“Great love is born of great knowledge of the thing that is loved, and if you do not know it, you can love it little or not at all.”—Leonardo Da Vinci.
I WAS FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO HAVE LIVED IN POVERTY, living off the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table—“Welfare,” but also with my mother’s love. It was through her great love and understanding of the poor that her passion grew inside me. It was because of her strength that I was given the courage to love the poor, and they have returned that love tenfold.
Now, at 75 years young, I will turn another chapter over in my life journey. I will be spending time with my partner, friend, and lover Mary and our two grandchildren, Everett, age three, and Charlie, five months.
After three decades of ministry on the street, I will soon retire.
Thirty years have passed since the United Church of Canada’s Victoria Presbytery called me for the position of executive director of the Open Door ministry. I give special thanks to Audrey McLennan and Ann Beal for searching me out and inviting me to apply for the position. Also to my wife and lifetime partner, Mary Tysick and our children Jordan Cooper and Jared Cooper, for following me across the country. In 1994 our daughter Alicia Tysick was born and she is a blessing.
Looking back at the birth of Our Place, and then of the Dandelion Society, I find many to thank—and many fond memories, and some sad ones as well.
We thank the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations for giving their permission for Our Place to be built on their traditional land. Thanks to the late Jim Samson of the Songhees Nation for leading us through the protocol.
Thank you also to Dr. Robin Kruse for shepherding and leading the Open Door ministry to become Our Place, thanks to the late John Ronald, former chair of the Upper Room and the first chair of Our Place Society. Thank also to David Stewart, the executive director of the Upper Room and my partner, friend, and mentor. The two of us were the first executive directors of Our Place. Karen Blakely took on the great responsibility of raising the finances to build and operate the new Our Place. Thanks to all the board members, past and present, the staff and volunteers that made the ministry a blessed one.
We must also remember Allen Low, the Mayor of Victoria at the time, who secured the finances necessary from both federal and provincial governments to build Our Place.
Many others should be thanked. They all put their shoulder to the plow of faith and brought about the birth of Our Place.
After my first retirement—from Our Place—at age 65, Ned Easton came forward to help me create the Dandelion Society to serve Victoria’s homeless citizens, particularly those who have difficulty fitting into existing programs, usually because of their addictions or mental health issues.
Ned is both a lifetime friend and mentor who has always been there for me. Arthur Wright is another lifetime friend who joined us without hesitation to become our treasurer, and has served for the last ten years.
Thanks to the late Ann Cameron, who chaired the Dandelion Society in its earlier years. The present chair, Brennen Chow, has led the Dandelion Society to a new level of respect throughout the city and beyond.
Because of my history with both Our Place and Dandelion Society, I am especially pleased to announce, that after a year of careful thought, discussion, and analysis, Our Place Society will continue the fine work of the Dandelion Society through the Dandelion Outreach Services program. The board worked closely with Our Place to arrive at this decision. We have great respect and confidence in Julian Day, executive director of Our Place, its board and staff to faithfully continue the Dandelion ministry. Knowing Dandelion’s mission is left in good hands, makes my retirement especially sweet.
We are asking you all to continue supporting our work on the streets.
HERE’S A TRUE STORY about my journey to ordination: I was in my last year of study at McGill University. I could not pay the rent, so I called my home church and told the minister I needed to find rent money. He suggested I come home to Ottawa and preach the following Sunday. I did and was presented with a cheque in an envelope. When I opened the envelope, I found a cheque for $50. The trip from Montreal to Ottawa had cost me $60—so my rent problem continued to loom large in my mind.
That afternoon, at my mother’s house in Ottawa, our friends from the impoverished community I grew up in gathered at her kitchen table and listened to my story.
Two days later, back in Montreal, one of these souls called me and asked me to come home again, saying they needed to talk with me. I returned on the next Sunday. At my mother’s kitchen table—not in a church, but in the community where I grew up—I was given $1052, which these poor folks had collected among themselves.
You see, my calling to ordination was from the poor, to the poor. It is the homeless, addicted, mentally ill, and lonely who call the streets their home that have allowed me to answer my calling, and I thank them sincerely.
I would have done it without their thanks, but I have been blessed with thanks aplenty in return for my service. Here is just one of the many thank you’s I have received over my 30 years of ministry:
“Hey just want to say thank you! You drove me to the hospital [from tent city] five years ago after I got attacked and had my face smashed in. I had to have plastic surgery done. You were so kind to me many times while I was on the streets. I am now two-and-a-half years clean and have an almost 4-year-old daughter. Thanks so much for everything you do.”
This lovely note from Jennifer Bradley is typical of so many expressions of gratitude that I have received over the years. It has been a blessing to serve, to know a little help offered can make a big difference in someone’s life. It is I who thank those who have allowed me into their lives and to offer my support.
But I couldn’t have done it without the kind encouragement and generous support of the Victoria community at large. Please continue to support Our Place and its Dandelion Outreach program. Thank you all for your continuing support.
P.S. Donations are welcome! Cheques (and note indicating your gift is for the Dandelion Outreach Program) can be sent to: Dandelion Outreach Program, c/o Our Place Society, 94 Talcott Rd, Victoria, BC V9B 6L9—or simply call the Donor Services line at 250-940-5060, Monday to Friday from 8 to 4.
The science around solar is crystal clear. Yet some myths persist.
EVEN THOUGH ENERGY MATTERS rate high in the public’s attention, it is discouraging how many myths are being repeated by the media, by bloggers and in general discussions about solar power, especially about photovoltaics (PV). Yes, we are talking about those “unsightly” blue or black panels that are increasingly found on houses and in fields of dreamers, environmentalists and other-ists who clearly deserve being made fun of for their unaesthetic choices! However, do we really want to immediately dismiss multitudes of Africans, Americans, Asians, Chileans, Europeans, First Nations, Ikea, Nova Scotians and many, many others, simply because they embrace a technology that is anathema to British Columbia’s government and BC Hydro? A silent and long-lived technology that provides energy security, is environmentally benign and, heaven forbid, one of the least expensive means to generate clean electricity for the future? How silly.
In the following, we will debunk ten myths about solar power and inject some science and real numbers into the discussion. It is definitely a discussion whose time has come. Never mind that the energy input is absolutely free for another couple of billion years or so and delivered, without charge, directly to your roof. Never worry about price increases, spills along the supply-chain, world-class emergency measures for clean-up, whale populations or disruption of the energy flow. Every time solar spills are reported, people just take off for the park or reach for the beach towel with their only worries whether they have brought enough sunscreen and a two-meter (79 inches) measuring tape for social distancing.
The trouble with myths is not that they are so difficult to rebuke—the science around solar is crystal clear, the economics unclouded and logic should prevail. Alas, such myths are so pervasive and wrong on so many levels, it’s tough to know where to start. Still, it’s a fun game to debunk solar myths, so let’s start with some general ones, using examples from British Columbia.
Myth #1. BC doesn’t get enough sun. PV should be left to sunny places like California or Abu Dhabi. Well, actually, BC receives plenty of sunshine, somewhere between 1500 and 2250 hours per year, considerably more than solar powerhouses like Germany, France or the UK that receive about the same amount of sunshine as parts of Alaska. Need we say more? We freely admit that Abu Dhabi with its 3200+ hours of sunshine may leave BC in the shade, but not so fast: Solar panels work much better at our lower temperatures. And frequent sand storms spoil the solar party near the desert a bit. All things considered, Abu Dhabi may get 10 percent more juice out of the sun than places in beautiful BC.
Myth #2. Solar is too expensive—we cannot afford it. Here, around the Salish Sea, we installed solar PV on over 90 buildings in the last few years through community bulk buys: Our roofs produce electricity for less than 7.8 cents per kWh for the next 25 years—the warranty period for the panels. At a fixed rate. In fact, if the panels live for the 35+ years they are designed for, the cost will drop below 5.8 cents/kWh, about half of what BC Hydro charges for their base residential electricity. Later in 2021, a company in Washington State will start selling panels with a 50-year warranty. Never worry about GST or any annoying “rate riders” added to the BC Hydro rate. Of course, as PV prices continue to decrease, solar gets ever more competitive. Even better, PV protects the roof shingles and extends their life. Finally, the electricity is produced without emissions, decreasing your personal carbon footprint. Win-win-win. Basically, to be serious about fighting climate change, we cannot afford not to afford solar.
Myth #3. More energy is needed for production of solar panels than will be repaid over their lifetime. Panel production energy, including mining, purification, assembly, framing, wiring, transport, installation, etc. is paid back within the first 8 to 14 months, depending on how sunny the location for the panel is—in most of BC with an average of 1950 sunshine hours per year, this takes about a year. With life expectancy exceeding 35 years, manufacture/transport/installation of panels account for less than 3 percent of lifetime energy generation.
Myth #4. There is no need for solar or other renewables: Electricity production in BC is over 90 percent clean through hydro. In spite of its carefully-manufactured image, hydroelectricity is by no means clean. In fact, mega-hydro releases substantial amounts of carbon dioxide and methane—two greenhouse gases (GHG)—continuously during construction, reservoir filling, operation and decommissioning. Expressed per kWh of electricity produced, hydro emits about half the GHG of diesel, gasoline or methane (LNG), but generates 7 to 50 times more GHG emissions than solar or wind. As such, mega-hydro has a minor role to play in reducing GHG emissions or in climate change mitigation and only when compared with fossil fuels or biomass, which is setting the standards pretty low. In 2021, we should have evolved well beyond these 20th century follies. As a logical conclusion, mega-hydro should be subject to carbon pricing, which would add at least 12 percent to the current base rate of BC Hydro customers. Worse, in 2018 and 2019, BC Hydro imported millions of dollars of electricity from western US states and Alberta, but refuses to provide information on the provenance of the imported electricity. The cynic inside the author’s warped mind keeps whispering that the source is most likely coal—one of the filthiest energies available on the market.
Myth #5. Efficiency of PV cells is low and we should wait until the industry is mature. High efficiency is nice, but slightly irrelevant. PV cells are not like computers or cell phones that are obsolete in a few years. Panels continue to produce electricity for several decades. Increased efficiency may give you bragging rights over your neighbours’ older solar array, but what it really means is that the PV area needed for a given kiloWatt decreases with newer modules. Current efficiencies of PV panels are already four times better than the best nature has to offer (corn! trees!) at turning light into energy—something to consider when discussing biofuels.
Myth #6. The sun does not always shine. Hurrah, finally something we can agree on. Not really a myth, rather a valid observation, and one that dawns on us daily. Apart from the reality of useful complementation between solar and wind, intermittency can be overcome. Since 2018, it has been cheaper to install commercial solar with battery storage than to generate electricity from fossil fuels, backed up with peaker plants. Tesla provides huge commercial battery storage for grid resilience in California and South Australia and enough storage to run an entire Pacific island (600 inhabitants) off-grid on solar PV alone. Besides, BC already has the perfect storage available in abundance: hydro-reservoirs.
In future, electric vehicles should no longer be dismissed at as silent, non-polluting oddities, but be looked at as batteries on wheels. These batteries can store excess energy and supply it when needed; the technology even has a name—V2G—vehicle to grid. In a Dutch city, people have been sharing parts of their electric vehicle’s storage for a two-year experiment: the owner decides how much and when to share with the grid; in turn, the utility pays top euros for the ability to suck a few kWh out of parked cars and supply the grid. The forward-thinking utility doesn’t have to build new infrastructure to get hold of extra kWh during excessive demand and is willing to pay for it (what an interesting concept!). V2G even helps to stabilize grid frequency and voltage, and is, unexpectedly, good for the health of the car battery.
Myth #7. Renewables destabilize the grid. Grids can handle a maximum of 20 percent intermittent wind and solar. A “the sky is falling”-type of argument. Last year, Germany’s grid had no problems incorporating 65 percent intermittent renewables like solar or wind and Denmark covered almost 50 percent of its total demand with wind, planning for 100 percent renewables by the end of the decade. Total solar eclipses of the sun in Europe (2015) or in the USA (2017) did not cause as much as a ripple in their respective grids. The current discussion among scientists and covered exhaustively in the media as an alleged “controversy” is whether the grid can handle 100 percent or “only 80 percent” of renewables by 2040. Don’t expect any Dane to put money on the grid destabilization myth.
Myth #8. Solar uses too much valuable land area. Covering a mere 23 percent of south-ish facing Vancouver roofs with solar would generate more than half the electricity currently consumed by the city. The BC Hydro right-of-way under the 120 km powerlines from Surrey to Hope sprinkled with PV would generate more electricity per year than the potential output of Site C, cost less than $6 billion and power would be available before 2023. Line losses would be minimal and sheep could still graze underneath: Agrivoltaics! Similarly, installing floating PV on 7.5 percent of the surface area of the Williston reservoir would double the massive electricity output of the WAC Bennett dam on the Peace River. The SunMine solar plant near Kimberley, BC, turned an abandoned mine site from an industrial brownfield into a so-called “bright-field,” while an enlightened community in Switzerland put PV on top of their local ski-lift. Also, see myth #5 about the shrinking footprint.
Myth #9. Solar requires a Ph.D. in electronics and is clouded by unintelligible jargon. An embarrassing, partial “Yes”—on the jargon—but otherwise emphatic “No’s”. In reality, PV is simple plug and play: The panels are quick to install, produce direct current that is turned (by some type of inverter) to the alternate current used in the house and the grid, and plug straight into any electrical panel. The juice flows to where it is needed, either the house or the grid. If it’s the grid, your not-so-clever “smart” meter (on which our public utility spent almost a cool billion of our tax dollars; but that’s a different story) spins backwards and builds up a credit on your hydro bill.
Myth #10. Solar gets cheaper every year. Better wait to get a real bargain. Solar does indeed get cheaper by at least 5 percent a year, something that most competing energies don’t do. However, Climate Change does not wait. By waiting you may save a few dollars (initially), while hanging on to the status quo, continuing to use fossil fuels, emitting greenhouse gases and sending the wrong message to politicians, financial planners and everyone else; and complaining about rising electricity rates. In the meantime, governments keep spending tax money on perverse incentives for fossil fuel exploration and infrastructure and Canadian banks continue lavishing your hard-earned savings on sunset industries like pipelines. Besides, return on residential solar investment in BC (without any support from a provincial government that fails to see the light!) is already in the 4-6 percent range. How is your GIC doing? With solar, you support your community, create local jobs, can pride yourself in taking an important step towards decarbonization and be a shining example to others!
So, go ahead, shed those myths and the next time you notice a solar array, stop and reflect on its usefulness, while admiring the sun doing its work and seeing energy in a different light. Then you can take off for the beach (don’t forget the sunscreen and mask) safe in the knowledge that those trusty panels are producing electricity cleanly, reliably, quietly and inexpensively for many years while supporting local jobs and filling someone’s pockets with kilowatt hours. Perhaps those pockets should be yours.
What’s not to like about this benign technology with its unique properties? It is long-lived, does not become obsolete overnight and, best of all, provides a return on investment. Surely, there aren’t many technologies that do all that, certainly not your car, your fridge, your tablet or your cellphone. Since we don’t want to raise the blood pressure of mature readers, we carefully refrain from mentioning 8-track tapes, typewriters, flip-phones or Kodak! Memories, maybe, but monetary payback? Never.
Let the solar century begin in BC—it is long overdue.
Tom Mommsen is the co-founder of the Southern Gulf Islands-based Salish Sea Renewable Energy Co-op (https://ssrec.org/) which advocates for zero-emission energy, makes bulk purchases of solar panels, and arranges inspections, installation and tie-in to the BC Hydro grid. He lives on Galiano Island.
Thoughts about “disposable” masks and other litter collected on Victoria’s streets.
I DON’T PICK UP CONDOMS. David Sedaris does.
I began the practice of picking up litter years ago and redoubled my refuse gathering after reading about Sedaris’s efforts around the countryside at his home in Surrey, England. Compared to Sedaris, I’m a dilettante.
Sedaris sets out with a metal stick with a grabber at the end, a garbage bag, and a Fitbit. He walks for hours, picking up everything. He even plucks condoms from hedgerows. After years of toil, he’s been honoured by having his name placed on a garbage truck. His is one of the cleanest areas in England because of his work.
