Jump to content
  • Investigations

    In-depth reporting and analysis
    Stephen Hume
    Posted July 6, 2020
    As the process of decolonizing and renaming our province gathers momentum, we consider the events that led to the founding of the Province of British Columbia.
     
    ON AUGUST 2, 1858, the British parliament passed a bill that formally created a government for what’s now the province of British Columbia. In did so by cobbling together several smaller colonies, fur trade administrative regions called New Caledonia, and remnants of the Columbia District and the Oregon Territory that had become American by treaty in 1846.
    The British legislation referred to “certain wild and unoccupied territories on the North-West Coast of North America” and cited the need to provide colonial government “until permanent Settlements shall be thereupon established, and the Number of Colonists increased.”
    The territories weren’t unoccupied, of course. And it could be argued that the occupants weren’t willing subjects of the British Crown, either. A few had signed treaties with James Douglas, the Black fur trader who was married to an indigenous woman and found himself at the crossroads of colonial history more by accident than intent. But most, we can be reasonably sure, didn’t consent to this abrupt change in their sovereign status.
    A famous painting of the installation of Douglas as governor of the new colony is significant primarily in the monoculture it depicts; white, bewhiskered men with bibles resplendent in the traditional regalia of their station—judicial robes, gilt-braided uniforms, cockaded military hats, and so on.
     

    John Innes’ painting of the inauguration of the Crown Colony of British Columbia, and the installation of James Douglas as its first governor
     
    There are no First Nations chiefs resplendent in their regalia. Save Douglas who is portrayed as a white patriarch, there are no Black officials present, although they would form the new colony’s first militia regiment, help lay the foundations of commerce and industry and one of them would be a delegate to the Yale Convention that drafted terms for entry into Confederation. No Chinese, although they would be crucial in building infrastructure and establishing a mercantile empire that reached from the Cariboo to San Francisco and back to China. None of the Hawaiians known—and not pejoratively for they were prized employees of the fur trade—as Kanakas.
    And there were no women. Women weren’t persons in the eyes of the law in 1858. They were chattels of their husbands and a man could still sell his wife at market for as little as a pint of beer, as happened in 1862.
    None of this was noted 116 years later when the government of British Columbia established the first Monday in August as BC Day, a statutory holiday honouring “the pioneers who built the colony.”
    But times and perceptions evolve. As the process of decolonizing public institutions, public attitudes and the collective psychology of the descendants of both colonized and colonizers gathers momentum—there are serious and legitimate suggestions that we consider changing the name of the province to reflect a decolonized present—it’s important to remember that history didn’t begin with the Gold Rush of 1858. It didn’t begin with the arrival of the fur trade in 1805; and it didn’t begin with the explorations of Captain George Vancouver in 1792, or the trading expedition of John Meares in 1786, or the scientific research expedition of Captain James Cook in 1778.
    If, for want of an arbitrary point of departure, we consider that the modern history of BC began with the initial braiding of First Nations and European narratives into our present reality, then we have to start near the end of July in 1774, and not with the British, but with a tiny Spanish exploratory mission.
     
    Ninstints: a 14,000-year-old Haida civilization
    BEHIND A LONG, SANDY CRESCENT, ideal for landing sea-going canoes amid rocky islets capped with trees sculpted by ceaseless spindrift, and backdropped by the dense, brooding green of rainforest, time-silvered totem poles at the long-abandoned village of Ninstints present a stunning representation of a 14,000-year-old Haida civilization at its cultural apex.
    Ninstints, the name under which it was designated a World Heritage Site in 1981, or Nan Sdins, or Nunstints, is the anglicized place name derived by Europeans from the hereditary name of a renowned chief, Nañ stîns, “He who is two.” To the Haida, the place is Sga’ngwa.i Inaga’-i, or S’Gang Gwaay Llanagaay, or just Skungwai—Red Cod Island Town. Anthony Island shields Ninstints from the fierce storms that sweep in from the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
    Keel-runs, cleared for landings by the great dugout canoes, are still visible. Haida crews would travel thousands of miles by sea in these canoes—one crossed the Pacific Ocean in 1901. Their hull design later inspired that of fast clipper ships that raced tea from China to London.
     

    Ninstints in 2002 (Photo by C. Baertsch)
     
    On Ninstints, one can also still see the moss-covered ruins of the 17 great houses that once lined the beach, their cedar-planked front panels decorated with clan crests, lineages and indications of status. These were the Kunghit people and the Haida heraldry ranged from the chiefs who inherited the name Ninstints at the South end of the village to that at the North end, culminating with the great house of the famous chief Koyah, “Raven.” Koyah is infamous to English and American captains for leading resistance against European incursions, attacking visiting trading vessels on at least four occasions.
    But it’s the astonishing artistic richness of the surviving totems, mostly memorial or mortuary poles, that point to the richness of Haida culture. Some poles were destroyed in a fire said to be set in the late 19th Century by the crew of a passing sealing schooner from northern Vancouver Island in retaliation for an ancient but never forgotten Haida raid upon the Kwakwaka’wakw on North Vancouver Island. Other poles were removed by museum collectors trying to salvage the legacy—sadly, seven of these were destroyed in a fire at Skidegate where they had been sent for restoration. Those remaining still resonate with artistic force.   
    About a dozen poles still stand at Ninstints, of global importance says UNESCO because they do more than memorialize important persons of the past; they now commemorate the living culture of the Haida and their relationship with the land and the sea since time immemorial. “What survives is unique in the world, a 19th-century Haida village where the ruins of houses and memorial or mortuary poles illustrate the power and artistry of Haida society…The art represented by the carved poles at SGang Gwaay LInagaay (Nan Sdins) is recognized to be among the finest examples of its type in the world.”
    Traditional art forms on the Northwest Coast, inextricably entangled with social hierarchies, ceremonies and cosmologies, threatened the imported cosmologies of Christian missionaries and the imposition of new systems of law and governance imposed by colonial authorities. Family and tribal crests were looted as curios; ceremonial regalia was destroyed or appropriated and sold to museum collections. Ancient ceremonies themselves were outlawed and practitioners arrested and imprisoned. There was a systematic attempt by government to eradicate native languages. The last totem poles from that ancient Haida culture were carved and erected in villages at Skedans and Tanu in 1878.
    If, as many art historians believe, Haida carving represents an apex of Northwest Coast artistic achievement and the work at Ninstints is the apex of the apex, the place also symbolizes the nadir of Haida fortunes. Once the seat of powerful chiefs, then a wealthy and important trading centre, it was later depopulated by lethal epidemics, its social organization wrecked by greed and violence. Ninstints was abandoned in the 1870s, then pillaged as a source of artifacts. Finally it was installed as an iconic historic site of global significance that celebrates the resurrection of Haida culture from the ashes of near-annihilation.
    The fate of Ninstints had been cast about a century earlier, when first contact between an expanding European empire and the Haida civilization that had occupied its homeland since before the end of the last Ice Age, resulted in a collision that would ultimately have catastrophic consequences for both.
    As with everything else in Haida Gwaii, that story is written in the wind and the waves.
     
    1774: Spanish ship Santiago, checking up on Russians, meets the Haida
    FOAM-STREAKED FROM THE 8,000-KILOMETRE REACH of wind-swept ocean behind them, the dark swells heave landward without cease. They break in a glistening fringe along the forbidding 400-kilometre wall of reefs, cliffs and craggy headlands that form the outer coast of a sea-churned archipelago of unpardonable beauty.
    The more than 1,800 rain-washed, mist-draped reefs, islets and islands that comprise Haida Gwaii jut into the turbulent North Pacific about 650 kilometres northwest of the present boundary that separates Canada from the United States at Vancouver. Nutrient-rich upwellings from the cold abyss at the edge of the continental shelf on which the islands perch sustain one of the richest ecosystems on the planet. At Dolomite Narrows it’s said there is more life per square metre than anywhere else. One survey collected almost 15,000 different animals from 100 square metres of bottom. The waters surrounding what have been called the Galapagos of the North teem with fish, 200 species of seabirds, and sea mammals of astonishing variety—20 species of whales and porpoises, fur seals and Steller’s sea lions, massive beasts the size of a small car that slide through submarine kelp forests with fluid grace.
    And these remote islands, today occupied by 0.1 percent of the province’s population but with more than 500 identified Haida heritage sites, are the historical epicentre of the socio-economic earthquake in which our British Columbia first took shape.
    In geological terms, the archipelago—renamed in colonial times the Queen Charlotte Islands and then returned to their indigenous name by an act of the British Columbia legislature in 2010—mark a boundary where the huge Pacific plate slides northwest along North America. The friction generated as the billions of tonnes of rock in these two immense plates grind past one another along the Queen Charlotte fault create the phenomenon that engineers call stick-slip, a process of catch and release by two surfaces. The juddering that results makes this offshore region one of the world’s most unstable places, subject to constant shaking and occasionally to great earthquakes.
    Two of Canada’s most powerful known temblors have occurred in this offshore zone. The most recent, in 1949, releasing almost twice as much energy as the 1906 event that destroyed much of San Francisco. And one in 1700 released more than 44 times the energy of that 1949 event. The resulting tsunami caused coastal destruction as far away as Japan.
    In socio-economic terms Haida Gwaii, and in particular two specific places on the archipelago, are where British Columbia’s modern history began. And we know the precise date, right to the half-hour, the names of individuals, and the eye-witness accounts of the principals involved.
    The first historic event was accompanied by the fitful rain squalls typical in those waters even for the high summer month of Sqaana gyaas, the killer whale month, so named because the sound of bark being stripped from giant red cedars during the seasonal round of manufacturing clothing, mats and baskets was thought similar to that made by whales blowing.
    It was early afternoon on July 20, 1774 when a lookout from one of three adjacent Haida villages—Kkyuusta, Yaakkw or Dadens—glimpsed something utterly astonishing. Amid drifting patches of rain and fog just off Langara Island, its white wings flapping, swam a strange bird of supernatural proportions.
    The villagers were fearful, an informant later told geologist George Mercer Dawson. Their world was inhabited at its fringes by supernatural beings—animals with the power to take human form and language, cannibal ogres, a sea grizzly in whose thick otter-like fur a ghost collected the souls of the drowned and kept them in bubbles. A stretch of sea to the East was known to be populated by deep water monsters which occasionally surfaced to claim entire canoes with their passengers. But their chief, though he later admitted to sharing the people’s apprehension, decided boldness was required of a leader, for the sake of his own sense of dignity as much as anything. He put on his finest ceremonial regalia and prepared to greet the unknown.
    The name of the first person in what is now British Columbia to lay eyes on the fateful appearance of European colonizers off its shores—that Haida lookout—is lost to history. The name of the chief who bravely launched his canoe to investigate the apparition perhaps not. He probably owned the name Blakow-Coneehaw, a corruption of Gunia, a powerful chief whose influence extended to all three villages. The syllables of his name were first mangled in the mouth of a Scottish sea captain who visited 15 years after the momentous first encounter and then, again, during the attempt to render into English text the Haida words for which no orthography yet existed.
    In any event, in 1774 the chief had waited for slack tide. He launched his great canoe around 3 pm crewed by seven paddlers and a boy. It took about 90 minutes to reach the monstrous bird. When they were about 300 metres away, he greeted it, singing a welcome song, scattering eagle down on the water and extending his arms wide and then crossing them on his chest to signify peaceful intent.
    As the canoe drew closer, the chief and his paddlers saw and heard what they first thought were bird people, unintelligible cries coming from dark shapes that resembled cormorants perched on the rocks. They were keen observers. Preserved in the oral tradition is what they perceived to be the peculiar behaviour of what they now determined were human strangers: one would speak and the others would suddenly scurry up into a basket of ropes until he spoke again and they would all clamber back down.
    The great bird was the Spanish ship Santiago, a 200-tonne frigate on a top-secret mission from the naval base at San Blas, Mexico, a 5,000-kilometre sail to the South. The mission’s commander, Ensign Juan José Perez Hernandez, a native of the island of Majorca and considered the most able and experienced pilot in the San Blas naval department, had been sent to investigate intelligence reports leaking from St Petersburg about Russian expansion far to the north of Spanish-claimed territory.
     
     

    Juan José Perez Hernandez
     
    Beyond California, North America’s west coast was an unknown. The English pirate Sir Francis Drake had journeyed north while escaping with bullion and booty from raiding the South American and Mexican coasts in 1579. Another Spanish expedition in search of a northwest passage to the Atlantic was thought by some—and disputed by others—to have reached the South end of Vancouver Island and the strait later named for its pilot, Juan de Fuca, in 1592.  But for Perez, the charts were blank and the coastline and its currents, prevailing weather and maritime dangers a mystery. He’d set sail from San Blas with the ebbing tide at midnight on January 25, 1774, with a complement of 84. Armament included six cannons, 500 cannon balls and 36 muskets with bayonets. In an age before electricity and on-board freezers, provisions included a tonne-and-a-half of dried fish, five tonnes of beef jerky and 15 tonnes of hardtack.   
    The curious activities of the bird creatures observed by the Haida party that made first contact were the attempts by Perez to trim sails to account for the quartering, highly changeable winds that had been bedevilling him for the three days since he’d steered an eastward course in search of land after one of his crew had seen giant kelp. The Santiago’s lookout had actually sighted the coastline the day before and the ship had ventured closer but the wind had picked up sharply, the sky to the Southeast had suddenly darkened and the captain had prudently shortened sail, headed back to open water and hove-to 12 leagues off shore—about 60 kilometres—for the night.
    On July 19 at 4:30 pm, somewhere just west of Langara Island and fairly close inshore, the Spanish captain’s diary records first contact with the native inhabitants of what less than a century later would become British Columbia and Canada’s westernmost province.
    The canoe came alongside. It was big, befitting the stature of its chief, and almost half the length of the Santiago. The Spanish were impressed by its speed and the skill of the paddlers. Perez had specific instructions from the viceroy in Mexico not to interfere with, or harm or engage in commercial trade—although ceremonial exchanges of gifts would be all right—with any native peoples he encountered. He did plan to land, erect the massive wooden cross the ship’s carpenters had constructed, and claim the territory for the Spanish empire. When it became clear that the encounter was friendly, two more canoes approached.
    “The men were of good stature, well-formed, a smiling face, beautiful eyes and good looking,” Perez wrote in his expedition diary. “Their hair was tied up and arranged in the manner of a wig with a tail. Some wore it tied in the back and had beards and mustaches in the manner of the Chinese people.”
    The next day, unable to make headway against the strong current out of the East, Perez stood off Langara Island. This time, 21 canoes came out, two of them filled with women with babies at the breast and older children. All were led by an older man whom the Spanish commander likened to “a king or a captain.” They began exchanging sea otter, wolf and bear pelts and blankets “beautifully woven and made, according to what I saw, on a loom,” for items of European clothing, glass beads, an axe and some knives. Two came aboard the ship and he made gifts of bread and cheese.
    “They were all good-looking, white and fair,” Perez reported. “Most of them have blue eyes.” He also noted that the Haida had in their canoe a half a bayonet and a broken sword but before he could explore the origins—were they Russian items traded down from the North, or had they been traded north from Spanish territory?—weather conditions abruptly changed. The canoes quickly made for shore, the Haida singing and apparently happy with the exchange of goods.
    “It was afternoon and everyone was cheerful,” his diary says. “But less so, I, who wanted to anchor but was unable to get help from the wind. It made me ill-tempered, and even more so seeing that without a wind the furious flow of the current was separating me from the coast.”
    A freshening off-shore wind, the inconstancy and confusion of the weather and supplies dwindling—Perez calculated that even on half rations he’d have barely enough water for the return voyage—compelled him to “submit to the will of God,” and he bore away to the South.
    Neither Perez nor Gunia could know it, but the aftershocks of their encounter would be profound. A century later, the Haida people would be teetering at the brink of extinction, their culture in tatters and the globe-straddling Spanish empire would be banished from the western hemisphere, reduced to a few shrunken colonial holdings in Asia and Africa.
    Sailing south, and hoping to replenish his water barrels, Perez turned landward again having spotted a dazzling, snow covered peak—likely Vancouver Island’s highest mountain, Golden Hinde—and on August 8, having passed through a fog so dense visibility was less than the length of his ship, dropped anchor near the entrance to a sheltered opening in the coast line. He named it Surgidero de San Lorenzo but it would later be named Nootka.
    About 3 pm, Perez recounts, canoes began coming out. At first three canoes carrying nine men, then eventually five canoes. But they remained at a distance and would not come close. As had the Haida at Kkyuusta, the Nuu-chah-nulth viewed the Santiago with great trepidation. Years later, José Mariano Moziño reported that elders told him that when they first observed the Spanish ship, they concluded it was the great copper canoe of a supernatural being named Qua-utz who was part of their creation mythology and who had returned to punish them for bad behaviour. That story of first contact was later corroborated by Joseph Ingraham, captain of an American ship who left a remarkably observant account of his time among the Nuu-chah-nulth. Some took refuge in the bush, others retreated into their long houses, but a few took canoes out to confront the threat.
    The next day, however, when the crew of the Santiago made it clear their intentions were peaceful, 15 canoes came alongside. They traded sea otter pelts and cedar hats for knives, cloth and large abalone shells from California. Several Nuu-chah-nulth men came aboard. One of them managed to pocket several spoons belonging to Martinez which the English noted as evidence of a Spanish presence when they reached Nootka Sound four years later.
    Then, with the weather turning for the worse, Perez weighed anchor and with sails reefed and turbulent seas set course for San Blas. He would never return. The following year, on a second expedition to the North, he died at sea. But one of those vessels, the Sonora, a small 14-metre schooner commanded by a young naval lieutenant, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, explored and mapped the coast to what’s now southeast Alaska. He, too, would play a key role in the shaping of BC’s history.
     
    After Captain Cook’s 1778 visit, a rapacious fur trade and disease transform history
    ON MARCH 29, 1778, A WEEK AFTER uncharacteristically missing the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca in severe weather—winds were gusting to 50 kilometres an hour—Britain’s greatest maritime explorer, Captain James Cook, found his way to the same narrow opening in the coastline that Perez had found four years before. But the English sailor, blessed with more congenial weather, sailed through into sheltered waters.
    Cook, like Perez, was on a secret mission. His orders were to seek a Northwest Passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic. His ship, Resolution, was accompanied by Discovery, among whose crew was a midshipman named George Vancouver who would also play a key role in BC’s future. This was Cook’s third great scientific mission and his officers and crew were shrewd and astute observers. Their accounts of the flora, the fauna, and Nuu-chah-nulth culture and society remain among the most valuable records of initial contact.
    As had the crew of Perez, Cook’s men traded with the Nuu-chah-nulth, who were shrewd and adept. The English had to pay for wood, water and even grass for the ships’ goats. John Weber, when he stopped to sketch figures in a long house, had to buy sketching time with brass buttons from his coat until he exhausted his supply. Metal items, the English traders discovered, were most in demand, in particular bits of iron, tools, utensils and weapons. These they traded for luxuriant sea otter pelts, carvings and art. Cook, himself, exchanged a broad sword with a brass hilt for a fur cloak worn by a leader that scholars now believe must have been Maquinna, the powerful whaling chief.
    Cook sailed away after a month of refitting, impatient to continue the mission that would take him to the Aleutian Islands and end a year later with his death on a beach during an altercation with Hawaiian islanders. But these two trade items, iron and furs, would utterly transform the social, cultural and political landscape of what’s now BC.
    When the two ships of the Cook expedition stopped in China to take on provisions for the final journey back to Britain, the crew found an astonishing demand among wealthy Chinese officials and aristocrats for the sea otter pelts they’d been using for bedding and clothing. James King, who had become captain of Discovery after Cook’s death and had inherited the furs obtained by both Cook and his successor in command, Charles Clerke, who had died at sea, sold 20 pelts in Canton for $800. Some crew members made even greater profits. In all, they sold their sea otter skins for an amount that, converted into current dollars, would exceed $300,000. For an outlay of about 12-pence, an investor might reap a return of 1,800 percent, or the equivalent of close to $15,000. When Cook’s official report was finally published in the September, 1784, a fur stampede began. Less than a year later, the first trading mission, commanded by Captain James Hanna, had been outfitted and set sail from Macao, China.    
    Within five years, more than a dozen trading vessels had visited Nootka and more than 170 expeditions, dominated by flinty New England captains, had sailed to a Northwest Coast that only a decade before had seemed as remote as the moon. The fur trade was rapacious. More than 120 ships took almost a million sea otter pelts from the Aleutian Islands alone by 1808. A century later, sea otters were so scarce they were thought extinct. And so, almost, were the Haida.
    Captain Cook had not discovered a “new” world, he had opened a portal between worlds, both of them as old as time. Wealth, prestige and power flooded through in both directions. For the Europeans it was the soft gold of the fur trade; for the Haida and the Nuu-chah-nulth it was technological transfer—as iron implements entered a metal-poor economy, they set off an enormous cultural explosion in carving, canoe and long-house building. Guns altered ancient balances of power. Chiefs attained wealth and status that would have been unimaginable to their fathers—Maquinna had distributed 100 muskets, 400 yards of cloth, 100 mirrors and 20 kegs of gunpowder at a single potlatch in 1803—only to have it later slip away from them. Easy wealth meant more chiefs and it shattered the economic advantage of hereditary dynasties. Inter-clan and inter-tribal violence proliferated. And the newcomers created new markets—Haida artists became the first on the coast to commercialize their art, crafting stunning carvings of traditional imagery and mythological motifs from a soft, black stone called argillite specifically for sale to visiting sailors.
    But more came through the portal than wealth and the attendant perils of wealth. So did a portfolio of viruses that indigenous immune systems had never encountered. The first to arrive was smallpox. How it came remains unclear—perhaps with Russians from Kamchatka, perhaps with the Spanish from Mexico, perhaps with some indigenous carrier travelling north. Certainly, a vast and lethal epidemic was already sweeping through the Great Plains and lapping up against the Rocky Mountains in what some have described as the greatest demographic catastrophe in human experience.
    The Northwest Coast smallpox epidemic of 1862 is the one most embedded in the popular imagination. But that’s because it was most visible to European colonizers. In fact, it had been preceded by a whole suite of equally apocalyptic disease events. Measles, malaria, influenza and other unidentified diseases followed one after another. Robert Boyd, who made a lifetime study of introduced diseases and their demographic impact on the Northwest Coast, calculated pre-contact population by working backward using mortality statistics. He estimates an indigenous population of almost 190,000 in 1770. By the time British Columbia had emerged as a political entity and entered confederation that population had declined by more than 80 percent and would not reach its nadir until 1900.
    Smallpox ravaged the North coast in 1775. Subsequent 18th-Century fur traders reported deserted villages of collapsing houses strewn with bones. Nathaniel Portlock, who had been with Cook at Nootka and returned to trade for sea otter pelts in 1789, cited depopulated villages and one scarred survivor who had his arm tattooed with marks for each of his children whom had perished—there were 10. In 1795, Charles Bishop said a Haida chief told him two-thirds of the population had died. The Haida estimate their pre-contact population to be as high as 20,000; scholarly estimates are 10,000 to 12,000. What’s not in dispute is that by 1900 there were fewer than 600.
    Some time in the late 18th Century, disheartened by the impacts of smallpox and the disruptions of the sea otter trade and its destabilizing influx of wealth, Gunia abandoned Kkyuusta for islands to the North in what’s now the Alaska Panhandle. His people followed him.
    At Ninstints, the Eagle and Raven families were gone from Red Cod Town by 1874.
    The 17 great houses on the terrace above the beach collapsed back into the soil, the raised mortuary boxes of once great chiefs crumbled and spilled their bones, totem poles tilted and fell to be swallowed by the underbrush. It became a place of ghosts at the fringes of collective memory, although not Haida memory—or Kwakwaka’wakw—until a century later when it would be reborn, a global revenant from the richness of Haida culture, a reminder to everyone that although our stories are now inextricably braided, it’s in our first cultures that British Columbia was actually born.
     
    Stephen Hume spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. His byline has appeared in most major Canadian newspapers. The author of nine books of poetry, natural history, history and literary essays, he lives on the Saanich Peninsula.
     
     

    David Broadland
    March 2020
    Wildfires in BC are getting bigger. Much bigger. The forest-industrial complex blames fire suppression. The evidence suggests large areas of fuel-laden clearcuts are changing fire behaviour.
     
    A RECORD COMPILED BY BC GOVERNMENT SCIENTISTS since 1990 captures in cold, hard numbers the scale of the ecological apocalypse underway in BC’s Interior forests. The record shows that since 1990, the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by wildfires in BC has doubled every nine years.
    For the nine years from 1990 to 1998, scientists estimated 52.3 million tonnes (megatonnes) of greenhouse gas emissions were released to the atmosphere by forest fires. From 1999 to 2007, that more than doubled to 120.9 megatonnes. Over the next 9-year period, ending with 2016, the total released doubled again, to 249.8 megatonnes.
    In 2017, 1,353 fires burned 1.22 million hectares, including some very large fires, all in BC’s Interior: the 191,865-hectare Elephant Hill Fire, the 545,151-hectare Chilcotin Plateau Fire—which was actually the merging of 20 separate fires—and the 241,160-hectare Hanceville Fire, another merging of smaller fires into a mega-fire.
    BC scientists estimated 176.6 megatonnes of greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere by those 2017 fires.
    The next year was even worse: 2,117 fires burned 1.36-million hectares. Scientists haven’t yet made public their estimate of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere for that year, but it will likely be close to 200 megatonnes.
     

    Greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires in BC have doubled every nine years since 1990. The last 3 years suggest that rate of increase will continue.
     
    Last year—2019—saw a cooler, wetter summer and a relief for wildfire fighters. Yet the first three years of the current 9-year interval have already released 75 percent of the 500 megatonnes needed to maintain the doubling of the carbon released every nine years.
    All of the biggest fires, in both 2017 and 2018, occurred in areas where the impact of Mountain Pine Beetle infestation over the past 20 years has been most intense. The beetles have affected 16 million hectares of BC forests—an area more than five times that of Vancouver Island.
    Large areas of the 2017 fires overlapped salvage clearcuts of beetle-killed trees. In a report on the impact of the 2017 fires, the Ministry of Forests noted that about 80 percent of the fires’ area occurred in forests “significantly impacted” by Mountain Pine Beetle. The four largest fires of 2018 also burned in areas damaged by beetle infestation.
    The magnitude of the release makes provincial and municipal plans for reducing carbon emissions in BC appear functionally pointless—like trying to drain the Fraser River with a garden hose.
    Can anything be done to slow or reverse the trend toward bigger wildfires? That would depend on what’s causing wildfires to be bigger and whether or not humans can reverse the cause.
    Recently, the Vancouver Sun reported that two BC forestry scientists, Werner Kurz and Lori Daniels, are representing Canada in “a $1-million partnership between Canadian researchers and the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service to ‘de-escalate the devastating forest wildfires that are increasingly occurring due to climate change.’”
    The Sun reporter, Randy Shore, interviewed Daniels, a professor of forestry at UBC, who told him: “We are paying a huge cost in carbon today because we were so good at putting out fires in the past.”
    Daniels believes wildfires are getting bigger because of the build-up of fuel in forests, which Shore described as “fallen needles and dead branches.” If fire hadn’t been suppressed, those needles and dead branches would have been burned off by natural fire.
    Daniels offered a solution: “What happens if we thin out the forest and reduce the stress on those trees competing for a limiting resource like soil moisture?...Will the trees left behind grow faster and sequester more carbon? There is lots of evidence that under some circumstances, that is the case.”
    For such thinning to be effective at reducing fuel in the forest it would have to be removed. Daniels suggested the possible development of a new biomass economy: “If it is going to be burned, we should do that at high efficiency and displace fossil fuel with a form of sustainable energy. Lots of small communities are still reliant on fossil fuels, so these are linkages that we can make.”
    The idea sounds eminently reasonable, doesn’t it? But what if it’s wrong? What if “fire suppression” is not at the heart of escalating wildfires? Do forest scientists ever get things wrong?
    The forest-industrial complex—the forest-interested government agencies, industry, universities and media—that has led BC into the black-box carbon trap of exponentially-increasing emissions outlined above, is unable to hold itself accountable for the environmentally disastrous forestry practices it devised that have contributed disproportionately to a warmer climate. Its miscalculation of what was sustainable created giant clearcuts that shrivelled the forests’ ability to sequester carbon. That played a significant role in making winters too warm to kill the Mountain Pine Beetle, and that change was followed by widespread pine mortality, immense areas of salvage clearcuts, and now giant wildfires roaring through those same clearcuts.
    Now, it appears, the forest-industrial complex is diverting our attention away from what’s actually happening on the ground. The accumulation of giant clearcuts has altered microclimates and left hundreds of millions of tonnes of fuel on the ground. And now it’s burning, easily ignited by lightning, and affecting fire behaviour.
     

    A BC Wildfire Service air tanker tackles an aggressive wildfire in a clearcut
     
    An August 2018 “incident update” by the BC Wildfire Service describes the “behaviour prediction” for a fire near the Baezaeko River west of Quesnel: “Fire activity will have the potential to challenge control lines; don’t let your guard down. Be aware of gusty winds and the effect on fire behaviour, if only for a short time. The slash blocks have more fuel loading than the standard slash fuel type, expect higher intensity. This higher intensity can cause fire whirls to develop; this would cause rapid fire growth and increased spotting potential.”
    “Fire whirls” are like small tornados, formed by the rapid uplift of air in an intense fire. “Spotting” is the ability of fires to send out embers far ahead of a fire and start new fires. Wildfire Service incident updates commonly note the impact of logging slash in clearcuts that makes fires burn more intensely and dangerously.
    Yet nowhere to be seen in the forest-industrial complex’s description of what needs to happen now is an examination of the ways in which a landscape increasingly dominated by very large clearcuts has changed the behaviour of fire in BC’s forests. Nowhere to be seen is the option of reducing the volume of timber cut in BC to allow the provincial forests’ carbon sequestration capacity to recover.
    Unless you are delusionally optimistic, there’s no reason to believe that feeding tree parts to industrial burners will reduce the acceleration in the thermal destruction of BC’s forests. Once jobs are created to feed the burners, those bio-jobs will become the thing that must be protected at all costs. That way of thinking is what gave BC the beetle infestation in the first place.
    The stated belief that the acceleration in wildfire emissions is due to past fire suppression appears destined to become one of the great, all-time dead-end ideas in BC’s short but dramatic history of ecosystem disruption.
    Unless there is some real change in the fundamental factor driving this acceleration—the loss of BC forests’ carbon sequestration capacity—then between 2026 and 2034, the fifth nine-year interval in this exponential increase, BC forest fires will produce a total of 1,000 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions, or an average of 110 megatonnes per year. The Mountain Pine Beetle infestation affected 16 million hectares of BC forests. Only a small fraction of these have burned, so there’s a high risk of more and bigger fires in the coming years.
    An aside to those folks who might think the scientists are purposely overestimating emissions from wildfires in order to justify amping up industrialization of forests: the estimate for 2017 works out to about 50 tonnes of forest carbon per hectare, which is less than what would be left on the ground after an Interior clearcut.
    Let’s put the magnitude of the wildfire emissions problem in perspective. BC’s carbon emissions—from all sources except forest-related emissions—totalled 64 megatonnes in 2017. CleanBC, the provincial government’s emissions reduction plan, has so far been able to identify, on paper, just 19 megatonnes of annual reductions it hopes will happen by 2030. LNG Canada at Kitimat will trigger 9 megatonnes. Teck Resources’ Frontier oil sands project was going to produce 4 megatonnes. The City of Victoria is targetting about 0.390 megatonnes through its climate action plan.
    Compare those drops in the bucket to the 110 megatonnes of annual emissions from forest fires alone that now seem certain to be in our near future. Other net emissions—the loss of forest carbon sequestration capacity and the premature decay of forest carbon initiated by harvesting—caused by BC’s forest industry and tallied in Defusing BC’s big, bad carbon bomb in our last edition—are upwards of 190 megatonnes each year.
    It’s the Province’s official position that it can’t do anything about any of these forest-industry-caused emissions. Although the exponential growth in emissions from wildfires outlined above appears in the British Columbia Provincial Greenhouse Gas Inventory, as do other emissions related to BC’s forest industry, they are not counted in BC like your car’s tailpipe emissions. Is that because they don’t impact climate stability? No, it’s because the Province claims nothing can be done about these net emissions.
    In the Province’s Methodology Book for the British Columbia Provincial Greenhouse Gas Inventory, the authors state that emissions from forest fires “are more volatile and subject to natural factors outside of direct human control and so are not reported as part of BC GHG emissions totals…”
    Yet it has become an article of faith of the forest-industrial complex that historical fire suppression by humans is the primary cause of big fires, and big fires mean higher emissions. This official confusion is disconcerting and demands a ground-truthing expedition.
     
    FOLLOWING THE FIRES OF 2017, which included the 191,865-hectare Elephant Hill Fire, the Ministry of Forests’ Pat Byrne, district manager of the 100-Mile House Natural Resource District, told the 100-Mile Free Press in July 2018: “Much of the area that was burned by both the Gustafsen and Elephant Hill fires, they burned over fire-dependent ecosystems…These ecosystems rely on fires as much as the soil and the air and the water they get. It’s how they evolve…The forest relies on a 10 to 15 year fire cycle to thin out the vegetation and create a more open forest…Removing fire from the landscape resulted in a dense forest and created conditions where fire could burn hotter and more aggressively than a natural setting would have ever allowed.”
    Byrne told the Free Press: “You’ve got a fire-dependent ecosystem and you exclude fire from it. What do you expect is going to happen?”
    The usual refutation of the “fire suppression causes big fires” belief is that “The Big Burn” of 1910 in Idaho, Montana, Washington and BC, occurred before the era of fire suppression had begun. The Big Burn, also known as “The Great Fire,” “The Devil’s Broom,” and “The Big Blow-up,” burned through 1.2 million hectares, which just happens to be about what was burned in BC in 2017.
    The Ministry of Forests’ own records show that four of the ten largest fires (in area) in BC’s recorded history occurred before the era of fire suppression began.
    If big, aggressive fires occurred before aircraft were able to bomb fires with water and fire retardant, how valid is the forest-industrial complex’s claim that “fire suppression” is the main cause for today’s big fires?
    There’s even more-convincing evidence that the fire-suppression-causes-big-fires narrative may be a big smoke screen blown into the talkosphere so the forest industry can cut more trees.
    One of the tools that’s available today that allows us to ground-truth the claims of the forest-industrial complex—to actually see what wildfires are burning—is satellite photography. We can compare aerial images taken before a fire with images taken afterward to see what was burned, and how completely it burned.
    Satellite photography of the area burned by the Elephant Hill Fire north of Arrowrock Provincial Park shows that much of the area had been severely modified in the last 20 years (below). At the time of the fire, it was mostly regrowth in clearcuts and unplanted clearcuts. In this area there was little “dense forest” left to burn. On Ministry of Forests maps of the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation, this area is shown as having a 71 to 100 percent rate of “kill” of lodgepole pine, hence the widespread clearcuts left by salvage logging.
     

    (Click image to enlarge) This part of the Elephant Hill Fire, according to Ministry of Forests’ mapping of the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation, had been heavily impacted by beetle kill. Earlier satellite images, taken after the salvage logging but before the fire, show some areas with regrowth and other areas with none. Only the oldest regrowth survived the 2017 fire. Many thousands of square kilometers of former lodgepole pine forest, killed by beetles and salvaged, were burned in 2017 and 2018. The beetle infestation has affected 16,000,000 hectares of BC forest, only a small fraction of which has been burned by 2020.
     
    The area shown above is typical of the juxtaposition of giant fires and massive clearcuts that are transforming BC’s interior forests into a wasteland. The density of mature forest has been reduced to thin ribbons of dark green separating seemingly endless burned-over clearcuts. Only the roads and wetlands are fireproof.
    Satellite imagery allows us to see, close-up, the fate of specific features engulfed by the fires. The images below show one such area burned by the Elephant Hill Fire. The first image below was taken about 2010. It shows clearcuts that have been partially replanted. Note the light green regrowth, the unplanted areas and the extent of more mature trees (dark green). Note the large piles of slash piled close to the roads. After this image was taken, more logging took place before the Elephant Hill Fire burned this area in 2017.
     
     
    Click image to enlarge
     
    Compare that image with the photo below. This satellite image was made in 2019, about two years after the Elephant Hill Fire. Note that most of the regrowth in the clearcut has been killed or damaged. Much of the unplanted area of the clearcut has burned (light gray areas). Some of the mature trees that were left around the clearcuts have survived while others were killed by the fire. The slash piles are now ash piles. These features are typical of BC’s biggest wildfires in the Interior.
     

    Click image to enlarge
     
    The satellite photography also shows that areas where extensive mechanical thinning had taken place survived the fire in some places but were incinerated in others. Corridor thinning mimics, to some extent, natural fire’s ability to open up a forest stand, but it’s an interim stage that will lead to a clearcut in the not-too-distant future. An extensive east-west belt of such thinning running across the entire pathway of the Elephant Hill Fire north of Loon Lake did not prevent the fire from moving northwards.
    The same mixed fire-survival performance of extensive thinning efforts can be found in satellite photography of the Hanceville Fire.
    (The most current satellite photography can be found at inaturalist.org.)
    The satellite photography shows that slash, left in logged-over areas, was an important factor in the eventual size of the Elephant Hill Fire. Equally evident from the satellite photography is that any plantation regrowth younger than about 20 years has been largely wiped out.
    Satellite photography of the huge areas burned by the Hanceville and Plateau fires of 2017 shows the same general outcomes: vast areas of clearcuts burned clean with the small patches of adjacent, mature forest that had been left between clearcuts moderately to severely damaged.
    The 16 million hectares of BC forest that have been impacted by the beetle infestation, combined with decades of extensive clearcutting of live conifer forests, has created an apocalyptic landscape in BC’s interior forests. Ministry of Forests’ reports on the 2017 and 2018 fires show large areas of the Interior—entire forest districts—where the “cumulative percentage of merchantable forest volume killed since 1999” is “greater than 45 percent.” This description, of course, doesn’t include the loss before 1999.
    The “killing” is the result of the logging of live trees, beetle infestation and wildfires. The result is a vast open area in the Interior that is littered with hundreds of millions of tonnes of tree parts in various stages of decay, all of it potential fuel for wildfires, just waiting for ignition. Although much of this area hasn’t been replanted, that which has been is also, under the right conditions, potent fuel requiring only ignition.
     
    Flames fuelled by clearcut slash flare outward from the Chutanli Lake Fire, July 30, 2018
     
    IN BC, THE CAUSE OF IGNITION for every wildfire is determined and recorded by the BC Wildfire Service, and so is each fire’s physical size. These records end up in the National Forestry Database. They show us that between 1990 and 1998, 59 percent of the area burned by wildfires in BC was attributed to fires ignited by lightning. Over the next nine-year period that rose to 81 percent. In the nine-year period ending with 2016, it rose to 85 percent. So lightning has become the overwhelming source of ignition of large wildfires in BC.
    The records also show that while the total area burned as a result of lightning ignition has risen, the actual number of forest fires started by lightning has fallen. Between 1990 and 1998, there were 12,158 fires ignited by lightning. During the next 9-year interval, that fell to 8,837 fires. That was followed by 9,339 fires ignited by lightning in the 9-year interval ending with 2016.
    The growth in the area burned by wildfires ignited by lightning isn’t the result of more lightning strikes hitting the forest—a factor that would be beyond human control.
    Now here’s the most critically important point in this story: Scientific research shows lightning is more likely to start a fire if it hits a harvested area than if it hits a forested area.
    Back in 2009, forest research scientists Meg Krawchuk and Steve Cumming published the results of an 8-year study of lightning ignition in 60,000 square kilometers of boreal forest in Alberta. They found that wildfires started by lightning ignition “increased in landscapes with more area harvested.” Because of the physical nature of the fuel in a “harvested area”—its dryness, smaller size, etc—it is more readily ignited by lightning than the fuel in an undisturbed stand of trees.
    Krawchuk and Cumming also noted: “In addition to the fine fuels and slash remaining after forest harvest, post-disturbance regeneration might also contribute to flammability.”
    The forest-industrial complex has, it would seem, created an immense area in the Interior of BC that is a crude incendiary device—like a Molotov cocktail—that only needs the right conditions of temperature, humidity and a bolt of lightning to burst into flames.
    The satellite imagery of BC’s recent big fires certainly confirms Krawchuk’s and Cumming’s speculation about the flammability of regrowth in clearcuts. In BC’s dry Interior forests, those plantations act like kindling and, in areas where fires burned in 2017, there’s now little remaining of 20 to 25 years of a build-up of kindling—or, as the forest-industrial complex calls it: “The Forests for Tomorrow.”
    Let me summarize.
    First, we know from National Forestry Database records that lightning strikes are igniting fewer fires, but the fires ignited by lightning are becoming larger.
    Second, we know from Ministry of Forests records and satellite photography that the cumulative area of harvested forest in BC’s Interior has grown very significantly in the last 20 years, and in many areas exceeds the amount of forested land.
    Third, we know that the big fires in BC’s Interior in 2017 all involved heavily harvested areas where either beetle-killed or live trees had been removed.
    Last, scientists have found that the more a landscape is harvested, the more lighting ignition occurs, and that’s because harvested areas have fuel on the ground that is more ignitable than standing forest.
    These facts strongly suggest that it’s the growing expanse of fuel-laden clearcuts that are producing larger fires.
    Climate change is no doubt making the fuel drier and more ignitable, and perhaps adding a little strength to winds that fan the fires. But it’s also possible that vast areas of clearcuts are creating those same effects all by themselves. Removal of the tree canopy allows the sun to heat the forest floor more readily, which reduces humidity and raises temperature. Removal of trees allows wind speed at forest-floor level to be higher in clearcuts than would be the case in an expanse of mature forest. Leaving 40 to 60 percent of the biomass of the forest in a clearcut creates a huge fuel load that is apparently readily ignitable by lightning and easily fanned by wind.
    Focus has obtained numerous photographs taken from fire-spotter aircraft, including those used in this story, that depict fires that apparently started in clearcuts, or clearcuts engulfed in flames. So there’s good evidence on the ground that this is happening. But this version of what’s happening is definitely not the narrative that is coming from the scientists whose role it is to keep timber flowing from the forests to the mills.
    The forest-industrial complex is pointing its collective finger at drier conditions created by climate change, and too dense fuel in the forest as a result of fire suppression. Its favoured solution appears to be to go into the forest and remove more trees.
    It’s possible that the forest-industrial complex is suffering from the cognitive bias known as the law of the instrument: Give a man a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.
     
    CONSIDER THE MAGNITUDE OF THE PROBLEM: In 1997, BC’s 60 million hectares of forests were able to sequester the equivalent of 103 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Wildfires were emitting an average of 6 megatonnes each year.
    Twenty-three years latter, BC still has 60 million hectares of potential forestland, but has lost those 103 megatonnes of sequestration capacity. Wildfires are now emitting, on average, 58 megatonnes per year.
    Those two changes amount to a net increase of 155 megatonnes per year in emissions related to our provincial forests. That doesn’t include the 88 megatonnes of emissions that we must attribute to the premature decay of wood that will result from harvesting trees for wood products each year.
    The prognosis is bad. Going in the same direction, a further increase in the industrial use of forests by mining them for bio-energy will, if the past is any predictor of the future, just make things worse.
    As I pointed out last edition, the lowest-hanging fruit for BC in mitigating the damage being done to climate stability by its forestry practices is to end the export of raw logs, most of which are cut from coastal forests. If the Province banned raw log exports and reduced the annual allowable cut by 6.5 million cubic metres, 11 megatonnes of annual carbon emissions would be eliminated.
    We previously estimated that would impact 1,650 jobs. In a future low-carbon economy (assuming that’s where we are going), there would be no possible justification for allowing 1,650 jobs to produce 11 megatonnes of net emissions. Instead, the forest-industrial complex needs to start redirecting resources to jobs that don’t destroy forests. It needs to reinvent itself into an agency that can bring the forest back to its former health and capabilities.
    As it ponders its future, perhaps the forest-industrial complex ought to take to heart the words of Aldo Leopold, the American author, philosopher, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist: “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus. He is working with a group of scientists, journalists and citizens to explore the potential for conserving selected BC forests for carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and short-distance tourism potential. He welcomes your feedback.

    David Broadland
    January 2020
    Over the past 20 years, BC forests were so heavily logged that net carbon emissions caused by the industry are now twice as large as Alberta’s oil sands.
     
    AT THE HEIGHT OF LAST SUMMER'S ECONOMIC MELTDOWN in the BC interior’s forest industry, Marty Gibbons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1-417, based in Kamloops, told the Canadian Press: “Something needs to change immediately or these small communities that don’t have other employers are going to wither and die.” Gibbons concluded that “the largest driving factor is the Province’s complex stumpage system that results in high fees.”
    The average stumpage rate in BC—the price the Province charges forestry companies for harvesting a cubic metre of tree on Crown land—was around $23 for both the interior and the coast in 2019 (1). But the average stumpage paid for timber harvested from Crown land by major raw log exporters like TimberWest and Western Forest Products in the Campbell River Natural Resource District was much lower, ranging between $8 and $11 per cubic metre. Smaller companies paid even less—as little as $5 per cubic metre. Yet raw logs for export were selling at an average price of $128 per cubic metre through 2019 (2).
    Raw logs worth $4.146 billion were exported from BC to other countries for processing over the past five years (3). This huge overcut—unnecessary to meet domestic and international demand for BC’s finished wood products—has averaged 6.5 million cubic metres per year over those five years, equal to 41 percent of the total cut on Crown and private land on the coast (4). So claims that high stumpage rates in BC are the problem that needs to be solved seem out of touch with reality.
    But Gibbons is still right: something “needs to change immediately.” The required change, however, might be more than what he’s thinking. The interior’s forest industry has been destabilized by two climate-change-related phenomena—devastating wildfire and explosive mountain pine beetle infestation—that have been amplified by the immense extent of BC’s clearcut logging. Gibbons wants to knock a few bucks off the forest companies’ costs so they can run more shifts at the mills. What’s really needed, though, is a much deeper kind of change, one that would quickly transform BC’s forest industry. To start, we need to end the export of raw logs and shift that same volume to a new class of forest: protected forest-carbon reserves.
    There’s an urgent need to remove carbon from the atmosphere and reduce emissions at the same time. The only way to remove carbon on a large scale and then store it safely for a long time is to not harvest healthy, mature forests of long-lived species.
    The next 10 years need to be full of bold ideas as we look for and find solutions to the climate crisis. Initiatives like the Carbon Tax in Canada are necessary to disincentivize the use of fossil fuels, but planet Earth isn’t going to give us time to tax our emissions into submission. We need some quick shifts that will cut 10 megatonnes with a few strokes of the Premier’s pen. In BC, protecting the forest instead of destroying it is our only realistic option. If we don’t do this, we’ll run the risk that the rest of the world will start counting the emissions we are releasing from our forests and begin to think of us—and our manufactured wood products industry—as the Brazil of the North.
    Perhaps what’s required most at this critical moment is recognition by the BC government that an international market for sequestered forest-carbon is coming soon, and that forest companies need to start switching from destroying publicly-owned forests to protecting them. Not just old-growth forests, but mature second-growth stands of long-lived species, too.
     

    Forest loss (yellow) on Vancouver Island and the south coast mainland between 2000 and 2018 Source: Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/NASA
     
    Our government leaders don’t seem to be thinking straight yet. Instead, deforestation on the BC coast is accelerating. Over the past six years, the area of coastal Crown land that was clearcut increased 16 percent over the previous six-year period. Our provincial forest’s capacity to serve as a carbon sink has vanished. Its catastrophic collapse is recorded in a 20-year segment of the Province’s annual inventory of provincial greenhouse gas emissions. In 1997, BC forests could sequester the equivalent of 103 megatonnes of CO2 annually. By 2017 that had fallen to 19.6 megatonnes (5). From 2020 on, our forests will be a net source of emissions—even without including those from wildfires. The image above shows—in yellow—the physical area of Vancouver Island, and the adjacent mainland coast, that was clearcut between 2000 and 2018. Vancouver Island has become an ecological war zone. But a different economic role for the forest is emerging, one that doesn’t destroy it.
    That new purpose is highlighted by a gaping hole in Canada’s plan to meet its emissions reduction commitment under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Canada’s 2018 progress report to the UNadmits there’s a nearly 100-megatonne gap in the plan to 2030 (and this assumes the rest of the plan will actually work). How will Canada live up to its promise over the next 10 years? The progress report puts it this way: “Potential increases in stored carbon (carbon sequestration) in forests, soils and wetlands will also contribute to reductions which, for a country such as Canada, could also play an important role in achieving the 2030 target.”
    The report offers no other possibility for filling that gap.
    Canada, then, will likely depend on using the carbon sequestration capacity of its forests to meet its Paris Agreement commitments.
    Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, through its reference to a commitment in Article 4 of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, encourages all countries to “…promote and cooperate in the conservation and enhancement, as appropriate, of sinks and reservoirs of all greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, including biomass, forests and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.”
    Depending on how Article 6 of the Paris Agreement is eventually detailed (its development was stymied at the Madrid COP), it’s possible that an international market mechanism for forest carbon is coming, and it can’t come soon enough.
    The over-exploitation of BC’s forests has added to an explosion in net carbon emissions, delivered to the atmosphere each year by the forest industry’s endless road building and progressive clearcuts. Below, I’ll show why this now amounts to over 190 megatonnes every year (and possibly much more), a far more powerful carbon bomb than is being dropped by Canada’s oil sands industry (6). It’s long past time for us to understand the inner workings of the bomb and to defuse it.
    There are two separate parts to BC’s bomb, and I will take you through each of these in some detail below.
    First, when a mature or old forest stand is logged, assuming it’s healthy, the living biomass that’s killed and cut up into small pieces begins a premature process of decay, often hundreds of years before that decay would occur naturally.
    Secondly, when that mature or old, healthy stand is clearcut, its potential to sequester carbon in the future is lost and it could then take anywhere from 60 years to several hundred years before a new replacement forest could sequester as much carbon as was being stored in the previous stand.
    Let me take you through the inner workings of each of these parts of BC’s carbon bomb. First, let’s consider the magnitude of the carbon emissions released when wood prematurely decays.
     

    Biomass left behind after clearcut logging on Crown land on Quadra Island (Photo by David Broadland)
     
    WHEN AN AREA OF FOREST IS CLEARCUT, three decay processes are initiated that result in emissions of carbon to the atmosphere.
    First, the removal of the trees allows the sun to warm the forest soil to a higher temperature than was possible when it was shaded by trees. That additional warmth speeds up decay processes and the release of greenhouse gases, a process somewhat akin to the melting of permafrost in the Arctic. Soil scientists tell us that forest soil contains even more carbon than all the trees and other biomass that grow in it. Recent studies have reported that as much as 20 percent of the carbon in the layer of soil at the forest floor is released to the atmosphere after an area of forest has been clearcut. This release is a wild card in our emerging understanding of the impact of clearcut logging on carbon emissions. For now it remains unquantified, but it’s definitely not zero.
    The second decay process begins after an area of forest is clearcut and the unused parts of trees left on the forest floor begin to decay. In his 2019 report Forestry and Carbon in BC (document at end of story), BC forest ecologist Jim Pojar estimated that 40 to 60 percent of the biomass of a forest is left in a clearcut. That includes the branches, stumps, roots, pieces of the stems that shattered when felled, the unutilizable tops of the trees, and unmerchantable trees that are killed in the mayhem of clearcut logging.
    For our purpose, we will use the mid-point of Pojar’s 40 to 60 percent estimate: half of the biomass is removed, and half remains on the forest floor. The Ministry of Forests’ log scaling system tells us what volume of wood is removed from the forest as merchantable logs. We then assume that an equal volume of wood is left in the clearcut.
    In 2018, the total volume of wood removed from BC’s forests, as reported in the ministry’s Harvest Billing System, was 54.1 million cubic metres. As per above, we are using the same number for the volume of wood that was left in clearcuts all over the province. So the total volume of wood in play is 108.2 million cubic metres. Both pools of wood—the wood left behind and the wood trucked away—begin to decay after a relatively short period of time following harvest. Each cubic metre of wood will eventually produce about 0.82 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions (7). So the wood left behind will produce 44 megatonnes and the wood trucked away will also produce 44 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions—eventually.
    The average 6.5-million-cubic-metre cut for raw log exports accounts for 11 megatonnes of that 88-megatonne carbon bomb.
    You might have heard that the carbon in the logs that are harvested and turned into finished wood products will be safely stored in those products indefinitely. But the Ministry of Forests’ own research shows that after 28 years, half of the carbon in the wood products is no longer being safely stored; at 100 years, only 33 percent of the wood is still in safe storage (graph below). The rest will have returned to the atmosphere or is headed in that direction.
     

    This BC Ministry of Forests graph shows how the carbon stored in wood products declines over time. After 28 years, half of the carbon stored has been lost to the atmosphere. At 100 years, 33 percent remains.
     
    BC’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory quantifies the magnitude of the currently acknowledged deterioration of wood products. For 2017 it noted that “Emissions from Decomposition of Harvested Wood Products” contributed 42 megatonnes annually to the provincial greenhouse gas inventory, which is close to our estimate of 44 megatonnes for 2018 (8).
    For ethical reasons, we ought to attribute all of those future emissions to the year in which the wood was harvested.
    Note that the period of safe storage of carbon in wood products is much shorter than the expected life of most of the tree species that grow in coastal BC. A Sitka spruce is capable of attaining 700 years of age. Douglas fir commonly reach 600 to 800 years of age, and have been known to survive to 1000 years. Red cedar can reach even greater longevity. The Cheewat Lake Cedar near Clo-oose has been estimated to be as old as 2,500 years.
    The coastal forest’s longevity—compared with BC’s interior forests—arises, in part, because the coast’s wetter climate lowers the incidence of drought and wildfires that could kill the forest. As well, there are no mountain pine beetles in coastal BC.
    By eliminating the export of raw logs and instead protecting an equivalent volume of long-lived coastal stands each year, 11 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions could be avoided. That would be a much more substantial reduction in provincial emissions than, for example, the BC Carbon Tax has produced after 10 years.
     

    The author measures the circumference (27 feet) of an apparently healthy 700-800-year-old Douglas fir on Quadra Island. Douglas fir are known to live for as long as 1000 years.
     
    THE SECOND PART OF THE BOMB—the loss of sequestration capacity—is a measure of the net growth, per year, of the carbon stored by our forests. Provincial data shows that sequestration capacity held steady at about 103 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year between 1990 and 1999, and then began to decline through to 2017, the last year for which data is available. But the rate of decline suggests that our forests are now a net source of emissions, even without including the emissions released as a result of natural disturbances such as wildfires.
    The impact on climate stability of BC’s forests losing the ability to absorb 103 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year is no different than the impact of releasing 103 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions every year. Let me give you just a glimpse of how unbridled logging has reduced sequestration capacity. Consider the impact of logging roads.
    Logging in BC has required the construction of a vast and very expensive network of industrial-duty roads that have gouged out an equally vast area of previously productive forest and covered it over with blasted rock and gravel. The public has paid for these roads through reduced stumpage payments. They’re poor, if not impossible places for trees to grow.
    In BC, logging roads and landings are allowed to occupy up to seven percent of the area of a cutblock. As well, to avoid slash burning, the unmarketable wood left in a clearcut is increasingly consolidated in semi-permanent piles that, like the roads and landings, reduce the space available for a new forest to grow.
    A recent report at The Narwhal by Sarah Cox described a study in Ontario that examined the extent of such forest loss in that province. Cox reported that researchers there found “logging scars created by roads and landings…occupied an average of 14.2 percent of the area logged.” So our province’s seven percent restriction could well be an underestimation of the forest base that’s being lost. But let’s use seven percent and calculate how much forest has been lost.
    Sierra BC’s recent report, Clearcut Carbon (document at end of story), put the total area logged in BC between 2005 and 2017 at 3,597,291 hectares, which included private land on Vancouver Island.
    If seven percent of that area was covered with roads and landings, the area of forest lost over that 13-year period would be 251,810 hectares. That’s larger than Vancouver Island’s largest protected area, Strathcona Park.
     

    In this randomly selected, typical aerial view of Crown forest on Quadra Island, the permanent, ballasted logging roads occupy 8.2 percent of the area of the recent clearcuts.
     
    Sierra BC chose a 13-year period for its report because it takes at least 13 years after a clearcut has been replanted for the area to shift from being a source of carbon emissions to a carbon sink. The report grimly observed: “For at least 13 years, these areas are ‘sequestration dead zones’: clearcut lands that emit more carbon than they absorb.”
    In the case of roads, though, the forest land they now occupy has become a permanent just-plain-dead zone, and another one the size of Strathcona Park is being created every 13 years.
    While the blame for BC’s forests becoming a net source of carbon emissions has been directed at non-human causes like the mountain pine beetle and wildfires, the forest industry’s production of 251, 810 hectares of just-plain-dead zones and 3.6 million hectares of sequestration dead zones every 13 years is pushing ecological stability to the brink.
    Once upon a time, management of BC’s forests was based on the concept of “sustained yield.” It was a commonly held belief of residents of this province that this meant the annual allowable cut was restricted to no more than the amount of new forest growth each year. Many of us, including myself, have mistakenly believed that approach to managing the public forests was how the Forest Service still operated. This is clearly not the case.
    The Forest Service has turned the resource into an annual carbon bomb that has become one of the largest carbon emitters/carbon-sink killers in Canada. At more than 190 megatonnes a year (88 from premature decay emissions and 103 from loss of the forest-carbon sink), it’s well over twice the size of emissions from Canadian oil sands operations and three times the rest of BC’s emissions. Yet we cut far more than we need for our own use. That’s just plain nuts.
    The most obvious starting point for repairing BC’s broken forest-carbon sink would be to ban the export of raw logs. That would make it possible to put the 6.5 million cubic metres of trees that weren’t harvested into a protected carbon reserve each year until the provincial forest-carbon sink has been rebuilt to at least 1997’s level: 103 megatonnes per year.
     
    YOU MIGHT THINK THAT THE GREATEST CHALLENGE to eliminating raw log exports and putting that uncut volume into protected carbon reserves would be the huge loss in employment that would result. You’d be wrong.
    There were 17,800 people employed in “forestry and logging with support activities” in all of BC in 2018, according to BC Stats (9). This figure doesn’t include BC’s wood products manufacturing jobs, but eliminating log exports wouldn’t affect those jobs since raw log exports create zero manufacturing jobs in BC.
    2018 was a very good year for employment in the forest industry. The total volume cut in BC forests, including on both public and private land, was 54.1 million cubic metres. Of that, 30 percent was cut on the coast and 70 percent in the interior. Based on that split, about 30 percent of the employment in “forestry and logging with support activities” was on the coast, or about 5340 jobs. In 2018, raw log exports were at a five-year low of 5.03 million cubic metres, equivalent to 31 percent of the coastal cut. So eliminating log exports that year would have eliminated about 31 percent of those 5340 coastal logging jobs, or 1650 jobs. It would have also eliminated, or at least greatly delayed, 8.3 megatonnes of emissions.
    To put those 1650 jobs in perspective, they represented less than one-tenth of one percent of BC’s total workforce in 2018. They are amongst the most carbon-emission-intensive jobs on Earth. In the approaching low-carbon economy, employment will need to shift from carbon-emission-intensive to carbon-absorption-intensive. Any job that is part of a low-cost process for removing carbon from the atmosphere is going to be in demand. Allowing trees to grow is currently the lowest-cost process for absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. This is unlikely to change.
    When BC starts to put thousands of hectares of forest land into carbon sequestration reserves each year, optimizing the amount of carbon stored will require scientists, surveyors, mappers, planners, foresters, tree planters, thinners, pruners, salvagers and fire suppressors. It’s likely to include some selection logging. If anything, optimizing the forests’ capacity for sequestration is likely to require more workers than are provided by road building and the mechanized form of clearcutting widely practiced on the coast. Where would the money for all this employment come from?
    The Carbon Tax is slated to rise to $50 per tonne in 2021. If the 5-year-average export cut was ended and the trees left standing, a net reduction in emissions of 11 megatonnes would have an annual value of $550 million. That’s a lot more than necessary to keep 1650-2000 jobs in a transformative BC Forest-Carbon Service. Do the arithmetic yourself.
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus. He is working with a group of scientists, journalists and citizens to explore the potential for conserving selected BC forests for carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and short-distance tourism potential. He welcomes your feedback.
    Forestry and Carbon In BC by Dr. Jim Pojar: Forestry and Carbon in BC Dr. Jim Pojar.pdf3.51 MB · 75 downloads 
    Clearcut Carbon by Sierra BC: 2019-Clearcut-Carbon-report.pdf2.14 MB · 71 downloads

    Stephen Hume
    January 2020
    Scientists are now saying global climate change will usher in even higher seas and more flooding than previously predicted.
     
    FIFTY YEARS AGO, I was an indifferent student drifting through random courses. In my post-teen ennui, I mostly hung around the student newspaper office drinking terrible coffee in the hope of chatting up a girl.
    The furthest thing from my mind was that my life was actually an après nous le déluge moment; that in my lifetime I’d be contemplating floods of biblical proportions that, over the next 50 years, will likely force close to a million Canadians from their homes, including thousands in communities on the South Island, Sunshine Coast and Lower Mainland.
     

    Willows Beach and the adjacent upland area could disappear beneath the rising sea. Evidence is mounting that it might happen sooner than previously believed. (Photo by Stephen Hume)
     
    From Oak Bay to Campbell River to Port Alberni, homes, resorts, industrial sites and businesses are now at discernible risk of future flooding wherever they have been built along walk-on beach front or on the flood plains and alluvial fans where scores of streams and rivers that punctuate the coast of Vancouver Island meet tidewater.
    It seems like a science fiction scenario from that Kevin Costner sci-fi flick Waterworld. Whole city centres drowned? Previously high-demand neighbourhoods rendered uninsurable? Billions of dollars in residential, commercial and industrial real estate written off the board by the environmental consequences of climate change? Here, in our Island Eden?
    Yet that’s what new research published last October now points toward. It used advanced neural network computing to correct earlier digital models forecasting sea level rise. Earlier calculations of land elevations—and therefore of how much farther inland the high tides of the future might reach, particularly if amplified by a storm—turned out to have underestimated by 30 percent.
    The study “New elevation data triple estimates of global vulnerability to sea level rise and coastal flooding” by Scott Kulp and Benjamin Strauss of Climate Central in Nature Communicationswarns that over the next 30 years, about 500,000 Canadians living on coastal lowlands may have to deal with significant annual flooding.
    And worst-case scenarios—in which atmospheric carbon emissions continue without abatement on the current trend—will make about 850,000 coast-dwelling Canadians vulnerable to annual floods by the time 2020’s first-year students are my age and wondering how their half-century flew by so quickly.
    Worldwide, the researchers warn, about 250 million people now live within one metre of sea level. Even conservative estimates point to the near-inevitability of a two-metre rise by the end of the century. Other scientists suggest—and the new research correcting older models lends credence to their alarm—that the geological record warns us that more rapid and higher sea-level rise is not only within the realm of possibility but, perhaps, even probability.
    A research team from Australia observes that 125,000 years ago under conditions similar although not identical to the present—atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were then about a third lower than today—sea levels rose quickly to about 10 metres above today’s levels.
    “What is striking about the last interglacial is how high and quickly sea level rose above present levels,” write Fiona Hibbert, Eelco Rohling and Katharine Grant, ocean and climate researchers at Australian National University. “Temperatures during the last interglacial were similar to those projected for the near future, which means melting polar ice sheets will likely affect future sea levels far more dramatically than anticipated to date.”
    They point out that polar warming did not occur simultaneously during that melt. But thanks to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, warming and loss of ice mass are now happening in both the Arctic and the Antarctic at the same time. “This means that if climate change continues unabated, Earth’s past dramatic sea-level rise could be a small taste of what’s to come,” the Australian scientists say.
    It seems reasonable, then, to consider people living up to 10 metres above present sea level to be at potential future risk from combinations of rising seas and higher seasonal tides with storm surges. Those parameters increase the number of people at risk globally to one billion.
    At 20, I couldn’t imagine being 40. So I understand how these timelines seem unimaginably long for some, even some scientists. But when the predicted events are occurring, the time between then and now will seem like the blink of an eye.
     
