Strong sanctions needed for destroying public records
At first blush, I thought Leslie Campbell’s editorial was going to be about the Harper government ’s destruction of records. However, the first couple of words dispelled that. But, just as Harper’s heavy-handed governance revealed signs of autocracy, so too do the “Mini Me” governing tendencies of the City of Victoria, Esquimalt, and indeed our current and recent past provincial governments.
The desire to hide (or obfuscate) “inconvenient truths” seems to be pandemic to British Columbia; and, if this is so, there is no reason to assume it is not a plague in this entire country.
As a citizen, my personal experience with Freedom of Information requests to the City of Victoria has been less than satisfactory. In particular I have sought source data for the City’s press releases and media reports regarding short-term rental licensing and compliance reports with very little success.
I also draw your attention to a recent change at City Hall. It appears the City of Victoria has removed the email server addresses for its senior management group: Jocelyn Jenkins, Chris Coates, Susanne Thompson, as well as all department heads.
The only public emails listed on the City of Victoria website directory are for general information, with the exception of Bill Eisenhower’s email contact, which is for media inquiries.
When I spoke with Christine Havelka (Legislative Services) about the inability to contact the Renters’ Advisory Committee (a committee appointed by the mayor), she indicated that council is not seeking input from anyone other than the 12 individuals appointed. This is contrary to the protocol of a similar committee operating under the direction of the City of Vancouver, which has provided their Renters’ Advisory Committee with full information on the committee plus three contacts—an email address for the committee as well as two additional names, telephone numbers and email addresses for a housing staff member and meeting coordinator.
It seems that the openness, transparency, and accountability window is being dramatically closed to members of the public. This also comes at a time when the mayor has decided not only to leave Facebook but also close her Twitter account due to too much negative feedback.
Perhaps it’s coincidental, but the City’s website changes seem to coincide with your “duty to document”—a critical part of public access to information which is sorely absent in the City of Victoria’s governance model.
Huggett’s greatest hits
Thank you David Broadland for your educational rants about the new Blue Bridge.
One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the collective incompetence of the “experts” involved, and the lackadaisical approach of Victoria’s councillors.
Let’s hope that the renovations, modifications, and quality of work going on at the Bay Street Bridge are superior to those of the new Blue Bridge. I’m sure the Bay Street Bridge will be pressed into service far more often than was ever intended.
I must commend Gene Miller for his last two searing articles: Water Torture (July/August 2019) and Ecocide Cometh (Sept/October 2019).
I have read Miller’s articles for years, and at times was lost in the language, metaphor and hidden messaging. These last two articles have laid bare his message, and it is one that all Victorians should heed: without a sense of community, and protection of what Nature we were blessed with when our ancestors (or us) first arrived, this place will become a lego-block duplicate of many other featureless, urban/suburban cityscapes across North America. Victoria is now seen as a refuge for well-heeled refugees from around the world, who can, in his words, enjoy “progressive living”—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, he concludes. All this worry-free living at the expense of the last few remnants of one of the most endangered ecosystems in the country, and at the expense of the First Peoples who watched those ancestors arrive, and welcomed them.
The year 2020 could be, as Mr Miller states, “the year of perfect and terrifying visual focus” given the rapid and unpredictable advances of climate change, and the political drift toward loud and dangerous strongmen running countries around the globe. What tools do we have to face the dark, he asks?
I agree with his conclusion: “the intentional practice of community,” and would add respect for and communion with the First Peoples who are still here, and the natural ecosystems that they (and we) will have to depend on, if all else fails elsewhere (and here).
Looking our future squarely in the eye
A couple of colleagues and I were talking the other day when one of us said, “We must tell the kids the truth.” We all agreed.
The truth is, we’ve missed the window for stopping climate change. As Naomi Klein said on CBC radio (Sept 17), “Climate Change is here, and we have to face what that means.”
So what does it mean?
It means that before 2100, Earth’s human population will decrease by roughly five billion people from its peak of about nine billion around 2030. Climate change will not be the only cause—starvation, disease, economic and social collapse, and, at worst, violence and war will bring about our population crash.
We are rushing like proverbial lemmings towards a cliff, urged on by governments and corporate elites. But there is something we can do. We can go over the cliff-edge with parachutes!
I don’t know exactly what form our parachutes might take. They will, however, encompass more democratic governments, and a more equitable distribution of wealth—“more sharing” as Naomi Klein put it. To do this, we must undergo a paradigm shift in the way we think and act.
Will we reach that tipping point in time? The current climate strikes by our youth give me hope.
It seems that every time I read Focus I say to myself, “Best issue ever;” and I wonder how the magazine can continue on this trajectory, but it does. I especially appreciate the in-depth reporting of important political, social, and environmental issues that does not stop with just one article and then move on to the next “newsworthy” item. And I truly appreciate Focus not dwelling on lurid topics of death and destruction, even if they are real, but rather covering such topics with inquiry instead of sensationalism.