Returning with my family from a seemingly litter-filled Midwest of the US to Canada in 1970, I was glad to be restored to a landscape free of misplaced rubbish. Later when I began teaching, I had my students read an amusing essay by the New York writer Russell Baker in which he wonders at Toronto cab drivers who quote Shakespeare and at streets free of the disfiguration of garbage. In his 1979 article “Nice Place to Visit,” Baker writes, “It seems never to have occurred to anybody in Toronto that garbage exists to be heaved into the streets. One can drive for miles without seeing so much as a banana peel in the gutter or a discarded newspaper whirling in the wind.”
But no more.
Now litter swirls across my hometown of Victoria, clogging up storm sewers and adorning cypress hedges. Before the pandemic, the City tried to ban plastic bags. But the Canadian Plastic Bag Association challenged the ban in BC’s top court, and the City lost. Its appeal of the ruling was rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada. Until the courts issued their judgement, trees and streets around my local grocery store were momentarily liberated from white-balloon- and flag-like forms entangled in vegetation and hanging from overhead wires.
Now we are again awash with plastic bags, a product made from oil that ends up as deadly waste. A single plastic bag takes over 500 years to disintegrate in a landfill. It is estimated that plastic bags kill 100,000 marine animals a year.
I began picking up garbage years ago. I redoubled my efforts on retiring, becoming fanatically committed to tidying any place I walked, that is, until the mystery disease arrived. With the lockdown last March, I averted my eyes on my daily walks, trying not to see the coffee cups, advertising leaflets, batteries, and pop cans. I tried to train my gaze away from the unsightly. I took routes I thought were less likely to be marked by waste.
But there aren’t any. Litter can be found on every street and in every park. The excess reality of our lives spills out all around us.
Moira Walker doing her pandemic walk and garbage collection
Finally, like everyone, I relaxed into the pandemic. Oh, I still leap aside when I meet anyone on the sidewalk, and I don’t shop for the most part, though I never much did. I have a cloth mask in my coat pocket and another in my purse. I regularly wash them along with my fold-up, recyclable cloth grocery bag.
And sometime after the initial lockdown, I began picking up litter again. Paper cups with plastic lids. Plastic straws. Plastic bags of dog poo, sometimes left just beside a city waste can. Empty cigarette packages. Many, many packages. A baby’s “disposable” diaper tossed on the grass boulevard.
My neighbourhood is well served by garbage receptacles, which are regularly emptied. But no matter. A certain group of people prefer to drop their waste on the street, rather than keep it in their car, tuck it in their pocket, or use a public garbage can.
Since the pandemic, the new item on the street are so-called “disposable” masks, a nightmare land-fill item that combines paper, metal, and polymers. The middle or filtering layer is made up of micro- and nanofibers. These masks are already getting into waterways from which they reach the freshwater and marine environment, adding to the presence of plastics in the water. By 2050, scientists have estimated there’ll be more plastic than fish in the oceans.
I try not to get angry when I stoop to pick up these unnecessary masks.
Strangers in cars and fellow pedestrians often shout out thanks to me for my outdoor, volunteer janitorial work. I don’t know how to respond to them.
I wish people wouldn’t buy half the stuff I pick up. I wish, if they must buy it, they didn’t discard it moments later on our grass verges, streets, and sidewalks.
I wish companies were made responsible for harmful, unnecessary packaging they produce. Why, for instance, is a small amount of milk now sold in plastic bottles, rather than a cardboard cartoon? Why did the company that produces Fisherman’s Friend switch from paper enclosures to unfriendly metallic foil packages?
In the meantime, my neighbourhood streets are calling me. I still haven’t had a garbage truck named after me.
Moira Walker is a retired Camosun College instructor. An oral storyteller, she’s told stories at The Flame, UNO Festival, and Royal BC Museum. She’s about to complete an MFA from the University of King’s College in Halifax, NS.
A rehashed development proposal for the Admiral Inn property is neither safe, affordable, nor appropriate.
A 10-YEAR-OLD PROPOSAL TO REDEVELOP the Admiral Inn property at 257 Belleville, where Belleville Street turns into Pendray, has been revised and submitted to Victoria city council for renewal. The original proposal was strongly opposed by local residents, but was nevertheless approved by city council. This time, there has been no notification of the application to local residents, although one of the principles of the City’s Strategic Housing Plan is to “empower residents and community organizations through shared advocacy, mutual support and ongoing dissemination of information.”
If this proposal goes through, the resulting building will be called The Blight on Belleville. The lot where Admiral Inn is situated is small and the proposed replacement will occupy the entire lot. It will be 100 feet high and contain condominiums selling in the millions. That will be a financial windfall for the developer but a disaster for the neighbourhood.
Development proposal for 257 Belleville Street near Laurel Point Inn
The proposed building fails to satisfy goals laid out in the City of Victoria Strategic Housing Plan, which is focused on increasing the availability of “safe, affordable, and appropriate housing.”
It is neither safe, affordable, nor appropriate.
(1) Affordability: The Admiral Inn site is not the place for more for high-end luxury condos. Page 12 of the Strategic Plan emphasizes that the city doesn’t “need more housing that is out of reach of the average income earner.”
(2) Safety: Major issues of accessibility and safety will arise during and after construction. During construction, Cross Street—the main entrance to Laurel Point Condominiums for residents, family, visitors, taxies, caregivers, mail delivery, and emergency vehicles—could be blocked. Later Cross street would be blocked by moving vans, service vehicles, and garbage collection. Exiting Cross Street onto Pendray or Quebec street is dangerous even under normal conditions. Admiral Inn blocks lines of sight to the left and one must look far back over the right shoulder to see approaching vehicles from the right. Quebec and Pendray are the main pedestrian route for cruise ship passengers walking from Ogden Point to Downtown and there is extensive pedestrian traffic through the cruise season. Residential development of the large parking lot on Quebec street will only increase the traffic burden.
(3) Appropriate: The proposed building would stand out like a sore thumb. Unlike other condominiums and townhouses in the neighbourhood, it would have no green space and clashes with the architectural style of other buildings in the area.
And yet there is opportunity. City council has two options—they can take the easy way, accept the current proposal as is; or, refer the proposal back to the Advisory Design Panel in City Planning.
If council does the latter, it opens new possibilities for enhancing the local neighbourhood rather than just throwing up another monster building. I have written to Mayor Helps and city councillors with a win-win suggestion in three modular parts:
(1) That the new building be restricted to five stories and aimed at mid-market rather than luxury condominiums. This provides the developer with a fair profit.
(2) Staging of equipment for construction will necessarily be on Pendray between Belleville and Quebec streets. Afterwards, why not convert this section of Pendray to green space with bicycle and pedestrian paths only. Traffic would be rerouted up Oswego and onto Quebec or Superior streets. This alleviates much of the traffic problems currently besetting drivers exiting from Cross Street.
(3) That the entrance for the underground parking and space for service vehicles of the new building be at the end of Belleville street. This would further eliminate traffic problems on Cross Street.
This is a tremendous opportunity if council is truly interested in keeping Victoria, and the James Bay neighbourhood attractive for the many visitors who travel to this beautiful city. The new green space, and new building would be among the first things seen by visitors arriving on the Victoria Clipper or the Coho, and would be directly on the path for cruise ship passengers walking from Ogden Point to Downtown. What better way to introduce people to our city?
Burton Voorhees, a professor emeritus at Athabasca University, is a James Bay, Victoria resident.
He demands they “behave” on the virus front but earns their disrespect by allowing abuse of the natural world.
AN OPEN LETTER TO PREMIER HORGAN:
Let me start by saying clearly – leave the public announcements about the pandemic to Minister Dix and Doctor Henry. They have been doing an exceptional job of providing clear, factual information and explanations to us for over a year. I trust them. They address us respectfully, as the responsible adults that we are.
I am a senior. I watched the press conference on March 29th and am annoyed at the accusations you hurled at the young people, specifically the 20 to 39 year olds you blame for the exponential increase in COVID transmissions. That is unfair and if I were in that age group, I would not be listening to you or following your advice. It is this very group of young people who are facing into the escalating threat of climate change and the widespread destruction of our forest ecosystems. These same young people you are now calling out for their behaviour have been pleading with you for months and months to fulfill your promise to stop old growth logging. You have been deaf to their pleas. And yet you expect them to look to you for leadership? To trust you?
Scientists tell us the underlying cause of the pandemic is our abuse of the natural world: mistreatment of animals, destruction of wildlife habitat, including overlogging. Thousands of people, including people in all demographics, have petitioned you, stood outside your office in all sorts of weather, rallied outside the legislature, calling on you to show leadership in the protection and restoration of the natural world. And yet you are silent and speak not to them, to us, but instead accept the invitation as key note speaker at the COFI convention. When will you speak to the young people, the 20-to-39-year-old’s to reassure them that the natural world they are inheriting will be safe for them to enjoy a full life and raise children?
I am old now. I, like you, lived my younger years in the sweet spot of time, without the heart-wrenching fear of seeing the last tree fall, the last caribou die, the last salmon gone, the last wolf slaughtered. I am alarmed at the legacy we are leaving behind for those very same young people you blame for, as you said, “putting the rest of us in a challenging position.” It isn’t about us and them. It is about all of us sticking together, in it together, exactly as Minister Dix and Doctor Henry have been patiently and kindly saying for months.
Please leave Minister Dix and Doctor Henry to deal with the pandemic and put your attention where it is most needed—to changing legislation to protect and restore our ecosystems and to protect species at risk. You owe us that now that you have orchestrated an unnecessary election to eliminate the agreement with the Green Party, the only party that truly seems to understand the threats we are facing.
Grand Forks, home of the threatened Kettle Granby Grizzly and 241 other blue- and red-listed species.
Why is Canada planning to spend half-trillion dollars on military hardware when climate change and viruses pose the real threat?
ONE MIGHT THINK THAT THE PANDEMIC, which has so far resulted in the death of over 20,000 Canadians along with major health complications for thousands more people, would provoke government leaders to revise the country’s priorities. It is now blatantly obvious that the real threat to our society is not from foreign countries, but from minuscule viruses. As well, the dangers we face from climate change should pose more concern than any potential military action by foreign governments.
While Canadians have to wait longer than other countries for vaccinations because we do not have the capability to manufacture the vaccine in Canada, our government is still planning to spend over a half-trillion dollars over the next 20 years for military hardware. One might ask if anyone in the federal government is questioning whether we will need more warships and fighter jets in the future, now that it is clear that viruses pose greater dangers than foreign armies. Certainly, foreign governments do pose threats, but most of these are economic, trade or territorial disputes that can be better solved with improved diplomacy and negotiations rather than by using threats of military action.
Why is Canada still stuck in 20th-century thinking when there is now more concern about cyberattacks, pandemics, weather-related disasters and trade disputes? What benefits did Canada gain by spending $18 billion fighting a senseless war in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of 158 soldiers? Could it be possible that more people have perished in Canada from preventable diseases, pollution, drug overdoses and poverty than from wars?
It is clearly time for a reset of priorities for Canada, so that we are better prepared to cope with the challenges that we face in the 21st century. Warships, jet fighters and tanks will be useless to fight forest fires, droughts, floods, pandemics and cyberattacks. Tax dollars earmarked for military weapons need to be diverted to programs and projects that will truly protect Canada in the coming decades. For situations like the Afghanistan conflict, targeted aid programs will be a greater benefit than boots on the ground and new military hardware.
Imagine a future where all Canadians are guaranteed a living wage, where arts and culture are fostered, where more natural spaces are protected, where infrastructure has been re-built to minimize carbon emissions, where post-secondary education is free for those who need it, where young people are employed to restore damaged landscapes, and where the focus is on peace, health and happiness with more opportunities for non-motorized outdoor recreation. All of this would be possible in a demilitarized Canada.
Currently, Canada is set to spend $60 billion on warships for the navy, that includes massive design costs and extensive construction challenges. The latest news is that the delivery of the first of 15 new Type-26 frigates will be delayed until after 2030, despite the fact that this project began over 10 years ago. Meanwhile, the navy is struggling to maintain its existing, rusting fleet.
Above, an artist's rendering of a Type-26 frigate, which Canada has chosen to replace its current frigates
A US F-18 on a support mission for operation Inherent Resolve, August 15, 2017
Yet another unnecessary, wasteful expenditure is the plan to purchase 88 new fighter jets at a cost of $216 million per aircraft, for a total of $19 billion. Next year, if the government proceeds and chooses which war-profiteering corporation to build the jets, there will be additional high costs for training and maintenance, as well as to pay for the enormous amount of carbon emitting fuel required to fly these war machines. There is no credible threat now or in the future that would require these war toys to be used, other than for missions directed by the United States as part of their never-ending petro-wars. To date, Canadian fighter jets have already been used to destroy infrastructure and likely kill innocent citizens as part of the US “war on terror” or in earlier Gulf wars.
One of the rationales used to justify Canada’s military expenditures is that we must abide by international commitments due to our membership in NATO. In order for Canada to reduce its military expenditures, it would also need to convince other NATO members to shrink their costs as well by revising the existing agreements. Currently, Canada spends approximately 7.9 percent of its total budget on the military and last year the bill was $21.9 billion. Last year, former President Trump berated Canada for not spending enough. Should we be stooping to the likes of this wannabe fascist dictator or should we chart our own course based on peaceful co-existence rather than armed-to-the-hilt deterrence?
If demilitarization were to succeed in Canada, it would still be possible to continue on with the role of peacekeeping. Providing logistical assistance, negotiation expertise, and medical aid can produce more positive outcomes than sending the fighter jets. A good example is Cuba, which sends doctors around the world to help struggling countries cope with war and natural disasters.
There is a good example of a demilitarized country in Central America. Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948 and as a result it has reaped a peace dividend with the money that typically pays for troops and weapons and is now going to fund education, health services, arts and environmental protection in this country that has 25 percent of its land base protected. Costa Rica now rates number one in two world happiness indexes. Meanwhile this peaceful country has not had to defend its borders from invasions, nor has it had to adhere to international obligations for sending troops abroad to fight petro-wars.
The list above for what Canada could accomplish if money allocated for war machines was re-directed is far from complete. It is more than obvious that we need to also invest in the infrastructure and the public system to address both the current pandemic and potential future ones. With homelessness increasing there is a desperate need for more low-income housing. Despite continued promises, many First Nation communities are still without adequate drinking water, and there are numerous examples of pollution impacting many Indigenous communities. Canada has pledged to increase protection of natural spaces to 30 percent in the coming years, consequently money redirected from the military could also be used to help achieve this goal.
Recently, US President Joe Biden announced plans for a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative to employ thousands of young people to help reduce carbon emissions, plant trees, restore shoreline and degraded landscapes and undertake other climate change adaptation measures. Under Biden’s executive order, the Departments of Interior and Agriculture as well as other departments have 90 days to present a plan to “mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers.” Certainly, Canada could emulate this program, especially if more funds were redirected from current military hardware acquisition plans. It is time that Canada realizes that we are living in a new century, with crises that require a different mind-set than what was the status quo during the Cold War and the preposterous, wasteful and destructive “war-on-terror.” We must break free from the influence of the war profiteers that control the once greatest world power south of our border. One can only hope that our inability to adequately defeat a virus due to our lack of preparedness will awaken our leaders to the necessity for redirecting our priorities from militarization to programs that truly protect our citizens and help us better cope with an uncertain future.
POSTSCRIPT: A recent CBC news story has revealed that the costs of building a new Coast Guard ship has ballooned from $108 million to nearly $1 billion and the delivery date has been moved from 2017 to 2024 due to design and technical problems. This news indicates how Canada, and likely other countries, have become inept at building major projects. Why do costs skyrocket and the timeline for completing a project gets doubled or tripled? Certainly one likely cause is the amount of management jobs now required in all types of work, from universities to government to private corporations. Every decision requires meetings, phone calls, emails and on and on. If the kind time of structure that is in place now throughout society was in place during World War II, we would still be fighting the war now or Germany would have won! Canada and the US built ships, planes, tanks and other equipment in record time, which allowed the Allies to win in five years. Now wars go on for decades and are never won, as if the real reason for the wars was to make extraordinary profits for the war profiteering defence contractors. So really, the best solution would be just to stop making unnecessary war toys in the first place, as well as thinning out bloated management systems wherever they result in extra costs and time.
Jim Cooperman is the author of Everything Shuswap and past editor of the BC Environmental Report. His local environmental work led to the protection of over 25,000 hectares of new parks in the Shuswap. He has written about local history and the tragedy of industrial forestry. His column “Shuswap Passion” appears every two weeks in either the Shuswap Market News or the Salmon Arm Observer.