    BACK IN MY DAYS OF BLISSFUL IGNORANCE, I’d consider the dolorous prospect of another afternoon researching overdue essays on Greek epitaphs or Wordsworth’s view of the metropolis. Instead I’d ride my motorcycle down to Cadboro Bay and take the waterfront past Willows Beach through the Royal Victoria Golf Course to McNeill Bay. From Crescent Road, I’d follow Penzance past the Chinese Cemetery out to Harling Point, named for a local resident who famously expired of hypothermia following a tragic marine rescue in Gonzalez Bay 35 years before my visits.
    Harling Point’s real name, its first one, at least, is Sahsima—Coast Salish for “harpoon.” And it’s an important spiritual site. It was here that Xals, the transformer who mediates between the natural and the supernatural and brings order and balance to the world, changed a seal hunter to stone, simultaneously granting him power over the seals hunted by the Songhees. As Royal BC Museum curator Grant Keddie once observed, Sahsima is a place that signifies the gravity of the natural balance in maintaining the world’s order, a notion that seems ever more important as we relentlessly upset the equilibrium of local, regional and global ecologies.
    I’d clamber through a dense fringe of broom and prickly gorse and onto the inexpressibly ancient rocks. They still bore recent scars of an Ice Age, left 22,000 years ago by boulders dragged beneath glaciers flowing over the Saanich Peninsula. Those ice sheets were two kilometres deep at maximum, and over the Saanich Peninsula weighed about 250 gigatonnes. The number is incomprehensibly large, like so many in geological time. It represents 250 kilograms with 12 zeros behind it. (That immense mass of ice, by the way, would be equivalent to less than a quarter of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by us since 1850.)
    I knew this only because one of those fascinating young women at the student newspaper told me about a geography field trip. She urged me to look for the fault line where rock from ancient continents had collided.
    And so there I’d sit with an apple and a piece of cheddar on a blustery afternoon, straddling two vanished continents. The sun gleamed on the last remnants of ancient ice fields on the Olympic Mountains. I watched the endless Pacific suck and gurgle into the deep fissures that ice and moving water had carved into the basalt and chert from 40 million years ago when Wrangellia collided with what geologists call the Leech River Complex.
    On a day when the tide was right and the swells were big, bulked up by the surge from some storm beyond the horizon, the seas would boom into the rocky chutes with enough force to make the rock vibrate. Glistening white foam would jet upward, spindrift twisting away on the wind.
    My procrastination around schoolwork wasn’t wasted time. In fact, it was my first genuine encounter with the idea of time, relativity and what that might mean. There was synchronicity and yet there wasn’t. I thought of how those 2000-year-old Greek epitaphs, which had seemed so distant in the classroom, might have been written that very morning, compared to the epitaphs scrawled by glaciers 20,000 years before upon the very rocks where I sat.
    And the slow glaciers themselves—what were they, in a time frame of 40 million years? Even Wrangellia was young compared to eternal, changeless Mother Ocean, who was herself writing an epitaph for the vanished continent, grain of sand by grain of sand, even as I watched. The timeless tides come in and go out, I thought, and nothing changes except us, as ephemeral as the spindrift.
    But the ocean is changing. It’s increasing in volume as it heats, and as polar ice caps and high elevation ice sheets melt at faster and faster rates. Most of us have noted the retreat, for example, of the Comox Glacier, the dwindling snow on Island mountains, the Coast Range and the Olympic Mountains. But these are mere glimpses of something vast.
    In Alaska, about to log its hottest year ever, glaciers shed mass into the sea at record rates. Some show consecutive years of record ice loss. Others show near-record loss but can’t set new records because they’ve lost so much mass already.
    Glaciers in the St Elias Mountains of northwestern BC and the southern Yukon lost about one-quarter of their mass since I was a first-year university student. Glaciologists estimate that over the next 50 years, about 80 percent of the Canadian Rockies’ ice fields—the water supply for carbon-pumping Alberta—will melt away.
    Greenland, Antarctica, Iceland, the Rockies, the Himalayas, the Alps, the Andes—ice is vanishing at a rate that now astonishes scientists used to dealing with change over millennia and geological epochs.
    “These [glacier] collapses would drive up sea levels, devastate marine life and disrupt ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns that dictate temperatures and rainfall around the world,” says one late-November report by James Temple in the MIT Technology Review. “The death of forests [from drought and fire] would release vast stores of greenhouse gases while the melting of ice would reduce the planet’s reflectivity—and raise the risk of setting off still more tipping points.”
    Thawing permafrost releases greenhouse gases. Ocean acidification caused by warming releases greenhouse gases. Burning forests release greenhouse gases. Humans show no sign of curbing their release of greenhouse gases.
     
    CLIMATE CHANGE DENIERS frequently accuse science of exaggerating the threat of climate change. A report in Scientific American by three scholars, studying how scientists disseminate their findings, says it’s precisely the opposite. Not only have scientists not exaggerated, they have seriously underestimated and understated the speed and scope with which change is occurring.
    The United Nations’ much-vilified Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change turns out not to be the extremist conspiracy touted by denialists. Instead, it’s been too conservative. There is bias, it turns out, but it’s toward exaggerated caution.
    What current data really shows, the report says, is that “disintegration of ice sheets and glaciers is occurring far faster than predicted by theory—as much as two orders of magnitude faster—throwing current model projections of sea level rise further in doubt.”
    This concern seems to be corroborated by research of American glaciologists, who reported earlier this year that Antarctica’s annual loss of ice mass increased 600 percent between 1979 and 2017.
    “As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-metre sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries,” said Eric Rignot of the University of California, the study’s lead scientist.
    Climate scientists with the World Meteorological Organization, which just released its 2019 report on the state of global climate, conclude that Greenland lost 350 gigatonnes of ice this year, that the melt is accelerating, and that it’s accelerating in the Antarctic, too.
    Another worrisome study reported in Nature during the UN summit on climate change in December stated that Greenland’s glacier was melting seven times faster than what the IPCC had predicted in the 1990s. Based on observations by 96 polar scientists using satellite imagery and measurements of flow and volume since 1992, scientists labelled it a huge concern, as tipping points might be breached sooner than expected.
     

    Greenland’s ice sheet is melting seven times faster than it was during the 1990s (Photo courtesy of NASA)
     
    There’s uncertainty about what will happen between now and the end of the century, but it’s clear that if the rate of melt on those two big ice sheets—Greenland’s and the Antarctic’s—has been significantly underestimated, all hell can break loose in the oceans.
    There is enough ice in those two sources to raise sea levels by more than 60 metres. That’s not expected to happen or, if it does, to happen over centuries, but so far expectations have regularly been confounded by events.
    As climate science writer Eugene Linden pointed out in the New York Times in late 2019, had a scientist in the early 1990s suggested that within 25 years a single heat wave would measurably raise sea levels while scorching the Arctic and producing temperatures worthy of the Sahara desert in Paris and Berlin “the prediction would have been dismissed as alarmist.” But that happened last summer. In parts of Florida, residential neighbourhoods have endured more than 80 consecutive days of ocean flooding. For some, the worst-case future has already arrived.
     
    WHAT HAS ALL THIS TO DO WITH US, living in our complacent West Coast Eden?
    Well, many on the Island, surrounded by the rising sea, already live or work at or below the two-metre elevation that’s now the conservative estimate for sea-level rise. The entire Windsor Park area in Oak Bay, for example, has two metres of elevation. The entrance to the BC Provincial Archives building is one metre above sea level.
    So, if on the evidence and given the consistency of underestimation, it seems reasonable to assume that a 10-metre rise is now a possibility, then the risks for householders, businesses and infrastructure begin to look large, indeed.
    For example, the steps of the provincial legislature building are six metres above sea level, as is the foyer of the Royal BC Museum. Bastion Square is five metres. New residential complexes around the Selkirk Waterway are four metres. The entrance to St Anne’s Academy is six metres. Esquimalt High School is four metres. Shopping centres in downtown Campbell River are all less than eight metres.
    Interactive maps created by the same researchers who found previous estimates of coastal elevations to be wrong, calculate flooding from sea-level rise at different temperatures. At four degrees of global warming, Oak Bay is bisected by a new sea channel that extends from Oak Bay Marina to Beach Drive at McNeill Bay. Willows Beach, with its multi-million-dollar homes, is inundated as far back as Beach Drive.
    Cadboro Bay Village is below the tideline as far as Arbutus Road. Much of Tsawout Indian Reserve at Saanichton Bay is under water. Downtown Sidney is almost entirely flooded from just north of the airport interchange to North Saanich Marina. Swartz Bay ferry terminal is under water. Land east of Patricia Bay is flooded inland almost as far as Pat Bay Highway.
    In Victoria, James Bay becomes an archipelago. The historic buried stream flowing from Fairfield to near the Inner Harbour becomes an inlet. Rock Bay floods up Discovery and Pembroke streets almost as far as Douglas. The sea extends up Bridge Street from Bay Street to Ellice. Along the Selkirk Waterway, all the land below Tyee Road is drowned. Properties fronting the Gorge are largely flooded.
    High-value areas in the potential danger zone near Victoria are found in Cadboro Bay, Telegraph Cove, Maynard Cove, Cordova Bay, Sayward Beach, Saanichton Bay, Ferguson Cove and Bazan Bay. Farther up Island, Cowichan Bay, the estuaries of the Chemainus, Englishman, Qualicum, Somass and Campbell rivers, Parksville, Lantzville, Rathtrevor, Saratoga and Miracle beaches would all be at risk from sharply rising sea levels combined with storm surges and seasonal high tides. For rural residents, saltwater intrusion into wells, septic fields and farmland becomes an issue.
     

    Already flooding on some high tides, sea level rise could inundate Cadboro Bay’s waterfront (Photo by Stephen Hume)
     
    Are these scenarios extraordinarily far-fetched? Is it sensationalist fear-mongering to raise them for discussion? Well, if anybody has a vested interest in figuring out what might lie ahead, it’s the insurance industry. And the insurance industry is worried.
    Several US studies conclude that real estate values in coastal risk zones already feel the impact. Researchers at the University of Colorado’s business school estimated that properties exposed to sea-level rise are already selling, on average, for seven percent less. A sea-level research group called First Street Foundation says that on the US East Coast and Gulf Coast, exposed properties have lost $16 billion in appreciation value since 2005.
    In Canada, the senior research director at the Bank of Canada’s Financial Stability Department warned earlier this year that climate change has the potential by the end of the century to reduce global annual GDP by up to 23 percent. Those who thought the recession of 2008 was bad should imagine one ten times deeper.
    Lloyd’s, a global player in insurance, carefully studied the damage claims following Hurricane Sandy, which struck New York in 2012. It concluded that sea-level rise increased flooding losses by 30 percent. During the storm,16 historical records for high tides were broken on the Atlantic seaboard. New York’s subway flooded.
    “Rising sea levels around the world could have significant implications for insurers in the context of storm surge,” Lloyd’s concluded in its 2014 report. And Munich Re, one of the corporate giants that insure insurance companies, says that significantly higher insurance premiums for property owners in areas vulnerable to sea-level rise are already emerging.
    So one prospect that Island waterfront property and coastal flood-plain property owners may face is whether their properties will in future be deemed uninsurable and possibly become unsellable.
    All this raises important questions for policy makers, provincial and municipal governments, insurers, taxpayers and property owners that deserve a robust public discussion.
    It’s time for a clear-eyed and serious exchange of views about who pays the bill for risk and damage which, it seems inevitable, will increase year by year.
    What should happen when property becomes increasingly vulnerable to a known risk? Some jurisdictions in the United Kingdom, for example, already plan to move entire low-lying coastal communities to higher ground lock, stock and barrel. Others, including Richmond on the Lower Mainland, are betting on dykes, levees and flood-control infrastructure.
    Where does future liability lie if development is zoned by provincial and municipal authorities for real estate that lies in risk areas vulnerable to flooding should the sea level rise more dramatically than current predictions?
    What about taxation? Right now walk-on waterfront is taxed at a premium, because it’s a high-demand commodity that generates high value. But what if the value depreciates rapidly because of flooding risk and an eventual inability to insure?
    Most municipal taxpayers could never afford to buy beachfront homes. Where should the burden for mitigating risk to such properties from sea-level rise fall? That is, should all taxpayers be paying for anti-flooding infrastructure that protects high-value residential districts that most of those taxpayers are financially excluded from living in?
    Should we be having a conversation about if, when, or whether provincial and municipal governments should start restricting development in flood-prone areas, or even providing incentives to shift residential and commercial occupants to safer ground, or planning to dyke areas to make them flood-proof?
    And, of course, the big question for all of us is, who pays and how?
    Stephen Hume spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. His byline has appeared in most major Canadian newspapers. The author of nine books of poetry, natural history, history and literary essays, he lives on the Saanich Peninsula.
     
    How might future global temperature increases affect sea level in Victoria? Readers might be interested in visiting Climate Central's interactive map for this area. 

    Briony Penn
    January 2020
    Concerns over slow progress lead to questions about campaign donations from developers.
     
    SEVERAL YEARS AGO, Saanich resident Merie Beauchamp and her husband bought a large lot overrun with invasive species. It had subdivision potential but was also subject to the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw. Under the EDPA, they would be required to work with Saanich planners and biologists, should they want to subdivide, in order to minimize the impact to the endangered Garry oak ecosystem.
    Both Beauchamps had biological backgrounds and were curious about what lay under the brambles and daphne. Said Merie: “We removed the invasives and the land came back to life. The native wildflowers began to reappear, the Garry oaks suppressed under the invasives started to take off, the butterflies, birds and other wildlife returned and we realized that we could help restore the natural diversity of this piece of land.”
     

    Saanich resident Merie Beauchamp
     
    The couple decided that they had an opportunity to manage this restored area, which lies adjacent to a protected area. Conventional thinking would describe them as having cost society in foregone development values. “True cost accounting,” however, would value their actions in terms of averting the rising costs of the biodiversity and climate change emergencies. Beauchamp wants people to get excited about true cost accounting and to educate people about the harm of the business-as-usual approach, but it is a hard thing to do with a council that is mostly stuck in an old paradigm.
    In May, the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a report that gave humanity a dire prognosis. A million species are now threatened with extinction, and our own species may follow if we don’t do something about the threats.
    In the District of Saanich, over 90 of those species are at risk along with the ecosystems that support them. As one of the most affluent, well-educated, and still biologically-rich urban/rural districts in Canada, Saanich could be playing a leading role in reversing this trend. However, this region has lost ground—literally and figuratively. Garry oak meadows have been blasted into oblivion for everything from swimming pools to subdivisions ever since Saanich scrapped its progressive Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA)—a bylaw and planning tool that had, since 2012, a proven record of guiding development away from, and around, endangered ecosystems.
    A byelection in late 2017 had resulted in a pro-development majority on council, which moved quickly to rescind the EDPA—though a replacement was promised. A battle for sustainability was waged in the suburbs, with lawyered-up landowners and developers on one side, and Saanich residents who supported the bylaw on the other.
    Since then, the battle has continued with divisions growing deeper. And the casualties of the lack of regulation are evident all over Saanich—endangered ecosystems wiped off their last remaining spots on Earth: at Mount Douglas Cross Road, Rainbow Road, Ten Mile Point, Gordon Head Road, Milner Road, Holland Avenue. Until journalist Wolf Depner was moved from the Saanich News to a new beat in Oak Bay, you could read regularly about yet another endangered meadow getting ploughed under by a bulldozer.
    The public discourse has only grown more heated. The College of Applied Biology permanently rescinded the membership of Ted Lea, a key player in the opposition to the EDPA, for violation of the college’s code of ethics stemming from his role in the matter. Councillor Nathalie Chambers urged her fellow council members to reinstate the EDPA given its removal was, in part, based on faulty reports from the biologist—or at least place a moratorium on Garry oak removals. (She failed.) University of Victoria faculty and students have weighed in on the science. Citizen’s groups, like the Falaise Community Association, have gathered people at a Tree Love Town Hall this spring “because of a growing concern for the protection of the residual Garry oak ecosystems under threat.” Citizen watchdogs, like Katherine Whitworth, are tracking what appears to be the increasing control of council by developers through electoral donations to councillors— and Chambers is calling for a ban on such donations.
    A perusal of the political donors to councillor campaigns reads like a who’s who of the local development industry, studded with family names like Jawl, Miller (Abstract Developments), Mann, Vanderkerkhove, Geric, and Knappet. Though donations from corporations are prohibited, and individual donations capped at $1200/year ($2400 in an election year), there’s nothing to stop multiple family members and a company’s staff from donating (this has also been noticed in other municipalities).
    The industry benefits when it controls the land-use planning process and has every incentive to populate council with people who share their views. That is not news. What is news is that according to the authors of the UN’s IPBES report, the key driver of extinctions worldwide is changes in land use. It also notes the trend is reversible. “Nature can still be conserved, restoredand used sustainably.” The authors stress the necessity of transforming governance and accountability, so that the full costs of not conserving or restoring natural systems and of notusing land sustainably are assessed. Accountability also entails the rigorous uncoupling of politics from land use change and its biggest driver, the development industry.
    Not surprisingly, the conflict in Saanich is exacerbated by highly confusing narratives being put forward by pro-development councillors in which citizens are told that they must choose: housing versus nature; public versus private land stewardship; farming versus conservation; restoration versus conservation; wetlands over Garry oak; emissions reduction over carbon sink expansion. Claiming that one action over another is prudent and efficient is far easier to sell politically—especially if it retains the status quo.
    From where the researchers of our climate and biodiversity crisis sit, however, choice is a luxury that the world doesn’t have. If we are going to avert this emergency, then we actually have to transform our thinking and figure out a way to integrate all these components of the crisis, now.
     

    Dr Eric Higgs
     
    As Dr Eric Higgs of the University of Victoria’s School of Environmental Studies puts it, “Every effort matters. We have to stem the loss and restore. For example, if we are at roughly five percent remnant Garry oak habitat presently, what would it take to get to six percent or 10 or 20 percent? What could happen if citizens were encouraged to take action in their front and backyards, new developments had stringent offset requirements, old trees were cherished, and Saanich really took seriously the need for nature-based solutions?”
     
    BEAUCHAMP WAS AGAINST SCRAPPING THE EDPA, and says the impacts of its loss have been immediate and unnecessary. The move has also devalued and demoralized other efforts for conservation and restoration on private land. She cites as an example, the controversial 4355 Gordon Head Road property where an endangered ecosystem that had previously been protected under the EDPA (through restricting building to an already existing building footprint) was destroyed for a swimming pool by moving the development closer to the cliff to take advantage of ocean views. “Why, when an alternative existed, would we allow an endangered ecosystem to be destroyed for someone’s swimming pool? The cost is borne by the next generation.”
     

    The scrapping of Saanich’s EDPA bylaw allowed this property, which includes an endangered Garry oak ecosystem, to be redeveloped.
     
    In the Milner Road development, four city lots of Garry oak woodland were razed with the lifting of the EDPA. Lauraine Derman, former Councillor Vic Derman’s widow, wrote to Saanich, stating, “At present, we see the ‘Sustainable’ Saanich moniker being abused and ridiculed as we witness some developers flaunting regulations and racing to destroy unique, ecological sensitive areas previously under EDPA protection. A case in point (among others)…is the well-publicized Milner/Leveret incident.”
    Against this backdrop of ecological destruction, many citizens wanted to see some sort of replacement for the rescinded EDPA—and quickly. Saanich staff had been working to create the “Natural Saanich” Environmental Policy Framework—which would include polices and regulations related to addressing climate change, biodiversity and stewardship—and envisioned the Framework being completed by 2022. But they also suggested some possible interim measures to address gaps left by the loss of the EDPA. These potentially included an enhanced tree bylaw (protecting other at-risk species), an enhanced fill bylaw (stopping wetland infill), and an adjusted development application. These were considered by staff as “low-hanging fruit as they are easily achievable and relatively effective,” according to meeting minutes.
    But the Framework, particularly its interim regulatory measures, was questioned by some councillors, including the Chair of Saanich’s Environmental and Natural Areas Advisory Committee, Rebecca Mersereau. Minutes of a June 2019 meeting show she questioned the effectiveness of regulatory measures. In this, her views were at odds with the committee she chaired.
     

    Saanich Councillor Rebecca Mersereau
     
    Mersereau argued in a July Facebook post that “developing and administering regulations also consumes resources and limits our ability to use other strategies to achieve the same goals, or other environmental goals we consider important. As much as it would be nice, resources are not available in an unlimited supply to help us achieve our environmental goals. If we were more cognizant of all these challenges, and if biodiversity conservation is truly a priority in Saanich, I believe we would have long ago invested more resources into protecting and even enhancing biodiversity in our extensive protected parks network.”
    Beauchamp has disagreed on development-related issues with other members of Saanich council, but nowhere has the narrative been more confusing for her than with Mersereau, who has degrees in biology, education and water resource management; was mentored by former Councillor Vic Derman; and once supported the EDPA.
    Beauchamp now draws a clear relationship between councillors’ decisions and their financial backers, and believes that rules around conflict of interest and disclosure must be tightened to ensure land- use decisions serve wider interests. She cites four donors from the development industry to Mersereau’s campaign, and adds “politics shouldn’t be mixed with science.” 
    Dr Higgs has also responded to Mersereau on the interim regulatory measures question: “We need regulatory capacity to limit negative actions, and reward virtuous ones. This is why I support very strongly the kind of integrated package of initiatives comprising the Natural Saanich project. Stripping out the potential for discouraging or stopping heedless actions on private lands, or focusing only on remaining jewels [parks] that make up such a tiny fraction of historical habitat, will result in a future Saanich that is like every other municipality that failed to address issues sooner.”
    Higgs points to the March 1, 2019 United Nations General Assembly 2021-2030 declaration of the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and suggests, “It would be unfortunate and ironic if Saanich were now to turn its back on the power and promise of hundreds of projects on public and private lands. Yes, environmental conditions are changing—a fact I know too well from my own research on novel ecosystems—but this is hardly an argument for letting the perfect stand in the way of good outcomes, especially those that support innovative approaches to biodiversity conservation and restoration. Every remnant patch of biodiversity that can be conserved or restored makes a difference to climate adaptation and flourishing ecosystems, whether natural, novel, or hybrid.”
    At the heart of Higgs’ analysis is the fact that 75 percent of the world’s land base has now been “significantly altered by human actions” and an international consensus of biologists advocate Nature Needs Half—a goal already in the CRD Regional Parks Strategic Plan. There is no research that comes to the conclusion that we will survive the political expediency of scrapping regulations on private land use for protecting endangered ecosystems. Landscape ecologist Jan Kirkby, who worked on Saanich’s original Sensitive Ecosystems Inventory mapping, notes “with strong, forward-thinking leadership and public education, landowners and land managers can embrace these conservation-based planning tools as they have in many other jurisdictions. EDPAs provide guidance and opportunities to enhance both natural and property values of the land. There are also tools like the Natural Area Protection Tax Exemption Program (NAPTEP) for conserving special features and sensitive ecosystems on private land.”
    Local governments are indeed free to change zoning to achieve conservation goals without compensation. But that is rarely done and only as a last resort. Kirkby emphasizes “most developers and property owners labour under a critical misconception, that there is such a thing as ‘development rights’ in Canada, that people ought to be able to do whatever they want on their land, and no local government has or should have the right to restrict development. These beliefs and views originate in the US and are supported by their constitution; however, Canada’s constitution supports the collective over the individual.”
     
    TWO YEARS HAVE PASSED SINCE THE DEMISE OF THE EDPA. And now some fear that Saanich council will further delay measures that would hopefully fill the gaps left by its loss. Mersereau, however, assured Focus in an email: “Council has approved an expedited timeline for the development of the EPF, so I’m hopeful that by mid 2020 we’ll all have a better sense of at least the scope of it.”
    Yet even the original process was to take until 2022, so any further delays are worrisome to those witnessing ecosystem destruction as the development boom continues.
    For now, a technical group to advise the process has been approved. But no “interim measures” (as the staff report advocated) to protect endangered ecosystems are likely in the near future, says Councillor Nathalie Chambers, who has repeatedly asked for them to deal with the biodiversity emergency.
     

    Saanich Councillor Natalie Chambers
     
    She is also advocating tighter accountability of councillors. Under the Community Charter, council members have to declare their own personal investments and may not vote or exercise influence over them. Chambers suggests, “They should also have to recuse themselves when voting on development issues when they receive developers’ donations.” She suggests accountability might have prevented some other recent moves that were developer-friendly: a proposed new bylaw raising development cost charges (DCC) was delayed, denying Saanich taxpayers $2 million; Local Area Plans were halted in favour of fast-tracking housing; and Abstract Developments, which has eight downstream applications, was granted special privileges on the Mayor’s Standing Committee on Housing Affordability, having access where Chambers, for example, has none.
    Chambers’ concern over the development industry’s “undue influence” has led her to propose a resolution for the Union of BC Municipalities to eliminate developer donations.
    Councillor Mersereau did not address Focus’ questions regarding Higgs’ challenge of her ecological rationale or Chamber’s comments of undue influence, but referred us to her July Facebook post which asserts: “Yup —that’s right! We’re in a process to discuss a process…If we have a good process set up to objectively evaluate how effective each option will be at helping us achieve our goals—whether they are voluntary, financial, or regulatory options (which the EDPA is one example of)—I can support the options that emerge at the top, regardless of what form they take.”
    Higgs responds, “We should not be caught in the midst of spats that result in inaction, but leading with the framework, policies, legislative action, and public programs that result in the very kind of Saanich that people will value in the future.”
    What do we need to get there? Beauchamp suggests “a conflict of interest bylaw for municipal donations might be a good start. Then let’s get Natural Saanich back on track.”
    Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative non-fiction books including The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, A Year on the Wild Side and, most recently, Following the Good River: The Life and Times of Wa'xaid, a biography of Cecil Paul (Rocky Mountain Books).

    Ross Crockford
    November 2019
    The Johnson Street Bridge undergoes one safety review after another.
     
    THE JOHNSON STREET BRIDGE is an attractive structure, especially in the evening. Resembling a giant bird’s skull, awash in the glow of blue floodlights, it’s easily the most distinctive landmark on the harbour.
    Lately, however, the bridge has been drawing the wrong kind of attention. At 11:40 pm on Saturday, October 19, a man fell over a railing near the southwest corner of the bridge and hit the shore, ending up in hospital with serious injuries. “Incidents like this serve as a good opportunity to remind people to be safe, be aware and take caution while crossing [the] bridge,” VicPD constable Matt Rutherford later told Victoria News—as if walking on the bridge requires greater caution than crossing, say, a Downtown street.
     

    A report warned that allowing the public near the moving bridge presented “real concerns from a risk standpoint”
     
    This was just the latest odd episode at the bridge, usually involving a man emboldened by drink. (VicPD said alcohol was “a factor” in the Oct 19 fall.) One Saturday last December, an inebriated man climbed a railing, fell into the water and drowned. And famously, on a Friday afternoon last July, a drunk guy ambled past a closed gate on the multiuse path, and ended up hanging 20 metres in the air from a railing as the bridge lifted for a passing ship.
    After each of these incidents, the City of Victoria announced that it would conduct a formal safety review of the bridge’s equipment and operating procedures. Then, six months later, another mishap.
    The previous bridge also saw accidents: in 2013, a 31-year-old guy died after falling from the overhead girders of the old bridge, where he’d been drinking with friends, and in 2006 a ferry skipper rescued an 11-year-old boy who’d been playing on the old bridge and fell into the harbour. But judging by the news archives, such incidents are occurring with greater frequency now.
    For sure, this is partly an unfortunate side effect of the increasing numbers of bars, condos and pedestrians in the area, which the new bridge has encouraged. With even more condos coming, though, that raises an increasingly urgent question for the City: can the bridge ever be made completely safe?
     
    JUST THREE DAYS BEFORE THE BRIDGE WAS INAUGURATED on March 31, 2018, the engineering firm WSP issued a safety audit of the structure, which Focus recently obtained. WSP identified several problems, including gaps in railings, an “increased collision risk” where the multiuse path enters Harbour Road, potential tripping hazards and deck slipperiness, the risk of debris sliding off the decks “into areas where the public will be permitted to stand,” and the fact that the bridge operator has to continually monitor a network of CCTV cameras to see all parts of the structure—increasing the operator’s workload during a lift, and “the potential for error in the complex steps associated with the process.”
    In an annotated version of the report, Taaj Daliran, the City’s manager of civic services, identified steps taken by bridge contractor PCL and the City to fix these issues. They closed gaps in the railings, installed warning signs and larger CCTV monitors, and initiated a “comprehensive training program” for the operators. (Improving the Harbour Road connection is a future project.) But WSP also identified a more general worry: the risk of “aberrant behaviours” by pedestrians, especially around the lift span and the observation deck between the bridge’s open-wheeled mechanism.
    “Standing in close proximity to a large moving object in the form of a moving portion of a large part of the structure within which observers will be standing, does present real concerns from a risk standpoint,” warned WSP—which was bizarre, considering that the publicly accessible, open-wheel concept was designed by WSP and MMM Group, which WSP acquired in 2015. “Deliberately allowing the public to expose itself to such a risk situation may not be appropriate from a general public safety policy or engineering standpoint, particularly when public behavioural aspects of that risk environment will be uncontrollable.”
    The City partly dealt with this by installing a steel gate in front of the observation deck—immediately after a skateboarder was photographed riding the curved concrete edge of the north wall of the bridge’s bascule pier in September of 2018. The gate is open only when the bridge operator is present, usually from 8 am to 4 pm. But is it wise to let the public near the machinery at all? “It has been part of the design to allow [the] public to be close and watch the bridge lift,” the City’s Daliran wrote, in response to WSP’s warning.
     

    Entry to the observation deck is usually blocked 4pm to 8am
     
    Fraser Work, the City’s director of engineering, agrees that odd behaviour has been an issue at the bridge. Even before the guy rode the lift span in July, Work told me, “a lot” of cyclists and pedestrians were rushing past closed traffic gates, because they were too impatient to wait the seven minutes it takes to clear the bridge, raise it for a passing ship, lower it and reopen it. “We even had instances where people were stopped and taking selfies, and the bridge operator had to wait, which is very dangerous as a vessel approaches,” Work said. Consequently, the City installed additional CCTV cameras, improved the lights and signage, and is considering fortifying the gate on the bridge’s multiuse path.
    “The systems are designed to code,” Work said. “These railings and these systems are designed that someone shouldn’t accidentally find themselves in harm’s way. But they’re not going to prevent someone who wants to find themselves in harm’s way from having accidents.”
    Work emphasized that the City takes safety seriously. But there are limits to what it can do. “We ask ourselves, ‘What would a prudent bridge owner do?’ Would we add more infrastructure at potentially very significant costs to reduce the risk of any accident happening in the future, or is it adequate right now? So there’s an active dialogue about this stuff. We’ve had these incidents, we take them seriously, we look at them individually based on CCTV footage that we can review and statements by witnesses, and we look at them holistically over time, so we want to make sure we’re taking all necessary action.”
    The bridge was also in the news this summer for its mechanical problems. On June 27, the City cancelled all lifts to investigate worries with the hydraulic system; marine traffic backed up in the harbour, and the City could only conduct two slow, scheduled lifts per day for two weeks afterward. As Focus revealed in September, the housings and O-ring seals of the system’s filters were breaking down, filling the hydraulic oil with particles that could permanently damage the motors. That concern hasn’t been resolved. Work says they’re still running the hydraulics at reduced pressure, so the bridge is at “about 50 percent” speed, adding two minutes to the seven-minute lift/wait/lower cycle. PCL is testing new filters, and may have to reconfigure the hydraulics. The repairs should be covered by the bridge’s warranty, which expires on April 1.
    Then there are the ongoing lawsuits by PCL and WSP against the City, for unpaid work and losses the companies say they suffered due to design changes and delays during the bridge’s construction. In June, PCL served the City with its notice of claim, keeping its lawsuit alive. PCL’s lawyer filed a document in court advising that settlement discussions with the City were “expected to conclude, one way or the other, by July 31,” but that date’s come and gone. As City spokesman Bill Eisenhauer told me, “The litigation is still in abeyance as the parties explore the possibility of a consensual solution.”
    The wheels of justice grind slowly, like the bridge mechanism. Don’t get too close.
    Ross Crockford wishes everyone a safe and merry Christmas.
    WSP Safety Audit of new Johnson Street Bridge.pdf1.52 MB · 26 downloads

    Ross Crockford
    November 2019
    Residents take the City of Victoria to court for overriding its Official Community Plan.
     
    (UPDATE: On November 22, the BC Supreme Court rendered its decision in this case. See the note at the end of this story.)
    “I’M NOT AN ACTIVIST KIND OF GUY,” John Wells says. By day, he develops instrumentation for the high-tech sector. But this autumn, he put his name on a court action that could change how developments get approved by the City of Victoria, and potentially every other municipality in British Columbia. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”
    In his case, the development in question is Rhodo, a set of 20 townhomes planned for two residential lots at 1712 and 1720 Fairfield Road, next to Hollywood Park, in the Gonzales neighbourhood. Aryze Developments first presented the project to neighbours, including Wells, in 2017. Though Aryze generated many letters of support for the project through their website, attendees at community association land-use meetings were almost universally opposed, arguing that Rhodo packed too many people into too small an area, it crowded the park and the sidewalk, and its boxy modern design didn’t fit the neighbourhood.
     

    John Wells says the terms of the OCP constitute a public trust (Photo by Ross Crockford)
     
    Victoria’s council approved Rhodo at a public hearing in August. A majority of speakers supported the project, and the majority of councillors (aside from Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Geoff Young) cited a need for diverse housing in the city and in the Gonzales neighbourhood, and claimed that increased density in such a walkable area, along a transit route, would help reduce climate change. But the neighbours didn’t accept those arguments. They got a lawyer’s opinion that the City had overstepped its authority, rallied to launch a court case to set aside the council’s decision, and Wells volunteered to become the face of the lawsuit.
    The nub of their legal argument concerns the height of the development. Section 478 of BC’s Local Government Act says that all bylaws passed by a council — such as the rezoning bylaw for Rhodo — “must be consistent with” the municipality’s official community plan. In Victoria’s Official Community Plan or OCP, Gonzales is designated “traditional residential,” defined as consisting of “ground-oriented buildings up to two storeys” and multi-unit buildings up to three storeys on arterial roads. (Fairfield is designated a “collector” road.)
    At the public hearing, Aryze and City staff said Rhodo was “2.5 storeys” tall, apparently because its top floor includes open-air balconies. Wells says Rhodo is three storeys. (The architect’s planssay it’s 11.14 metres tall, and a City planning document says residential construction between 9 and 12 metres equals three storeys.) “I deal with math a lot, and the equation for ‘up to two storeys’ is ‘less than or equal to two’,”. Wells says. “It’s not ‘around two’.”
     

    Artist’s rendering of the controversial "2.5-storey" Rhodo project
     
    City planners acknowledged the “up to two storeys” problem in their reports to councillors, but recommended Rhodo proceed anyway, noting that the OCP also contemplated a “range of built forms,” that the “appropriate scale” of a building was to be based on “an evaluation of the context,” and that the townhouses would advance the OCP’s broad objectives of diverse, transit-accessible housing.
    Wells isn’t opposed to development; like any developer, he says, he just wants clear rules, and that means the City needs to respect the clear terms in the OCP. As he points out, Victoria developed its OCP between 2009 and 2011 with the involvement of some 6,000 residents, and in 2012, council enshrined the plan in a bylaw. “With this [Rhodo] decision they crossed the line, they violated the public trust, which is what the OCP is,” Wells says. “For me that’s the nucleus of this complaint.”
    To finance the lawsuit, Wells has raised over $10,000 from more than 75 donors via gofundme.com — and in the process, he’s spoken with residents across Victoria who say they’re fed up with the City cherry-picking phrases from its policies to justify oversized developments. “I realized this isn’t isolated,” he says. “This has been going on for quite some time.”
     
    IAN SUTHERLAND CAN SYMPATHIZE. As chair of the Downtown Residents’ Association’s land-use committee, he’s been battling City Hall over developments since 2011, and he agrees the OCP should be strictly interpreted. “It’s supposed to represent a contract between the council, the development community, and the citizens.”
    Trouble is, the City keeps rewriting the contract, and frequently amends the plan for projects all over town. In May, Sutherland persuaded all of Victoria’s neighbourhood associations to add their names on a letter to Mayor Lisa Helps and council, calling on them and City staff to “follow best practices in land use planning by unequivocally upholding the Official Community Plan.” The City’s reply? “Zero. Not a peep,” Sutherland says. “It’s almost like they didn’t understand what I was talking about.”
    Sutherland’s current headache is the City’s tendency to override the density provisions of the OCP. Density often gets described in floor-space ratios, but he says it’s really about whether a development will help or hurt the liveability of an area. A particularly egregious example for him is the proposal to gut the 1892-built “Duck’s Block” on Broad Street: the OCP says that historic part of downtown has a density limit of 3:1, but the planned hotel will have a density of nearly 5:1. “All those beautiful little courtyards and back alleys, they’re part of a low-density culture that will be rubbed out, because these developments soak up every square inch of dirt.”
    Sutherland’s also been critical of the proposal for four towers at Cook and Johnson — one of which will include a new fire hall — noting that the project has an overall density of 6.8:1 in an area permitted only 5.5:1 in the OCP. At the project’s public hearing on October 24, City planning staff said they looked at a “balance” of considerations, and that inconsistency with any one policy in the OCP wasn’t enough to derail a proposal. Council agreed and approved the project — and in her comments, Mayor Helps said that she effectively considers parts of the OCP to be obsolete.
    “One of the problems with the Official Community Plan, and the way that it’s used sometimes, is that it’s wielded as a shield against change,” Helps told the audience. “And I don’t think that’s right.” She was on an advisory committee for the OCP when it was being created, before she was first elected to council in 2011, and the OCP didn’t identify the concerns Victoria faces today. “If we had declared a climate emergency, and been in the middle of a housing crisis when we approved the OCP in 2012, it probably would’ve looked like a very different document. So our responsibility now is to look at the reality around us, and amend the document accordingly as needed.”
    Wells’ case is slightly different: for Rhodo, the City didn’t even bother amending the OCP, which is a more complicated procedure under provincial law than rezoning, requiring a municipality to consult with “persons, organizations and authorities” that might be affected. (For an example of what’s involved, see Coquitlam’s manual for OCP amendments here.) Perhaps the City got lazy — or perhaps it passed on an OCP amendment for Rhodo because it believes the law is on its side.
    In its filed response to Wells’ action, the City notes that section 471 of the Local Government Actsays an OCP is “a statement of objectives and policies,” so the City considers it a “visionary” document that shouldn’t be strictly interpreted. Some judges have agreed: in 2011, BC’s Court of Appeal upheld Central Saanich’s subdivision of the Vantreight farm into residential lots, saying its rezoning bylaw was consistent with the various environmental and social goals in the OCP, and that the council acted reasonably by weighing various factors in its decision. But more recent BC court decisions say an OCP is a legal document, and when it imposes clear requirements, those should be followed.
    The case will probably be heard in mid-December. Regardless of the decision, though, the issues will soon be tried in the court of public opinion as well. Laurel Collins, one of the councillors who voted for Rhodo, is now off to Ottawa, and the City will hold a byelection for her seat early in the new year. Judging by Victoria’s ongoing arguments over land use, neighbourhood-advocate candidates are sure to emerge.
    Ross Crockford used to be a lawyer, but he’s feeling better now.

    UPDATE: On Friday, November 22, the BC Supreme Court dismissed the Wells petition to strike down the City of Victoria’s rezoning bylaw for the Rhodo development.
    Mr Justice Giaschi said Wells’s lawyers had failed to bring the petition to be heard within the two-month limit in Section 623 of the Local Government Act. He also said the bylaw was “consistent with” the City’s Official Community Plan, and the Council’s decision to pass it was sufficiently “reasonable” that it should not be struck down under the Judicial Review Procedure Act.
    The judge noted that City staff and Council had actively considered the development’s compliance with the OCP, and sent the proposal back for revisions to satisfy the Plan. Although one part of the OCP did say a “traditional residential” neighbourhood only permitted buildings “up to two storeys” on collector roads like Fairfield, the judge said that clause had to be read “in conjunction with other parts of the OCP,” which allowed for a range of building types, and identified various goals, including increasing the supply of housing.
    After the decision, Wells issued a statement on his GoFundMe page:
    “The judge's decision does not mean that the OCP has no meaning, or that City Council can make whatever decision they want. What it does mean is that the courts will give City Council some leeway in how they interpret the OCP, which in this case, and in this specific location, includes 2.5 storeys in an ‘up to 2 storey’ area.
    “During the hearing, the judge commented that if residents are not happy with how Council makes decisions, that is what elections are for. Therefore, if we are not happy with how much leeway this City Council seems to be taking with the OCP, we should be having that dialogue with our elected representatives, and future candidates, about why respecting the OCP is important.”
    That dialogue is likely to get more heated. Last Thursday, Council directed City staff to come up with policies to increase “missing middle” housing, such as townhouses — and Mayor Lisa Helps announced that she effectively wants to eliminate single-family residential zoning across Victoria to get such townhouses built. (Start at 1:51:15 in the video of the meeting HERE.)
    “I’d like to see us go at least as far as Minneapolis, where they have triplexes as of right,” Helps said. “I’d like to see fourplexes as of right. There was a big stir in the North America-wide planning community [last year] when the headline was that Minneapolis got rid of single-family zoning. From staff’s report it doesn’t seem quite that drastic, but I think we need to do more with the land that we have.”
    Victorians, get ready for more Rhodos.

    David Broadland
    November 2019
    If history repeats itself, local plans to reduce GHG emissions will come up far short of targets. Shouldn’t there be a Plan B?
     
    IS THE APPROACH TAKEN BY Victoria and Saanich to reduce GHG emissions within their jurisdictions flawed in some fundamental way that guarantees little or no reduction?
    This is a vital question to consider. Almost all local governments in the CRD have recently declared a “Climate Emergency,” yet the best local example of a well-considered climate action plan—put in place ten years ago by Saanich—has produced only a small reduction in emissions. If the action plans local governments are creating are just more of the same approach Saanich has already tried—and they are—why would the result be any different?
    In 2008, during a previous peak in public interest and concern about global climate change, the BC government introduced North America’s first broad-based carbon tax. At the same time, the municipality of Saanich began drafting a plan to reduce territorial sector-based GHG emissions. By 2010, Saanich had launched its forward-thinking “Climate Action Plan.” One of the plan’s primary goals was an “at least 33 percent” reduction in territorial emissions from 2007 levels by 2020. Ten years later, how did that go?
    Back in 2010, Saanich’s Climate Action Plan put the municipality’s 2007 sector-based territorial GHG emissions at 521,000 tonnes per year. What are they now? In 2019, after declaring a Climate Emergency, the municipality quickly developed the outline (see document 1 at end of this story) of a new climate action plan that plotted a pathway to reduce sector-based territorial emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Saanich’s new starting point, according to that outline, would be 512,900 tonnes. So nearly 10 years after launching its 2010 action plan, Saanich’s sector-based territorial emissions are only 8,100 tonnes below 2007 levels. That works out to a 1.6 percent reduction, well within the uncertainty associated with the accuracy of the 2007 estimate of emissions. Why does Saanich now expect a different result on its second try using the same approach? Victoria is using the same methodology in its Climate Leadership Plan (see document 2).
     

    "Pathways to 2050 GHG Reduction Targets" from the City of Victoria's Climate Leadership Plan. Plotting points on a graph has been tried before.
     
    According to the climate action plans for both communities, all that residents need to do is summed up in three initiatives: First, property owners need to get rid of their oil and natural gas heating and hot water systems and buy electric heat pumps. Second, car drivers need to switch to a bicycle, an electric bus, or an electric car. Third, Victoria and Saanich foresee the availability of “renewable natural gas,” although it’s uncertain where that will come from and how much such facilities would cost, both in dollars and embodied emissions. But residents should get ready to pay for it.
    All of these provisions require new consumption: of electric cars and bicycles, new heating systems, new infrastructure to create biogas, and probably new offices to house a growing contingent of Climate Emergency managers. We just need to buy our way to lower emissions.
    While the experience of Saanich’s 10-year-long unsuccessful attempt at lowering emissions should provide local governments with ample warning that it’s far easier to plot reductions on paper than to achieve them in the real world, there are other reasons to doubt substantial reductions will ever materialize.
    One example: neither community has any intention of constraining population growth or the gentrification of existing neighbourhoods. Thus, we will continue to see, as long as the Canadian economy is growing, new buildings and infrastructure created to service a growing population, and neighbourhoods becoming increasingly affluent and filled with bigger, more luxurious homes. Such growth comes with immense embodied emissions, and some of what’s being created right now is surprisingly energy-inefficient.
    In the City of Victoria, much of the growth is in the form of concrete and glass condominium highrises in the Downtown core. While emissions reduction planners might think that such modern buildings will be energy efficient, BC Hydro doesn’t. In High-Powered Highrise, a report released earlier this year, Hydro noted: “Despite the suites in newer high-rise buildings often being marketed as energy-efficient and including things like LED lighting and Energy Star® appliances, the combined electricity usage of the overall building is approximately two times more than high-rises built in the 1980s, and almost four times more than low-rise buildings built that same decade.”
    Why? According to BC Hydro, “This increase can largely be attributed to these newer, high-rise condo buildings (those with five stories or more) being equipped with high consuming luxury amenities, including pools, hot tubs, party rooms and fitness centres.”
    The strong desire for a luxurious home is also evident in many new low-rise multi-unit buildings in Victoria and Saanich. The market for luxury, it turns out, is a far more powerful determinant of what gets built than concerns about energy efficiency or carbon emissions, even in the midst of a Climate Emergency.
    The relentless demolition of perfectly useable smaller, older homes, which are then replaced with high-end single-family homes two or three times the size, doesn’t support the Climate Emergency managers’ expectation, which underpins their emission-reduction targets, that consumers of housing are seriously concerned about either energy or material conservation.
    The absence of any measures in their climate action plans to constrain population increase and physical growth in Victoria and Saanich isn’t the only reason to doubt real reductions in carbon emissions will be achieved.
    The most serious problem with both action plans is that they only address a small fraction of the emissions that Victoria and Saanich create, or cause to be released somewhere else.
    Civic governments count their emissions using what is known as “sector-based territorial emissions accounting.” In developing their climate action plans, both Saanich and Victoria have identified emissions created by the burning of fossil fuels, or the release of methane, within their boundaries using four sector-based GHG inventories: transportation (automobiles and buses), stationary energy (which includes, for example, all energy related to buildings), industrial products and processes (for example the City’s asphalt plant) and waste (solid waste, sewage, composting). Both Saanich and Victoria are acting in accordance with what is known as the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC) and their methodology aligns with the guidelines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Using this protocol, Victoria identified 387,694 tonnes of territorial carbon emissions; as mentioned above, Saanich estimated 512,900 tonnes. The two communities’ analyses of territorial emissions yield similar per capita levels: 4.52 tonnes per person in Victoria and 4.8 tonnes per person in Saanich.
    Both these numbers, though, are far lower than the known per capita emissions of Canadians, which were 19.6 tonnes per person in 2017.
    Saanich and Victoria, then, have set their sights on addressing less than 25 percent of our known per capita emissions. Where do the other 75 percent of Canada’s per capita emissions come from?
    About 26 percent of emissions come from the oil and gas industries, releases that occur before their end-products reach consumers. Another 10 percent comes from heavy industry (fertilizers, iron and steel, cement, aluminum, and pulp and paper). The vast majority of the remaining 64 percent of emissions are created by the production and use of housing, transportation, and goods and services consumed by Canadians in their daily lives. Because 85 percent of Canadians live in cities, most of this consumption occurs in urban centres like Victoria. So cities, and how their governments approach emissions reduction, will have a large impact on whether Canada’s response to the Climate Emergency is effective or not.
    It’s only been in the last couple of years that comprehensive attempts have been made to quantify all the carbon emissions that human activity in cities creates directly or causes to be released elsewhere. Research done by the international organization C40 Cities provides some valuable insight. C40 Cities describes itself as “a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change.” Its board includes such climate luminaries as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and current Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Vancouver is participating in the initiative.
    C40 Cities has developed an alternative emissions accounting approach that focuses on the consumption of goods and services by residents of a city. In this approach, GHG emissions are reported by consumption category rather than GHG emission source category.
    The 12 categories of consumption C40 Cities uses (and the percentage each category adds to emissions in a North American city) are: capital (15.3 percent); utilities and housing (26 percent); food, beverage and tobacco (7 percent); public transport (10.2 percent); private transport (7.3 percent); government (9.5 percent); clothing, furnishing and household equipment (8.8 percent); restaurants, hotels, recreation and culture (7.2 percent); communications (2.7 percent); education and health (3 percent); miscellaneous goods and services (1 percent); and “other” (2 percent).
    A C40 Cities study (see document 3), released in March 2018, noted that “consumption-based GHG emissions of C40 cities are significant, and significantly larger than sector-based GHG emissions established using the GPC.”
    How much larger? The C40 study found that “16 cities, mostly in Europe and North America, have consumption-based GHG emissions at least three times the size of their sector-based GHG emissions.”
    Although Victoria and Saanich weren’t part of this study, it’s not unreasonable to surmise that consumption-based emissions here are also “at least three times the size” of the sector-based emissions used by Victoria and Saanich in their climate action plans. It should be noted that Saanich commissioned a study of its 2015 consumption-based emissions. That report was released in 2018. It concluded that consumption-based emissions were two times higher than emissions based on sector-based accounting. The study did not include several of the categories C40 Cities uses, including “government services.”
    Let me give you just a few examples of emissions not counted by Victoria or Saanich in their sector-based territorial accounting that would be counted in consumption-based accounting.
    Emissions associated with the cement used in concrete for constructing buildings, foundations, sidewalks, retaining walls, overpasses, etc, are not counted because the cement is manufactured elsewhere. So, too, is the steel rebar used to reinforce this concrete. Saanich has an aggregate mine that provides the sand and gravel used in concrete, but Victoria doesn’t. Thus no emissions related to producing and transporting the ingredients of the concrete in Victoria’s downtown highrise boom are included in its territorial accounting of emissions.
    Another example is “government services.” While both Victoria and Saanich do count GHG emissions caused directly by the burning of fuels resulting from their own operations, they don’t include the carbon emissions embodied in the more than $500 million in funding the two governments collect each year from residential, institutional and business taxpayers.
    There are no lumber or plywood mills in Victoria or Saanich, so none of the emissions or loss of forest carbon sinks associated with the forest industry and its products are included in municipal accounts of emissions, even though these products are essential for the physical growth and maintenance of our homes, hospitals, schools, and places of business.
    Nor do Saanich or Victoria count the emissions created when their residents fly, for business or pleasure, to Vancouver, Paris—or wherever.
    Although a small amount of the food we consume is grown here, most is grown elsewhere and transported to the island. Virtually none of the emissions embodied in our food is counted by Victoria or Saanich. Missing from their tallies, too, are the emissions embodied in the cellphones, computers, flat-screen TVs and other electronic devices manufactured elsewhere but consumed widely by Victoria businesses, institutions and households.
    I won’t go on. You get the idea. In Saanich and Victoria, Climate Emergency managers are counting only a small fraction of the GHG emissions that households, businesses, institutions and governments here are actually causing, directly or indirectly, to be released into the atmosphere. Using C40 Cities’ “at least three times” multiplier, a more realistic estimate of the City of Victoria’s emissions would be 1.2 megatonnes per year. Let’s put Saanich down for 1.5 megatonnes.
    Obviously, local climate action plans will have no success at reducing emissions that they’re not even acknowledging or targetting.
     

    Focus editor Leslie Campbell admires a carbon sequestration facility on Quadra Island (Photo by David Broadland
     
    IS THERE A DIFFERENT COURSE OF ACTION that municipal governments could take to mitigate their emissions? Yes, there is. In a written response (document 1) to Saanich council’s declaration of a Climate Emergency, Manager of Sustainability Ting Pan noted there were two ways to achieve carbon neutrality. The first was to eliminate carbon emissions completely. The second was to “balance carbon emissions with carbon removal.”
    By “carbon removal,” Pan meant the sequestration of carbon by trees. The simplest form of this approach to mitigate emissions, known as “offsets,” is available to a person making a trip by airplane. Payment of an additional small fee—which, the offsetting company promises, will go towards planting a seedling somewhere on the planet—helps to expunge feelings of guilt and shame that some people experience when boarding an airplane. But this form of offsetting has been widely criticized, and rightly so. Forest scientists tell us (document 4), for example, that it takes about 17 years after a coastal BC clearcut has been replanted (which is often delayed several years after harvesting) to switch from being a source of carbon emissions to being a carbon sink. So offsetters that promise to plant a tree to mitigate emissions from, say, your flight to Stuttgart or Calgary, have no immediate effect on reducing atmospheric carbon. Moreover, if trees planted for offsets are cut down in 30 or 40 years, and that low-quality juvenile wood is then used for some short-lived product like shipping pallets or pulp for paper or biofuel, most of the carbon that tree stored is quickly released to the atmosphere. But there’s another possibility for using carbon removal, and this would be similar to that developed for the Great Bear Rainforest, which protects mainly old-growth forest.
    If second-growth trees on the south coast of British Columbia that are slated to be logged (and all Crown land currently under forestry tenures is slated to be logged, eventually) were left to grow, they would sequester more and more carbon each year for a few hundred years. If they were left until they get very old—a Douglas-fir tree, for example, can reach 1000 years of age or more—they would sequester large amounts of carbon over long periods of time.
    Saanich’s Ting Pan put the current cost of offsets at $25 per tonne. At that rate, to offset Saanich’s estimated 1.5 megatonnes of consumption-based emissions for a year would cost about $38 million, and Victoria’s 1.2 megatonnes would cost $30 million a year.
    Ting Pan noted that, while “carbon removal” was “theoretically possible,” there is “no known precedence of any Canadian municipalities taking this approach to become a carbon neutral community.” She added that such offsets “will have to be generated outside of Saanich’s municipal boundary…and would likely contribute to global emissions reduction. However, purchasing offsets have limited direct benefits to local residents, businesses or the local environments.”
    That last statement is ironic, and I’ll explain the irony later. But the only alternative to a “carbon removal” approach is to repeat the actions Saanich took starting in 2010—an approach that hasn’t proven effective and addresses only a third or less of the actual emissions it should. It seems doomed to fail. In a Climate Emergency, shouldn’t our governments be trying out different options to see what works best?
     
    THE RISK THAT CIVIC CLIMATE ACTION PLANS WILL FAIL to deliver significant reductions in community-based emissions demands a Plan B for insurance.
    Certain species of trees, like Douglas fir, Western red cedar and Sitka spruce, can store atmospheric carbon for several hundred, even thousands of years. Forest scientists tell us that coastal old-growth forests store from 750 to 1130 tonnes of carbon per hectare, all absorbed from the atmosphere over the centuries. Our coastal rainforests can contain twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests like those in the Amazon jungle.
    While old-growth forests around the Salish Sea are becoming increasingly rare, second-growth forests that have a high percentage of Douglas fir, with trees up to 80 years old, are, by comparison, widespread. Select areas of the coast that measure high for biodiversity, tourism and recreation potential, and have the capacity for growing large Douglas fir, cedar or Sitka spruce, could be set aside and managed for optimal carbon sequestration. This wouldn’t mean an end to forestry jobs in these selected areas, but clear-cut logging would end. This approach is already being employed with old growth in the Great Bear Rainforest by the First-Nations-operated Great Bear Carbon Credit Corporation.
     

    Second-growth forests on Crown land like those on Sonora Island (left) and Maurelle Island (right) are slated for clear-cutting. Municipal governments could conserve these areas’ biodiversity, tourism potential, and carbon sequestration capacity by paying fees to offset their own communities’ GHG emissions. (Photograph by David Broadland) 
     
    The Crown-owned second-growth forests around the Salish Sea could absorb many millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere and store that carbon for several hundred years. But they are being clear-cut at an unsustainably high rate, and their potential for storing carbon is rapidly being lost. Tragically, these second-growth forests are being harvested at an age when they are just beginning to absorb carbon at the highest rate per year, a pace that would continue for another 100 to 200 years if left to grow. Through a combination of government shortsightedness and mechanized-forestry corporate greed, BC is losing one of the most effective tools available on the planet for removing carbon from the atmosphere. Some of the loss is justifiable to the extent that lumber is necessary for building housing in BC. A substantial portion of that loss, however, is being exported as raw logs, which provides minimal economic benefit for coastal residents.
    Ironically, most of the rapid liquidation of both old-growth and second-growth forests on Vancouver Island and the northern Gulf Islands is being carried out by TimberWest and Island Timberlands, both of which are owned, to a large extent, by public service pension funds that provide many former government (federal, provincial and municipal) employees with good pensions. Many of these former civil servants have retired to the Victoria area. The community benefits greatly by their presence here, but some of that economic benefit has come at the cost of widespread environmental damage caused by logging of both old-growth and second-growth forests. The south coast is not just losing the potential for carbon sequestration; logging-road construction and clearcutting are blasting, filling and shredding wildlife habitat, diminishing biodiversity and the land’s ability to store water.
    Can municipal governments step forward and preserve carbon sinks as an insurance policy against the potential failure of their climate action plans to perform as needed?
    Saanich’s Ting Pan, as noted above, wrote that, “purchasing offsets have limited direct benefits to local residents, businesses or the local environments.” The irony in that assessment is that local residents and businesses have already benefitted—through money that has flowed into this community from those public service pension plans and increased government revenues—from the destruction of forest-based carbon sinks that is occurring all around the Salish Sea.
     
    HOW MIGHT THE COST of protecting the remaining old growth and selected areas of second growth be charged against consumption-based emissions in communities like Victoria and Saanich? Households would pay a fee, based on household income, to municipal governments. Municipalities would transfer that money to the Province. The Province would then allocate funds to those affected resource communities selected for carbon sequestration projects to transition them away from timber extraction on Crown land and towards carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, and development of tourism/recreation/research infrastructure.
    Why should Saanich and Victoria collect carbon sequestration fees based on household income? A new scientific study (see document 5) on consumption-based household GHG emissions provides evidence for what most people already know: The greater the household income, the higher its consumption-based emissions. This peer-reviewed research quantifies the substantial difference in emissions between low-income and high-income households in the US. Canadians and Americans have very similar per capita GHG emissions, so the data from this new study is useful in Canada. The numbers suggest that Canadian households with incomes of $150,000 have consumption-based annual emissions of about 56 tonnes; a household income of $100,000 produces 50 tonnes; $60,000 in household income produces 33 tonnes; and $30,000 in income produces 22 tonnes. At Tang’s estimate of $25 per tonne to offset emissions, a household with $60,000 in income would pay an annual emissions offset fee of $825. A household with $150,000 in income would pay $1400.
    If Victoria’s or Saanich’s Climate Emergency managers could prove that their action plans had reduced community emissions by, say, five percent, then their residents’ fees could be reduced by five percent, or whatever reduction had been achieved. If emissions go up, the fees go up, and more forest land is converted to carbon reserve.
    As Saanich’s Ting Pan noted, “there is no known precedence of any Canadian municipalities taking this approach to become a carbon neutral community.” There’s also no known example in Canada of a municipal climate action plan producing significant emission reductions. Such plans are often branded to include the word “leadership.” Victoria has called its plan the “Climate Leadership Plan.” But can following a path that’s known to badly underestimate actual emissions, and which uses an approach that has already proven itself to be ineffective, be regarded as “leadership”?
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus. He is working with a group of scientists, journalists and citizens to explore the potential for conserving selected BC forests for carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and short-distance tourism potential.
     
    Documents referred to:
    1. Saanich Manager of Sustainability's response to Climate Emergency Declaration.pdf
    2. City of Victoria Climate Leadership Plan.pdf
    3. C40 cities consumption-based-emissions.pdf
    4. PICS Carbon Sequestration in British Columbia's Forests.pdf
    5. Scale, distribution and variations of global greenhouse gas emissions driven by U.S. households.pdf

    Stephen Hume
    November 2019
    As they are logged, whole ecosystems disappear forever, along with their superior ability to sequester carbon.
     
    GLOOM AND SILENCE lodged in my memory first. An occasional shaft of golden light lanced between immense trees. They towered like the columns of some ancient Greek temple. If there was a breeze in the foliage, its rustle was muffled by the dense canopy hundreds of feet above.
    It was 1956. I was nine. My father had taken me on my first real hike into the back country.
     

    A stand of old-growth Douglas fir on Vancouver Island (Photo by David Broadland)
     
    The temple allusion seems apt. The only other times I would feel that sudden, deep-shaded sense of sacredness—imprinting itself for the first time upon the virgin sensibility that art critic Roger Shattuck has called “the innocent eye”—occurred years later. Then I stood in the vaulting nave of an 800-year-old cathedral. Its construction began about the same time those Island trees of childhood memory were seedlings, pushing their first roots down into the decaying bole of a fallen ancestor, repeating the endless pattern of regeneration that had recurred over ten or more of their unimaginably long generations.
    The ancient forests of Vancouver Island are ancient, indeed. The south coast was one of the first places deglaciated at the end of the last ice age. Palaeobotanists studying plant pollen in lake-bottom mud discovered that more than 12,000 years ago, when most of what’s now the province still slept beneath glaciers as deep as Mount Waddington, these forests were growing here.
    On my first encounter with the ancient forest that once covered all of Vancouver Island, the trees seemed timeless, inexhaustible. And yet, that primeval forest, the living connection with our Palaeolithic origins in the natural world, was already in rapid retreat when my father took me to experience its miraculous, never-to-be-forgotten presence.
    It is utterly astonishing to think that in my brief lifetime, less than 10 percent of the life span of one of those trees, that same primeval forest has almost vanished from Vancouver Island.
    Seventy years ago, my father, now 96, was still hand-logging old growth west of Sooke with double-bitted axe and misery whip. “We thought it would never end,” he recently said—sadly I thought.
    But ending, it is.
    “We’re down to the guts and feathers now,” laments Erik Pikkila, a forester at Ladysmith who is assembling the “big data” needed for accurate, detailed analysis of BC’s practices and their consequences—what he calls “forgotten history”—both long and short term. “Here in BC we run forestry in a black box,” he says. “We need a technological revolution. The Province has run away from inventories. We don’t even know what is out there. If we don’t know what’s in the bank account, how do we manage that account sensibly going forward?”
    A decade ago, the Liberal government’s cost-cutting mania resulted in a savage downsizing of the Province’s forest service. In 2010, a BC auditor-general’s report concluded that despite high-minded declarations about preserving ecological integrity, the Province was falling short of its goals.
    “We should know where every tree is, where every log is at any given moment in the forestry cycle,” Pikkila says. “This is how you achieve real efficiency and sustainability in forest management. It’s how you eliminate waste. They can do this in Scandinavian logging. We can do it here.”
    “What is the state of the forest? We don’t really know anymore. We have to do things differently.”
    One step might be, as the Province has done with threatened grizzly bears, to boldly declare an immediate moratorium on logging the remnants of the ancient forest until we can gather the best science to determine what we should preserve, what we can preserve, and what we must preserve. Where to start? Perhaps with all trees still standing that were here before Europeans arrived—say 300 years old.
    The governments of Washington State and Canada, with the support of British Columbians, pledged more than $1 billion to attempt to save the iconic Southern Resident killer whales from extirpation. Yet BC not only tolerates, but enables and even encourages the killing of 500-year-old trees to manufacture disposable products.
    Today, probably 85 percent of the original ancient forest that covered Vancouver Island has been mowed down and turned into toilet paper, newsprint, dimensional lumber and plywood—purportedly a sustainable use, although most construction lumber goes into landfills after 50 years, the usual lifespan of a building in our throw-away culture of planned obsolescence. Tattered remnants remain in the North Island’s littoral zone and in a few parks and protected areas. Pockets survive in the most remote river valleys.
    To fly the Island from Cape Scott to Greater Victoria is to witness a landscape modified almost beyond recognition on an industrial scale. Ten thousand-year-old ecosystems have been stripped and replaced with artificial plantations that are, themselves, already in some places being stripped for a second time in less than a century. Forestry is now agriculture. Loggers, their historic self-perceptions notwithstanding, have become well-paid farm hands.
    Government, industry, academics and technicians reassure us that they can reconstruct ancient forests. Others don’t think so.
    “By treating 500 to 1,000-year-old forests as if they were a renewable resource, we are acting out a fiction and thereby making a grave mistake,” wrote Peter Raven, then-director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, in a prescient forward to the book Ancient Forests of the Pacific Northwest.
    “Once they have been removed from a particular area, the ancient forests…will never appear again, given the human activities in the contemporary world and their consequences,” Raven wrote. “We not only kill the trees that are cut, but we annihilate the possibility of such trees for all time. No manifestation of the anthropomorphic causes of tree death could be more permanently fatal than this.”
     
