Whither the Citizen’s Council? Whither democracy?
Here, in this reader’s assessment, is a near-perfect teachable example of how and why democracy is failing:
In 2014, under considerable pressure from the electorate, media, almost all sources, a question about amalgamation was included on the municipal election ballot. Over 70 percent of the population of 13 municipalities indicated they wanted the issue examined. What did our elected politicians do about this clear mandate? Almost nothing and, we suspect, absolutely nothing would have been the result if not for pressure from outside municipal offices. Then, in 2018, the question is asked again, in a different way and, again, over 70 percent of the population voted for action on this important topic.
Anyone who watched and listened to Fred Haynes, Mayor of Saanich, at the Fall 2019 Victoria Chamber annual AGM, knew he would “slow-walk” this project to a whimpering death if he could—he might succeed yet. His behaviour, his words, were an affront to democracy and he’s proven himself consistent when one compares the confident statements about change he made to get elected, with his action since. Two years to set the terms of reference? We appreciate the urgency…
The symptoms appear to describe a political class that has decided it is elite. “Elite” is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as “a select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society.”
I hope the word offends folks like Mayors Helps and Haynes because it should. The behaviour is deeply offensive to the electorate, the political offices of Mayor and Councillor, and to our system of democracy.
You are not elite. You are us, and of us, and we want better.
When politicians make decisions like hiring the daughter of the provincial finance minister right out of university for $130,000, removing a controversial statue in a way guaranteed to sow anger and frustration, refusing to answer valid questions, wasting taxpayers’ money and engagement so they can advance a career in provincial politics, skipping 30 percent of council meetings because they’re finishing a PhD, arguing about the results of surveys they created, giving themselves a raise and justifying it with their own work decisions, and ignoring the will of the electorate, they prove they either don’t understand ethical decision-making (a.k.a. good governance) or don’t care. Which is worse? Either way, we are throwing our hands up in the air.
At cocktail parties and other social gatherings, we hear a consistent refrain, supported by lots of polling research: Canadians are increasingly disengaged and detached from politics, politicians and the decisions they make. Canadians feel they have little influence, and that bleeds into a pervasive despair.
Municipal elections track 30-40 percent participation, which is not only tragic, but creates an environment easy to manipulate by the incumbents, making the disengagement worse. Throw into this mixture the failing economics of local news and therefore less or no accountability for decisions. Accountability helps us be our best selves and, instead, we have this toxic cycle of worsening behaviour.
Dear politicians (starting locally), please, do you not see your contribution to this failure? Every small, unethical decision is a grain of sand—on top of so many grains of sand—in our hearts and we can’t take the weight any more. Blaming the media, the disengagement, the other party, the party/person that had your job before you, none of this is helpful and makes you look hopeless, makes us feel hopeless. Do better!
This Titanic turns only in the most difficult, and least likely, ways, in my estimation: it turns on every small decision to serve oneself, or serve the community. It turns on a robust discussion about where the ends do and do not justify the means. It turns on a new commitment to reverse the course of political elitism, rejecting hubris, removing money and any lobby influence from either the right or left. It turns on intellectual honesty, humility and service.
I wish I were more hopeful. The next Donald Trump/Doug Ford/Erdogan is going to learn from the last ones and make fewer mistakes. Donald Trump has offended the army countless times because he is a fool and his own worst enemy. If he had the military’s unqualified support, why would it matter what the Supreme Court says about his 3rd, 4th, 5th terms? Do you think I’m being overly dramatic? When our community becomes angry enough about this behaviour, we will be vulnerable to anyone who is eloquent, manipulative, self-serving…an effective populist. I’m saying that this outcome is a direct result of the unethical decision-making we see here in our community today.
In the spirit of a new year and a new decade, Leslie Campbell’s (“The 2020s: time for transformation”) reference to UK scholar Joe Herbert’s advocating for strengthening the role of co-operatives, is likely the simplest (and dare I say, more effective?) way of addressing the increasingly tenuous connection everyday people have with the “machinery” that puts things on the shelves for us to buy.
