54,992. The successful candidate, also an incumbent, spent a total of $43,604, far less than Helps. Michael Mordon received 11,287 votes, which works out to $3.86 per vote. Again, much lower than Helps.
    Closer to home, Fred Haynes in Saanich spent $70,436 and harvested 15,312 votes, at a cost of $4.60 per vote.
    In Kelowna, incumbent Colin Basran won the mayoral race at a cost of $4.22 per vote.
    Even in the City of Vancouver, where campaigns had been raising and spending millions in previous elections, the new Mayor Kennedy Stewart spent only $6.23 per vote for the 50,000 votes he received. (His total expenses were $310,337 over the two periods.)
    It’s actually pretty hard to find any mayoral candidate in BC who spent more per vote than Mayor Helps. But persistence with the two relevant websites pays off: a close race in North Van saw Linda Buchanan win with 3,800 votes, at $17.47 per vote due to her $66,408 expenditure. And in neighbouring Oak Bay, incumbent Nils Jensen spent $9.95 per vote, only to lose to Kevin Murdoch, who handily won while spending only $3.76 per vote received. Jensen’s costly votes seem more a reflection of his dramatic trouncing than of relative campaign expenses. (Murdoch got 5,042 votes to Jensen’s 2,138.) Incumbents may be favoured, there are no guarantees.
     
    ANOTHER LOOPHOLE THAT I HOPE Minister Robinson looks at is around corporate and union donations. While corporations cannot donate, their owners, employees, and associates certainly can. And unions have other ways of helping candidates they prefer.
    An astute reader emailed me right after the posting of the disclosure statements to show me how nine people who worked in some capacity with Abstract Developments had given donations totalling $23,400 to various Oak Bay, Saanich, and Victoria candidates. All perfectly legal. Helps’ campaign got a total of seven $1,200 donations from Abstract employees and associates, so $8,400.
    She also received donations, usually of $1,200, from others in the real estate and development field, including Jon Stovell (Reliance), Fraser McColl (Mosaic Properties), Leonard Cole (Urban Core Ventures), Steven Cox (Rize Alliance Properties), Ken Mariash (Bayview), and Mohan Jawl (Atrium, etc). A conservative estimate—without googling every single name on Helps’ lengthy donors list—of donations from developers and their teams amounted to $23,000, thereby fuelling over 22 percent of her campaign’s total expenses (i.e. from January through October 20).
    In some ways, the ban on corporate donations just hides them. Sarah Henderson gave $1,200 to each of five candidates’ campaigns; in all, $6,000. She is Abstract’s sales manager. As an individual donor, her civic generosity is totally legit. But I bet the candidates she donated to in Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay know she works for Abstract.
    I am not sure how the Minister could address this particular issue. Maybe some readers have suggestions?
     
    AND THEN THERE’S “third party advertising.” In Victoria, so-called third parties could spend $2,706 on advertising directly endorsing candidates for mayor and council during the campaign period (such bodies can also spend up to $150,000 advertising about issues in the campaign period). There is no cap on contributions to these groups. There is also a transparency issue as they don’t need to identify themselves or where the money comes from in advance of the campaign period.
    A good example of how this can play out in unintended ways is probably the businessman in Vancouver who ponied up $85,000 to plaster billboards with ads for a mayoral candidate prior to the official one-month-long campaign period.
    Another area the Minister will likely review relates to “elector organizations,” for which there are no expense limits other than the $1,200 per individual donor per year. So we see situations like the Burnaby Citizens Association spending over $500,000 on its slate of nine candidates, seven of whom got elected.
    In Victoria, the relatively new group Together Victoria, which endorsed three new candidates, all of whom got elected, shows how effective such organizations can be. It raised over $45,000, though it spent only about $25,000 divided amongst the three candidates, all of whom also raised additional small amounts on their own. On the other hand, newcouncil.ca raised a total of $62,000, most of which it split between five candidates, none of whom got elected. These groups are in their infancy in Victoria, but over time could become like political parties in our civic arena.
    If money is allowed to sway the citizenry through high-priced promotional campaigns, many of us grow more cynical and less trusting of our government and its processes. We need people to feel the system is fair, and that if they decide to run for council, money will not be the deciding factor. The new limits get us only partway there.
    Leslie Campbell’s eyes took a beating exploring many candidate disclosure statements and voting results; perhaps the Minister can figure out a streamlined way to report the numbers. P.S. Many readers will miss Briony Penn in this edition; she will be back in Focus come May.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    January 2019
    Victoria is tackling the bags; now let’s move on to single-use plastics.
     
    WE LIVE IN THE BEST PLACE ON EARTH. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but we like to believe it and enjoy proclaiming it, especially to bedazzled visitors and newcomers. People enjoyed saying it to me many years ago, when I had barely stepped off the plane. “You’ve arrived in Paradise,” someone—I no longer remember who—declared in that incontestable big-little way that makes you feel both grateful to be here and a fool for having frittered away so many years elsewhere.
    We do live in a wonderful place, but as we limp over the threshold into what’s likely to be another bedraggled year, it’s worth acknowledging that there’s much room for improvement. Especially now, with crucial global issues hanging in the balance and, given the urgency of a recently released report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an unavoidable era of enforced transition looming ever closer.
     

    An estimated 1,000,000 plastic bottles a minute are purchased on the planet. 91 percent aren’t recycled. (Forbes)
    As in most other communities large and small, we continue to postpone until tomorrow what we just don’t feel like facing today. We continue to uphold a stubborn disconnect between business interests and what we hold dear when we’re not talking business. We keep accepting the politically-driven myth that if something is good for the environment, it must be detrimental to the economy. And we keep on swallowing the emboldened government doublespeak that the environment can be preserved one pipeline and fracking event at a time.
    The environment is what we locals hold most dear, according to the Victoria Foundation’s 2018 edition of Vital Signs. This is not surprising, given that we’ve been blessed with nature’s most extravagant largesse. It’s always the lush landscape and temperate climate that enthral the newcomer at first sight, the proximity of snow-capped mountains to wave-washed seashores, the marine life, pristine air, islands, and century-old trees gracing trees, parks and neighbourhoods. No visitor from anywhere has ever said, “I can’t believe how beautiful your roadways and buildings are here.”
    We’ve taken some notable measures to protect our environment and ease the carbon footprint. Probably the most dramatic was Victoria’s move last year to banish the plastic shopping bag, a decision that generated such minor pushback—except from the plastics industry—that other municipalities should have seized the opportunity to swiftly follow suit.
    Banning soft plastic is just the beginning, however, and it’s time to tackle another critical issue—single-use plastics. (Actually, time is running out, but let’s not be derailed by that anxiety right now.)
    There is a place that can offer a blueprint. Bayfield is a storybook town of 1,100 people on the eastern shore of Ontario’s Lake Huron. Last year it became the first community in North America to be recognized as a plastic-free zone by the online organization Random Acts of Green. Alarmed by the glut of plastic in the Great Lakes—450,000 pieces per square kilometre, double the rate of ocean contamination—Bayfield accomplished this feat by engaging community groups to work on projects in “chewable bits,” according to one key organizer. These groups focused on public education, business buy-in, political pressure, and hands-on action. They installed several water refill stations, distributed 2,500 reusable water bottles, and banned the sale of bottled water at town venues and events. Slowly and persistently they convinced most businesses and eateries to eliminate all single-use plastics and polystyrene, surely the most ubiquitous of all petroleum products.
    We can do it too, in chewable bits of our own design, and we seem well poised to take the plunge. Last spring the Times Colonist reported that the City of Victoria was already in the process of “developing a single-use materials strategy as part of a comprehensive zero-waste program.” That means getting rid of drinking straws, Styrofoam cups, take-out containers and plastic cutlery.
    The CRD and most municipalities are exploring similar possibilities, having developed their own climate action plans that emphasize the reduction of energy and material consumption. Saanich aims to become a 100 percent renewable energy community by 2050. Many local businesses are also working towards sustainability and zero waste. (Check out the Victoria-based Synergy Sustainability Institute and the long list of businesses to which it recently awarded Ecostar awards.)
    And then there’s us, the denizens of this Eden. We can get ahead of the curve—and the inevitable legislation—by starting right now to quit the disposable plastics habit. What a great New Year’s resolution, to begin toting a refillable travel mug or water bottle, to begin saying no to plastic drinking straws.
    Victoria is a great place to live. In 2019 we can make it even better.
    Trudy finished writing just as the BC government began rolling out CleanBC, a bold new proclamation for tackling climate action. She thinks it might bode well for a happy new year.

    Gene Miller
    January 2019
    Downtown has 1000s of new units, yet it feels unwelcoming to many.
     
    MCDONALD'S, OPEN 24/7 at the corner of Douglas and View Streets, is an overnight hellhole and theatre of the absurd. If you can put the prefix dys in front of almost any hapless adjective, or un as in -hinged, -housed, -healthy, -happy, it describes the street-side atmosphere around the place. Really, you should visit some Friday or Saturday around 3am. It screams “major tourist attraction.”
    It struck me, south-bound on Douglas after a suburban mall run (the Devil never runs out of seductions), into the increasingly compressive maw of the City centre, that Downtown overall feels…well, hard, unsmiling. I had imagined that, as all of those newly sprouted high-rises filled up with new-minted citizens, the social tone on the streets would become happier, life more public and at least quietly, appropriately joyful. It hasn’t happened yet, to my senses, unless there’s a vast, conspiratorial joke being played on me: “Attention, 700-block Fort Street, Doomer Miller approaching. Everybody frown and look miserable, alienated and a bit psychotic.”
     

    What's not to like about all those new units of progress?
     
    Maybe I picked the wrong season. The storm clouds this December morning are looming about 40 feet off the ground, and even the peacocks in Beacon Hill Park (I’m now parked within sight of the petting zoo, nursing a large, two creams, two sugars) are clumsily attempting suicide by jumping out of trees.
    I initiated and organized the Downtown 2020 conference several years ago to study and attempt to plan for the rosy and singular future of this place. The confected vision, you won’t be surprised to learn, was of thousands of residential newcomers, walking arm-in-arm on gorgeous boulevards, admiring the clever and provocative public art and beautiful, generous landscaping; shopping, and leaving the friendly and appreciative merchants successful and happy; they’d be sitting at tables outside their favourite konditorei, the very picture and essence of gemütlichkeit, animatedly discussing (in, say, a Prague-inflected English—think Viktor Laszlo in Casablanca) the Victoria Art Gallery’s massive Klimt retrospective, the just-released new Don deLillo novel, trip-planning to Spain, and other choice pickings from that conversational buffet.
    The thesis was so simple, logical, commonsense: lots of new Downtown buildings filled with lots of new Downtowners conducting their lives in Downtown’s public realm, making everything safe, socially fizzy, successful—essentially, the theoretically sound (but never actually materializing) 2+2=4 of Downtown land use planning and social design (and swooning romantic idealism).
    Instead, we witness a work-in-progress of isolation, alienation, fortification; a streetscape of by-and-large desultory urban dormitories, hard and unwelcoming monuments to risk management, when what we need is buoyant, arms-open architectural expressions of the ever-perfecting human project. If we decorated our birthday cakes the way we decorate our buildings, all of us would blow our brains, not the candles, out.
    So, wha hoppen?
    Oh, a little thing known as the near-total shift of human values, social meanings and practices, consciousness, sensibilities, behaviours. The 21st century, that’s wha hoppen. Times have changed, to put it witlessly.
    “But, but, this is Vienn—I mean, Victoria,” you sputter, “the Land that Time Forgot!” Not a chance, sonny or honey. I mean, you must have some idea of what’s going on. Two little words: civilizational tectonics.
    Look, we steer, or try to steer, by icons, symbols, social signals, corner points (real or seeming) in our restless progress: home, family, opportunity, future, job, faith, politics, and a clutch of others. What made them valid doesn’t necessarily sustain their validity in this time of shortening forevers. Often as not, this produces cultural dislocation leading to hollow language, words that may still have some symbolic heft, but that no longer manage the emotional traffic, no longer truly tell us who we are, or how to behave, or how to order our values or shape and manage experience. In some circles, this is called cultural relativism; in others, the end of the effing world.
    If you add together all of the brand-new, recently or just-completed Downtown and shoulder-area residential projects, and those under various stages of construction, plus all of the development rumours, where property is being quietly offered for sale, or has been acquired, plans being drawn up, and where approvals will soon be given and ground broken—roughly, north to Capital Iron (whose entire property is currently for sale), south to the Empress (including that hollow yesteryear hulk of a Customs House building beside the Causeway, its memorable shell now held in place by a girder system), northeast a few blocks past Wellburn’s at Cook and Pandora (also sold, I believe), east of Cook a block or two up the Fort/Yates/ Johnson/Pandora shoulder—we are talking about at least 40 projects with a guesstimated average unit count of 100, and perhaps 1.5 residents average per dwelling.
    That’s a likely 6,000 newcomers calling Downtown home, now and soon…and Downtown physically, commercially, socially transformed. In three to four years—no time at all, in terms of Downtown’s evolution—you will barely recognize Downtown, barely be able to reconcile your earlier mental picture of Downtown’s quaint and pokey feel and ground-hugging scale with the quickly emerging physical reality. The memory-to-modernity balance will have shifted, making what remains of the old Downtown feel more I-remember-when, more museological, and less the defining qualitative centrepiece of the Victoria identity.
    Downtown will be vastly more populous, but how will the streets feel? Will Downtown present a more compelling case for frequent visits by all of us out-of-Downtowners, or will it seem unrecognizable to a lot of us, a candidate for the kind of dismissal directed at most North American Downtowns (including Vancouver’s): “I don’t go down there unless I have to”?
    Perhaps you recall a short letter, an omnibus complaint, from a Jim Gibson in the November 4, 2018 Times Colonist titled “Council leads the way into the abyss.” Here is a worried and slightly phrumphy excerpt from Gibson’s Scripture-toned note, which lacks only for a “yea” and an “unto”:
    “To those working in unison with Mayor Lisa Helps: Which one of you has the courage to allow the merchants on Fort Street to exhale by taking down the barriers to entry you have built? Who among you has the courage to fix the bike-lane fiasco? Who among you will allow Fort Street its rightful place as a three-lane artery? Who among you has the courage to stand up for a city you have already put on the precipice for decline by fast-tracking anti-business, anti-commuting and anti-tourist policies with the arrogant self-entitlement bias you continue to display? Will you let Victoria breathe again, or will you point fingers at those of us who want civilized progress?”
    I’m particularly taken with the florid, almost Shakespearean “Who among you will allow Fort Street its rightful place as a three-lane artery?”
    Alas, poor Fort Street, I knew it well. (I note Fort Street is still a three-lane artery, it’s just that one of the lanes is a bike lane.) Be patient, Mr Gibson. Downtown’s a work-in-progress. I fantasize some kind of social epiphany, thousands of Downtowners, arms linked—a glorious amalgam of Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and Paul Goodman-esque post-war 1950s/60s egalitarian optimism, housing the homeless, uptrodding the downtrodden, restoring human dignity, advancing social possibility. Said Goodman (author of Growing Up Absurd and many more): “I might seem to have a number of divergent interests—community planning, psychotherapy, education, politics—but they are all one concern: how to make it possible to grow up as a human being into a culture without losing nature. I simply refuse to acknowledge that a sensible and honorable community does not exist.”
    Our City could do worse at this moment than to embrace Goodman’s dogged and hopeful vision (a vision that runs so counter to present social practice) and string conspicuous but tasteful banners across all of the City’s key entry points: “Victoria waives the rules. Welcome to Paradise.” (God forgive me.)
    How to get there from here? How to break the dismal pattern of reticence and strangerhood and turn the public realm into an outdoor living room, something socially and visually operatic, a beautiful, generous, richly furnished, hopeful arrival-point from dormitory isolation and privacy to the public warmth and comfort of the human family?
    It’s time for a series of urban design charrettes: critical, analytical study sessions structured (and strictured) to force coitus on “extra” and “ordinary.” Oh, and a vast amount of funding. I’m sorry City councillors didn’t impose a development cost charge of $5,000 per new Downtown door four years ago. They, we, would now have a Downtown public realm amenity kitty approaching $20,000,000.
    “Civilized progress,” letter-writer Gibson requested. I don’t share his anxieties about Fort Street, but civilized progress sounds just peachy.
    Founder of Open Space and co-founder of Monday Magazine, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an affordable housing concept.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    November 2018
    Until governments get serious about tackling greenhouse gas emissions, citizens must take the lead.
     