    NOMINALLY, GOVERNMENT FOREST POLICY supports jobs and the economies of small forestry-based communities. But this, too, is a lie of self-deception. Government decoupled forest resources from workers and their communities a generation ago.
    In 1980, says Natural Resources Canada, about 100,000—one in 10 BC workers—were employed in the forest sector. By 2018, Statistics Canada listed 18,600 as employed directly in forestry, logging and support. Over that 38 years, though, the annual allowable cut remained the same. So that 20 percent of the original work force—and the communities depending upon it—now cuts the same amount of wood. The wealth from that productivity gain did not go to workers. It went to government and corporate bottom lines.
    Industry rationalizes liquidating old-growth forests on the fiction they are “over-mature.” The real reason, however, isn’t concern for the well-being of the forest, it’s because, as Charles Little pointed out in his book The Dying of the Trees, “Plantation trees are worth only about one-tenth as much as the 500-year-old pre-Columbian veterans.”
    Ironically, liquidating what’s left of old-growth forests merely accelerates the problem for forest-dependent workers and their communities. When the high-volume old wood runs out, the replacement feedstock can only be low-volume plantation wood of inferior quality. This warning isn’t a radical idea cooked up by naive environmentalists. The Vancouver Province ran a major newspaper series more than 80 years ago warning about the coming “fall down” effect.
     
    LOOKING DOWN FROM A LIGHT PLANE cockpit upon the patchwork quilt of clear-cuts, newly replanted cut blocks, immature growth, and the few protected areas and crannies too rugged to log, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the Island is being defaced by some disastrous case of disfiguring psoriasis.
    Satellite mapping shows as shamelessly optimistic estimates that 15 percent of old-growth inventory in moderate-to-high-value forest remains intact. Image analysis shows what remains is about a third of that or less. Only about 10 percent of the biggest trees, the 1,000-year-old giants from river bottoms and lower elevations, still stand. So, 90 percent of the most majestic trees are already gone—flushed down your toilet; used to wrap fish and chips; used to make disposable forms during construction of steel and glass skyscrapers, and then discarded.
    Break it down by actual ecosystems, and the picture is grimmer yet. Of low elevation coastal Douglas fir and the Douglas fir adapted to the Island’s dry east coast rain shadow, only about one percent remains. For mountain hemlock in the very dry zone, about seven percent is left.
    “This is crazy policy,” Pikkila says. “Ecologically, we need to be leaving all those big trees. Between 60 and 80 years in the growth cycle of those trees, the volume of wood doubles. The bigger the tree, the greater the volume of wood, the more carbon captured from the atmosphere and sequestered for a thousand years.” He adds, “The best tool we have against climate change is forests—but we have to let them get old. We have to plant a trillion trees, but the catch is to let them get really old.” While vigorously growing young trees sequester atmospheric carbon, they have to grow for 500 years to match the carbon sequestered in old-growth veterans.
    On a per-hectare basis, temperate old-growth rainforests in BC sequester better than twice the carbon in equivalent forested areas of the tropical Amazon basin, whose deforestation has been so much in the news of late. More than 1,000 metric tons of carbon is sequestered in one hectare of BC rain forest, compared to about 400 tons in the Amazon.
    Ecologist Elliott Norse points out in a seminal study of the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest that timber operations in old growth “release a huge pulse of carbon dioxide in the few years after logging.”
    This doesn’t square with the carbon budget targets bloviated by the NDP in the provincial legislature.
    Based on the best current science, Ken Wu of the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance calls for a dramatic expansion of targets for protecting remaining old growth. The United Nations target is currently 17 percent. BC has achieved 15 percent. Wu says we need to go to at least 50 percent protection by 2030.
     

    Ken Wu stands beside an old-growth Douglas fir on McLauglin Ridge (Photo by TJ Watt)
     
    “To continue logging the last giants is akin to slaughtering the last herds of elephants or harpooning the last great whales,” Wu has written. “It’s unnecessary and unethical, given that second-growth forests dominate more than 80 percent of BC’s productive forest lands and can be sustainably logged.
    “Indeed,” he continues, “the rest of the Western world is focused on logging 50- to 100-year-old second- or third-growth trees. BC is one of the very last jurisdictions on Earth that still supports the large-scale logging of 500-year-old trees. On Vancouver Island alone, about 10,000 hectares of productive old-growth forests are logged each year while only 8 percent of the original is protected.”
    As with cancer patients, it’s easy to get drawn into a confused and confusing realm of contested statistics when it comes to evaluating survival rates, statistical probabilities, fretting over what the numbers actually mean—or if they mean anything. Yet for any lay person trying to sort out the facts, one thing is certain: government and industry data have gaps, sometimes large ones, and whether by incompetence or designed obscurantism, it’s opaque.
    Spending an hour trying to extract intelligible data from the equivocating, jargon-laden labyrinth hosted by the Provincial Ministry of Forests feels like the same mind-numbing paralysis that follows sucking in a Freezie too fast.
    Government, which is responsible for managing about 20 percent of timber sales (through BC Timber Sales), and industry, which has billions vested in business-as-usual, both argue that more old-growth forest has been protected than environmental groups acknowledge.
    But Wu, a long-time campaigner for expanded old-growth protection, says the spin cycle has been cranked up to high for government and industry statistics.
    He argues, for example, that provincial statistics mislead, because they include in protected old growth all the low commercial value forests growing on terrain so rugged it can’t be logged; stunted forests in shore bogs; treeless high alpine zones of rock and snow. They lump together fundamentally different ecosystems, from temperate coastal rainforest to arid rain shadow.
    Wu likens this greenwashing of provincial forest policy to a politician combining Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown East Side, where the median household income was $13,000 in the last census, with West Vancouver, where the median family income was $90,000, and then huffing that everyone, including those in the Downtown East Side, is doing just fine because median household income averages $50,000. Well, it does, but it’s misleading.
    Furthermore, he argues, if you include protected parklands in your annual old-growth inventory, the proportion of protected to unprotected old growth will appear to increase as unprotected old growth is logged. Eventually, when you’ve liquidated all the unprotected old growth, you’ll be able to claim that 100 percent of your old growth is protected, although it will represent only a minuscule fragment of what was once present.
    The fact is that at least 80 percent of the moderate-to-high-value forest—those are the big trees—has already been extirpated on Vancouver Island, Wu says. Another 15 percent is unprotected. Only about five percent is protected by parks or ecological reserves. So, the NDP government’s plan, inherited from the opposition Liberals, appears to be to adopt a legacy of having stripped 95 percent of our ancient forest from the landscape, all the while congratulating itself on its environmental commitment.
    Vicky Husband, another battle-scarred veteran of the fight to save what’s left of a vanishing ecosystem, concurs.
    “Our ancient, old-growth forest of giant tree ecosystems is seriously endangered and irreplaceable,” she says. “Less than 15 percent of the original extent of ancient forest remains. There is very little valley-bottom ancient forest. Most [of what does remain] is seriously fragmented across the landscape by rampant clear-cut logging, with no regard for protection of other values.”
     

    A typical clear cut with grapple-yarder that hauls bucked logs up to the cold deck where they are sorted into truckloads. When dragged logs disturb the surface of the forest floor they can create furrows that channel winter runoff down steep slopes, contributing to erosion. (Photo by TJ Watt)
     
    She observes that the temperate coastal rain forests never amounted to more than about 0.5 percent of the world’s original forest and yet it’s still being logged to near extirpation. “The kind of extreme mismanagement and liquidation of the last of our ancient forests is a total crime against nature. We have the best remaining ancient temperate rainforests in the world, and we are losing them so fast,” she says.
    Continuing, Husband says, “We have protected only 5.5 percent of the original extent of the ancient forest on Vancouver Island. Does anyone think that is enough? The NDP has totally betrayed us all. They have continued the Liberal regime with regard to mismanagement of our forest, no consideration or protection of other important values, only timber.…and they are massively overcutting what we have left as fast as they can.”
     
    MORE THAN 60 YEARS AGO, when my father hiked me up into the old growth, it covered the lower slopes of Mount Arrowsmith, flanked the Cameron River where it winds from Labour Day Lake under Mount Moriarty, and swept over to Cameron Lake.
    He showed me liquorice ferns, deer ferns, maidenhair ferns—a whole palette of vivid greens—offset by the pale, corpse-coloured ghost pipes that live in parasitical symbiosis with living tree roots.
    Another persistent recollection, embedded like a kind of muscle memory, is the springiness underfoot. Moss that seemed knee-deep in places moved beneath my feet like a trampoline, although it was a more fragile kind of trembling.
    We looked at nurse logs, huge trunks of ancient trees that had died, stood for another century or so, then fallen to the forest floor to begin a new cycle of growth. The moss, explained my dad, was so deep that nothing could take root, and the canopy so dense that there was little light. But these falling giants laid down a nutrient-rich bed into which seedlings had a brief window in which to push tiny roots into crevices and capture light slanting in through the opening left in the canopy.
    We gorged on the fat, red huckleberries that take root in decaying stumps and took home a couple of cups, which my mother tossed with lemon juice, some sugar and promptly baked into a tart, tangy pie—another indelible childhood memory.
    As we climbed towards the tree line, spring-fed rills bubbled up and frothed down the slope, tumbling over deadfalls and rock ledges. It was a landscape as magical and mesmerizing as any I’d found in the books at the tiny Port Alberni library where I was often deposited while my mother shopped.
    Timespans are different in childhood. Summers seem so long that their end is always a shock. But it was nothing like the shock when I went looking for that vividly remembered ancient forest of childhood. It was a ruin of debris.
    All that remains of that forest of my memory is the beautiful but ecologically insignificant postage-stamp park called Cathedral Grove, a thin ribbon of trees in the steep canyon of the Cameron River, and a few veterans here and there left to blow down in some big storm.
     

    Logging in old growth on McLaughlin Ridge. Only about 5 percent of ancient forest is protected. (Photo by TJ Watt)
     
    Provincial forest policy, and the attitudes of our elected politicians, seem maddeningly obtuse. The forest sector supports fewer and fewer people who are used to mow down the last intact bits of unprotected old growth at a time when children are taking to the streets demanding that we do something to preserve their future and their heritage.
    BC’s parks recorded 200 million visits over the last decade. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve gets about a million visitors a year. If hikers continue to reserve places on the West Coast Trail at the current rate, 75,000 will complete the arduous wilderness trek over the next decade.
    Government brochures, reports, and websites celebrate and promote these visits because they inject billions into the provincial economy—certainly more than logging does. The promotions are plastered with dramatic photos of pristine forests, hikers gazing at huge trees, and campers setting up in a pastoral paradise.
    But it’s really more of the Big Lie to which our children object. Beyond the park boundaries—and parks are now so jammed that reservations months in advance are a necessity—the landscape is still being shaved bald.
    Stephen Hume spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. His byline has appeared in most major Canadian newspapers. The author of nine books of poetry, natural history, history and literary essays, he lives on the Saanich Peninsula.

    Briony Penn
    November 2019
    West Coast wildlife depends on herring—and there’s a model for bringing them back to the Salish Sea.
     
    THE WILDLIFE IN SPILLER CHANNEL, just north of Bella Bella, is alive and well this fall. Over a thousand bald eagles on their southward migration were feeding on the returns of chum and pink salmon alongside other top predators—black bear, grizzly and wolf. Sea lions, Dall’s porpoise, several humpbacks and northern resident killer whales worked the channel edges. 
    At the entrance, where the breakers roll in, sea otters have returned, triggering a rebound of kelp forests. Juvenile fish are surviving better in these underwater nurseries. Overwintering sea ducks, like harlequins and surf scoters, fished alongside 500 Western grebes, listed as threatened. Along the channel, small buoys and lines tied to trees mark the traditional non-kill fishery of herring roe of the Heiltsuk First Nation. The foundation for the health and well-being of everyone in Spiller is herring; Spiller Channel is famous for them.
     

    Herring spawn off the south end of Denman Island (Photo courtesy Jake Berman)
     
    Spiller is also famous for the Heiltsuk Nation’s prolonged stand-offs against the commercial “kill” herring fishery (which mostly is used for fish farm feed and pet food). It is an important place—a coastal Standing Rock—where the nation has stood up to pressures that push species and cultures to the brink: overharvesting, overhunting, overfishing and overlogging. Spiller is also close to where the Nathan E. Stewart oil spill occurred in Seaforth Channel in 2016, for which the nation launched their own emergency response.
    With their success in stopping the commercial “kill” fishery, the trophy hunts, and commercial logging, along with winning the court case against the Texas Kirby Corporation responsible for the fuel spill, the Heiltsuk have set a course for how to bring life back to the land, the sea and the culture, with herring as the foundation. They have shown the way that abundance can return here too, in the Salish Sea.
    All around the Salish Sea there are Spiller Channels waiting to rebound; bays where the open ocean has been calmed by the geography of granite and forests of kelp. People have tended these fish for millennia as they return year after year to spawn on the lush eelgrass meadows. The young fish follow the older fish back to a spawning site (what elders refer to as the scouts) and typically remain loyal to that site.
    The Salish Sea had dozens of spawning bays with different spawning windows from Ganges SYOWT, the first place the herring come in spring, according to WSÁNEĆ hereditary chief Eric Pelkey, to the late spawners of Cherry Point near Bellingham. Some herring leave on their migration to the coastal shelf, some never leave, and with this mix of diversity of locations, timing and behaviours, the rest of the coastal community can thrive all the way up the food chain, through chinook to the Southern Resident killer whales and the human communities.
    For many elders like Pelkey, whose chieftanship runs from STAUTW (Tsawout) on the Saanich Peninsula to SYOWT (Ganges) on Saltspring Island, the decimation of these herring stocks indicates a fundamental flaw with the fisheries model being used by Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). “It seemed like as soon as there was a sign that herring were starting to come back again and into Ganges Harbour, DFO would open it up commercially and seine boats would come in and just scoop them up. Eventually that just killed off that herring run.” The fight that began with his grandfather, Louie Pelke, has been long and lonely—and repeated by every coastal nation.
    In Lekwungen territory, the Gorge was their Spiller Channel until the commercial fisheries of the 1930s wiped them out. Ross Bay, James Bay and Ogden Point lost their herring to the reduction fisheries by 1938; Juan de Fuca in 1940, Hotham Sound and Redonda, pre-1950.
    In WSÁNEĆ territory, Saanich Inlet, Coles Bay, Deep Cove, Patricia Bay, Goldstream and Finlayson Arm all lost their herring to the next wave of commercial fisheries of the ’50s and ’60s, and so it continued around the Salish Sea. Howe Sound, 1966; Malaspina Strait, 1975; Jervis Inlet, 1978; Fraser River, Bedwell Harbour, Campbell Bay, Lyall Harbour and Winter Harbour in 1979; Sechelt, Pender Harbour, Cowichan Bay, Ganges and Fulford Harbours, 1983; Powell River, 1988; Boundary Bay, 1992.
    Some bays, like Nanoose and Yellowpoint, lost their spawns during the “wild west” herring bonanzas of the ’80s, rebounding temporarily in the ’90s, only to disappear again. These local extinctions usually followed the winter or spring fishery.
    In 2011, Simon Fraser University archeologist Dana Lepofsky started the Herring School forum, recording elders from Alaska to Washington who told of seiners coming into their bays at night, taking every last fish and silencing their spring.
    Today, the only place that herring have continued to spawn at any scale is Baynes Sound around Hornby and Denman Island. Yet DFO persists in its claim that it has a workable model and a well-managed fisheries maintaining “historic levels.” Few outside of DFO and industry seem to agree with the model, which is based on taking 20 percent of the total weight (biomass) of the fish predicted and comparing it to a baseline catch in 1951 to assess “historic highs.”
    Pelke lists its flaws: it treats all the herring in the Salish Sea as one big population; it targets bigger fish; it doesn’t consider the ecosystem or cultural stewardship; it uses 1951 as a baseline which, as he points out, was a low point for herring during the excess of the reduction fisheries.
    Even with an announcement this October from federal scientists that the model is predicting a decline of what they call the Strait of Georgia (SOG) population by one third, there is no move to end the winter or spring fisheries.
    The WSÁNEĆ Leadership Council (WLC) of Tsartlip, Tseycum and Tsawout First Nations, like the Heiltsuk, are inviting others to join them in calling for changes. The WLC states that, “Herring have been under increased pressure from commercial fishing interests since the 1960s when herring populations reached a critical low. Since then, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Coastal First Nations, including the WSÁNEĆ, have been unable to agree on policies that prioritize the health of the herring population over commercial fishing interests.”
    Inspired by the Heiltsuk’s successful lobbying efforts to have DFO agree to a moratorium on commercial herring fishery in places like Spiller, the WLC are cohosting an advocacy event this November called HELIT TTE SLON,ET (Let the Herring Live) with 25 local First Nations, and 50 community organizations invited. As the WLC state: “This is the first time in the Strait of Georgia’s history that such a large and diverse group of interests have joined together to oppose the questionable practices of DFO.” Part of the gathering will be hearing elders and independent researchers who have worked together for a decade in research forums providing the evidence to refute DFO’s position. They will also explore case studies like the Heiltsuk for recovery efforts. Another historic first is that all political representatives of Saanich and the Gulf Islands from the Islands Trust up through Adam Olsen MLA and Elizabeth May MP are supporting this initiative.
    Co-hosts like Conservancy Hornby Island, which gathered over 96,000 signatures to stop the herring fishery last spring, say DFO didn’t listen to the decades of warnings, including the latest protests when stocks could have been left to recover. Director Grant Scott, an ex-commercial fisherman, states “it took a collapse of Strait of Georgia (SOG) herring to finally show up the flaw in DFO’s modelling. To be precautionary, there should be no commercial herring fishery here until the populations of herring recover throughout the SOG, not just between Parksville and Comox.” Like Scott, co-host Vanessa Minke-Marten, a fisheries scientist with Pacific Wild, is “supporting First Nations to assume their rightful control and place in herring management.” That includes the integration of traditional and Western science for the full ecosystem: fish, sea birds, mammals, and cultures who rely on herring for their survival.
    Management models that incorporate spatial population dynamics, it seems, are being used everywhere on the coast but here. When Washington State saw their 21 distinct spawning stocks, like Cherry Point, flicker out, they stopped the herring fisheries in the early 1980s. Lepofsky’s archaeological evidence backed up elder testimonies prompting a call for changes in policy to align with Indigenous inherent and legal rights. The SFU work expanded into the Ocean Modelling Forum (OMF) in 2015 with 20-plus institutions, including a DFO researcher, joining First Nations in inter-disciplinary research. DFO has responded to calls for policy changes from the Heiltsuk, Haida, Nuu-chaal-nulth, and in small closures with the Q’ul-lhanumutsun Aquatic Resources Society (QARS).
    With this sizeable body of evidence, researchers Andre Punt and his co-authors are unequivocal that the old model has “consequences throughout the social-ecological system, including loss of trust in management bodies and conflict...” Loss of trust is top-of-mind for co-host Lockhart MacLean of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society: “There is an issue here that DFO is whitewashing harvest rates based on fictional biomass. The 20 percent harvest rate is a joke with these wild predictions. DFO’s lack of precaution is driving the last viable spawn in the Salish Sea to extinction.”
    Another research team under Daniel Okomoto recently found that managing stocks the way Pelkey advises, watershed by wateshed, “diversifies community benefits.”
    And the benefits need diversifying. The herring industry is controlled by one man, Jimmy Pattison, and all profits flow to his private empire which, according to BC Business, earned $10.6 billion in 2018, padded out by fuel subsidies for his seine boats. Pattison is counting on a reallocation of tonnage from the spring to the winter fishery which is supposed to start November 21.
    The social licence doesn’t appear to be on Pattison’s side. Ocean Modelling Forum researchers have identified the variety of factors having impacts on herring, which range from pollution to climate change, but the unique threat, which only exists on the Canadian side of the Salish Sea (and is easily remedied), is the fishery; a fishery that is now proven to cause local extirpations.
    The WSÁNEĆ response is CENENITEL, which means “helping one another to restore home.” CENENITEL could look like a comprehensive herring recovery program that supports local nations and communities in recovery efforts to improve water quality and eelgrass, traditional reseeding of bays with herring roe, or assistance to displaced herring fishermen. Spiller Channel is returning, and the Salish Sea has one last chance to do the same.
    Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative non-fiction books including The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, A Year on the Wild Side and, to be released in the spring, Following the Good River: The Life and Times of Wa'xaid, a biography with Cecil Paul(Rocky Mountain Books).

    David Broadland
    September 2019
    The new Johnson Street Bridge broke down after little more than a year of service. What else did the project’s leadership bequeath future taxpayers?
     
    ON JUNE 25, just shy of 15 months after it opened, the new $115-million-plus Johnson Street bridge was unofficially broken. The City officially acknowledged the problem on June 27. A mechanical issue—the exact nature of which has yet to be revealed—had caused abnormally high pressure in the bascule bridge’s hydraulic lift system. The bridge could not be opened for waiting marine traffic.
    Twelve days later, on July 6, the bridge was still not operating properly. On that day the City’s Director of Public Works and Engineering Fraser Work told the Times Colonist, “I’m not staring down the barrel of a huge, big maintenance burden or a huge, big replacement of gear and equipment. No one is talking about anything like that. It’s just about proving the system is working the right way and making sure we get the confidence back in the system.”
    In July, Focus filed an FOI requesting the record of Work’s communications regarding the breakdown. The partially redacted record provided by the City shows that critical elements of the hydraulic system were failing, including o-rings coming off pressure filters, plastic filter end caps degrading, and indicators designed to show when filters were clogged indicating the filters were clogged even though new filter elements had been installed. The question of whether all these elements were failing simultaneously because their manufacture had been defective, or, alternatively, that they were all failing because they were experiencing higher fluid pressure than they were designed for, is not answered by the released records.
    The records show that suppliers of the failing equipment flew in from as far away as Florida to consult on what was being referred to as the "hydraulic system failure.".
    Even after equipment that had failed was replaced, warning indicators kept triggering. The record provided by the City shows that, after new equipment had been installed, the speed of lifts and lowerings had to be reduced to slightly more than half-speed. Presumably that condition is still in effect.
    If the bridge’s hydraulic system is now operating at higher pressure than it was a year ago, the hydraulic drive motors may be experiencing greater mechanical resistance. One possible explanation for greater mechanical resistance is that the rings on which the bridge rotates have slowly deformed since the counterweights were attached in early 2018. Kiewit Construction, one of the companies that bid for the construction contract in 2012, warned the City of that possibility. They noted that the counterweight “would load the truss ring eccentrically, which could distort the ring—a highly undesirable condition.” Kiewit rejected the City’s novel mechanical lifting system in favour of a system that had proven to be reliable over many years of service.
    If the rings have deformed, as Kiewit engineers predicted they might, the drive system would encounter greater resistance than expected when the bridge was being lifted or lowered, and thus would operate at higher hydraulic pressure.
    Notably absent from the City’s public explanation of the bridge’s hydraulic system failure was the formerly high-profile Project Director Jonathan Huggett.
    Focus has raised questions over the ten years it took to build the bridge about the value of the services provided by consulting engineers like Huggett. The emergence of the hydraulic problem adds yet another layer to those questions. In a written quarterly report to City council in April 2018, soon after the bridge opened, Huggett advised councillors: “Maintenance of the new bridge is expected to be minimal, with the main item being greasing of the joints and moving surfaces from time to time. The hydraulic system is a closed system, meaning there is little opportunity for outside contaminants to enter the hydraulic system, and so maintenance is minimized.”
     

    The new bridge had been leaking hydraulic fluid for over half a year before it experienced "hydraulic system failure." This photograph was taken in December 2018.
     
    The bridge’s current hydraulic problems show that Huggett’s expensive advice was actually expensive nonsense. There are other, even more striking examples of Huggett’s advice not serving the public interest. I think of them as Jonathan Huggett’s Greatest Hits.
    In 2015, Focus published a story about a document we had obtained through an FOI request to the City. This document, titled Johnson Street Bridge Seismic Design Criteria, had been quietly created by the City’s project manager, MMM Group, in August 2012 while the City struggled to obtain a financially viable bid to construct the bridge. It was later attached to the construction contract the City signed with PCL. By accepting the provisions of the Seismic Design Criteria as part of the contract, the City accepted a much lower level of seismic performance than had been originally recomended by MMM’s own Joost Meyboom.
    For example, the Criteria stipulated that following a large Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, access to emergency vehicles only needed to be “possible within days of the earthquake.” Yet Meyboom had advised the City to accept only a performance level that would provide uninterrupted, immediate access across the bridge for emergency vehicles after any earthquake.
    The worst-case earthquake scenario for Victoria is not a Cascadia Subduction Zone event. Provincial emergency planners know that the rupture of a fault much closer to Victoria, like the Devil’s Mountain Fault, could produce a M7+ earthquake centered only a few kilometres from downtown Victoria. Such an event would produce much stronger seismic waves, albeit for a shorter period of time, than a Cascadia Subduction Zone event. Following this type of earthquake, the Seismic Design Criteria allowed a service level of “Possible permanent loss of service.” In other words, the bridge could be so badly damaged that no vehicles, ever again, would be able to cross it. That would mean zero access for emergency vehicles. This low level of seismic performance was completely at odds with MMM’s engineering advice provided before procurement of the bridge had been committed to by the City.
    When Focus brought this issue to public attention in 2015, City councillors asked Huggett to explain MMM’s Seismic Design Criteria. City staff had never told the councillors about the document’s existence or its purpose. In response to the council’s request for an explanation, Huggett made two presentations, one to councillors and one to media. Neither provided a single word of explanation of why the document was created, what it contained, what its provisions meant, why it superseded all other bridge code requirements or what impact it had on the bridge’s contractually required seismic performance for emergency vehicle access and repairability. The councillors didn’t notice that, amongst all the irrelevant engineerese Huggett provided, there was no explanation of the Seismic Design Criteria document. For a longer description of this fiasco, perhaps Huggett's greatest hit, see "Seismic rip-off on the Johnson Street Bridge."
    What the document’s inclusion in the City's contract with the builder, PCL, means is that the City will have no legal ground to sue any of the parties involved in building the bridge if, following a major earthquake (greater than M6.5), the bridge can’t provide immediate access to emergency vehicles and/or becomes unrepairable.
    Here’s another of Huggett’s Greatest Hits: In 2015 he informed City councillors that protective fendering for the north side of the bridge had not been included in the construction contract with PCL. He told councillors it had been “clouded out” in contract drawings. As a result, he told them, this fendering would add extra millions to the project cost. Focus filed an FOI for the “clouded out” contract drawings Huggett had referenced. The City informed us that no such drawings could be found. It was made clear by several documents that did exist—including the actual contract with PCL—that the north side fendering was part of the construction contract. Yet Huggett promoted the idea that the City would have to pay several million dollars more for physical protection on the north side of the bridge. Four years later, after numerous expensive updates on the fendering issue by Huggett, the bridge continues to be unprotected on its north side.
     

    An artist's rendering of the protective fendering proposed—years ago— for the north side of the new bridge. The bridge continues to be unprotected from outgoing marine traffic, including tugs pulling loaded barges.
     
    Another great hit: in early 2018, Focus published a story that revealed the bascule leaf of the bridge had undergone a major, last-minute repair after four years of fabrication in China. Large holes had to be cut into the structure’s fracture-critical rings. Six-foot-by-six-foot steel plates had been crudely bolted over the holes. We sought an explanation from Huggett, who provided next to no information about who knew what, and when they knew it. Later, he complained to City council that we had claimed the plates were scrap steel. We had not.
     

    Bolted-on plates added in Victoria to repair a flaw in the rings that traced back to incomplete shop drawings, which were ultimately the responsibility of the bridge's designer, Hardesty & Hanover
     
    Huggett supported the position of the company that had designed the bascule leaf, Hardesty & Hanover, which blamed the Chinese company that had fabricated the bridge for the circumstances that led to the need for the plates. But documents later obtained by Focus through an FOI showed that the problem that led to the bolted-on plates had been known for over a year before any attempt had been made to address it. That long interval of no action—during which the Chinese company waited for a decision from Hardesty & Hanover but also kept building on top of the problem—had necessitated the crude application of the plates.
    The documents obtained by FOI also showed that the root cause of the problem was incomplete details on shop drawings, which were ultimately the responsibility of the designer, Hardesty & Hanover. The documents showed that Huggett had been kept informed of this serious problem by PCL, but that he had failed to inform any City official about the problem. The best option, from the City’s perspective, would have been to re-weld that section of the rings as per the intended design. But Huggett never even informed the City that the problem existed, let alone that there were options for how to fix the problem. If Focus hadn’t raised the issue, no one at City Hall would have known why those big, bolted-on plates were there.
    The visual defacement of the intended design that these plates created caught the attention of a British bridge designer, who wrote: “It’s clear from the photographs that nothing this awful should be considered acceptable as part of the finished structure.” As well, a steel fabrication expert told Focus the plates would likely lead to long-term corrosion and maintenance issues.
    Records obtained from the City by FOI regarding Huggett’s remuneration for professional services and expenses show that during the last half of 2014, for all of 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, and for the first four months of 2019, he was billing the City for about $25,000 per month for professional services and expenses. In 2018 the Times Colonist observed that Huggett was the most highly remunerated person drawing from a municipal public purse anywhere in the CRD in 2016 ($303,087.05) and 2017 ($308,299.37).
    Of Huggett’s monthly billings, $20,000 was for “professional services.” The balance was for expenses. Itemized breakdowns of his expenses, obtained by FOI, show that he had been billing the City about $2500 per month for a monthly pass on Air Canada to fly between Vancouver (he lives in White Rock) and Victoria.
    Huggett’s May 1, 2019 billing was for $22,571.20, but by June 1 that had suddenly dropped to $6,530.80. The City was finally requiring an itemized accounting of his billable hours. The latest shows that in June, 2019 he billed the City for a total of 22 hours, three of which were spent on “calls” about “hydraulic system failure.”
    In all, up to the time the bridge broke down, Huggett had been paid $1.407 million for his services and expenses. It’s unclear whether any public accounting of bridge project costs has included that cost.
    It’s not easy to ascertain exactly what Huggett did for the City. That’s because there’s no complete public record of what he did and why he did it. Working from his home in White Rock, he wasn’t required to use a City of Victoria email account through which his City-related emails would have—or should have—been recorded and archived and accessible by FOI. When we asked the City for Huggett’s communications regarding the bolted-on plates, not a single email was provided that would show how Huggett had responded to communications from PCL or Hardesty & Hanover. Those emails, paid for dearly with taxpayers’ dollars, are in the sole custody of Jonathan Huggett.
    In the end, besides the largely boilerplate quarterly reports he provided to City councillors, he seems to have been valued at City Hall as someone who would assist them with public relations on a disastrous and embarrassing project. When Focus asked Mayor Helps if she had known about the bolted-on plates, she devised a non-response response and sent it to Huggett for his consideration first. (She accidentally copied us on that response when she sent it to Huggett.)
    In 2017, when the City staged a public “Lessons Learned” exercise about the project, then-Councillor Pam Madoff told Huggett: “I remember very specifically having this conversation [with the bridge’s designers and engineers] about the mechanics, you know, the—in simplistic terms—the cogs, the wheels, how it was going to lift. I remember at the time saying, ‘Is this basically just a larger version of the Meccano sets that we played with as kids, in terms of its actual mechanical operation?’ And, again, that was the assurance. To me it comes down to: how far does one have to go? We felt like we asked the right questions at the time. It turns out they may not have been the right answers.”
    Huggett’s response to Madoff was short: “There is no question that you were not given good advice.” On that point I heartily agree.
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus Magazine.
    VIC-2019-072 City of Victoria communications regarding hydraulic system failure.pdf1.21 MB · 155 downloads 
    VIC-2019-076 Jonathan Huggett invoices 2018-19.pdf2.54 MB · 43 downloads

    Briony Penn
    September 2019
    A retired physics professor ground-truths the tanker traffic at Burnaby’s Westridge Terminal.
     
    FROM HIS LIVING ROOM WINDOW above Westridge Marine Terminal on Burnaby Mountain—the terminus of the Trans Mountain pipeline—retired SFU professor emeritus David Huntley can see the oil tankers coming in to pick up or offload cargo. It’s August and Huntley hasn’t seen a crude oil tanker at Westridge since June 30. Pulling out his iPad with Vesselfinder.com, Huntley finds the large orange icon that is the closest crude oil tanker and pulls up its information—size, draft, speed, destination, location, port of origin and so on. The next anticipated one, the Nordbay, is drifting west of Juan de Fuca Strait, and is not due in until the middle of August. Nordbay’srecent port of call is Martinez, California, where there is an oil refinery.
    “California is where most oil tankers are headed,” says Huntley. He tells me only 20 crude oil tankers have left Westridge for China since 2014. Twelve of these were in late 2018 when the Canadian crude price was as low as $11 US per barrel due to a glut of oil in Alberta. When the Alberta premier ordered a curtailment in production, the price jumped back to normal and shipments to China stopped.
     

    Westbridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby
     
    Why is a professor with two degrees in engineering and physics and doctoral studies at Oxford tracking these tankers? “Because,” states Huntley, “initially what the tankers were doing was inconsistent with the rules on the Vancouver Port Authority website. Now, Trans Mountain and politicians are telling us things that are not true.” For instance, as he notes in a recent report, “The numbers commonly quoted from them are an increase from 5 [tankers] per month to 35 per month, an increase of a factor of seven. In the two years before the application, there never were five per month (i.e. 60 per year) as claimed.” It was more like 3.4. Since the application the rate has varied between a low of 1.2 per month in 2016 and 3.6 in 2018. In 2019 (to date) the rate has been 1.0 per month.
    Huntley, who built his career on facts and (amongst other things) helping reconstruct the Earth’s climate through dating sediments using the physics of sand grains, has turned his focus from understanding this planet’s paleoclimate to finding the evidence to protect its future climate.
    “What got me interested in the tankers—besides living next to them—is the lack of good solid data on them,” he says. “How can we evaluate the effects of the proposed increase of tanker traffic in the Salish Sea that would accompany the TMX [Trans Mountain Expansion Project] without this information?” he asks.
    Huntley’s findings are in direct contradiction to what we have been led to believe: Kinder Morgan’s 2015 business case presented to the NEB stated that “access to Pacific Basin markets is almost non-existent…” Implied is that being able to ship oil to Asia would realize higher prices for Alberta bitumen. As Huntley points out, “These claims about a lack of access to ‘tidewater’ are without merit since there is—and has been—guaranteed access to tidewater. And that access is—and has been—severely underutilized.”
    Huntley’s research has been rigorous, and he has appeared at NEB hearings in the capacity of intervenor, commenter and observer. He has assembled data—names, dates, and destinations—on crude oil tankers from 1974 to the present using various sources: the Pacific Pilotage Authority, Port of Vancouver annual reports, Trans Mountain submissions to the National Energy Board, a document ironically known as CRED (Conversations for Responsible Economic Development) published in 2013, and AIS (Automatic Identification System) with navigational tracking software like Vesselfinder. With these he has done that indispensable form of research called “ground-truthing,” i.e., observing first-hand which tankers use the terminal, where they are heading, and whether they leave loaded or empty.
    It should strike anyone as strange that this information has to be assembled by a retired physics professor instead of the pipeline owner, the Government of Canada, to substantiate the business case for buying a $4.5-billion pipeline that requires a further $9.3 billion for expansion, including that of the Westridge Terminal. It seems the government relied on Kinder Morgan’s own business case, which was prepared by Neil K. Earnest of Muse Stancil, a Texas oil and gas consultancy. Earnest provided no evidence for his claim that there was “almost non-existent” access to Asian markets—probably because there is no such evidence. Yet the Government of Canada seems to have bought that.
    The Westridge Terminal is currently capable of loading over 100 Aframax or 200 Panamax tankers per year. So far this year, the rate is only one per month. And on average, only 30 to 40 tankers a year are loaded, with virtually all of them heading to California, according to Huntley’s research. He notes, “It has been rare for Kinder Morgan to exceed 50 percent of [Westridge’s] loading capacity, and in 2016 and 2017 it was using less than 15 percent of its loading capacity.”
    The capacity of the current Trans Mountain Pipeline is 300,000 barrels per day. About 55,000 stays in BC, refined for BC usage. About 170,000 barrels per day—over half of the current capacity—heads south via the Puget Sound Pipeline to four refineries in Washington State. (Some of the refined products are sold back to BC.) Reportedly, the US is interested in bringing in a lot more this way. In an April 2019 podcast interview, the CEO of the new Trans Mountain Crown agency, Ian Anderson, said that new capacity of the expanded pipeline might be soaked up by markets in BC, Washington State or California. He admitted he did not have contracts requiring shipping in tankers. “I’ve got contracts to move barrels down my pipeline, but those could go to different places, not necessarily over water. So the market will decide how many ships move,” said Anderson. The oft-quoted—and for many coastal citizens, worrisome—34 bitumen-laden tankers per month plying coastal waters apparently refers to the maximum physical capacity of the terminal once expanded from its one berth to three.
    Another researcher, a 32-year veteran of the Geological Survey of Canada, scientist J.David Hughes, has shown that historically there has been no appreciable price differential between what oil commands from North America versus Asia, making the main case for expansion seem dubious. As Earnest’s report for Kinder Morgan put it, TMX “enables Canadian crude oil producers [access to] higher-priced Pacific Basin markets.” He projected Asian markets would pay $5–8 more per barrel from 2018 to 2038. Hughes, however, writes “the price in the Far East is $1–3 per barrel lower, plus the transport costs via TMX and tankers will be at least $2 per barrel higher to Asia. Hence building the expansion would mean a loss of $3–5 per barrel compared to shipping oil via new pipelines that will be built long before TMX.”
    In a recent article, Hughes explains there is a pipeline bottleneck due to the 376 percent growth in oil sands production since 2000, but that “the Line 3 and Keystone XL pipelines…will provide double the export capacity of TMX before its earliest completion date and yield higher prices on the US Gulf Coast compared to the Asian markets that TMX is allegedly being built to access.” Huntley notes, “If there were higher-priced Asian markets, the tankers would be going there.” He writes, “The existing pipeline and Westridge terminal are capable of supplying world markets with far more oil than they have been doing, at least since 2014.”
    From Trans Mountain’s perspective, one of their most strategic errors was locating a pipeline terminus on the same mountain as a university community of over 20,000 residents. There are a lot of smart people living on that mountain who like facts—starting with biochemistry professor Lynn Quarmby, who successfully led the first challenge to Kinder Morgan back in 2014, and Gordon Dunnett, a retired structural engineer who released a report on the high risk of a catastrophic fire to the 66-year-old storage tanks in the event of an earthquake, and the failure of Kinder Morgan to adequately assess them for failure. There’s also John Clague, professor emeritus at SFU, emeritus scientist for the Geological Survey of Canada, and past president of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of the Province of BC, whose work substantiates the lack of risk assessment. Huntley and these other academic heavyweights are just some of those providing contradictory evidence to claims made by the company and government—evidence which has been underreported by the mainstream media. Vancouver Sun reporting has “bordered on nonsense,” says Huntley, as do op-eds by industry shills like Stewart Muir from Resource Works, a PR arm of the resource sector.
    But if facts aren’t guiding the process, then what is? Huntley answers: “Politics and money.” If there is no plausible business case, what company is going to invest in the expansion, unless it is heavily subsidized by the taxpayer? Currently, the pipeline and some or all of the associated costs are being paid for out of the Canada Account, which allows the federal government to make large investments in higher-risk ventures if they are deemed in the national interest.
    In April 2019, the international Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) produced a report characterizing the project as “built on quicksand and clear as mud” with “no full accounting of ongoing operations” (see http://ieefa.org). It states: “The government has an obligation to tell its citizens how much the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project is costing.”
    Perhaps with the October federal election coming, Canadians will demand such answers. But the IEEFA report also notes that getting answers might prove difficult: “The Canadian government has already routed payments to fund and develop the pipeline through a maze of government agencies with different missions, reporting mechanisms and accounting standards.”
    The other question is: What exactly is in the national interest?
    Email huntley@sfu.ca for David Huntley’s report on tankers at the Westridge Marine Terminal.
    Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative nonfiction books including the prize-winning The Real Thing: the Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, and most recently, Stories from the Magic Canoe with Wa’xaid (Cecil Paul).

    Stephen Hume
    September 2019
    The logic of a watershed, including development and forestry’s role in its demise, is playing out sadly in the Cowichan Valley.
     
    A NEAR-SILENT CURRENT SLIPS THROUGH WILLOW RUN. The jade-green swirl of eddies and back-eddies causes darker reflections of trees to ripple in the August glare. Here and there, the slick surface boils over a hidden boulder, or abruptly sucks down with a wet slurp into some bottom declivity.
    I’ve been coming to the Cowichan River for more than 60 years. It never fails to offer instruction in the mysterious, miraculous, astonishingly complex interconnectedness of the natural world.
     

    Stephen Hume looks over fast water on the Cowichan River in 2004, just before a cycle of recurring summer droughts began to affect summer flows
     
    For example, running counter to the visible river is a second, invisible stream. Comprised of air, it’s evident only by a rustling passage through dangling willow leaves. It flows uphill and upstream, graced occasionally by a gleam of dancing thistledown or a wisp of cottonwood fluff. Every river has an atmospheric doppelgänger ghosting in the opposite direction and pulsing cooler air from the ocean up the veins and capillaries of the watershed. Rivers are not just segments of perception, they are continuums; they connect the sky above the mountains where they rise to the deep sediments of the marine environment where they empty.
    Down the centre line of the watercourse, shining through a narrow opening in the forest canopy, a band of brilliant blue sky lays down the image of a third river. It manifests as silken light. Sudden shafts illuminate the slow pools and faster water, highlighting the riffles with a palette of transparencies as the river of liquid slips beneath the river of light. That light brings life to the river, to the aquatic plants and insects that support all the higher forms. It’s the seasonal cosmic switch that turns the deciduous riparian cover on and off.
    Beneath the mirrored light is yet another river, this one tangible, tactile, comprised of water-worn cobbles and smaller, smoother pebbles. It mumbles and grumbles its way imperceptibly seaward. It, too, has its back-eddies. Exposed flanks of gravel emerge from riverside shallows where they drag more slowly along the banks than does the submerged flow in the main current.
    And there’s a fifth river here. It, too, is hidden. A river of groundwater flowing parallel to the main stream but slithering beneath it like some dark salamander easing through the seams of fractured bedrock below the gravel.
    All rivers simultaneously inhabit these multiple identities. Most of us see only the one we want to see—the one that serves us best.
    In the Cowichan’s case, many see only the main current. Once it provided a chute for log drives, now it delivers 120 million cubic metres of water to a pulp mill that provides 500 local jobs (and 5,500 elsewhere in BC). It dilutes urban sewage effluent. It irrigates farmers’ bountiful fields; offers pools to swimmers; provides a route for canoes, kayaks, the drift boats of angling guides, and the inner tubes of those content with a languid float. It’s also habitat for the fish that bring anglers from around the world.
    If we cast dry flies, however, the river of air instructs us which insects are in hatch and which pattern to use. Or, if considering a well, we look to the groundwater that we can tap. Others look to the gravel that can be mined for construction aggregate.
    These many-faced reaches of the upper Cowichan River provide prime spawning habitat for chinook and coho salmon and elusive steelhead. For brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout.
    But water is dangerously low again this August, following the hottest July in recorded history. Half our summers in the last 20 years have yielded drought—a compelling signal of the “new normal” imposed by global warming. The exposed, sun-bleached flanks of gravel bars bake in the sun. The river narrows. Side channels dwindle to brackish puddles.
     

    A tributary of the Cowichan—sensitive trout and salmon habit—gone dry
     
    And so, another hot, dry season. Another bout of nail-biting angst in the Cowichan Valley for anglers, conservationists, householders, recreational users, mill workers and civic governments, as British Columbia’s blue-ribbon heritage river once again threatens to run dry.
    River flows are regulated by a one-metre-high weir at the outlet from Cowichan Lake into the river. The weir, built in 1957, is designed to hold back the water which floods into the lake all winter. This permits summer releases to maintain a flow during dry months, sufficient to sustain fish populations, provide water to the Catalyst pulp mill at Crofton, and dilute sewage discharges at Duncan. Any recreational use comes after these priorities.
     

    The 62-year-old weir, designed before global warming reduced flows
     
    The optimum flow is 25 cubic metres per second. The minimum flow for sustaining fish populations is seven cubic metres per second. That’s the nominal target. But with a prolonged dry spring and early summer, flows fell below that as early as June. By late July, they hovered around five cubic metres per second, and occasionally dipped to 4.5. If the flow dwindles to 4.3 cubic metres per second, the mill shuts down, affecting not just jobs but $20 million in annual tax revenue and the $1 billion a year it contributes to the provincial economy.
    There’s a scheme for pumping water over the weir to provide the minimum flow. Counter-arguments arise: it’s a false economy that simply delays the inevitable, trading one deficit against another, robbing Peter to pay Paul. Lowering the lake will exacerbate problems for fish stocks—a unique, endangered lamprey, for example, might be seriously threatened, triggering federal species-at-risk protections.
    Fishing guides, their double-ended skiffs beached, have already spent days desperately rescuing salmon and trout fry stranded in drying puddles where side-channels of the Cowichan River once ran. They scooped them up in buckets and carried them to the diminishing main stem of the river. Not surprising, since freshwater angling contributes $100 million a year to the Island’s economy.
    Tributaries supplying Cowichan Lake were dry by early August. Meade Creek looked like a logging road rather than a critical salmon- and trout-rearing nursery. Side channels had weeds carpeting the bottom. Wardroper Creek was the same. None seemed worthy of the forlorn habitat signs designating them “sensitive trout and salmon habitat” and enjoining the public—perhaps “begging” is the better word—to “please protect our heritage.”
     
    IF MUNICIPAL AND PROVINCIAL AUTHORITIES let things continue as they have, there’s not likely to be much heritage left to protect. The river’s dry-weather woes are just one symptom in an array of problems whose solution will require a holistic imagination regarding the river, the lake, the surrounding watersheds, and their interconnected value.
    Assessed property values in Lake Cowichan rose 16.5 percent in 2019, three times the increase for assessment rates in Oak Bay. New residents are loving the place to death. They have now disturbed more than 30 percent of the shoreline. But it’s not just householders.
     

    The lure of idyllic surroundings in the midst of the natural beauty of Cowichan Lake and its river has brought development and the swimming rafts, boat docks and retaining walls that come with it
     
    Forestry accounts for another 48 percent of shoreline disturbance. Logging in the watershed occurs on cycles vastly shorter than originally envisaged. Forest management once called for logged areas not to be harvested again until replanted trees were at least 120 years old. The plan was to let second growth mature until it, too, became old growth. Automation, efficiency and markets brought pressure to harvest on half that cycle. And now, with insufficient wood supply a looming issue, the pressure is on to reduce the logging cycle to 40 years.
    Land held for working forest at lower tax rates, and then sold to developers who bid up value for desirable beach-front has sparked a property boom. Subdivisions now sprawl along lakefront once reserved for logging every 100 years.
    New householders strip riparian cover to improve views. They install boat docks (there are now 600 of them on the lake), groom natural beaches to remove natural imperfections, and then build concrete retaining walls and embed rip-rap to stabilize banks and control erosion. Wash from powerboats and fluctuating seasonal water levels wear away the modified foreshore once held in place by vegetation.
    Joe Saysell, a retired logger who’s lived on the Cowichan River for 70 years and is one of those fishing guides who goes out with a bucket to salvage trout and salmon fry, likens the process to death by a thousand cuts. Everybody, he says, reasonably wants to make their own small modification to the landscape for convenience or esthetics, or to increase market value, and few take heed of the unreasonable incremental impacts.
    “It all adds up,” Saysell says. “Cutting down willows whose roots stabilize the banks so you can have a better view. Taking rocks out of the bottom to create a swimming hole for your kids. Putting in a boat dock and then mooring a boat with a big motor that leaves a big wake. Each one another little nick. But after a while, all those little nicks add up, and you really start bleeding big time. Then, without knowing it, you discover you’ve cut an artery.”
     

    Retired logger and fishing guide Joe Saysell rescues stranded fry in a drying side channel of the Cowichan River
     
    The river, he says, is the small canary in the bigger coal mine shaped by climate change, population pressure, and a dithering failure of political will to address critical problems before they cascade into interconnected catastrophes. “The canary is still alive, but he’s really starting to gasp,” Saysell warns. “People don’t see things until they’ve already happened. They don’t see it until it’s too late.”
    There’s a high-tech analogy. We’re all flying along at 10 kilometres altitude in a spanking-new passenger jet. But back there in the cabin, some folks are pulling rivets from the fuselage for souvenirs. The aircraft is over-designed, it’s got many redundant safety systems. It can certainly withstand the pulling of a few rivets. But pull enough rivets and eventually you’ll come to the one that ensures the integrity of the whole complicated structure. Pull that rivet and the air frame disintegrates.
    So, what’s the rivet for the ecosystem of which the Cowichan River is just one part? Nobody knows. But, Saysell says, we should now be looking at every problem as though it could be the tipping point.
    “Look,” he says, “we used to have great steelhead runs into the Englishman River, the Qualicum River, the Nanaimo. Runs that went on year after year. Year after year they went up and down. Then they started going down just a tad more than they went up. Then one year there were none. They were just gone. Overnight. Just like that. I worry that we are going to lose the Cowichan the same way. This [river] is the gem of all gems in this province. And yet we dicker and dicker and dicker over what to do. Everything can only take so much. One day it’s just going to end.”
     
    AT 82, DAVID ANDERSON, the former federal fisheries minister, still looks the rangy, raw-boned athlete who won a silver medal in rowing at the 1960 Olympic Games. Loved and hated for his tough conservation policies, he arguably had the biggest impact for West Coast salmon of any fisheries minister before or since. He’s now a member of the Cowichan Watershed Board.
    Anderson, too, thinks solutions to problems facing the beleaguered ecosystem will be found in a holistic approach. That means, he says, having a mature discussion about the connections between logging in watershed headwaters and downstream problems which, in turn, can have serious implications for industry, municipal governments, and the general public. “We have to take a new look at forest management policies,” Anderson says.
    Saysell, once a logger himself, concurs. He recently wrote to the provincial government, raising concerns. None of the accelerating changes he’s witnessed in logging practice on private lands surrounding Cowichan Lake have been for the better.
    “I now see a complete destruction of our watershed, and especially the Cowichan River, all because of irresponsible headwater second-growth logging done on private forest land,” says Saysell. “The second growth on our mountains, especially in the Cowichan watershed, is being ‘mined’ at an unsustainable rate, and is being harvested 60 to 100 years too soon. Proper regulations would require all second growth to be as least 100 to 150 years old before it can be harvested.”
     

    Second-growth timber from forest surrounding Cowichan Lake stacked up at a log sort
     
    He argues that large stands of maturing old growth are crucial for the upper catchment basins of the 53 streams feeding into the watershed, because such forest creates a vast natural blotter. It absorbs rain and delays snowmelt, releasing it gradually throughout hotter, increasingly rain-free summers.
    As climate warms, scientists point out, weather extremes are amplified. The outlook for Vancouver Island is for wetter winters and drier summers. It’s estimated that summer rainfall into the watershed will decrease by up to 30 percent over the next 30 years, while most of the annual precipitation—less and less of it snow—will occur over a few winter months.
    Reducing or eliminating clear-cuts in upper watersheds reduces downslope erosion during heavy winter rains. More old growth creates a better-balanced flow of water into the lake, the river’s vast holding tank. Equally important, Saysell says, more old growth provides a mechanism for industry obtaining the same yield but with far less environmental impact.
    By allowing trees to mature for 150 years, he says, far less timber must be cut to produce the same quantity of superior quality wood. Thus, while maintaining wood supply, the erosion footprint is greatly reduced, lake and river hydrology are stabilized and made more sustainable, winter range for deer and elk are improved—and mature forests are larger carbon sinks, another way of mitigating global warming.
    Anderson, whose great-uncle was a fishing guide on the river a century ago—he used to pole his way upstream in a dugout canoe—says evidence of the impact of watershed logging shows up in the “yo-yo effect” of rapidly rising and falling lake levels following big rain events. Spikes in runoff erode hillsides, cause side-streams to blow out, spill silt into spawning beds, wash away fish eggs, undercut banks, and push torrents of gravel downstream.
    What’s the solution?
    First, Saysell says, the provincial government should intervene. It can end a decade of dithering by corporate, municipal and private interests regarding potential liability, and raise the weir at Cowichan Lake so it holds back more winter rain for summer release.
    It’s estimated that $10 million would cover the cost of raising and modernizing the weir, although other estimates say it could be done for as little as $3 million. In any event, considering that government spent $12.5 million on three traffic signs to tell drivers to slow down when it’s snowing, the amount required to save the river doesn’t seem excessive.
    By comparison, one bridge replacement in Victoria cost $105 million, a couple of local interchanges cost $120 million, and the regional district estimates a final overall cost of $275 million for upgrading bike routes to “a standard where cyclists of all ages and abilities will feel comfortable.”
     
    IN THE BIG PICTURE, perhaps the remaining second growth would be more valuable if it were never cut. The future of the Cowichan Valley is trending to tourism and away from resource extraction. Tourism has generated more than $200 billion in revenue over the last decade in BC, growing by an astonishing 41 percent. It brought more people to BC in 2018 than there are citizens, just over six million.
    Consider this example provided by the BC Chamber of Commerce: in 2012, there were plans to log 60 hectares of old-growth timber in a coastal cut block on the North Island. A wilderness kayaking camp was operating in the middle of a proposed clear-cut. The value of the logged timber was estimated at $3.6 million, but the trees could only be logged every 60 years. So, the timber was actually worth about $60,000 a year. The kayak enterprise, however, brought in about $416,000 a year. It operated every year. Over 60 years it would generate $24,960,000—about seven times the value of the timber. The trees were worth far more, left standing, for the kayak operation, the Chamber acknowledged, than logged.
    Does government have the right to impose logging standards and practices on private land? Well it does on mine. I must obtain a permit from the municipality to cut trees, even if I deem them a hazard. And it does on Anderson’s. He pointed to a number of Garry oak trees in his back yard that are strictly protected. Similar restrictions govern most small, private property owners.
    But Saysell points out that logging companies with timber holdings on private land are not subject to the same forest management policies as those with timber rights on public land. Under the Private Managed Forest Land Act, he says, such companies pay far lower taxes than other private land holders. This is purportedly an incentive to replant for future harvesting.
    The lower taxes nevertheless represent a subsidy. The public has a right, indeed an obligation, he says, to recover that subsidy, should the company decide to sell forest land for other purposes after logging it. If they sell forest land to developers, Saysell argues, “then they should be taxed at the higher land value [for housing] retroactively, right back to the time they first purchased the land.”
    “In my experience,” says Anderson, “if somebody takes the benefit of lower taxes, then the state has a say in management.”
    Saysell, the former faller, makes a cogent argument for imposing the same management practices, guided by environmental science and rigorous cost/benefit analysis, on both public and private forest land. “Government has to enact new regulations for private managed forest lands, especially for harvesting methods and annual cut rates that will have sufficient rules and laws in them to stop these unsustainable and irresponsible practices that are destroying our beautiful Cowichan River and Cowichan watershed.”
    Stephen Hume spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the North, BC and the Island. His byline has appeared in most major Canadian newspapers. He’s the author of nine books of poetry, natural history, history and literary essays.

    Leslie Campbell
    July 2019
    Victoria boasts one of the busiest water airports in the world—some think it’s too busy.
     
    IT’S QUITE UNUSUAL—and ambitious—to have an airport smack in the middle of any city, on water or land. According to Transport Canada, which runs the harbour aerodrome, “Victoria Harbour is Canada’s only certified water airport and port that is home to cruise ships, floatplanes, passenger ferries, recreational boaters and kayakers.” And don’t forget the big yachts in the new marina. Did you know Victoria is now the busiest port of call for cruise ships in Canada? Or that the airport has earned the title of Canada’s, and sometimes the world’s, busiest water airport, averaging 100 flight movements (take-offs or landings) a day?
     

    Floatplanes coming and going on the busy Victoria Harbour Airport (Photo by David Broadland)
     
    As Transport Canada’s graphic depiction of the harbour’s transportation avenues shows (below), all of the traffic in the harbour is occurring in a small space, one surrounded by dense development of the waterfront, including hotels and thousands of condos. Note the pinch-point between Songhees Point and Laurel Point, a narrow channel that all vessels, including aircraft, must squeeze through to get into or out of the Inner Harbour. And notice that airport runways are superimposed on the lane for boats over 20 metres in length.
     

    Transport Canada’s “Traffic Scheme” for the Public Port of Victoria
     
    The airport might even get busier if recently-announced plans to convert Harbour Air’s fleet to electric motors come to pass. Harbour Air is the main airline operating out of the harbour, with flights to downtown Vancouver, South Vancouver (YVR), Pitt Meadows, and Whistler. With over 40 aircraft, it is possibly the largest seaplane airline in the world. It has won numerous awards over the years, including Canada’s Best Managed Companies (for 10 years), and Business of the Year in Victoria. Its founder and owner, Greg McDougall, was just inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. It claims to be the world’s first fully carbon-neutral airline (accomplished through an offset program). And now it plans to become the first commercial airline to be powered by electric propulsion.
    When electrification of its fleet is complete, flight costs could come down as much as 70-80 percent, according to Roei Ganzarski of magniX, which is developing the new engines. If flight costs were reduced, it follows that fares might come down, too—certainly the offset charges would be eliminated. That would likely translate into greater demand—from tourists, business people, government employees, and even for freight. Typical fares now are over $200 to Vancouver, but imagine a $100 fare: the 30-minute trip could become enticingly convenient and affordable to a lot more folks.
    When I suggest such a possibility to Harbour Air President Randy Wright, he said, “Fuel costs will come down, but it will take a while to convert the entire fleet. There is also a significant capital cost involved in this refit. As a result, at this point, it’s difficult to say what the impact will be on fares.” He also doesn’t think flight numbers will increase.
    Residents with ringside seats on the harbour have expressed concerns for many years about the airport’s safety, noise and exhaust fumes. While Harbour Air’s electrification plans—if they are carried out—will eventually help on some fronts, the safety concerns will not go away, whether flight numbers increase or remain the same.
     
    IN THE EARY 1990s, when construction of condos began on the Songhees, floatplane flights numbered about 11,000 annually. Though they have ranged as high as 34,000, they’ve been hovering around 25,000 in recent years. (Helicopters not included—they add another 9,000 or so.)
    In 2000, the harbour aerodrome was certified as an airport by Transport Canada, which regulates the Port of Victoria—basically from Ogden Point to the Selkirk Trestle Bridge. In 2008, the City of Victoria, in response to growing citizen concerns about safety, noise and emissions, set up a committee to look at the airport. In the minutes for a meeting that included representatives from Transport Canada, the anger of residents comes through loud and clear.
    One resident, an experienced pilot with over 1600 hours of flight time, including in floatplanes, stated: “it’s an accident waiting to happen…Any experienced pilot is astonished. If it was grass between the shores there’d be no airport.” He and others commented that they had given up complaining because of the apparent futility. As one person put it, “Complaining to Transport Canada is a big black hole, nothing happens.”
    Another argued, “There has to be some limitation [of flight numbers] and some people think the carrying capacity has long been exceeded.” A Songhees resident described how “on a typical day I wipe off my balcony and the rag is filthy [from plane exhaust].”
    That committee’s final report in 2009 made clear that the City had no real power over the airport. It could ask Transport Canada to play nice, but that was about it. Among the things it “urged” Transport Canada to do were conduct an independent aeronautical study, and study the impact of noise and air quality.
    No such studies have been done.
    Former Councillor Pam Madoff, who chaired the committee on the airport, describes the issue as “one of the more frustrating files to have dealt with” over the course of her 25 years on council—largely because of Transport Canada’s “lack of responsiveness and a level of disinterest that was quite extraordinary.”
    Another key “urging” of her committee was to finalize the Water Airport Regulations and Standards, after adjusting them to address “quality of life factors and the dense urban environment.” The regulations have never been adjusted or formalized—they have been in draft form since 2000.
    Songhees resident Susan Woods has shown me an almost comical two-decade record of annual promises from Transport Canada that the final regulations, along with a 30-day public comment period, were just around the corner.
    The continuing delay led Victoria City Council, in July 2017, to pass a resolution to ask “the Government of Canada move forward with publication of Canadian Aviation Regulations and Standards for the Victoria Harbour Water Airport, to allow for public comment…and provide certainty for residents, operators and passengers.” In May 2018, after a motion by Councillor Ben Isitt, who noted the years of “runaround” by Transport Canada, the City sent another request for the regulations.
    Madoff believes the reasons for the delay—19 years now—is the legal requirement that the regulations and standards will be subject to a 30-day public notice and thereby be held up to scrutiny—scrutiny, it’s implied, that could upset the airport applecart.
    Marg Gardiner, president of the James Bay Neighbourhood Association, has been studying the harbour and the airport for decades. She uses words like “shameful” and “depressing” to describe how neglectful both the City and Transport Canada have been in addressing and protecting local residents from unhealthy levels of exhaust and noise, as well as potential accidents. She believes the City encouraged development around the harbour knowing about the liveability issues around a busy airport. She says it’s only through citizen action that airport traffic hasn’t increased more over the years: “It’s a political game.” Referring to the City’s committee and its recommendations, she adds, “There was lots of talk, but in the end nothing…no one demands anything from Transport Canada.”
     