Reflections on Takaya’s legacy on the one-year anniversary of his death.
Takaya. Photo by Cheryl Alexander
ONE YEAR AGO, on March 24, 2020, the famous sea-wolf known as Takaya was shot to death by a cougar hunter.
It would be easy to blame this individual hunter for Takaya’s death. But in reality, the blame for the death of Takaya—and thousands of wolves like him—lies with the cultural attitudes and policies that informed the hunter’s choice to pull the trigger.
Although Takaya was a famous wolf, trusting and well-loved by humans, the blame for Takaya’s death should not be attributed to this. Lots of wolves are shot to death recreationally—in BC last year, over 1200 wolves were killed by hunters. None of those wolves were as well-loved as Takaya, as far as I know (although, like Takaya, each wolf is an individual with intrinsic value and their own story). Something other than love is leading to these fatal interactions between wolves and humans with guns.
The hunter chose to kill Takaya on sight, for no reason other than that he was a wolf. Why do government policies encourage hunters to kill wolves? Upon what basis are these decisions made?
A friend of the cougar hunter who killed Takaya provided some insight into their perspective in the following Instagram comment: “I’ve spoken with the authorities and the lady shot him because it was a management choice. Hunters are encouraged to kill predators when seen.”
It is concerning that individual hunters can legally use lethal control to manipulate the delicate balance of predators and prey.
Takaya’s story drew attention to two main problems with the existing wildlife management regime in BC.
First, individual hunters and trappers have the power to kill wolves anytime, anywhere, without accountability or oversight. No special license is required to kill a wolf, and there is no limit on the number of wolves that a hunter may trap. This is problematic for scientific and ethical reasons—wolves are not only apex predators, which are essential for healthy ecosystems, but also individuals who have a right to live. Furthermore, according to the Criminal Code of Canada, people are guilty of an indictable criminal offence when they willfully cause unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal.
Second, most predators who wander into proximity with humans are killed rather than relocated. Takaya was given a chance at relocation only because of his fame. So, would he have a good chance of survival in the area where he was relocated?
Takaya. Photo by Cheryl Alexander
To explore this question, and see how wildlife management policies led to Takaya’s death, let’s go back to the two months before Takaya was shot.
After leaving his Discovery Island home in late January 2020, he had been captured in the heart of James Bay, tranquilized and relocated to the Gordon River drainage just east of Port Renfrew. The Conservation Service said that he left his small island home for a reason and therefore would not be returned to it. What reason? We will likely never know, but it is possible that it was also an accidental swim, or perhaps he intended to return after a brief foray but got disoriented in the city. Wouldn’t it have been most kind to have returned him to his home to see if that solved the issue? At least it was clear that he could survive there.
But that didn’t happen. After being sedated and kept in a barrel overnight, Takaya was released, disoriented and half-drugged, then staggered off down a logging road. As Takaya roamed the rainforest outside of Port Renfrew, he had to really adapt and fight to stay alive. He was released into an unfamiliar environment—an ancient coastal temperate rainforest rather than the semi-arid arbutus woodland, Garry oak meadows and coastal bluff ecosystems of his islands. There he had hunted marine mammals along the shoreline. In his new rainforest environment, available prey mostly consisted of large terrestrial mammals (elk and deer), but not so many seals. Hunting deer and elk would be a difficult challenge for an aging lone wolf.
Another big challenge for Takaya was to navigate the presence of at least two wolf packs in the area. A wolf pack will not easily accept an older, solitary male wolf and would likely have killed Takaya.
And then, within a couple days, a rainstorm of “biblical proportions” hit, resulting in intense flooding in the river systems on the southern island with massive trees careening down the Gordon and San Juan River drainages. Takaya had no experience with rivers or log jams in his islands and must have wondered what was happening.
Sometime during this period, Takaya had a serious accident that resulted in ten broken ribs along one side of his body (discovered upon autopsy). In speaking with the provincial wildlife veterinarian, it seemed that a likely explanation for the injury was that Takaya had been swept into some logs while trying to navigate a fast-flowing river. This injury must have been excruciating and would have made it difficult for him to hunt and fend for himself. Yet, miraculously, he survived and thrived. A necropsy performed after his death would show that his ribs were healing and that he was otherwise healthy and well-fed, as evidenced by the freshly killed beaver found in his stomach.
Although the Conservation Service had placed him into the midst of many dangers, at a particularly bad time, Takaya managed to survive and thrive—as a self-sufficient wild wolf should.
He also maintained his customary peaceful approach towards humans and dogs. The road running along the river was frequented by locals who walked or ran their dogs there. Takaya had lived for eight years without the company or physical contact with others of his kind. It is therefore perhaps understandable that he was curious and willing to interact peacefully with some of these dogs. After all, he had learned to trust that people meant him no harm during the eight years in the islands. He had learned the art of peaceful coexistence.
By early March, it seemed that Takaya was well enough to travel. Perhaps he decided to head back to his islands, the only home he knew. The first part of his journey led him at least 50 kilometres west along the coast towards the city, getting as far as Sooke in mid-March. Then, for some reason he turned back. My guess is that he encountered the well-marked territorial boundaries of the wolves living near Sooke. A wolf, especially a lone wolf, will avoid entering areas controlled by other wolves. It is dangerous.
And so, Takaya ended up back in Port Renfrew by March 21. On March 22, Takaya again set out on the second part of his journey, this time east towards Shawnigan Lake, a direct route that might have taken him back to the islands off of Oak Bay. On March 24, after travelling 50 kilometres, he rose up out of a culverted ditch to observe cougar hunters who were putting their dogs back into the truck. Curious, Takaya stood watching about 15 metres away. An easy shot. The hunter raised a gun and fired.
Takaya was killed by a bullet from a hunter’s gun and by the culture and policies that had led the hunter to kill. Takaya was punished for being a wolf who had not learned to fear humans.
I have been accused of encroaching on the wolf’s space, teaching him to be comfortable around all humans and taking away his wildness. I adamantly deny this accusation. Although he learned to trust me, he remained a wild wolf, and avoided most of the other humans who visited his chosen territory. If people ever came too close, he would either move into the woods or he would give a clear warning howl to back off. He lived inconspicuously, and most people visiting the islands never even saw Takaya. When I saw Takaya, I always kept a respectful distance. I was generally in my boat and was simply observing and quietly witnessing the life of the wolf who had come to realize that I wasn’t a threat to him. He never exhibited discomfort or distress in my presence. I advocated for his protection when necessary. Sometimes I asked people to stay further away from him.
I have also been accused of harassing the wolf, causing him to flee the islands. I deny this accusation as well. Over time, Takaya learned that I was not a danger to him. Once or twice, Takaya approached me when I was in the islands, and sometimes he even slept and groomed himself in my presence—behaviours that he would not have displayed if he had felt harassed. These behaviours also do not suggest that he was habituated. As renowned wolf expert Dr Gordon Haber noted, “the fear wolves show toward people is a realized fear, not a natural fear—one born of persecution.”
Furthermore, when he left the islands in January 2020, I had not been to the islands for three months. He had been three months out in the islands with likely no contact with any other sentient being. Storm after winter storm would have kept all recreational boaters away. Takaya appeared on one of my trail cameras just a day before being seen in Victoria. He looked healthy and was patrolling his territory as he normally did. But maybe he just finally needed some action or some company.
Takaya. Photo by Cheryl Alexander
It should not be the animal who takes the blame for learning to live with people. In fact, a concerted effort to coexist with wolves will be required as our populations continue to grow and we eat away into the wild habitats of the wolves and their prey. Wolves may need to learn that people won’t necessarily harm them and figure out ways to exist within our midst. People may need to learn how to accept and value the presence of wild predators and seek ways to keep themselves and their domesticated animals safe through non-lethal means. It can be done.
Takaya was killed by a hunter’s decision to shoot a wolf that was not threatening nor a source of food. That decision was supported by a hunting culture that sees wolves as vermin and competition. It was also supported by current BC hunting regulations and laws. Although it may prove difficult to change the culture, we can act quickly to change policy. It is the government of BC who bears the primary responsibility for Takaya’s death. And the government must act now to stem the tide of the ongoing slaughter of significant apex predators like Takaya.
Please visit www.takayaslegacy.com to find out more about current BC wolf hunting regulations, and about our ongoing efforts to protect BC wolves.
Cheryl Alexander is a conservation photographer and naturalist who spent six years observing and documenting the life of Takaya, the lone sea-wolf who lived near Victoria, BC. She is the director of Takaya’s Legacy Project, an organization which seeks to inspire passion and action to protect wolves and the wilderness that remains on our earth. She is the executive producer of the CBC Nature of Things documentary Takaya: Lone Wolf, and the author of the book of the same name. On March 30, she will release two children’s books, Good Morning, Takaya and Takaya’s Journey.
City Hall, while delivering us bike paths, seems to have fallen in love with concrete and black top—and out of love with trees and beauty.
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
—“Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell
RECENTLY, I STOPPED TO CHAT with a City of Victoria worker. He’d come with a mate to grind up the roots of a magnificent tree the City had recently cut down. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. Looking at the stump, we knew the tree had been healthy.
“Why was it taken down?” I asked.
“Don’t know. Could have been the roots were getting into the sewers.”
We both looked down the street, which is lined on both sides with large trees. How odd this tree next to the corner lot had to go. Maybe this tree was in the way of a planned development as it was in front of a house that is now for sale. Developers seem to hate trees, so maybe someone acted quickly to get the tree out of the way.
It’s not just in my neighbourhood that large trees are disappearing; huge trees are coming down, some in the middle of the night, all over the city. Large trees capture and hold far more carbon than the new slender plantings.
The city worker and I then shifted our conversation to the matter of concrete. We agreed a sea of concrete has begun to invade Victoria. Perfectly good curbs have been broken up to be replaced by identical curbs. Sidewalks, for instance, now line the west side of Ross Bay Cemetery and the north edge of May Street, despite there being sidewalks on the other side of the streets that pedestrians would and do favour. And everywhere islands of concrete are appearing in the midst of roadways. We all know trees are an urban solution to slowing traffic, but in Victoria the new solution seems to be blobs concrete.
Just one of the re-worked intersections along Vancouver Street.
If you haven’t been to Victoria in a dozen years, check out the Victoria entrance to the White (Elephant) Bridge that replaced the Blue Bridge downtown. It is a sea of concrete blobs and black top.
New visitors will also note the bicycle lanes—the many, many bike lanes have been placed on streets that were never frequented by bikers. I, like most riders, prefer quiet, back streets. These lanes, a copy of those in London, England, seem to necessitate more concrete, such as the elaborate, vast network of the material seen at the junction of Bay and Vancouver Streets.
The City of Victoria won an award for its bike lanes. The trees, the ground, the aesthetically inclined, and the planet itself have paid an enormous price for it.
According to the think tank Chatham House, cement, the key ingredient of concrete, is “the source of about eight percent of the world’s carbon dioxide.” Furthermore, it has been estimated that were “the cement industry to be a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world, just behind China and the US.”
The present occupants of Victoria City Hall, while delivering us bike paths, seem to have fallen in love with concrete and black top—and out of love with trees and beauty. It’s either that or I worry someone in City Hall has a vested interest we don’t know about.
We’ve paved our paradise and, in so doing, we’ve lost it.
The city worker told me his ancestors came to Victoria in the 1840s. They fell in love with the city. He now can’t wait to retire. As soon as he does, he and his wife are moving to the interior. They want to reacquaint themselves with trees and see the ground again. I want to go with them.
Moira Walker is a retired Camosun College instructor. An oral storyteller, she’s told stories at The Flame, UNO Festival, and Royal BC Museum. She’s about to complete an MFA from the University of King’s College in Halifax, NS.
Critical staffing shortages and lack of basic protections are creating unhealthy conditions for nurses.
AS THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC has come and gone, nurses across Canada are at their breaking point. We are exhausted, burned out—and angry.
Nurses are on the frontlines of the pandemic and our health-care system every day. We see its problems in brutal detail, and we have the experience to know what’s needed to fix them. We have repeatedly called on decision-makers to address critical staffing shortages and provide basic protections to keep workers safe.
We continue to be disregarded, and the result has been devastating.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the number of COVID-19 cases among health workers has tripled since July 2020. As of January 15, 65,920 health workers have been infected with the COVID-19 virus, representing 9.5 percent of all infections in Canada. More than 40 health workers are known to have died from the illness.
In our troubled long-term care system, insufficient staffing and safety protocols have contributed to a national tragedy. About 25,000 health-care worker infections are in long-term care. More than 14,000 vulnerable residents have died from COVID-19, representing about 70 percent of all deaths in Canada.
It didn’t have to be this way.
As early as January of last year, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions began urging governments across Canada to heed the lessons of SARS and adopt a precautionary approach. This meant assuming the virus was airborne and protecting health-care workers—potential vectors of transmission – accordingly.
Despite similar efforts by unions across the country, health-care workers have been put at unacceptable risk, with implications for their families, patients and communities. Most health-care workers, even those caring for COVID-19 patients, were only provided flimsy surgical masks, and in many jurisdictions, masks were reused until they were soiled and damaged. Faced with supply issues, N95 respirators were often locked away.
It took the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) until January 2021 to acknowledge what unions and many experts have said all along. Health-care workers are at risk of airborne transmission when in close proximity to an infected person. Yet PHAC still does not require health-care workers in COVID-19 units and “hot zones” to wear protection from airborne transmission, such as N95 respirators.
Similarly, provinces across Canada have failed to update their guidance to adequately reflect what we now know about the virus and how its spreads.
Only Quebec has followed the scientific evidence to its natural conclusion: As of February 11, 2021, Quebec requires health-care workers in COVID-19 hot zones to wear an N95 respirator or superior level of protection.
As new variants circulate in Canada, dramatically increasing the rate of transmission, burned out health-care workers are under even more pressure. Without action, health staffing, which is already in short supply, could become depleted even further.
We must not let this happen.
We know from experts and evidence that there is a desperate need for more staff, not less. The long-standing cycle of budget cuts, short staffing, and higher workloads has eroded the health care workforce and quality of patient care. A major investment in the retention and recruitment of nurses is needed now or it is likely we will see an exodus from the profession as burnout takes its toll.
It’s time for governments across Canada to take their heads out of the sand and show their respect and appreciation for health care workers. A good first step would be to act on our calls for better workplace safety and safe staffing.
Had decision makers heeded the nurses’ warnings prior to the pandemic, perhaps many more lives could have been saved.
Linda Silas is a nurse and president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.
The text below was written as an open letter to Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. The authors, Dr John and Mary Theberge are Canada’s senior wolf research biologists.
Dear Minister Conroy:
AS CANADA'S SENIOR WOLF BIOLOGISTS, we have a historical perspective on BC’s wolf management policies, which again have risen to public controversy. We applaud your apparent willingness to review this subject as reported in Focus on Victoria recently, although from considerable experience measuring wolf natality, we note your mistaken opinion that “they breed like rabbits.” Wolves breed only once per year and normally not until at least 2 years of age. Besides, natality is certainly not the only relevant parameter for evaluating the capability of population persistence or recovery after persecution. Multiple factors, especially early natural mortality, influence wolf recruitment, which varies widely according to environmental variables.
BC has had a very persistent history of government sponsored wolf killing, as much or possibly more than any other Canadian jurisdiction. Even back in the 1960s the Province had an enthusiastic predator control program that raised the ire and the pen of world-renowned wolf biologist and forester Douglas Pimlott for its “War on Wolves.” But ironically, despite several seemingly positive steps, notably game- and fur-bearer status and a policy against wolf killing to increase prey abundance for hunters, 60 years later, little on the ground has changed. In the past 15 years the Province has shot over 1,000 wolves from the air, has left most of the Province still without any hunter bag limits or any regulations whatsoever on trapping.
In the government’s partial defence, both data and its interpretation for making management decisions on wolves are hard to come by. It is both difficult and costly to conduct extensive surveys supplemented, as they must be especially in forested areas, with radio collaring, which together provide the only reasonably reliable technique. We know that from more than a decade of doing it just for relatively small Algonquin Provincial Park. And because this approach can be applied to only chosen blocks of land for logistic reasons, the last BC population figure (2014) of 8,200 is highly imprecise and unreliable, especially expressed as it was with no statistic estimate of sampling error.