    HAVE YOU SEEN THE URGENT REPORT that was released last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? You know, the one that spells out how we’re currently barrelling towards disaster and misery unless the world starts taking extraordinary measures to reduce carbon emissions. It was intended to prod governments into action, but let’s face it—when it comes to the climate change train, our politicians have been riding in the caboose for years. Only when the polls assure them that the masses have finally started stumping for real change will they cast off corporate control and come scuttling up to the locomotive to grab the microphone and take it from there. 
    Until that happens, it’s up to ordinary denizens everywhere to start reining things in right now. True, what we do individually only adds up to a speck of difference. But multiply that by a collective groundswell of thousands and then millions of small, unspectacular actions, and we have the catalyst to turn our dismal destiny around. It all starts with just one change becoming engrained, and then another. Starting now gets us practised and ready for the official fix because when it finally comes, it will definitely decree that we do our part.
     

    Solar-powered clothes drier
     
    Understanding that almost everything comes with an energy price-tag—in the mining, making and/or use of it—helps us see near-endless ways to reduce our own carbon footprint. Here are some starter ideas: Combine errands and make fewer car trips. Participate in a clothing swap. Mend your clothes. Drink tap water. Stop using plastic water bottles. Buy only what you can eat before it spoils. Use cereal box liners instead of plastic wrap. Turn your leftovers into the next day’s lunch. Eat less meat (animal agriculture is a high-emission industry). Get cozy in a sweater. Wear slippers in winter. Shun the dryer and hang-dry your clothes—they’ll last longer too. Try going plastic-free for a week. Turn brown bags or any used paper into giftwrap. Make Santa bags and ditch Christmas wrap forever. Embrace all the little free libraries popping up around town—200 at last count. Shop the used goods market (and prepare to be amazed). Give the gift of your time. Carry a travel mug and quit paper cups and plastic lids. Buy powdered dishwasher detergent and lace with baking soda—no rinse agent required. Make your own greeting cards. Swap out toxic household cleaners for a single all-purpose biodegradable product. Boycott glossy magazines that feature huge exclusive homes seemingly for the purpose of breeding discontent.
    In your yard, plant a food garden. Stop watering the lawn. Embrace a native plant or pick something heat and drought tolerant. Adopt a struggling boulevard tree. Be kind to birds, bees, the soil, water and your own health by eschewing all garden pesticides.
    Buy good shoes and have them repaired. Reduce your personal-care products by one item. Go vegetarian one—or more—days a week. Ride your bike to work. Stop thinking of shopping as recreation. Turn your Halloween pumpkin into soup, pies or muffins. Co-own a lawnmower with your neighbour. Borrow and share so not everyone needs to own everything. Keep stuff organized so you don’t end up buying something you know you already have but can’t find. Use less paper. Avoid fast food, a source of mediocre nutrition and mountains of single-use plastics and other materials. Carry a small real fork in your purse or briefcase and wave away all the plastic cutlery.
    Participate in a beach clean-up. Get stuff fixed at a Repair Café. Go for a walk instead of a drive. Find new homes for the “stranded assets” in your storage locker. Make your own laundry detergent—online recipes make it easy. Embrace regular “buy nothing” days. Reconsider your list of essential needs. Pretend you’re downsizing and cull accordingly. Downsize when the time is right. Grow your own window-sill sprouts and micro-greens. Check out all the improved reusable offerings for feminine protection and bladder control. Buy trendier fashion second-hand (yes, it’s there!) and donate it back when you’re done with it. Remember that children don’t need every toy on the market. Same for pets and pet accessories. Be content with last year’s line of electronic devices. Extend the life of your cell phone by investing in a good case. Use biodegradable soaps and shampoos. Refill liquids at a soap exchange. The list goes on…
    Given that the fossil fuel industry and transportation are Canada’s top two leading greenhouse gas emitters, here are some ways to dig deeper: Buy local whenever possible (the trucking of goods has a huge carbon footprint). Start saving for an electric car (many new models will soon be available). Install a heat pump. Take vacations closer to home. Ensure your retirement savings are invested in ways that reflect your values. And vote for candidates committed to tackling climate change.
    Change begins with us. Every single thing we do counts.
    Trudy wishes everyone a truly happy holiday with just the right balance of everything that gladdens your heart.

    Gene Miller
    November 2018
    We know what we have to do. The only thing holding us back is…
     
    THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A PROBLEM WITHOUT A SOLUTION. It’s the nature, the “job,” even, of problems to have solutions, a structural requirement; just like there’s no such thing as a one-sided door, or a here without a there.
    So it is with the homeless “problem.” It has a solution; possibly several. One would be for all of us to be homeless (goodbye problem, hello trend or new normal); but, of course, that’s foolish to imagine, given current social and political stability, coupled to rosy global prospects.
    The homeless problem…oh, you want me to start by defining the homeless problem? Well, the homeless are a problem for themselves: they don’t have homes. And we are the homeless’s problem because we won’t house them, or do so by miserly and unsuccessful increments. And, of course, what do our crossing-the-street avoidance and averted gaze mean, if not that the homeless are a problem, a problem for us, like some design flaw in the otherwise promising human project. Everybody knows it, nobody says it. Instead, we speak in a kind of code. With wan conviction, we say we want “housing to be provided in appropriate locations,” etc. Translated into English, that means we want them to disappear.
    And ask yourself how well all of that’s working.
    Ron Rice, executive director of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, claimed in early October: “There are over 2,000 homeless people in the city. Although the Goldstream tenters have become sort of the spotlight on the crisis we’re experiencing as a city, there’s a lot of homeless people in the city.” Over two thousand homeless? Jesus! That’s roughly one in two hundred over the entire regional population. Maybe it won’t be too long before the number is 3,000. You never know about the tricky and changeable future. I mean, if you do a casual inventory of your near-future expectations for society and hopes for security, isn’t economic risk and its consequences at or near the top? Well. I’d love to be wrong, but I sense that the pendulum is swinging toward risk, which may well yank the broomstick props from under a significant number of the just-hanging-on. (There are currently a surprising number of folks living in their cars in Victoria. Does that qualify as homeless? I don’t know.)
    So, now we all share a clear picture of the homeless problem? Good.
    Here is my coarse-grained solution to the homeless problem: we create places that can house 500 or more in clusters or “communities” of individual suites and present like a residential version of Uptown Shopping Centre (walk its internal “boulevard” to get what I mean). House and feed them, look after their physical and mental health needs. Provide calming wallpaper and nutrition breaks, counselling and life skills training and education. Lots of efficiently delivered services (society is spending a fortune now, anyway). Show movies every night. Deliver support cheques. Provide needed transportation. Consolidate all the usual homeless services, provide social and recreational spaces, make sure to include coffee joints. Give such places cozy monikers…is The Uplands taken? Resist the temptation to place these facilities out on the flatlands of the Saanich Peninsula, or out past Stewieville on the way to Sooke. There’s plenty of available land in both directions, but the isolation sends a horrible message.
     

    Victoria already knows what it needs to do: more structures like Rock Bay Landing (l) and Our Place 
     
    More logically, identify available sites closer to the city centre. I just drove past a vacant square block—a whole block!—east side of Douglas, immediately north of Mayfair Mall, right at the Victoria/Saanich border. Or make deals with one or several of the car dealerships on Douglas, between Mayfair and Uptown. Their surface parking areas are enormous and, in some cases, contiguous. Purchase the air rights, leave the car dealership surface parking as-is, and build up and over. Toss in property tax breaks in perpetuity. My guess is that the owners would jump at the opportunity, considering that, courtesy of increasingly non-negotiable demands of the climate change agenda, the private automobile has 10 to 15 years left. After that, it’s all going to be non-private-car-owning Moto, share-car, car-on-demand and cleverly engineered new bicycles built for two or more.
    But, you exclaim, the costs of all that housing and services! The costs!
    Society is paying now—not just financially, but also through social wounds that are real if hard to price. And I say: a small price to pay for a job well done.
    The reason the homeless represent such a potent threat is that we know deep down those protective walls around the human project are not solid, but just images, membrane-thin, projected on shifting, filmy surfaces, like cloud. We understand exactly who and what we are, one layer below the surface, and what lurks in us, individually and together: darkness, danger, deconstruction, and all the violence that brings. Please, don’t scoff; this is just Nature 101. It’s a jungle in there! You would no sooner want “the homeless” living next to you than you would anything else that carries risk of infection—or the power to depress the resale value of your home. Border Crossings, the Winnipeg-based quarterly, in an interview piece about filmmaker David Lynch, quotes Lynch: the mind “is a big beautiful place, but it is also pitch-dark.”
    Pitch-dark.
    These are especially hard times. The drumbeat has been quickening, the skies greying, for a while, and at present you can feel social climax in the air; not in, or just in, Victoria, but everywhere. Civilization has an itch, and is beginning to scratch; not for the first time on the long voyage. If your sensitivities are appropriately tuned and your knowledge of history sufficiently well-informed, you must wake up gasping these days. It’s scary. Uncertainty, the sense of risk, is spreading over the entire landscape, challenging normalcy, the very structure of the everyday, on every front.
    You can put it all on Trump and the burgeoning extreme right if you want, but that still leaves the unanswered question: why did our, uh, cousins elect a demonstrably crazy narcissist psychopath criminal sonofabitch? In your heart, you know there were years of prelude in which social irritation was building...everywhere, not just America. Germany, for example, is gearing up for the return of heady “Sieg Heil!” days. The reason? Turkish and other immigrants polluting the ra—oh, sorry, taking German jobs.
    Operating under laws and corner-points of existence too mysterious for me to figure out, it seems that just when we’re lost in orgies of self-congratulation for our social, political, and economic accomplishments, that’s when the next valley, the next sorrow, forms and grows. You recall, in Voltaire’s Candide, the protagonists echo each other in bursts of lunatic Leibnizian optimism: “This is the best of all possible worlds!”
    Friends, history really does happen—not elsewhere, or elsewhen, but in front of us, right now. Did you imagine that “end of the liberal order” was just editorial page punditry? History is ever-poised to turn into…foreground. History loves headlines.
    Spend a candid moment with your own state of mind, not your the-city-should-undertake-longer-range-infrastructure-cost-planning upstanding citizen mind, but the in-the-bathroom-staring-at-your-spreading-middle/between jobs/trying-to-make-sense-of-life’s-changes one. Now, let your imagination drift. Be homeless. Work it. Follow your thoughts, minute by minute. Dinner? The discarded pizza crusts in somebody’s garbage can. Beer and soda can empties for income, wherever you can find them, maybe the same garbage can; or panhandling on the Causeway. Where are you going to sleep? After you lost the house, you slept in the car; then, you couldn’t pay car insurance; now, you crash in a doorway. How many days before you can pick up your next government cheque? Pills to straighten that roller coaster in your head. Somebody boosted your pack the other day? Aw! Need a new prescription? Tough shit.
    And now that you’re in the mood, reflect on those homeless activists screaming for housing, lifting the corner-flap so high you can see revolution and social anger and anarchy on a red boil.
    Meanwhile, back at the garden, “This place, Victoria, is so charming.” “Quite a tech hub you’re developing here.” “Omigod, you pay such a lifestyle premium shopping at Thrifty’s!” Folks are moving here by the planeload. Companies and businesses are locating or relocating here. “Welcome to Victoria. Net Worth Statement, Please.”
    So, why, given our social talents, expertise and worldliness, don’t we successfully house the homeless? Why do we remain poised—paralyzed, actually—between terror, resentment, anger, sympathy (at a proper remove) and understanding? Given the levels of human talent in this place, can’t we design a new solution to this old problem?
    By my roughest of estimates, we could eliminate regional homelessness for about $120 million in capital costs—roughly the cost of the new bridge. And much of the dough is already in place in the $90-million housing fund of the CRD, Province and Feds.
    I know, I know, you’re tired and you just want the world to work. Still, work’s never done, and we disregard those discordant notes beneath the community’s happy song at our peril.
    Finally, you ask: “And if we do this, actually succeed in providing reasonable housing and support services, do you promise that nothing else bad will happen and things will settle down?
    I promise, unconditionally.
    Founder of Open Space and co-founder of Monday Magazine, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an affordable housing concept.

    Leslie Campbell
    November 2018
    It’s an understatement to say that a lot has changed in Focus’ 30 years, but there’s been at least one consistent thread.
     