    HARBOUR MASTER MARIAH McCOOEY, who also acts as the airport manager, assures me that, over the years, Transport Canada has developed measures to ensure all harbour users can coexist safely. Key among these measures is “a detailed traffic scheme, which has been in place for almost 20 years. It includes runways, lanes, and different zones that keep traffic flowing for all the diverse users.” She admits, “From shore it looks a bit random, but it’s actually well organized.”
     

    Victoria Harbour Master Mariah McCooey (Photo be Leslie Campbell)
     
    Besides wall-to-wall windows on the water side of her Fisherman’s Wharf office, McCooey, who holds a Masters in Maritime Management, has a number of large high-resolution video screens providing views from 23 cameras around the harbour. The Coast Guard has access to these videos as well. The data is kept for 120 days so recent incidents can be reviewed if necessary.
    Victoria Harbour Airport operates under a “Prior Permission Required” system: not just anyone can land their plane. All pilots flying into the harbour airport do special studies and take an exam, McCooey tells me.
    NAV Canada provides “flight services” including up-to-date weather and water conditions for pilots, but, unlike at larger airports, no air traffic control (though NAV Canada’s tower on the harbour looks like an air traffic control tower at a regular airport, it isn’t). Pilots can communicate with NAV’s flight service advisors and with each other.
     

    NAV Canada facility at Shoal Point looks like an air traffic control tower—but isn’t. (Photo by Leslie Campbell)
     
    McCooey oversees on-the-water patrollers—a couple in the winter and seven in the summer. The biggest safety issue, she says, are “transient” boat operators who don’t know harbour rules. Towards their enlightenment, she and the patrollers give out 2,500 brochures over the summer. These include the map, with its highlighted warning telling boaters to stay away from runways.
    McCooey is not worried about the amount of traffic. “We have a lot of coordination [among partners], with lots of safety meetings…A lot of top professionals are looking at the harbour to make sure it works and is safe,” she says, mentioning representatives from NAV, the Coast Guard, City of Victoria, and the RCMP. All the partners meet every six months to make sure everyone’s in the loop about any developments and issues. There’s also a database that includes all reports of infringements that is available to all the partners. “It’s pretty fantastic,” says McCooey. Every incident in which a runway is crossed, or there’s been a misuse of boat lanes, is included and analyzed. There were 700 such non-serious incidents last year, but no real accidents. The incidents are recorded, says McCooey, as they do pose some risk. “We’re always asking what we can do to reduce it.”
    Regular users, she says, are well-versed in proper procedures. Tug operators know they can go “right up the middle,” for instance. The whale-watching boats also use the middle lanes. Harbour ferries have to regularly traverse runways, so are heavily involved in safety meetings, she notes, telling me in all, there are 120,000 ferry movements per year. Each ferry has a two-way radio. A few years back Randy Wright described the arrangements as “working like a Swiss watch.”
    Still, there are barges coming and going and there will be, eventually, some mega-yachts. As well, the Coho and other big ships have to use the airport runway. It seems an incredible amount to choreograph.
     
    SUSAN WOODS, who lives in a condo on the Songhees and has a masters degree in marine science, is not reassured by the Harbour Master’s confidence. Her main concern is the way planes are allowed to fly close to residential buildings on the north side of the harbour. (Full disclosure: my mother lived in a Songhees condo for 24 years.)
    The allowed distance from the edge of the take-off and landing areas to the nearest building is 50 metres. She believes it should be more like that of other airports: 300 metres. She notes, “In the event of a problem with the aircraft, strong gusting winds, momentary inattention by the pilot, or some other mishap, this 50-metre gap would be closed by an approaching plane in about one second.” Something Transport Canada calls “vertical transition zoning” has been allowed to get around the fact that buildings poke into the usual amount of transitional surface required for a safe runway zone. In a document online, Transport Canada states this type of zoning “is intended to provide relief for small aerodromes in mountainous regions, used in VMC [visual meterological conditions], where river valleys, etc. are the only sites available. At other locations an aeronautical study and Headquarters’ approval is required.”
    Woods also believes pilots should be prohibited from taking off or landing while there are obstacles (i.e. watercraft) present anywhere on the take-off and landing areas.
    Marg Gardiner, who lives in a condo across the harbour in James Bay, agrees, lamenting that runways have been superimposed on the marine arterial highway used by the Coho and other large boats, which means that the unobstructed airspace for the landing and taking off of aircraft—a requirement of other airports—is not being met.
    While there have been no accidents in many years, Gardiner says, “There have been close calls.” She’s seen near-misses between aircraft and buildings or watercraft. She has also seen and reported incidents in which, during rough weather, taxiing planes seemed to lose control and come perilously close to fuel docks.
    Woods says the only incident she’s witnessed (and reported) recently was one in which “a Twin Otter landed eastbound on operating area Alpha, and the pilot had to use probably-maximum reverse thrust in order to attempt to complete the landing prior to crossing east of the line joining the N and S markers. However, it appeared that the plane had neither completed its landing nor was at or below five knots before crossing the line.”
    Woods and her fellow Songhees residents have pressed for years for an aeronautical study to identify the deviations and the remediation needed for airport safety—one conducted by a qualified, professional, independent consultant. To no avail.
     
    AND THEN THERE'S THE NOISE. Harbour Air’s eventual shift to electric planes will definitely help. Wright predicts, “The electric planes will be about 75 percent quieter.”
    Meanwhile—and it could be a long while— it’s noisy, as those living on the harbour or walking the Westsong Walkway can attest. “Especially during the busy summer period,” says Woods, “windows and doors have to remain closed due to conversation-stopping noise and the noxious fumes which accumulate inside homes.”
    A City of Victoria presentation from October 2008 suggested that noise problems were primarily due to propeller noise—not just engines—and that they were “exacerbated by proximity of aircraft to shoreline buildings.” (What Gardiner refers to as a concrete canyon over water.) I found a 1995 US study of seaplane noise that stated: “The principal factor in the intensity of seaplane noise is first the type of seaplane…, next the tip speed of the propeller (RPM’s), followed by the angle and distance that can be kept between the seaplane and the listener, and lastly the power setting (throttle).” It stated that a Cessna 206 with 300 hp engine and three-bladed propeller has a maximum of 88 dBA.
    The only noise study done by Transport Canada dates back to 2000. It found that average noise was “just below acceptable level,” and acknowledged a problem does exist. Single-event levels during one three-hour period in the afternoon exceeded 85 dBA 14 times, Woods noted. With more than 100 flight movements a day in summer, such numbers don’t seem surprising. (City noise bylaws do not apply, given the federal jurisdiction.)
    Noise is more than a nuisance; it’s a recognized health hazard, increasing stress, the risk of hypertension, and ischaemic heart disease. It also has negative effects on sleep, communication, performance and behaviour, reading and memory acquisition, and mental health.
    When I raised the question of noise with Transport Canada, Simon Rivet, a senior advisor with its Communications Group, listed the noise mitigation strategies that have been implemented: “We only allow three-bladed turbo-prop aircraft, which is the quietest version of a floatplane in existence. Best practices include the reduction of reverse thrust when landing, with sufficient room to allow for a natural slowdown, rather than having to put it in ‘reverse,’ which is quite noisy.” He also noted that rules around runway use dramatically reduce noise levels: the majority of take-offs are from Bravo runway in the Outer Harbour; while the preferred runway for landings is eastbound on Alpha, “because it also minimizes the amount of idling and manoeuvring on the surface.” Finally, he noted that no flights are allowed before 7am.
    But with no noise-level studies in two decades, how do they know if these measures have been successful, or to what degree? Harbour residents are still finding it very loud. And quieter electric planes could be a long way off.
    Gardiner feels that until things change, all prospective harbour condo buyers should be warned about the noise. As I talk with her on the phone, the Coho blasts its horn in the background.
     
    UNTIL SEAPLANES CHANGE TO E-PLANES, the city’s booming core population means that more people will notice the noxious fumes around the harbour. Susan Woods believes “unburned or partially combusted fuel from floatplane operations at Victoria Harbour Airport result in volatile organic compounds and suspended particulate matter being spewed into the surrounding environment, including the walkways and residences…The sooty, oily film which begins to coat our windows, soon after they’ve been washed, is a visible testament as to the volume of particulate matter polluting our air each and every day.” (I too have seen the greasy film that coats windows on the Songhees side.)
    Transport Canada’s last study, based on 1998 activity levels, found that VOCs being released into the harbour came from both motorboats and planes. While more VOCs were produced by motorboats (including whale-watching vessels), aircraft emissions, because of their dispersal in the air, tend to affect humans more.
    Many floatplanes run on “avgas”—a petroleum fuel with lead added to it. Lead was phased out of gasoline for automobiles decades ago because of its serious health effects. Yet small planes with piston engines still use it. Wright assured Focus that none of Harbour Air planes flying to Victoria Harbour use leaded gas. However, Transport Canada’s Rivet told me there is no requirement for planes to use unleaded gasoline. So other planes flying into the harbour likely do use it. Rivet also said the airport has no air-quality monitoring program. No one really knows just how bad the air around the harbour is these days.
    Beyond the health of locals, of course, is that of the planet. All carbon-burning craft play starring roles in warming the planet. Aviation, however, states the David Suzuki Foundation, “has a disproportionately large impact on the climate system. It accounts for four to nine percent of the total climate change impact of human activity.” The industry has been “expanding rapidly in part due to regulatory and taxing policies that do not reflect the true environmental costs of flying.” Travelling by air “has a greater climate impact per passenger kilometre, even over longer distances. It’s also the mode of freight transport that produces the most emissions,” the Foundation states on its website.
    Harbour Air has worked hard to be as green as possible under these circumstances. Its Victoria terminal has a green roof and solar panels. Most importantly, since 2007, it has had an impressive carbon offset program. All emissions of the company, 97 percent coming directly from seaplane fuel use, are “offset” through Offsetters Clean Technology, a company that specializes in both calculating carbon emissions and finding appropriate projects to invest in—both regional and international—that reduce carbon emissions. Harbour Air has information about the projects online and makes customers aware of the offsets by showing their cost on ticket receipts. It also tells them that a return flight to Vancouver produces 87 kg CO2-equivalent per passenger. Nevertheless, Harbour Air’s overall emissions have crept up over the years to 12,793 tonnes CO2-equivalent in 2017.
    While offsets may be better than nothing, critics have argued they are a bit of a shell game, allowing people to rationalize their carbon-intensive habits rather than changing them. Most experts agree they are not a substitute for directly reducing emissions, given the urgency of tackling climate change. University of Ottawa Professor, and President of the Environmental Studies Association of Canada, Ryan Katz-Rosene, told The Georgia Straight an honest definition of “carbon offset” might be something like, “a framework to enable people to continue to produce carbon dioxide and to absolve themselves of responsibility when they might not even work in the first place and, if they do work, are things that should be happening anyway.”
    So the Harbour Air electrification moves are potentially very good news for those concerned about climate change and air quality. (Unfortunately, there are no such technological fixes foreseen for larger planes.)
    How soon will Harbour air electrify its planes? Wright says, “We plan to have an eplane ready for flight testing in late 2019. But it will take a while for Transport Canada regulations to catch up. We anticipate that it will be a multi-year effort to convert the entire fleet.”
    Judging from the 19 years Transport Canada has taken, so far, to finalize the airport regulations, we may have a long time to wait for those electric planes.
     

    A shop mock-up of how magniX’s aero’s electric propulsion system would be adapted to a Cessna aircraft
     
    Marg Gardiner says she’ll believe it when she sees it. She’s seen too many failures along such lines, including aborted plans to electrify the buses going to and from cruise ships. Even if Harbour Air’s plan is realized, and electric planes reduce both health and environmentally- damaging emissions, as well as some or most aircraft noise, “it doesn’t address the safety issue at all,” says Gardiner.
    On that front, Transport Canada needs to step up, do the aeronautical studies, and finalize the standards and regulations for the airport that it has long promised.
    No one is suggesting the airport be closed or moved out of the harbour. Most agree that it provides a valued service and brings economic benefits to Victoria. But it is publicly owned. The private airlines pay nothing in port fees. Taxpayers pay for it all—the Transport Canada managers, the Harbour Master, the on-the-water patrollers and their boats and brochures, along with the frustrations, possible health issues, and benefits that come with having an airport in the middle of Victoria’s harbour. They understandably want to be assured of adequate safety measures and quality of life.
    Editor Leslie Campbell misses her regular visits to her mom’s old condo. The view of our busy, beautiful harbour is hard to beat.

    David Broadland
    July 2019
    Records obtained by FOI leave little doubt that Mayor Helps and Mayor Desjardins hid allegations of sexual harassment raised against Chief Elsner.
     
    AFTER CLAIMING FOR MONTHS that critical communications between Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins in late 2015 had been deleted, the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board released a heavily redacted 442-page response to Focus in late May.
    We had requested the communications between the two mayors as they navigated their way through their investigation of allegations against then-Police Chief Frank Elsner.
    Our request covered the three months during which their investigation took place—September, October and November, 2015—and one month after that investigation ended. The records released to Focus show Helps and Desjardins were aware by mid-October 2015 that additional allegations made by female employees of VicPD against Elsner—of sexual harassment and bullying—had been found by the mayors’ hired investigator, Vancouver lawyer Patricia Gallivan. Yet these allegations were so well-hidden by the mayors that even after Police Complaint Commissioner Stan Lowe demanded all records related to the investigation, the women’s complaints at first remained unnoticed by OPCC.
     

     
    The allegations of sexual harassment against Elsner weren’t the most serious misconduct found during the mayors’ investigation. Within 10 days of demanding the records Gallivan created during her investigation, Lowe’s office had used those records to identify two of the three most serious cases of misconduct that would eventually lead Judge Carol Baird Ellan to decide Elsner warranted a lifetime dismissal from policing: misleading a person material to the investigation, and misleading the internal investigator. From the information in Gallivan’s report, Lowe’s office also determined that Elsner had contacted witnesses during the investigation. This later led to a third serious finding of misconduct, that Elsner had attempted to procure a false statement.
    Baird Ellan likened Elsner’s conduct during the mayors’ internal investigation to “criminal obstruction of justice.”
    Yet by the time the mayors abruptly ended their investigation with a confidential letter of reprimand quietly placed in Elsner’s file, they had apparently made little effort to understand what Gallivan’s report actually contained.
    Perhaps recognizing the serious procedural misconduct Gallivan had discovered was beyond the skills normally possessed by municipal politicians. But the allegations of sexual harassment, hidden from Lowe even after his office had demanded the investigation’s records, were a different matter.
    One might reasonably expect two female mayors to be especially sensitive to sexual harassment allegations. Why didn’t Helps and Desjardins pursue what Gallivan had found? According to Lowe, by October 20, 2015, “numerous witnesses had made allegations of bullying and harassment” against Elsner. The external investigation, which replaced the mayors’ investigation, considered allegations made by seven women. Yet the mayors have denied they interfered in the investigation or covered up the allegations of harassment against Elsner.
    Release of Lowe’s Summary Informational Report on the external investigation was delayed for over two years by Elsner’s efforts in the courts to quash the second investigation. When the report finally appeared—during the 2018 civic election campaign—Helps claimed, without providing any evidence, that Lowe had defamed her. Her claim was amplified by the Times-Colonist, which did little other reporting on the external investigation’s findings. Focus waited until after the election to file an FOI for the mayors’ communications in the hope that the mayors’ own records could confirm either Helps’ or Lowe’s account. So what did we find?
    It is unclear from the records provided to Focus when, or from whom, the mayors first heard of the harassment allegations. They show that on October 15, 2015, Desjardins emailed Helps and suggested that new allegations of harassment and bullying would require a second investigation: “I have looked into process for HR complaints and or WCB harassment procedure and process for further understanding of options to bring to the board or for us to decide on. In reality it is again an independent investigator and provision of a report to us. I would like Pat to do this if able and or to engage someone to do this asap if she feels she is ‘tainted’ by her process. I have someone in mind.”
    Half an hour later, Helps responded, “I am happy to have Pat do this. I regret that we have to do this at all.”
    The records released to Focus only suggest why the mayors changed their minds. Minutes after Desjardins had emailed Helps, she also wrote to the mayors’ legal counsel, Vancouver lawyer Marcia McNeil. McNeil emailed back a few hours later. The contents of McNeil’s communications with the mayors are protected by solicitor-client privilege, so we don’t know exactly what her advice to them was. But we can deduce part of that advice from the mayors’ subsequent response. Desjardins wrote back to McNeil and Helps: “I have an appt with him tomorrow and was going to check in anyway. Thanks for this.” Helps then replied to Desjardins, “Thanks to you both. Barb, happy to check in with you after you meet with the Chief tomorrow...”
    The rest of what Helps wrote is redacted, but no matter. McNeil appears to have advised the mayors to seek Elsner’s response to the additional allegations, and Desjardins confirmed she was going to meet with the “Chief” the next day.
    We can presume that she met with Elsner, but we don’t know what transpired. In the email record released to Focus, there are no later references made by the mayors to the sexual harassment allegations. Did Desjardins’ idea of a second investigation disappear because Elsner persuaded her that the allegations were untrue? Did Desjardins subsequently persuade Helps that Elsner didn’t do what he was accused of doing? The answers to these questions seem self-evident given what followed.
    This turned out to be a critical decision point in the course of the Elsner investigation. Had the mayors carried through on their initial, short-lived agreement to conduct a second investigation, and presuming that Gallivan had then discovered all the claims of sexual harassment that were later found by the external investigation, public acknowledgment of the women’s claims wouldn’t have taken nearly three years. As well, Elsner could have been fired for legal just cause and $1.1 million in eventual costs to Victoria and Esquimalt taxpayers could have been avoided.
    This was a serious misjudgment by the two mayors. But the record of what followed shows that once the mayors had dug that hole for themselves, they kept digging.
    The record of their communications shows that the mayors tried to maintain control of the course of the investigation—and its outcome—by providing little or no information to both Lowe’s office and the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board. This is made evident by a letter sent by Police Board member Peter Ryan to Desjardins on October 27, over two weeks after Desjardins and Helps were given advice by McNeil on the additional allegations against Elsner.
    In that letter, Ryan, a former police officer, writing on behalf of the board’s governance committee, expressed concern that the Police Board had been “advised of a disciplinary matter involving the Chief Constable in only the vaguest of terms.” (Desjardins testified in a sworn affidavit that the board was told early on that Elsner “could be having a relationship with a woman.”) Ryan then wrote, “The Committee respectfully requests that you promptly provide the Board with copies of any completed ‘Complaint Forms’ giving rise to any internal discipline matters as defined in the Police Act that pertain to our Chief Constable.”
    Ryan’s letter, copied to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, led to an intervention by Deputy Commissioner Rollie Woods. In a letter to McNeil, Woods wrote, “One of [Lowe’s] conditions to agree that the matter could be handled [by the mayors] was that the Police Board members be fully informed. If the [mayors] maintain there is no need to inform the full board, [Lowe] is going to revisit his decision.”
    As far as Woods and OPCC were aware at that moment, “fully informed” meant telling the Board about the initial allegations against Elsner: that he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with the wife of a VicPD member and that Elsner had improperly used police social media accounts. But Helps, Desjardins and McNeil had also not informed OPCC (or the Police Board) about the new allegations of sexual harassment and bullying.
    Pushed by Woods, Desjardins responded to Ryan’s dense, two-page letter noting: “We do not have details regarding the facts as the investigation has not yet concluded nor has a report been provided to us.”
    In fact, the two mayors had more details than they apparently knew what to do with.
    Ryan’s letter and OPCC’s intervention created another critical decision point at which the mayors could have reported the additional allegations to OPCC and the Police Board—but didn’t. Their secrecy was at odds with conditions Lowe had insisted on before agreeing to let the mayors conduct an internal investigation. Lowe described the basis under which he had allowed an internal investigation in his 2018 Summary Informational Report: “At the outset of my office’s dealings with the mayors and their legal counsel, there was a clear understanding among all concerned that if, during the course of the investigation, any information came to light about conduct by any police officer that may constitute misconduct, our office was to be informed...”
    The first part of that “clear understanding,” the any information aspect, has been disputed by Helps, who has told Focus, “We were authorized to deal only with the issues of whether Elsner had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with the wife of a VicPD member and whether Elsner had improperly used police social media accounts.”
    But in Lowe’s Summary Informational Report, he quotes at length a letter from McNeil to Gallivan, written in the early days of the investigation, outlining McNeil’s understanding of the mandate provided by OPCC for the mayors’ internal investigation. The letter was copied to Helps and Desjardins. Lowe used the letter as evidence that the mayors were made aware by McNeil that “your mandate is confined to issues related to any misconduct by Chief Elsner…” (Lowe underlined “any” for emphasis).
    The second aspect of Lowe’s agreement to allow an internal investigation, that his office was to be informed about any new allegations of misconduct, has never been addressed by the mayors.
    Ryan’s letter, and Wood’s subsequent intervention, should have been the moment the mayors informed the Police Board and the OPCC about the additional allegations. But that moment passed in stoney silence from Desjardins and Helps. It’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that the mayors were intent on keeping personal control of the investigation and its outcome, and if that meant ignoring Lowe’s stipulations, then they were willing to do that.
    Just over two weeks later, on November 16, 2015, Gallivan sent her “Preliminary Investigation Report” to the mayors. Gallivan’s full report has never been made public, but the covering letter for that report was released by Lowe’s office in September 2018 and was included in the records released to Focus.
    In that letter Gallivan told the mayors, in reference to the harassment and bullying allegations, “I understand that you are now considering how to address those allegations. As previously stated, should you wish to expand our mandate to include an investigation of those matters, in light of my schedule and given the need to deal with these matters expeditiously, I would need to engage the assistance of one of my partners to complete the investigation. I have discussed this matter with my partner Deborah Cushing and she advises that she would be able to set aside a week to conduct the witness interviews.”
    After that, aside from emails exchanged to set up a conference call between Helps, Desjardins, McNeil and Gallivan, there is no record in the documents released to Focus that indicates what the mayors did with Gallivan’s offer to investigate the allegations. But we know what happened from Lowe’s 2018 Summary Informational Report.
    Before giving you Lowe’s description of what the mayors did with Gallivan’s offer, it’s necessary to understand why and how he obtained records related to the mayors’ investigation. They weren’t proactively turned over to OPCC by the mayors. Following the mayors’ sudden termination of their investigation on December 3, 2015—an action that was hastened by rumours coming back to Desjardins that reporters were on the verge of confirming Elsner was being investigated—Lowe’s office confronted the mayors for having misled media by claiming no investigation was underway. When asked by a Global TV reporter the day after they ended the investigation if Elsner was being investigated, Helps had responded, “No. The Board has full confidence in our chief. He’s the best thing to happen to this town and Esquimalt for a long time.”
    Within minutes of the mayors’ misleading statements appearing in TV news reports, Deputy Commissioner Woods made a request to McNeil under the Police Act for “all records and any additional information in its entirety including all memos, notes, emails and any other relevant documents” related to the investigation. McNeil had no choice but to comply.
    So Lowe was able to determine—using documents obtained from the mayors’ records—what the mayors had done with Gallivan’s offer to investigate. In his Summary Informational Report he observed, “Despite receiving [Gallivan’s offer], the mayors chose not to expand the investigator’s mandate to include these allegations. On the contrary, the correspondence indicates that they instructed the investigator not to pursue those allegations or consider them in any respect in drafting the investigation report because they were ‘outside the scope of the investigator’s mandate.’”
    But that instruction conflicted with McNeil’s earlier description of Gallivan’s mandate as given to the mayors by OPCC: “your mandate is confined to issues related to any misconduct by Chief Elsner…”
    Lowe also noted that the copy of Gallivan’s investigation report sent to his office in response to the Police Act-mandated demand for records didn’t include the covering letter, which contained the only written reference to the allegations of sexual harassment and bullying. The implication was that the mayors were trying to hide from his office any evidence that these allegations had even been made. Helps has told Focus that an executive assistant had failed to include the covering letter following OPCC’s demand for records.
    One detail that Lowe’s Summary Informational Report did not include was the fact that soon after receiving Gallivan’s report, the mayors shared it with Elsner. They were required by the Police Act to do this. The Police Act also required them to share the report with any “complainant” mentioned in the investigation report. We know that employees of VicPD had made complaints to Gallivan, but the mayors did not provide the report to them. The Police Act also required them to “review the report and the evidence and records referenced in it.” If they had done that carefully, the evidence of the more serious misconduct—outlined above—should have propelled the mayors to OPCC for direction. The mayors were also required by the Police Act to inform OPCC of their “next steps” within 10 days of receiving Gallivan’s report. They also failed to do this. This omission confirms that they were unwilling to involve OPCC, and its expertise at sniffing out police misconduct, before making their disciplinary decision.
    After reading the report, Elsner appears to have written to McNeil, who, in response, reported to the mayors and provided them with unknown advice. To that advice Desjardins responded, “I agree thanks!” and Helps chimed in: “Thanks. Me too.” That was on November 27.
    Early on December 3, Desjardins emailed Helps: “I think this is going to pop in the next 2 days, [the Police Board] need to be informed. I will clear my calendar for it as necessary, do you have any flexibilty today. so you soon. [sic] I have written the questions we are to ask.”
    Prompted by the spectre of reporters asking questions about the investigation, the mayors hastily concluded it, apparently in order to be able to say that Elsner was not being investigated. They met later that day and made their disciplinary decision to put a confidential letter of reprimand on Elsner’s personal file.
    They informed Elsner in person on the morning of December 4. Later that day, in response to reporters’ questions, they denied Elsner was being investigated.
    Lowe reported that he first heard of the harassment and bullying allegations when they were brought to OPCC’s attention by the Victoria Police Union on December 8, 2015.
    Let me summarize the main problems in all of this for the mayors. First, they completely missed, or ignored, the most serious misconduct that was evident in Gallivan’s records—which Judge Baird Ellan later likened to criminal obstruction. Secondly, Desjardins and Helps knew the harassment allegations should be investigated. Instead, they hid them from both the Police Board and OPCC even though informing OPCC of any additional allegations had been a key element of the “clear understanding” for allowing the mayors to do an internal investigation in the first place. Lastly, they misrepresented what had taken place to reporters and the public. The mayors appear to have obstructed the proper course of justice, and their misjudgments cost Victoria taxpayers $1.1 million.
    Lowe’s summary was more concise. In his Summary Informational Report, he wrote that the mayors “had predetermined the outcome of the internal discipline process from the outset, and set about navigating a course to allow the former chief to remain in his post.”
    In the record released to Focus are emails exchanged between the mayors as news of the Elsner investigation, Lowe’s December 18, 2015 report on the investigation, and his order for an external investigation ripped through the community. The day Lowe’s report was released, Times-Colonist reporter Cindy Harnett emailed Helps a question: “What is your reaction to the commissioner’s report which heavily suggests you and Barb botched the investigation and insinuates that there was a coverup?”
    Helps forwarded Harnett’s email to Desjardins and Kathi Springer, a communications specialist who had been hired to help the two mayors weather the political storm they had brewed. Helps asked, “Are they actually serious there was a cover up? This is ludicrous.”
    Focus recently posed detailed questions to Mayor Helps. We described to her what the email record for October 15, 2015 showed, namely that she and Mayor Desjardins had initially agreed to a second investigation, and that Desjardins was to meet with Elsner the next day and raise the sexual harassment allegations with him. We asked Helps why she and Desjardins believed Elsner instead of allowing Gallivan to investigate these allegations further and checking the veracity of Elsner’s denial. We also asked her why she had misrepresented, to Focus and to other media, the mandate of the mayors’ investigation. Recall that McNeil had put in writing that the mayors’ mandate included any allegations of misconduct against Elsner.
    To those questions Mayor Helps replied, “As previously stated, we decided to finish our original investigation and hand all other allegations to the OPCC for them to investigate. We directed our solicitor to send all the information we had received, including Pat Gallivan’s report, to the OPCC.”
    As noted above, it was only through Woods’ Police Act-mandated demand for records that OPCC obtained “all the information” the mayors had received (except Gallivan’s covering letter), and their email communications. We asked Helps if she was aware that OPCC had demanded her records. She did not respond to the question.
    Recall that Helps had responded to a reporter’s question about whether an investigation was underway with this statement: “No. The Board has full confidence in our chief. He’s the best thing to happen to this town and Esquimalt for a long time.” If the mayors had an expectation that OPCC would be investigating the sexual harassment and bullying allegations, why did the mayors and the Police Board express “full confidence” in Elsner? Wasn’t that a bit premature? We put that question to the mayor. She did not respond.
    Had the Police Board even been informed of the allegations of sexual harassment and bullying against Elsner before it had expressed that “full confidence”? Mayor Helps kept digging and did not respond.
    David Broadland has asked the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to examine the Police Board’s redactions of the released record.
    The released records can be downloaded here.

    Stephen Hume
    July 2019
    Climate change is exacerbating forest fires, including—perhaps especially—where the wild meets suburbia.
     
    FOR TERRIFYING SPECTACLE, few events match the full-throated fury of a crowning forest fire. Such a fire moves fast. Sheets of flame flash through the canopy under a seething orange wall as high as a 30-storey skyscraper, with pillars of smoke that can tower 50 times that height.
    I live in Greater Victoria’s forested fringe—the “wildland-urban interface” in Fire Boss lingo. Like many, I’m watching trees around me die from climate warming. I confess, there is now seldom a day during the still, tinder-dry afternoons of high summer when the leaves suddenly rustle in an abrupt breeze, that I don’t step outside to nervously sniff the air for that smudgy whiff of woodsmoke.
     

    Forest fires menacing Williams Lake residential district in July 2017 (Photo: courtesy Ministry of Lands, Forest and Natural Resources)
     
    Big fires make their own weather. They suck moisture out of the atmosphere, drying and heating to a flashpoint what’s already dry and hot. They create windstorms to feed their appetite for oxygen. Tornadoes of superheated flame spin away. Trees shriek as they vaporize at 1,200°C—although physics says the noise is sap transforming instantly to steam.
    Should this holocaust scenario concern most of us in our comfortable, tree-shaded city homes? Increasingly, warn scientists and emergency measures specialists, the uncomfortable conclusion is “Yes.”
    Chris Bone, an expert on the role of climate change and forest policies in driving wildfires and other events, contemplates wildfire from above a native plant garden at the University of Victoria. He thinks that like the great earthquake which may happen tomorrow—or a hundred years from now—the visitation of urban wildfire is not a question of “if,” but “when.”
    We generally live as though catastrophe weren’t imminent. In truth, conditions already exist here that make fires like those in California or Alberta possible. “A lot of people think we live in the rainforest and that’s exacerbating the problem,” says Bone, an assistant professor in geography. “We don’t live in the rainforest. We have more of a ‘coastal California’ climate. The south island does not get a lot of rain in the summers.” If climate models are right—so far, they’ve been accurate—climate warming will make this region even more susceptible to wildfire.
    He’s careful to point out that while people crave certainty in the face of uncertainty, and simplicity rather than complexity, the impact of our looming climate emergency won’t be linear in progression. There’ll be variability in seasonal weather. Trends are the concern—frequency, length, and intensity of extreme weather episodes, whether wet or dry, cold or hot.
    One consistency in those urban wildfires devastating communities in the United States for the past few decades is this: they occur during dry spells after three to four days of very hot temperatures and then, as winds tick up, they overwhelm firefighters. Since 2014, almost 50 firefighters have been killed trying to contain wildfires in the US, 19 of them one entire crew of “hotshot” specialists. They perished together in a conflagration threatening the town of Yarnell, Arizona in 2013.
    Crowning fires first flash through the dry canopy and then incinerate what’s beneath, fed by ground cover and debris. The speed with which they can accelerate is mind-boggling.
    Artist Frank Ebermann built his house and studio in a pristine, tranquil forest landscape about a 20-minute drive south of Houston on the Yellowhead Highway, midway between Prince George and Prince Rupert. At the end of May, 1983, he heard heavy equipment thundering past his studio. The trucks carried fire suppression specialists. But they weren’t going to a fire; they were running from one. Ebermann scooped up his little daughter Amai, his wife Sophia, and fled, too.
    That blaze, dubbed “Swiss Burn,” was a monster, set loose by an angler’s campfire. Eight minutes later the fire covered a square kilometre. Two hours later it was 10 square kilometres. It expanded by one square kilometre per hour. Smoke eclipsed the sun. Flaming embers showered out of the darkness. After seven hours, smouldering ash and charred snags covered an area the size of Victoria, Oak Bay, Esquimalt, View Royal and Colwood combined.
    “It was like Dante’s Inferno,” Ebermann told me. “Valleys boiling with flames. The burn made its own firestorm, uprooting the trees as it went.” In minutes, he and seven other families were homeless. The experience had one other big effect. “This fire tore me away from any materialism,” he said. “We want to own the beautiful scenery. But we never really own anything.”
     

    Aerial drop of fire retardant near an Ashcroft home (Photo: courtesy Ministry of Lands, Forest and Natural Resources)
     
    In 2018, similar fires swept through Paradise, California. They burned so hot, car tires melted. So did the sneakers of those trying to flee on foot through the streets. Images from that fire, in which people burned to death in their escape vehicles, haunt Bone—especially when he considers them in the context of new residential developments in Greater Victoria’s wildland-urban interface.
    “I think about Paradise and how trapped those people were. Those people had no way to escape. I look at an area like that [wildland-urban interface development in Langford, for example] and I have real concern. How strategic are we being?” Not very, according to a 2018 study for the B.C. government. Addressing the New Normal: 21st Century Disaster Management in British Columbia by George Abbott and Chief Maureen Chapman is a disturbing restatement of warnings provided by successive provincial auditors-general over almost 20 years. “Despite earnest efforts,” it said, “BC has made disappointingly little progress on the goal of enhanced community safety since 2003.” It said at least 80 communities have completed wildfire protection plans but half of them still haven’t done anything to actually mitigate risk by reducing on-the-ground-fuel, clearing underbrush, or thinning forest stands adjacent to residential districts.
    A 2015 study by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, a think tank for Canada’s insurance industry, concluded that in Kelowna, where 239 homes were burned during a wildland-urban interface fire in 2003, present conditions could result in a repeat disaster. Reasons for inaction given by municipal politicians, the BC government report said, are that tax dollars are committed to building and maintaining water, sewer, roads, street lights, parks, recreation, and solid waste disposal. The infrastructure supports residential growth and thus an expanded tax base. Forests adjacent to residential development are deemed somebody else’s problem and responsibility. But whose problem does it become if a crowning wildfire rips through a city’s residential fringe?
     
    THAT'S A QUESTION WE SHOULD ALL ASK our municipal governments. In Slave Lake, Alberta in 2011, planners said that the city’s evacuation seemed unthinkable. The next day thousands bolted through flames and smoke so thick they couldn’t see where they were driving. In Fort McMurray, in 2016, thousands were again forced to run a gauntlet of fire, escaping while fire destroyed 2,400 buildings and insured losses approached $4 billion. In Portugal, in 2017, 30 people burned in their vehicles while trying to escape a blaze; 17 more died trying to flee abandoned vehicles on foot. Scores of tourists in Greece died when they were trapped by wildfire.
    And the risk here grows, it does not diminish. Research published last year in the International Journal of Wildland Fire estimates more than 55,000 square kilometres in B.C. now lie in the wildfire-urban interface. The authors of Mapping Canadian Wildland Fire Interface Areas, Lynn Johnston of Natural Resources Canada and Mike Flannigan of the University of Alberta, conclude that this danger zone both expands and becomes more hazardous with climate warming.
    In Greater Victoria, for example, expect the frequency of very hot days to reach an average of 36 per summer. Hottest day temperatures are projected to rise to 36°C. And while we’ll get more precipitation overall, summer rainfall will dwindle by at least 20 percent while days of drought will lengthen by 20 percent.
    Vancouver Island was already rated at a Level Three drought—one notch below the driest tier—before the end of May this year. In the Comox Valley, only 34 per cent of normal rainfall arrived. In Kelowna, the rainfall was 50 percent less. And it’s been hot. More than 30 daytime high temperature records were broken across the province on a single day in March.
    Furthermore, as it gets hotter and dryer, lightning storms will become more frequent. Right now, Canada gets about 2.25 million lightning strikes per year. They are responsible for almost half our wildfires—humans start slightly more than 50 percent. There will be 12 percent more strikes for every degree of global temperature rise. For every two lightning strikes today, there will soon be three.
    In BC, Addressing the New Normal found that more than 16,000 square kilometres of forest pose high to moderate risk of wildfires expanding rapidly into major residential areas. Worse, it warns that such wildfires—which are now bigger, burn hotter and move faster because of global warming—are becoming the norm.
    “The wildfire zone is not only getting closer to people, but people are getting closer to the wildfire zone,” the study points out, citing BC Auditor General Wayne Strelioff’s 2001 report Managing Interface Fire Risks; former Manitoba Premier Gary Filmon’s report Firestorm, triggered by events in 2003; and present Auditor General Carol Bellringer’s 2018 assessment of subsequent foot-dragging and inaction. This too is a concern, considering that people caused more than half the wildfires that cost BC taxpayers $3 billion between 2003 and 2017.
    “British Columbia has the highest risk of interface fires in Canada because of its climate and topography,” the report by Abbott and Chapman reiterates. The risks are increasing as a result of two key factors—the continuing growth in the number of people choosing to live in or near the forests and grassland areas and the significant buildup of forest fuels resulting from years of successful fire suppression activities. “Fire experts fear that, if actions are not taken soon to reduce the risks associated with interface fires, it is only a matter of time before these fires will exceed firefighters’ ability to contain them and that this might lead to significant loss of life and property,” the report warns.
    Clearly, it’s time we had a vigorous, engaged, adult conversation at the community level about the danger zone at the fringes of Greater Victoria, where residential districts bleed into forest land and forest intrudes into the built landscape. Often, these fringes are among the most desirable neighbourhoods. They offer shady, countrified respite from the noise, heat, traffic and pavement of downtown. Developers like them because they sell quickly. And, in the short term, revenue-hungry municipal politicians appear to discount long-term hazards against short-term revenue gains.
     

    The wildland-urban interface on the Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria, as seen from the top of PKOLS/Mount Douglas (Photo: Stephen Hume)
    Wildfire science calls it “the expanding bull’s-eye effect.” As a city expands from its centre, the fire-exposed perimeter lengthens, placing larger areas within the danger zone. Visit Greater Victoria’s tony, up-market neighbourhoods at Broadmead, Dean Park or some of the newer subdivisions in Langford, for example, and houses and gardens are deeply integrated into heavily forested slopes. Yet housing developments zoned on forested hillsides are also at highest risk. Fire moves fastest (in California they moved with explosive speed) while burning up-slope, where canopy and underbrush are close to structures.
    This forest-city interface is where risk is greatest for conflagrations like those which forced evacuations of 200,000 people in BC and Alberta alone over the last 15 years. More than 36,000 wild-land-urban interface homes and businesses have now been razed across California, BC and Alberta.
    As environmental writer Glen Martin recently observed in California Magazine: “From a firefighter’s perspective, wildland-urban interface combines the worst of both realms (suburb and forest): interface areas are not only cheek-to-jowl with fuel-rich forests, they’re also often characterized by dense housing tracts landscaped with lush, highly flammable vegetation. Today’s wildfires, in short, are not your grandpa’s wildfires; they’re usually hybrid-human started fires, involving both structures and forests, which greatly complicates the task for wildfire fighters and escalates the cost in life and property.”
     
    GREATER VICTORIA might serve as a textbook model of wildland-urban interface fire hazard. The city expanded from a 75-kilometre bull’s eye to one with a 1,650-kilometre circumference of wildland-urban interface. In addition, an urban forest covers much of its footprint. A Habitat Acquisition Trust study published in 2008 calculated that about 40 percent of Greater Victoria’s 696.2 square kilometre land area was then under tree canopy. Considering that the urban core of Victoria has 150,000 trees in a scant 19.5 square kilometres, similar density would mean perhaps five million trees over the rest of the capital region, even with declines in forested area.
    This forest is highly valued by residents—for good reason. It’s a central element in regional identity. It provides shade and greenery to offset pavement. It lessens runoff. It adds to biodiversity by offering habitat to urban wildlife. It produces oxygen, stores carbon and absorbs both air and water pollutants. Yet there’s a tradeoff. Many trees are non-native and drought-intolerant. They contribute to the deepening fire hazard. This alone warrants frank public discussion about what faces the City as summer rains diminish, temperatures rise, and very hot days and very dry spells become more frequent and last much longer.
    “We need to rethink our approach to urban landscape and start planning it in a much more holistic way,” says Johan Feddema, who studies the consequences of human actions on the environment and the effects of climate change upon society. The UVic scientist has examined the impacts of climate conditions upon severe crown fires.
    Everybody loves the urban forest, he notes, but it has a downside. During transpiration, trees extract water from the ground and transfer it to dry air. US Geological Survey scientists calculate that one large deciduous tree can extract 150,000 litres a year from surface soil—most during summer months when foliage is heaviest. And the hotter it gets, the greater the rate. Our beloved shade trees may actually be helping to dry out their surroundings faster during extended droughts.
    Does that mean we should mow down the urban forest? Of course not. Trees are important for sequestering carbon, and deciduous hardwoods like native oak and maple are among the top carbon-storers.
    Feddema says we should be aware of these natural processes and think about different kinds and mixes of vegetation—drought and fire-resistant native plants—and how to design urban infrastructure for cooling rather than for convenience or architectural aesthetic. Plan for more open green space, but with warming-appropriate vegetation. Even the shape and placement of green space and tall buildings in the urban core can enhance or inhibit circulation patterns that might be cooling other parts of the city.
    “Yes,” muses Feddema, “we need to think creatively about advocating for a holistic way of planning, designing and building our city.” Bone echoes that idea. If municipalities continue with zoning that permits residential dwellings in the wildland-urban interface hazard zone, he says, they have an obligation to engage in vigorous proactive education of residents about the dangers.
    An example of the education needed is warning people that one of the biggest risks that their house will burn down during a wildfire is as simple as needles collecting in rain gutters. And how many of us actually know our urban evacuation routes, have mapped alternative routes, or have even thought about what we will do if those carefully planned evacuation routes are blocked?
    The Capital Regional District voted unanimously last February to declare a climate emergency. It’s a worthy initiative. But, like many such programs, it seems heavy on mission statements and global plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and less emphatic about practical but painful local decisions like reforming building codes or enacting stringent zoning bylaws which address the threat of urban wildfire.
    Emergency measures planners provide clear directions about what needs to be done: reduce ground fuel; increase the allowable margin between houses and forest cover; mandate flame-resistant building materials; regulate garden shrubbery and landscaping.
    One 2010 study found that by treating 10 percent of the adjacent forest landscape as a buffer zone in which ground fuel is removed, trees thinned and limbed, and underbrush cleared, risk of wildfire loss is reduced 70 percent. Considering that between 2014 and 2017, wildfires in western Canada and the US cost insurers almost $60 billion (CAD) in structural losses, this is something to think seriously about.
     
    IN CANADA AND BC, the danger trend is relentlessly upward. Wildfire scientists don’t doubt this is a direct consequence of our developing climate emergency. Right now, on average, 70,000 people and 20 communities a year in Canada are directly affected by wildfire events. That’s a 40 percent increase since 1980. BC tops the national list. And the trend will accelerate, not slow, as climate warms and summers get hotter and dryer. Ottawa expects the annual cost of fire protection to double by 2040.
    Some experts now argue that the former worst-case looks more like a future best-case as human beings pour planet-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than at any time in human history. Fires of once-unimaginable intensity that happened every 20 years now occur every year. And the risks today are greater because wildfire-urban interface areas are vastly larger.
    By mid-May, half a month early, the 2019 fire season was already in full swing. Almost 14,000 fire refugees had already been evacuated from a vast arc through northern BC and Alberta and culminating in northern Ontario.
    Last year, 2018, was the worst on record for wildfires, dislocated populations, secondary health effects—emergency admissions for respiratory ailments doubled in BC as smoke became pervasive—and soaring fire suppression costs. In California, 81 people were dead, 870 were missing and almost 19,000 buildings had been destroyed in four hours. The year before that, 2017, had been the worst until 2018. In 2016, more than 88,000 people were evacuated as wildfire ripped through Fort McMurray in Alberta and destroyed 2,400 buildings. The year before that, 2015, was the worst-ever fire season for the US, representing a 133 percent increase over the long-term 50-year average in wildfire burn.
    No one welcomes a bearer of bad news, but it’s obvious that some version of the fire demon is waiting to visit itself upon Greater Victoria. We can’t prevent wildfire, it’s part of our environment, but we can adapt intelligently. Time to start thinking and talking seriously about that.
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the North, BC and the Island. His byline has appeared in most major Canadian newspapers.

    Briony Penn
    July 2019
    An appeal before the courts should spark debate about whether Trans Mountain is compatible with a stable climate.
     
    AS THE FIRES BURN, storms rage, ice melts, and drought warnings go into effect, a rising tide of climate policy supporters from professional ranks are demanding change. Insurance company CEOs, health professionals, and journalists (like Bill Moyers) are joining scientists and academics to name the threat posed by climate change and continued burning of fossil fuels.
    Retired Vancouver civil litigation lawyer David Gooderham is one of the latest to put his reputation and his freedom on the line. He is one of the 229 arrestees who defied court injunctions to block the gates of the Trans Mountain Pipeline in 2018 and could face jail time. He is hoping to bring a novel concept to the attention of the courts—evidence of the magnitude of the threat of climate change. Gooderham, at 74, spent his career constructing cases from evidence of catastrophic losses involving flooding, fire, structural failures, and such. He discovered that no Canadian court or parliament has ever considered the evidence about whether the emissions from the expansion of oil sands production in Canada are consistent with keeping the warming of the Earth below the internationally-accepted increase of 2°C.
     

    Jennifer Nathan and David Gooderham (Photo by Holly Nathan)
     
    In other words, every large infrastructure project like the Trans Mountain pipeline has been approved without a single inquiry or environmental review considering their implications on the global emission target of the Paris Agreement—or our own national goal of reducing domestic emissions 30 percent by 2030.
    The Ministerial Panel on the Trans Mountain Pipeline of 2016, appointed by the Minister of Natural Resources, found that the question, Can construction of a new Trans Mountain Pipeline be reconciled with Canada’s climate change commitments? had not been answered. The National Energy Board never asked this question. Environment and Climate Change Canada, when tasked with reviewing emissions estimated for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, admitted that the answer was “not clear.” Yet the cabinet still passed an Order in Council in 2016 authorizing the building of the expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline declaring, with no evidence, that it was consistent with our commitments.
    This failure to answer the question has left Canada pursuing a very dangerous course. Even for those whose concern is only around fiscal matters, it leaves us vulnerable to legal challenges or ending up with stranded assets, including the Trans Mountain Pipeline. With the June 18 federal government decision to green-light the pipeline, more of these types of appeals are inevitable. As Jessica Clogg of West Coast Environmental Law stated on the CBC about her reaction to Trudeau’s decision: “We’ll see you in court.”
    Gooderham didn’t arrive lightly at the decision to get himself arrested. He had spent the last six years engaged in lawful political activity to “encourage, persuade and induce the Government of Canada to reconsider its plans.” It was the failure of the political process to examine evidence that pushed him into getting himself arrested. At least in a court of law, where there are rules, expert witnesses, cross examination, and consequences of perjury, Canadians might at last have an opportunity to learn whether the government’s plans to continue expanding oil sands production can possibly be compatible with a world that is in dire need of cooling down.
    But there is a long row to hoe before he gets that particular day in court.
    On December 3, 2018, Gooderham made his first court appearance with co-accused, science teacher Jennifer Nathan. They informed the court, under Judge Affleck, that they wished to use the defence of necessity. This common law defence recognizes that in rare circumstances, we can be excused from criminal liability if we are faced with an “imminent peril” and where the wrong of disobeying the law can be “justified by the pursuit of some greater good.”
    Necessity is one of the few legal remedies available for climate supporters around the world, since it enables a legal exploration of what constitutes “imminent peril” and “greater good.” Encouragingly, across the border, in April of this year, the first favourable decision from a state court in Washington permitted the necessity defense to be raised in a climate protest case called the “valve turner’s case.” The conviction of US citizen Ken Ward, who shut off the oil by turning a valve in a pipeline, was reversed, and he will return to court for a new trial where he is able to bring his evidence and expert witnesses forward.
    Gooderham, like Ward, is arguing for simply that—a fair trial with the right to call evidence on matters of climate science.
    This is where Gooderham’s civil expertise teamed up with Nathan’s training as a science educator to brief an uneducated judiciary on climate science. For the December court hearing, they prepared an Outline of Proposed Evidence that includes projections over the next 12 years based on current policies, where the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will exceed 450 parts per million CO2 equivalent, bequeathing us all to “a dire future”—or in legal terms, “imminent peril.”
    The 119-page report, filed with the Court of Appeal, is persuasive and sets this global expansion within the context of Canada’s failing domestic efforts to meet the Paris Agreement of cutting 200 million tonnes by 2030.
    Their central argument is that the Trans Mountain Pipeline has a pivotal role globally in increasing emissions. Canada’s plan is to continue expanding oil sands production to 2040, but the evidence from the International Energy Association (IEA) and other reports show unequivocally that global oil consumption must start to decline in 2020, or else by 2030 the world will be irreversibly committed to warming above the 2° Celsius limit. Canada is one of the world’s six largest suppliers to the world oil market. Our country’s largest growth in emissions is coming from the oil and gas sector—offsetting most of the reductions in all other parts of the economy.
    The proposed evidence lays out oil sands production and emissions; the technology available to reduce emissions during extraction, and per barrel; proposed carbon capture and storage; political caps on emissions, gas sector emissions, methane emissions, and other additional measures proposed in climate plans. Findings are brought forward from the National Energy Board inquiry, Trans Mountain upstream emission report, IPCC reports, global oil consumption projections, mitigation scenarios, the global emissions gap with Canada’s commitment, and consequences of climate change. It isn’t easy bedtime reading but will likely illuminate “the magnitude of the threat.”
    On January 17, 2019, Judge Affleck predictably rejected their request to call climate evidence at their trial—which was held March 11, and at which they were convicted. The judge has rejected three other applications to put forward a defence of necessity, but Gooderham is the first to appeal.
    In Affleck’s 39-page Reasons for Judgement, he stated: “Despite a historical lack of initiative to curb emissions over these same decades, adaptive social measures may be taken to prevent such a dire outcome. Whether government, private industry, and citizens take these measures is a contingency that takes these consequences outside of ‘virtual certainty’ and into the realm of ‘foreseeable or likely.’”
    For Gooderham, this ruling was gold. It meant that an appeal to the BC Court of Appeal could focus directly on the crucial question. The judge appears to agree that we are on a path of a 2° Celsius rise in temperature, but asserts, with no evidence, that there is “a contingency” and that our imminent peril is not “virtually certain.”
    The contingency, however, according to Gooderham’s evidence, would require unprecedented cuts of emissions on a global scale starting in six months, including an immediate halt to the growth of global oil consumption. The question for the Court of Appeal then would be whether a contingency of that kind has, what is called in legal terms, “an air of reality.” That was enough to act on, and following their conviction, Gooderham and Nathan filed their Notice of Appeal to overturn Affleck’s decision.
    The appeal is due to be heard sometime in the fall by three judges.
    I asked Gooderham what he anticipates as success. “The best possible outcome will be that Justice Affleck’s decision will be overturned, and we can have a retrial where we call our expert witnesses.” The Crown would have the right to call their own expert evidence to try and show there is no imminent climate threat.
    If he is not granted a retrial at the provincial level, then he plans to take it to the Supreme Court of Canada. If he succeeds with a retrial with a suitable set of facts, a defence of necessity would apply. Whatever the final outcome, it will still have been a success for Gooderham “to open the public discourse on a subject that has largely been treated with silence.” If in the best case scenario, a defence of necessity is accepted, Gooderham indicates that it would not trigger “some kind of anarchy.” The most dramatic thing that could happen would be parliament abolishing the ancient common law and thus pushing climate change and the evidence for immediate action back into some messy, but better-informed, public debates—something that should have happened long ago.
    Ironically, just at the same time Gooderham and Nathan brought their case to court in Vancouver, the Federal government found itself obliged to file evidence about climate science in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, where the Government of Saskatchewan has challenged the constitutionality of the Trudeau government carbon-price scheme. The Federal government, in order to defend its carbon tax, has had to provide the court with evidence about the risks of rising carbon emissions, and to persuade the court that it is urgent to reduce Canada’s emissions. The evidence did not, predictably, extend to the prospect of failing to meet the Paris Agreement; that would have been risky to their own climate policy on pipelines. The Saskatchewan court ruled 3-2 that the federal carbon price is constitutional. The case will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
    It appears that suddenly, the issue of climate change has found its way into the courtroom, and that it might be “our last chance to help people grasp the magnitude of the threat”…if it can all happen in the next six months.
    A funding site for the appeal has been launched at www.gofundme.com/help-fund-addressing-climate-change-in-the-courts
    Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative non-fiction books including the prize-winning The Real Thing: the Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, and most recently, Stories from the Magic Canoe with Wa’xaid (Cecil Paul).

    David Broadland
    May 2019
    They’ve been found—all 271 of them.
     
    THERE HAS BEEN A DEVELOPMENT in Focus’ effort to determine why Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins decided to support then-Chief Frank Elsner in the face of credible allegations of sexual harassment brought against him by employees of the Victoria Police Department.
    Let me refresh your memory on what’s at issue: On December 4, 2015, the mayors were asked by reporters if Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner was under investigation. Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps told the reporters, “No. The Board has full confidence in our chief. He’s the best thing to happen to this town and Esquimalt for a long time.”
     

    Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps (l) and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins
     
    Over the next two weeks, however, it emerged that Elsner had been the subject of an internal investigation conducted by the two mayors under their authority as co-chairs of the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board. The allegations against Elsner were eventually investigated by members of the Vancouver Police Department and adjudicated by two retired judges. The entire process was carried out under the authority of Police Complaint Commissioner Stan Lowe, and led to Elsner receiving a lifetime dismissal from policing.
    The details of that decision were contained in a report Lowe released just before the 2018 civic election. As well as detailing the particulars of why Elsner was banned from policing, Lowe excoriated the mayors for mishandling their investigation. Lowe reported that the mayors “had predetermined the outcome of the internal discipline process from the outset, and set about navigating a course to allow the former chief to remain in his post.”
    In an interview with the Times Colonist’s Louise Dickson following release of Lowe’s report, Helps complained it “feels like character assassination…I’m going to have someone look at the report carefully and see if it’s defamatory. It feels defamatory.”
    Perhaps the most serious of the allegations made by Lowe about the mayors—aside from the fact that they had lied to reporters and the public about whether an investigation had even taken place—was his assertion that the mayors had tried to hide from him additional allegations against Elsner of sexual harassment of Victoria Police Department employees.
    Helps and Desjardins denied this. Why, though, would Lowe make such a claim unless he had a step-by-step record of how the mayors had come to their decision that Elsner was “the best thing to happen to this town and Esquimalt for a long time”? Helps had offered that assessment in spite of knowing that sexual harassment allegations against Elsner had not been investigated.
    Focus decided to be the “someone” in Mayor Helps’ publicly expressed desire to “have someone look at the report carefully and see if it’s defamatory.”
    Following Helps’ complaint, Focus filed an FOI for all of the two mayors’ communications with each other during the three-month period of their internal investigation.
    The public has a right to know how elected officials make the decisions they do. This right is enshrined in access to information legislation, and public officials are expected to keep a comprehensive record of how they conduct themselves in the execution of their duties.
    Of course, that’s in the dream world. In the real world, none of that is true.
    In response to our FOI, the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board released a set of records that was suspiciously incomplete. Without any prompting from us for an explanation, the Board’s FOI analyst Collette Thomson informed us, “A limited number of records were accessible due to email retention schedules.”
    By that, she meant the emails between Helps and Desjardins had been deleted; Thomson later conceded that the Victoria Police Board, in fact, had no written “email retention schedules” at all.
    What, then, had happened to the record of the two mayors’ communications as they had worked their way through the Elsner investigation? Had they really been deleted? If so, by whom, and why?
    Naturally, we filed a second FOI. In the City’s response to our second FOI were several emails that had not been provided by the Police Board’s response to our first request. One was from Helps to Desjardins answering an email from Desjardins that had been released to us earlier.
    In that earlier email from Desjardins, she had said, in effect, the new allegations of sexual harassment against Elsner required a new investigation. She suggested they could use the same investigator, Pat Gallivan. The new email showed Helps had responded to Desjardins: “I am happy to have Pat do this. I regret that we have to do this at all.” But “this”—an investigation—never happened.
    Helps’ response to Desjardins made two things evident: First, the City did have emails relevant to the Elsner investigation that the Police Board had told us had been deleted. Secondly, it’s evident that what Helps has said publicly about the second set of allegations against Elsner—that the mayors didn’t pursue these because they did not have a mandate to do so—was not the mayors’ first position. How did it happen, then, that the mayors backed away from acceptance that the new allegations had to be investigated, to later trying to hide the allegations of sexual harassment from Lowe?
    Armed with this email, Focus filed a complaint in early January this year with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner: The Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board and the City of Victoria had either wrongly deleted emails, or had wrongly claimed that emails had been deleted. Our case was assigned to Trevor Presley, a senior investigator with OIPC. Presley took our complaint to the City. About two months later, Presley informed us: “After the City received your complaint, Mr Gordon [the City’s FOI analyst] conducted a second search, including searching for deleted emails. The long and short of it is that he found 271 emails plus 152 pages of attachments which he believes are responsive.”
    Hopefully, in those 271 emails and 152 pages of attachments is the record of how the two mayors moved from accepting that a second investigation was necessary, to denying that any investigation had taken place at all.
    As of the time of this writing, Presley could not say when these records would be released. “Due to the sensitive nature of the emails,” Presley informed us, the Victoria Police Board needed time to examine and redact them. “Although the delay is unfortunate, due to these records just being uncovered, we have to give them time to process them,” Presley informed Focus. “I’m sorry I cannot give you any firm timelines here.”
    Keep in mind that Focus is trying to confirm whether or not Police Commissioner Lowe’s report on how the mayors handled their investigation was accurate or not, a question Helps raised in public. Some might deduce that if there was evidence that Lowe was wrong, it would have been produced by now. That we are now waiting for the Police Board to resurrect emails that had once been deleted might be all that needs to be understood about the truth of the matter.
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.

    Stephen Hume
    May 2019
    How is a metals manufacturing plant in the midst of a fish-bearing estuary even possible?
     
    WINTRY LIGHT SPLINTERED THE HORIZON above the Saanich Peninsula. A flooding tide announced itself. First a faint slurping over mud flats. Then an almost imperceptible jostling of driftwood, a stirring of the sedges and the occasional surge and splash of something off in the early morning twilight—maybe a dog otter hunting the tide line. Maybe that rarity now, a big fish.
    I shrugged deeper into my sweater, watching the lights come on at Cowichan Bay through ghostly breath, warm splashes of buttery yellow along the dark south shore. It was a cold morning reminiscent of those more than half a century ago, when I’d tempt chunky sea-run cutthroat prowling the estuary shallows.
    I never dreamed I’d one day contemplate those teenaged memories through the prism of existential risk. But that’s how I felt, talking last April to gob-smacked scientists about a plan to rezone the heart of the Cowichan estuary for development of a metals manufacturing facility on an old log sort they had naively assumed would be phased out during environmental rehabilitation.
     

    An aerial view of the former lumber loading terminal in the Cowichan estuary for which an application for rezoning to permit metals manufacturing and fabrication is working its way through local government.
     
    What was perturbing—and remains so whatever the outcome (a final decision was expected this spring)—was the process. A rezoning application was filed in 2017 after the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) noted that current use of the site was not in compliance with a land-use bylaw in force for 30 years. In 2018, the provincial government, without doing an environmental impact assessment, advised the CVRD that on the basis of “information provided” regarding the zoning change, the use would have no detrimental environmental impact. Since then, the proposed amendment has advanced through two readings by the CVRD on a tight 5-4 vote. That triggered requirement for a public hearing. One was held March 25. It was contentious. So many concerned citizens showed up that dozens couldn’t get in, which raises questions about the “public” aspect of the hearing.
    How could something so significant for the Cowichan Valley take shape on such a narrow margin of approval by elected officials without authorities concluding right from the outset that an independent, fully objective environmental impact assessment was needed, wondered the scientists with whom I talked.
    The optics—for regional governments; for the Province; for the NDP’s minister of environment; even for the Green Party—seemed remarkably adverse.
    “It’s easy to assume there’s no environmental risk if they don’t look,” said Carol Hartwig, a biologist who lives on the bay. “The regional district defines this so narrowly that they don’t take any responsibility for the broader issue of the estuary. We have a national and provincial treasure that’s being held hostage by a local process.”
     
    THE COWICHAN RIVER IS BRITISH COLUMBIA'S BLUE-RIBBON trout stream. Both a national and a provincial heritage river, it remains a premium experience for elite anglers. A hundred years ago, daily action on the Cowichan appeared in the New York Times. Catches were posted outside posh London clubs. And the river was as renowned for mighty chinook and muscular coho salmon as it was for trout.
    Chinook returns to the Cowichan once numbered more than 25,000. Coho came back by 70,000 or more. Old-timers who had bucktailed for coho and trolled for chinook with spoons hammered from sardine tin lids trailed behind dugout canoes told me that when late summer runs came to the Cowichan, you could hear them. A silvery rustle of jumping, rolling, swirling salmon sliding down the coast, holding in the bay in such vast numbers that one couldn’t look to any point of the compass without seeing a fish in the air.
    The watersheds that feed the Cowichan and its twin, the Koksilah, cover 1,200 square kilometres. The streams tumble seaward through a series of secluded canyons, waterfalls, punchbowls, rapids and the slow, shadowy pools beloved of anglers. Flanking the streams are 20 kilometres of trails. The two rivers have become marquee destinations for hikers, white-water kayakers, campers, picnickers and the tubers who gather by the thousands on sunny summer weekends to drift calm sections.
    At Cowichan Bay, the two rivers meander through the most important estuary on Vancouver Island’s southeast coast. Ducks Unlimited ranks it as one of BC’s most important. The BC Nature Trust classes it as having international significance for migratory birds. Indeed, although estuaries like Cowichan Bay comprise only 2.3 percent of BC’s coastline, they sustain 80 percent of the province’s wildlife.
    For thousands of years before European settlers arrived in 1862, the estuary—the name Cowichan is an anglicized attempt at the Halkomelem word which means land warmed by the sun—served as a feast bowl for the powerful tribes occupying seven traditional village sites.
    But, like many of these critical habitats, the estuary has been abused, brutalized and heedlessly exploited since the first European settlers came to pillage it without regard for the people already living there. Indigenous resource rights were alienated as early as 1889 when fish weirs used for in-river selective harvesting were banned under a federal Fisheries Act amendment that effectively transferred the fishery to settlers.
    The estuary has since been diked, ditched, the rivers used as sewers, the floodplain carved up into farm fields, paved over, built upon, the bay dredged, riddled with pilings coated in toxic creosote, its foreshore chewed up by log booms, the bottom littered with oxygen-sucking bark debris.
    Upstream, householders stripped riparian cover to improve their views, and loggers cleared headwaters, accelerating freshets and increasing erosion and downstream flooding.
    A pulp mill sucks 150 million litres a day from the river—its license permits it to draw down 240 million litres a day. Municipalities draw millions of cubic metres from the watershed for drinking, sewerage, commercial and agricultural use and, in return, generate nearly 50 million litres of wastewater a day. Up to now, treated effluent has been discharged into the river.
    Even seemingly benign tourists pose a threat. Last summer, concerns arose over the impact upon the aquatic insects and micro-organisms on which juvenile trout and salmon rely of sunscreen slathered on by sun-safe tubers.
    And yet, for all the ravaging, serious work has been done to remediate. An enlightened pulp mill cooperates with community watershed planners to sustain migrating fish. Fisheries specialists worked tirelessly to restore salmon runs. Guides used buckets to rescue salmon fry stranded in summer side pools. Plans are afoot for an outfall that will no longer discharge treated wastewater into the river, but into the deeps of Satellite Channel which separates Salt Spring and Vancouver Islands.
    Then, in one of those mind-boggling disconnects by which politicians recite environmental platitudes while embracing policies that appear to say the opposite, the Cowichan Valley Regional District moved ahead this spring with plans to rezone the former log-loading dump in the middle of the beleaguered estuary for redevelopment as an industrial metals manufacturing and fabricating facility.
     