Furthermore, predator/prey theory, necessary for interpretation of data, is exceedingly complex, leaving room for uncertainty that invites political miscalculation and manipulation. Few people realize that among various alternative models of possible wolf/prey relationships, one that operates commonly (though counterintuitively) describes wolf killing that does not decrease prey numbers in subsequent years. One cannot dismiss that model without acquiring very specific data including habitat evaluation, and capture and assessment of prey body condition. Both pre-existing bias and added costs of obtaining such data often deflect any effort to do so.
Despite these difficulties, the BC government has “soldiered-on” killing wolves as if it knew what it was doing. For example, in 1990 it was under criticism for planning extensive wolf killing on northern Vancouver Island. Wolves, the government said, were killing off black-tailed deer. To defuse public criticism, an advisory group was established, where John was an invited participant. The Province supplied all its information on predator, prey and habitat. Obtaining additional climate and snowfall data, John demonstrated a statistical correlation between deer decline and weather. Additionally, and uncomfortably similar to the situation today, there was an added land mismanagement component, in this case excessive clearcut logging. The issue was brought up in the context of BC’s wolf and wildlife mismanagement in a CBC Nature of Things program, with public comment invited. It was swamped with outraged letters. The national black-eye it gave the Province led to cancellation of the kill.
Since then, wolf killing has gone on across the province. For decades, perhaps no jurisdiction in North America sponsored as extensive aerial wolf killing as went on in the Fort St John region. Now, that level of killing has spread to other various places across the province, conveniently rationalized to increase caribou numbers. The validity of this rationale will soon be tested in court.
All this has given BC a poor reputation on the international stage. John served for many years as a Canadian representative on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Wolf Specialist Group. The Group included representatives from most countries in the world that had wolves and was charged with reviewing and giving direction on wolf conservation policies. Delegates from countries such as the United States, which were struggling to reintroduce and recover their wolf populations, found it difficult to understand BC’s excessive wolf killing. Biologists asked how much land is protected for wolf conservation? The answer for BC? None of sufficient size other than national parks.
Back in 1990, World Wildlife Fund Canada saw persecution and habitat loss as incrementally and ultimately shrinking the land base for our suite of archetypal large carnivores—wolves, bears, cougars. They proposed the establishment of a system of “large carnivore conservation areas,” which would be adjacent to large provincial parks where possible. There, wolf management would change from persecution to protection. BC did not support it.
In our recent decades of research, we have worked largely in Yellowstone National Park where, with overwhelming public support, wolves were successfully re-introduced in the mid 1990s. Studying wolves in open country has allowed us to understand them as a highly developed social species, one whose pack lives, division of labour and cooperation parallels early human societies in focal ways.
But understanding wolves that way is not why more than half a million people have signed Pacific Wild’s pro-wolf petition. Most of these people simply object to the senseless killing of animals that are part of Canada’s wild heritage—regardless of conservation status.
Granted there will always be conflicting viewpoints about the wolf, but a large segment of public opinion has shifted. In recognition of this fact, what sort of parallel shift has there been in government policy? What sort of attempt at balance?
What should the BC government do to amend its sad history of wolf management? 1) Stop its aerial wolf killing. 2) Protect wolves in its large provincial parks buffered, like Algonquin in Ontario, into land units of sufficient size. 3) Put more money into wolf censusing and scientific predator/prey evaluation. 4) Set hunting and trapping regulations accordingly. 5) Stop recreational trophy hunting of wolves.
After all, wolves are BC’s most controversial species and as such, demand a more pluralistic, sensitive, and data-sufficient approach to their management and well-being.
Dr. John and Mary Theberge
Dr. John and Mary Theberge have conducted more than five decades of wolf research based largely from the University of Waterloo. Their wolf studies have been conducted in Ontario, Yukon, Quebec, Labrador, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico. They have written 2 books and numerous scientific paper and popular articles on wolves and related land management issue. They now live near Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island.
Safety and the climate emergency are being neglected on rural roads to the region’s detriment.
LIVABLE ROADS FOR RURAL SAANICH (LRRS) advocates for safety and livability on five rural roads. We focus on Sparton, Goward, Prospect Lake, southern Old West Saanich and Oldfield because of strong experience here; safety issues also exist on other rural roads.
While traffic impacts on rural environments are the primary problem, LRRS takes a broad view. We believe in the interconnectedness of Saanich’s stated goals regarding road safety, active transportation, environmental and heritage protection, livability, sustainability, and recognizing a climate emergency.
In addition to overlooking safety issues, we believe there is a major disconnect regarding Saanich’s Climate and Active Transportation Plans vis a vis their inactivity on controlling speed and volumes of traffic through rural areas. It is not possible to effectively pursue climate solutions while enabling increased traffic on roads inappropriate for such use.
50 km/h on a narrow road is “slow” in rural Saanich
Many residents and visitors do not feel safe using neighbourhood roads for any active transportation: walking, cycling or equestrian activities. Facing continually increasing traffic on these narrow winding roads—usually fast and aggressive traffic that is often commuter, commercial and industrial—there is now no longer a reliable place on the roads for other users. Outside of a vehicle, you usually no longer have a legitimate space on the road.
This results in comments like these: “I will not walk a dog on Sparton due to danger from, and frequent abuse by, drivers”; “Walking my horse on Oldfield is terrifying”; “Walking on Old West Saanich, vehicles maintain speed, passing me within inches”; “Riding on Prospect Lake Road, close misses are commonplace”; “Recommended speed signs are consistently ignored on Goward”.
After four years of work (and many years of previous attempts to get Saanich to address these long-developing problems) LRRS wonders why the progress on rural traffic issues is not more widespread and substantial. We find this especially puzzling in view of Saanich’s strong statements about the importance of road safety for all and shifting to active transportation modes for health benefits and the Climate Emergency.
What does rural Saanich bring to the greater community?
Rural Saanich brings a lot to urban Saanich and the Greater Victoria area, without demanding large infrastructure inputs.
Many roads have changed little since first created, except for paving. Narrow, winding, hilly, with rocky outcroppings, blind corners and sometimes heavily treed, they are significantly below the engineering standards for the Collector Road designations they have been arbitrarily given. (Pavement width for the Collector Road designation is 11 meters; in many places these roads average under 6 meters.) They are adequate to perform their rural function, but not to withstand urban-like pressures.
Outside the Urban Containment Boundary, the properties have remained generally larger, unserviced with intentionally little subdivision. The Rural Saanich Local Area Plan (2008) confirms “little appetite for commercial development.” This has kept the population, and the tax dollars gathered, relatively low.
These same strategies have kept many other values very high.
Rural Saanich provides significant forest canopy for the whole area, an essential environmental contribution in the face of Climate Change. Rural Saanich offers relatively intact and linked habitats and associated watersheds. As Saanich Parks points out, natural areas provide a classroom for “natural intelligence.” These are enduring fiscal, environmental and social benefits to residents and visitors alike.
Farming provides all of the Greater Victoria area with a nearby source of local produce, plus an array of amenities such as farm stands, u-pick berry farms, horse boarding, rural cafes, markets, vineyards, local honey, wool, and horticultural supplies.
The area is home to a portion of the Lochside Trail, other protected cycle routes and opportunities for canoeing, powerboating, fishing, and swimming. The many parks include spectacular hiking terrain and sought after mountain bike areas. Even the old fashioned drive through the country is a draw.
Residents live with pride in Rural Saanich, giving back to the community by supporting the rural lifestyle (growing food, hay, and raising farm animals) while advocating for the respectful and quiet enjoyment of those visiting.
We enjoy and protect rural features without depending on the municipality to provide amenities like septic, transit, sidewalks, separated bike lanes, crosswalks, and nearby shopping.
Rural Saanich also houses the CRD Solid Waste facility at Hartland and the Residuals Treatment Facility.
Rural Saanich is a valued destination, and this is a marketing strength for the municipality. Unfortunately, Rural Saanich can now feel more like an amenity itself than valued rural neighbourhoods.
Too much car and truck traffic on unsafe roads at unsafe speeds
Space precludes listing all the evidence residents have for this position, what has been attempted to date, and the obstacles encountered.
We are told that much is being done towards rural traffic safety. Yet, the root issues continue to be ignored. We reference three projects.
The Safety Review of Prospect Lake Road (a designated cycling route) has resulted in limited speed reduction, a choke point near a pond on a steep curve, bollards, rumble strips and much signage. However, the changes not embraced are significant: there has been no change to the speed limit on the whole corridor’s length. The result is that 50 kph and higher is still sanctioned, so vulnerable users’ safety has changed little. It also means that commuting is still encouraged (including trucks and commercial vehicles), which is the source of much of the volume and speed. There is no change to enforcement and no firm message that these roads go through neighbourhoods.
Improvements to the intersection of West Saanich, Prospect Lake and Sparton Roads are years overdue: a very dangerous intersection on a 60 kph truck route near an elementary school. Although it will also bring enhancements to pedestrian safety from Whitehead Park to Prospect Lake Hall on Sparton, it will not bring traffic calming and speed reduction to the surrounding roads. These are not projected to receive any help, but will likely be further impacted by increased traffic flow as a result of the intersection work.
The Speed Reduction Pilot Project, which Saanich hopes to start in summer/fall of 2021, promises a speed of 40 kph on unlined (called residential) roads. We are told the pilot is for low volume roads. Sadly, as currently written, it will not reduce the speed on any of our high volume lined rural roads. Here speed reduction is the first requirement to increasing safety (on these equally residential roads). No plan to rectify this glaring omission exists.
What are the solutions and the benefits?
The future of Saanich’s rural area will need to include both traffic calming and reduced speed limits on lined and unlined roads to increase safety and livability for all.
Especially as much of the traffic is simply transiting the neighbourhoods; the ever increasing volumes are grossly disproportionate to rural growth.
Please note: we do not ask for the roads to be changed. Upgrading to standards of new construction is prohibitively expensive, and a flawed option. Even so-called improvements such as widening and straightening, tree removal, and blasting of rocky outcroppings can contribute to increased speed and loss of rural character.
Most importantly, we are not asking for no traffic; we are asking for slowed, calmed traffic for all. We are asking for Rural Saanich to stay rural.
Slowing and calming the traffic will economically increase safety for all users, reduce accident and injury (including to wildife), reduce noise, reduce emissions, increase the feeling of neighbourhood and community and reduce the pressure on all drivers. Last but not least it will shift the tone away from “car is king” to “a shared space for all”—what our narrow rural roads should be.
Additionally, low budget calming interventions such as speed platforms, choke points, small traffic circles, signage to support cyclists and portable speed reader/messaging boards conveying a strong statement about neighbourhood should be implemented over time.
A change in attitude to commercial traffic off the three designated truck routes (using the rural roads instead) needs to be embraced by both Saanich and Central Saanich. The majority is transiting to and from the Keating Business District and beyond. After four years, we are still unsuccessful in getting the two municipalities to discuss this.
Encouraging other modes of transport, like cycle commuting on Oldfield and Old West, would also benefit everyone, and act on the Climate Emergency. The rise of e-bikes makes it clear that a much greater range of cycle commuters would use these roads if it were safe to do so.
In conclusion, change is needed in order to provide safe passage, preserve the rural lifestyle, recreational benefits and the climate emergency significance of Saanich’s rural area, for everyone. The Urban Containment Boundary means little if urban traffic patterns are allowed to dominate in the rural setting.
The initiatives undertaken, be it Active Transportation or the three rural projects we have mentioned above, are simply not providing the effective traffic calming needed on the lengths of these roads. As of now there is no stated intention to embark on any other rural solutions, on these roads.
Rural residents do not ask for or need urban solutions. We are not needing projects of an Uptown or a Shelbourne scale.
But we are asking for a timely commitment to simple interventions to give us the same level of comfort and safety that everyone should expect on their neighbourhood’s roads.
Livable Roads for Rural Saanich (LRRS) is a volunteer-run group advocating for increased safety and livability on five roads within Rural Saanich. See more at https://lrrs.org.
Whether it's the problem with pipelines, police, or public subsidies, we need to have a back-and-forth dialogue to initiate change.
ONE OF THE MOST OVER-WORKED, yet fundamentally necessary words in our language is conversation. It’s not only significant interpersonally but inter-culturally. We’re at a time in our history that conversations with authentic intent and understanding are crucial to clearing the debris so evident in many domains in our society.
Communication means back and forth—a dialogue, not a monologue. But, also, back and forth again and again.
Things that happen over-and-over-again build structures and systems in a society. Over-and-over-again-ness, to coin a phrase, takes place at many levels and layers within society. It can also destroy intelligent, careful, important structures—even those that are taken for granted. Lies told over-and-over-again become false “truths.”
Over 200 people have been arrested attempting to stop the Trans-Mountain Pipeline bringing bitumen oil from near Edmonton to Burnaby. I was one of them—and did 240 hours of community service here in Victoria—mostly as a volunteer at Our Place. Recently, many people involved have gone to jail for their actions. The justice system wasn’t interested in a conversation; it began by assisting a long discredited American corporation with a court injunction to stop democratic protests. Ecological illiteracy is devastating in our courts and in our governments. Our federal government exhibited this illiteracy in buying an unnecessary, indeed dangerous pipeline—dangerous to our environment and a healthy future for our children and beyond.
There needs to be a strong, resonant, conversation about this federally-subsidized encroachment into our province. The evidence is so overwhelming that one needn’t read endlessly—the Trans-Mountain Pipeline project is neither ecologically nor economically viable. What does that mean? The project is a wrong-headed endeavour as argued by all expert evidence-based perspectives.
But, there’s also a need for a strong conversation with the police. Police structures and systems are based on taken-for-granted Over-and-over-again-ness as well. These systems and structures need discussion and action—strong conversations with the citizens of our communities.
The notion of defunding the police is foolish in my view. Defunding the medical system, or the educational system, or the correctional system, seem foolish as well. A strong restructuring of all these systems is needed.
However, defunding corporate subsidies from our governments at all levels actually makes a good deal of sense.
But, again, that demands a conversation. How many people have been part of the conversation that has plied taxpayers dollars into the oil and gas private sector? Our provincial government has an errant track record around fracking, LNG pipelines and production, in addition to a completely equally errant relationship with our Indigenous people. All this needs to be remedied—and it begins with dialogue, conversation, openness.
Why now—this desire to communicate with the police? Citizens have begun to realize that we need to join hands—across previous chasms—to become participants as defenders of democracy. The alternative to this conversation is incipient fascism as we are witnessing in many parts of the world. Openness can close gaps or wounds. We all need to take responsibility—not simply take orders!
I’ve delivered a letter to the Victoria Police (Community Relations Department) and the Regional RCMP offices and requested an interview so that we could begin an open conversation regarding our equally important parts in citizen resistance to fear-inducing corporate or government endeavours such as the Trans-Mountain Pipeline. Among the topics I want to discuss with them are the fact that both the Canadian National Railway and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway police (both American owned and operated) have served tickets upon participants observing the on-going pipeline clear-cutting at Brunette Creek in Burnaby.
Let’s be excited about new avenues for conversation as we all attempt to build new structures—over and over again, i.e. keeping our future going with robust intent. Please invite your local police to begin this conversation with you and your community.
Gordon A. Bailey, Ph.D. has taught at both Capilano University and the University of Victoria. He has published books and articles on social theory, ideology and education, as well as written a mystery series. He lives in Victoria, BC. www.gordonabailey.com
But there’s still a UVic endowment fund of $440 million that is invested in fossil fuels.
James Rowe, Jeff Corntassel and Emily Lowan
IN A BREAKTHROUGH for the fossil fuel divestment movement, the University of Victoria announced this week that it planned to fully divest one of its two primary investment funds—a $256 million working capital fund managed by its board of governors—from fossil fuels.
With this decision, the University of Victoria joins other Canadian universities that have divested for a mixture of financial, moral, and reputational reasons, namely, Guelph, Concordia, Lakehead, the University of British Columbia, and Université du Québec a Montréal. It also joins over 1,300 organizations, worth a collective $14.5 trillion, that have pulled their funds from fossil fuel companies. In 2020, fossil fuel companies became the worst-performing sector on the stock market for the second year in a row.
Divestment is now a sound financial decision. But for members of the divestment movement, it’s not just about saving money. When reputable organizations pull their investments in fossil fuels, they help marginalize oil, gas, and coal companies. They make it harder for these companies to wield their political power to delay action on climate change.