    WHILE OCTOBER BROUGHT LOTS OF CHANGES to this region’s council tables, it also brought changes to Focus. For starters: we turned 30! Do you remember we (those of us of a certain age) used to say: “You can’t trust anyone over 30?”
    Well as it turns out, you can. And even the fellow who coined the phrase back in the mid ’60s knows it. Jack Weinberg, who was active in the Free Speech Movement at Berkley in the ’60s, explained in 2000: “I was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter and he kept asking me who was ‘really’ behind the actions of students, implying that we were being directed behind the scenes by the Communists or some other sinister group.” Of course the media—and other members of the counter culture—loved it because “it shook up the older generation,” and it spread like wildfire.
    Jack went on to work for Greenpeace, the Environmental Health Fund, and against nuclear power. He seems like a trustworthy guy, even post 30.
    Focus certainly intends to continue to earn readers’ trust now that were over 30. If I’ve learned anything from 30 years with Focus, it’s that trust is, without doubt, our most valuable asset.
    How that trust is gained is pretty simple—it comes from our editorial content being non-commercial, well-researched, fact-based, and fair-minded even when pointed. It respects our readers’ intelligence. It accepts our responsibility to communicate clearly and accurately—and to never dumb things down. It ensures we contribute to the community conversation in a meaningful, helpful way.
    All this means Focus writers are absolutely key to our success.
    Over our 30 years, so many things have changed, led largely by technology and its profound reshaping of the publishing industry. But throughout the decades, Focus has been blessed with wonderful long-term writers. A magazine’s editorial content is its heart and soul; its writers create its personality, its integrity and trustworthiness. Besides their literary talent, Focus writers care deeply about their subjects, their “beats,” whether in the arts or on hot social and political issues. Despite modest financial compensation, they take pains to get their facts straight and to craft them into stories that are a pleasure to read.
    Lately, the Focus writers’ table has seen some changes.
    Aaren Madden has written for Focus for 15 years. She covered community “players” initially, then moved into arts coverage. With a growing family and near full-time job at the library, something had to give. Fortunately, Kate Cino, who has been immersed in the arts in this community for decades, started to fill Aaren’s shoes a few editions ago. And Aaren has graciously agreed to return for the odd assignment. Watch for her in the next edition.
    Alan Cassels, who provided 6 years of critical reporting on BC health policy in these pages, has taken a new job as communications director at the UBC Therapeutics Initiative. This will limit his work for us, but he will occasionally pop up in these pages.
    This edition features Amy Reiswig’s final interview with a local book author—after a nine-year run. Amy works in the Victoria Legislature for Hansard. She recently moved to Mayne Island and with the commute, plus a yearning to indulge in some other creative projects, not to mention have some evenings with her husband, she needed to reclaim the time that Focus occupied. Read Mollie Kaye’s interview with Amy in this edition to learn about one of her other creative endeavours: Banquo Folk Ensemble.
    We haven’t determined who will fill Amy’s pages yet. Fortunately, Victoria is blessed with talented writers who will love the job of interviewing fellow writers, just as Amy did.
    Some other changes are strictly positive. Russ Francis joined us as of the last edition to focus mostly on provincial politics. Some of you may recall his investigative reporting back in Monday Magazine’s heyday. He worked there from 1994-2007. In his last column there he reminded readers that the job of reporters was “to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” He went back to school after leaving Monday, then worked in policy development with the provincial government. Now “retired,” we’re thrilled he’s willing to apply his intellect and time to holding government accountable through Focus.
    This edition—and hopefully beyond—we have Stephen Hume aboard. Stephen has accomplishments and awards too many to list, but you likely read him in the Vancouver Sun where he worked for 27 years. He’s also the author of nine books, both poetry and non-fiction. Amy profiled him in 2011 regarding his book A Walk with the Rainy Sisters: In Praise of British Columbia’s Places, which was shortlisted for the Butler Prizes that year. In the interview, he told her that good journalism, while certainly being about the facts, goes beyond them: “If you can touch [readers’] spirits, you can better transfer the information.” His piece on orcas in this edition offers a fine illustration of his skills in this regard.
    To be a good editor, I’ve long realized, one just needs great writers. That includes, by the way, all those who contribute impressive letters-to-the editor: thank you, dear readers!
    The past decade has been hard on publishers and their writers, particularly at the local level. Print media have been massively disrupted by the growth of the internet, with roller-coaster-type plunges in advertising revenue. Being small and simply structured has allowed Focus to adapt as necessary, while always prioritizing fact- and place-based journalism.
    Yet the reality—that no successful model has evolved for paying for journalism in the new digital sphere—should worry us all. The world needs good, truth-seeking journalism at all levels. And that is not likely to happen when corporate profits or share prices are the priority.
    Craigslist billionaire Craig Newmark, who donated $50 million to media in the past year, makes a noteworthy observation about his investment: “A trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy.”
    Our fair city deserves a healthy immune system in the form of local media that digs for the truth, without fear or favour. In an era when journalists in less democratic places get murdered for telling the truth, it’s the least we can do.
    On behalf of Focus, Leslie Campbell thanks the community for its generous support over 30 fascinating years. Please keep reading, sending us your letters, buying ad space and subscriptions.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    September 2018
    Floods, fires and Summer Limb Drop are good clues as to what needs to be done. Yet…
     
    IT'S EARLY IN THE MORNING when I turn on the water. The hose burbles momentarily, then spouts forth a sparkling cascade that lands with a patter on parched foliage. The sun, posing as a farm-fresh yolk, has barely started its rise behind the maple tree but already it radiates a wicked heat.
    Some plants wait stoically for their ration, the wandering squashes, sun-burnished berries, and burgeoning tomatoes. Others—mostly flowering plants and anything confined to a pot—are slumped like marionettes during intermission. Still others, including calendula, alchemilla mollis, and the cranesbill geraniums, shed all their beauty without giving a damn and rush instead to produce copious seed for the better times that will surely follow.
    That’s always been the gardener’s operative too, to keep the chin up for more favourable seasons down the road. But now I’m not so sure anymore. It seems politicians are unable to see the creeping malevolence of climate change from their hallowed halls and chambers, their myopia no doubt aided and abetted by big-ticket corporate lobbyists specializing in singular persuasion. Oh sure, there are the increasingly common floods and fires that are impossible to miss, but these are often treated as independent “acts of God” with no connection to a bigger crisis. In fact, we could argue that they have political value because they provide government with a grandly heroic opportunity to pull out the stops and save the votes and the day (for now).
     

    A "fire tornado" that occurred during California's Carr fire during the summer of 2018.
     
    Come to my garden if you want to see the handiwork of a changing climate, or better yet, have a wee nosey around your own neighbourhood and favourite park. See all the mature trees looking droopy and stressed? Every year they’re losing just a bit more ground. Last year our thirsty maple dropped a huge limb that was as dry as aged firewood. In California that phenomenon has a name—Summer Limb Drop—and is correlated to hot weather and prolonged drought. This year it started shedding desiccated leaves in July. I’m wary and have moved the clay birdbath to safer ground.
    Summers have always been dry here, but now, with rising temperatures that last for days and linger well past dusk, you can’t grow much anymore without copious watering. That’s bad for home gardens, our farmers, and all of our green spaces. (The only good outcome is perhaps some modest curtailment in gormless weather broadcasting exuberance that touts every sweltering day as just another wonderful day for the beach, tra-la.)
    I pull the hose to another parched bed and worry that we are slowly burning ourselves up. Every reputable scientist says we are. What really perplexes me is why we keep letting this happen. Why do we keep electing ultra-wealthy politicians who glibly and falsely profess to speak for the masses? Why do politicians with innovative and forward-looking vision go strangely soft and silent once they are elected? (And on the flip side, why can someone like Ontario’s Doug Ford dismantle so much in such a short time?)
    Why is industry now the go-to beneficiary of government decision-making, seemingly in almost every sector? Why are big decisions not first adequately scrutinized on connect-the-dots maps of our region, province, country and entire planet, including the oceans and atmosphere?
    Why are our leaders so feeble that, in the face of so much urgency, the only resolution produced at a recent three-day, all-premier’s meeting at one of the country’s swankiest resorts was a piffle of a promise to “significantly increase” how much booze we can cart home from another province?
    Canada is not back. Not even close. Our fresh-faced federal government crows on the international stage, then rushes home to the still-warm bed its predecessors shared with the fossil fuel moguls. Clearly that leaves us to take the real reins. We can do it. It has to be soon.
    The towhee nags loudly in defense of its nest as I roll up the hose. I see a bumblebee busy on a flower, its leg baskets stuffed with bright pollen. Despite pesticides and parasites, here it is, still doing its vital and underappreciated work. Nature is resilient. It carries on. It always will, unless we let the day come that it can’t anymore.
    Writer Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is grateful to her garden for the amazing harvest it was still able to produce, albeit early and under duress.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    September 2018
    Floods, fires and Summer Limb Drop are good clues as to what needs to be done. Yet…
     
    IT'S EARLY IN THE MORNING when I turn on the water. The hose burbles momentarily, then spouts forth a sparkling cascade that lands with a patter on parched foliage. The sun, posing as a farm-fresh yolk, has barely started its rise behind the maple tree but already it radiates a wicked heat.
    Some plants wait stoically for their ration, the wandering squashes, sun-burnished berries, and burgeoning tomatoes. Others—mostly flowering plants and anything confined to a pot—are slumped like marionettes during intermission. Still others, including calendula, alchemilla mollis, and the cranesbill geraniums, shed all their beauty without giving a damn and rush instead to produce copious seed for the better times that will surely follow.
    That’s always been the gardener’s operative too, to keep the chin up for more favourable seasons down the road. But now I’m not so sure anymore. It seems politicians are unable to see the creeping malevolence of climate change from their hallowed halls and chambers, their myopia no doubt aided and abetted by big-ticket corporate lobbyists specializing in singular persuasion. Oh sure, there are the increasingly common floods and fires that are impossible to miss, but these are often treated as independent “acts of God” with no connection to a bigger crisis. In fact, we could argue that they have political value because they provide government with a grandly heroic opportunity to pull out the stops and save the votes and the day (for now).
     

    A "fire tornado" that occurred during California's Carr fire during the summer of 2018.
     
    Come to my garden if you want to see the handiwork of a changing climate, or better yet, have a wee nosey around your own neighbourhood and favourite park. See all the mature trees looking droopy and stressed? Every year they’re losing just a bit more ground. Last year our thirsty maple dropped a huge limb that was as dry as aged firewood. In California that phenomenon has a name—Summer Limb Drop—and is correlated to hot weather and prolonged drought. This year it started shedding desiccated leaves in July. I’m wary and have moved the clay birdbath to safer ground.
    Summers have always been dry here, but now, with rising temperatures that last for days and linger well past dusk, you can’t grow much anymore without copious watering. That’s bad for home gardens, our farmers, and all of our green spaces. (The only good outcome is perhaps some modest curtailment in gormless weather broadcasting exuberance that touts every sweltering day as just another wonderful day for the beach, tra-la.)
    I pull the hose to another parched bed and worry that we are slowly burning ourselves up. Every reputable scientist says we are. What really perplexes me is why we keep letting this happen. Why do we keep electing ultra-wealthy politicians who glibly and falsely profess to speak for the masses? Why do politicians with innovative and forward-looking vision go strangely soft and silent once they are elected? (And on the flip side, why can someone like Ontario’s Doug Ford dismantle so much in such a short time?)
    Why is industry now the go-to beneficiary of government decision-making, seemingly in almost every sector? Why are big decisions not first adequately scrutinized on connect-the-dots maps of our region, province, country and entire planet, including the oceans and atmosphere?
    Why are our leaders so feeble that, in the face of so much urgency, the only resolution produced at a recent three-day, all-premier’s meeting at one of the country’s swankiest resorts was a piffle of a promise to “significantly increase” how much booze we can cart home from another province?
    Canada is not back. Not even close. Our fresh-faced federal government crows on the international stage, then rushes home to the still-warm bed its predecessors shared with the fossil fuel moguls. Clearly that leaves us to take the real reins. We can do it. It has to be soon.
    The towhee nags loudly in defense of its nest as I roll up the hose. I see a bumblebee busy on a flower, its leg baskets stuffed with bright pollen. Despite pesticides and parasites, here it is, still doing its vital and underappreciated work. Nature is resilient. It carries on. It always will, unless we let the day come that it can’t anymore.
    Writer Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is grateful to her garden for the amazing harvest it was still able to produce, albeit early and under duress.

    Gene Miller
    September 2018
    Rome imploded because of a loss of purpose, identity and moral vigour. What are we doing to avoid that?
     
    BLUE HAIR! GREEN HAIR! And all those stupid goddamn tattoos, these days! Why, when I was young, we...we…well, we grew our hair down to our asses, but we didn’t dye it purple, for Chrissake. For us, it wasn’t some vacuous fashion statement, or herd thing; it was ideological: we were Protesting Against the Establishment and Fighting for Principles. I can’t remember which principles at the moment, but important ones, like freedom. And getting laid.
    Between last column and this, I turned 75—three-quarters of a century!—a meaningful and shocking age that propels one ever closer to the looming horrors of The Watch Out Years: “Did you turn off the stove?” “Let me help you with that carton.” “No, you got it backwards: your ophthalmologist’s on Fort, your knee guy’s on Hillside.” “You can’t make a coffee date with Ezra. Remember? He died last year.” “Do you need a new battery for your hearing aid?”
     