    THE NEW PLAN WAS POPULAR WITH JOBS ENTHUSIASTS. Supporters for re-zoning the site showed up at a public hearing on March 12 flaunting fluorescent safety vests. Perhaps that was just tone-deaf solidarity but it’s difficult not to feel resonance with the Yellow Vests adopted by a resurgent populist right wing that takes a strident anti-environmental stance. In any event, industry supporters promptly stereotyped the opposition as NIMBY elitists.
    Critics of the plan, some of whom have lived on Cowichan Bay for more than 40 years, found themselves characterized as whiney, job-killing newcomers who built houses and then complained about the working harbour in their view.
    But others, particularly life scientists, were appalled, not so much by the proposal—anybody has a right to propose anything—as by the process. They complained that regional politicians appeared to be fast-tracking development without requiring an independent environmental assessment, something critics argued was both essential and required by the Province’s own policy.
    The historic relationship between industry and the environment in BC’s estuaries has not been exemplary. The Georgia Strait Alliance, an environmental organization focused on the Salish Sea, estimates half the Cowichan estuary has already been lost. The BC government itself observes that all estuaries in the province remain highly vulnerable. “Every estuary wetland vegetation type in British Columbia is red-listed (endangered) or blue-listed (special concern),” the government says in its own backgrounder. “Naturally rare and subject to multiple threats in both urban and wilderness areas, these tiny jewels in British Columbia’s coastline will require both protection and stewardship if they are to last.”
    Which raises a profound question. If this is true, why would the Province not insist from the outset that any proposal to change land use to allow expanded industrial development in an internationally significant estuary undergo a comprehensive environmental risk assessment?
    Among those expressing dismay at official assumptions that developing a metals fabrication site in the middle of a sensitive estuary would have no significant environmental impact were iconic names from British Columbia’s fish and wildlife management.
    Ray Demarchi, who retired as BC’s chief of wildlife after a stellar 28-year career, has lived on Cowichan Bay for more than 20 years. He suggested the process represented small-minded, small-town thinking, and an inability to conceptualize in the larger environmental picture.
    “Incredibly,” Demarchi said, “the Cowichan Valley Regional District accepted the assumption that changing the zoning from one that permitted lumber storage and shipping to one that included heavy metal manufacturing and assembly was not a significant change in land use.” He noted, “The Cowichan Valley is deeply divided on this issue. Past environmental battles, including the contaminated soils site at Shawnigan and the proposed dismantling of the Hood Canal bridge in Cowichan Bay, have eroded the faith of the public in government, and particularly those charged with the stewardship of the estuary.”
    Those were harsh words for an NDP government which, in opposition, railed against the then-Liberal government’s apparent ambivalence to complaints about the contentious Shawnigan landfill, and for the Green Party, whose Cowichan MLA Sonia Furstenau made zoning and environmental assessment key issues while campaigning against the landfill as a regional director with the CVRD.
    The process shot fault lines through municipal government itself. The community of North Cowichan, one of more than 20 in the regional district, passed motions in early March demanding a fully independent environmental assessment of the rezoning proposal before any final decision.
    Also calling for an assessment were a former president of the BC Wildlife Federation, the Cowichan Valley Naturalist’s Society, a retired BC assistant deputy minister of environment who just happened to be the Province’s former specialist in Pacific estuaries, and even David Anderson, the highly-esteemed former federal fisheries and environment minister.
    Anderson’s signature topped those of 16 scientists who wrote to Premier John Horgan in early April with a warning: approving the rezoning without first doing a full environmental assessment basically trashed the Province’s vigorously-promoted support for salvaging chinook abundance, and the southern resident orcas that eat them.
    “If we do not seize this opportunity to protect the estuary from increasing industrialization, then a critical moment for the future of chinook and orcas will be lost,” Anderson and the others warned. “And this could mean that the $228.5 million that the Canadian Federal Government has allocated for orcas and much of the $145 million now promised by the Province for salmon recovery will be wasted. In addition, it jeopardizes the $1.1 billion being targeted for orcas by Washington State. Large programs begin with difficult local choices.”
    And the citizen experts went further: The government’s own rationale for going forward without a full formal environmental assessment was “so inadequate and contradictory that it is clearly meaningless and insufficient to provide any direction or to establish whether or not there are ‘detrimental impacts.’”
    They told Horgan that contrary to how their opposition was characterized, they were not opposed to industrial metal manufacturing in the Cowichan Valley. They were opposed to the proposed location. And they argued two similar operations were already operating at a fully serviced site that was more compatible and secure for long-term industrial jobs. “Estuaries are irreplaceable,” they told Horgan. “Industrial jobs can be relocated. In short, the rezoning application must be disallowed.”
    Geoffrey Chislett, a respected former BC fisheries habitat biologist, in a letter to environment minister George Heyman in early February, criticized government for sloughing off a nettlesome issue by declaring it a local concern. “A large effort is being made through the Wild Salmon Advisory Council to try to turn the past trajectory of provincial concern for salmon around,” Chislett said. “A metal fabrication and assembly plant in this estuary will not help this. A huge amount of work has gone into rehabilitating the Cowichan to the point where chinook returns are back to sustainable levels. Regardless of assurances, this operation will degrade the estuarine habitat over time.”
    Chislett’s fears were echoed by Bob Hooton, a former provincial fisheries biologist with an international reputation as a steelhead specialist. “We have a proposal to rezone Cowichan terminal into a marine metal manufacturing centre in the middle of an estuary that can do nothing but harm to some of the most important salmon-bearing habitat we have in the only major chinook producer still on its feet,” Hooton said. “What sense does that make?”
    To make things worse, Hooton observes, Cowichan River chinook are particularly important to southern resident orcas because, unlike chinook from other rivers, they tend to stay in the Salish Sea during their ocean life rather than migrating to the west coast of Vancouver Island or into the Gulf of Alaska. “They are a potentially important contributor to orcas’ conservation and recovery.”
    Elders from the powerful Cowichan Tribes once told me that the tides “set the table” in Cowichan Bay and its estuary, providing an astonishing abundance of shellfish, crabs, herring, salmon, ducks, geese, wild fruit and edible plants.
    Today, the shellfish are contaminated—although there’s been a local goal to restore harvests—and the once-teeming salmon runs are such a faint memory that when heroic efforts to reverse salmon declines saw 8,000 chinook return, there was practically dancing in the streets.
    But it’s the shellfish and their potential contamination with metals that topped concerns for Hartwig, the retired biologist who lives on the bay. She worried that the proposed operation would create potential for metal contaminants to wash into the estuary.
    “Metal manufacturing can involve toxic materials like solvents, paints and welding slag among the obvious metals such as lead, aluminum and zinc,” Hartwig said. In fact, research now shows that copper oxide particles so small that 100,000 would fit on a human hair are damaging to aquatic insects and immature trout.
    She said runoff during more frequent extreme rainfall events, a predicted consequence of climate change, and flooding caused by more frequent storm surges during a period of sea level rise, another predicted consequence of global warming, are possible vectors for metal contaminants to enter the estuary. That alone, she said, would likely end the dream of a return to shellfish harvesting in Cowichan Bay by 2020. Federal standards governing metals contamination of shellfish are stringent and would mean any restoration plan would likely be dead before completion, she said. “As long as there is metal fabrication in the bay, we will never be able to harvest shellfish.”
    Her worries find support in a 2013 study by James Meador of the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle, which examined whether contaminants, including metals, affected juvenile chinook salmon. Meador found that the survival rate of juvenile chinook transiting contaminated estuaries was cut in half, compared with chinook moving through uncontaminated estuaries.
     
    AS I CONTEMPLATED ALL THIS, I walked through the village of Cowichan Bay which, as resource industries declined, reinvented itself as a thriving tourist destination. Like an east-coast Tofino, it offers kayaking, bird-watching, whale-watching, angling, artisan shops, a nature centre dedicated to the estuary, art galleries, quirky diners and high-end restaurants, a wooden boat museum, waterfront accommodation overlooking slips and float houses, and easy access to nature.
    I visited the Rock Cod Café, then took a croissant from True Grain Bread out on the Maritime Centre boardwalk and watched a wooden sailing dinghy extricate itself from a cramped moorage below.
    Cowichan Bay is representative of how the regional district markets the Cowichan Valley to the 4.4 million tourists who spent $1.7 billion on Vancouver Island in 2014, a whopping 63 percent of whom ranked sightseeing, nature and wildlife viewing as their primary interest. Another 40 percent came to visit national and provincial parks. And 15 percent came to fish.
    Statistics Canada found that marine manufacturing and service represented 2,500 jobs in the Pacific region in 2006. Tourism sustains 20,000 jobs on Vancouver Island, and has generated $135 billion in revenue since 2006.
    The cranes and sheds that local jobs enthusiasts wanted to expand into a metal fabricating and manufacturing site sit precisely 650 metres off Cowichan Bay village.
    How would that reconcile with the tourist pitch of “a place where people live in harmony with their natural environment” where “fish and wildlife thrive in a mosaic of natural habitat and breathtaking views are found around every corner?”
    Breathtaking views, indeed. In someone’s imagination, perhaps, tourists might throng to Cowichan Bay to share coffee and a croissant at dockside while thrilling at the view of cranes and heavy industry. My bet is that the music of welders and the smell of paint wouldn’t be high on the “Let’s come back for more of that!” list.
    Stephen Hume spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. His byline has appeared in most major Canadian newspapers. The author of nine books of poetry, natural history, history and literary essays, he lives on the Saanich Peninsula.

    Ross Crockford
    May 2019
    Is recycling enough, or should we ban some plastics completely?
     
    YOU DON’T HAVE TO LOOK HARD, but you do have to look. To the dog walkers and strolling families, Willows Beach appears pristine. Start hunting for garbage, though, and you’ll find lots of it in a few minutes. Drink-box straws, candy wrappers, globs of styrofoam, cling wrap, bits of broken toys, zip ties — all plastic, tangled in the wood and seaweed left at high tide.
    “For many people, plastic is just a matter of convenience,” Anastasia Castro tells me, gathering bits from the sand. “They don’t see the real impact it has.” 
     

    Teen anti-plastic activists Charlotte Brady and Anastasia Castro (Photo by Ross Crockford)
     
    Castro, a Grade 11 student at Glenlyon Norfolk School, is angry about the trashed state of the planet. So she’s been doing something about it. With her classmate Charlotte Brady, she spent two years speaking with City of Victoria staff and Downtown businesses, urging them to accept a ban on plastic checkout bags, which finally became enshrined in the City’s newsmaking 2018 bylaw. (Speaking to Victoria’s Council, she said: “It is not your world you are ruining, it is ours — the generations of the future who have to live in the mess you left behind.”) Last December, Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns credited Castro in the House of Commons for driving his private member’s motion M-151, calling for a national strategy against plastic pollution, which passed unanimously. “Due to the hard work of incredibly dedicated Canadians like Anastasia,” Johns told MPs, “the crisis of marine plastic pollution has reached the national stage.”
    That crisis certainly has become more apparent. The photo of the Costa Rica sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose. The reports of whales found dead in Indonesia and Italy with kilos of plastic in their guts. The horrifying statistics, that we humans spill eight million metric tonnes of plastic into the seas every year, and at that rate, by 2050 there’ll be more plastic in the oceans than fish. 
    But as Castro and Brady point out, the problem isn’t only on the other side of the world. 
    The largest accumulation of plastic debris on the planet, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — the subject of a new exhibit at the Maritime Museum of BC — consisting of some three trillion pieces of trash, swirls off our coast, halfway between California and Hawaii. In one day last October, volunteers led by the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation removed more than 300 kilos of garbage from 10 Victoria beaches. 
    Even more debris in our waters consists of invisible microplastics, less than 5 mm in size, the product of household laundry and storm-drain runoff. Last year, Vancouver Aquarium scientists found 1,258 particles of plastic in one cubic metre of seawater taken from Burrard Inlet. Some of the same scientists have also found that plastic fibres are being ingested by zooplankton in the northeast Pacific — meaning they are likely being eaten by shellfish, crustaceans, salmon, and ultimately by ourselves, along with any toxic compounds that have bonded to the plastic.
    Governments are starting to act. The European Union has declared that single-use plastic cutlery, plates, straws and containers will be outlawed in all member states by 2021. Vancouver is scheduled to ban styrofoam cups and takeout containers, along with straws and plastic cutlery, starting in 2020. Prince Edward Island’s province-wide ban on plastic bags, the first in Canada, goes into effect on July 1. In other words, Victoria’s bag bylaw, likely soon to be replicated in other capital-region municipalities including Saanich, Esquimalt, Colwood and Sooke, is just the beginning.
    “We can’t let everyone believe that recycling is the be-all and end-all, and that if we ban plastic bags, we’ve done enough,” Charlotte Brady tells me. “Instead the conversation should be, ‘OK, we’ve taken this great first step. Now we need to go farther.’”

     
    AFTER YOU PUT AND EMPTY YOGURT TUB IN A BLUE BOX, it gets picked up by a private waste-removal company and delivered to Cascades Recovery’s busy facility in Rock Bay. Trucks arrive from across the region, dumping glass, paper, cardboard, metals and plastics at different bays of the Cascades warehouse. Workers separate plastics from metals, Bobcat loaders push the plastics onto a conveyor belt, and they drop into a machine that packs them into freezer-sized bales, wrapped with wire. Then semi-trailer trucks take the materials off-Island. The facility handles 4,000 metric tonnes of material a month this way.
     

    Your household plastics, baled at Cascades Recovery (Photo by Ross Crockford)
     
    The Capital Regional District started its blue-box program in 1989. The Cascades facility is older; for many decades it produced corrugated cardboard for Crown Packaging. Doug Stevens, the plant manager, recalls that it once had a machine that turned scrap paper into felt backing for shingles made at the Sidney Roofing plant on the Songhees lands. “Recycling’s been around a long time,” he notes.
    It keeps changing, though. Cascades takes materials from businesses, but those volumes have been declining, while residential is increasing: Victorians are buying more stuff, and it comes with more packaging. A few years ago Cascades added an oven that melts and condenses styrofoam (collected from recycling depots) to a tenth its original size, for reuse in crown mouldings and picture frames. Lately there’s been greater concern about “contamination,” which is why you should wash your containers (leftover food attracts rats), and have to separate glass (broken glass is hard to remove from other materials). Victorians are good about this: contamination rates are only three percent in the CRD, versus 26 percent in Toronto. Materials have to be clean and dry to resell, says Stevens. “It’s not garbage, it’s recycling. If you want it to be recycled, you have to treat it differently.”
    The crisis of marine plastic has emerged alongside a crisis in the recycling industry. Until recently, 70 percent of US scrap plastic went to China. But reportedly after Xi Jinping saw the documentary Plastic China, about the poisoned living conditions of scrap recyclers, China implemented its “National Sword” policy in 2018, refusing any materials with more than 0.5 percent contamination. With few local facilities to recycle their scrap, some US cites have resorted to landfilling plastics, or burning them.
    We’re in a better position. In 1994, BC introduced its first Extended Producer Responsibility(EPR) program, under which producers and consumers paid extra eco-fees for the collection and safe disposal of leftover paint. Today BC has 22 such programs, for everything from appliances to tires. (In comparison, 16 US states have no EPR programs at all.) The EPR for paper and packaging is overseen by the non-profit agency RecycleBC, which collects per-weight fees from the 1,100 BC companies producing or importing such materials. RecycleBC then pays municipalities, regions, or waste companies to collect the scrap, sorters like Cascades bale it, and RecycleBC sells the scrap to processors. RecycleBC’s 2017 annual report says BC companies generated 234,847 tonnes of paper and packaging and paid $86 million in fees; those fees were then paid to recycling programs (like the CRD’s) that collected 174,942 tonnes, for an overall “recovery rate” of 75 percent.
    RecycleBC says the glass in your blue box gets melted into new jars and bottles in Abbotsford, or turned into sandblasting grit in Quesnel. Metal containers are sold to various North American processors and turned into road signs and window frames. Mixed paper becomes boxes and egg cartons in South Korea. But all of our blue-boxed plastic goes to one company, Merlin Plastics, and its two 180,000-square-foot recycling facilities, in Delta and New Westminster.
    “We’ve been around for 30 years, and every year, we’re expanding,” Merlin GM Kevin Andrews tells me. Merlin’s currently adding a mixed-plastics sorting line that will boost its annual capacity by 14,000 tonnes, to help handle the increasing volumes it’s getting from panicked recycling programs in Washington State and Oregon. Last year, when China’s restrictions came into effect, Canada became the second-biggest importer of US scrap plastic, after Malaysia. Since then, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and India have announced limits on scrap-plastic imports, due to complaints about pollution at recycling facilities, and Canada — thanks partly to Merlin — looks set to take first place.
    Merlin sorts various types of consumer plastics — polyethylene terephthalate (#1 or PET) used in pop bottles, high-density polyethylene (#2 or HDPE) in shampoo bottles, low-density polyethylene (#4 or LDPE) in plastic bags, or polypropylene (#5 or PP) in yogurt tubs — and processes them into pellets or “nurdles” that it sells worldwide, to be melted into new products. Andrews won’t say how much Merlin processes annually, but he assures us the company does its best to see the plastic is reused for similar purposes, instead of “downcycled” into lower-grade products. “To put a bottle to a bottle is not always easy, because you have to meet many different requirements. But you can put it into packaging that is maybe not a food item,” he says. “If it’s being reused in something that would’ve been made with virgin [plastic], there’s no downcycling.”
    RecycleBC has also started taking various soft plastics (cling wrap, mesh bags) and “laminates” (standup pouches, chip bags), collected from depots like those at Hartland and London Drugs. This is for a research project, to see if Merlin can recycle such flexible packaging; if it can’t, the plastic will be converted into “engineered fuel.” (Plastic can be melted and vaporized into gases that are condensed into synthetic crude oil.) RecycleBC reported that 4,647 tonnes of material was turned into fuel in 2017, but Andrews won’t say if Merlin’s conducting that work: “I can’t tell you whether we are or whether we aren’t.”

     
    BC DOES HAVE ENVIABLE EPR AND RECYCLING SYSTEMS, but they still suffer a lot of leakage, judging by what’s showing up on our beaches. RecycleBC posted a 75 percent “recovery rate” for paper and packaging in 2017, but dig deep into its proposed five-year plan and it turns out the rate varied greatly depending on the material: 87 percent of paper was collected and accounted for, but only 50 percent of rigid plastic and just 20 percent of flexible plastic.

    We have similar challenges keeping track of plastic bottles. Encorp Pacific, the agency that manages our beverage-container recycling, reports that BC residents bought 1,349,149,437 beverage containers in 2017, and collected 1,023,306,039. That amounts to a recovery rate of 75.8 percent — but means 325 million containers went missing that year in BC alone, despite the deposits paid on them. Some went into recycling, some into landfills, and some into the environment. In the 2017 Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, run by the World Wildlife Fund and Ocean Wise, the third-most common item collected by volunteers from Canadian beaches, after miscellaneous bits of plastic and cigarette butts, was plastic bottles, more than 50,000 of them. Plastic bags, 22,724 of them, came seventh.
    The solution for bottles seems simple: increase the deposits. Encorp asks for only five cents for small non-alcoholic beverage containers, a rate that hasn’t changed for decades. Alberta increased the deposit to 10 cents and now has a return rate of 86 percent; Oregon did the same and gets 90 percent returned. During recent public consultations, environmentalists asked Encorp for higher deposits, but the agency replied: “We do not feel such a drastic action is warranted.” 
    Deposits work best for durable items like bottles that are relatively easy to count and collect, though. Creating a similar system would be nearly impossible for other varieties of packaging and single-use plastics.
    Plastics are miraculous compounds. Modern medical technology, aircraft, automobiles, and sporting goods would be impossible without them, the plastics industry points out, and even lowly plastic packaging reduces food waste, maintains hygiene, and saves energy in shipping. The American Chemistry Council estimates that the environmental costs would be five times greater if soft drinks, for example, were shipped in glass or metal instead of plastic. But the industry knows we have a problem. 
    Last June, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, which represents some 2,600 companies, announced that its members have pledged to meet a new “aspirational goal” to have 100 percent of plastic packaging re-used, recycled or recovered by 2040. Achieving this “will require significant investment” in new infrastructure and packaging design, the CPIA said — and “success will also require widespread public participation in recycling and recovery programs along with changes to littering behaviour.” In other words, the industry says, we need better packaging, better waste management by governments, and better citizens. 
    (The industry has its own “littering behaviour,” it turns out. On beaches around the world, people have been finding the lentil-sized nurdles used by plastic fabricators. UVic librarians David Boudinot and Daniel Brendle-Moczuk have found and mapped nurdles at 68 sites along the Strait of Georgia, including Willows Beach, possibly spilled by one of the two-dozen companies using nurdles on the Lower Mainland. “We’re hot on the trail of the source,” Boudinot says.)
     

    High-tide trash on Willows Beach, including lentil-sized nurdles, the raw ingredient of many plastic products (Photo by David Boudinot)
     
    The industry says the search for better packaging is already underway. Multinationals such as Danone, PepsiCo and Unilever have joined The New Plastics Economy, an initiative led by the UK-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, calling for global packaging standards and funding for “moon shot” innovations, such as the development of “bio-benign” plastics and “reversible adhesives based on biomimicry” to make laminated plastics easier to recycle. Some of the same companies are also including their products in tests of the new Loop packaging system, in which consumers pay deposits on durable containers (for, say, Häagen-Dazs ice cream) and return them via a door-to-door delivery network; Loop is scheduled to roll out any day now in New York and Paris, and later this year in Toronto.
    A skeptic can’t help wondering, though, if many companies are signing on to such initiatives simply to buy time. Natural gas, the feedstock for many plastics, is still abundant and cheap, and virgin plastic is often less expensive than recycled. Deposit systems like Loop seem too inconvenient for most people, compared to the buy-and-dispose (or -recycle) economy in place. And the consumer-products and packaging industries are so vast and varied that they’re impossible to effectively self-regulate — as proven by the current wave of so-called “biodegradable” plastics that can be neither composted nor recycled.
    “There is a strong drive for business as usual, with small tweaks,” says Susan Maxwell, a recycling consultant and former Whistler councillor who’s developed several of BC’s EPR programs. As she notes, disposable plastics are a product of inexpensive oil and gas, and the incentives our economy gives to use more of them; we need to rejig the economy so that it’s not supporting industries that largely rely on taxpayers to clean up the aftereffects of their business. 
    That means stronger laws. As Maxwell points out, BC’s Recycling Regulation, the law that governs EPR schemes like RecycleBC and Encorp, only mandates that the agencies post a minimum 75 percent “recovery” or collection rate — there is no requirement for them to achieve a target for reuse or recycling of their products. I asked RecycleBC several times what percentage of “recovered” plastic actually gets recycled, and they didn’t respond. The federal ministry of environment says that only about 11 percent of all plastic in Canada gets recycled. 
    Maxwell thinks the laws need to be stronger upstream, with greater oversight of what kinds of plastics get produced in the first place, and outright bans on those that are too difficult to recycle or likely to leak into the environment. “We shouldn’t be putting things out in the world, and then trying to figure out afterwards what we’re going to do with them,” she says. “We really need to turn off the tap. We can’t be trying to sieve the ocean for plastics.”

     
    ONE QUESTION ANASTASIA CASTRO got asked while campaigning against plastic bags is the same one Canadian libertarians ask about climate change: Why do we have to do anything about it? A 2017 study estimated that 90 percent of the plastic in the oceans comes from 10 rivers in Asia and Africa; banning plastic bags in Victoria, the libertarians argue, or even across Canada, won’t have any effect at all. 
    Castro answers with a question of her own: “How can we ask these countries to change if we’re not willing to make the simplest changes ourselves?” After all, North America created disposable culture, and we’re exporting it — literally, in some cases, along with our waste. As she points out, 103 shipping containers filled with Canadian garbage marked as recyclables have been sitting in The Philippines since 2014, and Greenpeace reported in January that Canadian plastic has turned up in unregulated recycling sites in Malaysia.
    Besides, other nations are doing something. So far, 63 countries have banned plastic bags outright, including China, India, and Kenya, which imposes penalties of up to four years’ imprisonment and $40,000 in fines for producing or distributing bags. (The bans work: San Jose, California, reported 89 percent fewer bags in its storm-drain system a year after it instituted a ban, and marine scientists recorded a 30 to 40 percent reduction in plastic bags in the North Sea after bans came into effect in countries along its shores.) The EU’s forthcoming ban on single-use straws, cutlery, and dishware is already being duplicated in several countries dependent on beach tourism, such as Barbados and Jamaica.
    We may have to wait a long time to see similar nationwide measures in Canada, though. Gord Johns’ unanimously-approved motion for a national strategy against plastic pollution now has to go through parliamentary committees; fellow NDP MP Nathan Cullen has introduced his own bill, prohibiting any packaging that can’t be composted or recycled, but it’s unlikely to pass before October’s federal election. Federal environment minister Catherine McKenna recently told the CBC that a national plastics strategy is coming in June — but stopped short of committing to any bans. “It’s not just about banning,” she said. “I think we need to focus more on the circular economy” — in other words, better package design and recycling, in line with the direction of Canada’s $24.3-billion plastics industry. 
    That’s nothing new. Last September, McKenna got most G7 countries — plus Dow, Unilever, Walmart and other multinationals — to sign an Ocean Plastics Charter, pledging to “recover 100 percent of all plastics by 2040.” (Sound familiar?) McKenna and provincial environment ministers also signed a similar Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste in November — both voluntary declarations, with distant timelines and no budgets or plans for enforcement. “Minister McKenna has been silent on the important role that bans play in tackling plastic waste reduction across Canada,” Greenpeace Canada said in a statement. “We need real leadership from Canada like we’re seeing in other parts of the world, such as Europe, and this isn’t it.”

     
    OUR PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT hasn’t shown much leadership either. At last September’s conference of the Union of BC Municipalities, members endorsed two resolutions calling for uniform regulations on plastic packaging, and a province-wide strategy to reduce single-use plastics. The ministry of environment responded, in both cases, by citing its pride in the province’s 22 EPR programs, and said it was focused on improving and expanding them instead. “The ministry commends the actions taken by local governments to develop single-use item strategies and other related initiatives to reduce plastic in the environment.” 
    FOCUS also asked BC’s ministry of environment several direct questions about plastic pollution. The ministry told us it is “considering” increasing the deposits on beverage containers to increase the numbers of them that get recycled, but is not planning to mandate recycled content in new plastic containers, like California does, or introduce a province-wide ban on plastic bags, like the one coming in PEI. (Our questions and the ministry’s complete responses are posted HERE.)
    Consequently, any tough measures have been left up to municipalities themselves. July 1 marks the first year since the City of Victoria’s checkout bag bylaw came into effect, and Fraser Work, the City’s director of engineering, says it’s achieved nearly 100 percent compliance. “We’ve resoundingly heard a lot of positive feedback,” he says, crediting the City’s careful, two-year consultation with retailers. (Obviously, the ban doesn’t have friends at the Canadian Plastic Bag Assocation. The industry group lost its case in BC Supreme Court, claiming the bylaw is an environmental regulation and thus a matter of provincial jurisdiction, but its appeal will be heard in Vancouver on May 15.)
    Now the Victoria is preparing a ban on single-use cups and containers, as identified by the City Council in its latest strategic plan. Work admits crafting this bylaw will be more challenging, because getting customers to bring their own reusable containers also has to fit with the province’s FoodSafe guidelines. (The ministry of health told me that “Under the Food Safety Act,  restaurants and supermarkets are responsible for ensuring that their food is safe for consumers and they must not sell any item that is contaminated. At this time, it is up to operators determine if they will allow customers to use personal containers, weighing that decision with their responsibility of ensuring the food is safe for consumption from the restaurant/store to the customer’s home.”) But some retailers are already on board, judging by the numbers of customers one sees with refillable mugs in independent coffee shops, and the popularity of downtown’s Zero Waste Emporium, where you can fill your own containers with everything from milk to shampoo. Last month, the Quebec-based supermarket chain Metro said it will let customers use their own reusable containers for meat, seafood, and pastries in 131 of its stores, so the trend may be even bigger than we think.
    All these changes are part of the larger movement toward “zero waste,” placing a higher priority on reducing or reusing plastic packaging, instead of recycling or landfilling it. More discussion about it is coming soon: the CRD is currently developing a new solid-waste management plan, which includes the blue-box program, and will be putting it out for public consultation this autumn. The debates about what the plan should (and should not) include will be interesting to watch. 
    But we shouldn’t be afraid of changing it. As Charlotte Brady reminds me, back on Willows Beach: “We’re a coastal city. We see the effects before others. We have to do something about plastic pollution when our people, our culture and our economy rely so heavily upon the ocean.”
    Ross Crockford recently bought a Guppyfriend™ laundry bag, in the hope it will capture microfibres from his many fleece jackets.

    Leslie Campbell
    May 2019
    The demise of the Humboldt “Innovation Tree” leads a citizen to investigate the City’s decision-making.
     
    WHEN I HEARD THAT SOMEONE had filed an FOI request with the City of Victoria around the January removal of the Humboldt “Innovation Tree,” I was curious. Not so much about the tree, as about her. I thought her action might be a great example of citizenry—of demanding transparency and holding power to account. And, as it turns out, I was right.
    Over coffee in a James Bay café, Mariann Burka tells me that when she first heard about plans to remove the tree as part of the new cycling network improvements, she immediately contacted City of Victoria staff and council members to obtain more information and see if an alternative was possible. And she asked for a moratorium on its removal. She says, “I was provided with standard responses,” taking the form of reassurances that other options had been looked at to fix the intersection at Humboldt and Government, but “operational needs” necessitated its removal.
    But something didn’t ring true for Burka. And that Humboldt Tree had special meaning for her. Though she’s now retired from the provincial government, where she worked in senior positions (including acting as assistant deputy minister a couple of times), her last years at work were spent in the Belmont building in an office that looked out on the tree. She also confides that after the tree was celebrated as the City’s Innovation Tree and bedecked with sound-triggered lights, she and her partner would stop on their walk home and clap hands or sing to make the lights change colour. “There were always other residents or tourists who would join us,” Burka tells me. It was a welcoming presence for all: “I remember those moments of communal delight and joy.”
    As Burka witnessed the Humboldt tree being removed on January 28, someone said, “Well, that’s that.” But she thought, “No, I am not letting this go.” That same day, she filed her FOI with the City, asking for “all design options considered for changes to the intersection at Government and Humboldt; and what specific operational needs could not be met without removal of this specific tree and why.”
    She received the City’s response on March 22 (yes, it often takes that long).
    So what was in that 37-page file?
    Not very much. As Burka notes, “The drawings in the FOI appear to still show the tree…they are hard to interpret…I saw no evidence of any serious attempt to explore alternatives or to identify or evaluate alternatives in any systematic way.” 
    The closest the records come to showing any design options are rough “scratch notes” supplied by Transportation Planning and Development Manager Sarah Webb, who explains: “The team meetings and notes from October and November 2017 (sent in the scan) indicate general comparisons of the two options, but the option of the full re-design of the intersection was preferred as an overall solution and was pursued through detailed design.” There’s also an agenda for an October 25, 2017 meeting which allots all of 10 minutes to cover 3 items, including “Government/Humboldt/Wharf—full intersection as preferred.”
     

    The only record provided by the City to support its contention that it had “explored a number of alternative designs” were two pages of a staff member’s notebook.
     
    In other words, the tree was bumped out of the picture in 2017 without, apparently, a lot of thought. Council approved the “60 percent design” at a meeting in May 2018—without making a peep about the missing tree. The general public seemed to be out of the loop entirely about the fate of the healthy 40-year-old birch until January 2019.
    Once that 10-day tree removal notice went up, however, things got heated. There were media articles, letters-to-editors, and a petition to save the tree that garnered 1,200 signatures within a few days. The FOI response shows that Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe wrote to staff on January 18 of this year, stating: “I am not supportive of the removal of the tree on Government. Is there anything that can be done to save it?” 
    Director of Engineering and Public Works Fraser Work responded to her, copying other councillors, saying, “The design requires the removal of this tree…We tried very hard to keep the central intersection tree, but had to compromise in order to design a safe intersection, that is affordable, and effective at serving the vehicle and pedestrian volumes, with a new cycle track.” 
    When questioned, staff rely on boilerplate, non-explanatory statements that the tree had to go. As Burka put it in a draft report she shared, “The FOI material reveals that the City relies on undefined, vague and, at times, changing criteria of ‘operational requirements.’”
    Sarah Webb, in responding to the FOI, lists constraints and considerations, but as Burka notes: “In none of the documents provided is there any explanation or description of these ‘constraints/factors,’ whether they represent operational requirements, how or why they might be essential to the project, or any exploration of how these factors could be achieved in different ways.”
    And, she points out, there is no consideration of the value of a mature tree. Research shows they provide ecosystem services like water filtration, cooling shade, and carbon sequestration. They contribute to our health by absorbing such pollutants as nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone; they even filter particulates out of the air. Recent research makes clear that the older a tree is, the better it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere.
    The staff of the City’s Parks department oversee all the trees on City property. The FOI records suggest their involvement was limited, but that they were fully supportive of the Humboldt tree’s removal.
     
    ANOTHER PROBLEM THAT HAD LEPT OUT at Burka in the FOI response, related to public consultation. The tree’s removal notice certainly seemed to surprise not just citizens, but some council members as well. According to Webb, “Both designs were shown to the public through consultation material in Fall 2017, with the preferred option articulated.” Those materials were not included in the FOI response, but Burka found reports about (and graphics used in) the engagement process on the City’s website.
    She notes, “Despite the City’s public assurances of detailed consultations over the past two years, there is no evidence that explicit information about tree removal (and alternatives) formed a significant component of consultations concerning the intersection.” Early engagement activities were limited to nearby businesses, service providers, and residents (very few of the latter). “Preserving mature trees and maintaining the urban tree canopy is a matter of broad public interest for all of Victoria, not just those who live and work in an area where a specific tree is targeted for removal,” Burka points out. Besides advocating the City “make more effort to engage the broader public on issues of tree removal and retention,” she states, Victorians are “entitled to explicit and full disclosure about tree removals and [should] be allowed an opportunity for meaningful consultation.” (Not just at the 10-day notice period.)
    Burka is not sure we’re going in that direction: “It’s especially troubling to me that in February budget discussions, the City agreed to accelerate implementation of the cycling network which includes ‘streamlining consultation.’” 
    Worse, she feels the City has “almost encouraged divisiveness” by presenting a false dichotomy—trees or bike lanes—when most citizens are in favour of both. “The City should be taking the lead to harmonize those goals,” she says. Instead, she says, some statements by City officials helped falsely suggest those who wanted to save the tree were against bike lanes or even addressing climate change.
    The City’s recent vote to implement its 2013 Urban Forest Master Plan, with $1.26 million in funding—along with pressure from citizens—means more effort is already being made to retain the City’s mature trees. City staff assured me that plans for the Vancouver Street section of the cycling network retain all existing trees and allow for some new ones—proving it is possible to both encourage people to get out of their cars and maintain a robust urban forest.
    In this era of media disruption and cutbacks, however, it will come to rest more and more on citizens to investigate, through FOI and other means, government decision-making and truth-telling. Let Focus know what you learn.
    Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus. Did you know that, last measured (2012), Victoria’s forest canopy was 18 percent, and that its Urban Forest Master Plan suggests 40-45 percent is more appropriate for a city such as ours?

    David Broadland
    May 2019
    If a BC Supreme Court finding is correct, Victorians need to demand assurances from the City of Victoria about the safety of its water.
     
    DO YOU KNOW IF THERE’S LEAD in your home’s water supply? A 2017 BC Supreme Court judgment about the quality of water in the Shoal Point condominium complex provides an intriguing window into the difficulty of obtaining a reliable answer to that question. 
    The judgment followed a trial in which a Shoal Point owner, Donald Shields, sued his strata council over the poor quality of water in his home and the council’s failure to rectify the problem over a period of nine years. 
     

    The Shoal Point condominium complex on Victoria Harbour
     
    According to court records, Shields’ water had two things wrong with it. First, the liquid coming out of hot water taps was grossly discoloured. Secondly, both the incoming water to the building and the water supplied to Shields’ unit had repeatedly been tested and were shown to have unacceptably high levels of metals, including lead.
    Some of the expert testimony relied on by Justice Anthony Saunders in making his determination of responsibility for the discolouration and contamination seems clearly at odds with what CRD and City of Victoria officials say about Victoria’s water supply. If Saunders’ decision was based on misinformation, he probably came to the wrong conclusion about what entity is responsible for Shields’ water problems. But if he’s correct, then all Victorians ought to be concerned about their water and demand an explanation from the City of Victoria and the CRD. 
    Shields, a retired engineer and professor of civil engineering, bought the condo at Shoal Point in 2006, just three years after the first phase of the project was completed. Potable water is distributed to each Phase-One unit through a system that contains ductile iron pipe. To prevent internal corrosion, this type of pipe has a quarter-inch thick “concrete” lining (Justice Saunders’ description). Shields found that when he returned from being away from his luxury home for a period of time, the hot water from his taps was a “disgusting” brown colour. 
    According to Saunders’ 38-page written judgment, Shields “first noticed dirty brown water coming out of the hot water taps in the bathrooms, and sometimes the kitchen hot water as well, around 2007. He complained to the maintenance manager, who said he would flush the water supply lines.”
    Saunders then provided an extensive account of Shields’ repeated appeals for help, recommendations from experts, and actions taken by the building’s strata council or its appointees.
    In 2013, six years after his initial complaint about discoloured water, the strata council’s building committee ordered testing for metals in Shields’ water and the water in a suite on the floor above, whose owner was also complaining about discoloured water.
    The tests showed the level of lead in Shields’ suite was nearly two times higher than the maximum allowed by federal guidelines (the Guidelines). Justice Saunders noted that, in spite of that reading, “the excessive level of lead in Mr Shields’ suite was not disclosed or discussed” outside of the building committee. That is, neither Shields nor the other suite’s owner were informed.
    In response to further complaints from the suite on the floor above Shields, additional testing for contaminants was undertaken about four months later, in April 2014. That suite’s water tested high for lead again, this time about 1.5 times higher than the maximum allowable under the Guidelines. However, one sample taken in the mechanical room from the water supply line into the building showed highly elevated levels of lead, aluminum, manganese, copper and iron. The lead level in that sample, for example, was 22 times higher than the maximum allowed by the Guidelines. A second sample, taken after flushing about five gallons through the sampling outlet, showed acceptable levels of metals. 
    The expert who took these samples recommended “that independent testing for lead be conducted by the City and the CRD.”
    The expert concluded that both the discolouration of the water and the elevated metals content was coming from the City of Victoria’s water supply. He recommended that Shoal Point install a large filter on the water supply line.
    The City of Victoria’s engineering department disagreed. Justice Saunders noted, “the City’s Engineering Department was of the view that the drop-off in concentrations between the two mechanical room samples strongly indicated that the elevated concentrations were due to the building’s piping, not the water supply. (I note that evidence, of course, not for the truth of its content, but as going to the information that the defendant reasonably would have relied upon.)”
    The City did agree to flush the mains leading to Shoal Point, and a subsequent set of samples showed a reduction in the level of metals. This seems to suggest that the City’s supply was at least part of the source of the elevated metals in Shields’ and others’ suites. Otherwise, flushing the City mains would have made no difference. But Shoal Point did not act on the initial recommendation to install a large filter on the building’s water supply line until a second expert had made a similar recommendation in 2015. A new filtration system was installed and other changes were made in 2015, but did not become fully operational until August 2016.
    Those changes didn’t appear to have much effect. Returning to his home after being away, Shields found the water was still discoloured. He took his own samples that August and sent them off to a lab for analysis. They showed lead levels as high as 26 times the maximum allowable under the Guidelines. One sample contained 50 times as much iron as the Guidelines specify. This sampling was included in Saunders’ judgment.
    A set of samples taken a few months later, in November 2016, were even more shocking. Maxxam Analytics found the level of lead in Shields’ hot water lines was up to 41 times higher than the Guidelines allow. Other metals were higher than the Guidelines, too: Iron was 128 times higher, copper 34 times higher, aluminum 23 times higher and manganese 77 times higher. Although this sampling was provided as evidence at the trial, it was not mentioned in Saunders’ written judgment.
    With Shoal Point’s strata council apparently unwilling to make changes that would provide Shields with water of acceptable quality, he launched legal action. He and his wife Arlette Baker were represented by his son John Shields. 
    In his judgment, Justice Saunders found that a strata council is “responsible for the repair and maintenance of common property,” and that this obligation extends to “making good plumbing that causes discolouration” and “making good plumbing that is causing elevated heavy metal concentrations in water, relative to the Guidelines.” 
    Saunders’ decision seemed to rely heavily on the expert testimony of Martin P. Vogel, a senior chemical engineer practicing in environmental engineering with Golder Associates in Vancouver, who provided expert opinion on behalf of Shoal Point at the trial. In his judgment, Saunders wrote, “With respect to the contamination issue, I accept Mr Vogel’s conclusion that contamination of the hot water through elevated concentrations of aluminum, copper, and lead is most likely due to the corrosive effect on the building’s plumbing system of the naturally acidic water supplied to the building from the municipal water system.”
    Vogel appears to be the only expert who provided an opinion that the City of Victoria’s water supply is “naturally acidic.”
    Information from the CRD and the City of Victoria in the CRD’s Greater Victoria Drinking Water Quality Annual Report for each of the last several years puts the pH of City of Victoria water at around 7.0—essentially neutral. It’s not “naturally acidic” as described by Justice Saunders, who apparently got that idea from Vogel. Saunders’ judgment makes no reference to CRD-City of Victoria water quality reports. Neither the CRD nor the City of Victoria were called to testify at the trial.
    A year before the trial, Ted Robbins, general manager of the CRD’s integrated water service, told the Times Colonist, in an article about the potential for lead to be a problem for Victoria’s drinking water, that “Greater Victoria has neutral water with low alkalinity.”
    By “neutral water,” Robbins meant the pH was around 7—neither acid nor base. “Alkalinity” is a measure of water’s ability to buffer acidity. If alkalinity is too low, water that starts at a water treatment plant with “neutral” pH can have a somewhat different pH by the time it reaches an end user like Shoal Point or your home. But Justice Saunders’ judgment shows no indication that such a factor was considered. His acceptance of Vogel’s opinion that Victoria’s water is “naturally acidic,” and that high metal concentrations in Shields hot water were a consequence of acid leaching of Shoal Point’s plumbing system, is inconsistent with what the CRD and City of Victoria have reported about the water they provide to Victorians.
    Either the City of Victoria and the CRD didn’t know the pH of the water they supplied, or Vogel didn’t.
    What about the discolouration of the water in Shields’ and other suites? Here, again, Saunders’ written decision shows that he relied heavily on Vogel’s expert opinion: “Mr. Vogel has opined that the discolouration of the hot water in the unit is likely predominantly a result of oxidized and precipitated iron and manganese from the water supply due to low flow conditions in the hot water piping serving the plaintiff’s unit. I accept Mr. Vogel’s opinion.”
    The “low flow conditions” Saunders alludes to were the result of Shields and Baker being absent from their home for months at a time. 
    Again, in Saunders’ judgment, it’s the City’s “water supply” that’s to blame: it has such large quantities of iron and manganese dissolved in it, according to Vogel’s theory, that if the water is left to sit in the supply pipe leading to Shields’ suite for weeks or months, these two metals precipitate out, creating the disgusting brown solution that comes out of his hot water taps.
    This, too, seems suspect. A previously mentioned sample of City of Victoria water going into Shoal Point was found to have 5.9 micrograms of manganese and 137 micrograms of iron, per litre. Yet one sample from Shields’ hot water supply was analyzed by Maxxam Analytics and found to have 3,860 micrograms of manganese and 38,300 micrograms of iron, per litre. How these metals could become concentrated to that extent, in the small volume of standing water in the short length of pipe exclusive to Shields’ suite, was unexplained by either Vogel or Justice Saunders.
    Shields and Baker testified that the discolouration diminished if the water was flushed for several minutes, but the discolouration returned after a short period—a week would do it.
    Having accepted Vogel’s contention that Shields’ water quality problems were the result of the acidity of the City’s water, and metal contaminants in it, Saunders found that Shields and Baker were “entitled to damages for the loss of enjoyment of their unit, and the inconvenience of having to conduct flushes of the hot water lines.” They were awarded $15,000.
    Saunders’ August 2017 decision noted: “Serious efforts towards mitigating water quality issues through upgrading the building’s plumbing are underway.” But in April 2019, Shields informed Shoal Point that he is still experiencing discoloured water. There’s no reason to believe the suite’s hot water isn’t still contaminated with metals.
    One plausible alternative explanation for the poor quality of Shields’ hot water is that a section of the ductile iron pipe serving his suite with hot water has a damaged internal concrete liner and is corroding. Indeed, Saunders’ decision shows that he was provided evidence that a section of ductile iron pipe in Shoal Point’s parking area that had been easily accessible had been removed and the liner had been found to have “completely deteriorated.” Two experts had advised Shoal Point that failure of the pipe’s liner was the source of at least some of the water quality problems in Shields’ and others’ suites.
    Yet Saunders’ written judgment shows that he gave more credence to an expert who appears to have provided the court with information that’s at odds with the CRD’s and City of Victoria’s characterization of regional and municipal water quality. Shields has recently informed Shoal Point that he does “not rule out commencing further litigation…” 
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus Magazine.

    Stephen Hume
    March 2019
    The commercial herring roe fishery in the Salish Sea may be the final nail in the coffin of chinook, resident orca and seabirds.
     
    IN JUNE OF 1893, a small steam tug thumped past Nanaimo. Abruptly, the sea began to seethe. It was a herring school so vast it took three hours to traverse. The school was 70 kilometres across.
    A century earlier, Captain George Vancouver’s log for June 1792 recorded another astonishing sight—whale spouts at every point of the compass. They were humpback whales. Herring provide up to half a humpback’s daily energy requirements.
    The herring school reported 125 years ago was only one of many spawning in the Salish Sea. From February to mid-summer, milt turned the water milky. Each female laid up to 134,000 eggs upon eelgrass, kelp fronds and the hemlock and cedar boughs that First Nations have been placing in the water since time immemorial to harvest the sticky masses they called “skoe.”
    Herring spawned in Brentwood Bay, Esquimalt Harbour, Long Harbour, Plumper Sound, Kuleet Bay, Baynes Sound, Lambert Channel, Fulford Harbour, Squamish, Semiahoo Bay, Nanaimo Harbour, Sansum Narrows, around Puget Sound and at an unknown number of smaller locations. Even today the occasional remnant of a herring run through Greater Victoria’s Gorge Narrows draws crowds.
    First Nations herring camps were everywhere. Herring bones represent the single most abundant species found in excavations of coastal First Nations sites.
    Yet we know of that immense herring school witnessed off Nanaimo only because the tugboat crew thought it so remarkable, they told a federal official. And in 1906, he mentioned it in one of those dry reports to Parliament that gather dust.
    Today, although fisheries experts doggedly insist that herring in the Salish Sea are sufficient to sustain a roe harvest, some data are worrisome. One survey from 2009 shows 53 percent of major historic herring spawning areas in the Salish Sea now in serious decline.
     

    Seining Pacific herring in the Salish Sea near Parksville
     
    Courtenay-Alberni’s NDP Member of Parliament Gord Johns asked at the end of January for a moratorium on harvesting roe herring. Jonathan Wilkinson, the Liberal fisheries minister from North Vancouver, responded by recommending a commercial harvest quota of 25,760 tonnes from the Salish Sea (with a 30,000 tonne cap).
    Of five herring fisheries areas off the BC coast, three are closed and one is restricted to traditional roe-on-kelp harvests. Only the one in the Salish Sea is deemed to have sufficient stock to support a commercial fishery. “As I said, we make our decisions based on science,” Wilkinson said. The uninvited question, however, is this: If science is so good at predicting abundance, why are 80 percent of herring sites now closed?
    The chorus of reassurance should not surprise. We’ve fished stocks to collapse before, amid repeated assurances that the fisheries science shows harvests to be sustainable. Tony Pitcher, a scientist at the University of British Columbia specializing in aquatic ecosystems, noted the irony 20 years ago. “The failure of fisheries science, paradoxically one of the most sophisticated mathematical fields within the discipline of applied ecology, is creating both trauma and denial among its practitioners…These failures are chronic and well-documented and are commonly responded to by many of our colleagues in a range of voices that seek to deflect and deny,” he wrote.
    In the 1950s, overfishing of Japan’s herring led to a collapse. In the 1960s, the California sardine fishery collapsed. Herring fisheries in Alaska and BC were closed in the 1960s after overfished stocks collapsed. Overfishing destroyed herring stocks off Iceland, Norway and Russia around the same time. In 1972, the overfished Peruvian anchovy fishery collapsed. In 1992, Canada’s Atlantic cod went the way of the herring, sardines and anchovies. Cod stocks that had supported Newfoundland fisheries for 500 years suddenly fell to one percent of what it had been at its maximum biomass.
    Fisheries managers frequently blame predictive failures upon oceanic changes they can’t forecast. The North Pacific is often referred to as a “black box” in which mysterious things happen which affect salmon, herring, tuna and other fish. An anthropologist might describe this as magical rationalization—when the emperor of science turns out to wear no clothes, blame unseen, unknowable forces after the fact.
    Pitcher had another observation regarding colleagues who blamed environmental changes for fishery collapses: “Remember that these supposedly delicate fishes have survived 100 million years of sweeping and cyclic environmental changes, including a global catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs…!”
    What fish stocks apparently don’t survive is hubris.
    One common factor in these serial fisheries disasters is that regulators were convinced harvests were sustainable—until they suddenly weren’t.
    If that doesn’t set alarm bells ringing for British Columbians, perhaps this will. A global survey by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization concludes that 85 percent of all wild fish stocks are now overexploited, depleted, or recovering from severe depletion—and current science suggests recovery, while possible, is far from certain. “Many species have been hunted to fractions of their original populations. More than half of global fisheries are exhausted and a further third are depleted,” the UN agency reported in 2012. It suggests that our next generation may inherit barren oceans. At current rates of harvest, it notes, the world faces collapse of all wild seafood species currently being fished. Think herring. Then think chinook, coho, ling cod, rock fish, halibut, and so on.
     
    THIS SHOULDN’T BE NEWS. Twenty years ago, a team of eminent fisheries scientists at the University of BC offered a similar caution. Daniel Pauly and Johanne Dalsgaard, in a paper published in the prestigious journal Science entitled “Fishing Down the Food Webs,” wrote: “Marine fisheries are in a global crisis, mainly due to open access policies and subsidy-driven over-capitalization…The global crisis is mainly one of economics or of governance.”
    They warned that shifts in fish harvests from large predators to smaller fish, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, implies “major changes in the structure of marine food webs.” And, “It is likely that continuation of present trends will lead to wide spread fisheries collapses…”
    They argued that instead of focusing on catch—the doctrine of maximum sustained yield—fisheries management must recalibrate for aggressive rebuilding of fish populations within functional food webs left alone inside large “no-take” marine protected areas.
    Since 1935, with the full sanction of federal authorities, we’ve done the opposite with herring. Industry extracted six million tons of herring from BC waters, at first for human consumption but then mostly for reduction into fish oil and fertilizer and, for the last 50 years or so, purportedly to sell herring roe in Japan. I say “purportedly” because critics claim most herring caught in the roe fishery—100 percent of the males and about 90 percent of the females—actually wind up as feed for pets and farmed fish.
    This creates another ethical conundrum. Critics complain that federal law bans the use of wild fish for non-human consumption. Section 31, sub-section 1 of the federal Fisheries Act prohibits converting wild fish into “fish meal, manure, guano or fertilizer, or for the manufacture or conversion of the fish into oil, fish meal or manure or other fertilizing product.”
    Of course, there’s a loophole in sub-section 2. It gives the fisheries minister discretion to exempt any wild fish from the requirements of sub-section 1.
     

    Herring spawn off the south end of Denman Island (Photo courtesy Jake Berman)
     
    Just to put the total herring harvest into big picture-perspective, we’ve now prevented more than 43 billion herring from spawning. That number represents about 2.8 quadrillion—yes, that’s quadrillion—herring by eggs never laid. Of course, not all herring eggs hatch, and not all that do will survive to spawn in adulthood. But herring killed as eggs have zero chance of survival. Their genes are erased from the reproductive pool. They are not even potential forage.
    Thus we forego future herring to provide tidbits for Japanese gourmands who destroyed their own herring stocks. Meanwhile, First Nations foragers in BC are denied their own ancient traditions. This raises ethical questions about the sincerity of promises to First Nations.
    The Douglas Treaties, which govern half a dozen Coast Salish tribal groups on southern Vancouver Island, are clear. In exchange for access to First Nations lands, those nations are guaranteed the right to hunt, fish and forage “as formerly.” If access to herring and chinook are denied because the resource has been commercially over-exploited by non-First Nations, we abrogate solemn treaty promises. How does that square with the official rhetoric of reconciliation?
     
    AUTHORITIES SAY SALISH SEA HERRING POPULATIONS have returned to historic levels of abundance. Not everyone agrees. Herring activist David Ellis is a former commercial fisherman, biologist, and one-time member of the federal government’s gold-standard Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
    Ellis says the estimated biomass for today’s so-called “historic” level of abundance is about the equivalent of one season’s catch 50 years ago.
    He thinks the roe herring fishery should be stopped. “Yes. And banned forever. You have to look to Japan to see how destructive it is over time. And for First Nations it means cultural genocide as they lose herring eggs which are as key to their culture as salmon are.”
    “Massive overharvests in the reduction fishery era are documented. This was a massacre that we are still paying for. The roe herring fishery has knocked out [local] population after population and interviews with First Nations elders best illustrate this.”
    Ellis points to an enduring conflict within the management system—our emphasis on science at the expense of traditional knowledge.
    On the one hand, he argues, we have 10,000 years of intimate use-based First Nations knowledge regarding the herring resource. On the other, 100 years of “official” knowledge from government experts who presided over the extirpation of baleen whales from the Salish Sea, serial collapses of herring fisheries, endangered species status for eulachon and now for a dozen chinook populations. Fisheries regulators, remember, once identified orcas as threats to industry to be eradicated with .50-calibre machine guns, put a bounty on seals until they were almost exterminated, and oversaw the indiscriminate slaughter of the harmless, plankton-feeding basking shark, now listed by COSEWIC as an endangered species.
    The epicentre of surviving Salish Sea herring spawn is now off the East Coast of Vancouver Island. Since early February, seals, sea lions, porpoises and seabirds have been congregating for the feast. The predator species put on a raucous wildlife show. It brings tourists, sparks local festivals and, of course, attracts the ruthlessly efficient commercial harvesters.
    Grant Scott, a former commercial fisherman, is now an advocate for herring as president of Conservancy Hornby Island, a local organization which is leading a campaign to close the herring fishery outright. Scott urges thinking about herring as components in an ecological web that’s so important we shouldn’t fish herring stocks at all. (See their online petition.)
    Increasingly, environmentalists, First Nations, conservationists like Scott, sports anglers, and tourist-dependant communities that rely on other species for which herring is forage—chinook salmon, southern resident orcas, at least 40 species of sea birds, and, of course, the humans who make a living from whale watching and recreational sports fishing—want the Salish Sea herring fishery closed. Many argue herring’s value as forage far outweighs its value as industrial feedstock.
    BC’s tourism sector, much of it associated with outdoor recreation and wildlife viewing, generated $17 billion in 2016 revenue. Tidal sports angling, most of it directed at fishing for chinook which are dependent on herring, generated $3.2 billion. Whale watching of orcas, which rely on chinook, and humpbacks which eat herring, generates about $200 million a year in BC. The roe herring fishery was worth $33 million in 2016. On the jobs front too, the numbers are worth comparing. While commercial fishing employs about 1,100 people, saltwater sports fishing employs 5,000 and tourism on Vancouver Island employs more than 20,000. In fact, tourism in BC contributed five times more to provincial GDP than the entire agriculture and fisheries sectors combined.
     
    SINCE HERRING IS A KEY COMPONENT in the Salish Sea food chain, and since so many species which rely on herring are now either in steep decline or have begun disrupting other parts of the ecological web by switching predation patterns, the case for ending the herring fishery seems reasonable.
    Chinook, which prey on herring stocks, are now in such serious trouble that extinction for many Salish Sea populations seems possible. In its latest report, the federal science committee evaluating species at risk lists nine chinook populations as endangered, four as threatened, and one as being of special concern. About half of BC’s 28 chinook populations are now threatened with extirpation.
     

    Chinook salmon
    This is not a management crisis, it’s a looming catastrophe. It raises profound ethical dilemmas for politicians setting management policy.
    Southern resident orcas, which feed predominantly upon the now- vanishing chinook salmon, are also listed as an endangered population. It has dwindled to 74, a 35-year low, and biologists say two more are expected to starve to death by summer.
     

    Southern resident orca (Photo by MarkMallesonPhotography.com)
     
    It gets worse. A 2012 study of seabirds in the Salish Sea found that almost 40 percent—22 species—showed “significantly declining trends.” One group of seabirds, the forage fish feeders for whom herring are the most important food source, deserve special concern because of the steepness of the population declines, the researchers warned.
    The seabirds that deserve most attention (some have lost almost 20 percent of their populations)—the western grebe, the common loon, the horned grebe and the rhinoceros auklet—“feed largely on small, mid-water schooling bait (or forage) fish when in the Salish Sea. Pacific herring and Pacific sand lance (needlefish) are the two most important forage fish prey, particularly now that some species such as eulachon have collapsed.” The report says herring eggs and larvae are the two most important prey types for marine birds in the Salish Sea.
    So, is a declining abundance of herring a key in this large-scale unravelling of Salish Sea food chains?
    Ellis thinks so.
    “I believe that the loss of the local, non-migratory herring leaves the vast Salish Sea pasturage unused by large herring in the summer, and this has contributed very significantly to the decline of the orca and chinook,” he says.
    “Orcas need big chinook and chinook need big herring—and lots of both migratory and resident herring so they can use all areas [of the Salish Sea] as herring pastures.”
    One recent major study of the Salish Sea food web concludes that not enough chinook now remain to sustain orcas, seals, sea lions, sport fishing, and commercial harvests. Predictably, there’s now a clamour to cull seals and sea lions, although one study of 1,000 samples of seal scat in the San Juan Islands found that 60 percent of seals’ diet was herring. The question arises, why are seals increasing predation on dwindling chinook stocks if herring stocks, which historically provided more than half their diet, are at historic levels of abundance?
     
    SOME OF US ARE OLD ENOUGH to remember the kind of abundance that astonished Captain Vancouver 226 years ago and mesmerized that tugboat crew 125 years ago. That was before our Garden of Eden was laid to waste by greed and ignorance, scientific hubris, over-capitalization, corporate concentration, exoticized public tastes, and colonialist racism that marginalized Indigenous knowledge and Aboriginal fishing rights.
    Old-timers would advise anglers to watch for squabbling masses of gulls hovering and plunge diving. That would signal a herring ball, forced up by large chinook and coho feeding from below. Troll your cut herring strip, Lucky Louie plug, wobbly Tom Mack spoon or bucktail fly past that, the lure emulating a stunned or wounded bait fish, and you’d be pretty sure to get a strike.
    Herring in the Salish Sea were once so abundant that you didn’t have to buy bait. You took out a herring rake, a long paddle-like implement with teeth set into it like a comb, and simply swept live bait up and into the bottom of your boat.
    My father-in-law, who caught his first chinook from a dugout canoe in Cowichan Bay shortly after the First World War, used a herring rake. His is now an artifact in a museum, just as those recollections of the immense herring schools sweeping in and out of the Salish Sea to spawn each spring have been consigned to mostly-forgotten archives.
    Stephen Hume spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. His byline has appeared in most major Canadian newspapers. The author of nine books of poetry, natural history, history and literary essays, he lives on the Saanich Peninsula.
     
    More insights about the Salish Sea herring fishery in this video by Colby Rex O'Neill
     
     
    Report Article

    David Broadland
    January 2019
    The City has always denied the new bridge has any problems, thus limiting its ability to assert itself in legal fights over the project.
     
    JUDGING BY THE LEGAL SUITS claiming damages that have been filed (but not yet served) by PCL Constructors against the City of Victoria and the engineering companies involved in designing the new Johnson Street Bridge, history is about to repeat itself.
    PCL launched a similar legal maneuver against its partners on the project back in 2015, and that led to the City agreeing to “release and forever discharge” PCL, MMM Group, and Hardesty & Hanover “from all debts, claims, demands, damages, expenses and costs (including without limitation, legal costs) of any nature or kind that are in any way related to the Project and either known or which ought to be known by the [City] as of [April 23, 2016].”
    PCL now claims “The design provided by the City to PCL was not prepared in accordance with the standard of professional care normally exercised by recognized professional engineers experienced in the performance of design work such as required for the design of the New Bridge, and was not accurate and complete but rather the design information contained errors, omissions and misrepresentations.”
    PCL’s filing makes similar design-focussed claims against Hardesty & Hanover and MMM Group/WSP, the two companies that did the actual design and engineering on the bridge. PCL’s contract with the City stated that the City was legally responsible to provide the design.
    PCL’s latest claims have forced the City back into mediation. The head of the one-person company the City contracted to provide public relations for the project, Jonathan Huggett, has characterized PCL’s filings as simply placeholders to meet BC’s Limitation Act requirement of filing civil claims within two years of a construction project’s completion date. But at the same time, Huggett admits the City is in a new round of legal mediation with PCL.
    My guess is that PCL is looking to obtain a similar agreement to the one it negotiated with the City in 2016. This time it will want to rid itself of any future liability for what occurred after April 2016. One of those liabilities arises from the execution of what the original construction contract between the City and PCL called “a complicated joint.” This is the six-surface connection between each ring and each truss.
    If you watched the bridge parts being erected, you will recall that each ring was lowered into place separately and later the two side trusses with the highway deck attached to them were added as a single piece. To join the trusses to the rings, twelve different surfaces needed to meet in almost perfect juxtaposition. The mating surfaces were then fastened with internal bolts. The long-term structural integrity of these joints is dependent on all of the parts never corroding, especially the bolts and the holes through which they pass. Yet it’s obvious that oxidation at these joints is already occurring. Worse, caulking intended to keep the joints dry is already cracking away from the joints.
     

    Nine months into service, the critical joint on the south-side truss has lost caulking intended to keep water out and corrosion at bay.
     