Research by the Corporate Mapping Project shows that fossil fuel companies are Canada’s biggest lobbyists. Between 2011 and 2018, the industry averaged six visits with the Canadian government per day for a total of over 11,000 visits. Their aim: to promote continued reliance on fossil fuels and obstruct the transition to renewable energy sources. They encouraged Trudeau’s Liberals, for example, to actively promote the Keystone XL pipeline with the Trump administration.
As members of the divestment movement, our goal is to deflate the social and political licence of fossil fuel companies. Once they’re marginalized, policy makers will be able to take action on climate change with less fear of losing or alienating voters.
In the United States, the Biden administration is now operating with relative autonomy from the powerful oil and gas lobby. In addition to a raft of climate-related executive orders, his administration has put a stop to the Keystone XL pipeline and has started to cancel subsidies for fossil fuel companies. As Biden said at a recent press briefing: “Unlike previous administrations, I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to Big Oil.”
As CNBC stock analyst Jim Cramer recently noted, divestment campaigns have helped turn fossil fuels into the new tobacco, making it easier for politicians to challenge powerful companies. Biden’s stance will create more room for Trudeau to pursue a more ambitious climate policy, if he is willing.
The University of Victoria has finally chosen to align its investments with its commitments to sustainability and reconciliation. This change, eight years in the making, stems from the efforts of a new president and because of sustained campaigning by students, faculty, staff, and administrators. Last year, when Indigenous students were rallying supporters on the front steps of the BC Legislature in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders, the university’s capital fund was invested in TC Energy, the company pursuing the Coastal Gaslink pipeline in Wet’suwet’en Territory. (TC Energy is also pursuing the Keystone XL pipeline.) By choosing divestment, UVic’s actions are beginning to match its values. This year, the university is working to roll out a more robust climate and sustainability action plan on campus and in local communities.
These are breakthroughs, but the university still has a way to go. We hope that this new willingness to divest will also be applied to the university’s other investment fund, a $440-million endowment governed by a separate board. But there are no student or faculty representatives on it, and the board is populated by individuals with ties to the fossil fuel industry.
For example, the chair of the endowment board, Mary Garden, is also a director for Horizon North Logistics, which builds modular camps for oil and gas production. These camps, often referred to as “man camps,” have been implicated in gendered colonial violence and the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Horizon North built the camps for Coastal GasLink on sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory, where in February, the RCMP conducted a militarized five-day siege that sparked solidarity actions across the country.
Likewise, Horizon North Logistics also built the camps at the Kearl Lake oilsands facility in northern Alberta that has been linked to a large COVID-19 outbreak. Because the Alberta government has not restricted fly-in fly-out workers, the outbreak has already been linked to the deaths of two Dene elders in Saskatchewan, along with cases in BC, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Garden’s position as chair of the endowment board is a potential obstruction to divestment at UVic, since she represents a company with profits tied to the fossil fuel industry.
The connections do not end there. Also on the endowment board (which includes eight members from outside UVic) sits Lisa Dempsey, who is a VP and investment counsellor for RBC, and Doug Stadelman, who until 2018 was an RBC VP for Canadian equities. RBC is the world’s second-largest investor in Canada’s fossil fuel sector according to research by the Corporate Mapping Project.
The University of Victoria deserves applause for divesting its working capital fund of fossil fuels. But if the university is truly serious about sustainability and reconciliation, it must also divest its endowment fund as the next step toward meaningful change.
James Rowe is an associate professor of environmental studies; Jeff Corntassel (Cherokee Nation) is an associate professor of Indigenous studies; and Emily Lowan is director of campaigns and community relations for the University of Victoria Students’ Society. A shorter version of this commentary was published on February 8 in the National Observer.
Art owners don’t have the moral right to do whatever they want to an artist’s work.
BACK IN AUGUST, many local residents were surprised, some might say appalled, to learn that a secret message, “ACAB”, had been inserted into a street mural commissioned by the City of Victoria as a gesture of reconciliation and inclusiveness. The mural painted at Bastion Square by a group of 17 artists was a depiction of the slogan “More Peace, More Justice” but inserted into the “S” on “Justice” was the acronym ACAB. This may not be a household term to many, but we soon learned it represented an anti-police protest term “All Cops are Bad,” or more pejoratively “All Cops are Bastards.” ACAB is reported to have originated in the UK in the 1920s. It became popular in punk rock circles in the 1980s and 1990s, and more recently has become quite widespread during anti-racism protests in the US.
Not surprisingly, Victoria City Council and Chief Constable Del Manak were not impressed. Manak called the code word disrespectful and offensive. Council voted to paint it over. But then the artists staged a sit-in and it was decided to negotiate. The negotiations resulted in the entire letter “S” being painted over with black paint, and the following words inserted in its place. “This letter has been censored by the City of Victoria influenced by the Victoria Police Department. In doing so, Victoria is contributing to the silencing of Black and Indigenous voices and experiences across this land.”
The “More Peace, More Justice” mural in Victoria’s Bastion Square
This was a compromise of sorts, but certainly not one to calm troubled waters. The mural got plenty of attention—most of it unfavourable. A number of irate citizens weighed in, including one who decided to spray-paint over the revised wording. Some pointed out that since the City had commissioned the work, it had the right to amend it without negotiating with the artists. One local artist wrote to the Times-Colonist who printed the letter under the title “Who owns an art installation?” The writer said, “I have sold a number of pieces of both my own and commissioned work. I could not imagine incorporating a political message of my belief into a piece of commissioned work, without the knowledge of the purchaser. It would be unprofessional, as well as morally unethical.”
No arguments there. But then he continued, “I was angered to read that the artists responsible for the work were involved in “weeks of negotiations with the city” as to how to deal with the offensive acronym…I have been fortunate enough to purchase a few pieces of original art in my lifetime. Since I bought and paid for them, they belong to me. I can do whatever I wish with them…Since the city owns this installation, the city should not really have to consult with anyone as to what happens with the piece.”
Let’s examine that statement. As much as it may sound logical that if you own something, you can do whatever you want with it, in the case of art the situation is not so clear. First, Canada no longer follows the “work for hire” doctrine (applicable in the US), so just because a work is commissioned by someone, that does not mean that the purchaser owns the copyright. It is retained by the artist, and in this case the copyright is presumably held by the two artists who painted the letter “S”, or perhaps collectively by the entire group of 17 artists. And if they hold the copyright, they can exercise their “moral rights” to prevent unauthorized alteration of their work.
In Canada, the right to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification is known as the “right of integrity”. One copyright expert has described it this way: “The right of integrity is the right of the author to object to any changes of his work that may harm his reputation as an author. This harm would be a question of fact that would have to be determined in court through the testimony of witnesses. For example, painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa (if the Mona Lisa was still protected by copyright) would likely be a violation of Da Vinci’s moral rights.”
The best-known moral rights case in Canada involved the artist Michael Snow. Snow’s work Flight Stop, a representation of sixty geese, hangs in the main galleria of the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto. Commissioned by the Centre’s developers in 1979, in 1982 the geese became entangled in a legal controversy over Snow’s moral rights. Just before Christmas of that year, the management of the Centre decided to bedeck Snow’s geese with red ribbons and use photos of the bedecked geese on promotional items. Snow objected, claiming that the addition of the ribbons altered the character and purpose of the work and negatively affected his artistic reputation. Mall management disagreed, and the case went to the Ontario High Court, which ruled in Snow’s favour. The Eaton Centre was given three days to remove the ribbons, which they did. Snow had made his point and asserted his moral rights.
Now to return to the “More Peace, More Justice” street mural in Victoria, and its hidden ACAB message. It seems to me that the City of Victoria was wise to have entered into discussions with the artists rather than peremptorily disfiguring the work, no matter how noble it felt its cause was. Perhaps the Council actually took some legal advice on the matter? Maybe a group of 17 young artists would not have had the staying power to take the City to court, but who knows? A rich benefactor may have stepped up. It would have been very messy, although the “compromise” that was worked out was not so clean either.
Anyway, I hate to disappoint anyone who may think that an owner or collector can do whatever he or she wants with a piece of purchased art. It isn’t so. In the end, as unsatisfactory as the outcome may have been to a number of people, the City of Victoria undoubtedly did the right thing by negotiating and coming to a compromise solution agreed to by the artists.
Hugh Stephens, a Victoria resident and former executive with Time Warner, writes a weekly blog (www.hughstephensblog.net) on international copyright issues. This story originally appeared in his blog as “Victoria’s “More Peace, More Justice” Mural and the ACAB Controversy: Who Was “Morally Right”?
Statement of solidarity with Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations taking steps to end unfair, discriminatory trespassing by Western Forest Products on their lands.
SIERRA CLUB BC and Kwakwaka’wakw hereditary chiefs are standing in solidarity with Mike Maquinna, the Council of Chiefs of Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation and with affected communities of Tsaxana and Gold River. We denounce the reprehensible actions and sustained disrespect shown to the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people with the blatant trespassing on Ahaminaquus IR 12 by Western Forest Products (WFP) and the tacit provincial government approval evidenced by inaction on the matter.
For the entire 50-year lifespan of Sierra Club BC’s existence, the province of B.C. and successive logging operations have committed offenses under sections 30 and 31 of the Indian Act, namely trespassing. This is a shameful act that illustrates the arrogance WFP shows to the forest and the people who steward them.
If WFP wishes to log within Mowachaht/Muchalaht territory or any other territories they need to respect that the Mowachaht/Muchalaht are the keepers of the land, and therefore entitled to fair compensation. Moving forward, the Province and companies like WFP need to ensure all commercial operations seek out Free, Prior and Informed Consent in ways that uphold community-based sovereignty of First Nations on their territory.
In a statement, Hereditary Chief David Mungo Knox, Walas Numgwis, with the support of Hereditary Chief Calvin Hunt, Nas’am’yus, said, “WFP has shown Kwagu'ł people their true colors. They care about their shareholders more than the forests and Indigenous people who steward them. It pains me to see WFP violating Mowachaht/Muchalaht territory as they also do here. We speak with one voice when we raise our voices in thanks to the Mowachaht/Muchalaht for asserting their rights.”
Chief Rande Cook, ‘Namgis Hereditary Chief An’anxwisa’gamayi, with the support of ‘Namgis hereditary Chief William Wasden Jr., Waxowidi; ‘Namgis hereditary Chief Ernest Alfred, Kwakwaba’las; Musgamagw Hereditary Chief K’odi Nelson, Maxwayalis who all have a traditional connection to the Mowachaht/Muchalaht said “The sacred Nimpkish River connects Kwakwaka’wakw and Nuu-Chah-Nulth people through ‘Namgis territory. The government and industry try to divide us so they can exploit our resources and lands but we have deep roots and family ties to the West Coast. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht struggle to be seen and respected, it is also a Kwakwaka’wakw struggle to be seen and respected and vice versa. A violation of Nuu-chah-nulth law is a violation against all Indigenous people. We know the damage that Western Forest Products has caused and we will remember the silence of the province who let it happen.”
Half a century of blatant trespass is a profoundly disturbing indication of colonial racism. It’s past time for WFP to pay reparations and for the colonial governments to prioritize this once and for all.
Mark Worthing is Sierra Club BC’s Coastal Projects Lead.
Let’s think about the world we are leaving our grandkids as we head to the BC election.
Walking School Bus – Grandparents and parents walking kids to school
JUST OVER A MONTH AGO we woke to a thick, smokey haze settling over Victoria and neighbouring communities. Shockingly, the BC coast recorded some of the world’s worst air quality caused from the Washington and Oregon state fires.
Environment Canada recommended citizens “reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors and children and the elderly should salso take it easy.”
September 8 was my granddaughter’s birthday. It’s hard enough for an eight-year-old to forego the typical birthday party because of COVID-19, but as our family bubble locked up inside on one of the last days of summer it left me feeling like the climate and health Armageddon was on our doorstep.
Not only was the afternoon picnic spoiled but we all sheltered inside for over a week as our southern neighbours experienced some of the worst fires in history and our air quality index went to 10+ or “very high risk”.
In fact, Washington wildfires burned over 289,000 ha (713,000 acres), 181 homes were lost, and one death occurred as a result. The 2020 fire season saw more individual fires than in any other recorded year.
California wildfires continue to burn and so far, have consumed more than 1.62 million ha (4 million acres), a record for the most acres burned in a single year.
The 2020 Oregon wildfire season was one of the most destructive on record with fires killing at least 11 people, burning more than 400,000 ha (1 million acres) of land, and destroying hundreds of homes.
On the same smokey day of September 8, the LA Times published a powerful editorial “Wildfires and soaring temperatures—the hellscape scientists warned us about is here,” explaining why we must change direction. “We need to end this reliance on fossil fuels if we’re going to have any hope of mitigating the damage we have already done to the global environment, and to ourselves.”
Forests are our best ally in fighting climate change, and they enhance our environment by storing carbon, halting land degradation, providing fuel to substitute fossil fuels, and fixing nitrogen to reduce the use of fertilizers. Not to mention—they are rich in biological diversity of animal and plant species making BC one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The Sierra Club BC tells us “old-growth temperate rainforests have the largest carbon storage capacity per hectare on Earth.”
BC is twice the size of California. We occupy 95 million hectares (235 million acres) of land. Almost 64 percent of this land is forested and 10 percent is remaining old growth. It would be an incredible loss to see it all go up in smoke, but it’s a real threat with the effects of climate change upon us.
In our own province, the 2017 and 2018 wildfires burned more than 1.2 million hectares, eight times more than the ten-year average. Four of BC’s 2017 fires caused an estimated 190 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.
And BC forest fires are not accounted for in our GHG inventory. Only emissions that may be within government control are counted. One could argue our climate impact can be controlled by the government.
For Our Grandkids, a group of Victoria grandparents declare “Our first duty as grandparents is to protect our children and grandchildren. We’d storm a burning building to save them, no matter the consequences. Sadly, their house IS on fire. Climate change and injustice pose a direct threat to our kids unless we change course. Part of being a grandparent today is to help make the change we need.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to net zero between 2040 and 2055 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The BC government has pledged to reduce emissions by 80 percent from 2007 levels by 2050 through its CleanBC Plan.
However, just one month before the smoked filled skies, the BC government released data that 2018 gross emissions totalled 67.9 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent. An increase of 7 percent since 2007 and an increase of 2.2 Mt from 2017 (and remember, this does not include 190 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from the 2017 wild fires).
These numbers push the province further away from its targets of a 40 percent reduction from 2007 levels by 2030. BC is now 14 percent further from its 2030 target than it was in 2007.
The BC Government’s CleanBC Plan is worthy of praise but it’s unclear how increasing the production and distribution of liquified natural gas (LNG) fits within the targets of the plan.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reports that increasing production for LNG Canada would “add a total of 13 megatonnes per year, including the company’s estimate of 3.96 megatonnes from the terminal itself. Including LNG Canada, emissions from oil and gas production would exceed BC’s 2050 target by 160 percent, even if emissions from the rest of the economy were reduced to zero by 2035! If Kitimat LNG and Woodfibre LNG were also built (both of which have 40-year export licenses approved by CER), total LNG emissions would amount to 22.6 megatonnes and BC’s 2050 target would be exceeded by 227 percent, even if all other sectors of BC’s economy reached zero emissions by 2031!”
Kate Lawes, mother of teens and volunteer for Parents 4 Climate says, “Parents cannot see the possibility of a positive future for their children if billions of dollars continue to be spent on subsidies supporting the fossil fuel industry.” She asks, “When will our province stop subsidizing fossil fuels and put the money toward immediately reducing GHG’s to provide a greener future for the children of BC and the world?” She continues her plea with “If not, then why?”
LNG production may stimulate our economy, but it’s not sustainable, it’s not healthy, it’s not ethical, and in fact, it’s not even smart. It’s certainly not clean!
Kate and her cohorts with Parents 4 Climate, the BC Sustainable Energy Association, and For Our Grandkids have a few questions to ask their provincial candidates.
“We want to know what our MLA’s are going to do to ensure a Clean and Just economy” reads the intro to their 5-question survey for all the candidates running on lower Vancouver Island.
Answers to those questions will be posted here by October 18.
If I make it to the ripe, old age of 90 in 2050, my grandchildren will be in their late thirties, perhaps with children of their own. By then, let’s hope “Beautiful BC” has not burned to the ground and it’s safe to be outside breathing fresh, clean air, and eating fresh, clean food. I pray the future generations will be full of optimism and dreams built on clean and sustainable lifestyles.