    "Sack of Rome by the Visigoths" by JN Sylvestre, 1890
     
    Life’s arc: from ever-hopeful to Eveready.
    I’m a so-called “war baby,” born in ’43 in New York City—a year and place made ever more legendary when Horowitz, with Rodzinski conducting, performed a never-to-be-equalled Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto before an enthralled and rapturous Carnegie Hall audience of 3,000, including my grandfather, Mendel, who, backstage post-concert, shook Horowitz’s hand—the defining event of his (my grandfather’s) life. I’m sure my violinist mom would have been there too, even pregnant with me-to-be, but, with patented self-concern, I decided to pop out in August, well before the November concert, thus imposing home-stay on both of us. Unrelated to this story, my mother declared me “a handful” from the day I was born.
    A world war was raging, then: a time of near-global mayhem and clear moral demarcations. I gallop across history to remark that this urgent international moral partnership (our guys) lasted as long as it could post-war, then waned in increments, squandered in Cold War “red menace” paranoia, insensitive and ill-planned geo-political realignments, bumptious American cultural and economic hegemony. Faint hopes of post-Depression egalitarian social activism were overwhelmed by market ideology and culture, which, in turn, made a deep home for itself in the American soul. (Ahhhh, Pete Seeger, friend, where are you now? Looking down, I’m sure.)
    And today, we have a collapse of illusion about American national purpose, a Make America Great Again sociopath/narcissist in the White House (in every worrying sense, the right man for his times, scarily canny about the American mood), and tough-guy political autocracy spreading globally like some poisonous rash.
    Humans will soon be replaced by robots in almost all work (couples counselling the possible exception) and in two generations all human systems will be taken over by self-aware AI…if other social, economic, political and environmental catastrophes haven’t pre-empted complete technological annexation.
    And waiting impatiently in the wings is a novel and final form of human-orchestrated planetary suicide called global warming, concerning which, do not miss Gwynne Dyer’s mesmeric and terrifying disquisition “Geopolitics in a Hotter World” (available via Youtube).
    Such events and consequences will unfold within the span of our remaining years; yes, us—me writing and you reading these words. If a question hangs over our age, it asks, meekly: “Are things getting worse slow enough for us to survive?” Such a question invites an obscure calculus, but with no possible answer on the happy side of the ledger.
    Evan Osnos, in a New Yorker piece last year, “Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich,” profiles the uber-wealthy’s very real fears—not cocktail chatter, but palpable, act-upon worries—of imminent civilizational crackup. He catalogues their preposterous, sane/crazy survival strategies, their attraction to and investment in remote properties, islands, gigantic stashes of food and water, hardened bunkers, guns, hired security, rockets to some distant planet, cryogenic hibernation, brain preservation awaiting some future all-clear, etcetera—in other words, me, me, me in Tomorrowland, none of it social innovation and problem-solving now. Mind, it drinks at a rich pool of irony and sounds like the setup for a Twilight Zone episode: walls of canned food, but “I thought you packed the can opener,” or bird crap suddenly blinding the all-clear/we-can-come out-now periscope lens.
    Here’s the above in shorthand: a number of staggeringly wealthy, intelligent, thoughtful, analytical and resourceful first-raters are making immediate on- or off-planet plans to survive imminent civilizational cataclysm and complete collapse.
    Near the finish of the piece, Osnos offers the gossamer comment: “contemporary life rests on a fragile consensus.” Gosh, there’s a sleep-well turn of phrase.
    “Gene, you’re way doomy at 75. You know the red pill/blue pill thing? Well, you’re like the black pill.”
    Me? Come on! Predicting $15 for a tub of Haagen Dazs, that’s doomy.
    I have just finished social historian Morris Berman’s Dark Ages America, an informative and gnawingly pessimistic telling of the American story roughly from the post-World War years to now: from rabid, Cold War anti-communism to the current nation-destroying merger of corporate money, the right-wing political agenda, resurgent racism-tinged religion, and the ever-amplifying mutter of frustrated, futureless, fulminating Middle America.
    Likening the US now to the Roman Empire at the time of its collapse, Berman reminds us that Rome wasn’t defeated in battle by an enemy; it imploded because of a loss of purpose, identity and moral vigour, that strange pre-collapse combo in which a people can no longer answer the question: “What are we doing?”
    So, can we talk about Victoria or, possibly, Lifeboat Victoria?
    I believe the world needs more Victoria, but the state and fate of this place is so parlous, so up for grabs, these days, its unique qualities, values and ability to regenerate community so at risk, that I’m unsure about wishing more Victoria on the world. I have never felt like this before about my city. I worry that the conditions, skills and tools for sustaining existing communities and forging new ones are weakening, breaking, and that the city is on the verge of turning into just another goddamn place.
    If it’s not too much of a sideways jump (this column’s a string of them), let me explain why I have no warm-fuzzies for communitarian simulacra like LUVs, Large Urban Villages, or companion small ones—SUVs, that the City of Victoria has thought up. You can tell intuitively that it’s just lingo, a technocrat’s wet dream, the kind of mechanistic abstraction devised by people or organizations that favour script over story or authenticity.
    The real sin of LUVs and SUVs is hidden deep in social code: it reduces any and all other reasons for or possibilities of community to footnotes. How? By highlighting the self as a shopping unit instead of a citizen engaged in expressions of neighbourliness and the transactional potentials of community.
    There is an accelerating drama playing out within our Victoria communities, a cultural battle about how to live, with strong implications for land use. Look, urban design is really social design—prettified language, in other words, that asks the questions: “How shall we live?” and “How can we fashion our city and our communities to create and sustain coherent, cooperative, successful social connections and relationships?” and even “What’s important?” “What do our choices mean, and where do they lead?”
    “Story is more important than policy,” wisely notes the New York Times columnist David Brooks. Story comes first (Who are we? What do we want and need?) Policy (How do we achieve that?) flows out to try to make story come true.
    Victoria inspires an unusual emotion from visitors and residents alike: yearning. Why? At its best, it is one of a diminishing number of places that still projects the possibilities of social sanity, which is to say, rootedness, coherence and continuity in a time when everything seems tossed in the air. Visitors have little trouble picking up this rootedness in its hundred tiny coded expressions: public courtesy, merchant honesty, cars stopping for crossing pedestrians, lack of litter, unmolested parks, a sense of neighbourhood order, civil greeting between strangers, past and present connected, and so on. It isn’t, or isn’t just, that we have held on to a lot of our old buildings, but what this holding-on means: a respect for scale, proof of the great accomplishments of modesty, to word it paradoxically.
    However imperfect the results, at least we’re still trying here. In a world that has lost such things and has little idea where to find them, that counts for a lot. You don’t want to treat such qualities carelessly.
    To put this another way: Victoria still manages, if haltingly, to convey a message of safety and continuity in a world increasingly poised for conflict and eruption. For the city’s land use thinking or policies to fail to honour this essential fact about the place is, or would be, a tragedy.
    How, then, to put Victoria on alert about such matters, how to initiate community-wide conversation about our invaluable social assets and atmospherics, how to prepare to sustain community in the unfolding battle for the future?
    Such concerns pose a deep challenge not just for the city’s leadership, but all of us. We’re in the middle of transition times in Victoria, headed somewhere either by design or default, capable either of embodying a living story or obliged, with a shrug, to prepare for nostalgia.
    Founder of Open Space and co-founder of Monday Magazine, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an affordable housing concept.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    July 2018
    The heavy carbon footprint of most manufacturing processes gives added incentive for re-using material goods.
     
    OUR CLASSIC LIST of favourite family outings has long included the Cordova Bay United Church Annual Country Fair, our community’s very own big fat recycling project. For years we’ve been part of the Saturday morning crowd that gathers at the church parking lot each spring with kids, dogs and visiting relatives in tow. Eagerly we wait for the signal to begin sifting through the heap of castoffs we’ve seemingly just finished dropping off the day before. (How they manage to wrestle all this stuff—almost overnight—into a neatly arranged cornucopia of merchandise in almost every imaginable house-and-home category remains a mystery to everyone except the smiling worker bees ready at their stations when we bargain hunters come surging in.)
    Over the years we’ve brought home armloads of good clothing, toys, books, shoes, tools, plants, pet supplies, and gifts for upcoming birthdays or the Christmas stockings. I’m always amazed, and a little saddened too, by each year’s vast new stockpile of fine china and antique linen, the hallmarks of glory days inevitably winding down. Fittingly, they draw much admiration and by day’s end many will have been taken home by a new generation of enthusiasts. One year I rescued a delicately textured, white linen tablecloth—for a dollar—and turned it into a cottage-style curtain. Last year a toonie got me an elegant cake knife that’s become prized and useful for our own special occasions.
     

     
    The kids, long since adults living in their own homes, still come out for the morning if they can, motivated by both nostalgia and the realization that a dollar here has the stretch of a rubber band. You could set up an entire apartment with the wares on offer, and it’s not all cheap stuff originally from Zeller’s.
    We always run into friends and familiar faces and everyone remarks on the bargains they’ve scored. I overhear one young woman telling another, “When I have children I’m doing all my shopping here.”
    At one time buying or accepting used goods of any kind came with a badge of shame attached, but thankfully no more, and certainly not in these parts. Astute consumers have figured out that the used market can provide what they need without gouging into their food and shelter budgets. Many of the millennials I know are stylishly outfitting themselves and their living spaces with used treasures, thereby also sparing themselves the angst of monthly payments and overdrawn bank accounts. They’re also doing it to decrease their environmental footprint and shop more conscientiously.
    The ensuing demand has created a bounty of local used-goods opportunities ranging from goodwill and consignment stores to antique attics, rummage sale basements, and on-line community bulletin boards. Several, including the WIN (Women in Need Community Cooperative) Resale shops, the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, and thrift shops operated by Beacon Community Services, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, and the Salvation Army, funnel their revenues back into the community in a myriad of altruistic ways.
    Of even more benefit is their collective steering of untold tonnes of goods away from the landfill. The Salvation Army in Canada estimates that less than one percent of all its donated wares ends up as waste, and that in 2016-2017 alone, it redirected more than 33 million kilograms of cast-off clothing, household items and furniture to another round of use.
    That’s all very significant, given, among other considerations, the heavy carbon footprint of most manufacturing processes. Take textile production as an example. It requires massive amounts of energy, pesticides and water—typically 2700 litres per shirt—to grow cotton and turn it into clothing. Denim, the making of which requires harsh dyes and repeated rinsing, exacts an even heavier toll. Synthetics fare no better, not at the manufacturing stage and certainly not in their problematic shedding of microfibers each time they’re washed. Clearly, every garment that doesn’t have to be made because another is being reused saves the Earth significant resources. The same thing goes for every single possession we have.
    Surely one of these days we’re going to get politically serious about entering this Age of Transition that we’ve all so earnestly talked about for years. In the meantime, and among ourselves in our communities, the Cordova Bay United Church Country Fair and many other like-minded ventures are already connecting many of the dots in the blueprint of our future.
    Summer will find Trudy in the garden, looking for ways to make it more drought tolerant as the climate continues to show subtle change.

    Gene Miller
    July 2018
    Would amalgamation lead to the creation of a place we care less about?
     
    WHICH DO YOU PREFER: Saantoria or Vicnich?
    Me? I’m voting for Shitsville.
    On a Wednesday evening in April, in a nearly subterranean, acoustically reverberant gym at Vic High—chosen, I assume, to make an idiotic proposition sound braver—invitees Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell and two out-of-area panelists spoke before an audience of a hundred about Victoria/Saanich amalgamation and the mandated process required to approve such a consolidation.
    The presence of the two mayors at the event, organized and promoted by local initiative Amalgamation Yes, lent an ambiguous but undeniable propriety to the prospect of such a merger, even though Helps more than once was careful to blunt expectations with the quip, “Amalgamation Maybe.”
    While both mayors appeared, thankfully, to have their wits about them, there was a nutty tang in the air, the kind of true-believer, I-drank-the-Kool-Aid vibe that automatically sends oh-oh juice coursing through any sound mind, same as happens when you’re among folks who gather in stubble fields awaiting the arrival of wise aliens in flying saucers.
     

    Saantoria? Vicnich?
     
    So, why all the craziness here? Why is this place becoming InSaanitoria? Maybe it’s atmospheric, and all the local oxygen molecules have picked up another electron, turning air into ether and conking people’s reasoning function and common sense.
    Let me state yet again: I’ve read the studies, and they are there for you to read. Amalgamation, in spite of the reductive logic of “one mayor’s cheaper ‘n two,” generally doesn’t save taxpayers a dime and doesn’t produce operating efficiencies, even though these are the two pillars upon which the amalgamation idea rests. It’s as flawed as its cousin belief: “greater density will produce affordable housing.”
    People love to hear sober-sounding lingo purling from their tongues, like “efficiency of scale,” but if analytics counts for anything, they might as well crazily utter “fish and kale.” Amalgamation, instead of delivering real benefits, boils down to nothing more than feelings, as in “I feel Victoria would be a better place if it was amalgamated” or “I think it’s stupid keeping all these small, adjacent municipalities.” That is, the amalgamation argument is entirely non-evidentiary and offers a logical quantum roughly the equivalent of “I like pizza” or “blue’s a pretty colour.”
    The amalgamation idea seems to trigger some murky, bigger’s better impulse in mental adolescents who obsess about the heft of their package and wail how this place doesn’t have the testicularity to be a real city. You know, like Switzerland’s problem: it’s not Germany.
    And at the head of the small’s-a-disease/amalgamation’s-the-cure parade is the Chamber of Commerce leadership, drum-beating and banner-waving with absurdities like “We’re Better Together!” “A Remarkable Core City For Our Region!” and so on. And if you timidly ask “But, doesn’t the region already have a remarkable core city called Victoria? You know, the Inner Harbour, Empress, Legislature, tall buildings, lots of talent, energy and thousands of people moving in?” the answer you get is “We’re Better Together!” “A Magnificent New Metropolis!”
    Citizens: dare to keep your Chamber off drugs.
    In spite of the 501 words you have just read, this is not a column about amalgamation, but about the worldview—the philosophy of society, you might say—that allows people to believe that amalgamation is a good idea.
    The genius of this place, so apparent that it’s almost invisible, is the beautiful, precious localness fostered by the multifarity of municipalities in the region. It isn’t some idiosyncrasy, deficiency or flaw that needs correction. It’s not an embarrassment, our “shame,” some quirk or retrograde behaviour, but one of our great strengths. It reinforces the scale, values and protocols of human community at a time when community (not to mention humanity) is at risk everywhere; and it reminds our various mayors and councillors that the number one job we hire you for is not sound municipal management, which a skilled administrative executive can provide, but the care, protection and well-being of your publics; that is, the quality and reality of the “conversation” between citizens and elected.
    In too many places, social values have become grievance-driven, tribal (identitarian) and defensive, at great cost to the human family, the community. There is enormous stress in the world right now. Victoria is one of the remaining places where the formulation “if my community does well, I do well” operates functionally, if imperfectly. In my view, this is the powerful “something” that people pick up when they visit here—not simply our harbour vistas, rich historic architecture, cute streets, intact neighbourhoods, and verdant tree canopy, but their semiotic promise, what these things are code for: a place of human balance and comfort, the tantalizing promise of heaven on Earth.
    And what this asks—no, requires—of local political leaders is that they be social innovators, constantly searching for new opportunities for community expression, new ways to vitalize the individual/community connection.
    The think-big types can be remarkably dismissive of “dotty” locals—people, that is, with their all-too-human preferences, tugs and pulls, hopes and worries—as if the purpose of life was not human well-being, but some dehumanizing abstraction like “Progress!” or “Growth!” or “Making Victoria Great!” In my experience and my reading of history, such abstracting has ritually come with a cost…and produced a sorrowful (and repeatedly unheeded) postscript.
    Fascism, neo-Nazism, systemic racism, anti-Semitism, follow me-autocracy, flag-waving national tribalism, economic aristocratism, and other dark and disturbing social tectonics are on a sharp rise globally. Worldwide, the number of democratic states has diminished—a “democratic recession” in the words of Stanford sociologist Larry Diamond.
    “Never again” is yet again yielding by dangerous increments to “here we go again.”
    These emergent conditions are accompanied by a trending ecological violence—violence to one’s home. Under such conditions, the geography of human community—literally, the place and space for healthy social functioning—is changing, diminishing. This is a time less of place-creating than place-abandonment and destruction, forced cultural forgetting and the collapse of memory. Humanity is culturally molting, here, everywhere, preparing for some convulsive Big Next.
    Such generalized fungibility—where anywhere is anywhere else—has already slithered into town and turned Victoria (I don’t know about Saanich) into a devil’s playground for all the smoothocrats in local government, as if memory were a plaything with the value and durability of a Cracker-Jacks toy. Look for telling cultural shifts. Used to be “Five Points” at Moss and Fairfield? Now, it’s a “Small Urban Village” or SUV (big-sistered, of course, by LUV’s) to planning practitioners. Says the City, in essence: “No, no, we’re not proposing the removal or elimination of place, simply the substitution of authenticity with, well, er, jargon.” However unintended, this is civic organizational sociopathy cleverly packaged as professionalism.
    Back in the good old days, when something reeked it was greeted and treated with revulsion. Now, jaws agape, we citizens—increasingly re-cast as “stakeholders” in some “all-gain” “community engagement” process—just stupidly watch it happen, witnesses to the ruin of hope. It’s practically Orwellian.
    It’s our own fault: we give up, or give up on, memory, our past, the third dimension. What’s that classic stoner line? Oh, right: “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you can’t know where you’re going.”
    A key purpose of memory is to give direction, a true north, to our moral compass as we steer into the future. Now, as memory evaporates, we are adrift.
    Policy—vital and rich with social intention in its moment of creation, then quickly forgotten—takes on a life of its own, a target for unintended consequences, accumulating un-challenged ideas, un-tested assumptions, lingo, precedents nobody thought of, all of which favours an impenetrable professional culture and a social engineering bias. Flashing yellow lights, my friends.
    Zoning and related land use policies are, in fact, a kind of massive paraphrase of the life we intend for ourselves. But zoning is a tricky tool, and it requires us to be perpetually mindful of the risk of bad outcomes and of the need to course-correct. I’m reminded in this moment of social critic James Kunstler who spoke at a Victoria conference long ago and remarked how we North Americans are, as expressed in our social practices and in our urban design and land use policies, creating “places that are not worth caring about.”
    Very much in line with Kunstler’s concern is the contemporary idea of solastalgia, which describes ecological grief brought on by the experience or anticipation of ecological loss. This includes the loss of meaningful landscapes, familiar built forms, human communities and sustainable environments, and is reinforced by a sense of powerlessness to hold back the loss.
    Oh, and amalgamation? Think of it this way: 40 communities in one consolidated municipality are less important, meaningful, individual, attention-worthy than 20 each in two. Call it the first lesson in the solastalgia handbook.
    It is an imperative: we cannot allow technocrats or technocratic “solutions” to define the terms of response to what are ultimately existential and moral concerns…social concerns. We need our local political and civic leadership to read the horizon for risk, and to invoke all the means (land use not least, but not alone) by which Victoria can remain a place of communities, a place of places.
    Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an affordable housing concept and, with partner Rob Abbott, is writing the book Futuretense: Robotics, AI and Life in a Jobless World.