    The bridge opened only nine months ago, but by December a section of the seal over the upper joint on the south side of the bridge had fallen out and the joint appeared to be corroding freely (photo above). Hardesty & Hanover’s design depends heavily on the durability of epoxy grout in a number of critical areas on the structure, yet the trustworthiness of that design choice is already in question.
    Kiewit Construction’s exquisite competing bid design called for this to be a field-welded joint, not a bolted joint, so there are legitimate questions about Hardesty & Hanover’s choice of how to execute this “complicated joint.”
    The City’s apologists for the project will likely deny there’s any problem and will argue that critical joints freely corroding is standard fare on such engineering projects—thus undermining the City’s legal position vis-a-vis PCL. Recall the six-foot by six-foot bolted-on plates that were needed as a result of incomplete design information being included in shop drawings. Those weren’t a problem, either, according to Huggett, just a “fabrication challenge.” Huggett’s public claim that the plates were standard fare for such an infrastructure project single-handedly defeated any future case the City could make in a court of law.
    Such “fabrication challenges” are now evident all over the bridge. My personal Top Ten would include the top chord of the trusses. In the original conceptual design by Wilkinson Eyre’s Sebastien Ricard—the dreamy image used to get a “Yes” in the 2010 referendum—the graceful sweep of the top edge of the trusses, from the top of the rings to the far western toe of the trusses, contained exactly zero abrupt changes in direction. These lines were meant to be sweeping and graceful.
     

    Wilkinson Eyre-Sebastien Ricard conceptual design, conceived for the 2010 referendum on whether to replace the old bridge.
     
    In the bridge PCL built, this sweeping line has about seven changes in direction. These range from inexplicably abrupt to “fabrication challenge” wobbles. The wobbles in the line of that top edge result in a series of bulges and dents in the sides of the trusses where there should have been a predictably straight and flat surface. Anyone with an eye for good form will perceive these deformations as serious flaws. To my eye, this aspect of the new bridge is the best example of poor design and workmanship at play anywhere in Downtown Victoria.
     

    Wobbles and abrupt changes in direction in the trusses of the design created by Hardesty & Hanover and MMM Group.
     
    This was supposed to be an “architecturally significant” structure, a “signature” bridge. What else could justify its eventual $120-million cost? Yet not a single mention of the project can be found on any of the websites of the companies involved in designing, engineering, and constructing it. None of them wants to put their corporate signature on the hodgepodge of metal confusion. But Victoria is stuck with it, the engineers claim, for the next 100 years.
    There’s a lot more that’s already gone wrong with the structure, and I don’t mean intoxicated men falling overboard. Enter the cavernous machinery room, for example, which, it was hoped, visitors would find “iconic.” Check out the cracked and spalling concrete overhangs that are supposed to keep rain off the hydraulic motors. Below them, look closely and you’ll see duct tape crudely applied to makeshift sheet-metal covers intended to keep rainwater away from the pinion shafts. After only nine months of service, the City has resorted to using duct tape to solve problems. Below the duct tape, note the pool of hydraulic oil that’s leaking from the drive motors. $120 million bought a certain style of iconic, but it’s more like Trailer Park Boys than Wilkinson Eyre. Watch for duct tape to appear over those “complicated joints.”
     

    Nine months into service, hydraulic fluid is leaking and duct tape has been employed.
     
    These are just some of the reasons why PCL is now likely twisting the City’s arm to “release and forever discharge” it from all responsibility it might have for everything that has already gone wrong, and everything that will go wrong in the future. City councillors will be told by their consultant that this is “normal” for a big infrastructure project and councillors will accept PCL’s terms, just like they always have.
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.

    Leslie Campbell
    January 2019
    Residents are mobilizing to protect one of the city’s greatest natural charms, increasingly threatened by development.
     
    I RECALL DURING MY FIRST YEAR HERE IN VICTORIA, as a transplant from Winnipeg, sitting in a small James Bay park noticing its many different species of very large trees. I was in heaven! It seemed so exciting, so exotic and luxuriant.
    I may have become more blasé about it 34 years later, but I still know what a blessing—and a defining characteristic of this city—all those big trees are. And I am obviously not alone. Witness the growing crescendo of concern over the city’s loss of mature trees. Pressures from development, summer droughts, wind storms, sewage pipelines, and simple aging are among the reasons residents are noticing the demise of more and more trees.
    Citizens, regional councils, and municipal parks employees all seem to recognize the central role the urban forest plays in making Victoria what it is—a beautiful, healthy, prosperous place. Many of us now understand how trees, especially mature ones, provide ecosystem services like water filtration, cooling shade, and carbon sequestration. How they contribute to our health by absorbing both air and water pollutants; they even filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark, thereby reducing asthma attacks. Did you know that trees increase the value of our homes from 3-15 percent? Or that shading from trees prolongs the life of asphalt by 10-25 years? Trees also act as useful wind buffers. By sheltering many other species, they increase biodiversity.
    Look out your window and imagine the city without trees: it would be a very different, bleaker place entirely. No birds would be singing.
    Ironically, those very trees and their many charms have helped attract development, which has boosted land prices so much that trees are being sacrificed to make room for more and larger homes.
    The real estate boom and its impact on our urban forest seems to have caught us off guard, without adequate safeguards in place. As a result, every year thousands of mature trees—along with the many services they provide—are being lost throughout the Capital Region. In this article, I will focus on the City of Victoria, where a weak bylaw means, for example, that removal of non-native trees with a diameter at chest height of less than 80 centimetres—or 31.5 inches—does not require a permit. (More on this later.)
    At a City of Victoria council meeting on November 22, a half dozen speakers from the recently formed Community Trees Matter Network showed up to give presentations to the new council. Their website (housed under the Creatively United for the Planet website) contains numerous articles about the many benefits of and threats to the urban forest.
     

    Verna Stone (l), Nancy Lane MacGregor and Frances Litman
     
    Nancy Lane MacGregor, in her presentation, took Victoria council on a tour of a block in her Rockland neighbourhood: “On Moss Street, a Garry oak blew over in a storm…At Moss and Rockland, a 350-year-old Garry oak was cut down, its roots too close to homes on either side. At Langham Court, a healthy 162-year-old giant sequoia was taken down because its roots were entwined with a sewer pipe. Around the corner on Linden, apartment balconies face a wasteland through standing dead trees, the first phase of a development. At 1201 Fort Street, a luxury condo and townhouse development…will destroy 29 mature trees including a remnant Garry oak meadow, giant sequoias and other protected trees. Up the street, at Central Middle School, a large Garry oak fell in a windstorm…”
    Frances Litman, founder of Creatively United for the Planet, reminded council of the many services trees provide a city: “Trees clean and cool the air, create oxygen, decrease carbon dioxide, provide essential habitat for birds and animals, and save this city a lot of money [$2 million in 2013] by processing and filtering hundreds of thousands of gallons of water that would overtax our storm sewers.” She charged today’s developers with “scraping the land bare of every earthworm and living thing, despite the footprint of the building and without regard to how this impacts the natural ecosystem and surrounding neighbourhood.”
    Litman urged council to implement the recommendations of the City’s own 2013 Urban Forest Management Plan, and “budget for a qualified coordinator to oversee, educate and implement it department-wide.”
    A week after that council meeting, I met with Litman and MacGregor at Verna Stone’s art-filled apartment at Fort and Moss Streets. A coffee table was set with a smorgasbord of sweets and Philosopher’s Brew tea was steeping. Stone was wearing her tree dress, a lovely tunic featuring an appliquéd Douglas fir. She too is a member of the Community Trees Matter Network.
    The story of how they came together—along with a number of others—to form the Network includes the outrage they experienced as they each noticed too many trees falling victim to disease and development. Serendipity and basic networking also brought them together. When Litman was put in touch with so many other tree-lovers, she thought, “Oh my god, I’ve found my tribe.” She manages the Network’s website and email and said she can barely keep on top of the interest: “It’s exploding!”
    Indeed, soon after I talked with them, Litman was interviewed on CHEK TV about the planned removal of at least 29 mature Garry oaks—and endangerment of 20 more—on Grange Road in Saanich due to the CRD’s sewage pipeline. The neighbourhood was in an uproar over this loss. Fortunately, the ensuing publicity nudged the CRD to figure out how they could shift the pipeline a bit and preserve the trees.
    Network members have investigated what the City of Victoria has been doing and think it’s just not enough. “A barely advertised ‘Tree Appreciation Day’ draws only a handful of citizens to witness the mayor planting four trees, then pack up for another year,” said MacGregor, adding, “Trees are not considered in the push for densification.”
    Though an upbeat group, cynicism about governments near and far was apparent. In discussing how Transport Canada recently removed all the trees along the south side of the Inner Harbour at Laurel Point Park to clean up contaminated soil from a paint plant once located there, Stone suggested the federal body is just attempting to look good on the cleanup front so it can allow more oil tankers to ply coastal waters.
    The women were looking forward to hosting expert speakers, art events, speaking at other council meetings, and fanning out to various neighbourhood associations to connect with tree defenders in different areas. They want to “harness the power of an integrated network of people,” said Litman. Stone, an artist, never expected to be an activist, but, quoting a friend, said, “Activism is the price you pay for living on this planet.”
     
    THE CITY OF VICTORIA ESTIMATES there are about 150,000 trees within its borders, with 33,000 of them on City boulevards or in parks. There’s an inventory of these on the Open Data Portal of the City’s website (I found it, but only with considerable help).
    In the City’s 2013 Urban Forest Management Plan, it’s noted that the City’s “tree canopy cover ranges from a low of 3.4 percent in the Downtown area to a high of almost 34 percent in Rockland.” Overall, Victoria’s canopy was, in 2008, estimated to be 17.6 percent. Navdeep Sidhu, assistant director of Parks and Recreation, told me the City is currently in the process of planning the next canopy coverage study.
    The Urban Forest Management Plan is, at 98 pages, a wealth of information and supports the activists’ arguments for more care being taken with Victoria’s urban forest. For instance, it notes that “The Garry oak and associated ecosystems that shape Victoria’s landscape are home to more plant species than any other land-based ecosystem in coastal British Columbia. Many of these species occur nowhere else in Canada. At this time [2013], because so much habitat has been lost or degraded, approximately 100 species of plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, butterflies, and other insects are listed as ‘at risk’ in these ecosystems. Many of these species at risk are found in Victoria—from tiny poverty clover in Barnard Park to the iconic great blue herons that nest in Beacon Hill Park.” The authors also note, “Garry oak ecosystems have been dramatically affected by land development. It is estimated that in 1800, Garry oak ecosystems flourished on 1,460 hectares of the City. By 1997 that had dwindled to 21 hectares of fragmented and degraded habitat.” And certainly less now, nearly 20 years and two real estate booms later.
    Management of the urban forest in the City of Victoria falls under the Parks and Recreation Department, in particular the 20 employees of the Arboriculture and Natural Areas section. They have their hands full with the maintenance of those 33,000 trees in parks and on streets and boulevards. They prune 600 of them a year, plant 900 native plants, and give five years of extra care to young saplings they’ve planted. They maintain the tree inventory, remove invasive species, respond to over 1200 calls for service of public trees each year, and review “development-related and other various permit applications for impacts to the Urban Forest.”
    I had hoped to speak to an employee in the City’s arboriculture section, but was instead urged to send a questionnaire to Parks and Communications managers. The full Q&A is on Focus’ website.
    Parsing some of the answers provided as to why trees are “removed,” the spokespeople cited increased stress, including from drought, that increases “impacts of disease and insect pests.” Trees’ defense mechanisms fail and pests are attracted to weakened trees.
    They also noted that, “A large number of street trees planted in the 1950s and 1960s are now nearing the end of their lifecycle. They are decreasing in vigour and not as adaptable to changes in the environment around them. The last several years of summer drought conditions have put additional stress on many trees.” Additional stress on these trees comes from damage by humans: “wounds to trees from mowers and weed eaters are detrimental to tree health and can be infection points for fungal wood decay pathogens. Nailing, screwing, bolting or attaching things to trees can cause damage to the tissues within the tree and the bark.” Soil compaction is also an issue for trees lining streets where people park or store materials in the root zone of a tree.
    The Parks people assured me that “we always look for ways to retain the tree as long as possible…Generally, when dieback of the crown is above 40 to 50 percent, removal is recommended.”
    In the first 9 months of 2018, the City had removed 327 trees and planted 265 trees on City property. Since then, they have removed at least a further 29 trees in Stadacona Park, adjacent to the 1400 block of Pandora Avenue, and 12 more in Fernwood.
    Increased numbers of tree removals in the last year or two are likely due to the City’s strategy to manage high-risk trees. As the Parks people explained: “The City of Victoria completed an inventory of trees on City property in early 2014 and recorded information including species, size, condition, geographic location and maintenance needs. Trees that were identified through this process to have significant safety hazards or that were at risk of imminent failure were removed immediately. The inventory identified trees that require further assessment to determine risks, which may result in pruning, removal or other hazard mitigation techniques. Staff further assess these high-risk trees to determine if they can be retained, or if they must be removed. In 2019, 392 trees will require assessment.” Judging from recent years, these assessments will lead to a good number of trees being removed.
    Pressures on the urban forest on private property (which comprises about 75 percent of Victoria’s urban forest) are more difficult to assess. I was told Parks had an average of 111 requests annually for removal of “protected” trees over the last couple of years. About half of the requests are denied—so about 55 protected trees were removed each year by private property owners.
    That doesn’t sound like much, and seems at odds with the perceptions of many tree watchers. But one just needs to read the City of Victoria’s Tree Preservation Bylaw to understand what’s not being counted.
    This is a bylaw that most agree needs revision. It currently puts restrictions on the type and size of trees that can be cut down on private property. Certain species—Garry oak, arbutus, Pacific dogwood, Pacific yew—if over 50 centimetres in height, are “protected.” Western red cedar, big-leaf maple, and Douglas fir must be over 60 centimetres in diameter at chest height to be protected. Any tree on private property with a trunk over 80 centimetres in diameter is also protected under the bylaw and cannot be removed or altered without a permit. A lot of big trees slip through these size requirements and can often be removed without any permission, fees or civic involvement. Contrast this to Vancouver, where trees over 20 centimetres in diameter are protected.
    A permit involves getting one of the City’s arborists to assess the situation. If they agree there is a problem warranting removal (e.g. it is severely diseased or poses a danger), you’ll pay $30 for a removal permit for each tree up to three trees, then only $5 per tree after that. If you do not obtain a permit and remove a protected tree, penalties for first-time offenders are $250-$1500. Updating this bylaw is an objective of the City’s new Strategic Draft Plan.
    In my mind the biggest gap in the tree bylaw is that in practice it fails to protect any tree when their removal is deemed “necessary for the purpose of constructing a building, an addition to a building, or construction of an accessory building” or a driveway, off-street parking, utilities service connections, or “the installation, repair, or maintenance of public works.” A permit may be needed, but man-made things seem to have priority over saving trees.
    Brooke Stark, manager of Parks Operations told me that in 2018, “there were approximately 126 trees lost to development and capital projects.” The department will track these categories separately in 2019, but could not get more specific for 2018 data.
    Not included in that tally are the 29 trees approved for removal at the somewhat ironically named Bellewood Park, a 2-acre, 83-unit development at 1201 Fort Street. These include some big Garry oaks and two giant sequoias (still standing as Focus went to press). Last April, MacGregor wrote to council about these magnificent sequoias, which can live for over 2,000 years: “[They] have historic importance, planted from seed in the 1860s by the Attorney General of the Colony of BC, E.G. Alston.” In that letter, MacGregor noted some of the 22 trees being retained by the developer might not survive blasting and construction. She quoted the arborist’s report on the excavation for underground parking: “If it is found that large structural roots must be pruned…it may be necessary to remove additional trees to eliminate any risk associated with them.” The developer has agreed to plant 83 new trees, but most of those will be varieties of small trees.
     

    The ironically-named Bellewood Park development will see the removal of 29 trees, including Garry oaks and the two giant sequoias in the background
     
    ANOTHER FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY TREES MATTER NETWORK, Grace Golightly, has been writing thoughtful and detailed letters to City Hall about trees, often copying them to Focus, for a couple of years. She has taken particular issue with the tree bylaw’s modest requirements of planting two replacement trees and paying a token $30 fee when removal of a protected tree occurs. Among other reasons, she has pointed out that mature trees provide far more carbon sequestration than younger trees.
    The research backs her up. A 2014 study reported in Nature looked at 403 tree species and showed that “for most species mass growth rate increases continuously with tree size. Thus, large, old trees do not act simply as senescent carbon reservoirs but actively fix large amounts of carbon compared to smaller trees; at the extreme, a single big tree can add the same amount of carbon to the forest within a year as is contained in an entire mid-sized tree.”
    Golightly herself has cited Ohio State University research suggesting it would take a total of 269 two-inch-diameter trees to replace the carbon sequestration provided by a single 36-inch-diameter deciduous tree.
    Forests in general are one of the world’s largest banks for all of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere. As much as 45 percent of the carbon stored on land is tied up in forests according to NASA scientists.
    With the City of Victoria’s professed concern about climate change, maintaining a robust and growing urban forest, in large measure made up of mature trees, should be a priority. A first step would be analyzing how much total carbon sequestration is being provided by our forest. Oak Bay, for instance, has calculated that its trees sequester 3,270 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually and store 97,490 tonnes of carbon.
    On public lands, the Victoria’s Parks department told me they plan to plant only 250 to 300 new trees per year. This does not even replace on a one-to-one basis recent removals of mature trees from City-owned land. And on private land, only certain tree removals need to be accompanied with replanting of, at most, two saplings.
    At such unambitious replanting rates it’s clear that Victoria’s leafy canopy and the important services it provides, will fade away. Golightly’s and others’ advocacy for a much more vigorous replanting schedule seems warranted. She wrote, “When I mentioned the need to plant a lot more trees to one of the Parks administrators, he said there was nowhere to plant them. However, we must plant them, and a little thought can generate lots of ideas.” She mentions offering trees at a discount to residents (as Nanaimo, Saanich and Vancouver do). She points out that most schoolyards and many other institutions could also accommodate more trees. She suggests planting more trees along the Galloping Goose—and in many parks, particularly if volunteers cleared out invasive species. The other day I noticed barren parcels of land around the Johnson Street Bridge begging for trees to at least replace the dozen or so removed years ago for the new bridge.
    Golightly goes further: “I think it’s essential that the City purchase well-treed properties that come up for sale. They can either be covenanted and re-sold, or made into mini-parks where more trees could be planted to increase the carbon storage and benefits to the neighbourhood.”
    On that score, the South Jubilee Neighborhood Association has urged the City to consider purchasing a large corner lot at Leigh and Bank Streets which has never been developed and boasts 26 mature Garry oaks. “We are also keenly interested in planting more trees on the property to turn it into a true urban forest or ‘clean air’ garden,” writes board member Matt Dell.
     

    The City is being urged to purchase this private land at Leigh and Bank to preserve the Garry oaks
     
    Along such lines, the City’s own Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP) suggests the City establish a capital fund for the acquisition and restoration of lands for new urban forest.
    Of course, it is not as simple as just plunking more trees in the ground. The Parks department told me: “All restrictions of the site, physical space, soil volumes, overhead or underground services, soil quality, site exposure, expected available water, levels of wind and sun, pest resistance and aesthetics play a part in tree selection. Selecting a tree variety which is going to be successful long term is critical.” Increasing densification and more extreme, climate-change-induced weather patterns will just make maintaining a healthy urban forest more challenging—and more important.
    The City’s six-year-old UFMP predicted all this: “Finding space for significant amounts of urban forest within these high-density [neighbourhoods] is a challenge. Other types of ‘greening’ such as green roofs and green walls, as well as smaller trees and shrubs in planters will make important contributions. However, this will not achieve the same level of benefits that large, mature trees provide. Urban planners, developers and the design community should be encouraged to find ways to incorporate large-canopy trees into these settings, such as has been done in Portland.” (In 2014, Portland had a 29.9 percent canopy cover and was aiming at 33 percent.)
    The UFMP, written before the recent real estate boom, continues: “The single greatest impact to the urban forest comes from the incremental loss of greenspace associated with development and densification. In addition to removal of large mature trees, there is a loss of soils and space that could be used for future generations of trees. It takes a significant amount of space to grow a large tree. As land uses change and neighbourhoods are redeveloped, it is critical to ensure that adequate greenspace is being reallocated on-site or elsewhere to sustain the future urban forest. Failure to do so will result in a forest that is diminished in size, more fragmented, less productive and more vulnerable to change—the antithesis of sustainability.” [italics added]
    An earlier densifying boom in the 1970s gave rise to numerous three- and four-storey apartment buildings that had big setbacks allowing for wide lawns, bushes and large trees. The more recent boom, in an effort to maximize return on high-priced land, has created buildings right up against sidewalks. The Parks people put it this way: “Most original homes in Victoria were not built to the zoning setbacks or built to maximize allowable Floor Space Ratio. New construction tends to maximize both.”
    If the powers-that-be had been thinking faster, or just more holistically, they’d have figured out a way, during the recent boom, to plan developments in tandem with urban forest expansion. This is not as unlikely as it might sound. Other cities have done it or have at least planned how to accomplish it. Duncan is aiming at a 40 percent canopy and knows that means planting 3,729 trees by 2020; Seattle is aiming at 30 percent coverage within a 30-year period; Vancouver’s 2020 plan sets a target of 40 percent canopy and calls for 150,000 new trees by 2020. Victoria’s, recall, was 17.6 percent in 2008.
    Other cities are establishing volunteer programs to assist in maintaining urban forest health. Melbourne has a very successful program involving over 400 volunteers doing meaningful work for the urban forest—mapping, creating inventories of landscape features, and eco-assessments. Closer to home, Saanich’s “Pulling Together” program involves volunteers in ecological restoration in 40 of its parks. Community members can participate in invasive removal and replanting activities on a casual drop-in basis or as “lead stewards” and “restoration assistants.” There is no similar program in the City of Victoria.
     
    IN THE RAPIDLY GROWING FIELD OF URBAN FORESTRY, trees are viewed as essential “green infrastructure” that deliver environmental, health and economic services. These include those mentioned in relation to carbon storage, pollution reduction, stormwater management, the provision of wind-buffering and shading, and public health.
    The director of UBC’s Bachelor of Urban Forestry program, Professor Cecil Konijnendijk, recently told CBC that too many cities are letting development drive city-wide growth. “Stronger planning frameworks that actually guide developments [are necessary]; cities should be stronger in really making sure development is done in the right way…” Konijnendijk has agreed to speak in Victoria in the new year—watch the Community Trees Matter website.
    Urban foresters advocate for good strong policy and enforcement, more funding to support city arborists, and education so citizens understand the wide array of services provided by a healthy urban forest. They know that a mobilized citizenry is essential to encourage the political will to get the right policies in place.
    Fortunately, Victoria has both a mobilized citizenry and that 6-year-old Urban Forest Master Plan in place. Most of its 26 recommendations have not been implemented, the very first of which advocates creating “a position for an Urban Forest Planner/Coordinator, who is empowered to work with other departments to achieve the City’s urban forest goals and to report annually to council.” That seems a good place to start—along with direction from council to make an increased tree canopy a reality.
    Leslie Campbell loves walking the well-treed streets of Rockland—just by viewing trees our stress levels drop. Note City Hall’s January sessions for citizen input on the draft budget and strategic plan at Victoria City Hall.

    David Broadland
    January 2019
    An email unearthed by an FOI request raises questions about the Elsner investigation and the Lowe Report. So do all the deleted emails.
     
    POLICE COMPLAINT COMMISSIONER Stan Lowe’s September 2018 report on the investigations into former Victoria Police Department Chief Frank Elsner excoriated Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barbara Desjardins for the way they conducted an initial investigation of Elsner in 2015. Lowe asserted that the mayors “had predetermined the outcome of the internal discipline process from the outset, and set about navigating a course to allow the former chief to remain in his post.”
    He provided much evidence to support his contention, but the mayors disputed his conclusion. Both claimed they had been libelled and made veiled threats of legal action against Lowe. Lowe’s office invited the mayors to call for a public inquiry. Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Rollie Woods stated, “we have a considerable body of evidence we would be willing to provide at any public inquiry so the truth would certainly come out.”
    Did the mayors have any evidence that would support their claims? They weren’t offering any, so Focus filed an FOI for the communications between the two mayors during the three months of their investigation of Elsner. The Victoria Police Board released those records to us in mid-December (See link at the end of this story).
    That release contained only one email written by Mayor Helps to Mayor Desjardins during September, October and November 2015 when they conducted their investigation. Helps’ one email consisted of three words. On September 4, 2015, shortly after the mayors had been informed about salacious Twitter messages from Elsner to the wife of a subordinate VicPD officer, Desjardins copied Helps on an email to Elsner wherein she asked him for a meeting about “a personal matter requiring your assistance...” About five hours later, Helps emailed Desjardins and asked, “Did he respond?” Within an hour Desjardins wrote back to Helps: “Got auto response he is away unt [sic] the 8th have got a phone number and will call tomorrow.” And then, for the next three months, Helps was apparently silent, never communicating with Desjardins by email on this subject.
    By way of an explanation for the scarcity of records of the two mayors’ communications, VicPD’s Collette Thomson noted, “A limited number of records were accessible due to email retention schedules.” By that she seems to mean the emails the mayors exchanged were deleted.
    The scant record that remains appears to have survived only because paper copies of a few emails gathered for a previous FOI request—made by an unknown entity—were kept by the Township of Esquimalt. All of Helps’ emails related to the first three months of the internal investigation have been deleted, even though it took place just over three years ago. All of her emails go through mailboxes hosted on City of Victoria servers and retention of the mayor’s email records is the responsibility of the City of Victoria.
    If the mayor’s emails have been deleted, that means that in less time than the 4-year term of an elected City of Victoria mayor or counsellor, critical records of what they did while in office are being destroyed by the City. That’s what Thomson’s explanation implies.
    If you are thinking, “Well, that doesn’t seem right,” you’re correct. The City of Victoria’s “Records Retention and Disposition Authority” for the Mayor’s Office requires that both electronic and paper records that are created to “document the operations of the mayor” must be “retained for 10 years overall, and then transferred to Archives for selective retention.” The Police Board has no written policy regarding “email retention schedules,” and, in any case, the emails were never in its physical control or custody. They were in the physical control and custody of the City of Victoria. Regardless, according to Thomson, those records are gone.
    It’s difficult to imagine why any City employee other than the mayor herself would delete the mayor’s Elsner investigation emails from the City’s electronic document storage system. We are left with the presumption that the mayor may have deleted these emails before they could be put into long-term storage.
    To understand in a fundamental keep-democracy-healthy kind of way why the communications between Helps and Desjardins matter—and why they should have been preserved—consider what former BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham wrote in her investigative report Access Denied: Record Retention and Disposal Practices of the Government of BC.
    Denham conducted her investigation in response to a case in which a person in the BC Premier’s Office “triple-deleted” emails in order to hide his conduct from public scrutiny. Her report described in detail how emails could be triple-deleted. The commissioner noted that “In conducting this investigation, it has become clear that many employees falsely assume that emails are impermanent and transitory, and therefore of little value. What this investigation makes clear is that it is a record’s content and context that determines whether a record is transitory, rather than its form.”
    Ironically, Denham released this report on October 22, 2015, right at the time Helps and Desjardins were conducting their own investigation into Elsner. At that time, Denham wrote, “Democracy depends on accountable government. Citizens have the right to know how their government works and how decisions are made.”
    Our “right to know” translates into a right to access government records, such as Helps’ and Desjardins’ emails. But, Denham wrote, “Access to information rights can only exist when public bodies create the conditions for those rights to be exercised. Government must promote a culture of access, from executive leadership to front-line employees. If they fail to meet this obligation, the access to information process is rendered ineffective.”
    If Helps deleted 100 percent of her emails, which appears to be the case, then she rendered access to information 100 percent ineffective. According to Denham, that means there’s zero accountability. With no accountability, the City of Victoria resembles more an authoritarian regime than a democratic institution. Evidently, City Hall has some vital work to do to meet its legal obligations around information access.
    The Township of Esquimalt did preserve some records of the email conversations between Desjardins and Helps. One of those emails seems to challenge a claim Lowe made about the mayors and it topples a claim Helps made about the mayors’ investigation.
    In the analysis that follows, I’m going to focus on just one aspect of Lowe’s case against the mayors, the question of whether or not they buried allegations of harassment made against Elsner by two female VicPD members. The harassment allegations were made, we later learned, soon after the existence of Elsner’s sexually-charged tweets with the wife of a subordinate officer was made known to the mayors.
    Lowe’s description of what the mayors did with these allegations amounts to a claim that they hid them from his office in order to protect Elsner from any repercussions. But Helps told Focus last August that investigation of such allegations was outside the mandate of their investigation: “We were authorized to deal only with the issues of whether Elsner had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with the wife of a VicPD member and whether Elsner had improperly used police social media accounts,” Helps wrote in an email.
    Lowe, though, has written, “It was my expectation that if the investigation revealed evidence of conduct that could constitute a disciplinary breach of public trust, the [mayors] would raise the matter with our office.” Lowe says they never did. His report shows that the mayors rushed to make a decision about how to discipline Elsner after they were informed the story would soon appear in the media. Lowe was given no information about the mayors’ decision, but requested details after both mayors made statements that attempted to mislead reporters on whether an investigation had taken place. The records the mayors turned over to Lowe contained no mention of the harassment allegations. Lowe learned about these additional allegations only after the Victoria City Police Union brought them to his attention.
    There is no doubt the two mayors emailed back and forth about these allegations. Lowe’s office secured some of those communications through its legislated power to obtain records. The full record of their back and forth communications would help us understand exactly what the mayors were thinking and whether or not Lowe’s assessment of their actions is correct. Indeed, what the Township of Esquimalt released shows the mayors did communicate by email, and I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, let’s consider whether the additional allegations were serious enough that it is reasonable to expect the mayors would have taken action, including informing Lowe, as soon as they had been made aware of the allegations.
    Three additional allegations were brought forward by two female VicPD employees. The descriptions below were included in the judgment made by retired Judge Ian H. Pitfield as part of the external investigation of Elsner’s conduct ordered by Lowe in December 2015. Release of Pitfield’s judgments had been delayed by Elsner’s legal maneuverings until September 2018, when Lowe released his report. Had the mayors followed up on these allegations themselves, presumably they would have come to a similar understanding as Pitfield did. Here are Pitfield’s descriptions:
    First allegation: “[Elsner] pressed his groin against her buttocks, and his chest against her back in what [Officer A] described as a ‘nuts to butts’ maneuver… She told investigators she was shocked that ‘my new Chief would stand behind me and from a female’s perspective it’s almost like an oppressive position in a, in a way, like just was very inappropriate, awkward.’”
    Second allegation: “Officer B said that the day of a police Mess Dinner in 2015, the former chief approached her in a hallway at the VicPD headquarters and held her by both arms with her back against or close to the wall for about a minute. She told investigators that she felt uncomfortable that the former chief was ‘in her space’ and holding her by the arms.”
    Judge Pitfield described the third allegation: “The third allegation also involved Officer B. It arose at a use-of-force training session in 2014 at which the former chief was paired up with Officer B to practice lateral neck restraints; that involved close body contact. Officer B said: ‘…when she applied the restraint to Mr Elsner, or him to her, he said things like you are so warm, don’t stop, or, I could do this all day, you’re so warm.’ She said the comments were made multiple times. She stated that while the comments were not overtly sexual, she felt they had a sexual tone as they were made at the time when their bodies are touching during the use of force scenarios.”
    In hearings before Pitfield, Elsner denied all of these allegations. But Pitfield made it clear that he believed the women, and found that “because Mr Elsner was the Chief Constable, the members were his subordinates, he stood in a position of power and responsibility vis-a-vis both members, and the three instances constituted breaches of VicPD workplace policy and the terms of his employment contract, I consider the misconduct to be well advanced on the seriousness scale.”
    So let’s circle back to the question of whether there’s evidence beyond that provided by Lowe’s report that the two mayors tried to bury these allegations.
    As mentioned earlier, the surviving record of email communications between the two mayors during September, October and November 2015 is sparse. The only surviving records were obtained from Esquimalt. From its records, one email stands out. For one thing, someone has run a black felt pen through two sections of text, hiding part of Desjardins’ message to Helps. This wasn’t an ordinary redaction permitted or required by BC’s privacy and information law. Rather, this was done by somebody trying to hide something. Even though the content of the email has obviously been tampered with and so is likely to be regarded with suspicion, it has still been brought forward. To me this suggests that someone wanted us to see the other part of the message—the part that isn’t blacked out.
     

    Mayor Desjardins appears to have wanted a second investigation into harassment allegations against Elsner.
     
    The part that’s still readable suggests that by October 15, 2015, just over a month into the investigation of Elsner’s salacious tweets, the mayors knew about the additional harassment and bullying allegations against Elsner. It suggests that Desjardins believed those allegations needed to be investigated. She wanted to ask “Pat” to take that on, but had someone else in mind if necessary. “Pat” is Patricia Gallivan, QC, the Vancouver lawyer who conducted the mayors’ investigation.
    Note how this seems to conflict with Lowe’s claim that the two mayors “had predetermined the outcome of the internal discipline process from the outset, and set about navigating a course to allow the former chief to remain in his post.” The readable part of the email seems to suggest that Desjardins was pushing to have the harassment allegations investigated. Of course, we don’t know if that’s an accurate interpretation of Desjardins’ intended meaning since part of her message has been blacked out.
    Len Statz, manager of investigative analysts for the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, told Focus in an email that Lowe’s office had not seen Desjardins’ email previously. Statz wrote: “In the Commissioner’s view, the email provided to Focus Magazineprovides further support for his position that the Mayors were aware of the allegations of harassment, did not fulfill their duty to inform the Commissioner and, arguably, continued on a path that would see the former chief remain in his post. We note that the covering letter to Pat Gallivan’s preliminary report, dated November 16, 2015, summarized the allegations of harassment (including one of the allegations that was later substantiated by Discipline Authority Pitfield) and offered to investigate those allegations, indicating that investigation would take about a week. There is no documented action to take her up on that offer and there was no notification to our office.”
    (For the record, the email shown here was provided to the Police Board’s Collette Thomson by the Township of Esquimalt, according to Thomson. It had apparently been found as part of an earlier FOI search of Helps’ records, which were printed out in paper form and preserved by Esquimalt. Those records were originally gathered by City of Victoria employee Colleen Mycroft, which is why her name appears at the top of the email. Both Helps and Desjardins were asked to comment for this story. As of our deadline, neither had responded.)
    Six days after suggesting they should do a second investigation, Desjardins sent to Helps, without comment, VicPD’s policy papers on “Workplace Harassments & Improper Activity,” “Workplace Violence,” and “Code of Ethics.” Again, if there was a response from Helps, it has been deleted from the City’s records.
    The records provided to Focus don’t include any other communications between Desjardins and Helps for the rest of October or November 2015. But the records released by Lowe’s office show that on November 16, 2015, a full month after Desjardins suggested an investigation of the harassment allegations, Gallivan wrote in a letter to the mayors: “I understand that you are considering how to address those allegations. As previously stated, should you wish to expand our mandate to include an investigation of those matters, in light of my schedule and given the need to deal with these matters expeditiously, I would need to engage the assistance of one of my partners to complete the investigation. I have discussed this matter with my partner…and she advises she would be able to set aside a week to conduct the witness interviews.”
    To summarize, then, Desjardins apparently believed an independent investigation of the allegations should be done, she thought Gallivan should do it, Gallivan had been approached, and Gallivan had offered her company’s services to do it “expeditiously.” Yet the investigation never took place. Why? Again, Helps says now: “We were authorized to deal only with the issues of whether Elsner had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with the wife of a VicPD member and whether Elsner had improperly used police social media accounts.” But it’s now evident that neither Desjardins nor Gallivan believed that to be the case. They were both ready to proceed with an investigation into the harassment allegations.
    Why did Helps resist this direction? We don’t know for certain because her emails have been deleted. But it’s evident that Helps weighed the allegations made by the two women against something she believed to be true about Elsner. Her position on Elsner is a matter of public record. On December 4, 2015, when Helps was asked on Global TV if there was “any truth to it that there’s an investigation going on with the chief,” Helps replied, “No. The board has full confidence in our chief. He’s the best thing that’s happened to this town and Esquimalt in a long time.”
    So Helps weighed the allegations of the two women, plus the evidence of Elsner conducting “an inappropriate relationship” with the wife of a subordinate officer, against something else and decided in favour of Elsner. What outweighed the allegations of the women?
    Soon after the investigation of Elsner broke into public view in December 2015, there was talk on social media about the Twitter allegation against Elsner being a retaliation by VicPD personnel who opposed the new “community policing” direction in which he was taking the department. There was said to be opposition to Elsner’s shift away from some of the policies of former Police Chief Jamie Graham. That shift included, for example, a freeze on promotion of officers based on arrests and ticketing, and a move toward promotion based on community engagement and contact.
    Did this idea—that Elsner was being punished for being progressive—tip Helps’ judgment in favour of Elsner and against the women who accused him?
    Indeed, the two mayors had directed Gallivan to determine whether there was “misconduct by any other employee of [VicPD] or if there were any security issues with respect to [VicPD’s] information system.” The mayors apparently wanted to know if any improper action had led to Elsner’s tweets being brought to their attention.
    After investigating the matter, Gallivan reported, “I have no reason to believe that there was any misconduct” on the part of VicPD members. But even if it had been true—that Elsner was punished by VicPD members because he was progressive—it’s difficult to see how that would cancel out Elsner’s documented misconduct involving women.
    After Lowe’s report was released last September and many more details about what had happened during the mayors’ investigation circulated in the community during the civic election campaign, Helps and Desjardins both claimed they had been libelled by Lowe. To understand why Helps might not want to openly acknowledge that she had sided with an accused abuser and stood in the way of an expeditious investigation of the allegations of harassment, consider a statement made by Sonia Theroux, Helps’ campaign manager. Theroux made this comment on social media shortly before the election: “I’m a multi-time survivor; I’d never support a mayor who tried to protect an abuser. Full stop.”
    Theroux had apparently been told by Helps that a “second letter [was] on its way to the OPCC re new allegations when media intercepted,” back in December 2015. “There was no intention to ‘cover up’ the allegations,” Theroux wrote.
    Helps has never made any public statement about such a “second letter.” If such a letter had being contemplated, wouldn’t the mayors have secured a record of it in case it was ever necessary to prove they intended to pursue the harassment allegations?
    But Helps’ own words back in December 2015 make it clear how unlikely the existence of a “second letter” was. Again, recall her statement: “The Board has full confidence in our chief. He’s the best thing to happen to this town and Esquimalt for a long time.”
    How could Helps make that “best thing” claim while, at the same time, she was writing a “second letter” to Lowe to inform him that the mayors were going to begin an investigation of Elsner’s “nuts to butts” maneuver with his female staff.
    While Gallivan was investigating the salacious tweet allegation against Elsner, Elsner committed three additional acts of serious misconduct. He lied to Gallivan about what he had done, he attempted to obtain false testimony from a subordinate police officer, and he misled a fellow police officer. The first two of those actions were each judged to merit dismissal from policing; one of those was considered tantamount to an obstruction of justice by retired Judge Carol Baird Ellan. In other words, Elsner’s attempt to cover up the tweeting and “nuts to butts” maneuver were what made him forever unemployable as a police officer. One has to wonder whether Mayor Helps’ attempt to delete her way out of her own predicament will, in a similar fashion, eventually catch up with her employability as a politician.
    Focus has requested that the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner review the matter of the mayor’s missing emails. We will continue to report what we learn.
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.
     
    The Victoria Police Board's full response to Focus' request for communications between Mayor Helps and Mayor Desjardins:
    Victoria Police Board 181212 FOIPPA response package.pdf11.46 MB · 128 downloads

    Stephen Hume
    November 2018
    The perils faced by killer whales forewarn of an über-threat—the unravelling of the ecosystems upon which humans also depend.
     
    EDGED BY POWERFUL RIPTIDES and the foam-laced menace of Boiling Reef, muscular currents that once bedevilled Spanish sailing masters still churn past cliffs fringed with peeling arbutus. Gulls wheel and squabble over bait fish pushed up by predators below. Vigilant eagles perch in ancient Douglas firs that were saplings when the Magna Carta was yet unsigned.
    This is the southernmost tip of Saturna Island, easternmost of British Columbia’s scattered Southern Gulf Islands, whose name is taken from the schooner captained by explorer José Maria Narvaez more than 200 years ago.
     

    An orca at sunset in the Salish Sea (Photo by MarkMallesonPhotography.com)
     
    East Point still evokes a primeval atmosphere. Yet at night the habitation glow from 6.2 million city dwellers casts its milky arc over the Salish Sea from Victoria through Seattle to Vancouver. And the throb of oil tankers, bulk cargo carriers, cruise ships and container vessels pulses insistently through the darkness.
    Oasis of the pristine that East Point may appear to be, a favoured spot for observing killer whales in the wild, it is nevertheless an illusion cocooned in the reality of the heavily modified, chemically saturated landscapes of a 21st century megalopolis.
    So perhaps it’s the ideal place from which to contemplate what some fear is a looming “orcapocalypse,” an existential crisis that threatens regional extirpation for one of the province’s most iconic creatures.
    New research suggests a perfect storm of threats now makes the extirpation of 10 out of 19 global killer whale populations an imminent possibility. The 74 that survive from the Salish Sea’s Southern Resident killer whale population are among those at greatest risk.
    The three Salish Sea pods of the Southern Residents, J, K, and L, were among the first listed as endangered under a new federal Species at Risk Act in 2003—two years before the US made the same designation. But a damning report from Canada’s Auditor-General this year points to botched, incompetent and laggardly responses by almost every federal department with responsibility for protecting them.
    While there has been plenty of high-minded talk, meetings, workshops, action plans and strategic mission statements, bureaucratic inertia was encouraged by the lack of enthusiasm for environmental issues oozing from the decade-long Conservative government of Stephen Harper. It took 14 years for Ottawa to begin to implement mitigation and recovery strategies that on the surface seemed self-evident.
    Indeed, in September, six conservation organizations launched a lawsuit asking a federal court to review two federal ministries’ failures to recommend an emergency order to protect the Southern Resident killer whales.
    The threats are wide-ranging and complex. Human activity, from industrial pollution to municipal waste water, to disruptions in the food chain to apparently unconnected activities that range from taking a shower to driving the car to the supermarket, are all driving this gathering ecological storm.
     
    EAST POINT REPRESENTS more than symbolism or a vantage point on orca. It was here, 54 years ago, that scientists harpooned the killer whale that was to become the first of its kind to be put on live public display—all done in the name of art.
    In hindsight, it seems one of those benighted schemes that reeks of an entitled craziness. Youth might have been turning to the mellow attractions of Flower Power in 1964 while the grown-ups fretted over the movement’s “get high and get out of the rat race” morality. But the grown-ups also thought it a splendid idea to shoot a large, sentient mammal for art’s sake.
    Mind you, just three years earlier, under the supervision of the federal government, a .50 calibre machine-gun had been mounted at Seymour Narrows to shred the orcas deemed a threat to commercial and recreational fisheries. The orcas didn’t show, the scheme proved a folly, and a month later the machine-gun was removed.
    A subsequent plan was to kill one of the orcas known to congregate off East Point and tow the corpse to Vancouver where an artist could use it as a model. The sculpture would adorn the foyer of the new Vancouver Aquarium. Its skeleton would provide a specimen for the science exhibit.
    The scheme went sideways fast. An orca was harpooned off East Point but then impertinently refused to die. The aquarium’s director decided instead that the wounded animal should be dragged to Vancouver Harbour and “studied.”
    But Moby Doll, as the wounded killer whale was misnamed in a testament to ignorance—it was male, not female—became such a sensation (it went viral, we’d say today) that it quickly became the first captured killer whale to be put on public display.
    Sadly, Moby Doll seemed disoriented and grief-stricken. A few months later he died. Then Seattle Public Aquarium bought a big male orca from a BC fisherman in whose nets he had become entangled. Namu, named for the place his freedom ended, was trained and became the first performing killer whale. Alas, he too died after 11 months.
    Nevertheless, the marketing teams saw a promotional gold mine.
    A two-decade rush began to kidnap ocean-ranging killer whales from their complex, tightly-knit family groups and put them on display. It reached its zenith in 1970 when the Seattle Public Aquarium’s collectors deployed helicopters and explosives to herd 80 terrified orcas into a small cove on Whidbey Island. Several whales died from the stress. As their bodies washed ashore, public opinion ebbed from unbridled enthusiasm to appalled distaste.
    The barbarity of the killer whale gold rush did have one upside. It triggered a world-spanning interest in learning more about these magnificent animals. Knowledge in turn launched an evolution in awareness. And so, over the intervening decades, orcas have evolved in the public imagination from ravening wolves of the sea, to trained circus acts, to highly intelligent, gregarious, family-centric creatures deserving of their freedom and our protection.
    Today, Vancouver Aquarium, which started the cycle, is prohibited by municipal law from capturing any cetaceans from the wild for public display. It may obtain them only from other facilities if they are either born in captivity or deemed to be so acclimatized to captivity they would not survive a return to the wild.
    The changing sentiments have been reflected in a growing desire by the public to see whales of all kinds in their natural environment rather than as dead specimens in natural history museums, or performing for treats in aquarium tanks that might reasonably be compared to prison cells.
    The so-called “killer whale”—it’s really one of the dolphins—is now the key driver for South Vancouver Island’s successful whale- watching industry, itself part of a global business that attracts 13 million watchers a year and generates more than $2 billion in annual economic activity.
    In BC, about half of Canada’s million annual whale watchers spend close to $200 million a year just to see orcas, grey and humpback whales in their natural state.
    There’s growing concern, though, that the public is loving its beloved marine mammals to death. All whales orient themselves, navigate, locate and identify food sources using highly-evolved echolocation. But marine noise from close-running whale-watching boats, along with that from more than 13,000 large vessel transits a year requiring Canadian pilots, 164,000 annual BC Ferries sailings, and almost 40,000 pleasure craft with engines larger than 10 horsepower accumulates to create a kind of acoustic fog in the water for the Southern Resident killer whales, whose numbers have steadily dwindled downward by almost 25 percent from 98 in 1995 to 74 in late 2018.
    One recent study for the Port of Vancouver assessing the effects of marine noise found that the more distant background noise from commercial vessels, combined with the foreground noise from whale-watching boats, resulted in lost foraging time for feeding orcas of up to five-and-a-half hours per day.
    The problem is of sufficient magnitude that from July to November this year, large vessels passing through the Salish Sea to and from Vancouver, Seattle, Tacoma, Bremerton, Crofton, Nanaimo and other points were asked to voluntarily reduce speed. Researchers hope to determine whether reduced engine speed means less marine noise and results in greater killer whale feeding success.
     
    PAIR THE REDUCED FEEDING OPPORTUNITY with historic lows in the abundance of chinook salmon which are the killer whales’ primary food source, then add the toxins carried into the sea from industrial source points, and the problem quickly begins to look profound.
    Chinook are critical to Southern Resident killer whales because they are available in the Salish Sea all year round, unlike chum, another important food source, which is available only in the late fall.
    John Ford, a scientist at Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo who has been studying killer whales for almost 50 years, says observers noticed that population loss and reproductive decline for Southern Resident killer whales tracked chinook abundance. As soon as chinook numbers rose, the killer whales bounced back, too.
    Complicating matters however, Ford says, is the fact that while Southern Resident killer whale populations have been in decline, Northern resident killer whales now number 300 and are thriving. So are the transient killer whales that feed on seals and sea lions, and resident populations in southern Alaska.
    And it gets even more confusing. Transient killer whales, which feed on seals, carry a much higher load of PCBs and other contaminants, but remain healthy. Possibly it’s because with abundant food sources, they don’t go into nutritional stress. PCBs, banned almost 50 years ago, are maddeningly persistent toxins, but can remain benignly sequestered in killer whales’ blubber. The Southern killer whales, deprived of adequate food, start metabolizing their fat; PCBs stored there emerge and suppress their immune systems, making them more susceptible to disease, parasites, and reproductive failure.
     

    Transient orcas, this one known as “T123A,” made two rare visits to Victoria’s harbour in 2018, creating a false impression of orca abundance.
     
    Yet this is just one factor among the many. There are hydrocarbons from road runoff carried by storm drains so numerous that Metro Vancouver couldn’t provide a cumulative number. There’s leakage from tens of thousands of untallied septic fields throughout the Gulf Islands, the hinterlands of Greater Victoria, and around the Georgia Basin.
    It’s a popular pastime among the green-leaning residents of Saanich and the Gulf Islands who elected the only Green candidate to the federal parliament and one of only three Greens in the BC legislature to point an accusatory finger at urban Victoria and Vancouver over sewage effluent. Yet they are a significant part of the problem, too. Almost a million people in BC dispose of household sewage and wastewater through septic fields, which can leak into aquifers and adjacent watercourses, including much of the rural Saanich Peninsula and the Gulf Islands.
    This, too, points to one of those amplifying factors in ecosystem disruption. Dispersed residential communities at the fringes of urban areas throughout the province create the dilemma of the urban-rural interface that’s most at risk from the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires caused by global warming.
    Flame retardants used in fighting increasingly intense forest fires, particularly those threatening human settlement, are flushed by the province’s great rivers from the distant Interior into the sea. The Fraser River alone, for example, drains 235,671 square kilometres, an area that dwarfs entire European countries. Another 951 smaller watersheds drain into the Salish Sea.
    Last summer, during the worst fire season on record—climate science projects much worse to come—the BC Wildfire Service dropped eight million litres of flame retardant in airborne operations. While flame retardant is an essential weapon in the fire suppression arsenal, particularly in that vulnerable urban-rural interface, it’s also bad for the fish that sustain killer whales.
    In 2014, a study by the US government’s National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration showed that although the chemicals in current use are far safer than those deployed in the past, widely-used flame retardant remains especially toxic to chinook smolts. The lethal effects linger right until the migrating smolts reach saltwater.
    These contaminants, however, pale by comparison to those from urban areas.
    Over 1.3 trillion litres of treated sewage effluent flow into the Salish Sea each year from about 100 Canadian and American treatment plant outfalls emptying into Puget Sound and the straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca. Basic treatment of sewage doesn’t remove all toxic compounds. The discharge contains heavy metals like lead, mercury, chromium and copper, but also includes persistent organochlorines and hydrocarbons. Then there are trace levels of persistent organic pollutants—now banned, but still lingering in the environment—like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
    There are pharmaceuticals that can act as hormone-disrupters which are excreted in human urine. Contaminants like plastic microparticles occur in cosmetics and sunscreens, and can affect marine larvae insect, small aquatic organisms, and juvenile fish. Some sunscreen compounds are now implicated in declines in insect and coral reef larvae. Recent research by Washington State’s Dr James Meador has shown that the survival rate of chinook juveniles smolting in effluent-impacted estuaries is cut in half compared with juveniles emerging from uncontaminated estuaries.
    A study by the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation found that untreated stormwater effluent from the Metro Vancouver region is about the same volume annually as treated sewage effluent.
    Storm drain contributions, it appears, may double that amount, the report warns. Thousands of storm drains empty into the almost 1,000 watersheds that dump road runoff, ditch effluents and, in some cases, untreated sewage into the Salish Sea. That means the vector for exposing marine organisms to toxic compounds is mind-bogglingly large.
    And there is the long-known spike in hydrocarbons that occurs in the first hour after rains wash the accumulated surface film from roads into storm drains and to the sea. That problem is getting worse, not better.
    There are 10 million motor vehicles registered in BC and Washington.
    The Insurance Corporation of BC’s statistics show motor vehicle registrations have increased at double the rate of population growth over the last five years. Incredibly, the motor vehicle population is growing faster than the number of people. Put in simple arithmetic, the province added 250,000 people to its population over that period, and it added 320,000 motor vehicles, most of which contribute hydrocarbons to the road runoff that affects the Salish Sea.
    Most important for killer whales, many of these contaminants migrate up the food chain. If one of the key components threatening orca survival is a declining abundance of the chinook salmon that provide their main food source, the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation report also points directly at chemical contaminants.
    “There is evidence,” it says, “that these chemicals can also disrupt the complex hormonal processes as juvenile salmon acclimatize to the saltwater environment. This is bad news for the billions of juvenile salmon that spend months in the shallow waters around Vancouver”—not to mention Puget Sound and near centres like Campbell River, Nanaimo and Victoria.
    “Heavy metals and persistent chemicals that stay in the body bio-magnify as they work their way up the food chain,” the report observes. “Larger fish eating large numbers of contaminated smaller fish can end up with thousands or millions of times the level of toxins than the organisms that first absorbed them.”
    This poses a double jeopardy for killer whales. Declining abundance of Georgia Basin chinook, coupled with bio-magnification of toxins in their body fat, amplifies the risk.
    The chemicals accumulate in the blubber that protects whales from the oceanic cold. But when whales are starving, their bodies consume the energy stored in their fat, and that’s precisely where toxins which damage nervous systems and other organs are not only stored but concentrated over time.
    Which, the Pacific Biological Station’s John Ford explains, is one of the apparent reasons for the health of Northern Residents and transients. As long as they can stay fat, they have a chance to thrive.
     
    ON SATURNA, East Point’s 130-year-old lighthouse presides over a stunningly beautiful littoral of tilted sandstone terraces, tide pools, and echoing galleries sculpted by epochs of wind and storm surge. The tawny rock was quarried by homesteader George Taylor more than a century ago. It was used in constructing Victoria’s new legislature buildings, a Neo-Baroque expression of Victorian colonial authority commissioned on lands the Lekwungen people had been forced to vacate.
    The choice of this Cretaceous rock for a government building seems ironically appropriate. The structure exudes a faux sense of permanence, evoking the Roman “imperitas” of which the British assumed themselves natural inheritors. But the materials actually offer only evidence of impermanence, a reminder that the present authority will prove as transient as that of Tyrannosaurus Rex, who reigned in the Cretaceous, or the Southern Resident killer whales on their tottering throne.
    East Point’s 65-million-year-old sandstone is part of a deposit that sweeps up the east coast of Vancouver Island to the Comox Valley. Paleontologists celebrate the spectacular marine fossils these ancient sediments yield: ammonites, long-necked plesiosaurs, pickup- truck-sized mosasaurs, dolphin-like ichthyosaurs, all now extinct following what’s called the Cretaceous-Paleogene Event, an abrupt extinction of three-quarters of the Earth’s plant and animal species.
    Scholars argue over whether the catastrophe was sudden, caused by abrupt climate change, an asteroid impact, volcanic eruptions, or some slowly unfolding evolutionary apocalypse that we don’t yet understand. But what’s not in dispute is that there was a mass extinction. It occurred at the beginning of the rise of mammals and, ultimately, of the recently arrived hominids—that’s us. We, it appears, so successful that anthropologists now call our era the “Anthropocene,” may also be presiding over what writer Elizabeth Kolbert calls the “sixth extinction,” a collapse in species survival unfolding around us with such rapidity and on such an immense and varied scale that it’s difficult for most people to perceive.
    Most visitors to East Point come not in search of fossils or evolutionary philosophy but simply hoping for a glimpse of killer whales. The whales have become a central symbol of the province’s self-aggrandizing mythology of tourism branding; a totem for powerful First People’s clans; and inspiration for artists and marine biologists alike. They may no longer be the marquee show-stopper at aquariums from Victoria’s Inner Harbour to San Diego, but they still command attention.
    If visitors to East Point are lucky, as I was 20 years ago, they will have a close encounter with a species that’s arguably as intelligent as ours and perhaps even exceeds human intelligence, although how or in what way remains mysterious.
    My experience came in the face of a freshening breeze out of the American islands when I heard what sounded like a rifle shot. It was followed by another and then a third. I went to investigate. It wasn’t some ignorant yahoo shooting at sea lions. It was a family of killer whales, tail-slapping. The tide was in flood and a swift, smooth-as-glass current raced past the ledge. Two females patrolled its perimeter while two calves cavorted in the swooshing jet.
    They seemed as excited as a couple of human children enjoying a water slide at the neighbourhood pool. They rode down the current, then zipped back to the top and rode down it again.
    I stood at the water’s edge mesmerized. Then I noticed a shadow in the luminous depths. Before I could react, the immense, gleaming head of a male orca emerged. It rose the full length of my body out of the water. It stopped at precisely my height, held upright by the sculling of that mighty tail. One enormous eye swivelled, scanned me up and down, and then, seemingly satisfied I represented no threat to the playful youngsters—or maybe just satisfied to have observed me with the same wonderment with which I was observing him—slid back down into the depths as silently as he had come.
    I took it as a hint, though, and moved back a respectful distance—well, considerably more than that—and watched until the whole family, moving almost as one, suddenly vanished. I considered then how I’d been granted an astonishing look into a deep, pre-human past.
    But now, reflecting through the prisms of the current news, I wonder if it wasn’t really the future I was experiencing. And not through the whales, but through the rocks from which I was watching them. Perhaps the telling moment wasn’t their arrival in my field of view, but their abrupt disappearance.
    The killer whales’ ancestors emerged into the evolutionary record not long after the sandstone ledges from which I observed them were laid down as sediments. They have been travelling these waters about a thousand times longer than the entire span in which modern homo sapiens arose.
    Orca—the now-common name derives from the scientific name for the species—is generally preferred in these more language-sensitive times to the once-ubiquitous term “killer whale,” yet the earlier term is not inaccurate. It derives from the species’ undisputed place as the alpha predator of BC’s marine environment.
    For all its power and dominance, there’s a growing risk that this iconic creature may be about to join the ammonites and Elasmosaurus in extinction. And that suggests we might be on track for an extinction event that includes us, too, because the perils faced by killer whales may be indicative of an über- threat, the unravelling of the ecosystems upon which humans also depend.
    he latest report from the Intergovern-mental Panel on Climate Change, a report by 91 scientists from 40 countries who examined more than 6,000 independent research studies, now warns that the rapidity and the massive scale of human-caused climate change is much more dire and immediate than previously thought.
    Even scientists seasoned in the bad news of climate change research expressed shock at the gathering portents, which include increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather, more and longer drought, fiercer and more extensive wildfire conflagrations, mass species die-offs, super-storms, abrupt ecosystem shifts, dwindling food security, and growing world hunger as agricultural production degrades.
    As atmospheric carbon increases, it turns out, the protein yield in key field crops decreases. To feed growing global populations, we’ll have to produce even more food than initially predicted.
    In fact, the evidence is clear. We’re already losing the race as food production falls and population grows. Researcher Leah Samberg, writing in Scientific American, says that after decades of decline, world hunger is once again on the rise. And the United Nations reports that while hunger is most prevalent in regions of armed conflict, these are also the places experiencing increasingly powerful storms, more persistent crop-and-livestock-killing drought, and more frequent flooding caused by intense and unpredictable rainfall events.
    Acidification is already affecting the foundations of ocean food chains once thought inexhaustible, from commercially farmed mollusks unable to properly form protective shells, to the fatal bleaching of coral reefs, to collapsing salmon runs, among them the chinook upon which the local orcas depend.
    The Salish Sea’s littoral is one of the world’s miracles, a gigantic salmon factory. Even now, after a century of industrial harvest, habitat disruption, and landscape modification, as many as 800 million juvenile salmon may ride the spring freshet to the sea. Up to 20 million salmon can populate the Fraser River estuary on any given day.
    But we’ve taken this gift from nature for granted. We’ve behaved as though salmon stocks were limitless. We’ve dammed spawning tributaries, logged headwaters, clogged the river with blasting debris, converted crucial rearing wetlands habitat to agriculture, mined gravel for construction, altered river flows, dumped mine tailings into watersheds, and polluted the river with industrial effluent, farm fertilizer and storm drain runoff.
    Those salmon that return run a gauntlet of commercial trollers, seiners and gill netters; a recreational fishery that itself is heavily commercialized; and First Nations’ food and ceremonial harvests. We’ve even managed to alter the evolutionary course of fish like the chinook. For a century we’ve selected the biggest fish, the trophy fish, out of the gene pool. Now chinook salmon are much smaller on average than they were historically, says scientist John Ford. Feeding orcas are paying the price.
    All this exacerbates the impact of climate change, which has been speeding snow melts, reducing summer discharges, raising river temperatures, and changing food abundance for salmon in the ocean—and the availability of salmon to other species like killer whales.
    It’s not far-fetched to wonder if the plight of our Southern Resident killer whales isn’t a harbinger of what awaits humanity, too.
     
    HERE IN THE SALISH SEA, a small resident orca population now teeters at the brink of what could quickly become a downward spiral into oblivion. Breeding populations aren’t breeding successfully. Baby whales aren’t surviving. Mature whales are more susceptible to disease, and some show signs of malnutrition. Salmon runs, upon which killer whales depend, are collapsing or have already collapsed, most prominent among them chinook salmon.
    All of these are key indicators in a larger ecosystem that sustains humans as well. Salmon are a resource for which humans compete with killer whales.
    Canada’s federal government recently intervened with closures of commercial and recreational chinook fisheries in an attempt to preserve dwindling food stocks for the declining Southern Resident killer whale population. The State of Washington struck a special task force to grapple with the problem. Some communities, where recreation fishing is big business, predictably objected.
    “Community politicians, ocean anglers and chambers of commerce from Sooke to Tofino are objecting to the possibility of closing two ocean zones to sport fishing,” Victoria Times-Colonist writer Richard Watts reported last July. “Such a closure would devastate the small towns that rely on sport fishing to attract tourists.”
    And yet, we are where we are in part because of fishing. Despite declining chinook abundance due to habitat loss, disruptions in rearing areas caused by toxic runoff from storm drains, contaminants in sewage effluent, degradation of spawning areas by logging, hydroelectric and flood control dams, gravel removal for construction and urban development—despite all of that, fishing of chinook stocks continued uninterrupted. Since 1975, when the Southern Resident killer whale population stood at close to 100, federal and state authorities in BC and Washington have supervised the harvesting by First Nations, recreational and commercial fisheries of 32 million chinook salmon bound through the Salish Sea to spawn in the rivers and streams of the Salish Sea.
    It’s a reminder that the threats to the Southern Resident orcas are complex, long-lasting and far-reaching. In any event, the chinook closures may be too little, too late.
    One day, I hope, I’ll be able to return to Saturna’s East Point and again look into the huge eye of a flourishing fellow species. If I can’t, if the orcas have gone to join the other extinct creatures buried in those Cretaceous sediments, what good will our wealth of commerce have proved? If, for all our wealth and power we can’t ensure survival of the ancient, sentient marine species with which we share this corner of the Salish Sea, what certainty is there that we can ensure our own survival?
    Stephen Hume has lived in many parts of BC since 1948. He spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. His byline has appeared in most major Canadian newspapers; he’s written nine books of poetry, natural history, history and literary essays.

    David Broadland
    November 2018
    Did Police Complaint Commissioner Stan Lowe defame Mayor Helps and Mayor Desjardins? Or did he pull his punches?
     