Reduced emission targets are not just political promises, but obligations under the Climate Change Accountability Act and Carbon Neutral Government Regulation.
An election is a chance to hold politicians accountable. It’s a time to ask candidates their vision of the future and how they will uphold climate change legislation and regulation.
It’s your right to ask and future generations are counting on a new approach to economic recovery that considers green and social causes.
Kathryn Molloy is a grandmother, mother, climate activist, a volunteer with For Our Grandkids and the former executive director of both Sierra Club BC and Heritage BC.
BC to destroy old-growth caribou habitat, sabotaging restoration efforts nearby
DAYS AFTER THE PROVINCE announced a new provincial approach to old-growth forests, conservation groups are blowing the whistle on plans to log more than three square kilometres of intact rainforest north of Revelstoke, destroying endangered southern mountain caribou critical habitat. While B.C. quietly advances plans to log the old-growth, the province is trumpeting spending of more than $33,000 to restore caribou habitat nearby.
The B.C. government is taking two steps forward and three steps back by attempting to create habitat while also obliterating old-growth habitat that caribou have been known to use. It’s a net loss. The government is sabotaging itself and caribou, not to mention wasting taxpayer money, by logging right next door.
On the ground investigation from Wildsight, Echo Conservation Society and the Wilderness Committee in the Argonaut Valley has revealed the planned logging will destroy a large area of primarily old-growth rainforest, with massive cedars and hemlocks over 50 metres tall and many hundreds of years old. This comes right after a provincial review of old-growth forests found that a paradigm shift is necessary to manage B.C.’s old-growth forests. The authors recommended 14 steps to preserve the remarkable old-growth found in the province including immediately deferring logging in old forests where ecosystems are at high risk of irreversible biodiversity loss. Argonaut Creek is one of these areas where biodiversity and old-growth forest is at risk.
The Upper Argonaut Valley (Photo courtesy of Wildsight)
“The rainforest in the Argonaut Valley is an incredible place, with giant ancient cedars,” says Echo Conservation Society Executive Director Thomas Knowles. “B.C.’s interior rainforest is a hidden ecological jewel along the eastern edge of the province, but we’re letting it slip away to logging.”
This rainforest is critical habitat for endangered southern mountain caribou, which have recently disappeared from the southern part of their range in the Kootenays after two herds were lost in the Purcell and Selkirk mountains.
“Mountain caribou have already been wiped off the map in southern B.C., mostly because of the destruction of their habitat through logging,” says Wildsight Conservation Specialist Eddie Petryshen. “The North Columbia herd is the southernmost herd left in B.C. with the best chance at survival but they won’t survive if we keep clearcutting the old-growth forest they need.”
These cutblocks are being auctioned off by BC Timber Sales, which is the provincial government’s own logging agency. The groups are calling on the provincial government to cancel the auction of these primarily old-growth logging blocks and restore the five kilometres of already-constructed road.
If B.C. won’t protect this critical caribou habitat, then federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson must use his powers under the Species at Risk Act and issue an emergency protection order to protect irreplaceable caribou habitat.
The proposed clearcuts fall within the 150-member North Columbia herd’s critical habitat under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and tracking data shows that caribou use the area. Logging and other industrial activity is largely blamed for the severe decline of southern mountain caribou to less than 1,200 animals. This population of deep-snow caribou survive by eating lichen from trees in the winter and are disappearing not just because of the loss of the old-growth forests they rely on, but also because of an increase in predators because of changes in forest ecosystems and backcountry roads that come with logging.
This summer, the B.C. government announced $1.1 million in funding for caribou habitat restoration. Splatsin First Nation is leading a restoration project in the area and the province has devoted over $33,000 to this effort. Yet at the same time, the province is auctioning off cutblocks less than two kilometres from the area being restored. In past years, the province has also spent significant sums on maternal penning for caribou in the North Columbia herd, culling predators like wolves and other measures.
“Habitat restoration is an incredibly important aspect of recovery,” says Knowles. “But it makes no sense to restore habitat, build maternity pens and kill predators for caribou and then turn around and cut down the old-growth forest they need to survive.”
With less than 5 percent of the inland rainforest still standing as old-growth, conservation groups are asking why the province is allowing any logging of the little old-growth that remains
“British Columbians want their old-growth forests protected, not logged,” says Petryshen. “So why is B.C. planning to log one of the few remaining valleys of old-growth in the rainforest north of Revelstoke?
Charlotte Dawe is Conservation and Policy Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.
A report card on government’s access to information timelines
GOVERNMENT’S INFORMATION IS THE PUBLIC’S INFORMATION. More than a glib phrase, this principle was unanimously enshrined by BC’s legislature in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) more than 25 years ago. FIPPA gives each of us the right of access to a public body’s information within a prescribed time frame, subject to carefully prescribed exceptions.
To be meaningful, any access to information system must work in a timely way — access delayed is, in many cases, access denied. And any time an access response is outside the legislated timeline, government fails to respect the law.
For these reasons, my office has, for many years, conducted periodic assessments of the provincial government’s timeliness in responding to access requests. This report examines timeliness since the previous assessment released in September, 2017. This report uses the same point scoring system as past timeliness assessments to ensure valid comparisons. This report also applies other metrics, which offer further insights into government’s performance.
The positive news is that response times, as measured by government’s point scores of the last three years, are their highest since 2012/13. This is welcome. But it must not obscure what continues to be a blight on the access to information system and a threat to the public’s confidence in it: between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2020, government took it upon themselves, in over 4,000 cases, to extend the response time for an access request without any legal right to do so.
Timeliness of access is a vitally important principle. Surely it should go without saying that respect for the law is even more important.
This untenable situation has spanned multiple governments over many years. My worry is that, over time, a culture of acceptance has grown around this issue, affecting government’s attitude toward the problem, and also, to be frank, the approach my office has taken. This must end.
To be clear, I acknowledge the rising volume of access requests, especially in the past two fiscal years, as illustrated in this report. The all-time highs for requests undoubtedly present challenges and I credit the dedicated public servants, particularly those in the Information Access Operations office, who work very hard to keep pace. The fact is, however, that the public service must have the resources necessary to keep pace with demand and to comply with the law.
Other tools exist that can improve the situation, so this report makes recommendations that could assist the work of the government’s access experts. Ministries must also prioritize proactive disclosure to ensure commonly sought records are more readily available. In addition, as noted in my s. 71 report published earlier this year, government must establish additional categories of records to make information more easily accessible. I also encourage access applicants to, wherever possible, try to ensure the scope of their requests accurately targets only the information they truly need.
In summary, while I am encouraged by the improvement in government’s response scores, I am deeply troubled by the large number of cases left unanswered within the time limits set out in FIPPA. This state of affairs cannot continue without bringing British Columbia’s access to information law into disrepute.
Michael McEvoy, Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia
Read the report:OIPC Timeliness Report.pdf
With no success at reducing local emissions in the CRD, maybe it’s time to try something different.
By Peter Gose and Zeb King
THE RECENT DISCOVERY that the CRD is “not even close” to meeting its emission targets (Times Colonist, Aug. 11, 2020) shows that nibbling around the edges of the climate crisis will not get the job done. Existing measures like active transit, charging stations and building retrofits are fine, but do not address the core of the problem. Worse still, they continue the illusion that the solution lies in individual lifestyle decisions. Instead, we need to ask where the bulk of our emissions come from and develop a social infrastructure that eliminates them. The CRD study reveals that automobiles are the single largest source (46 percent) of the region’s emissions. Any real solution must begin by getting cars off the road.
What we need is an electrified, expanded, high-quality public transit network that is fare-free. Any of these changes is welcome and ultimately all are necessary but we see eliminating fares as the crucial first step that will put people in bus seats, build ridership, and so make the case for expanded service. For decades, our leaders at the Transit Commission have tried the reverse approach of improving service levels within the existing fare model and have failed to build a system that reverses automobile dependency. Maybe charging fees for a service you want people to use is counterproductive. It’s time to try something different. How about getting rid of fares to encourage use of public transit as an environmentally responsible alternative?
So our call is to temporarily put aside all the technological discussions about how great our transit system could be if only it was fully electrified to eliminate carbon emissions and featured amazing apps. None of that matters unless ridership dramatically increases. For now, we even suggest parking the hope of extending service to currently neglected areas. Yes, these should be goals, but they put the cart before the horse. Demand must come first and can surge even with the existing service if we only remove fares as a regressive user fee. Once public transit has a larger user base, the Commissioner’s dreams of an improved bus fleet and levels of service will have a natural constituency. If we want the CRD to act fast in “getting close” to meeting its emissions targets, fare-free public transit is where we have to start.
Our belief in fare-elimination as the first step in a transformative sequence is grounded in historical experience. When the University Pass was applied to every student at UVic in the 1990s, ridership increased dramatically. In fact, it was such a success with packed buses that transit had to scramble to improve service, put on more buses and thus increase frequency. This wasn’t the “wait for service changes” approach. It was about unleashing demand which forced service improvements. We simply propose up-scaling this proven approach to the entire system.
How would we pay for fare-free transit? The short answer is by following through on the logic of our existing system, in which provincial and municipal taxes already pay around 75 percent of the costs. By eliminating the fare-box and topping up the difference with increased taxes, we will acknowledge that public transit depends on public funding, and end the charade that a regressive user fee that suppresses ridership is how we actually pay for it. Instead, we would adopt a progressive funding formula, one that is based on the ability to pay through our tax system. We do not charge user fees to take elevators in buildings, walk on sidewalks, drive on roads, borrow books from libraries, put out fires or for medical services: why, especially during a climate crisis, should user fees exist for public transit? More to the point, if we fail to address the climate crisis now, exponentially greater costs await us in the coming decade. There is no economic case against effective climate action.
The CRD cannot just passively audit its own failure to meet emission targets. Mayor Lisa Helps has called for “bold suggestions” but our proposal for expanded, fare-free public transit is hardly that. It merely applies to public transit a full public funding formula that we successfully use for other essential services. Neither business as usual nor green austerity, our proposal would reduce emissions dramatically while also creating a more inclusive society for low-income people, safer neighbourhoods with reduced traffic, and a higher quality of life for everybody. It is a collective solution whose time has come.
Peter Gose, (Professor Emeritus, Carleton University) and Zeb King, Central Saanich Councillor
The Caledonia housing project in Fernwood is causing a land use conflict, pitting educational needs against housing.
HOW DID VIC HIGH’S seismic upgrade become subordinate to the Capital Region Housing Corporation’s (CRHC) agenda? In a telephone conversation with the Regional Director of the Ministry of Education’s Capital Management Branch, Damien Crowell, on June 9, 2020, he confirmed that School District 61 had access to government funding to offset the $2.6M shortfall associated with Vic High’s upgrade. Yet the School District chose to lease over two acres of Vic High land for sixty years to the CRHC for the proposed Caledonia project, charging a cut-rate price of $4.1M total. The issue has divided our community in a futile “housing vs education” conflict. For all that, the 1,000 students who will attend the seismically upgraded Vic High are the ones who will pay the price if this questionable deal moves forward.
There are many things wrong here. But for the purposes of this article, I will focus on how the project’s need for more space than originally thought has impacted a long-planned and needed rejuvenation of Vic High’s stadium and track.
In a recent article in the Times-Colonist, “Thanks for the Memories: Saying Goodbye to Vic High’s Old Stadium,” the omission of one word—metric—previously used to describe the Revitalized Stadium plans for a new track, is the mark of a scandalous cover-up that through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, has been laid bare.
Emails starting on August 1, 2017 between former School District 61 Secretary-Treasurer, Mark Walsh, and Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC) Development Manager Paul Kitson regarding the proposed Caledonia Housing Project on Vic High land, reveal that poor planning led to the undisclosed decision to cancel Vic High’s promised metric track—a track that requires a significantly larger footprint than the current yard track.
The western extent of the old track is outlined within the field area of the new track. The western extent of the new metric track would be the brown area (lanes) on the left, plus the white area.
Site plans for Vic High’s Revitalized Stadium were not taken into consideration when the CRHC prepared the September, 2018 Urban Design Brief for the proposed housing. Consequently, the design took shape without reference to the expanded area required for Vic High’s metric track, leading to a land-use conflict that has been hidden from the public.
The issue went unnoticed until late March, 2019, almost two years into negotiations. Only after the CRHC took steps to apply for rezoning did they discover that the Caledonia project would require a setback for a fire lane running between Grant and Gladstone Streets along the whole of the western boundary with Vic High property.
The discovery put the CRHC in a bind because their design left no leeway, an issue that should have sent them back to the drawing board. However, the CRHC resolved to take more land from Vic High, planting their flag, so to speak, on land designated for the education of 1,000 students.
The red area approximates the area of land the housing project would need for a fire lane, but that a metric-size track would need as well.
In an email to Walsh dated March 29, 2019, Kitson wrote the following: “I met the City planner today. They asked us [to] include on our site plan something related to [the] proposed track. It helps them decide on variations to setback requirements. Do you have anything that could help such as: 1. Are seating stands being proposed, what kind and location? 2. How far will the track be moved, if at all? Also, I mentioned that we are proposing a 4.5m easement [later increased to 8 metres] on the Vic High property, which needs your approval?”
In Kitson’s email, “setback” and “easement” seem to be interchangeable terms, an underlying problem that persists. There are legal issues surrounding the use of Vic High grounds to satisfy the CRHC’s rezoning requirements, not least of which is that the land in question was already slated for Vic High’s metric track.
So, what was the School District’s response? On April 4, 2019, Walsh failed to report plans to expand Vic High’s current track: “At this point, we have not incorporated an expanded track in our planning. We will be
meeting with a small group to discuss Vic High next week. Jim Soles is the lead on the technical aspects of the project but at this point has little information on what the final design of the field space would be. I do not anticipate significant seating.”
Little information? The Revitalized Stadium plans were known to the School District since 2012 and confirmed in presentations to its operations committee and board in January, 2018. To suggest that School District staff had “little information on what the final design of the field space would be” in April, 2019, doesn’t hold water.
Moreover, neglecting to reference the Revitalized Stadium plans did not give the School District permission to cancel plans for Vic High’s metric track. Similarly, the CRHC’s assumption that they have the right to take land from Vic High to satisfy rezoning requirements is an infringement on Vic High students.
Nonetheless, the School District offered to “grant” the area required for the setback to the CRHC without financial compensation, despite claims of funding shortages, and at the expense of Vic High’s metric track, without public consultation. Was the School District eager to please the CRHC as they are an apparent “partner” in an undisclosed plan to lease parcels of land belonging to as many as 29 schools in SD61?
Walsh’s email presents another curiosity: What “small group” was scheduled to meet with the School District to “discuss Vic High?” Here’s a not-so-wild guess: the Vic High Alumni Association Executive. Regardless, the Alumni did not have the authority to cancel the metric track either.
Changes to Vic High’s Revitalized Stadium project require public consultation. In 2012, the School Board passed a motion in support of the Alumni’s vision and the School District has actively assisted them in their fundraising efforts. The City of Victoria committed to matching funds of up to $250,000 in 2014. In 2015, MLA Carole James outlined the plans, the donations and grants and sang praises for the project in the BC Legislature. By 2018, the public had donated $150,000. Additionally, the Vic High Alumni Association continues to request donations based on the original plan; therefore, the original plan must be delivered.
Here’s the real kicker: After wheedling more land from Vic High, the CRHC produced an image that describes the land (referenced as an “8m easement”) as part of “SD61 Land Remaining After Housing Agreement.” Technically, the land would remain in the hands of SD61 as it’s an easement. However, the document further describes the area as “for educational purposes,” even though the CRHC had already described it as a fire lane and public greenway in their rezoning application. To suggest that this is for educational purposes is disingenuous, especially because it prohibits the construction of Vic High’s promised metric track that is expressly for educational purposes.
Shockingly, the CRHC shared this problematic image with the School District who then shared it with the public at the November 12, 2019 public consultation, two weeks before trustees voted on the land transfers that triggered the proposed lease. Apparently, the CRHC was motivated to do so after a citizens’ group presented data to trustees showing that CRHC plans would put Vic High’s land-to-student ratio below Ministry of Education standards. (By their own admission, the School District did not consider area standards before engaging in negotiations with the CRHC.)