    Leslie Campbell
    July 2018
    A lack of balance on a June housing forum provides food for thought as to where the community needs to look for answers.
     
    DID YOU KNOW THAT VICTORIA is the “hottest” ranking “luxury primary housing” market in the world? According to Christie’s International’s Luxury Defined 2018 report, we beat out Paris and Washington DC and every other city due to our strong year-on-year luxury sales volumes and high domestic demand during 2017.
    At first blush this might seem rather exciting, something to be proud of. But earning this distinction means a lot of local homes are being bought up by wealthy folks from outside BC; Christie’s mentions an upsurge in buyers from the US and China. 
    The building boom, here and elsewhere in BC, is obviously fuelling the economy: real estate is now BC’s largest industry by GDP, and construction is #2. Together they are about one-quarter of the economy—larger than Alberta’s oil and gas sector.
    But such glories come with a price. Besides being in danger of the bubble deflating, neighbourhoods and citizens are feeling squeezed as lower-cost units are demolished and replaced with taller buildings offering condos that most in the neighbourhood could never afford. The building boom corresponds with (some argue, has caused) a rise in all housing prices, from rentals through condos, from one end of town to the other. Victoria is now one of the least affordable cities in Canada.
    So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the provincial government, besides funding non-profit housing, has brought in measures to “cool” the hot luxury real estate market. These include taxes like the foreign buyers tax, a school tax on properties over $3 million, and the poorly-named “speculation tax.”
     

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

    Gene Miller
    May 2018
    Victoria may be stuck in time, but that could be what guarantees its survival.
     
    THE EMAIL SUBJECT LINE appeared to read: “Genius Way to Be a Mistress,” but when I squinted for another look, it read “Genius Way to Buy a Mattress.” It took only that heartbeat between glimpses to spin a dozen fantasies about the Degenerate-In-Chief in the White House.
    Look at that! I planned to write with a springtime flutter in my heart, but two sentences in and it’s cocktails on the lip of the volcano.
    Oh well, stick with what you know.
    2018 isn’t 2017-just-rolls-on; it’s 2017-gets-worse. In case you hadn’t noticed, politically, existentially, we are staring out at stormy waters—no, not Stormy what’s-her-name, the First Hooker. My old man, a turn-of-the-20th century son of two eastern European émigrés, physically unscathed by the Great Depression and two world wars (he fought in the second), but hardly an emotional survivor, meekly and ritually muttered during his Florida retirement dotage, “It’s not all smooth sailing.” And he was referencing his era, a short, lifetime increment, and not, say, the Permian-Triassic Mass Extinction Event when, for nine million years, you couldn’t get fresh, lean pelycosaur for money or prayer. My dad meant: don’t make plans that assume or require constancy, because the laws of contingency, like an amusement park herky-jerk, are sure to whip you sideways.
    And it was never more true than right now. If you anticipate that the current and coming times will be same-old, same-old, you are in for a string of un-gentle shocks.
    Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Center for Liberal Studies and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, penned a recent opinion piece claiming that the era of liberal democracy, with legislated regular leadership elections and term limits, is over. It’s his view that an “emperor’s moment” is the new and spreading political fashion.
    I’m halfway through How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky’s and Daniel Ziblatt’s ominous and cautionary dissection of the political and social forces that in the past have produced, and now appear set to re-produce, a global rise in autocratic leaders, presidents-for-life and military-supported dictatorships. Their book is one of a flurry of current titles exploring this theme. Of course, it could never happen in our country, notwithstanding Trudeau’s declining popularity or risks to the small-L liberal agenda, because we’re…well…we’re Canada, and we don’t roll that way. No, sir. Never. Couldn’t happen here.
    If there were ever a moment to liberate our sensibilities from manic and unrealistic faith in the never-ending improvability of everything, this is it. We need to install mental jitter software appropriate to very uneasy times, which might at least allow our feet to touch the ground and provoke a realistic public consensus about the state of things.
    In the movies, trouble comes with uh-oh music. The skies darken, putting the world in shadow. However, off-screen, also known as “reality,” trouble materializes with few cues and no music, or few cues that people are able to spot and willing to heed. I remind you, just to strike a rare sombre note, that civilizations and cultures before our own have finished and vanished—likely just after their poets celebrated in song their achievements, longevity and indestructibility.
    Germany (Ribbentrop) and Russia (Molotov) signed a non-aggression pact on August 23, 1939. Three days later, the Second World War began. In his biography of pianist Vladimir Horowitz, author Harold Schonberg comments: “The ‘experts’ told Horowitz there would never be a war. Inconceivable! But Horowitz, recognizing the threat from Germany, knew war was coming and, he recounts, ‘so did Rachmaninoff when I had dinner with him in Paris.’”
    Remember, there are “experts” and there are folks who sense which way the wind is blowing.
    In 2018, American social critic James Kunstler writes: “There are certainly waves and cycles in history, and one of them involves a society’s capacity for self-understanding. Sometimes, a culture is too flimsy or exhausted or sick to achieve even low levels of self-awareness. We are at a low point in the cycle, sunk in grievance fantasies and narcissism. The end result is we don’t know what we’re doing or why we’re doing it.”
    Succinctly, Charles Blow in the New York Times puts the current moment this way: “I see a man growing increasingly irascible as his sense of desperation surges. The world is closing in on Trump and he is in an existential fight for his own survival. This is precisely what makes him so dangerous: Trump will harness [presidential power] and deploy it all as guard and guarantee against his own demise.”
    There are times to coast and times to pedal. Right now? I’d suggest we pedal like mad.
    I can’t help it; I just ooze all this worry. I’m an apocalyptarian to the core. No, Gramps, not an apocryphal librarian. Change your battery.
    You ask: why now, why are times so suddenly clangorous, so fraught and worrying?
    Well, one theory of events is the un-nuanced but deceptively profound “Shit happens.” This points to the arbitrary and random aspects, the why/ because, of existence: things that will fail to achieve their intended outcomes, or will have unintended consequences. We have a word to cover these situations or, at least, their aftermath: “Oops.”
    A second un-credentialed idea is that we are governed by an evolutionary script and, increasingly liberated from the obligations of mutuality (which itself has become abstracted beyond clarity or recognition) and made nearly godlike by our worldly competence, we are becoming culturally over-individuated—solitudes supported by technology— which puts us utterly at odds with our biological nature. Such distortions are vastly de-stabilizing and dislocating, put all of us in a state of collective anxiety and anger, force danger on the entire human project and, unsurprisingly, release boundless growth opportunities for autocrats, demagogues and assorted strongmen.
    Third in this quartet of explanations: Carlos Perez, in a long essay on the Intuition Machine website, cites Scott Alexander’s “Meditations on Moloch,” which discusses the inevitable failure of collective coordination. Alexander argues, “groups that survive will be the kinds that are most selfish (that is, ruthless, opportunistic and self-advancing). Groups that have a strategy aligned with the common good are likely to go extinct.” He writes that the optimal solution is simple enough to understand intellectually, yet impossible to implement. Civilization cannot escape this problem and it is the root cause of repeated, cyclical social tension.
    Last is this idea: we systemically underprice social risk.
    As world conditions deteriorate and become more parlous, I’m increasingly inclined to think of Victoria as a “lifeboat”—a community that somehow maintains its cultural coherence during rough and threatening times, not because the place is too small to matter, but because it practices the dual skills (and they are skills) of continuity and mutuality. We joke about “a little bit of Olde England,” but, to give credit, how binding and stabilizing a civic narrative that has been! In spite of the one-liners about The Present arriving in Victoria ten years late, this place, as I’ve suggested in previous writing, has a “genius for inertia.”
    If I had to define Victoria’s purpose in these increasingly jumpy times, I would say our task is to maintain an identity based on cultural and social continuity and a practiced and functioning mutuality, even if the Olde England thing has waned. We should remind ourselves that communities aren’t communities merely because they have place names or share a postal code or some other accidental adjacency, but because they actively practice a range of community functions and maintain commonwealth—that is, do things together.
    Yes, I know: easy to propose, but a challenge to undertake. Still, the social stakes are enormous, as David Brooks lays out in a mid-February New York Times column:
    “There’s been an utter transformation in the mind-set within which people hold their beliefs. Back in the 1990s, there was an unconscious abundance mind-set. Democratic capitalism provides the bounty. Prejudice gradually fades away. Growth and dynamism are our friends. The abundance mind-set is confident in the future, welcoming toward others. It sees win-win situations everywhere.
    “Today, after the financial crisis, the shrinking of the middle class, the partisan warfare, a scarcity mind-set is dominant: Resources are limited. The world is dangerous. Group conflict is inevitable. It’s us versus them. The ends justify the means.
    “All of this would be survivable if the mentality was going away in a few years. But it is not going away. The underlying conditions of scarcity are only going to get worse. Moreover, the warrior mentality builds on itself. This is a generational challenge. Some other warrior will succeed Trump.”
    Imagine you and me, reader and writer, sitting, like Horowitz and Rachmaninoff, in a Victoria café, sipping our shade-grown, ethically sourced lattes and discussing prospects in 2018. What modest local initiatives, what social strategies and policies might we propose to ensure (short of a guarantee) that our boat floats through this nervous chapter and into a better beyond?
    Think: community.
    Now, where did I put that springtime flutter?
    Gene Miller is the founder of Open Space and co-founder of Monday Magazine.
     

    Leslie Campbell
    May 2017
    VISA faces eviction by School District.
     
    ARTS ORGANIZATIONS LIVE PRECARIOUSLY, often in need of funds. But now, with the city growing and real estate going crazy, it’s even harder.
    Just ask Wendy Welch, executive director of Vancouver Island School of Art (VISA). She is planning her fall semester without knowing whether the school will remain in its current venue. Since 2004, VISA has been renting the 1921 heritage school in Quadra Village from the Greater Victoria School District.
     

    VISA' home on Quadra Street
     
    Last year the School Board upped VISA’s rent by 40 percent (to over $4000/month), and also hinted that they might need the building in a year or so. At the beginning of 2018, though, it appeared from discussions that VISA’s 200 students would be able to enjoy its five classrooms and their great natural lighting for another 18 months—with perhaps some space shared with the School District.
    On April 2, however, Welch was told VISA had to leave by the end of this summer. The School District intends to do extensive renovations and, by fall 2019, house one of their own programs there.
    The School District’s Mark Walsh told Focus that fresh numbers indicate that an estimated 2000 new school spaces will be needed over the next 10 years.
    Right now, spaces that seem on offer (and affordable) to VISA are much smaller and primarily on the outskirts of the city, said Welch.
    VISA offers a wide selection of courses and workshops, an artist residency program, and hosts the Slide Room Gallery where student works are exhibited. In honour of its 10th birthday several years ago, it painted the exterior of its beloved home with a design inspired by the Razzle Dazzle ships from the early 20th century when the school was built.
    Welch just recently went public with the “renoviction” news. Since then, she said, there’s been an outpouring of support from her students and the wider community. Because of it, she said, “I have decided to fight the School District and try and get a five-year lease. I have come to the realization that they have several buildings that are newer, larger and in better shape than VISA (they just need seismic upgrading). It doesn’t make sense to evict a thriving arts organization in the heart of an urban centre when there are other alternatives.”
    She is asking people to write to the district’s MLA Rob Fleming, who is also BC’s Minister of Education, and Victoria City Hall.
    Welch said she has some great options long-term, including possible space in the new Crystal Pool building, with perhaps another branch at the planned Juan de Fuca Performing Arts Centre. “I am interested in both propositions (we could have two branches). However these are long-term plans not to be finished until around 2021. We need the School District to let us continue in the Quadra building until we can move to a more permanent place. It feels the right move to fight rather than to surrender, because the arts always get swept away to the background.”
    Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus Magazine.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    March 2018
    Site C will help power up cannabis hot houses, Bitcoin mining, and LNG!
     