Co-operatives can be peopled by users/producers, concentrating more on local markets. The shareholders can be more than someone “from away” who simply writes cheques for shares, then cashes them in, more than likely on the advice of some computer program that tells them when to buy and sell—without even knowing (or caring) what product/service is being produced.
Good advice, Leslie!
Insurance policy against failure of climate action plans
I found David Broadland’s article on local climate change issues in the November/December, 2019 issue of Focus very interesting, as it exposes how hard it is to make a serious dent in reducing greenhouse gasses (GHG).
I was particularly intrigued by his description of an alternative emissions accounting concept on consumption of goods and services. One does not know how much GHGs it takes to produce an iPhone or fly to London. Should this be a consideration when we are buying apples from BC or avocados from Mexico? How might one tax carbon on consumption?
I disagree with Broadland that we should set aside second-growth forest as reserves to sequester carbon. Wood is a very good and versatile building material, and our building codes are now being revised to allow up to a 10-storey building with very low GHG emissions. Lumber used in buildings is effectively sequestered for the life of the building.
Compare this to concrete. The cement required to make a cubic metre of concrete will create between 150 and 300 kg CO2 in manufacturing due to CO2 driven off from the limestone raw materials, heat, and energy required. (The wide range of values depends on how much cement is used in making concrete.) Even assuming a lower 200 kg figure, a load in a large concrete mixer (10 cubic metres) will have created 2 tonnes of CO2. Estimates of the contribution of the cement industry range between 5 and 10 percent of the world’s GHGs. This is an elephant in the room.
Another area of interest to me is the waste of good wood that has been sequestered and all of the rubble that goes to landfill when homes are demolished. A significant environmental levy on demolition of existing homes and buildings should be applied and resulting funds used for good environmental purposes. It is a shame that so many structurally-sound homes are being bulldozed to be replaced with ostentatious mega-homes occupied by two people and a dog.
Defusing BC’s big, bad carbon bomb
Kudos to David Broadland’s excellent article on how BC is creating more carbon emissions than Alberta’s oil sands. His article is a very simple and clear analysis of the whole forestry industry, from its effect on the environment and jobs to our future.
My daughter is a geologist working in the oil sands of Alberta—I’m proud of how her company is working responsibly to develop the energy that the world needs. They are always being cast in such an unfavourable light. To those naysayers: we still need oil.
This article is required reading for our politicians in Victoria who instead of pointing the finger at Alberta should look first in their own backyard.
City of Victoria cheats on emissions count
David Broadland’s story “City of Victoria cheats on first emissions count” is very interesting, but it contains at least one major inaccuracy.
Overall, the story is disturbing, since the City has clearly misrepresented the data. Moreover, they have obviously wasted the money they paid Stantec to carry out this work using standardized methodologies. And some of the political motivations he attributes to the City are certainly plausible.
The assertion that the City’s main source of industrial process emissions are the “concrete batch plants around Rock Bay” really got my attention. I live across the street from Ocean Concrete and I look down on their operations daily. To my knowledge, this plant, and the Butler plant further down Bay Street, are engaged only in mixing concrete and not manufacturing cement. There are no kilns for cement manufacture, and those are the main source of GHGs. As far as I know, the only cement plant in BC is Heidelberg Cement in Delta, so the large emissions associated with Victoria’s building boom would be reported there.
I was a senior policy advisor for Canada’s GHG Offset Systems agency before it was axed by the Harper government in 2006, and I know how emissions from cement manufacture are estimated, so this really surprised me.
Out of curiosity, I downloaded the reports (thanks for the links) and read them both (I’m semi-retired now and have time on my hands). It turns out that contrary to your assertion, the City does not emit any reportable industrial GHG emissions. See section 5.5.4: “There are no industrial GHG emissions occurring within the City’s boundaries, and a ‘Not Occurring’ notation is used.” The number reported for IPPU is from consumer use of products that emit SF6 and NF3 (refrigerants, aerosols etc.), which the report notes the City has “little influence” over. Moreover, these emissions are only crudely estimated in the Stantec report.