The image suggests that the proposed housing does not encroach upon the area needed for Vic High’s promised sports infrastructure—but it does. By withholding information about the impact of the proposed housing on Vic High’s metric track, the public was denied an opportunity to voice an opinion about the loss of vital infrastructure for Vic High’s students. The CRHC’s confusing image, and the School District’s retention of information, apparently to effect an outcome in favour of the Caledonia project, should nullify the results of the trustees’ vote that has allowed the Caledonia project to proceed.
Transparency issues go right to the core of the proposed Caledonia project. Recall that the rationale for the project rests on the need to offset a funding shortfall of $2.6M for Vic High’s seismic upgrade, and gains its legitimacy from the assertion that the preservation of Vic High’s heritage is more expensive than a new build.
However, the timeline of the negotiations for the proposed lease is out of sync with this claim; on Aug 1, 2017, when negotiations began, the model for Vic High’s seismic upgrade had yet to be determined, and a funding shortfall was impossible to claim. The proposed lease seems to be motivated by the intent to yield general revenue.
Additionally, the Project Definition Report for Vic High’s seismic upgrade doesn’t support the claim of higher “heritage” costs. The difference between “heritage” Option 3 and a new build is less than $1M and the new build option doesn’t include a theatre. However, the most important detail is that as early as 2005, consultants told the School District that a new build wasn’t a viable option, for a number of reasons. In fact, the budget for a new build was developed for the sake of comparison.
Above all, School District records show that the model for Vic High’s seismic upgrade was contingent on “full funding” from the Ministry of Education. According to the Project Definition Report, the cost of Vic High’s upgrade is $77.1M (without the additional cost of the Neighbourhood Learning Centre that receives separate funding). Remarkably, on June 27, 2019, Minister of Education, Rob Fleming, announced exactly $77.1M in funding for Vic High.
So, is there a $2.6M funding shortfall for Vic High’s seismic upgrade that warrants the lease of over two acres of Vic High grounds for 60 years? To date, the School District refuses to respond to FOI requests for the source of the shortfall, claiming that this information jeopardizes the bidding process for construction.
The School District has also stalled on FOI requests for site plans for Vic High’s Neighbourhood Learning Centre. Currently, an investigator from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is investigating this issue.
Even under the best of circumstances, the Caledonia project was scheduled to be completed in 2023. COVID-19 has slowed the process even further. The compounding crisis of mismanagement presents an opportunity to leverage a better plan: redirect the $50M already allocated for the construction of 158 Caledonia units to purchase and renovate existing structures now. This plan would also have the benefit of a lower carbon footprint. The BC government has recently purchased hotels to assist unhoused populations. Let’s apply a similar concept to the affordability crisis by providing housing starting now for families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet.
Students and their families need both stable, affordable housing and fully resourced public schools to meet the many challenges of our uncertain world. Redirecting the $50M meets both needs and offers immediate relief during a worsening crisis.
Esther Callo is the parent of two Vic High graduates and served on the Vic High Parent Advisory Council for five years. She has a BA (Hons) from UVic and is a passionate advocate of public education. She is part of the citizens' group Vic High Spaces and Ethical Engagement, whose website has a wealth of documentation: https://www.vichighsaee.ca
Mountains of plastic from failed synthetic playing fields aren't being recycled.
EARLY IN AUGUST Early in August the Greater Victoria School District replaced the prematurely failed artificial turf playing field at Oak Bay High. Initially it’s hard to understand why synthetic fields are required, especially when you consider the surface is composed of 12.7 tonnes of petroleum-based turf carpet with 40 tonnes of tiny thermoplastic elastomer pellets spread on top.
Can 52 tonnes of plastic possibly be better than a real grass field?
Upon closer examination it becomes apparent these fake fields are actually essential to the all-weather, all-season needs of burgeoning local sports programs. In addition to use by school students, Bays United Football Club has 1,600 enthusiastic local participants age five to sixty who use this particular field for over 2,000 hours each year. Natural fields simply could not withstand this intensity of use.
If one is prepared to accept that premise, there is an additional factor that is truly unacceptable. These fields have short lifespans and must be replaced every 8 to 10 years.
In addition to the Oak Bay High field, the City of Victoria is replacing the worn-out synthetic field at Topaz Park next year. These two local fields will be added to 750 other end-of-life fields that are replaced each year in North America. This represents a mountain of carpet. There is no recycling facility on this continent.
The scrapped, prematurely-failed playing field carpet at Oak Bay High. (Photo by Angus Matthews)
This is where the “don’t ask, don’t tell” part comes in. The School District and the City have either not asked or won’t tell where and how the carpet is actually being recycled. (The pellets can be reused.) The manufacturer that replaced the failed Oak Bay High field on warranty reports that they transfer the turf to a Vancouver company who ships it to Asia for recycling. The recycling company apparently provides a certificate that seems to satisfy the School District. But there is no real information about a location, process, or facility where the recycling takes place. No address, no photos, no proud evidence of having done the environmentally responsible thing. It’s not even clear what country the facility may be located in. They have variously stated China, the Philippines or Malaysia. How can our school board and city council condone shipping discarded plastic turf thousands of kilometres across the Pacific to become an unknown burden in a developing country?
Europe also has a huge problem managing synthetic turf. Zembla TV, a Netherlands-based investigative journalism program, exposed the synthetic turf industry’s dirty big secret. In a 2018 documentary, their team followed truckloads of synthetic turf to giant, unregulated, turf mountain stockpiles instead of the promised recycling facilities. There is only one known recycling facility for synthetic turf and its located in Denmark, not across the Pacific.
The Synthetic Turf Council is the industry advocacy and standards organization. In their 2015 report entitled “Removal, Recovery, Reuse and Recycling of Synthetic Turf,” it states, “In fact, when compared to the $30-60,000 cost of landfilling an 80,000 square foot sports field, it is unlikely that the cost of transporting the synthetic turf and/or infill farther than 200 miles will be considered feasible. Therefore, it will be important to investigate all of the reuse, recycling, and power generation options in the region.”
The CRD’s Hartland landfill may be the only responsible disposal site in this particular case. For the future there is another option. Before buying another plastic field, tell—don’t ask—the synthetic turf industry to resolve their disgraceful lapse in environmental responsibility.
Angus Matthews is a retired college administrator who discovered plastics from the Oak Bay High field in nearby Bowker Creek in October 2019.
Victoria City staff are challenging Old Town planning principles and policies. Is that opening the door for more aggressive proposals like those submitted for the Northern Junk Properties?
ON JUNE 11th, 2020 Victoria City Council considered an application for the redevelopment of the 1860’s buildings, commonly known as the Northern Junk Properties, on Wharf Street, south of the Johnson Street Bridge. The proposal would see four storeys added to each of the one-storey heritage buildings. This is not an approach that is supported by the adopted standards for heritage restoration and rehabilitation where the goal is to showcase the authenticity of heritage buildings. Nor is this approach supported in the City’s 2019 “Old Town Design Guidelines.”
Artist's rendering of Reliance Properties proposal for the Northern Junk Properties, which City council recently declined to send to a public hearing
City staff, in supporting the application, stated that: “The current Official Community Plan moves away from taking an ‘archival’ approach to heritage within Old Town and sets out a vision to create a living and breathing Old Town, where buildings, old and new, are occupied, vibrant and are actively contributing to the liveability and well being of the community as a whole.’”
This statement suggests that prior to the current Official Community Plan being adopted in 2012, projects that had been developed in Old Town, over many decades, had not achieved these goals while, at the same time, respecting and responding to the principles related to heritage conservation and rehabilitation.
This is a very puzzling conclusion since Victoria’s Old Town is considered one of the most vibrant, desirable, diverse and attractive areas of the city where people are able to live, work and recreate. In addition, it enjoys an international reputation for the quality of its heritage buildings and their sensitive rehabilitation—all achieved while respecting and responding to the principles associated with heritage preservation, rehabilitation and adaptive reuse.
Over many years, often at times when few, if any, residential units were being built in downtown Victoria, housing projects were consistently being developed, through the conversion of heritage buildings, or infill developments, in Old Town. These units range from non-profit housing to seniors’ housing to apartments and condominiums. Not only do these buildings provide housing on their upper floors but their main floor spaces house retail, restaurant or entertainment venues, all contributing to the vitality and liveability of the neighbourhood. In addition, they were developed in compliance with City policies.
The fact that the Northern Junk buildings have sat in a derelict state for an unprecedented period of time was also used as an impetus to move the proposal forward. Factually this is not correct as prior to the City developing heritage policies, incentives, etc, dating back as far as the 1970s, there were many buildings in Old Town that had sat under-utilized for many decades. Supported and encouraged by the City’s commitment to its architectural heritage, one by one, we saw new life being brought to these buildings.
Reliance Properties drawings of the existing 1860 buildings on the site
The Northern Junk buildings, part of a long-held portfolio of properties owned by one family, would likely have been rehabilitated many years ago, if they had been made available for sale earlier. When the properties were made available for sale, circa 2008, the first site to be redeveloped was the Morley’s Soda Works building located in Waddington Alley. Purchased by Le Fevre and Company at the then market rate, it was in a state of serious dilapidation with its roof in a state of collapse and trees growing up through the building. It was in a more deteriorated condition than the Northern Junk buildings. Yet Morley’s was rehabilitated and redeveloped into housing by this for-profit developer, with a modest one-storey roof top addition added, barely visible from its land-locked location.
Jon Stovell, the president of Reliance Properties, the current owner of the Northern Junk properties, expressed surprise and frustration when Council referred the current application back to staff, rather than advancing it to a Public Hearing. The instruction from Council was to bring the proposal more in line with the “Design Guidelines for Old Town.” What are the factors that have led to this frustration? A lack of clarity on the part of City Council and the Planning Department? A lack of vision on the part of the developer in terms of what would constitute an appropriate and welcomed development of the site? A lack of clarity on whether, or not, the City-owned lands to the north of the site would be made available to the developer?
One only has to leaf through some of the proposals brought forward by Reliance to come to the conclusion that a vision is lacking. A proposal that included the City-owned land resulted in a development comprised of 126,000 square feet. The current proposal, excluding the City lands, amounts to 44,434 square feet. Another concept saw a 12-storey tower (where 5 storeys is the maximum permitted ) constructed on the City lands. All of this begs the question, how much is enough to make the project economically viable?
The question that is also being asked is why are we seeing the Old Town planning principles and policies challenged in such dramatic ways recently. Other than the controversial 1989 development of the Eaton Centre projects in Old Town, both new construction and rehabilitation, have moved forward successfully over many decades. Some have attributed these new challenges to Victoria being identified as ripe for development for non-local companies. Could it be that the more aggressive approach brought to land use issues in Vancouver, for example, has made its way across the water? Could it be that the confrontational, and challenging, style that has seen success in Vancouver is being tested here? Could it be that City Council and the Planning Department have not provided clear guidance, supported existing planning principles and pointed out that Victoria has a successful formula, and an enviable track record, in supporting developments that “enhance the city and create a living and breathing Old Town where buildings, old and new, are occupied, vibrant and are actively contributing to the liveability and well being of the community as a whole.”
As a community activist, Pam Madoff was elected to Victoria City Council in 1993. She served for 25 years, advocating for quality architecture and urban planning, arts and culture and heritage restoration and rehabilitation. She continues to do all of these things—without having to sit through Council meetings.
The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has released its report on the extent to which public bodies are meeting the requirements of Section 71 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The text below has been excerpted from that report. There's a link to the report at the bottom of this page.
IT IS OFTEN SAID that information is the oxygen of democracy. To that end, we desperately need a hyperbaric chamber that will boost our access to information systems in a way that improves the accountability of public bodies.
Public institutions work hard to fulfil the legal obligations under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). I also know that, at times, they face challenges in doing so. The recent onset of COVID-19 is one of those challenges. And yet the pandemic itself is a good illustration of why access to information is so important. The public want to understand how their institutions are responding to the crisis, and ultimately hold those institutions accountable for their actions.
So how can government work to ensure an effective and efficient access to information system? One way is to get ahead of the issue by not waiting for citizens to ask for records. This is especially the case where certain types of records are frequently requested. Public bodies can save themselves and the public time by proactively disclosing these records in a deliberate and obvious manner. Proactive disclosure is especially relevant during times like the current COVID- 19 pandemic.
This idea of proactive disclosure is more than just a helpful suggestion or a best practice. It is a legal obligation under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).
FIPPA was amended in 2011 to require public bodies to create categories of records that are proactively disclosed to the public. Both creating such categories and clearly communicating their existence to the public are critical components of meeting this statutory obligation.
The question posed by this investigation report is, “What have public bodies done to make good on this obligation?” In some cases, progress has been made. In other instances, not much. In general, much more needs to be done.
This report follows several other proactive disclosure reports from my office that explained both the necessity and the means for public bodies to be open and transparent. This report makes a fuller accounting of what public bodies are actually doing, providing a clearer roadmap for future action. I hope all public bodies will find it to be of assistance.
Michael McEvoy is the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC. The full Investigation Report on Section 71 is below: IR 20-01 S. 71 report June Final.pdf
BC's minister of forests refers to forests as "feedstock." Why does he use an agricultural term to describe a forest?
A new logging road under construction in the Inland Rainforest (Photo by Taylor Roades)
IN Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell describes a dystopian society in which language is used to control people. In Orwell’s fictional world, vocabulary is constrained and new words are created in order to simplify and manipulate people’s understanding of the world around them. Orwell suggested that the well-known connection between language and worldview could also be used to manage human behaviour.
Not having worked in industrial forestry, it was only three years ago that I started hearing the word “fibre” used instead of “forest” with confusing frequency. This word appears on industry and government websites and it is used regularly by timber company representatives. Last week, BC Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson described the lands he is in charge of as “feedstock” in my community newspaper. One could be forgiven for thinking that the timber industry, with the Province’s help, is attempting to replace the notion of a forest—and everything that word means —with vague abstractions.
The term fibre conjures up Metamucil, while feedstock summons the mental image of food for livestock. Why are government and industry employing these euphemisms, rather than just saying forest? The purpose is two-fold: to change how we view these complex living systems and to prevent us from acting to defend them.
If forests can be rebranded as stands of consumable objects (which the terms fibre and feedstock achieve), then the work of obtaining social license to destroy them has already been done. If an ecosystem is merely feedstock for a pellet plant, what on Earth else would you do with it? If a tree falls in a fibre, no one will hear it because it doesn’t exist.
Natural forests, including those that have burned or are full of decay fungi, provide food and medicines and mitigate floods. Forests also store and sequester carbon in soil and plant tissues, and old forests are particularly good at this. Beetle-killed forests provide critical structures for wildlife.
The founding belief of modern forest management—that natural forests are a commodity—is among the root causes of declining ecosystem health in B.C. Under this belief system, old growth is in the way of plantations that can provide a predictable flow of wood and revenue. Burned or beetle-killed forests are waste. Paired with corporate control over public lands, the conceit that people can and should manage complex ecosystems has led us to where we are today.
Emerging research confirms that BC’s productive old-growth forest is all but gone. Companies are being awarded licenses to cut down remaining primary forests to feed pellet plants. The Council of Forest Industries, whose member companies have levelled most of the economically valuable old growth on the coast and in the interior, are demanding that the province set aside the remainder in a “working forest landbase” (read: make available for logging), according to their Smart Future report.
As a part of their ongoing efforts to ensure continued access to BC’s last primary forests, those in power are trying to reduce these ecosystems to objects so that the public won’t fight for them. We will not abide lies of omission that obscure the truth of what natural forests are and we won’t stop defending them. Natural forests will always be more than fibre or feedstock; and in nature, there is no such thing as waste.
Michelle Connolly, MSc, Conservation North, Prince George
Michelle Connolly surveys a clearcut in the Inland Rainforest. Old growth cedars in the interior are often considered “waste” by the forestry sector. (Photo by Mary Booth)
AS THE GROWING SEASON RAMPS UP IN BC, it’s abundantly clear that this year will challenge farmers and food suppliers in a multitude of ways. The effects of COVID-19 will likely continue to ripple through our food systems for months, especially in urban areas where food supply chains tend to be longer and more complex. To get to our tables, many products go from farm to processing plant to large retailers; what happens when any one of those links is disadvantaged by the current pandemic?