    I RELUCTANTLY INTERRUPT my originally-planned column to bring you an unwelcome realization which, like a Poe raven, has just landed heavily inside my head. Now I’m thinking that maybe we’re going to need the Site C Dam after all.
    This leaves me anguished, given all the dam-slamming I’ve done from the top of a considerable heap of dam-damning evidence. Everything about the project’s backstory has become the stuff of infamy, from the billions of dollars originally committed without prior (or any) due diligence, to the planned flooding of thousands of hectares of other peoples’ land and homes. Don’t forget the destruction of ecosystems, trampling of treaties, and waving away of myriad concerns—including the open-ended price tag, and the god-knows-how-high electricity rates that are sure to follow. Would I buy anything under similar terms? I would not.
    You already know how the saga unfolds. The Liberals roared into hard-hat gear, bent on getting Site C beyond the point of no return before the NDP assumed office. It was a job well done, because by then they’d spent four billion dollars rearranging the Peace River Valley into a newly-found land of big winners and losers.
    Then Premier Horgan, still weighted down by the slag of his previous anti-Site-C stance, sputtered a contrite, newfound awareness that he couldn’t kill the project now—not with the billions already spent, and the workers all desperately needing a reason to continue packing their lunch kits every day. (At least Horgan seemed genuinely conflicted, unlike our prime minister’s Kafkaesque approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion, a paternalistic oration that remains unrivalled in the whiplash category of If A, then B—Say Whaaat?)
    But steering away from political perplexity, here are three new reasons why we probably need Site C after all. First, the energy-addicted LNG portfolio appears to be worming its way back onto the table. Few details are available as I write, but one thing is certain: In BC you can never, ever, say for certain that a pet political project is dead. Don’t fall for all that suave assurance. The Northern Gateway Dragon, for example, has not been slayed. It is just resting.
    The second reason is cannabis. Again, it’s early days, but clearly Big Business has caught its lucrative drift. Cannabis grows well almost anywhere, but we nonetheless are going to encase it—in untold acres of greenhouses, planted on our best arable land. Greenhouses are energy hogs, and that’s just the beginning. No worries for us though, not with Site C powering us through the brown-outs. (Although, with Business typically galloping out front, and Policy struggling in vain to keep up, do stay braced for inevitable Oopsie moments.)
    And then there’s Bitcoin. Who could have predicted this: legions of computers all over the world, churning away on algorithms that “mine” for icons hidden deep beneath the pretend-world surface? At one time, Bitcoin was touted as a new digital currency, but now it operates more like a lottery system, where your computer picks the numbers that could lead you to the motherlode. Kind of like souped-up Keno, although that now seems infantile by comparison.
    As with all speculative activity, Bitcoin is serious business. People worldwide are using their savings to fill warehouses with stacks of beefed-up computers—or “mining machines,” as they’re called in the biz—that operate around the clock like so many miniature pump-jacks on steroids. Picture all this. If Bitcoin was happening on another planet, we’d be making fun of its citizens.
    But smirks and quizzical head-scratching aside, Bitcoin’s increasingly heavy drain on the real-world grid is probably the more imminent concern. According to the web-based publication Digiconomist, a single Bitcoin transaction draws as much energy as 300,000 Visa transactions. Or, using an estimate in Scientific American, the same amount of energy to boil around 36,000 kettles filled with water. Analysis by the web-based publication Motherboard projects that Bitcoin’s global network could be using as much electricity as Denmark by 2020. One thing is certain: Right now, Bitcoin’s exponential growth shows no sign of stopping.

    The electricity from Site C is desperately needed for bitcoin mining operations, which produce invisible wealth
     
    No worries for us though, not with Site C. In this province of plenty, this veritable Eden, it’s part of the grand SuperNatural smorgasbord that can feed all of our cravings. There’s no need to curtail or tread lightly. No need to change habits or thinking.
    After all, aren’t we humans the chosen ones, the long-ago recipients of the keys to the Earth? We deserve everything we want. We deserve everything we’re going to get.
    Trudy holds out hope that we’ll soon arrive at solutions and find the wherewithal to begin embracing them.

    Gene Miller

    Amalgacide

    By Gene Miller, in Commentary,

    March 2018
    Is the call for political amalgamation of CRD municipalities, at its core, motivated by toxic social impulses?
     
    NATURE, THE SAYING GOES, ABHORS A VACUUM, as true in the social environment as in the physical world. If a society or a community retreats from one set of priorities or practices—that is, diminishes its moral, regulatory, or energetic investment—some other expression will expand and intensify its influence.
    You can witness this truth at play, along with immediate disruptive consequences and worse to come, south of our border. A devastating and depressing early-February piece by New York Times columnist Charles Blow makes the point that American institutions, democratic process, and public culture will never be the same, even after Trump is gone.
    Happily, hopefully, American political culture and many of its social resonances stop at the border; but more to the point, the times they are a-churning and ideological slugfests are sprouting everywhere. Ideology, as you know, is an idea of how the future should happen.
    Gosh, does “everywhere” include little old “here?”
    The regional amalgamation drum has been beating louder recently, which may indicate that local government and/or community itself is, in word and deed, creating a vacuum, vacating the strong case for localism, allowing it to languish and lose ground.
    To be clear: when I write “amalgamation,” I am not discussing whether sewer pipes line up at municipal borders. My sole concern (and worry) is political amalgamation: one big Victoria.
    In my view, this is amalgamation’s central and not-so-subtle social threat: it leads by seemingly logical and harmless increments toward a political inevitability in which citizens willingly, or at least un-protestingly, exchange the more transparent and easily understood triumphs and bloopers of local political process, the accessibility and chances of engagement, for the moonless bureaucratic night and monolithic impenetrability of regional governance. Why add more geographic abstraction to the political process? Why sacrifice precious social identity and political self-expression?
    Maybe we’re sliding into undifferentiated times (I blame the Internet), and the idea of community-scale selfhood is waning. I’m posing the idea that an entire glossary of social practice, and the ideas and values behind it, is at risk of fading: community, neighbour, access, participation, engagement, locality, citizenship, mutuality and so on. We’re all becoming…the future.
    In other words, regional amalgamation, putting aside its ambiguous claims of service efficiency or its glib economic promises, is loaded with hidden social semiotics, and grounded in values, not value.
    Along with other forced political consolidations, amalgamation has its roots sunk in beliefs and power rituals in which a human group, invoking some higher authority (everything from Amalgamation to National Destiny to God) “solves” itself by “solving” the world (and sometimes rooting out the last nonbeliever). People look lazily to, or for, a “higher” power for justification, or solution. It seems built into our genes.
    Consider our hypnotic attraction to permission and to the authoritarian potency of “Yes” and “No,” how the entitlement to invoke these words and make them law is the key to the imperial capture of the world. We say “mayor,” “premier” or “prime minister;” we mean “Your Majesty” or “Daddy” or “Mommy.” Secretly, we long to be led and completed by a stronger force; yes, it might dominate us, but it also satisfies something in us—makes ambiguity tolerable, maybe—and performs some perverse and murky release. Pankaj Mishra, in Age of Anger, quotes Hugo von Hofmannsthal who, more than a century ago, noted: “Politics is magic. He who knows how to summon the forces from the deep, him they will follow.” All of which speaks to this caution: the border between a democracy and an autocracy (or worse) is skin thin. Just cast your eyes south.
    In the same way that many physical pathologies flourish when the body system is weak, amalgamation blooms in the body politic when simple community—commonwealth—falters or fails.
    Like many such -ations and -isms with hard-to-spot implications and unforeseen consequences, amalgamation can be reasonably argued; but you can’t miss the strong flashes of ideology shining through the seams. By ideology I mean weltanschauung—worldview and attitude—an idea of what people are, and of human nature and purpose.
    How else to explain the repudiation of Lilliputian local government? Please, tune your ear to the critical notes embedded in words like “local,” “municipal,” “civic,” just as “rustic” suggests not “pastoral” alone, but also “clodhopper” and “yokel.”
    But, now consider how in our everyday lives we occupy an almost exclusively local world whose canvas is painted with life’s minute victories, draws and defeats framed by daily routine. Are locals too…local? Is community-scale too idiomatic, too subjective, too weak? Have the times and trends gutted local scale, made it quaint, so that now we accede without resistance to larger, more authoritative and powerful structures?
    Come downstairs with me to meet the Devil. Beneath the vegetative repetition and triviality of the everyday is the fortissimo: the allure and the appeal of a life vitalized by appetite, ambition, a limitless hunger for reach, self-inflation, fantasies of sexual triumph and hero-hood, a belief in shortcuts and personal exception, hallucinatory images of everything delivered (plenty without a price tag), situational morality (one’s own rules and justifications), the debasement—the dehumanization, really—of other people’s identities and needs. In that state of crescendo and self-seduction we become aristocrats crowned by our murky choices, lit by spotlights in our own hall of fame.
    Power, dizzying power! But never without a risk or a price tag: the catastrophic collapse of social bonds.
    Does political amalgamation, then, unwittingly embody a dangerous pathology, and should its prospects be aggressively countered? No; but be mindful of messaging that promotes the consolidation of healthy, local political publics—you—into one homogenous regional administrative populace.
    If you take everything you’ve read so far to be hysterical amplification, you may have missed that there’s a dangerous, narcissistic, emotionally unstable autocrat next door in the White House, and that the Nazi swastika is back in fashion globally, courtesy of quickly rematerializing neo-nationalist/neo-fascist movements now blooming like early crocuses in various places. Poland’s new government has just produced a law prohibiting accusations of Polish participation in the Holocaust and other war crimes that took place during the German occupation of Poland. If you’re planning to change the future, the first thing you do is write out a contradictory or annoying past.
    The worst mistake any of us can make right now is to see historical discontinuity growing all around and, thinking it won’t touch us, develop no mental poise and no plan.
    So, here’s a cautionary thought for our postmodern era, as an ominous and angry near-future assembles the next triple-whammy: a task of local government, expressed through all of its practices and policies, is the renewal and re-expression of commonwealth—that is, the political culture of community and social connection, of shared effort and common goals. “Common” has to be constantly recalibrated, re-communicated, re-learned and re-actualized in our socially abstracted and bemused times. The slide into authoritarianism, Atlantic Monthly commentator David Frum warned recently, “is unstoppable if people retreat into private life.” In The Authoritarian Dynamic, Karen Stenner states: “democracy does not produce community, it requires community.” In our fluid age, it takes both a geographic and a social border to sustain city or community identity: a sense of shared purpose reinforced by familiar community structures and protocols, carefully managed physical change and limits on discontinuity, and a rich diet of innovative social projects—an “us,” really, not to make people tribal and defensive, but to give identity and energy to these things and help citizens resist the sickness of un-belonging.
    Municipalities appear challenged to understand that there’s an absolute requirement for amenity-rich communities—locales filled with appealing physical features and social activities and opportunities that people can love and care about—if folks are going to feel engaged and connected, and behave like stakeholders, citizens.
    Cities open the door to toxic social impulses and turn into characterless geographies when they lose the skills of, or forget to practice, identity—their culture and history. They unlearn or “busy away” their meaning and run out of story and moral purpose (or mistake a buoyant real estate market for meaning, purpose and validation—a guaranteed sign of cultural degeneration). They run out of Why, and they are not aided if their civic and social leadership is blind to signs, unable to read social and historical metaphor and, consequently, poorly equipped to secure the future.
    In modern circumstances, any small city exists under the threat of “historical contingency that sooner or later loses its relevance,” to borrow economic geographer Paul Krugman’s phrase. Victoria, barely “a little bit of Olde England” or any other defining identity beyond the visitor’s “nice” or “cute” anymore, is presently a drifting place, a human geography in search of a new or updated story.
    Political amalgamation, I assure you, is not a new narrative and will deliver not a renewed, heartfelt social landscape, but a chartless, implosive cultural ruin.
    Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an affordable housing concept and, with partner Rob Abbott, is writing the book Futuretense: Robotics, AI and Life in a Jobless World. 

    Leslie Campbell
    March 2018
    If we’re going to lower emissions, allowing Alberta to increase fossil-fuel-related exports will harm the economic prospects of the rest of Canada.
     
    WHEN PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU said a year ago that the Alberta oil sands would be “phased out” over time, Albertans were furious. Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who represents Fort McMurray, told CBC, “We certainly don’t need out-of-touch, federal politicians sounding like Jane Fonda on this topic.” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was more circumspect. Still, if Albertans aren’t ready to embrace the end of the oil sands ever, then it’s not surprising some of us are fighting to keep bitumen in the ground.
    With politics being what it is, we are going about that task in a round-about way. The BC government is heading to court to get a ruling “to reinforce BC’s constitutional rights to defend against the risks of a bitumen spill.” In effect, this should allow BC the right to put limits on what goes into (and comes out of) pipelines that cross our province. If it’s judged that we don’t have that right, I am not sure what the government’s next move is, but many citizens seem ready and willing to block construction if that’s the only option.
    Meanwhile, BC First Nations are also in court with no less than 15 challenges to Kinder Morgan’s plans. They have been joined by other First Nations. “First Nations all across Canada are not going to let First Nations in BC stand alone in their fight against Kinder Morgan: now more than ever we have to stand up for the water, a livable climate, and a decent future for the next generation,” said Chief Arnold Gardner of Eagle Lake First Nation in Ontario.
    While the court cases play out, Trudeau and Notley continue to try to sell their scheme of building “a bridge to a cleaner economy” by expanding oil sands production and finding higher-paying overseas buyers. They argue this will be good for the rest of Canada’s economy—that it is in our national interest. But their math doesn’t work.
    Only if we’re not concerned about all the impacts of fossil-fuel emissions—sea level rise, ecosystem disruption, ocean acidification, desertification, drought, crop failures, and so on—would Trudeau and Notley’s insistence on getting Alberta bitumen to foreign markets make  sense. But they say they are committed to capping emissions at a level that will keep us meeting our international commitments, which are aimed at a maximum 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming—necessary to reduce the intensity of all of the above impacts.
    Canada has agreed to lower annual national emissions to 150 megatonnes by 2050. In 2015 we emitted 722 megatonnes of carbon, so we’ve a long, long way to go. Alberta has agreed to cap oil sands production—currently at 67.8 megatonnes (at least)—at 100 megatonnes annually. Just on the face of it, this is going to pose problems as the “caps” pull in opposite directions.
    But it’s even more problematic as some number-crunching shows. Last year in Focus, David Broadland showed why it is more than likely that Alberta’s oil sands are already pumping out more than its annual cap of 100 megatonnes of carbon emissions. He pointed out that when applying the nonpartisan US Congressional Research Service figures for average emissions intensity—instead of less reliable Canadian figures—emissions from Alberta’s oil sands (from extraction, upgrading and pipeline transportation) are already at 116 megatonnes, and not at the 67.8 megatonnes that Environment Canada has them. David tried another, more conservative analysis, and got 94 megatonnes.
    Neither of these totals include “fugitive emissions”that escape from tailing ponds, oil sands mine faces, oil and gas valves, pumps and pipelines. Alberta already produces the lion’s share of those in Canada at 35 megatonnes each year (Canada’s total is 61 megatonnes).
    Because Alberta and Trudeau’s government only acknowledge 67.8 megatonnes, Alberta has permission to ramp up another 50 percent above current levels.
    “The contradiction of facilitating oil sands growth while discouraging the use of fossil fuels with a carbon tax or fees is jarring enough,” wrote David. “But the bizarre, long-term consequences for the Canadian economy of these two initiatives, if they both play out as hoped for by Trudeau and Notley, seems to have been overlooked.” Alberta would have a stranglehold on allowable emissions. Bitumen production for export will come to dominate Canada’s national carbon budget. Virtually all other industries will have less and less ability to emit, because the oil sands will be using up our national allowance. 
    As shown in the accompanying graph, by 2045—or 5 years earlier if oil sands emissions have been underestimated—fossil-fuel-export-related emissions will have eaten up Canada’s entire carbon budget. This includes all of Canada’s fossil-fuel exports, not just Alberta’s bitumen. That leaves only 22 years to transform every household and every industry to operating totally carbon-free just so Canada can develop its low-value hydrocarbon export industry. Most of those emissions will be tied to Alberta’s export of low-value bitumen. How will Canada's many industries that have higher value per tonne of emissions than oil sands mining fare in a North American economy in which fossil-fuel exports to the US can't be reduced without that country's agreement?
     