I tutor science for children, and volunteer at a local elementary school, and so appreciate investigative articles like David Broadland’s “Who, me?” I enjoy delving into the language of science with children; I also like talking politics with them. And so “science curiosity,” the “hunger for the unexpected, driven by the anticipated pleasure of surprise,” as described by Professor Dan Kahan in Broadland’s article, is something I want to practice. More importantly, it is a crucial reminder for me to always check the facts, even if what I read (and pass on) comes from a source so respected that I might just assume “this is true because Dr Suzuki said so.”
I worked to re-elect Green Party candidate Paul Manly for my federal riding, and the one thing I count on from Mr Manly is truthful statements about the work we all need to do. I’m very glad to have Focus reminding me to always ask whether a policy is good for the planet, or just good for the party. I also need to know that if it’s good for the planet, party lines can be crossed for cooperation and collaboration, and that means not becoming culturally polarized, but instead converging on the best evidence relating to controversial facts.
Your September/October edition was great. It’s terrific having a print alternative to the Times-Colonist. How many op-eds have they run by Gwyn Morgan? Oh yeah, we know about the critical importance of the dynamic, cutting-edge oil industry yadda yadda. Jeez, I never had sleep apnea before. I don’t under....zzzzzzzz.
Jonathan Huggett sounds like a primo example of “consultant creep” wherein civil service engineers who should be doing their jobs aren’t. Thus, we pay bloated costs for outsiders, who don’t do much of a job either. At least the scale of the bloat hasn’t reached that in California. There, the LA-Bay Area high-speed rail project (a most worthwhile undertaking, contrary to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop sci fi) has bogged down in armies of consultants tripping over each other while drawing astronomical salaries.
I was delighted to read that longtime Liberal David Merner bailed on his party the day Justin Trudeau announced that our taxes are paying for the Trans-Mountain Pipeline. Trudeau is happy to waste other people’s money propping up a lumbering industry that needs to sail into the sunset. But then, Justin’s grandpappy Charley got rich off gas stations in Montreal, so our PM just can’t cut loose from the buggy-whip business.
Time to clean house
Here is a plea for us to raise the bar in the quality and competency of our local politicians in Victoria. There appears to be a worsening trend regarding City of Victoria politicians and their increasing lack of transparency, lack of accountability, and intellectual arrogance.
Many Victoria councillors routinely don’t bother returning the respectful, earnest emails and queries of their constituents. Some councillors are on-going media hounds, looking for beneficial PR on certain hot-button issues (such as Climate Catastrophe and social housing) and then go incommunicado when the going gets tough.
Victoria council declared a “Climate Emergency” but acts, on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, as if an emergency doesn’t actually exist. Mayor Helps has tolerated the unbridled abuse of our natural assets by developers, with her strident pro-developer attitudes, including increasingly allowing the bulldozing of existing building stock (some of it historical in nature) and the literal scouring of lots (removing any vestige of carbon-sequestering soils, bushes, and trees, etc.), while at the same time, claiming she cares about dealing with Climate Catastrophe. And she has done nothing to discourage unbridled overpopulation growth in the region, past its ecological carrying capacity.
She and council have allowed the homeless population to increase while ineffectively dumping money into the vortex of a black hole with no clear strategy to reverse the plight of the homeless. She has also encouraged densification, which does not address housing affordability.
Council has allowed traffic to appreciably increase, while dilly-dallying on expediting a 30-year-overdue mass transit and regional transportation strategy. They have encouraged the development of very costly bike lanes, but tolerated many design flaws which increase, not decrease, safety issues!
Victoria, like almost all municipalities across Canada, keeps increasing its property taxes at rates above the cost of inflation, an increasingly unsustainable situation, in financial terms.
Our Victoria council never seem to learn from their avoidable mistakes when it comes to tackling significant projects, which always run well behind schedule and well over budget. The city’s adherence to tried-and-tested project management tools and processes is abysmal!
Victoria council keeps cost-ineffectively growing its bureaucracy, increasing staff, and acquiring capital assets (including pieces of equipment with low utilization rates). The bureaucracy is peppered with “communications officers.” The organization is top-heavy, with far too many managers in relation to non-management staff.
In the three-plus decades I have lived in Victoria, municipal salaries of both bureaucrats and politicians have increased appreciably. As well, Victoria councillors collect their basic salary and then most featherbed it with the remuneration they receive from participating on various CRD committees. The net result is an undeservedly high remuneration package in a bureaucracy which has become increasing non-accountable and non-transparent.
Providing “spin” and lots of wheel-spinning, rather than getting the job done, seem to be the major preoccupations of the day. It’s time to clean house.