    POLICE COMPLAINT COMMISSIONER Stan Lowe’s recent report on the 2015 investigation of Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner made several damning assertions about the conduct of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins. The mayors conducted an internal investigation under their authority as Co-chairs of the Victoria Police Board. Lowe issued his report less than a month before the October 20 civic elections in which both mayors were seeking to keep their jobs. Helps told a Times Colonist reporter that Lowe’s report “feels like character assassination.” “I’m going to have someone look at the report carefully and see if it’s defamatory. It feels defamatory,” she complained to the TC’s Louise Dickson.
    The Times Colonist’s coverage of Lowe’s report, in the weeks before the election, did not include any of the details of Lowe’s allegations against the mayors, but instead focussed on his general recommendation that BC’s Police Act should be amended to remove mayors as the designated disciplinary authority in cases where allegations are made against a police chief or a deputy police chief. Both Helps and Desjardins made a big show of their agreement with that one aspect of Lowe’s report, and that agreement was well-covered by the Times Colonist. But the paper’s focus on the mayors’ “agreement” with Lowe’s report had the effect of obscuring the stinging rebuke Lowe levelled at the mayors for several actions they took, or failed to take, during the 2015 investigation. The TC did include a short editorial before the election that noted the mayors had lied to journalists about whether Elsner had even been under investigation. But that was it. So in the absence of any responsible coverage coming from the Times Colonist, Focus will pursue this story over the coming months, starting with providing readers with the details in Lowe’s report that demand further explanation—especially from Helps and Desjardins.
     

    Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins in December, 2015.
     
    Below, I will outline several assertions about the mayors’ handling of the internal investigation that Lowe included. Together, they constitute what Lowe called a “strong arguable case” that the mayors “had predetermined the outcome of the internal discipline process from the outset, and set about navigating a course to allow the former chief to remain in his post.” I will also draw the reader’s attention to an event that occurred during the investigation—a potentially criminal obstruction of justice committed by Elsner. Lowe’s report provided little insight into whether the mayors may have abetted that obstruction. So let’s start at the beginning.
    In August 2015, Helps and Desjardins were informed that Twitter messages between Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner and the wife of a subordinate VicPD officer had been found. (Court documents show that the messages have been characterized as being “sexually charged.”) In late August, the mayors informed the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. The OPCC agreed to allow an internal investigation of the matter subject to certain preconditions under which the mayors committed to conduct their investigation. Taking the route of an internal investigation meant the mayors would have the authority to decide what disciplinary action, if any, would be taken following an investigation that was conducted by private lawyer Patricia Gallivan. The alternative to that course of action would have been a public trust investigation set up and monitored by OPCC. Under that arrangement the mayors would have had no control of the outcome.
    The mayors’ internal investigation seemed to go off the tracks at the first curve, in early September, 2015. One of Lowe’s preconditions for allowing the mayors to act as the disciplinary authority was that they would personally ensure that the affected VicPD officer (aka “the husband”) knew what had occurred between his wife and Elsner, and that once the officer had been fully informed, he would be asked whether he would prefer an internal or external investigation.
    But Lowe’s report notes: “In my review of the internal investigation it was evident to the mayors that the affected spouse, the husband, had been materially misinformed by [Elsner] regarding the matter, and they chose not to correct his misapprehension of the circumstance. They then confirmed [to OPCC] the husband’s decision to proceed with an internal process, without disclosing that the husband had been misinformed by [Elsner]. Furthermore, the mayors did not expand the investigation to include this apparent misconduct, nor report it to our office as required. This conduct by [Elsner] falls in the most serious range of misconduct and has resulted in his dismissal from policing by Retired Judge Baird Ellan.”
    Here we need to digress briefly from the timeline to draw your attention to an error made by Lowe in that paragraph. Lowe’s report notes elsewhere that Judge Carol Baird Ellan actually imposed “30 days’ suspension, demotion to the rank of constable and training on ethical standards,” on Elsner for misleading the husband, not “dismissal from policing.” Baird Ellan’s two verdicts of “dismissal from policing” came as a result of two other cases of misconduct by Elsner, both of which took place during Gallivan’s internal investigation. Lowe is oddly silent on these more serious cases of misconduct. Did Helps and Desjardins sweep that misconduct under the rug, too? We’ll come back to this question later. (In response to questions posed by Focus, OPCC quickly acknowledged the above error and have amended Lowe’s report.)
    So let’s go back to the timeline. We’ll include comments the mayors have made as we go along. Mayor Helps has previously provided Focus with her perspective on Lowe’s allegation about the mayors’ conduct as it related to Elsner’s misleading of the husband. She stated that the “false information” provided by Elsner was “completely beyond our control” and that the mayors had been given no mandate by OPCC to investigate this additional misconduct. We might ask ourselves, though, if the mayors were aware that Elsner had lied to his subordinate officer about his relationship with the officer’s wife, why wouldn’t the mayors have taken that information to Lowe’s office? Lowe has been adamant that his office instructed the mayors to bring such developments to his attention. Moreover, Lowe highlighted in his report an example that demonstrated “the mayors were aware of their discretion to expand the scope of the investigation.” Desjardins had asked Gallivan to investigate whether Elsner had retaliated against any other VicPD employee, which was an expansion of the investigation. So Helps’ excuse of “no mandate” seems doubly implausible.
    How, exactly, did Elsner mislead his subordinate officer? Court records show that Elsner told the officer on September 8, 2015 that “no inappropriate communication or contact of any sort” had taken place between Elsner and the officer’s wife. The private conversation between Elsner and the officer took place in an unidentified Victoria park, according to court records.
    As Gallivan’s internal investigation proceeded through that September and October, she became aware of additional allegations against Elsner: bullying, and harassment of female VicPD employees. In agreeing to allow the mayors to conduct an investigation into Elsner’s illicit Twitter communications, Lowe says “there was a clear understanding among all concerned that if, during the course of the investigation, any information came to light about conduct by any police officer that may constitute misconduct, our office was to be informed so that I could determine whether the conduct should be addressed as a public trust matter.”
    The record shows, however, that the mayors withheld from Lowe any hint about the bullying and harassment allegations until well after they had made their decision about how Elsner should be disciplined—a letter of reprimand on his file. Moreover, the mayors apparently tried to hide these allegations from Lowe even after he had asked for all their records. Let me take you through the details of that.
    In his report, Lowe recalls, “Based on my review of internal communications, notes and evidence summaries, it is apparent that by October 20, 2015, the internal investigator [Gallivan] had reported to the mayors that numerous witnesses had made allegations of bullying and harassment against the former chief. These witnesses included members and civilian staff; the nature of the harassment was characterized as ‘inappropriate comments and behaviour towards women,’ which included inappropriate physical contact. Despite receiving this information, the mayors chose not to expand the investigator’s mandate to include these allegations. On the contrary, the correspondence indicates that they instructed the investigator not to pursue those allegations or consider them in any respect in drafting the investigation report because they were ‘outside the scope of the investigator’s mandate.’”
    Mayor Desjardins published a response to Lowe’s allegations on her personal website. There she noted, “The Police Complaint Commissioner has taken defamatory liberty in respect to the honesty and integrity of Mayor Helps and I. He has found us guilty of misconduct that, if true, would be very serious indeed. He has done so from his position of high office and without giving us any opportunity to first answer his speculative accusations. The media has elected to repeat Commissioner Lowe’s highly defamatory comments.”
    Desjardins’ response focussed entirely on what happened after Lowe stripped Desjardins and Helps of their authority to discipline Elsner and launched a public trust investigation. She offered no response to the specific allegations Lowe made about what had occurred during the mayors’ investigation.
    Focus recently asked Mayor Helps’ for comment on a summary of Lowe’s numerous allegations about the mayors’ handling of the investigation. Helps wrote: “…there’s much I’d like to dispute and explain. I’m balancing my desire to fight back with the need for us to move on as a community.” Helps addressed only one of Lowe’s allegations, that the mayors instructed Gallivan not to investigate the allegations of Elsner’s bullying and harassment of women. This allegation is one of the most challenging and potentially damaging to the mayors’ political reputations. Helps told Focus she and Desjardins asked Gallivan “to document the allegations of bullying and harassment in a cover letter accompanying her final investigation report. This is what we did, with the intention that the cover letter and the final report would be handed to the OPCC for his consideration of the new allegations.” But Gallivan’s cover letter somehow went missing from the material sent to Lowe.
    Lowe’s report notes: “The first time my office learned of any allegations of bullying and workplace harassment was through the Victoria City Police Union, which provided information and materials to my office after the [December 3, 2015] disciplinary decision made by the mayors.”
    The implication here is that the mayors tried to hide the harassment and bullying allegations from Lowe’s office by not providing him with the only document that showed such allegations had been made—Gallivan’s cover letter. In her written response to our questions, Helps blamed a mistake made by an executive assistant for the circumstances that led to Gallivan’s letter not being included in the information the mayors provided to Lowe at his request.
    But, again, Helps’ explanation seems implausible, perhaps evasive. According to Lowe, Gallivan had reported these allegations to the mayors by October 20, 2015. Gallivan’s subsequent written report is dated November 16. The mayors wrote their discipline decision on December 3. So there was a 45-day period—between first being informed of these allegations and making their discipline decision—during which Helps and Desjardins knew about the allegations but did not notify Lowe’s office, as they had been directed to do if additional allegations arose.
    What had Gallivan reported to the mayors? The cover letter for her investigation report included “allegations” of “Yelling at senior colleagues and being insulting and demeaning,” and “Inappropriate comments and behaviour towards women including coming up behind a female colleague who was standing at a desk and with his body pinning her to the desk.” It seems clear enough that some action by the mayors would have been warranted.
    Gallivan’s cover letter went on to note, “I understand that you are now considering how to address those allegations.” She also offered her company’s services to investigate the allegations further. But, inexplicably, the mayors appear to have done nothing. What were they considering? Do they have written proof that they were considering anything other than sweeping the allegations under the rug? If they do, why haven’t the mayors provided that proof?
    By the way, the allegations against Elsner of bullying and harassment were eventually confirmed by an external investigation and warranted a finding of “Discreditable Conduct” by Judge (retired) Ian Pitfield.
    Most of Lowe’s allegations about the mayors’ conduct centre on events that occurred just before and just after Helps and Desjardins made their decision on December 3, 2015 on how Elsner would be disciplined.
    For example, Lowe alleges the mayors rushed to make a decision on December 3 once they were told by their own legal counsel, Marcia McNeil, that rumours about an investigation of Elsner were circulating and that reporters would soon be asking questions. It appears the mayors wanted to be able to deny that an investigation was underway—by concluding it that very same day. Indeed, each of them made statements to reporters within days that first denied an investigation had taken place, and then—when they were forced to acknowledge the investigation—mischaracterized it.
    On December 4, 2015, Mayor Helps was asked by a Global TV journalist whether Elsner was being investigated. Helps responded: “No. The [Police] Board has full confidence in our chief. He’s the best thing that’s happened to this town and Esquimalt in a long time.” Desjardins made a similarly misleading statement to Vancouver Sun reporter Rob Shaw and, a few days later, while acknowledging that an investigation had taken place, she mischaracterized the investigation to a CFAX reporter by claiming the investigation had found “there was no relationship” between Elsner and the wife of his subordinate officer. The investigation was instead, Desjardins said, about “an inappropriate use of social media.”
    In fact, the mayors’ investigator, Gallivan, had previously provided the mayors with a written report that (according to court records) concluded that Elsner “did not have a sexual relationship…but did exchange ‘tweets’ with her that were sexually charged and that the exchange constituted an inappropriate relationship.”
    Mayor Helps’ December 4, 2015 statement to the Global TV journalist is particularly worthy of attention considering what we now know she knew when she made that statement. Besides the fact that she lied to the journalist about the existence of an investigation, she added, without any prompting, “He’s the best thing that’s happened to this town and Esquimalt in a long time.”
    Think about that. Helps made this statement with the full knowledge that Elsner had lied to his subordinate officer about his involvement with the officer’s wife and had also been accused of multiple cases of bullying and harassment of female VicPD employees.
    When she made that statement, 45 days had passed during which she could have investigated—but didn’t—VicPD female employees’ claims of what some would consider to be sexual assault by Elsner. Gallavin had offered her company’s services to that end, but the mayors had declined. Helps also had 45 days during which she could have informed Lowe’s office and sought his advice, but didn’t. She’d had 45 days in which to think about whether to support the women who made the allegations. In the end, she sided with a powerful, deceitful man accused of physical and sexual harassment and characterized him as “the best thing that’s happened…in a long time.”
    Mayor Helps could now easily clear up any impression that she has acted improperly by providing written records showing, for example, that she and Desjardins were planning on doing something about those allegations besides sitting on them. Those records, if they exist, could be submitted to a public inquiry.
    Mayor Helps’ and Mayor Desjardins’ separate claims to media on December 4, 2015 of “no investigation” make it evident they were trying to protect Elsner and were willing to deceive the public to accomplish that. Lowe’s account of all the things the two mayors did to cover up Elsner’s misconduct needs to be considered in the light of that public deception. Rather than libelling the mayors, as Helps has claimed, Lowe appears to have been overly polite in describing their multi-layered cover-up as “navigating a course to allow the former chief to remain in his post.” The mayors appear to have attempted to deceive Lowe in several ways. All of these apparent deceptions amount to a perception of an obstruction of justice—not necessarily according to the Canadian Criminal Code definition of “obstruction of justice,” but certainly in the plain meaning of the words.
    Both Helps and Desjardins have complained about Lowe’s report, but neither has provided any evidence to counter Lowe’s very specific claims. Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Rollie Woods has encouraged Helps and Desjardins to request a public inquiry. “If they think they’ve been hard done by in any way in this report, we have a considerable body of evidence we would be willing to provide at any public inquiry so the truth would certainly come out,” Woods told The Canadian Press. So far, neither mayor has requested a public inquiry.
    Considering what was revealed in Lowe’s report, it’s unlikely that either mayor would want, or support, a public inquiry. But one aspect of the mayors’ conduct that’s missing from Lowe’s report reinforces the need for a public inquiry: Were the mayors provided with enough information by Gallivan’s investigation that they should have immediately dismissed Elsner for cause?
    Lowe’s report observes that Judge Baird Ellan determined Elsner should be dismissed from policing for each of two specific actions he took: First, Elsner lied to the mayors’ investigator, Patricia Gallivan, during the mayors’ internal investigation in 2015. Secondly, Elsner attempted to procure a false statement from another VicPD employee. This, too, occurred during Gallivan’s investigation. Indeed, Baird Ellan’s commentary on Elsner’s misleading of Gallivan, which Lowe included in his report, notes: “There is authority for the proposition that providing a false statement in an administrative investigation can be a criminal obstruction of justice...” Yet Lowe’s report sheds no light on whether or not Gallivan informed the mayors of this misconduct.
    If she had—in either case—the mayors would have been in a position to fire Elsner for cause back in the fall of 2015. That would have saved Victoria and Esquimalt taxpayers close to $1M in costs that were incurred as a consequence of the mayors’ handling of the matter.
    Focus asked OPCC if Gallivan had provided the mayors with information about Elsner’s attempt to mislead her and his attempt to procure a false statement. Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Rollie Woods acknowledged that the attempt to procure a false statement had occurred during Gallivan’s investigation, but told Focus “there is no evidence to suggest that the investigator was aware of this conduct.”
    What about Elsner’s attempt to mislead Gallivan, which earned him “dismissal from policing” and could be, as pointed out by Judge Baird Ellan, a case of “criminal obstruction of justice”? Did the mayors know about that?
    In a written statement, Woods noted that this deceptive conduct was identified after OPCC reviewed “the evidence summaries contained in Ms. Gallivan’s November 16, 2015 report to the mayors.” Woods added, “The investigator did not address this conduct as a specific allegation of misconduct in her report; it would be up to the co-chairs to determine based on all of the evidence, what if any misconduct has been proven.”
    In other words, the evidence that Elsner had attempted to mislead Gallivan was in her report to the mayors; it had been up to the mayors to decide whether that evidence warranted an additional charge of misconduct. Again, if the mayors had contacted OPCC and asked whether Elsner’s attempt to mislead Gallivan was misconduct, an early resolution of Elsner’s fate might have been had. But the mayors did not ask questions. Why not? Did the mayors not understand that Elsner was engaged in a cover-up? Later, Judge Baird Ellan determined that Elsner’s deception of Gallivan was the most serious case of misconduct, one that warranted dismissal from policing.
    While Mayor Helps and Mayor Desjardins have claimed that they were defamed by Lowe’s report, Commissioner Lowe appears to have pulled his most serious punch. During the civic election, supporters of Helps and Desjardins characterized Lowe’s report as being everything from a fascistic attack against community-based policing to the patriarchy attempting to put strong female leaders in their place. But it appears, based on the evidence available so far, that the mayors simply engaged in an expensive cover-up, and Lowe has called them on it. Is he right? A public inquiry would settle the matter. If the mayors don’t support such an inquiry, it’s reasonable to conclude that Lowe has called it correctly.
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.

    Ross Crockford
    September 2018
    Will Crystal Pool become an election issue? Candidates say “Yes.”
     
    LIKE THE REST OF US, Jeremy Loveday seemed confused. “Has council — did we decide to — not?” asked the City of Victoria councillor, at a July 19 update on the Crystal Pool replacement project. “I know we were going to do a referendum, and then we didn’t need a referendum. Did we make a council motion not to do a referendum?”
    The confusion was understandable. In June a letter had surfaced, from provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs Selina Robinson to Mayor Lisa Helps, suggesting the City hold a referendum if it wanted the best chance at securing federal-provincial infrastructure money for a new pool. “[L]arge-scale projects that demonstrate both public and financial support through a referendum (or some sort of public approval process) are identified as lower risk under the program assessment,” wrote Robinson. Then on June 20 the Times Colonist editorialized that the City should put the pool project to a vote. “Even if a referendum has no effect on government contributions, City officials would know whether they really do have backing from taxpayers,” the TC concluded.
    That led some to think the City might add another question to the October 20 civic election. (There’s already one seeking approval for a citizens’ assembly to discuss amalgamation with Saanich.) But when councillors met on July 19, they seemed determined to keep the pool off the ballot.
     

    The pool's new, larger design will be at least $8.8-million more expensive to build than originally budgeted
     
    Lawyers said the City would need voter approval to build affordable housing atop the new pool’s parking lot, because housing would be an unusual use for a dedicated park. Councillors quickly abandoned the housing idea, and asked staff to design a smaller lot with “no net loss” of green space. As for getting actual voter approval for the new pool — to borrow money, for example, as required under provincial law — there was no talk of that at all, until Loveday asked about a referendum.
    “Council’s direction was to explore the grant opportunities first, and then report back on options for how any remaining funding gap could be filled,” replied Tom Soulliere, the City’s parks director. The funding strategy would be discussed at the next update — in November, after the election. And with that, the councillors moved on to other worries, like bicycle parking at the new pool, and whether it would have a coffee shop.
    Nobody mentioned Minister Robinson’s letter. Wouldn’t failing to hold a referendum jeopardize the grants needed to build the pool in the first place?
    That was a “misunderstanding,” Soulliere told me later. The Province was only concerned that the City had enough money to cover any gap between a grant and the final project cost. He was right: even though Robinson’s letter recommended showing both public and financial support, her office told me that “if an applicant does not need to borrow externally to cover their share of costs, then elector approval is not required.”
    The City is hoping to get money from the next phase of the federal government’s 12-year, $180-billion Investing In Canada Plan. Under the plan, the feds will pay 40 percent of approved projects, and the provinces at least 33 percent. The pool is currently budgeted at $69.4M — although that’s sure to increase, as you’ll see below — so the City would have to come up with $18.7M, or 27 percent. Since the City has already allocated $10M from its financial reserves for the project, it would only need another $8.7M, which it can easily find in reserves. No borrowing, no referendum.
    But what if the City doesn’t get that grant?
     
    THE CITY NEEDS AT LEAST $45M from the federal-provincial plan, and getting all that might be a long shot. Such a grant would be the largest in the City’s history, bigger than the $37.5M the feds allocated, from two separate funds, to the Johnson Street Bridge. To date, the largest federal grant ever given for a rec centre is $18.8M, for Ryerson University’s facility in the former Maple Leaf Gardens in downtown Toronto. The City of Victoria will be asking for 16 percent of the approximately $276M the federal and B.C. governments will be jointly allocating to community and recreation projects, even though the City has just 1.8 percent of the province’s population.
    If the City doesn’t get all that money, the next council will face some hard choices. So I asked the incumbents and declared candidates three questions:
    1) If the City does not get ANY of the $45M it needs to build a new pool, what should it do?
    2) If the City only gets a FRACTION of the $45M, what should it do?
    3) If the City has to borrow money, how should it get voter approval—by referendum, or the Alternative Approval Process (AAP), whereby the borrowing is deemed “approved” unless 10 percent of voters sign petitions against it?
    Mayor Lisa Helps admitted that if the City doesn’t get any of the money, it can’t simply drain its financial reserves to build the pool. “If we get no money we would need to go to referendum or AAP,” she wrote. But she’s confident the City will get a substantial grant. “There is more infrastructure money than has been historically available for some time,” she noted, and said the City can make up any balance from reserves or “internal borrowing” against them. If the City had to borrow externally, she’d prefer to get voter approval via AAP, although she’s “open to hearing other opinions.” (The respondents’ complete answers are attached HERE.)
    Challengers for the mayoralty hold different views. Gary Beyer said that if the City doesn’t get any money or only a portion, it should repair the existing pool: “The project should never have gone as far as it has. Refurbishing is less expensive, and fits with core values of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.” (Beyer has recently announced that he is dropping out of the mayoralty race.) Sean Leitenberg also said the City should repair the pool if the shortfall is too great: “Let’s take care of our facility and see what the Y comes up with in the next few years.” And Stephen Hammond, speaking for the newcouncil.ca slate, called for a halt to the project until a third-party audit is conducted on the Johnson Street Bridge: “We cannot in good conscience allow [the pool] to proceed until a comprehensive review has brought to light all the facts that would inform all future decisions with regard to project management, procurement, organization, and all aspects of undertaking large-scale infrastructure projects in the City of Victoria.”
    The three incumbent councillors who responded also believe the City should take a different course if it doesn’t get a substantial grant. Ben Isitt said the City should repair the existing pool. Chris Coleman and Geoff Young favoured pursuing a partnership with the YMCA-YWCA, which hopes to build a new facility downtown with a smaller, 25-metre pool, although that could risk the union jobs of current Crystal employees. All three favoured using a referendum if the City had to borrow externally. (Coleman later announced that he is not running for re-election.)
    Among the contenders for council seats, Darlene Archibald said that if the City gets only a fraction of the grant it needs, it should reduce the scope of the project but continue pursuing a new facility, to provide greater accessibility for all users: “I don’t think it is a good idea to wait any longer to replace the pool.” Laurel Collins, Sharmarke Dubow and Sarah Potts, running together under the banner of Together Victoria, said they want a new pool, too; if the City doesn’t get a full grant, they would “proceed with the project as designed only once there is a solid plan to fill the funding shortfall.” Marg Gardiner said the public has lost confidence in the City because of the bridge project, its “almost casual” discussion of putting housing in a park, and its failure to survey taxpayers about how much they’re willing to pay for the pool. She said she’d need assurances of funding before continuing the project as is; otherwise, she’d reduce the scope of the project, or partner with the Y if there was no loss of City jobs. Grace Lore favoured collaborating with the Y, to build a flexible facility with space for needed services like childcare. Jordan Reichert favoured reducing the scope and cost of the project if the City doesn’t receive a grant. If it only receives a partial grant, his decisions would depend — as many respondents said — on how big a funding gap the City has to fill.
     
    IN SHORT, the fate of Crystal Pool hangs not just on a federal-provincial decision, but also on who sits on the next council.
    And candidates aren’t the only ones questioning the project. The Victoria Friends of Central Parkhave posted signs around the neighbourhood, calling for a complete plan for the park, and preservation of all its existing amenities, before pushing ahead with a new pool. Crystal Pool For All, the group that introduced the idea of housing atop the pool’s parking lot, has argued on Lisa Helps’ campaign website that the new pool suffers from “significant omissions and missed opportunities” by failing to include other amenities needed in the area, such as child-care facilities and a gymnasium.
    Budget watchdogs also fear that the cost is bound to increase. On July 19, City staff warned that the $69.4M budget presumed that construction would start by next February — and the Province has said it won’t make grant decisions until the spring of 2019 at the earliest. If construction doesn’t start until next October, staff said, the “likely incremental cost” of the project will be $3M higher.
    The budget is also based on a 2016 estimate that a new 50-metre pool’s construction cost would be $35.1M of the overall project cost. (See Option 3 in the 2016 estimate HERE.) In June, however, the City unveiled a more detailed design, larger by 500 square metres, with a new leisure pool, a second hot pool, and a “lazy river,” all inside a curved, glass-walled “natatorium” bulging into the park. The City hired two firms, Advicas and Ross Templeton, to estimate the cost of this new design, but didn’t present their reports to councillors on July 19. Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria obtained the reports, and it turns out Advicas said the new design would cost $43.9M to build, and Ross Templeton said it would cost $46.2M — $8.8M to $11.1M more than the $35.1M used in the current budget. (See the Advicas estimate HERE and the Ross Templeton estimate HERE.)
    “There is no change to budget, and we’re working with all the consultants to ensure the detailed features and systems fit within the approved construction allowance,” Soulliere wrote to the Grumpy$. “At this stage we can’t confirm whether there will be a change to the shape of the building as this is just one of the components being analyzed from a cost perspective.”
    Such shifting costs are bound to raise arguments on the campaign trail. The City won’t be holding a referendum on its next megaproject this October, but in choosing our next council, we will be voting on it anyway. ❖
    Victoria writer Ross Crockford loves swimming, but not at any cost.

    Leslie Campbell
    September 2018
    Victoria City council will soon be faced with a controversial heritage conversion and demolition project in the heart of Old Town.
     
    MOST OF US PAY AT LEAST LIP SERVICE to the value of the City of Victoria’s Downtown heritage buildings. We enjoy how they conjure the past, make Victoria unique, and attract tourism dollars. It’s up for debate, however, whether current powers-that-be—City council, staff and citizen committees—are up to the task of guarding Old Town’s heritage buildings as the continuing development boom rocks their foundations.
    I set out to examine just one new proposal—that for the 1892 “Duck’s Block” and its neighbour at Broad and Johnson—but right away, it seemed to open the proverbial can of worms.
     

    The Duck's Block on Broad Street
     
    My first call was to Stuart Stark, as he was the chair of the City of Victoria’s Heritage Advisory Panel which gave the proposed development a unanimous thumbs-down on March 13, citing concerns about the height and monolithic design “absorbing” the heritage building, and noting it was “not consistent with the Official Community Plan (OCP), the Downtown Core Area Plan and the Design Guidelines.” Minutes also state the concern that, “Block by block Old Town is being converted from three to six storeys.”
    On March 28, however, the City’s Advisory Design Panel gave the project a unanimous thumbs-up.
    To make things even more confusing, I learned that in August 2017, the Downtown Residents Association’s Land Use Committee had soundly declined to support the Broad Street development for similar reasons as the heritage panel’s. The Committee’s chair, Ian Sutherland, pointed out that the OCP is relatively new (2012), and “was compiled to the satisfaction of the public and the industry stakeholders.” The Downtown Residents Association’s position is that the maximum density of 3:1 for Old Town was a carefully considered policy and should be upheld. The Duck developers are requesting almost double that amount.
    Since making their presentations to these citizen committees, developers UVic Properties and Chard Developments have made only minor adjustments to their plan for 172 residential units plus ground floor retail. The new buildings are still seven storeys tall. David Chard told me they have now applied for rezoning and permits and expect it will reach the Committee of the Whole in the next couple of months. If passed, it will go to public hearing and City council.
     

    An artist's rendering of a redevelopment of the Duck's Block proposed by UVic Properties and Chard Developments
     
    Before I could query him about the Duck’s Block proposal, Stuart Stark informed me that he had resigned from the Heritage Advisory Panel, within a month of the March 13 meeting, and that the kind of issues the proposal raises are a good example of how heritage is being endangered by practices and attitudes at City Hall. He was willing to talk to me, he said, “in the hope that citizens might realize that their relied-on heritage program no longer exists.”
    A long-time heritage consultant in Victoria, Stark had sat on the Heritage Advisory Panel over three different periods in its history—in the 1970s, 1990s and from 2014-18; he chaired it for 6 months previous to his resignation.
    “We had a fabulous heritage program for 35 years, but for the past few years it’s been disintegrating,” he told me. He’s referring to a constellation of programs, policies, plans and guidelines that are supposed to protect both the individual heritage properties Victoria is renowned for, and the overall character of Downtown’s “heritage conservation area.” This includes Old Town, Chinatown, and the historic waterfront area. Development is allowed in these areas, even encouraged through grants and tax holidays, but there are various restrictions. It was such programs—and their visible results—that led to Victoria winning the Prince of Wales Prize for Municipal Heritage Leadership in 2001, said Stark.
    One aspect of the program is the Heritage Advisory Panel itself. Composed of 10 volunteers, all with expertise in heritage matters, along with the City’s heritage planner, its mandate is to advise council on proposals regarding heritage in the City. City Councillor Pam Madoff usually attends as a guest, though is not allowed to comment on proposals. They meet monthly to review proposed changes to heritage properties—now only commercial and multi-family ones.
    This was one of Stark’s complaints. A couple of years back, planning staff made recommendations to council on administrative changes aimed at speeding up permit approvals. Council passed these measures, perhaps without realizing that it meant quite a drastic change. “In the stroke of a pen,” says Stark, “any application for changes to a single-family house became a staff review,” rather than going through the Heritage Advisory Panel. This removed about half of what the Panel once advised council on—and perhaps explains, for instance, how a 1904 house in Rockland, connected to the Dunsmuirs, was able to be demolished. If council has no recommendation against such demolition from its Heritage Advisory Panel, it has a hard time justifying declining it itself.
    Stark, however, isn’t convinced that the Panel’s recommendations even make it to council, at least in a clear, unaltered fashion. They are “filtered through planning staff,” which sometimes disagree openly with the Panel’s recommendations.
    “The goals of the OCP are being used to trump heritage,” Stark told me. And indeed, if one reads the OCP, one can see how, despite platitudes about heritage resources being protected and celebrated, there are other goals to do with the economy and walkable cities that might well be used to justify significant alterations to heritage structures. The OCP, for instance, calls for “at least 20,000 new residents and associated housing growth,” 50 percent of them in the Urban Core.
    But it’s more than that, said Stark. “There was once an atmosphere at City Hall that heritage was important. It’s not there now.” He emphasized that “valuing heritage did not prevent development—and it shouldn’t. But heritage was a lens through which all projects were reviewed—now it seems to be viewed as more of a hindrance to development.”
    Stark understands that developers are not the problem. They are trying to do what they do best—making a profitable investment through development projects. But he feels that City staff, particularly those at the top of what’s now called “Sustainable Development and Community Planning,” no longer really care about the heritage of Old Town—there’s a lack of knowledge and/or interest.
    How else to explain the “façadism” that’s being allowed? Stark pointed to Customs House as the most visible example of this currently, with its three walls propped up and a heap of rubble inside. Plans call for Duck’s Building to be gutted and another floor added on top, with the façade retained.
     

    The façade of the Customs House building is being retained for a redevelopment at Government and Wharf
     
    The lack of value attributed to heritage at City Hall also helps explain, in Stark’s mind, the lack of timely and meaningful consultation with the Heritage Advisory Panel. “We were often the last to see a proposal,” said Stark—and, if they had issues with the proposal, planning staff would complain about the time they’d already put into it.
    Stark claimed informational presentations by staff about planned changes are relayed to council as “consultation”—as if the Panel had some say on them. After such a faux consultation on zoning changes involving height restrictions in Old Town, the Panel passed a unanimous motion that did not get relayed at all to council, said Stark.
    Stark met a few times with senior staff and once with the mayor who urged him to stay. Believing things wouldn’t change, he resigned.
     

    Stuart Stark
     
    I invited Councillor Pam Madoff to comment on Stark’s resignation. She wrote: “Stuart’s resignation from the Heritage Advisory Panel is a loss to the Panel, to City Council and to Victoria. A highly respected heritage consultant, and designer, with decades of experience, Stuart has also been a tireless and effective volunteer advocate of our built heritage for decades. As chair of the Panel he spent untold hours preparing for each meeting and ensuring that all voices around the table were heard. For Stuart to have become so frustrated with the role of the Panel, and how its opportunity to advise council had become increasingly limited, that he felt he had no option, other than resignation, should serve as a wake-up call for how the City’s heritage policies are currently being implemented.”
    When I asked the City’s Director of Sustainable Development and Community Planning Jonathan Tinney about Stark’s resignation, he acknowledged the wealth of heritage knowledge among Panel members” and said, “We want to make sure we get the benefit of that—and the feedback from Stuart was helpful. Some changes have been made as a result.” He told me more applications are now going to the Panel that formerly were handled solely by staff. An additional heritage planner has recently been hired.
    Stark remains skeptical that the heritage program has the backing of senior staff, or even the mayor, who he sees as pro-development.
    Madoff tends to lay the blame at council’s feet: “All council and the mayor have to do is apply things that were put in place earlier.” The appropriate guidelines and policies are all there, she feels. They just need to be applied with consistency. This will provide developers with the surety they need to create projects that will work in Downtown’s heritage conservation area.
    Madoff doesn’t believe that heritage needs to be sacrificed for other priorities. She pointed to earlier developments which managed to restore and revitalize heritage properties without adding extra storeys on top and devolving into “façadism.”
     
    LISTED ON CANADA'S Historical Places website, Duck’s Block is described as “an excellent example of a large-scale Late Victorian commercial building. Constructed in 1892 for Simeon Duck, a successful early local entrepreneur, MLA, and former Minister of Finance for British Columbia, this handsome Victorian building is a testament to the entrepreneurship of its original owner.” Initially a carriage works, it also housed retail outlets, entertainment venues, meeting rooms and a brothel. “Bold decoration and architectural solidity make Duck’s Block a dominant presence within Broad Street’s narrow streetscape.” Among its character-defining elements are “rusticated masonry piers at street level, and stone lintels; bold Victorian detailing, such as arched windows on the uppermost storey, … [and] intact original storefront elements such as cast iron columns.”
    Both Duck’s Block and the next door building (615-625 Johnson), which is to be demolished under the proposal, are on the Heritage Registry and in the heart of Old Town. The guidelines for this area note: “The distinctive character of Old Town, without parallel in other Canadian cities, derives from Victoria’s decline as a major seaport and centre of commerce by 1900, that protected it from the pressures of urban development that have altered the scale and character of most other urban seaports.”
    Michael Williams, the late developer and heritage afficionado, bought Duck’s and the Trounce-designed building beside it many years ago, though never developed them. As a result, they now house affordable artist studios, retail spaces, apartments and a dance studio. Williams bequested these buildings, his other numerous Downtown properties, his businesses (e.g. Swan’s Hotel and Pub) and extensive art collection to the University of Victoria upon his death in 2000.
    UVic Properties, which manages the university’s revenue-generating properties, has sold Duck’s and the corner property (also built by Duck, in 1875, as the Canada Hotel) to Chard Developments, at fair market value, according to David Chard. In 2017 the two properties were assessed at $5.7M.
    Chard will build market condos on his properties—113 in all. Duck’s will be gutted and have an extra storey built on its roof, and the old Canada Hotel building will be demolished and replaced with a seven-storey building.
    UVic’s new building will occupy the parking lot to the left of the Duck’s and house 59 non-market rental units for UVic grad students. It’s been noted that once students graduate, there is no requirement for them to move out to make room for other students.
    In all, that’s 172 residential units—with no parking. Retail shops will occupy the ground floors.
    Stark told me, “As an alumni of UVic, I am totally embarrassed that the university would inflict this on a heritage conservation area.”
    I asked Councillor Madoff what Michael Williams would think of the current proposal. Noting that Williams certainly never did anything like what they’re planning to do with Duck’s, she stated, “He was very protective of the character of Old Town. He understood the value, texture and scale of Old Town and that was what he was working to enhance.”
    Madoff said she told the developers a couple of years ago that she couldn’t see even one principle of heritage conservation fulfilled by their plans. “The storefronts didn’t relate to each other. And in taking the height up, they’d also flattened the height along Broad, when Old Town guidelines clearly call for varied heights echoing the rhythm and character of the conservation area.” Besides being too high, she warned them, it reduced the Duck to a façade.
    Before I even asked developer David Chard about this, he told me, “We’re maintaining the entire structure, so it isn’t façadism.”
    At 22.47 metres, the project is well over the 15 metres stipulated in the guidelines. Chard noted that there are heritage buildings in Old Town already over 15 metres, and Duck’s Block itself is one of them. While this is true, Madoff noted, “15 metres was chosen as the limit for new buildings because new infill developments were not intended to dominate the Old Town profile and the profile was to remain ‘sawtooth.’”
    The main reason for greater height from Chard’s standpoint (and most developers) is that it is needed to accommodate the number of units that “make the economics work.” One huge expense, said Chard, is seismic work which is especially challenging with 125-year-old buildings. With the Duck proposal, the plan is to build the two new buildings before working on the Duck—“We’ll use them to reinforce the Duck while we replace its rock footings with concrete,” he explained.
    Chard believes that what’s getting lost in the discussion is this: “Many heritage buildings are in poor shape. What will happen to these buildings if they are not redeveloped?”
    The most concerning aspect of the UVic/Chard proposal for Madoff is that the three-storey Johnson Street heritage building is to be completely demolished. Designed by architect Thomas Trounce in 1874 as the Canada Hotel, it is one of only a few of his designs left. Admittedly, said Madoff, it has been stripped of some heritage features over the years—like bay windows—but it could have been restored.
    David Chard disagreed with that. He said the poorly-constructed wood-frame building could not be saved, as it was in “very rough shape.”
    Nevertheless, the property is a registered heritage building, and demolishing it, said both Stark and Madoff, sets a dangerous precedent for Old Town.
     
    THE HERITAGE ADVISORY PANEL’S unanimous lack of support for UVic and Chard’s proposal was followed on May 8 with a similar thumbs-down for Reliance Properties’ application for the Northern Junk project. The Panel suggested the seven-storey building on that site be reduced to four or five storeys, and urged that materials be more responsive to the immediate neighbourhood. (See Ken Johnson’s letter to the editor in this edition about the companion issue of selling off City-owned lands that this development necessitates.)
    Reading through the minutes of the Heritage Advisory Panel shows it is not anti-development. A proposal to build a new eight-storey condo project on Store Street, between the Janion and Mermaid’s Wharf, was recently passed unanimously. And in June, it supported a Heritage Alteration Permit for the 1897 Hall Block at 727 Yates Street, which adds two floors on top for rental housing. Council has since approved it for a public hearing.
    The current acting chair of the Panel, Rick Goodacre, served as executive director for Heritage BC for 23 years. He told me that dealing with development proposals virtually always involves a type of deal-making or trade-off, because the developers want to get as many units as possible on a site, while the City wants to see heritage buildings maintained, as well as more residential units Downtown. He implied that sometimes a good balance is struck, whereas other times it’s debatable (he pointed to the Janion, with the huge new building behind the historic hotel).
    In the past, many redevelopments of some of Victoria’s oldest buildings earned the support of the panel, and subsequently council. Madoff can rattle off numerous examples—from Dragon Alley, to the Vogue, Chris Le Fevre’s Wilson’s Storage project on Herald, and Michael Williams’ restorations—all part of a slow and steady stream of projects that revitalized Old Town, proving that developments can add housing while not sacrificing heritage buildings.
    But can they still do so in the current market? Or have much higher land prices made those more modest, respectful developments financially impossible?
    Without developers opening their books for me, I don’t know the answer, though I do appreciate the risk they take on. The larger, more complex projects, involving heritage properties, are among the riskiest, taking years of planning and consultation. It’s hardly surprising that by the time a developer gets to the Heritage Advisory Panel, he or she might well feel that they’ve already figured out the puzzle as best as it can be—and they are not inclined to lop off a few floors just because a citizens committee suggests it. Even staff can only advise the developer. In the end, the shape of the application for rezoning and permits is up to the developer, even when they get a unanimous thumbs-down from advisory panels or community groups. The decision on their proposals is ultimately council’s, taking into consideration the reports of advisory panels and land use committees.
    Two official citizen bodies—composed of volunteers putting in serious time and study—have clearly advised council against the Duck proposal as it stands (though the Advisory Design Panel loved it). They are basing their refusal to support the project on established rules in official documents. Besides the OCP, the Core Area Plan is a principal guide for planning decisions related to Downtown.
    Madoff said the City developed its Core Area Plan in a very conscious way, allowing, for instance, buildings of 20-plus storeys on Blanshard, because it would save Old Town from such pressures. She supported it, but now states, “If [Old Town Guidelines are not respected] it puts the Core Area Plan into question for me.”
    Downtown’s heritage conservation area is a relatively small area west of Douglas Street between Humboldt and Chatham. If council doesn’t enforce the regulations around height and density in the area, developers will notice, and we can expect more precedent-setting changes to the character of Old Town.
    Madoff worries that changes, including the “façadism” trend, are going to make Old Town look like a theme park rather than a vital part of Downtown. “International visitors,” she said, “are discerning. They know authenticity when they see it. If it looks like a stage set, we’ll lose on all counts.”
    Leslie Campbell knows there are many issues to reflect on, heading towards Victoria’s October 20 civic election, but consider adding to your list the way potential council members manage growth in Victoria’s Old Town.

    David Broadland
    July 2018
    FOIed emails show engineers forgot about a serious flaw until it was too late to fix properly. They then forgot that they had forgotten.
     
    AFTER STALLING FOR SIX MONTHS, the City of Victoria finally released documents that provide details about why the lifting section of the new Johnson Street Bridge had to be repaired before it was even installed. “Repair,” by the way, is the word used by the engineers involved. The records the City released include emails from Ryan Andrews, PCL’s project manager, to private consultant Jonathan Huggett, whom the City has been paying about $300,000 a year to watch over Victoria taxpayers’ interests on the project. PCL is the Edmonton-headquartered company the City contracted to build the bridge in 2013.
    The released records show Huggett and another engineer misled public officials about the circumstances that led to the need for the premature repair. In turn, those public officials, including Mayor Lisa Helps, misled the public.
    As you may recall, our January story pointed out that a one-metre by one-metre steel plate had been bolted to the underside of each of the new bridge’s 50-foot-diameter rings at the 12 o’clock position. The plates were not part of the intended design, and appeared to be a last-minute addition needed to reinforce some structural weakness in the rings. For our story we contacted Huggett and Helps for information about what had necessitated the plates.
     

    A close-up of the large bolted-on plates that made a last-minute and unexpected appearance on Victoria's brand-new $115-million bridge
     
    Huggett’s response to our questions at the time produced little factual information. Mayor Helps ignored our questions about whether she and council had been advised about the plates. Following publication of our story, Helps issued a statement through facebook claiming our story “contained serious factual errors and inaccuracies.” Her statement had apparently been created by then acting City Manager Jocelyn Jenkins, with Huggett’s guidance. Keith Griesing, a professional engineer with Hardesty & Hanover, the company that engineered the lifting section of the bridge, wrote a letter to the City explaining how the problem that led to the repair had been discovered. Griesing denied any responsibility for the circumstances that led to the bolted-on plates and blamed the Chinese fabricator.
    In the six months since then, Helps and the City were unable to provide any examples of “factual errors and inaccuracies” in our original story. However, after receiving the records we requested by FOI, I am able to report that I did make a factual error. The size of the plates are actually six feet by six feet—almost four times as large as we reported. But the emails from Andrews to Huggett paint a rather different story than that told by Huggett, Helps, and Griesing.
    In two emails from Andrews to Huggett, Andrews appealed to Huggett to intervene with Hardesty & Hanover to hasten resolution of a serious issue that became known as “NCR 155.” That referred to four weld access holes in each ring described in a non-conformance report (NCR) by Atema dated January 4, 2017. Atema was the company performing PCL’s quality-control inspections at the steel fabrication facility in China where the lifting section was built.
    Atema’s report recorded that the weld access holes were “discovered” on December 9, 2016. The concern about the small holes, not openly stated in the Atema report, was that their location and physical nature would concentrate stress and could eventually lead to the formation of fatigue cracks in the rings. Such fatigue cracks could threaten the structural integrity of the bridge’s superstructure.
    In Andrews’ first email to Huggett about the issue, which he sent on March 31, 2017 following a meeting with Hardesty & Hanover that day, Andrews wrote: “For a brief recap, you heard H&H mention this has been a known issue for over a year, yet it wasn’t communicated to PCL…until December 2016 at which point the NCR was initiated…”
    I’ve added the italicization in that sentence to draw your attention to that point. It shows that Andrews told Huggett on March 31, 2017 that the problem created by the weld access holes “had been a known issue for over a year.” That would mean the problem had been evident to Hardesty & Hanover before March 31, 2016.
    Both Huggett and Griesing have, in their separate public explanations of the issue, implied that the problem was discovered in December 2016 as a result of Atema’s diligent inspection and quality control.
    So what’s the big deal about the eight months missing from both Huggett’s and Griesing’s explanations? During those eight months, as well as during the four months between rediscovery of the problem and the date when Andrews emailed Huggett, work had continued on the rings. That year of work made it more difficult to fix the problem properly.
    Neither Huggett nor Griesing responded to requests for an explanation of why those eight months had disappeared from their public accounts of what happened. Perhaps there is no reasonable explanation for why the problem wasn’t addressed as soon as it was first identified. It appears the problem was simply forgotten. Did someone then wake up in the middle of a dark, December night and have an OMG! moment? How embarrassing this must be for those involved: Engineers forgetting that they forgot.
    But that’s not the full extent to which Huggett and Griesing misled the City and the public.
    Andrews’ March 31, 2017 email to Huggett continued: “Now it also needs to be noted that this so called ‘non-conforming’ condition has no design details and no comments were made on the shop drawings. We have not raised issue of this prior due to our interest in just getting it repaired and over with, but being that it continues to linger it now has significant impacts for both PCL and the City—those being time and money.”
    Andrews, then, disputed that the weld access holes were the fault of the fabricator. He believed they were a result of design details and comments not being provided by the designer—Hardesty & Hanover.
    Indeed, Atema’s NCR 155 included notations that pointed out the lack of clarity in the shop drawings for the weld access holes. Ultimate responsibility for approving those shop drawings lay with Griesing.
    Martin Bache, a 40-year veteran of the heavy steel fabrication industry in Canada, described the proper procedure required for approval of weld access holes: “Weld access holes in fracture-critical members must be designed by the Engineer of Record [Griesing]. Competent detail draftspersons would be expected, during preparation of the shop drawings, to identify closed chambers where the Engineer of Record may have forgotten to show on his plans weld access holes without which the required welding cannot be performed. They would then issue an RFI [request for information] pointing this out, and asking the Engineer of Record how they should proceed.”
    According to Bache, then, Griesing would ultimately be responsible for the completeness of the design of every weld access hole that was required, since every steel member in the rings was designated “fracture-critical.” 
    But in January 2018, after publication of our original story, Griesing wrote the City of Victoria and stated, “There was no ‘design flaw’ by Hardesty & Hanover nor any other of the City consultants involved; it was assembly by the fabricator that did not conform to the design plan requirements nor to the applicable detailing and fabrication standards required in the specifications.”
    Andrews’ email to Huggett calls that claim into question.
    And now we come to the nub of why Victoria got a new bridge delivered with such highly visible repairs.
    Andrews’ email to Huggett continued: “I’m requesting your support by having a separate conversation with H&H/MMM on this subject and resolution thereof. Having to remove the cover plate to do these repairs should be the item challenged as this is what will create the delay expressed above. Or in other words, give me a repair that requires no removal of the cover plate.”
    There were three general approaches that could have been taken to address the potential for fatigue caused by the weld access holes.
    PCL’s fabricator proposed a welded repair limited to the weld access holes themselves, but Hardesty & Hanover rejected that approach.
    A second approach was to add steel to the outside of the rings, and that’s the approach that was eventually taken.
    The third approach would have been to remove steel plate (“the cover plate”) from the rings in the area around the access holes and rework the problematic area. That would have preserved the intended design. But Andrews lobbied Huggett to steer away from this latter course. Removing the cover plate at that point in the project could have created a problem that he outlined to Huggett in a second email a few days later: “[T]he whole reason the [cover] plate was installed was [because] it was continually discussed between all parties that all welding needed to be complete before proceeding [in March 2017] to vertical assembly due to concerns of the heat induced from welding causing the shape of the rings to change.”
    The implication was that if the choice was made to remove plating and rebuild the problematic area of the ring, the fit between the rings and the other major bridge components—obtained during the month-long trial vertical assembly that had just been completed—couldn’t be counted on. Andrews estimated that taking the route of removal of plate and doing an internal fix would add a “week or more” to the schedule.
    Compare that “week or more” to the year that had passed between the time the issue first became known and the point when trial vertical assembly had been completed. In that context, Griesing’s explanation to City council that “impact to schedule” was an important factor in the choice of bolted-on plates is…laughable. 
    Remarkably, the record of Huggett’s communications released by the City doesn’t include any communications coming from Huggett. He appears not to have responded to Andrews’ emails and not to have consulted with Hardesty & Hanover or with MMM as per Andrews’ request. Neither did he inform anyone at the City of Victoria about the issue or the options. It’s clear that an alternative to bolted-on plates was possible and would, by Andrews’ estimate, have added only a “week or more” to the schedule. But, according to the records released by the City, Huggett didn’t advocate for any outcome with anyone.
    Let’s reflect on the absence of any emails from Huggett in response to Andrews’ appeals. Huggett is not a City of Victoria employee. He operates what appears to be a one-man project management business in the Vancouver area. His contract with the City does not require him to use the City’s email server, which automatically backs up all City employee emails and preserves them for the purpose, among others, of being available for access-to-information requests.
    When Focus requested Huggett’s communications on this issue, the City had to ask him to go through his emails and find relevant records. In other words, the City created a situation where a private contractor could, in effect, decide what emails to provide. The problem here should be obvious. The City has no way of knowing what interactions took place between Huggett and employees of Hardesty and Hanover, PCL or MMM. The product these companies delivered was seriously defective, yet Huggett, when questioned about the bolted-on plates, provided little more than an airbrushed account of why that had occurred.
    From what I understand, the City has now entered into a similar arrangement with Huggett regarding the City’s plan to build a new $75 million swimming pool. What is that definition of “insanity” again?
    Does the City have any legal recourse to seek compensation as a result of the delivery of a defective bridge? As I noted in my story in our May/June edition, in April 2016 the City agreed to “release and forever discharge” PCL, MMM and H&H “from all debts, claims, demands, damages, expenses and costs (including without limitation, legal costs) of any nature or kind that are in any way related to the Project and either known or which ought to be known by the [City] as of [April 23, 2016].” According to PCL’s Ryan Andrews, the defects that necessitated the bolted-on plates were a “known issue” at the time the City signed away its right to seek legal recourse for anything related to known issues.
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.
    The City of Victoria's full release of documents related to the bolted-on plates can be downloaded here. (9.1 MB file size)
    Related stories:
    Bridge design flaw hidden for a year, then given quick-and-dirty repair
    Victoria City Hall continues cover-up of bridge design flaw
    Why are Victoria City councillors accepting a world-class bodge?
    The Wounded White Elephant

    Judith Lavoie
    July 2018
    Indigenous communities in the path of the oil sands and its pipelines have been left with no good options.
     
    IN NORTHERN ALBERTA AND BC, anger at environmental damage and fears that traditional cultures are disappearing are competing with economic pragmatism as Indigenous leaders struggle to decide where the future lies. Is it more beneficial to fight, or take a place at the negotiating table in hopes of mitigating damage? It’s a complicated and sometimes soul-crushing balancing act. First Nations have little faith that their objections will have any effect on development decisions, given the history of approvals.
    In Alberta, out of more than 170 oil sands projects, almost none have been turned down, despite First Nations investing years of research and spending millions of dollars on court cases. “There has been 50 years of mining and there is still no protection of our rights. Governments don’t seem to care,” said Lisa Tssessaze, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation lands and resource management director.
    Around Fort Chipewyan, a hamlet on the banks of Lake Athabasca, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree are preparing to fight the massive Teck Frontier project.
    The Teck Frontier mine is a $20-billion development, which the company says would provide 7,000 construction jobs and 2,500 permanent jobs. 
     

    Buffalo in northern Alberta (Photo by Louis Bockner)
     
    It would sit 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray and 30 kilometres south of Wood Buffalo National Park, a World Heritage Site which a UNESCO report says is already under threat from rampant oil sands development and other pressures.
    If approved after joint federal-provincial review panel hearings this fall, Teck Frontier would rip up 292 square kilometres, with much of the development on land where the buffalo roam.
    Not just any buffalo, emphasized elder Roy Ladouceur, who, for more than half a century, has lived off the land at the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s Poplar Point reserve, which is 16 kilometres from the Teck site. The area, explained Ladouceur, includes calving grounds for the Ronald Lake Bison Herd, the only disease-free, genetically-pure wood bison herd in the area. The herd is already in trouble because of proximity to the oil sands and poaching. He believes that, if Teck goes ahead, it will be the end of the Ronald Lake Bison Herd.
     

    Roy Ladouceur (Photo by Louis Bockner)
     
    “They say they can find ways and means of preserving the habitat and I just can’t see it happening, no way, no how,” said Ladouceur. Ideas of relocating the buffalo and caribou make no sense and are likely to result in the animals contracting diseases, he said. “You can’t do that to any animal. You are breaking Nature’s law and Nature has its own way. It’s not their home,” Ladouceur said.
    Freddie Marcel, another Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation elder, concurs with this judgement. He talks with sad resignation about the future of the land where generations of his family have hunted, trapped and fished. “That Teck Frontier development is going to happen regardless of what we say and whether we fight. The buffalo are there and the caribou are there, but that’s right where the mine is going to be,” shrugged Marcel.
     
    THE AREA HAS BEEN EXPERIENCING the environmental impacts of industrial development for decades now. Around Wood Buffalo National Park and the Peace-Athabasca Delta, pollution and dropping water levels are evident and problematic. Much of the pollution is traceable to oil sands development. The dropping water levels are largely attributable to dams on the Peace River, climate change, and industry withdrawing water from the Athabasca River. Together they have changed centuries-old lifestyles that relied on the land and water for food, medicines, clothing and shelter.
    Simultaneous with the environmental damage, however, has come a steady flow of oil money into communities, which is altering attitudes and forcing First Nations communities to examine priorities.
    Indigenous communities in both provinces are increasingly looking at benefit agreements with companies in hopes of having their voices heard and bringing injections of cash and jobs to their bands. Fort Chipewyan Metis Local 125, for instance, has already signed a participatory agreement with Teck Frontier in return for economic benefits and opportunities to negotiate traditional land use and environmental stewardship. 
    Teck Frontier spokesman Chris Stannell said the company has signed similar agreements with 11 Indigenous groups. “These agreements identify economic and social benefits and opportunities—such as employment, contracting and training—and include environmental stewardship planning,” Stannell said in an emailed response to questions.
    Even Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, though offically opposed, is involved in talks with the company on topics such as buffer zones and protection for wildlife.
    Matt Hulse, the Nation’s regulatory affairs coordinator, admits the question of how to deal with projects such as Teck Frontier is complicated. He said, “There’s a lot of grey. Everyone realizes the jobs are down there [in the oil sands] and that’s where the money comes from. People don’t want the [Teck Frontier] mine to go ahead, but, because we have so little confidence in the regulatory process, Indigenous communities are forced to find ways to benefit from the project to offset the impacts. There isn’t any good option.”
     
    THAT AMBIVALENCE IS UNDERLINED by a surprise announcement last month that Athabasca Tribal Council—made up of five First Nations, including Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree—is considering buying a stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline in an effort to obtain Indigenous control and ensure the environment is safeguarded.
    The controversial pipeline, opposed by many British Columbians, was purchased by the federal government from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion to ensure a planned expansion goes ahead.
    The Athabasca Tribal Council move caught pipeline critics and some community members off guard, particularly as Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam, who is also president of the Tribal Council, has been known for campaigning against the pace of oil sands development alongside such celebrities as Jane Fonda, Leonardo DiCaprio and Neil Young.
    Athabasca Chipewyan elder Alice Rigney, who has lived off the land all her life, blames the oil industry for destroying the delta and the lifestyle that has sustained her family for generations, and she wants no part of a pipeline. “I could not believe that my community wants to be part of this pipeline. They have forced us into a corner where we have nowhere else to turn,” Rigney said sadly. “Just think 100 years from now what this planet will look like. They are destroying the land.”
    Ironically, the Trans Mountain pipeline is likely to transport oil from the Teck Frontier development, although Stannell said that, if the project is approved, the first oil is not expected to flow until 2026, so shipping plans have not yet been determined.
    So why would First Nations, who are continuing to fight oil sands projects, want to buy a piece of pipeline?
    Winds of change are blowing through First Nations communities, said Mikisew Cree Chief Archie Waquan. In Fort Chipewyan, where many young people take fly-in-fly-out shifts in the oil sands, a new affluence is taking hold and traditional activities, such as a moose-hide tanning workshop, are failing to appeal to the new generation.
    Waquan, who describes himself as a former tree-hugger, believes he must lead efforts to modernize the economy for the sake of the younger generation. “Do we remain the same and be anti or get on the boat and deal with industry and be able to be part of what is happening there? I look at what is happening south of us in the tarpits and the oil sands and, if we don’t partake in it, we will be left behind and I will be to blame,” he said.
     

    Chief Archie Waquan (Photo by Louis Bockner)
     
    If the pipeline purchase plan goes ahead, it will be the second foray into the industry for Mikisew Cree, who, last year, together with Fort McKay First Nation, bought a 49 percent interest in a Suncor Energy storage facility.
    A pipeline share is a logical next step, said Waquan, acknowledging that there are continuing concerns, but insisting that participation will help mitigate problems. “I have to look to the future, beyond my time on Earth. Times have changed and we have to realize that. We need to go to a modern lifestyle—which I think my First Nation wants—and that means we have to deal with industry. We have to keep them in check,” he said.
    Waquan believes that, despite the scars left by oil and gas extraction, the land is resilient enough to recover. “You can’t reverse it now, but in time, when all the development is gone from this territory, our land will always come back to where it used to be,” he said.
    Others see it differently and say Indigenous communities are being coerced into deals. Eriel Deranger, Indigenous Climate Action executive director, believes that economic benefit agreements, with companies promising to transfer millions of dollars to communities, amount to bribes.
    “I have watched government and industry work very diligently to wear down the leadership—the way we are allowing this to happen is absurd,” she said. “Our communities are not making decisions freely, free of intimidation and free of coercion and free of bribery. Let’s be real, these impact benefit agreements are bribes,” she said.
    Projects are approved despite admissions of irreversible and adverse impacts on the people and the land, and that can destroy the spirit of the people, Deranger said. “They are saying, in order for you to survive in the economic system we have imposed on you, you have to join us. There’s no choice any more. The rights of industry and corporations have taken precedence over Indigenous rights,” she said.
    Judith Sayers, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president, said the same story plays out in BC, and companies regularly try to coerce First Nations into signing agreements by telling them that they will get nothing if they don’t sign on. “So you sign on to make sure you get money and jobs and benefits for your community,” she said.
    But communities should realize that they do not have to sign agreements, especially given the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) by the federal and BC governments, and recent emphasis on the need for free, prior and informed consent, Sayers said. “Losing your right to fish and hunt as opposed to having a job is no contest. There are other ways of making money and having meaningful economic development without selling your soul,” she said.
    When Kinder Morgan owned the pipeline, the company signed 43 mutual benefit agreements with Indigenous groups in BC and Alberta, but some chiefs have since said that they do not support the pipeline expansion project and felt signing the agreement was the only way to either get benefits or ensure there was funding to clean up spills. “It’s not really support. If we opposed it, we would have no way of addressing spills because we would be disqualified from funding from Trans Mountain,” Ditidaht Chief Robert Joseph told the Times Colonist in 2016.
    Chief Bob Chamberlin, Union of BC Indian Chiefs vice-president, said the history of Canada is that government makes the final decision over lands Indigenous people have never given up. That, he said, has resulted in a sense of resignation that, whatever you do, someone else is going to make the decision. “As much as we object, as much as we point at case law and the constitution, Canada’s long history of disregarding all that is still alive and well,” Chamberlin said. “We are waiting for free, prior and informed consent to become real, but, until it’s real, First Nations are still faced with ‘the government’s going to do what it’s going to do. We might as well get what we can.’”
    Now, with the underpinning of UNDRIP, it is up to Indigenous communities to shed those feelings of resignation, and for other Canadians to educate themselves on those rights, Chamberlin said. “We are talking about human rights and that’s a big evolution for Canadians to understand,” he said.
    Judith Lavoie spent eight days in June in the communities of Fort Smith and Fort Chipewyan reporting for The Narwhal on how Alberta oil sands projects and the Site C dam are affecting the Peace-Athabasca Delta and Wood Buffalo National Park. An overflight of the delta was funded by Sierra Club BC.

    Leslie Campbell
    July 2018
    The fuzzy thinking of Canada’s mainstream political establishment is driving some good citizens to despair.
     
    DAVID DODGE, a former Bank of Canada governor, recently gave a speech in Edmonton in which he predicted “there are some people that are going to die in protesting construction” of the Trans Mountain pipeline. As reported in the Edmonton Journal, he was warning his audience to be prepared, that the deaths would be a test of will for the Canadian government and its people, but certainly not a reason to stop the pipeline. “It’s going to take some fortitude” to face the deaths and continue, he said, but continue we must: “We have to understand this is a resource where the long-term viability isn’t there, not because we’re running out of muck in the ground, but because we actually, collectively, as the globe, are going to have to stop using as much of this stuff.”
    Dodge obviously understands the dictates of global climate change. His response is to urge Canadians to continue to exploit the main source of the problem in the closing window of time we’ll be allowed to. Even if it means people die.
    Meanwhile sensible, caring people who try to stand in the way of such exploitation are viewed as fanatics and felons.
     
    MURRAY REISS, an award-winning poet who lives on Salt Spring Island, is 72 years of age, just a few years younger than Mr Dodge. Arrested on March 23 for standing in front of the entry gate to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion construction site, he told BC Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck: “nothing less than the impending end of the world gets me to put my body on the line. I wish I was exaggerating. Tripling the Trans Mountain pipeline’s capacity will recklessly escalate tar sands extraction. James Hansen, who knows as much about the science of climate change as anyone, has stated, repeatedly: maximum tar sands exploitation puts civilization at risk.” 
     

    Murray Reiss
     
    “The laws of physics are non-negotiable,” continued Reiss, “the notion of selling more fossil fuels today to pay for climate action tomorrow is sheer delusion. By that ‘tomorrow’…runaway global warming will be locked into the system. Already every year—almost every month—sets a new record for heat, for flooding, for wildfires, drought.” 
    Lisa Baile of Pender Island, also in her 70s, had a long career as a medical researcher. The long-time mountaineer, wilderness educator, and author of the book, John Clarke, Explorer of the Coast Mountains, told Judge Affleck: “Knowing that climate change is reaching an irreversible tipping point, I cannot stand by and allow this pipeline to be built knowing that it will be contributing to a local and global catastrophe. I have to stand up for my home, the coast of BC and the planet—to do my utmost to leave a better world while there is still a chance—for my three-year-old granddaughter, my two grandsons and for all the youngsters and unborn children in the world. To do nothing would be irresponsible.” She is doing her 25 hours of community service at an alternative transportation organization.
     