    Federal emissions reduction targets (red line) plotted against expected increases in upstream emissions that would result from extraction of fossil fuels destined for export, mainly to the US. The light grey uses emissions intensities claimed by Alberta and Environment Canada. The yellow plot uses emissions intensities from the nonpartisan US Congressional Research Service.
     
    The National Observer’s Barry Saxifrage has arrived at similar conclusions. In a recent piece on oil sands domination of future emissions, he writes: “On the present course, almost everything else in Canada would have to shut down for the country to meet its climate change targets.”
    Saxifrage starts with the current acknowledged emissions claimed by Environment Canada. Still, by 2050, the oil sands will consume 78 percent of Canada’s allowable emissions. More actually, because, as he reminds us, “the Paris Accord requires all nations to set increasingly ambitious targets every five years.”
    Instead of being part of a climate solution for Canada, he points out, “Alberta’s ‘hard cap’ allows just one industry to consume our nation’s climate goals and obligations.”
    Saxifrage also does some interesting number-crunching on jobs, which shows the myth-making afoot when Notley and Trudeau say we need to develop the oil sands for our economy. Estimates from Stats Canada and Petroleum Labour Market Information (PetroLMI) show the oil sands provides a paltry 2.5 percent of Canada’s GDP, and only 0.5 percent of Canada’s jobs.
    It would be folly to think that’s going to get better. Recent data from PetroLMI, Saxifrage notes, show the oil sands industry is on track to reduce its workforce by 21 percent per barrel between 2010 and 2021. “All sectors of the industry—in situ, mining and upgrading—are significantly reducing workers per barrel,” he writes. “Demanning” or “zero manning” the oil sands is how one Cenovus Energy executive describes it to investors. Meanwhile, Suncor is replacing hundreds of its workers with driverless trucks.
    The math and logic are clear, and so is our moral responsibility to future generations. Canada’s per capita GHG emissions are the third highest in the world. Notley can’t be allowed to increase Albertans share of allowable national emissions for the purpose of increasing fossil fuel exports. To do so would damage the economic prospects of all other Canadians and prevent us from being a good global citizen.
    Leslie Campbell is Focus’ editor. For more on the numbers, see “Alberta’s Deathgrip on Canada” and check out Barry Saxifrage’s work at www.nationalobserver.com.

    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
    January 2018
    With a knack for making do, we can make ends meet and reduce our environmental footprint.
     

     
    I REMEMBER HOW IT FELT, staring at the groceries on the Safeway shelves 26 years ago, and wondering how I was going to feed my family. It was mid-winter, we had just moved here from Nova Scotia with three young children, and it was quickly becoming clear that the ratio of salary to cost-of-living was notably less favourable at this end of the country. I knew housing was going to cost us much more, but food, clothing, gas and everything else too? Was I still in Canada? I took a deep breath and turned thoughts to my parents.
    In monetary terms, they were categorically poor when they arrived in Canada and settled on a near-defunct farm in New Brunswick in 1952. But, having survived the destitution and ravages of German- occupied Holland during WWII, they knew a thing or two about survival, resilience, and making ends meet. As a result, we Canadian-born kids in our mended clothes and with bellies full of farm-grown food were mostly unaware that we grew up in a working-poor family. I’m sure I voiced plenty of complaints growing up, but I never once worried about food or security. By the time I left home our farm was thriving and our family enjoyed a comfortable life.
    Now standing at Safeway with my mouth slightly agog, I resolved that if my parents (and their parents) could wrestle down such daunting austerity, then surely I could triumph over my own lesser challenge. I’d had good teachers: I knew how to mend, was a half-decent cook, could plant and tend a garden and had a knack for making do.
    In the years that followed, we employed many small and homely ways to stretch our after-tax dollars. Much of our retooling centred around food, with strategic practices such as judicious shopping, home-style cooking and zero food waste adding up to big savings as well as healthier eating. We shunned products like plastic wrap and paper towels in favour of free stuff readily available at home: Repurposed cereal bags are much more versatile and rags do a better clean-up job.
    We ate out only on special occasions, which made those occasions all the more special.
    We vacationed at island campgrounds, hosted birthday parties at home or on the beach, grew our own food, froze the surplus, baked bread, and made soups and spaghetti sauce out of leftovers. We purchased or gratefully accepted used clothing and other hand-me-downs and mended as necessary. We took care of our stuff and passed on what was no longer needed. We consolidated our errands and car trips. When my mother came to visit, she made bedroom curtains and cushions for the kitchen chairs.
    The kids soaked all this up by osmosis—if not always willingly—and today they’re incorporating many such strategies into their own lifestyle. Cost-cutting is definitely a motivator, but so is the desire for a less cluttered life and reduced environmental impact. And thanks to a relatively recent cultural shift, buying used, repairing, sharing and bartering are now considered cool instead of cheap, and corresponding social media platforms are abuzz with activity.
    That’s a good thing, given that an increasing number of people are struggling to make ends meet. For many, the salary to cost-of-living ratio is now distressingly dismal, and staggering social issues such as housing, childhood poverty and environmental degradation have steadily become coiled into a massive and tangled Gordian knot that our leaders can neither cut nor undo.
    I’m not suggesting that the modest ways from the olden days can fix these conglomerated woes, but they can provide some cushioning against outside chaos. They’re also greener, which is crucial in any blueprint for lasting change. And they could be a brave first step towards calming the economy, a notion that the corporate world wants us to continue believing isn’t possible. Yes, we need good jobs or a good guaranteed income, but we also need a genuine work/life balance instead of its cunning long-time imposter, the work/buy imbalance that has served commerce so very well. Beyond a certain point, it’s not more money for stuff that we need as much as more time to live a little better.
    There’s wisdom in embracing the tried and tested. Our elders and ancestors would smile their approval. Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic would like to wish everyone a happy new year.

    Gene Miller

    Panis Angelicus

    By Gene Miller, in Commentary,

    January 2018
    Could Victoria be a civilizational lifeboat in these crazy, conflict-prone times?
     

     
    THE START OF A NEW YEAR, and time for this column’s annual post-Christmas bummer. “But, Gene, all your columns are—” Okay, let’s move on.
    Dropping all niceties, 2018, possibly less than a month old as you read, is damned if not doomed. In a world now operating on tightrope conditions, and in the absence of any snappier handles, I offer this mouthful: “The Year Converging Urgencies Become Emergencies.”
    Explanations are still congealing in the effort to explain a politically profane and socially toxic 2017 next door. Folks in my circle are clinging to the prayerful fantasy that Trump and the cohort who elected him are some kind of pothole in history’s highway, some “time out for crazy,” and not the new toll road.
    I wouldn’t underestimate Trump’s canny ability to embody or exploit the raw edge of mood in America. Remember, he didn’t come out of nowhere. He’s the political expression of a years-building discontent based on real, not imaginary, conditions of growing social disunion and economic (and US hegemonic) decline. Trump’s the smart version of something mob-angry and very dangerous right now: namely, America has a hole in its soul.
    The values, sensibilities and practices of the progressive agenda (Canada in America, if I can put it that way) are undergoing both policy setback and the ruin of hope. In a likely foretaste of worse-to-come, Trump’s gift of projecting his own bad values as political semiotics—winks, nudges, tweets, aggressive off-the-cuff vulgarities—has liberated and emboldened something tidal, dark, racial and xenophobic, re-expressing itself as the drumbeat of the so-called American alt-Right. Now, every under-the-rock hater and neo-conservative I-told-you-so has a float in the parade.
    It’s practically biblical, Old Testament redux: The Flood in the Book of Genesis—relevant, with the slightest of spins, as an ecological metaphor in our time of rising sea level. Mind, I heard the delicious story that the planet is warming because Hell is getting larger. In the era of Trump and the widening sins of the corporate oligarchy, that fits well with my ontology.
    While we might wish that our neighbour’s mounting chaos stopped at the border, today’s connected world doesn’t work like that. Besides, the progressive agenda in many countries is retreating before “identitarian” politics grounded in culture and race, and yielding to murky, ever-shifting realignments based on “situational principles” as we enter a contractive, anti-globalist, neo-isolationist and altogether more positional era.
    What’s that word…horripilation? Trust your skin; it’s a cognitive organ. We are in “all bets are off” times, and the Canadian challenge is to determine any possible means of culturally, economically, geo-politically surviving an unfolding and probably messy US meltdown able to take large swaths of the world with it. Given physical adjacency, economic entanglement and cultural porosity, we’re hardly bystanders.
    Build the hedge, Justin.
    Of course, it could be too late for that, given national identity pretty much limited to universal health care and $2 coins. Trump just declared opioid abuse a “national emergency.” The US is the per capita world leader in prescription opioid consumption. Number Two? Canada.
    I’m mystified by the mutability and the apparent rejection—the why and the why now—of a value system whose corner-points seemed well-anchored and in good health just a US president ago. It feels as if mutuality has been abruptly, utterly, replaced by self-interest—“us” by “me”—and, in certain circles, the Good Book tossed in favour of Mein Kampf.
    I digress to assure you that despite the churchy title, you don’t have to wear your Sunday best to this column. Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels) is a brief spoken portion of a longer church service, the Sacris Solemnis, written by St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1275): 
    The bread of angels
    Becomes bread for mankind
    The bread of heaven
    Ends all worried thought
    Oh, miraculous thing!
    etc.
    These serious and sacred lines may invite vigourous theological parsing (white, whole wheat or multigrain? for example), but seem to me simply to ask us to sustain our better natures if we wish to thrive as a human community.
    Elsewhere, in his Summa Theologica, St Thomas boldly argues that the answer to “Why?” is “God.” Blind to the mad circularity of that argument, he would, I imagine, reject an assessment of his ideas as proof of crazy assertiveness—a defining feature of our own times as well as his.
    Crazy and correct—the surreal outcome that results when reality is asked to contain perverted, up-is-down logic. Israeli psychoanalyst Yolanda Gampel describes an “interminable uncanniness” that lurks within people experiencing residual Holocaust effects, having witnessed (and survived) the “unreal reality” of mass murder. “Such an assault on the boundary between fantasy and reality becomes traumatic in itself and leads to great fear of one’s thoughts.” Gampel means, I believe, that for such people reality never again quite meets at the corners, never “lands,” and they remain wedded to anxiety for a lifetime.
    The New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg adds Trump-era currency: “there’s no way, with a leader who lays siege to the fabric of reality, to fully hold on to a sense of what’s normal.”
    You think your life embodies conventions and broadly agreed-to rules for conduct and, suddenly, those rules don’t function, or they function badly. You push the button, nothing whirrs, nothing drops into the slot. Worriedly, problematically, this unreality reaches into the everyday, and whole societies are caught in unreal reality, in a strangely synthetic and fraught normalcy that doesn’t quite meet at the corners and that leaves all of us with a faint but nagging sense that we’re operating in some fictional condition.
    This raises a disturbing and provocative question: If some human community—oh, let’s pick Victoria, out of thin air—was staring straight at the calamitous denouement of this onrushing near-future (to be called the Second Dark Age in its aftermath), could it stand sufficiently offside to re-cast itself as a preserver of social capital and sanity, activate strategic forms of preparedness, behave counter-chaotically; in essence, be a civilizational lifeboat? Or, with the world drowning in threat, would this place, lacking courage, character and means, collapse in survivalist mayhem?
    The Guardian’s Paul Mason reported recently on a leaked German government worst-case scenario for the year 2040: “EU expansion has been largely abandoned, and more states have left the community. The increasingly disorderly, sometimes chaotic and conflict-prone world has dramatically changed the security environment.”
    “Conflict-prone world has dramatically changed the security environment.” Quick, a synonym, please. World War III?
    My assessment is this: An extraordinary 3-generation, 70-year run of relative wellbeing is climaxing, and its conclusion is not likely to be “gracefully managed” or “transitional” or “incremental.” How will it climax? Not sure. When? Soon. How soon? Just...soon. Why? Street view: shit happens. Or slightly more thoughtfully: a collision of converging urgencies results in human systems and institutions hitting the limits of structure and elasticity, leading to spasm.
    At the conclusion of Alexander Sokurov’s stunning movie Russian Ark, the year is 1914 and the aristocracy, at the end of a gorgeous evening of hobnobbing and dancing, slowly descends the grand stairs of the Winter Palace, diffusing and vanishing into the St Petersburg night as if to greet the Russian future: that is, the soon-arriving 1917 Revolution with its 9 million “unnatural” deaths, including the execution of the entire royal family.
    You may be feeling a growing irritation with this column’s elaborate millenarian vision, but before pique gets the best of you, spend some time reading New York Timescolumnist David Brooks’ melancholy October 31, 2017 piece in which he reflects on “politics used as a cure for spiritual and social loneliness [by] people desperately trying to connect in the disrupted landscape of an America where bonds are attenuated—without stable families, tight communities, durable careers, ethnic roots or an enveloping moral culture.”
    All of which lays the ground for the social mission I am proposing for Victoria—possibly, our shining chapter in the human story. If anything defines or describes the place, sets it apart, it is what I have elsewhere called its “genius for inertia,” really, its remarkable talent for social agreement, alignment with limits, love of continuity, and consanguinity with nature.
    I call this mission commonwealth; that is, to preserve memory, culture and values of collaboration; to sustain a social grammar and legibility…the idea that all is shared. Commonwealth: intangible assets held in common. What a simple, logical, immediately understandable idea! Not an abstraction but the city you live in, your friends, neighbours and adjacent strangers.
    You may recall from a previous column Jennifer Senior’s remark about social belonging, that we have so little regard for what’s collectively ours. Were I looking for conceptual grounds for commonwealth, I would land right there.
    Our civic identity strongly embodies this kind of thinking. The past is our compass, we champion community, nurture social belonging wherever we see it germinating, and ambitiously innovate new structures of belonging that will enrich commonwealth.
    I close wishing you a good year, and with the suggestion that we adopt this chaste slogan as the city’s motto: “Victoria, Where You Belong.”
    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.

