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    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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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