In Canada, farmers currently have to make tough decisions because it is difficult or impossible for them to access the labour pool of temporary foreign workers that they rely on to cultivate and harvest many of their crops. Farther afield, some countries are considering limiting their exports of certain key crops. According to Bloomberg News (March 25 2020), Kazakhstan—an important global exporter of wheat—just banned exports of the product; in a similar vein, Vietnam has put a hold on new export contracts for rice. These are just two examples of the ways that COVID-19 is stressing the food system that we all depend upon.
I am an optimist at heart, and I have a lot of faith in the ability of our local and global community to adapt to the challenges that we will see this year. The Canadian federal and provincial governments have been acting quickly and decisively to ensure that all food supply related jobs are seen as essential services and supported as such. That said, it would be short sighted in the extreme if we didn’t consider the various ways that COVID-19 will continue to affect our food systems even once we have managed to “flatten the curve.”
I am a farmer and writer on Salt Spring Island; the responses that I’m seeing from small farmers on the island make me optimistic that with some careful planning and creative adaptations, small farmers will be able to fill some of the gaps in our local food supply.
Small farmers here face a different set of challenges than industrial growers. Many supply directly to restaurants, which is currently not an option. They also rely more heavily on sales outlets like farmers markets, which may be temporarily closed or have greatly reduced traffic. Here on Salt Spring, as in many other small BC towns, tourism is an important part of the economy and usually plays a significant role in keeping small farmers and artisans in business.
Farmers now have to find alternate sources of income to ensure the survival of their business. Many are starting a CSA program this year, or expanding existing ones: Community Supported Agriculture is a sales model in which people pay upfront for a weekly share of farm produce—the influx of money at the start of the growing season provides a guaranteed income for the farmer, and the customer benefits from a consistent supply of fresh local produce all season long. Duck Creek Farm on Salt Spring has expanded their CSA from 22 to 80 members, and may continue to accept new members if their crops do well. Down the road, the Hastings House Country Hotel farm—which usually provides organic vegetables for the hotel restaurant—is considering starting a CSA to share their produce with local consumers while the hotel is closed.
Online programs also offer a valuable sales outlet that many farmers (and consumers) are making use of for the first time. SPUD.ca, for example, is a BC and Alberta based business that curates local, organic food directly from producers; customers put in an online order and the food is delivered to their door. SPUD, like most other food delivery services, is currently experiencing an unprecedented amount of business.
On Vancouver Island, the Cowichan Online Farmers Market, which delivers produce to Duncan and Victoria, saw a dramatic increase in orders in late March—so much so that they are hiring employees and expanding their business model (The Tyee, April 9 2020).
On Salt Spring, the website Local Line is being used for the first time by a plethora of local farmers. The website is designed to help farmers market their produce directly to consumers: they input their available inventory, and customers can order online with an option for contactless pickup or delivery.
These are just a handful of examples of existing delivery programs that provide a direct connection between farmers and consumers. None are new, but all are experiencing a massive surge of popularity as their services help maintain the essential connection between people and food, in this case local food.
As well as working to increase access to local food right now, many farmers on Salt Spring are thinking about how to increase food security in the near future. Duck Creek Farm, for example, has plans to increase their fall and winter storage crops, such as beets and carrots. They are also making plans to save seeds this year for the first time, with the expectation that seeds will be either scarcer or more expensive next year.
Increased government funding is also helping support growers in their work. Salt Spring Island Community Services has secured enough funding for additional staff to expand their one-acre farm plot, which provides fresh fruits and vegetables for the local food bank. The food bank currently serves about 100 people a week, and the expectation is that that number will rise dramatically this year as people who are prevented from working due to COVID-19 struggle to make ends meet.
As of right now, we are all reacting as best we can to the COVID-19 crisis. The challenges are far from over, but we are already starting to see the potential seeds of lasting change as people from every industry, government department and the community put their heads together to respond and adapt. I’m optimistic that our collective response will be not only reactive, but also proactive. This is not the first time that the world has been rocked by a global crisis, and nor will it be the last. We have an opportunity to build lasting connections that can strengthen our communities against future challenges as well.
First and foremost on my mind is the ever-present and growing challenge of climate change. Much like the current pandemic, climate change transcends borders and has the potential to greatly impact our global food supply chains. The effects of climate change—which include increasingly severe droughts, increased risk of flooding, and more changeable weather patterns, to name just a few—already affect growers around the world and those effects are only going to increase. If we take one thing from this pandemic, let it be the remembrance that local food security is important for the long-term resilience of our communities as the effects of climate change threaten food supplies in years to come.
COVID-19 has sparked a growing support for farmers as we remember the importance of the service they provide: whatever is happening in the world, we all need to eat. Increased funding and more active consumer support for local growers are two trends that I see right now that make me optimistic for the future of food in Canada. Seeing farmers work hard to fill any gaps in our local food system, to save seeds for next year and to diversify their business models is also an inspiration. This pandemic is unquestionably disrupting many lives for the worse, but it also seems to be galvanizing actions that can benefit our communities in the long run if we continue to appreciate their value.
Hilary Thomson is a farmer and writer based on Salt Spring Island. When not digging in the dirt, she and her partner can be found traveling the Pacific Coast by sailboat. Her work can be found online at 48 North Magazine, Waterborne Magazine and Bootsnall Travel Website.
In light of new global conditions, Canada's federal government needs to rethink its commitment to build the Trans Mountain Expansion Project
NEW FACTS HAVE EMERGED since the NEB approved the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX) on May 29, 2016 which make it likely that an expanded pipeline will not be needed or will ever be used, providing compelling reasons why the federal government should push the pause button on its construction.
There are three pipeline projects which will address Alberta’s need for pipeline capacity. The first is Enbridge’s Line 3 and additional mainline optimizations which will soon add 450,000 bbl/day. The next pipeline to be completed will be Keystone which will add another 830,000 barrels per day (bbl/day). And finally there is TMX which will add 690,000 bbl/day.
On March 31 Premier Kenny announced Alberta would take a $1.5 billion equity stake in Keystone and provide it with a $6 billion loan guarantee to help finance the constructions costs. He stated: “We are hopeful the Trans Mountain Expansion will get done. This is our insurance policy.” In other words, he wants to ensure the Keystone is built so that if TMX is not built for any reason, Alberta producers will have their needed pipeline capacity with the Keystone.
When the federal government decided to buy Trans Mountain and the rights to build TMX there was considerable doubt Keystone would ever be completed. The landscape has changed so much since then that premier Kenny and his government felt confident that Alberta tax dollars would be well spent to provide Keystone a financial backing that will likely guarantee completion of its construction.
This leaves the question as to whether TMX will be needed, because if Keystone is the “insurance” for a TMX failure it is also true that if Keystone is built and built before TMX is completed, as presently scheduled, TMX will not be necessary.
This was the conclusion of a June 2019 Report of an Evaluation of the TMX project conducted by Dr Thomas Gunton and Dr Chris Joseph of SFU. Using the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) 2018 supply forecast and an “under construction” forecast based on projects that were under construction at the time of writing the report, Gunton and Joseph concluded that the construction of TMX along with the other two mentioned pipelines would create significant surplus pipeline capacity.
In particular they concluded that a combination of Enbridge expansions and the Keystone pipeline would accommodate demand until 2035 emphasizing “there is no likely scenario” in which building both Keystone and TMX would be required before 2035.
They went further to say that there is considerable uncertainty regarding future oil markets and oil production and that stronger climate change policies to meet our Paris commitments and new fuel regulations that would impact heavy oil demand would likely result in future oil production being lower than the CAPP estimate and that the Enbridge expansions may alone be sufficient to meet Western Canada production needs.
That being the case it would be an irresponsible use of taxpayer‘s money to commence construction on a $12.6 billion project for which there may be no need. The federal government should stop construction now and wait and see if Keystone proceeds to completion, as most people now expect will happen notwithstanding legal hurdles that have to be overcome. To postpone the commencement of construction will not affect the ability of Alberta producers to get their product to market given the considerable extra capacity that will be provided by the Enbridge Line 3 and related projects.
If Keystone does proceed to completion, TMX can then be shelved most likely for all time. If on the other hand in the next six months Keystone is stopped in its tracks the federal government could commence construction after doing its due diligence to ensure the pipeline is still needed and will definitely be used.
When Gunton and Joseph concluded that Enbridge expansions alone might be sufficient to meet western producer’s needs it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now realizing that patterns of human behaviour may never return to the pre-COVID “normal”, and that permanently changed patterns will lower demand for oil to much lower levels than was predicted before the crisis. Lower demand will naturally affect the amount of oil that will be produced in the oil patch.
Lower demand for oil during COVID has had a material impact on the price of oil apart from the Saudi/Russia price war impact which saw the price go slightly below $5/bbl at one point. As this is written, which is post oil war, the price of Western Canadian Select (the benchmark of diluted bitumen produced out of the oil sands) went briefly into negative territory. The past month the price has been largely below $10. The price in Asia would be lower still because of the higher transportation costs. Experts are saying that even when we recover from the virus we may see oil priced at $20. This in turn will greatly affect oil production from the oil sands and bring into question the need for any of the three major pipeline projects.
All of these developments make it a real possibility that even in the long run the Enbridge expansions alone will be sufficient to meet producer needs. And if that proves to be the case TMX would have to be shelved even if Keystone never proceeds to completion.
But let us also consider the possibility that Keystone is not built but the Enbridge expansions don’t begin to meet producer needs. Due diligence would still require the feds to assess whether, if the TMX was constructed, there would be a market for Alberta oil to justify its construction. The feds must not only be satisfied there will be a market for Alberta heavy oil but that it can be sold at a profit over the long term. Current prices will not cover the cost of production and transportation. They are not sustainable for any length of time.
Gunton and Joseph estimated the toll costs of the TMX at $10.78/bbl based on a projected construction cost of $9.3 billion. Since the federal acquisition of Trans Mountain, construction cost estimates have skyrocketed to $12.6 billion, which would take the toll cost to $14.60/bbl($10.43US).
It is hard to find information on shipping costs from Canada to Asia but assuming the tanker is a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) the cost of shipping oil from the United States to North Asia is currently around $5US which happens to be $1.20 more than the cost of transporting a barrel from the Middle East to North Asia. I would imagine this might be indicative as to what the costs are for Canadian shipments to North Asia.
As to production costs, the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) in its July 2019 report calculates the plant gate cost of crude bitumen for greenfield steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) projects to be $40.61 ($28.72US). Costs for mining and upgrading projects are higher. To transport bitumen to Asia, there is an additional cost to transport the bitumen to Edmonton (where the TMX commences) and to blend it with diluents to allow the product to be piped through the TMX and then a shipping cost is required to get it across the Pacific. And this would only be done if they received a price on a sustained basis that would leave producers with a reasonable profit.
For new projects, the Alberta government has estimated the cost of production for SAGD projects to be $50 to $80/bbl. Tech Corporation recently walked away from its proposed Frontier project citing as one of its reasons the need for oil to be $75 US. One can quickly see that Alberta producers would need a price that would be multiples of the estimated $20 post COVID-19 price. This is a pretty high bar in a world which is awash in oil with a diminishing demand for oil as we transition away from fossil fuels.
A further problem lies with the fact that oil producers have made commitments to Trans Mountain to pay tolls to pay for the initial estimate of $7.4 b in construction costs for the TMX, but they have not made any commitment to pay for tolls to cover the estimated $12.6 billion in costs. Nor is it likely they ever will give their OK until they have the confidence the price of oil will go back to its old heights and stay there.
This leaves the federal government in the dilemma of whether to subsidize the $5.2 billion difference which might be political suicide with a public that is seriously worried about the GHG fallout of an expanded oil sand production and the negative impact on Canada’s ability to meet Paris commitments. Even if the feds decided to subsidize the $5.2 billion difference with tolls appropriate for a $7.4 billion project Western Producers still need much higher oil prices to make their operations economically viable.
Trans Mountain was touted as being needed to provide Alberta with access to the Asian market. One must first determine whether Asian countries want Alberta’s heavy oil when they have as their main source Middle East light crude which is a better quality oil which is cheaper to produce, cheaper to transport to Asia, and cheaper to refine. What we must ask ourselves is, given the fact Canadian producers have always had access to the Asia market with the ability to ship their heavy oil via the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, why are they not using it more than they have? Perhaps it might have to do with the fact there is little demand in Asia for Alberta’s heavy oil.
David Huntley, a professor emeritus in physics at Simon Fraser University has been monitoring tanker traffic from Burnaby’s Westbridge Terminal for years and told Briony Penn, a writer for Focus magazine, in September 2019, that only 20 crude oil tankers have left Westbridge Terminal for China since 2014 and that most of the tankers have been headed for California. To that I would add that even though oil producers have made commitments to use 80 percent of the TMX capacity once built, no contracts have so far been signed with Asian buyers.
As to the California market, based on 2017 data, only 3.4 percent of California’s foreign crude imports came from Canada. That same year, half of the state’s imports came from Saudi Arabia, Ecuador and Columbia which can all produce at far lower costs than Alberta.
The bottom line is that the construction of TMX may not translate into significant sales in Pacific markets. The evidence so far demonstrates there is very little proven interest in Alberta’s more expensive heavy oil. Further, there is considerable doubt that future oil prices will ever reach a level where it would be economic for Western Canada producers to use TMX. The feds should insist on seeing evidence of buyer contracts and foreseeable sustainable oil prices going forward before giving the green light to construction.
In summary, it would be irresponsible for the federal government to ignore the changing landscape as outlined and proceed with construction with a project that will never be used if Keystone is completed. At the very least, TMX must be postponed to see what happens to Keystone. If Keystone is scrapped it would be irresponsible of the federal government not to exercise due diligence to ensure that not only is there a need for TMX given Enbridge expansions, but there would be a sustainable market for Alberta oil in the Pacific if TMX is built.
William Pearce is a retired lawyer formerly employed with the BC Ministry of Attorney General. He has had a lifetime interest in environmental and global issues and is president of the Victoria chapter of the World Federalist Movement of Canada.
OVER THE LAST MONTHS, mayor and council, in an effort to speed up re-zoning regulations, have entered on a path that bypasses neighbourhood Land Use Committees. This is, as they see it, more efficient, and saves months of haggling with neighbours over up-zoning. It focuses on densifying “corridors,” arterial roads, rather than the health of neighbourhoods as a whole. Emphasis on these corridors sees "small urban villages" in terms of business rather than community connection and aspiration. As a community association board member, I've sat at the table while City bureaucrats tell us what they've decided rather than opening up back and forth conversations. There is much talk about “vibrant” processes and community engagement from local government. In the end, it is top down and the engagement appears to be merely window dressing.The thing is, it isn't just land use committees that are being side-lined, it is we, Victoria's citizens and residents.
All of us understand the pressures to create innovative ways to increase density, but in the process, we feel our interests, our vision, and our ideas bypassed as the City's processes unfold. Victoria is a lovely and livable city, a tourist destination, a place where many people aspire to live. However, the current push from the City seems bent on destroying what makes Victoria special. The City itself has become our official and prime development corporation. Empty Downtown towers are not a draw. Upscale condos on the former Truth Centre property are the waste of an uncommon opportunity to create a shared green space which might have been used to create "amenities" for people—a cultural centre, a nature park, or a combination of such ideas. Might the City have listened to the many people who grieved the loss of the wonderful old trees and the park-like space? Might we have talked about how to buy the property and turn it into a people place? Unfortunately, under the present process, visionary ideas will be shut down before they have a chance to be heard.
In this pandemic time, when we are all preoccupied with staying home and staying safe, I fear what City council might allow to slip through, all in the guise of progressive development. Victoria residents are full of vital ideas for how we want our city to adapt. We need to slow down and hear each other out. We do not need to decimate Land Use Committees which may indeed prolong our processes but may also give rise to ideas that are intrinsic to the spirit of our communities. They also keep citizens in the loop and allow us to have a crucial and integral part in Victoria's future.
In recent times, we've seen major developments approved, developments that are in opposition to Official Community Plans, through the use of amendments to community plans. Thus we whittle away citizens' interest and commitment to taking ownership of our neighbourhoods. I am quite sure that Mayor Helps and council want what is best for the city. If many of us are distressed by some of what’s coming down the pike, we need opportunities to talk about it, not a swift by-pass. Without that, we foster a disengaged citizenry which may play out in apathy or real anger. Neither is to be desired. Mayor and council need to remember that it is we, the people, not the developers, who have to live with their decisions.