    Mollie Kaye
    January 2018
    Could a victim-centred approach be a better fit in cases of sexual harassment and assault?
     
    TRUMP, WEINSTEIN, MOORE, FRANKEN, THE RCMP…Every hour, it seems, more are added to a dizzying list. But remember the 2014 Dalhousie Dental School case, where “gentlemen” students waxed horrific on Facebook about their over-the-top, sexually violent predilections? The men were initially suspended. Then some of the female students referenced in those ghastly posts said they preferred a restorative justice process—an approach that involves facilitated dialogues and co-created, positive-action agreements—rather than university sanctions or criminal indictments. The media was outraged. Talking heads rolled. How dare these women demand some namby-pamby, non-punitive process, when the overwhelming public consensus was that the offenders must be expelled?
    Oh, the irony. Women finally come forward to break their silence around the near-ubiquitous sexualized aggression woven into our workplaces, only to be silenced again in a “justice” where “authorities” dole out punishments. Victims’ needs and input are not just ignored, but derided: “Ladies, these men have offended you. Now step aside, and let Law and Order restore your honour and make you safe. Your offending male classmates will not get a wink and a nudge; they will be destroyed for their transgressions. This is how we will make things better for you—it’s fear of punishment that prevents bad behaviour.”
    Except it doesn’t actually work that way. Even the death penalty does nothing to deter violent crime. A Public Safety Canada study concluded that “compared to community sanctions, imprisonment was associated with an increase in recidivism…longer sentences were associated with higher recidivism rates.”
    So why are we in such a rush to punish—to lock people away, fire them from their jobs, and put them on registries—especially in cases where sexualized aggression is involved? Shouldn’t we listen to victims, and support what they think should happen next?
     
    I SPEAK WITH A RESTORATIVE DIALOGUE FACILITATOR in Victoria who has worked on sexual assault cases (and for confidentiality reasons, declines to be identified). She tells me about a man who had committed rape. His lack of empathy was noticeable, but so was the fact that he genuinely didn’t understand sexual assault. The restorative justice process transformed his attitudes: “He was just floored by what women have gone through…how this plays into the bigger social fabric. He had never learned any of that. [He wondered] ‘Why don’t they teach this to us in schools? Why didn’t anyone teach us about consent? This is probably the most important thing I will learn in my life, and I didn’t know it.’” The facilitator tells me, “He made drastic changes in his life…It was really impressive to see him transform—in his thinking, in his behaviour, in his demeanour…the person who walked [in] a year later was not the same person. It was phenomenal.” In certain cases, the facilitator notes, “whatever things [offenders] have gone through in their own lives, they have closed themselves off. It is absolutely possible to help those people open up again and start feeling and start empathizing, and I’ve seen that happen.”
    At Restorative Justice Victoria, I ask Complex Case Manager Jessica Rourke if she believes restorative approaches can be successfully applied to local sexual harassment or violence cases. (Disclosure: I am a volunteer facilitator at Restorative Justice Victoria, though like other volunteers I am not insured to handle such cases there). She says “Yes,” and that from her perspective, “Most sexual assault victims want two things: for the offender to know how extensive the negative impact of their behaviour was, and to walk out of there feeling confident that he is not going to do this again, that he is not going to [harm] someone else.” But, she asks, “how are you going to know that? What do you need to feel [confident about] that—what does that look like for you?” Restorative dialogues, when offered, she says, answer those needs and questions, and are what many victims say will bring them a sense of safety, healing, respect and hope.
    So why do we reflexively insist on punishing offenders, without victim input? If it’s agreed that the long-term solution to sexual aggression is for men to become more empathetic and self-aware, are we serving that goal by limiting victims’ recourse to only the punitive courts or the shaming media? To develop empathy, offending men must hear from the women who have been affected by their actions, and understand the devastating impact they’ve had. Rourke has observed that the criminal justice system isn’t optimal for this: “There’s no room for ‘could you learn from this and change? Could you become a better person? Could you repair some of the harm you have caused?’” The victim, too, is sidelined. “The State is now the victim, it’s the State vs the Offender—your experience is now taken away from you…you’re a spectator.”
    The offending Dalhousie dental students expressed gratitude for their experience in the restorative justice dialogue with their female classmates. They wrote, “We learned that saying sorry is too easy. Being sorry, we have come to see, is much harder.” They realized that it was not only their female classmates, but future patients and the larger community who were traumatized, and added, “We deeply regret if this has made even one person more reluctant or afraid to access the oral health care they need and deserve.”
    Though university sanction guidelines called for expulsion of the men, the women in the Dalhousie dental class who participated in the restorative justice process were always adamant in their desire to graduate alongside their male classmates. “We are a part of a generation in which inappropriate sexualization is more common and widespread than ever before and we have become used to this,” they wrote. “More than [simply accepting the male students’ apology], though, we have seen the men learn why they are sorry, and what that requires of them.”

     
    THE TSUNAMI OF REVELATIONS IN THE MEDIA has helped illuminate both the nature and extent of sexual harassment. In Canada, we learn, $100 million is being set aside for a possible 20,000 harassment claims within the RCMP. Over 30 percent of Canadians surveyed in a recent federal government report say they have experienced sexual harassment at work. Of those, 94 percent are women. An Insights West poll, released December 6, found that 50 percent of Canadian working women experienced some amount of sexual harassment in the workplace—though more than 40 percent of victims felt they should “handle it on their own” rather than report the behaviour, fearing for their jobs and seeing no palatable choice for meaningful resolution within the current landscape of options.
    In a December 5th New York Times article by Nellie Bowles, businesswomen were asked about the widespread revelations of power abuses, and the sometimes swift and draconian consequences meted out to the offenders—without due process or dialogue with their victims. Most agreed that “a reckoning for the sexual misdeeds of men in the workplace was a long time coming. But ask the question ‘What do we do about it?’ and the answer has become as wide ranging, nuanced and intensely personal as the offenses themselves…Most of all, many women are wrestling with how this reckoning will work in practice: Who is the judge, who is the jury and what evidence is admissible.”
    Gillian Lindquist, executive director of Restorative Justice Victoria, agrees there isn’t a one-size-fits-all, punitive approach that can be applied meaningfully in sexual aggression and harassment cases, especially if significant time has passed since the incident. She feels more could be done to bring nuance into deciding consequences such as firings or being placed on a registry. “If you committed this assault 15 years ago, it has a huge impact, but have you changed? There hasn’t been any discussion of this. It’s just, ‘Boom, you’re gone.’ Maybe some of the women do want that, but maybe some of them don’t. I haven’t heard of a single case where someone has asked them.”
    Most of us would agree that victims’ needs and desires should be integral in justice outcomes. Research tells us that perpetrators of sexual aggression are more likely to change course when they understand the direct impact they’ve had, and are given constructive actions to take, rather than simply being shamed or punished. If the criminal justice system isn’t currently set up to serve either of these goals effectively, and the government isn’t providing alternatives, the community needs to step up and provide a container in which these dialogues can occur.
    Successful restorative dialogues in sexual aggression cases like the one at Dalhousie Dental School require funding for facilitators with extensive professional training. Neither the criminal justice system nor any of the (largely volunteer) restorative justice programs here on the Island offer consistent victim access to such resources. Until funding is provided for a new, parallel system, which would provide supported dialogues between offenders and victims, many offenders will be subject to disproportionately harsh, unproductive punishments, and victims will continue to endure the demoralizing, demeaning process of proving—to the media or the courts, “beyond a reasonable doubt”—they have been harmed. “Wouldn’t it be amazing,” posits Rourke, “to have survivors of sexual assault creating the system?”
    Writer Mollie Kaye is a volunteer facilitator at Restorative Justice Victoria, and believes that empathy-based, victim-centred dialogues are far better than punishment as a strategy to restore trust and heal communities.

    Leslie Campbell
    January 2018
    We’re all immigrants, but the newest amongst us make great sacrifices to keep our country strong.
    OVER THE PAST FOUR YEARS my family has been blessed to have Cristina Katigbak in our life. As the live-in caregiver for my mom Jade, Cristina made it possible for Mom to remain comfortably in her home, even as she nears 90 with a condition that robs her of her mobility.
    My sisters, who reside in Vancouver, and I have been able to rely heavily on Cristina, knowing she was fully capable, honest, kind and wise. Mom had gone through all sorts of health issues leading up to Cristina’s arrival—I have not-so-fond memories of at least three longish stays in the hospital with additional trips to Emergency. But in the four years with Cristina, there’s been a general calmness and stability for Mom, with not one hospital stay.
     

    Cristina Katigbak and Jade Campbell
     
    Trained as a nurse in the Philippines, Cristina and her family had emigrated originally to Ireland. But then the UK changed its immigration policy in a way that denied them any hope of citizenship, despite employers who were keen to keep them. After four years there, Cristina applied to come to Canada. Well over a year’s worth of bureaucratic processing ensued before she was accepted as a caregiver for my mom. Her husband and son, however, had to head back to Manila.
    Canadians are ever-so-fortunate that Cristina and many other Filipinos are willing to sacrifice so much to come here as caregivers for our elderly and people with disabilities.
    We are also lucky that they have usually stayed in Canada despite being parted from their own families for many years. Though they are able to apply after two years of approved, continuous employment, for permanent residency—which allows for family members to immigrate—the reality is, due to backlogs caused years ago, it’s often many more years before they can be reunited. It took “only” two additional years in Cristina’s case, but cases of six or more years are not uncommon, resulting in arduously long marital separations and children growing up without their moms. Frustratingly, there seems no way of knowing where one’s application for permanent residency is among the piles that must occupy officials’ desks.
    Thankfully, in December, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen promised to process 17,000 backlogged permanent residency applications from live-in caregivers in 2018—leaving another 19,000 for the two subsequent years.
    Despite such discouraging wait times and other obstacles, the Philippines—the source of so many caregivers—is Canada’s fastest growing subgroup of immigrants and top source of new permanent residents. In the last census, their population here stood at 837,130, which is about 2.4 percent of Canada’s population.
    Cristina supported her family financially through her work with us. Once she had her “open work permit” after two years with my mom, she took another job on the weekends. Like so many other Filipinos I’ve met over years of care for both my mom and father-in-law Bob Broadland, working hard seems part of her nature.
    Last summer, after what at the time seemed interminable delays, Cristina got her permanent residency, and after another two months her family was approved and in Victoria. Within a few weeks of arrival, both husband Joey and son C.J. had jobs—in construction and cleaning services respectively. I have no doubt they are valued by their employers for their conscientiousness and intelligence.
    Despite her family living here in an apartment, not to mention her ability to get a higher-paying job elsewhere, Cristina committed to staying with Mom till December 20th.
    There were tears all round on Cristina’s final day of work with us. We wish her and her family the very best, and plan to keep her in our lives if at all possible. She and Mom have developed a strong bond that will be impossible to replace.
    Cristina is a quiet, uncomplaining person, but over the years I was able to appreciate what an immense sacrifice she and her family had made. In the hopes of a better future, mostly for their son, they had agreed to live apart—for years. “Thank God for Skype,” she’d often say.
    And I’d think, thank God for Cristina—and for the immigration program that made it possible.
     
    CRISTINA CAME TO US under what was known as the “federal live-in care program.” The government, recognizing there were not enough Canadians willing to be full-time nannies or caregivers, allowed families like mine—after jumping through hoops that usually required help from an immigration consultant—to employ a foreign resident full-time, paying at least minimum wage. After two years of approved live-in work, they became eligible to apply for permanent residency and could work wherever they wanted. With our aging populations, seniors facilities and home support agencies were—and remain—happy to employ them.
    An in-home care “pathway” to residency is still available, but the rules have changed considerably in the past few years. Recall the 2014 eruption of indignation about McDonald’s hiring foreign workers over local Canadians. That led Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to make hasty changes which swamped the live-in program in its wake. Going forward, caregivers were lumped into a tightened-up Temporary Foreign Worker program. Wages are determined so differently now (so as not to undercut Canadian citizens) that the minimum one must pay a foreign caregiver in the Victoria area is $18.93 per hour. The wage is the median paid in this geographical area for “similar” work, all determined by a head-spinningly obscure process. On the Lower Mainland, the wage is $16 per hour. It was already a stretch for most families to employ someone full-time, so no doubt the new minimums are leading more frail seniors—my mom among them—to head to a publically-funded nursing home. Obviously, this will cost taxpayers more.
     
    DESPITE SUCH MADDENING IMPERFECTIONS in Canada’s immigration system, a scan of the headlines coming out of the US leaves me feeling somewhat smug about Canada’s approach and attitudes about immigration. The US’s xenophobic travel bans, wall-building fantasies, round-ups of “illegals” and its president’s utterances on the subject all seem designed to terrorize immigrants.
    When President Trump praised Canada’s merit-based system as worthy of emulation, he seemed to be confused, apparently believing that our system would help him reduceimmigration to the US.
    Yet our government and industry leaders understand that for Canada to thrive economically we absolutely require immigrants—and more of them, given declining birth rates and an aging population.
    Since the 1960s—when the federal government removed race, colour, and nationality as considerations—Canadian immigration policy has aimed at being responsive to the nation’s labour force needs. This is done through a point system in which work skills, education levels, language ability, and family connections are the main considerations in determining about 60 percent of Canada’s annual 300,000 immigrants.
    On November 1, 2017, the Canadian government announced its “multi-year immigration plan” that aims to bring 980,000 permanent residents in over the next three years. The economic (point-based) class will continue to account for the majority (58 percent) of all admissions; the family class will account for 28 percent; and 14 percent will be admitted under the humanitarian and refugee categories.
    Many would like to see even more immigrants welcomed here. A new report from the Conference Board of Canada states: “If Canada were to welcome 450,000 immigrants per year by 2025, real GDP would grow by an average of 2.05 percent annually between 2017-2040. This is 0.20 percentage points higher than the estimated 1.85 percent growth currently forecast.”
    But even at 300,000 immigrants per year, Canada “boasts one of the highest per-capita immigration rates in the world, about three times higher than the United States,” writes author Jonathan Tepperman in a recent New York Times article. Calling our approach “radically rational,” Tepperman notes: “Canada’s foreign-born population is more educated than that of any other country on Earth. Immigrants to Canada work harder, create more businesses and typically use fewer welfare dollars than do their native-born compatriots.”
    While there’s much more to ponder and debate on the subject of immigration policy, I am confident that, like Cristina and her family, the vast majority of immigrants enrich our communities and nation both economically and culturally—as workers, taxpayers, citizens, consumers, and entrepreneurs.
    My family feels proud to have played a role in Cristina’s journey towards Canadian citizenship—not so much because we helped Cristina. We actually helped make Canada great, period.
    Like all Canadians, with the exception of First Nations peoples, Leslie Campbell is only a generation or so away from ancestors who immigrated to Canada, in her case Scottish economic migrants.



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