That’s no reason to exclude them of course, and at the very least, the City’s report should have explained their calculations. I have no doubt that this was a deliberate effort to deceive the public. But this error raises doubts about the accuracy of other elements of your report, so it might be worth correcting.
Thanks for this very interesting article and your effort in obtaining this data.
I live in Harris Green and I have attended two of the three public meetings that the Starlight developers organized. I was at the December 3 meeting that was mentioned in Ross Crockford’s article. It was described inaccurately by an anonymous writer on the blog Vibrant Victoria as “90 percent senior citizens blathering.” This is not only wrong but insulting. Why would you quote an anonymous insult?
The audience at the meeting was mostly middle-aged, some young couples, a minority of older people. I was surrounded by 30-somethings in the back row. From my vantage point, I could see the whole crowd of close to 100 people. The standing-room-only situation left many people leaning on the surrounding walls; these people were not seniors.
At the meeting we were given a great deal of information through slides and architects’ talks. There were some impromptu questions from the audience, so by the time question period opened there wasn’t much left out. I felt most questions I had were answered. I think that’s why the audience reaction could be described as quiet.
However, the thought of the chaos of 10 years of demolition and construction of an entire city block beside my condo is overwhelming and indescribable.
Ross Crockford responds: The reader’s description of the meeting is correct, and I should have provided more detail about the composition of the audience. But I’m not sure the anonymous “victorian” quoted in my article was completely wrong, because there is wiggle room in phrases like “middle-aged” and “senior citizen.” I’m 56, and while I like to think I’m middle-aged, I’m probably a senior citizen in the eyes of those in their 20s, so to them, “90 percent senior citizens” might’ve seemed accurate. I agree the comment by “victorian” was insulting, but I ultimately decided to include it because it illustrates the frustration young people have with the lack of affordable housing in Victoria, and where some of them place blame for it, however mistakenly.
Heritage at risk
An urgent situation has developed around Mount St Angela, the outstanding 1866 heritage building at 923 Burdett Ave. Designed by John Wright, the first architect in Victoria, Mount St Angela, with its spire is the outstanding example of High Gothic brick architecture in early Victoria. The original 1866 school still stands with an 1876 addition, a three-storey red brick hotel wing of 1912, and the attached Temple residence at 924 McClure Street.
Financial grants are only provided after heritage designation, which is supposed to ensure building preservation. In 1991 and 1992, all the parts received heritage designation and the British Columbia Heritage Branch gave grants for preservation. In total, taxpayers supplied $75,000 of the $120,000 expended on restoration (Mount St Angela Conservation Plan, 2010, p. 34). The Victoria Heritage Foundation also provided funds for stabilization of the 1866 chimneys.
During a series of redevelopment proposals for the entire large property, beginning in 2006, the designation of the 1912 hotel addition was removed.The latest proposal, coming up for a hearing, would see the original 1866 building retained and the 1912 section demolished. This includes parts restored, such as the bay windows’ stucco, the side porch cedar roof, and front brick porte cochere.
The suitability of the proposed new structures (in all there will be 132 housing units) crowding in the old building is controversial. Despite my reminders since 2009, civic authorities did not acknowledge the taxpayer-funded grants. After recently checking with the Heritage Branch, civic authorities wrote that “significant private investment” to conserve and rehabilitate one section without government aid is enough compensation. Present policies do not consider past grants. Surely, the best solution is retention for housing, like the hotel’s present use.
If this proposal is approved, it would set a bad precedent for heritage, especially in Old Town Victoria. Already the heritage-designated Duck Building is under threat of demolition (only the facade will be retained).
As much of Old Town has been preserved through taxpayer-funded grants and tax exemptions, the loss of public money would be substantial.
Mary E. Doody Jones, Diploma of Cultural Conservation, UVic Heritage Advocate for 40 years