    Lisa Baile
     
    Reiss and Baile are among the 203 people arrested and charged, mostly with criminal contempt of court, for protesting on Kinder Morgan’s construction site after the court granted the company an injunction—an injunction that now covers all BC work sites related to the pipeline. Criminal contempt is a step up from civil contempt. According to BC Civil Liberties Association, criminal contempt is “where a court order is breached, but the nature of the conduct interferes with the public’s interest in the ‘proper administration of justice.’” 
    Kris Hermes works with Terminal City Legal Collective and Protect the Inlet Coalition, helping to demystify the legal system for the protesters. He’s in court every day taking notes and reporting by email to arrestees what the judge is saying so people are more aware. He feels that from the beginning there seem to have been problems with the administration of justice. For instance, notes Hermes, “Despite being told by the RCMP that they were being charged with civil contempt of court, and signing a PTA [Promise to Appear] to that effect, arrestees were surprised to find out [later] they were being prosecuted for criminal contempt of court.”
    He also notes that “people of colour and indigenous land defenders were often treated with a heavier hand, with some being violently arrested by the RCMP.”
    Unlike other criminal court cases, arrestees are not being given access to “duty counsel” to make sure they understand the process and what pleading guilty means. As well, the vast majority of those arrested, says Hermes, fall into an income bracket that makes them ineligible for legal aid—which has a high threshold these days—yet unable to afford a lawyer.
    Thus many people are representing themselves, which makes for interesting court sessions, says Hermes. They are given a bit of latitude by the judge but “they are often pleading guilty without advice of a lawyer on how to defend themselves.” 
    “A lot of people are struggling with this process,” says Hermes. “This has been raised numerous times…but the court seems not to care.” One defence lawyer complained in court that defendants were being subjected to a “factory cookie-cutter process” geared to expediting the 203 cases through the courts. Judge Affleck admitted he was aiming for an expeditious, though fair, process and added, “the issues are narrow, and on issues of whether the pipeline is an environmentally wise structure, I will not hear that evidence.”
    Instead, the judge has ruled that people’s defence is limited to consideration of the evidence put forth by the Crown—were they standing or sitting at the gate or not? Despite that, says Hermes, there have been attempts to use unorthodox defences—“the necessity defence” for instance. The judge, however, ruled against it as there wasn’t evidence of “imminent peril,” and defendants had not exhausted all of their legal defences. They could, for instance, challenge or appeal the injunction (a costly process, no doubt). 
    The statement made in court by Barbara Stowe, a writer and movement teacher who lives on Pender Island, illustrates the gulf between the expeditious legal process and a citizen’s moral sense: “Coming to this court with no criminal record, never having been arrested before, I have been overwhelmed by this process and had much need for guidance. I recognize the fortunate position I am in, having legal counsel, and perceive that many have none and are at a disadvantage.” In pleading guilty, Stowe told the judge “if such a plea were allowed, nolo contendere would more accurately reflect what I feel in my heart, which is that I am guilty, but acted solely to oppose a greater crime. When doctors, professors, politicians and faith leaders start committing civil disobedience, it begs the question: who and what is the real danger to our society, to all that we hold dear? Are people sitting in front of a fence, putting their freedom at risk, willing to pay fines and do community work service or go to jail, displaying a greater contempt for the law than those riding roughshod over the rights and safety of tribes, communities, cities, this province, and the environment that sustains us all?”
     

    Barbara Stowe
     
    Stowe’s brother, a physician, also protested and was arrested. He was fined $500, while Barbara will serve 25 hours of community service. She and her probation officer will determine where.
     
    WHILE WE HEAR ALL SORTS OF STORIES that give the impression that our justice system is terribly bogged down and slow, they are moving through the pipeline protesters’ cases quickly.
    The efficiency is due in part to a Crown-approved roster of sentences issued on May 23. The document shows how sentencing is being used to deter those charged from pleading not guilty, and to discourage others from further protesting. As time wears on, penalties increase. Those arrested in the early days of the protest (prior to April 16) who pled guilty quickly, received a $500 fine or 25 hours of community service. That escalates to a $4500 fine or, if unable to pay, 225 hours in community service for later arrestees, as long as they plead guilty quickly (usually meaning by the first day of their trial). 
    That latter proviso meant that the sentence for Victoria resident Gordon Bailey, a retired Capilano College teacher, was ten times that of other protesters arrested on the same day as he was. Says Bailey, “I was sentenced to a $5000 fine or 240 hours community service or jail time. If I hadn’t been sick earlier and had a medical test for which I’d waited three months, I might have had the earlier sentencing. Interesting.” (He is now volunteering 10 hours a week at Our Place in order to meet his November probationary deadline.)
     

    Gordon Bailey
     
    Bailey, who has written books and articles on social theory, ideology, education, and a trilogy of eco-detective fiction, also finds it “interesting” that “the historic concept of civil disobedience carries no power or sway in the hallowed halls of our judicial system. To protest and resist injustice is now seen as not only civil contempt of a court injunction but also as criminal contempt. It’s as though the judge and the Crown prosecutors are historically illiterate. Tolstoy, Gandhi, Thoreau, and such celebrated people as Rosa Parks are deemed irrelevant to the modern intelligent consciousness.”
    Those arrested after May 8 who plead guilty face a mandatory seven days in jail—and likely higher if they plead not guilty, go to court, and are found guilty.
    The escalating sentencing appears to be giving the Crown what it wants: Few have protested since May 8. On June 19, however, 69-year-old grandmother Laurie Embree from 108 Mile House sat at the Westridge Terminal gate and was arrested. She said she wanted to tell the government: “We have the technology to make the change and to stop using fossil fuels and transition to renewables. We have the people to make these changes and there are jobs in making those changes. The only thing lacking is the political will.” She will likely be going to jail soon.
    The escalating sentences, along with the sweeping expansion of the injunction to cover all BC worksites, says Hermes, mean that “Essentially the company is using the courts to stifle meaningful protest.” (After the sale of Trans Mountain is finalized in late summer, it will be the Canadian government.)
     
    IN ALL THE STATEMENTS I READ, people alluded to their concern for First Nations. Sentenced on May 29 (the day the federal government announced it was buying the pipeline), Nan Gregory, a retired storyteller, children’s writer and lay chaplain of the Unitarian Church, told Judge Affleck: “I’ve never before been an activist…I’m here to stand up for a just and honourable reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
    Murray Reiss, mentioned earlier, asked, “How could I not oppose this pipeline, whose sole purpose is to gouge ever more bitumen from the ancestral lands of Lubicon, Mikisew and Beaver Lake Cree, Athabasca and Prairie Chipewyan First Nations? Whose existence would make a mockery of Canada’s pledges of climate action in the Paris Agreement and decolonization in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Whose construction would mean turning our back on negotiating free, prior and informed consent with First Nations, with whom we must learn to share this land.”
    George Rammell, a sculptor (who assisted Haida artist Bill Reid for 10 years) and retired art teacher, told the judge, “We were there because we saw a multitude of injustices perpetuated by our prime minister and Kinder Morgan to push this reckless pipeline expansion forward at the expense of Aboriginal nations, animal species and the environment. Our actions at Kinder Morgan’s gates were necessary to help press the pause button until real justice is restored.”
    He noted, “It was under [the] Canadian apartheid system that the first pipeline was built from the Alberta tar sands to Burrard Inlet in the early 1950s. The Tseil-Wauthuth were vehemently opposed to it then as they are to Kinder Morgan’s current proposed expansion. Many Aboriginal Nations in BC were not adequately consulted or warned of the dangers of the proposed massive increase in dangerous diluted bitumen moving through their territorial lands and waters. These people’s rights are being violated by our own Federal government that espouses to be championing reconciliation, yet we’re expected to stand idly by in complicity.”
     
    FOCUS CHOSE TO GIVE THESE CITIZENS a little space here, not just because of the strength and eloquence of their words, but because of the resounding lack of coverage in the mainstream media of what’s happening to them in the courts. With the exception of the arrest and court appearance of Members of Parliament Elizabeth May and Kennedy Stewart, Victoria’s local daily hasn’t covered the protesters’ court cases at all. In fact, the Times-Colonist’s editorials have been consistently in favour of the pipeline. On May 30 it wrote: “We don’t believe [MP Elizabeth] May should lose her seat…but she should perhaps consider what would happen if everyone decided to be selective about the laws they obeyed.” This is over-simplifying things in a way that would rule out any cases of civil disobedience ever. 
    An earlier T-C editorial, shortly after Kinder Morgan threatened to pull out, urged the federal government to “fight for the pipeline.” In June, the paper ran a highly partisan op-ed on the subject by Gwyn Morgan (retired founding CEO of Encana Corp) in which he stated, “the battle has been zealously joined by [MLA Andrew Weaver’s] many local ground troops and international NGO professional protesters who share his fantasy that the end of fossil fuel era is nigh.”
    I think the protesters would protest: it’s not a fantasy; it’s a moral imperative if we want to prevent death and destruction from climate breakdown.
    Gordon Bailey wrote an op-ed, as yet unpublished, in which he cited H.L. Mencken’s observation on the subject of civil disobedience: “The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime: he is a good citizen driven to despair.”
    Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus.

    David Broadland
    July 2018
    Is Fisheries & Oceans Canada ignoring Washington State research on chemical contamination from sewage treatment plants?
     
    ARE THREE LARGE SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANTS located on the Fraser River estuary contributing to the decline of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population? Between them they discharge 1.1 billion litres of effluent every day of the year into the estuary and nearshore marine waters. The largest, Iona Island, provides only primary treatment and has been permitted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to continue at that level until 2030.
    We now know that the reproductive health of the orca population depends heavily on the availability of Fraser River chinook salmon, but, according to fisheries scientists, chinook runs on the Fraser are now only 25 percent of historic numbers. Recent research in Washington has found a strong link between the survival rate of juvenile chinook salmon and chemical contamination of their natal estuary. Is the survival rate of Fraser River juvenile chinook being similarly impacted by contamination from the Annacis Island, Lulu Island and Iona Island wastewater treatment plants? Currently, these three plants provide treatment for over 1.8 million people, and thatpopulation is not declining.
     

    Vancouver’s three largest sewage treatment plants all discharge into critical chinook salmon habitat.
     
    The physical processes involved in this chinook-sewage-orca death spiral have become better understood in recent years thanks to research by Dr James Meador, an environmental toxicologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, and Dr Samuel Wasser, a research professor of conservation biology at the University of Washington.
    Since 2013, Meador and his team of researchers have published three studies that considered the impact of chemical contamination on juvenile chinook salmon during the period they reside in their natal estuary.
    Meador’s first study found that the survival rate of juvenile chinook that smolted in contaminated estuaries of rivers flowing into Puget Sound was cut in half compared with juveniles coming from a relatively uncontaminated natal estuary. Let me repeat that: Survival rate is cut in half.
    In his second study, Meador analyzed the discharge from secondary sewage treatment plants, located upstream from chinook estuaries, for the occurrence of 150 “chemicals of emerging concern,” or CECs. These are chemicals associated with pharmaceutical and personal care products, as well as industrial compounds. Many are known endocrine disruptors, which can affect hormonal balance and result in developmental and reproductive abnormalities.
    The researchers also analyzed the tissue of juvenile chinook and resident sculpin in the estuary for the presence of the selected CECs.
    That study became widely publicized in 2016 because cocaine and antidepressants—and many other chemicals—were found in both the treatment plants’ discharge and in fish tissue. Indeed, Meador’s team found unexpectedly high levels of certain CECs in the treated effluent.
    The study’s findings suggested that chinook juveniles have a significant vulnerability to bioaccumulation of CECs. Many contaminants that were found in juvenile chinook tissue were at concentrations below detection limits in the estuary waters. The scientists also observed higher levels of contaminants in juvenile chinook than in resident sculpin, even though the latter were permanent residents of the estuary.
    Meador’s team observed that the contaminants found in chinook tissue, although present in sub-lethal concentrations on a chemical-by-chemical basis, were, in some cases, present at levels that would be expected to cause detrimental physiological effects. The scientists noted the potential for a drug-cocktail effect: “The fact that we observed multiple pharmaceuticals capable of interacting with a variety of molecular targets in our two fish species, leads to the potential for mixture interactions on critical physiological processes. These interactions can be additive, synergistic, or inhibitory.”
    Meador noted that these effects could be responsible for the two-fold reduction in survival rate found in his earlier study.
    In a third study (click link below to download), released this past April, Meador’s team found that the contaminants were also causing metabolic dysfunction, which “may result in early mortality or an impaired ability to compete for limited resources.” Again, Meador noted that metabolic dysfunction induced by CEC contamination could contribute to the two-fold reduction in the survival rate of these juvenile chinook, compared with chinook migrating from the uncontaminated estuaries, that he had found in his first study.
     
    Adverse metabolic effects in fish exposed to contaminants of emerging concern in the field and laboratory.pdf815.72 kB · 371 downloads 
     
    The US EPA has listed Puget Sound chinook as a “threatened” species, and the decline of those runs has been even more profound than the Fraser decline.
    Historically, according to Jim Myers of the Northwest Fisheries Science Centre in Seattle, Puget Sound’s chinook runs were about 25 percent greater than the Fraser River’s. But by 2010, Puget Sound chinook returns had collapsed to only six percent of the size of the greatly-reduced Fraser River returns.
    Although the link between the abundance of chinook salmon in the Salish Sea and the physical health of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population has been known for some time, Wasser’s seven-year-long study, published in 2017, provided the first confirmation that low availability of chinook is suppressing the population’s birth rate and endangering the health of reproductive female orca.
    Wasser’s team collected orca poop and analyzed it for hormone measures of pregnancy occurrence and health. The scientists also looked for chemical indicators of nutritional and disturbance stress in the poop. By making the same measurements over time, they were able to distinguish between nutritional stress caused by low availability of chinook salmon, and disturbance stress caused by the presence of nearby boats.
    Wasser’s team correlated periods of nutritional stress with the timing and strength of the two main chinook runs that are keeping the southern orca alive: the Columbia River early spring run and the Fraser River summer and fall runs. They found that—depending on the timing of those runs, and how many fish were in them—the southern resident orca experienced more or less intense famines through the winter months and between the spring and summer runs.
    The scientists observed: “Low availability of chinook salmon appears to be an important stressor among these fish-eating whales as well as a significant cause of late pregnancy failure, including unobserved perinatal loss.” The scientists surmised that “release of lipophilic toxicants during fat metabolism in the nutritionally deprived animals may also provide a contributor to these cumulative effects.”
    Not only are the orca being periodically starved, but when a starved, pregnant orca begins burning off her fat reserves in response to the lack of food, toxins bioaccumulated in her fat reserves—such as PCBs and PBDEs—begin to have more of an impact on her health, such as a reduced ability to fight infections. This could contribute to the demise of the fetus and increase the risk to the mother’s life.
    As a consequence of these conditions, the study noted, “the 31 potentially reproductive females in the Southern Resident Killer Whale population should have had 48 births between 2008–2015. Yet, only 28 births were recorded during that period. The 7 adult females in K pod have not had a birth since 2011, and just two births since 2007. The 24 females in the remaining two pods (J and L) have averaged less than 1 birth per pod since 2011, with no births in 2013, but had 7 births in 2015. One of the two offspring born in 2014 died.”
    As of this writing, with the presumed death of “Crewser,” the population has dwindled to 75 whales. As recently as 1996 there were 98 orca in the 3 pods.
    Wasser noted, “Results of the Southern Resident Killer Whale study strongly suggest that recovering Fraser River and Columbia River chinook runs should be among the highest priorities for managers aiming to recover this endangered population of killer whales.”
    Let’s make the obvious connection between Meador’s and Wasser’s findings.
    Meador’s research strongly suggests that the chemical contamination in Puget Sound rivers that’s quickly bioaccumulating in juvenile chinook is coming from sewage treatment plants discharging into their natal estuary. Removing that contamination could double the number of chinook returning to those rivers as adults.
    Wasser’s study shows the Southern Resident Killer Whale population’s decline is strongly correlated with the availability of chinook and he recommends, for one thing, that managers of the Fraser River fishery make chinook recovery amongst their highest priorities.
    A rational conclusion, based on the two groups of scientists’ extensive research, would be that Fraser River fisheries managers should be determining whether the impacts Meador measured in Washington estuaries are at play in the Fraser estuary. But that’s not happening.
    DFO recently published “A science based review of recovery actions for three at-risk whale populations” that listed 98 specific actions. DFO acknowledges that only 2 of the 98 measures are “specifically directed toward recovery of chinook salmon stocks in Canada.” None of those 98 actions include examination, let alone reduction, of the impacts of chemical contaminants on chinook juveniles in the Fraser River estuary.
     
    DFO paper on SRKW recovery efforts.pdf1.36 MB · 594 downloads 
     
    DFO has been caught flat-footed on chemical contamination of the Fraser River estuary in the past. The Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River produced a technical report in 2011 that stated: “There is a strong possibility that exposure to contaminants of concern, endocrine disrupting chemicals, and/or contaminants of emerging concern has contributed to the decline of sockeye salmon abundance in the Fraser River.” Despite that, the technical report noted, “Due to limitations on the availability of exposure data and/or toxicity thresholds” it could provide only a “qualitative evaluation.”
     
    Cohen Comm report on chemical contaminants re sockeye decline.pdf15.57 MB · 120 downloads 
     
    That was in 2011 and the information gap was related to sockeye. With chinook runs on the verge of collapse, you would think that Meador’s published research on chinook estuary contamination, only 200 kilometres away, would have prompted DFO to narrow the gap in their knowledge. We contacted DFO, but as of our press deadline a spokesperson had been unable to confirm whether or not any DFO-affiliated scientist was investigating the impact of the Fraser River estuary wastewater treatment plants, or other sources of chemical contaminants, on the survival rate of juvenile chinook.
    The presumption may be that because sewage effluent is being discharged into the Fraser River estuary through outfalls that achieve legally required dilution ratios, no further consideration is required. But the rivers Meador considered in Puget Sound are meeting similar if not higher requirements, and he found chinook survival rate is being cut in half.
    Meador has said it’s unlikely these contaminants can be effectively filtered out of the huge volume of wastewater that’s being flushed into Puget Sound. In the case of the Fraser River it seems possible that the three plants could be connected to a super outfall that diverts the discharge away from the estuary and into deeper marine waters. But without any examination of chemical loading of Fraser chinook juveniles being conducted by DFO, there will be no public pressure mounted for such a measure. Mr Floatie ought to find a new costume (Cocaine Man?) and relocate to Vancouver.
    Victoria’s deepwater marine outfalls, by the way, are located about 70 kilometres away from the nearest chinook estuary.
    While DFO wasn’t certain about what research is being done, it’s more certain about the magnitude of the chinook decline. In its 2018 outlook for the six different populations of chinook in the Fraser Basin, fisheries managers found that only one was at a level considered necessary to maintain a healthy population.
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.
     
    Related stories:
    The orca famine and Puget Sound's poisoned rivers
    Washington's phony sewage war with Victoria

    Ross Crockford
    May 2018
    The debate over density at 1201 Fort is sure to repeat itself across the City of Victoria.
     
    VICTORIANS CROWDED INTO CITY HALL on April 12. They stood in hallways, craning to hear the speakers in the council chambers, or downstairs, watching a live stream of the meeting on a TV in the foyer. The agenda package was 2,311 pages long — nearly 2,000 about a proposed development for 1201 Fort Street, the site of the former Victoria Truth Centre.
    “This has been an emotional journey for everyone,” said Mike Miller, president of Abstract Developments. In the two years since he’d bought the two-acre property, he told the council, he’d held 20 meetings with the neighbours and revised the project six times. One six-storey condo building faced Fort Street, but he’d reduced another to four storeys, and scaled down the size and number of townhouses facing Pentrelew Place at the back, cutting the total units from 94 to 83.
     

    An artist's rendering of Abstract Development's proposal (centre of image) for the former Truth Centre property on Fort Street
     
    “I’ve truly given all that I know to this application,” Miller concluded. “I do understand this can be a trying process. However, the passionate dialogue has been invaluable, and I feel has resulted in a better project.”
    Then dozens of citizens came up to speak. A large majority supported Miller’s project — a procession of architects, planners, contractors, realtors, and residents of other Abstract buildings, talking of the urgent need for more housing, and the quality of Abstract’s work — a sampling of the many allies Miller has made since he renovated his first house in Burnside 20 years ago.
    But the speakers’ list was also peppered with those who lived next to 1201 Fort, and had written many of the letters filling the agenda package. They said they weren’t opposed to development, but saw no benefit from this project, which they said would generate noise, traffic, parking conflicts, and require cutting down protected Garry oaks and sequoias.
    The main thrust of their complaint, however, was that the project violated the City’s own planning documents. According to the Official Community Plan (OCP), nearly three-quarters of the site is considered “traditional residential”, and zoned R1-B, “single family dwelling”. Abstract wanted a new site-specific zone, adding to some 650 already in Victoria’s bylaws, putting the four-storey building on land meant for houses. As Jamie Hammond, representing the Rockland Neighbourhood Association, told councillors, “If this is approved here, the question becomes for residents across the city: Where else is this acceptable?”
     

    Signs of neighbourhood discontent are sprouting up as fast as projects bringing increased density to residential neighbourhoods are being proposed  (Photo by Ross Crockford)
     
    That question is increasingly being asked by Victorians. While some of us are excited by the energy in town, others wonder if our communities are being sacrificed to simply make developers rich and expand our municipal government. Over the past five years, new construction has enlarged the City of Victoria’s annual property-tax revenue by at least $5.4 million. That’s allowed the City to keep a lid (somewhat) on tax increases, but raised suspicion that the City is tempted to amend the OCP and its zoning bylaws at the first whiff of new money.
    The OCP, drafted in 2011, envisions 20,000 more people living in the City by 2041. But the 285-page document contains contradictions. On page 25, it says “sufficient zoned capacity” already exists to meet that demand; on page 33, it warns that existing zoning won’t be enough, “running the risk that housing will become increasingly more expensive as available capacity is depleted.” The document envisions 50 percent of new density occurring Downtown, 40 percent in “urban villages” (mainly around Mayfair and Hillside malls), and 10 percent across the rest of the City. It also envisions greater density along arterial roads. That might lead one to expect towers along Douglas Street, or Shelbourne, serviced by rapid transit, but that hasn’t happened. Instead, the push is to build luxury condos on streets bordering established residential districts.
    That pressure is splitting neighbourhoods. The Fairfield-Gonzales Community Association has been attacked by some members for failing to criticize controversial developments, such as the five-storey condo block underway at Oliphant in the Cook Street Village. (Board members say such “political” activity would jeopardize the association’s charitable status, which it needs for its child-care programs.) Community associations are supposed to facilitate meetings between developers and residents, but those meetings have become so fractious that, last month, the Fairfield-Gonzales board voted to explore changing or withdrawing its involvement in the City’s development process. Some Gonzales residents have also formed their own association (gonzalesna.ca) so they can voice opposition to the City’s proposed new neighbourhood plan, which would permit row housing throughout their district, and multi-storey apartments along Fairfield Road.
     

    An almost sure sign that the City of Victoria's tax base will soon be increasing (Photo by Ross Crockford)
     
    IF THERE'S ONE THING EVERYONE CAN AGREE ON, it’s that housing in Victoria is rapidly becoming unaffordable to all but a few. The solution, say developers, is obvious: build more supply to bring prices down.
    And it’s not just developers. In Vancouver, Toronto, Seattle, and other expensive cities, a YIMBY (Yes, In My Back Yard) movement is gathering force. Mostly comprised of people in their 30s, they’re demanding that cities dump decades-old zoning laws to allow more apartments, everywhere. In their view, it’s hypocritical for owners of single-family homes to preach environmentalism and then oppose density, forcing new housing to sprawl ever farther from Downtown.
    The closest thing to a YIMBY group here (so far) is Cities For Everyone, a community organization led by alternative-transportation consultant Todd Litman. He publicly defends the 1201 Fort project — right on a transit and bicycle corridor — as exactly the kind of new density envisioned in the OCP.
    “Infill development often does require cutting down trees and paving over lawns, and may increase vehicle trips on a street,” he wrote in an April 9 letter to Council, “but these local impacts are generally offset many times over by reductions in regional land consumption and vehicle traffic that would occur if those households instead located in conventional automobile-dependent urban fringe housing.”
    It’s debatable if 1201 Fort will be for “Everyone”: its one-bedroom units start around $400,000. “Although the units in this project will not initially be affordable to low- and moderate-income households,” Litman also wrote, “they will contribute to the City’s overall affordability through what urban economists call ‘filtering,’ which means that increasing higher-priced housing supply allows some households to move out of lower-priced units, and because [construction] depreciates in value over time, so mid-priced housing becomes future affordable supply.”
    But not all academics agree that increasing supply will improve affordability. John Rose, an instructor in the department of geography and the environment at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, recently published a paper entitled “The Housing Supply Myth”. Using census data, he calculated that over the past 15 years, Victoria added 27,116 households to its population — but built 30,574 dwelling units.
    “We would think that if a market got less affordable, maybe that meant supply was getting tighter and tighter. But that’s baloney,” Rose told the Globe and Mail. “Here [in Vancouver] we’ve had more than enough supply and yet the housing costs have gone crazy.” He said the drivers of unaffordability are mainly on the demand side, such as the “pointless” construction of luxury units, largely created for part-time residents and speculators.
    Others argue that if the urgent problem is affordability, we can’t simply boost the supply of expensive condos and then wait (perhaps decades) for their prices to “filter” down to what renters can afford. Provinces and cities are trying to accelerate this via taxes on speculators and out-of-province owners, and greater regulation of short-term rentals. But some say we could also build more affordable housing by demanding greater Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) from projects — something the City has been slow to grasp.
    “In stark contrast to other BC municipalities, Victoria has launched itself into a densification plan that will never achieve its rationale of general or specific housing affordability,” wrote Doug Curran recently on Mile Zero Mirror, a local renter-advocacy blog. Curran, who worked as a community organizer in the District of North Vancouver before moving here in 2015, says his former municipality has collected $11 million in CACs from the construction of 777 residential units since 2013, charging about $22 per square foot, and using the funds to build a community centre. If the same metrics were applied to the 4,778 units in the pipeline here, Curran says, Victoria could’ve raised $40 million for affordable housing.
     

    Signs of the times (Photo by Ross Crockford)
     
    Victoria’s current density-bonus policy was only enacted in 2016, and charges $12 per square foot for developments Downtown. City planners argue that’s because real estate is cheaper here than in North Vancouver. But they do admit there are “limitations” to the current policy. If a development doesn’t trigger a rezoning, it isn’t subject to the charges; consequently, several new condo towers Downtown haven’t paid anything towards affordable housing. And if an independent economic analysis says a rezoning won’t produce a significant “lift” in the value of the land — as was the case for 1201 Fort — it’s not required to provide any affordable units. (Abstract has pledged to build 10 affordable rental units in a newly proposed nine-storey building at 1010 Fort instead — a gesture of goodwill that also improves the likelihood of council approving both buildings.)
    An improved policy is working its way through City Hall. On March 8, councillors requested an analysis of ways to further increase affordable housing built by developers — including “pre-zoning” areas feasible for affordable units, to speed up project approvals. But in the meantime, the October 20 civic election creeps closer, and Victoria’s politicians are increasingly aware that they will have to justify the current density boom to longtime residents who are likely to vote.
    “I don’t necessarily think that council or the City or the community has necessarily done the best job of managing and stewarding change in a way that everyone sees the benefits or that’s sustainable,” mayor Lisa Helps admitted to the Times Colonist in February — right after councillors voted down a 44-unit rental apartment block proposed for a residential section of Burdett Avenue, and opposed by 150 petition-signing neighbours. “That’s something that I’m grappling with right now as I kind of prepare for the [election] campaign. There’s a lot of change going on. How do we make sure that as change is happening, everyone is heard and everyone benefits?”
    Partway through the April 12 hearing, I stepped outside. Lots of people were out strolling, enjoying the evening, and I walked over to The Drake, a newish microbrew pub on Pandora. The place was packed, almost all people under 40. I sat beside three young professionals who’d all moved to Victoria in the past two years. They were from Edmonton, Toronto, and Albuquerque, working here for government, in finance, and in tech. They said they loved Victoria and wanted to stay, but it was nearly impossible to find a place to live.
    I forgot to ask if they planned to vote in October. I must be getting old.
    UPDATE: ON MAY 3, VICTORIA’S COUNCIL VOTED 6-3 IN FAVOUR OF THE DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL. For: Helps, Alto, Coleman, Loveday, Lucas, Thornton-Joe. Against: Isitt, Madoff, Young. (Video here; click on item D4 in the agenda.)
    “This is a hard decision,” said Mayor Helps, who introduced the motion to approve. “We heard a lot of conflicting views,” she noted, echoing the two truths in the title of the article above. “We heard, on the one hand, that [the proposal] fits the spirit and intent of the OCP, and we heard, on the other hand, that it doesn’t .... We heard that it’s incompatible with the vision for the City and the neighbourhood. And then we heard from others, almost using the exact same language, that it is compatible.”
    “So when there’s this amount of direct disagreement, it makes it difficult for Council to make a decision,” she continued. “And this is where we have to use all of our own thinking and knowledge and experience that we believe and find not only about the future of cities in general but this one in particular.”
    The mayor said the current zoning wasn’t appropriate, as it wouldn’t protect the trees, and allowed eight single-family dwellings plus a four-storey block on Fort. She said the revised proposal was much better than it was when it first came to the City, and would put most of the parking underground, with an entrance off Fort. She also noted that the site was on a transit corridor, and cited Todd Litman’s letter in favour of increased density along such routes.
    Most important, though, was that advocates from “Generation Squeeze” came out to speak in support of the proposal. “They’re looking out for the people who are coming after us, who are being squeezed out of housing, who are being squeezed out of affordability,” Helps said. One opponent had pointed out that the smallest condos in the proposed development would have to rent for at least $1,600 a month, an amount far out of reach for anyone earning the median income in Victoria of $45,000. “But actually this isn’t true,” Helps said. “The general rule is that no one should spend more than 30% of their income on housing. But the other thing that’s emerging is a more nuanced approach to affordability, and that is, no one should spend more than 45% of their income on housing and transportation combined. And so if you live in this area, you can easily take transit or walk or bike, and so your transportation costs, if you work downtown, would be zero dollars.”
    Helps’ motion to approve the development passed. But it turns out the units will be even less “affordable” than she thought: the developer is now taking registrations for “pre-sales pricing”, which starts at $550,000 — far higher than the $400K the developer ballparked in 2016.
    The presumption that one’s transportation costs will be “zero” in such a location may also be more “nuanced” than the mayor allows. A new study says there’s almost no relationship between lower personal spending on transportation and neighborhoods with better bus connections; far more important is the number of adults in a household, how many children they have, and their annual income. In other words, those who can afford one of these condos are also likely to own cars.
    If the City wants affordable housing for “the missing middle”, maybe it should demand that such housing actually gets built.
    Ross Crockford is a former trial lawyer, and has received a National Magazine Award for his journalism.

    David Broadland
    May 2018
    What should Victoria's new bridge be called? We should call it what it is.
     
    VICTORIA'S NEW BRIDGE—variously dubbed “The Blew Budget Bridge,” “Fortin’s Folly,” and “The White Elephant”—opened on March 31, 2018. Notably absent from the group of officials presiding over the occasion were any of the former high-level City officials who lost their jobs as a consequence of the project’s long history of miscalculation and misrepresentation. The bridge’s original designer, Sebastien Ricard of Wilkinson Eyre Architects, who ended his connection with the project back in 2012, was nowhere to be seen. Nor was Joost Meyboom, the private engineer who first advised the City to fix the old bridge rather than build a new one, back in 2008, but then went on to become the City’s prime consultant on the new bridge project. Meyboom’s employer—formerly MMM Group, which changed its name to WSP—launched a legal suit against the City over the project earlier this year.
     

    Opening of Victoria's new bridge
     
    No wonder all these folks skipped Mayor Lisa Helps’ $42,000 opening-day celebration. Back in April 2009, when City council voted to replace the existing “historically-significant” double-bascule bridge, those officials assured Victorians a new bridge would cost $41 million and take 18 months to build. Nine years later, costs have almost tripled while major elements of the project remain unestimated, unfunded and unfinished. Millions in costs directly attributable to the project have been hidden.
    The project’s record of underestimation and miscalculation, though, may be just a prelude to greater embarrassment to come. Certain aspects of the new bridge’s design and construction are so at odds with engineers’ warnings that, although the new bridge can, at this moment, open for marine traffic just like the old bridge, it’s highly doubtful whether it will come anywhere near to matching the old bridge’s 95-year record of reliable operation and minimal ongoing expense. While “The Blew Budget Bridge” does capture the huge miscalculation in cost, and “Fortin’s Folly” makes it clear that good people made bad decisions, only “The White Elephant”—which signifies over-the-top original cost and unjustifiable ongoing expense—provides a fulsome enough characterization of the so-far nameless new bridge. But even that needs updating. Here’s why I am leaning toward “The Wounded White Elephant.”
     

    The new bridge 's opening span provides the same navigational channel width as the old bridge did, but at huge costs and with hundreds of "nonconformities" welded into its superstructure.
     
    The most eye-catching feature of the new bridge is its 50-foot-diameter steel rings. The counterweight lobes attached to the rings do happen to resemble an elephant’s ears, but that’s not the reason why this bridge should be named “The White Elephant.” You won’t find anything like those rings—or the gigantic machinery below them needed to support and rotate them—on any bridge anywhere else on Earth. Unfortunately, designing a bridge that required 1700 tonnes of structural steel in its moveable superstructure and hundreds of tonnes of machinery to support that—just to span a 41-metre-wide opening—is not the direction planet Earth needs to go. (Worse, largely unacknowledged by the project is the fact that the first attempt to fabricate the superstructure was scrapped and as much as 1700 tonnes of steelwork wasted; more on this later.)
    Good, common-sense arguments were made against building Ricard’s design by engineers, and it’s because all the decision makers over the years ignored those arguments that the bridge cost three times what it should have and took 108 months to complete instead of 18.
    Because of those officials’ dismal performance, the bridge promises to be an ongoing source of expense to City of Victoria ratepayers and hence deserving of “The White Elephant” moniker. Below, I’ll highlight just a fraction of what happened. To start with, though, let’s recall why Ricard put those rings into his design. This is key to understanding why the project flubbed.
    Just before the November 2010 referendum in which the City won elector approval to build a new bridge, Ricard explained those rings at a public presentation. He told a handful of people that the underlying design challenge, for him, was to create a moveable bridge that easily communicated to an observer how it worked. That’s it. That’s the entire argument for the rings. The rings were all about appearance and not about any substantive proven need particular to a crossing of Victoria’s harbour.
    Ricard wasn’t trying to reduce seismic vulnerability or to create a bridge less likely to be hit by a barge full of gravel and survive the blow if one did. Nor was he trying to reduce life-cycle costs or use scarce public resources more efficiently. No, it was enough for Ricard that a tourist from Iowa, standing on the Laurel Point walkway, would be able to gaze across the Inner Harbour and understand how the bridge lifted, at a glance.
    Perhaps there’s a similar, whimsical rationale at the foundation of every white elephant construction project, and maybe Victorians are no better or worse than any other community at sniffing out ideas that don’t have much merit. I don’t know. But what I have learned, after following Victoria’s project closely for 9 long years, is that there were real-life consequences that flowed from the project’s ill-considered underpinnings.
    Ricard’s whimsical central motivation radiated outward through the project with force, inflating engineering and construction costs, laying waste to political and public service careers, substantially increasing carbon emissions, straining the City’s coffers, and dividing the community. Ricard’s imagination even put a well-established Chinese company out of business. How did all this happen? Let me sketch in some details.
    Let’s start with a fundamental physical fact about the bridge that resulted directly from Ricard’s rings. Because of a quirk in Ricard’s design, every time the bridge opens, it has to lift and hold the span a full 2.5 storeys higher than it needed to. Indeed, people have observed that, when it is lifted, the new bridge is “so much higher” than the old bridge. Yet the new bridge provides the same navigational channel width as the old bridge. That extra height might be dramatic to observe—like a hopping car—but it’s otherwise pointless and that little moment of drama has come with a lot of negative long-term consequences.
     

    The mechanical design of the new bridge results in it lifting the weight of the superstructure 2.5 storeys higher than necessary, an engineering feat almost as pointless as a hopping car.
     
    For example, every part of the bridge that moves had to be stronger than it would have needed to be in a bridge that used a fixed central axle with conventional bearings located as close to the edge of the channel as possible. That extra strength was obtained by using far more steel for the bridge—in the rings and trusses—than would have been necessary in a more conventional approach. Extra steel in the trusses meant more lead and steel were needed in the counterweights to balance that extra weight. All that extra weight in the superstructure meant the machinery that supports and rotates it needed to be immense compared to the shaft, bearings and machinery needed to rotate a more conventional moveable bridge.
    The higher lift of the span also meant that it would experience greater pressure during strong winds, and so that force, too, had to be offset with more steel and heavier support equipment, all costing more than a conventional approach.
    All of these additional weights and costs affected the approach bridges, too. It meant that for a given budget, less money could be spent on the approach bridges. Originally, to satisfy high seismic performance requirements, they were going to be built of steel. Instead, because of the inflating cost of the lifting span, there was only enough budget to use less costly reinforced concrete. But in order to include the use of concrete approach bridges, City officials had to secretly agree, during the procurement process, to place a rider in the construction contract that specified much lower levels of seismic performance than had been recommended to the City.
    The rider clearly states that its stipulations of (lower) performance take precedence over the seismic performance requirements of any of North America’s highway bridge building codes. This loss of one of the fundamental objectives of the project—a legally enforceable contractual assurance of a high level of seismic performance by the bridge if Victoria is struck by a large earthquake, can be traced directly to Ricard’s choice of rings in the lifting mechanism and the extent to which they inflated the cost of the project.
    City officials, the ones who later lost their jobs, were well-warned by engineers about the risk of Ricard’s open-ring design inflating costs.
    For example, during bidding for the contract to build the bridge, participating companies were required to provide a critical review of the design MMM had developed with Ricard, and they were invited to “optimize” that design so that it could be built within the City’s $66-million “affordability ceiling.” The winning bid by PCL was the only proposal that utilized Ricard’s open-ring concept. The only other serious bid proposal received by the City, from Kiewit Infrastructure, rejected the axleless design and predicted what would happen if the City went ahead with Ricard’s design.
    Specifically, Kiewit told City managers it had contacted “a number of steel and machinery fabricators, who are experienced in movable bridge design and/or construction. All expressed the opinion that there were likely more cost effective mechanical concepts for a bascule bridge” than the open-ring design used by Ricard and MMM. Kiewit advised the City that “unknowns and/or unexpected costs” of Ricard’s “unconventional design” would “conflict with the City’s mandate to remain near or below the indicated Affordability Ceiling…Kiewit is of the view that the [design] may represent a fundamentally high risk and expensive design approach.”
    The company’s engineers noted that the counterweight in Ricard’s design was attached to the truss rings in a way that “would load the truss ring eccentrically, which could distort the ring—a highly undesirable condition.”
    The bridge proposed by PCL had the same eccentric loading of the rings that concerned Kiewit, but was going to have an added complication: In order for its bid to be within the City’s affordability ceiling, fabrication of the moveable part of the bridge would have to take place in China.
    In hindsight, it’s easy to see that the City listened to the wrong engineers, chose the wrong company to build a bridge, and built the wrong bridge. City officials were warned they were in danger of buying a White Elephant. Instead of heeding the warnings they insisted on having one as quickly as possible—and this meant hiding the critical reviews (which cost the City $150,000) from the public—and so Ricard’s whim rolled forward into the next phase.
     
    AS YOU MAY RECALL, the City of Victoria awarded a construction contract to PCL in late 2012 to build the bridge under a $63.2-million “fixed-price” contract. PCL made it clear it planned to have the moveable part of the bridge fabricated in China. This, apparently, raised no red flags at City Hall.
    At the time PCL won the construction contract, MMM Group were contracted to provide engineering, and it in turn subcontracted Hardesty & Hanover to provide engineering and design for the lifting span and the machinery used to raise that span. When PCL began construction in late 2013, the City of Victoria assured its ratepayers that the cost of the bridge could not rise since PCL had agreed to a “fixed-price” contract. But, by early 2014, PCL started to pepper the City with demands for more money.
    Those demands began soon after fabrication of the rings and trusses had started in China in March 2014. By September of that year, work in China had been halted. In January 2015, the City’s Project Director Jonathan Huggett reported that fabrication problems were so bad that “one of the rings is being replaced while the other is being repaired. The north truss steel will be replaced.”

    The first attempt to build Ricard's bridge at ZTSS's plant. Shown above are fabrication of the bridge's rings, trusses and deck components in July 2014. All of the steelwork done up to January 2015 was scrapped.
     
    Notably absent from Huggett’s reports from this era is any acknowledgment that the thing the Chinese welders were screwing up was actually very difficult to build. Neither did Huggett tell councillors that the City had been warned by Kiewit engineers that this was likely to happen if the City attempted to build Ricard’s design.
    Instead, Huggett persuaded the City that simply increasing quality control would produce rings and trusses with adequate strength and structural integrity.
    In spite of such hopes, fabrication problems in China continued to accumulate in the bridge components. Recently, Huggett admitted: “We rejected an entire bridge at one point.”
    The City’s project director seemed to see the scrapping of “an entire bridge” as a good thing, a sign that people were doing their jobs properly, that quality assurance procedures were working, and that Victorians could be confident that the project wouldn’t accept crap for a bridge.
    But think about that: An entire bridge wasted. If we take Huggett at his word, about 1700 metric tonnes of steel were scrapped. That’s the weight of structural steel for the superstructure specified in the City’s contract with PCL. (The City did not respond to repeated requests for confirmation of the amount of steel that was scrapped.)
    But we should add to that heavy burden all the human effort and other costs—including associated environmental damage—that went with throwing away the warm-up bridge. Who was going to pay for that waste? As it turned out, it wasn’t going to be PCL.
    The City had acknowledged PCL’s first demand for more money—$7.9 million in early 2014—but then demurred from providing information about subsequent demands. In early 2015, about the time “an entire bridge” was rejected, the City admitted it had entered a “legal mediation process” with the companies building the bridge.
     

    The second attempt to build Ricard's bridge, in March 2016 at ZTSS's plant near Shanghai.
     
    It wasn’t until April 2016, at the conclusion of the mediation, that the City acknowledged that PCL, MMM and H&H had demanded $27 million in additional costs.
    The details of that $27 million claim were never made public, but it is believed PCL’s share was about $25 million. After out-competing two other companies for the contract and assuring the City Ricard’s bridge could be built for $63 million, what circumstance could possibly have justified PCL’s demand for over 40 percent more money?
    The timing of the start of PCL’s demands, you may have noticed, coincided with the beginning of fabrication in China. As major components of the bridge were rejected, PCL’s claims against the City increased. The company may have realized that the lifting span being (badly) fabricated in China could carry a huge risk of future legal claims by the City. By demanding more money and halting work in China, PCL may have simply been creating the conditions for dumping all of that risk back on the City. And that’s exactly what happened.
    The City settled the $27 million in claims by agreeing to pay an additional $2.4 million and making changes to the terms of the contract. In a news report at the time, Mayor Helps claimed: “I think it’s better news than anyone could have hoped for.”
    But an FOI filed by johnsonstreetbridge.org revealed the City agreed to “release and forever discharge” PCL, MMM and H&H “from all debts, claims, demands, damages, expenses and costs (including without limitation, legal costs) of any nature or kind that are in any way related to the Project and either known or which ought to be known by the [City] as of [April 23, 2016].”
    This was hardly “better news than anyone could have hoped for.” Whatever problems have been built into the bridge by PCL, MMM and H&H are now City taxpayers’ problems. One of those problems was brought to the public’s attention in the last two editions of Focus (stories posted here, here, and here). And this is where the “wounded” part of “ Wounded White Elephant” comes into our story.
     
    MANY of the risks PCL adroitly shifted back onto the City arose directly from the bridge’s open-ring design. That such risks would have actual physical consequences became clear shortly after the rings were erected at the bridge site last December and Focus pointed out that the rings had already been repaired with metre-square bolted-on plates, apparently required because of a structural weakness in both rings.
    The bolted-on plates definitely eliminated any chance of the bridge winning any awards for excellence in engineering or construction. But much worse, they may signify a more pervasive problem with the lifting span.
    The City has refused to provide a full explanation for the plates, but we have since found a photograph taken during an open house at Point Hope Maritime’s shipyard last October that unintentionally captured details of the repair. The repair was made in Victoria after the rings had been shipped from China. The photograph (see the close-up below), taken before the bolted-on plates were added, reveals not only the make-shift nature of the repair but also at least two holes cut into the “fracture critical” steel with a cutting torch. That damage may have created the need for the plates, at least in part.
     

    This photograph shows the repair that was made to the north ring at Point Hope Maritime’s shipyard in October. The lines of small holes were drilled in China and would later allow the bolted-on plates to be attached. The trapezoidal-shaped opening cut into the ring was made at Point Hope. The holes circled with yellow are believed to be “rat holes” cut into the rings by an unknown welder in China. These rat holes may be part of the reason why bolted-on plates were added to both rings. The City’s Project Director Jonathan Huggett has acknowledged that the bridge has hundreds of such “non-conformances.”
     
    I emailed the photograph to Martin Bache, a 40-year veteran of the heavy steel fabrication industry in Canada, most recently with Canron as a project supervisor.
    About the burned-in holes that seem to have created the need for the bolted-on plates, Bache commented, “The cuts are similar to what are termed ‘rat holes’ in steel fabrication. These allow continuous welding of two members to take place through the member with the hole. But, I have never seen two rat holes coming together in two planes as these appear to be. A welder in China may have just taken a torch and cut out two large rat holes to make life easier for himself, but damaged the structural integrity in the process. But that would not seem to require such large bolted-on plates to correct, so I really don’t know what the real story is.”
    Around the time the photograph was taken at Point Hope Shipyard, someone had removed a trapezoidal-shaped section from the ring and had added some light steel supports for two edges of the bolted-on plates. Of the repair that was done in Victoria, Bache observed, “Not only this bizarre rat hole but also the other pieces of steel in the photo appear to be butchered to an astounding extent. No competent steel fabricator works this way. So, what the hell is going on here?”
    The steel members of the bridge that were cut into by both the Chinese welder and the workers at Point Hope are considered “fracture critical.” That designation, according to the US Federal Highway Administration, applies to “any steel member in tension, or with a tension element, whose failure would probably cause a portion of or the entire bridge to collapse.”
    Given the apparent low quality of the repair evident in the photograph, Bache is concerned the repair has not been executed properly. “Any modifications or repairs done to fracture critical bridge components must be performed to detailed procedures approved by the Engineer of Record (EOR) and must be inspected by the EOR or his agent to confirm 100 percent compliance with the procedures. It seems inconceivable that Hardesty & Hanover are accepting all of this butchery,” Bache wrote.
    Butchery. Wounded. Get it?
    Bache added, “With all due respect to shipyards, they are not generally expected to work to the same standards of quality and accuracy as bridge fabricators. I would have needed a lot of evidence to persuade me that a shipyard could handle modifications to a fracture critical bridge. Which party approved Point Hope as capable of doing this?”
    Bache had difficulty understanding who was/is looking out for the City’s interests: “Regarding third-party inspectors, they range from highly competent individuals with substantial levels of practical experience on fabrication shop floors, all the way down to people with absolutely no knowledge of steel and no ability to read drawings but are tasked only with receiving paper reports such as steel mill certificates and weld test reports prepared by others. In 40 years of fabrication I never heard of Atema, so I googled them. They appear to sell inspection equipment and offer to train others in how to run quality control programmes. They make no mention of having vast hands-on, shop-floor experience which would be necessary for confirming that complex fabrications are being made exactly to approved drawings and specifications. So, I don’t know how good a job Atema did in China but I have reason to be very suspicious. I know PCL very well and its hard to believe they would not have hired top level practical inspectors to go to China, but who knows? I wonder at what stage MMM ceased to be of real practical help to the City, including fabrication monitoring. After that its doubtful that [the City’s] interests were being handled by anybody.”
    Unfortunately, Focus can’t provide the answers to any of Bache’s concerns. The City has dismissed any such concerns about this repair, explaining only that it was the result of a “fabrication challenge.” This is just one of over 150 similar “non-conformities” recorded by the project, according to Huggett. The City’s idea of providing the public with information about the issue has been, in effect: “Why worry us about that one problem? The bridge contains hundreds of them.”
    The City continues to refuse to release records related to this one repair that were requested by Focus back in mid-December through BC’s access to information legislation. Until the City provides the basic communications about the issue between the City and the engineers who were responsible for resolving the issue, we will keep insisting on seeing those records.
    Martin Bache’s final comment was this: “What an absolute disaster that this bridge was not made in BC.”
    This raises an interesting point. PCL based its 2012 bid on a quote from a Chinese fabricator and that allowed it to sneak under the City’s affordability ceiling. That miracle required everyone involved to pretend that a 4 percent contingency would cover any errors in cost estimation and that Chinese labour really was “lower-cost.” If a few people had been smarter, Ricard’s rings would never have been built. Instead, Victoria got a disaster. Ironically, ZTSS did even worse.
    That company suffered significant financial losses during the time it was building Victoria’s bridge. (It was a publicly-traded company, so its financial performance is a matter of public record.) The cost of having to build the bridge twice, along with bad international publicity about “cracked welds,” no doubt harmed ZTSS’s ability to get new work. By November 2016, trading of the company’s shares had been halted.
    In August 2017, as Ricard’s wounded rings were finally arriving in Victoria and being readied for repairs at Point Hope, ZTSS announced it planned to sell the operation that had fabricated Victoria’s bridge. By January 2018 the company had undergone a corporate name change and was transformed into Beijing-Kaiwen Education Technology Co., Ltd.
    With a such a history, it’s unlikely that anyone would want their name on Victoria’s new bridge. What it deserves is a nickname that truthfully reflects its troubled 9-year-long birth. I respectfully propose “The Wounded White Elephant.”
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.

    Leslie Campbell
    May 2018
     
    ONE DAY, Focus may tell you about a housing proposal that everyone in the neighbourhood is happy with, where the public process surrounding it is hailed as transparent, inclusive, effective and painless for all involved. But that day isn’t here yet.
    When it was announced last summer that Oak Bay United Church wanted to build some affordable housing on its property at Granite Street and Mitchell—just one block over from Oak Bay Village—it sounded refreshingly bold and in tune with the times. Affordable housing is the region’s number-one need.
     

    Oak Bay United Church in Oak Bay
     
    Soon afterwards “Stop Overdevelopment by Oak Bay United Church” signs popped up like mushrooms on neighbourhood lawns. A “concerned citizens” website was created, and media reports citing divisions and alarm were heard. Some early concepts for the development indicated up to five-storey buildings and 160 units could be proposed. For a 1.2-acre lot in a leafy, mostly single-family neighbourhood, it did seem perhaps too bold. 
    Now, church representatives claim they have listened, and in their recent plans—unveiled at open houses at the end of April—have tried to meet neighbours’ concerns as much as possible. We shall see how that works out.
     
    IN HER OFFICE in a 1920s-era duplex behind the church, Oak Bay United Church Minister Michelle Slater told me the idea of developing the property stems back to 1994 when the heritage church was “condemned” as unsafe, and the congregation had to conduct services elsewhere. It wasn’t clear that the church, built in 1914, could be saved, so everything was up for consideration, including selling off the whole property. Eventually, it was decided that restoration was possible, and the congregation worked hard for years to raise $1.5 million. In 2010, 16 years after its closure, the church reopened.
     

    Oak Bay United Church Minister Michelle Slater
     
    Once back in their church, congregants had little appetite for further change any time soon. But, said Slater, “it was always accepted that that was just the first step to renewal.”
    There are five structures on the 56,000-square-foot property. The church occupies 9000 square feet. There is also a large storage shed; an office building (often called the “duplex”); the cinder block, seismically-challenged Gardiner Hall (with a gym); and Threshold House, which is rented to Threshold Housing Society, and has nine studio apartments for vulnerable youth. With the exception of the church, the latest plans call for demolition of all these structures.
    Slater said that if the 200-strong congregation was dwindling, they would look at amalgamating with another church and selling off the property. But it’s actually growing, though that includes those who use the church’s many services.
    “We’re becoming increasingly aware, particularly through our ministry to children and families, of the real crisis with diverse and affordable housing,” said Slater, mentioning seniors who attend weekly coffee meetings and young parents who come to church activities.
    Sometimes congregants can’t afford a prescription they need, so the church steps in. It has also provided food vouchers, or even a funeral for those in need.
    In all, she estimates that Oak Bay United provides about $2.5 million annually in community services (calculated by a formula arrived at through research by the Halo Project at McMaster University). Some of it, she noted, comes in the form of saving the community money—for instance when members notice another congregant is unwell, and ensure they receive help before needing an expensive hospital bed.
    At this point, Slater stopped herself, noting wryly that it sounded as if she’s trying to justify the church’s very existence—perhaps in reaction to the heated atmosphere in the neighbourhood of late. The social services she alluded to have added an extra layer of complexity to the debate. Do such services mean the church deserves more right to develop as it pleases, despite neighbours’ concerns?
    Continuing the historical overview, Slater told me that a few years ago, the board asked a couple of members to look into options for developing the 56,000-square-foot property, in keeping with the mission and purpose of Oak Bay United Church. That led to them devoting $20,000 to a feasibility study led by Chris Corps, a land economist, which in turn led, in March 2017, to the church board giving unanimous support to applying for a $500,000 loan from BC Housing to do a thorough proposal involving “diverse, inclusionary and affordable housing,” said Slater.
    “We could make a lot more money if we just put up some luxury condos. But that’s not what this community needs,” said Slater. “And making the most money is not the most important thing to us.”
    The church got the BC Housing loan, and by last August, its board members had started knocking on doors to inform immediate neighbours that the church was thinking of developing its property. Some became alarmed, Slater said, and asked for a meeting. About 60 people came. They wanted to know the plans, but, said Slater, “We’re not a developer; we wanted input first.”
    In November, four sessions with “near neighbours” were held. “We asked what would you be most concerned about?’” said Slater. Feedback was all over the map, she said. “We got everything from ‘nothing’ to ‘six stories.’ [On style], we got ‘traditional’ to ‘contemporary.’ We gave all the input to the architect. In mid-December we presented four scenarios for siting and massing to test people’s responses.” (The scenarios involved three-, four- and five-storey buildings; many neighbours were aghast there were no smaller options.)
    The biggest concerns were around height, density and traffic. “We’ve worked hard to mitigate or solve the concerns people have—which are for the most part legitimate,” said Slater. However, she argued, Granite Street, running parallel to Oak Bay Avenue, is viewed by the municipality as a transition street, from the busy Oak Bay commercial zone to residential. “It is not solely a single-family-home neighbourhood,” said Slater, pointing to the boxy, 3.5-storey Granite House condos across the street towards the Village. “Our project will be much more attentive to the character of the neighbourhood than Granite House.”
    Reverend Slater is diplomatic when speaking of the resistance to the development: “I am not surprised at the depth of feeling, because everyone values their neighbourhood and wants to preserve what’s best about it. I was distressed by some of the personal comments about our consultants,” along with the level of distrust. “We feel we’re really trying to do something good,” she said. “This is a good way for Oak Bay to contribute to the region and show leadership.” She seems bewildered and dismayed that some people do not trust the church.
     
    AN INDICATION OF THAT DISTRUST, and perhaps another brick in the wall between the church and its neighbours, occurred at a meeting of Oak Bay’s Committee of the Whole on January 15. The last item on the agenda was a request from the church that council approve a process to expedite the church’s development application, once submitted, as a pilot project for affordable housing projects. It brought citizens out in force; they filled all the seats and the hallway. Numerous letters of concern had been sent in.
    Kim Fowler, the planner on the church’s team, explained that they are working on “a minimum, break even” budget, and delays would be costly. She pointed to other municipalities that have adopted streamlined processes or a “concierge”-type service with staff dedicated to ushering non-profit proposals through various hurdles at City Hall. (Fowler played a similar role at the City of Victoria when she worked as the project manager for the Dockside Green redevelopment project).
    Councillor Tara Ney, noting the evident community interest, voiced a concern that “the amount of time for making decisions, the amount of time for consulting thoroughly with the community—that those parts of the process are not compromised.” Fowler assured her that that would not happen.
    When Councillor Hazel Braithwaite warned that “it takes a long time to get something correct,” there was applause from the gallery. Braithwaite also suggested that shepherding the application through City Hall was Fowler’s job—and that it would have been “friendly” if the church had notified citizens of its request for expedited service.
    When Councillor Tom Croft asked, “Where is the extra cost of delay when the church owns the land?” Fowler alluded to an existing mortgage (it is about $300,000), and the escalation of construction costs. At 6 percent, she said, that translates to $170,000 in carrying costs per month.
    Other councillors noted that with “complicated applications like this,” the best way to expedite it is to have a good application, and to not short-circuit public engagement. Councillor Eric Zhelka advised studying the case of Oak Bay Lodge—which came to council two times with proposals that were both rejected. The lesson being: “Find a design with everyone here [meaning the audience] before you come to council, that everyone can support.”
    The Committee decided not to even vote on Fowler’s request.
    Later, Ney told Focus the request for an expedited process was “not an example of good timing.”
    On a Saturday morning in April, I met with five members of “the resistance” at Sue MacRae’s house, right next door to the church property.
    They expressed many concerns: about Oak Bay’s infrastructure not being adequate to handle another 100-plus residents on the one-acre site; about the unfairness of the church having $500,000 to put towards developing their plan and doing PR, while their group relies on volunteer time and digs into their own pockets for signs and flyers; and about the size and scale of the proposals they’ve seen and how it will impact their beloved streetscape, characterized by lots of trees and 100-year-old single-family homes.
    But they were most perturbed by the public consultation process, and the distrust they feel it has fostered.
    Both Reverend Slater and the church’s development team co-chair Cheryl Thomas have told me that what they were actually trying to do in consultation sessions in the fall was get neighbours’ input before designing anything. But it seems to have backfired, as these neighbours believed that there was a plan, but it was being kept secret. They pointed to the church’s application for a BC Housing loan, which they obtained through a Freedom of Information request. Though 90 percent redacted, it shows that as early as March 2017, the church was outlining options to BC Housing and Oak Bay municipal staff—whereas the neighbours only got notified in August that the church was considering development. Cheryl Thomas assured me that only financial models went to BC Housing, not actual designs, yet it seems clear those would have required some assumptions about size in order to project costs and revenues.
    Diana Butler, a former mayor of Oak Bay who lives on Granite Street, suggested the fall consultations were mostly for show, and as evidence, pointed to the short time lapse between the November “consult sessions” and the “reveal sessions” in December, at which the scenarios involving 101- to 160-unit buildings were presented. The development team’s unwillingness to entertain a project with a much smaller profile fuelled suspicions around the church’s motivations, as well as its strategy.
     

    Two of the church's neighbours, Wayne Todd and Diana Butler
     
    At our meeting, neighbour Wayne Randall said he believes it’s now the church’s strategy to focus solely on the wider community and ignore the neighbours. Butler concurs. She has written extensively on the Concerned Citizens’ website (ccn-oakbay.com), at one point writing: “We have spent hours and hours working with the development team to design a better consultation process. We placed our trust in the development team truly wanting to engage the neighbourhood in a meaningful discussion. We are very disappointed that they have so abruptly abandoned this route, in preference to taking their project to the wider community where they hope to get more support.”
    The development team contracted Gene Miller to help with consultations with this group of neighbours, who say he sincerely tried to help. They told me he met with them separately a couple of times, to try to work out a better process. But, they said, “he failed.” (Disclosure: Gene Miller writes for Focus. I did not know he was involved until recently, and have not had any communication with him about the project.)
    Curtis Hobson, a special education teacher who lives directly across from the church, told me, “We feel excluded, manipulated, and are being painted as against change or affordable housing.” Hobson and other neighbours I spoke with said they are in favour of affordable housing on this site, but not at the scale the church has in mind.
     

    Curtis Hobson and Sue MacRae, both close neighbours of the church's property. Threshold House (in the background) would be demolished to make room for the project.
     
    At the meeting, these residents provided me with an outline of what they would accept: A maximum three storeys, with massing along Granite Street, with some variation in height, and a more traditional design in keeping with the neighbourhood. Ideally, they’d like the buildings broken up or clustered so that pedestrians can move through the site. They want to keep Threshold House, but if it must go, they want alternative housing to be provided on the site for the nine vulnerable youth (age 16-22) now housed in its studio apartments. This heritage-style building, they argued, is only 25 years old, fits into the neighbourhood well and serves a valuable purpose.
    The main stumbling blocks towards agreement, however, will be the massing and the number of units: the neighbours’ wishlist calls for 25-40 suites, whereas the latest church plans (not unveiled when I interviewed them) call for 98.
     
    AT A MEETING WITH the Development Team co-chair Cheryl Thomas and architect Rod Windjack, I was shown rough drafts of the plans that will be unveiled at the late-April open houses. Thomas lived in Oak Bay when her kids were growing up, and got involved in the church in 2012—mostly to sing in the choir. She ended up on the board and came to realize “we’ve got to make this place sustainable.” As a congregation, she said, “we wanted to live our values and provide something that was truly needed. Obviously affordable housing is desperately needed.”
    Windjack, an architect who was involved with the design for the new Oak Bay High School, had his work cut out for him, trying to accommodate the needs of both church and neighbours. Besides the concern over size, he said, one thing that came through loud and clear from neighbours was that the development shouldn’t result in additional parking on nearby streets. This, he noted, created a burden on the church financially, because underground parking is so costly.
    After numerous iterations, Windjack eventually came up with a 3.5-storey (four floors), L-shaped building with 98 units (predominantly one-bedrooms) and tilted it, so it’s not monolithic from the street. “We’ve tried to deal with how the building responds to neighbours, through how it sits on the site and by playing with the massing of the building—using articulation in front, further extended by our use of materials,” Windjack said. Materials include some brick, echoing the church. The main building has a gently-sloped roof with dormer elements that are common in the neighbourhood. At 51 feet high, it is slightly higher than the ridge line of the church.
     

    Oak Bay United Church's 98-unit proposal, unveiled at the end of April
     
    In the location where the church office now stands on Mitchell, the project is proposing a three-storey “brownstone” building with four market-priced leasehold units.
    Parking—for 116 vehicles—would all be underground. Virtually the whole site would need to be blasted (through granite) to create a two-storey parkade, costing about $5 million of the $26-million total price tag. About half would be for church-goers and the other half for project residents. While they cannot prohibit a resident from having a vehicle, they can tell prospective renters that units do not include parking. Residents would have good bike storage and likely a car-share vehicle, perhaps even bus passes, noted Thomas.
    Everyone with the church and the neighbourhood was in agreement that a green strip, with majestic Garry oaks, that runs along the back of the property, had to stay.
    Units would be small, even by present standards: one-bedrooms approximately 420-455 square feet, two bedrooms 650-700 square feet, and three bedrooms 850-900. “That’s what makes them affordable,” said Thomas. (Brownstone units are larger.)
    Rents for the affordable units would be set by BC Housing and CMHC, and rent increases would be tied to the cost of living (not the market). A one-bedroom unit would cost about $1000 per month.
    Thomas stressed that the development team has tried to accommodate all that they heard from neighbours, but the financial realities are limiting. In their attempt to keep the height to 3.5 storeys, only 50 units will be officially “affordable,” though 44 others are characterized as “market affordable.”
    The feedback at the Open Houses planned for late April might help them “further refine what we’ve got, but we don’t see major changes,” said Windjack.
     
    CURTIS HOBSON DIRECTED ME TO an interesting 2014 article in the United Church’s Observer magazine, called “The Perils of Redevelopment.” In discussing the trends for many churches—declining congregations, rising costs, and the sale or redevelopment of their properties—it warns, “Even a plan conceived with the best of intentions can go horribly wrong.”
    The article stresses the importance of constructive community outreach, without which, it warns, years can be spent fighting with neighbours and municipal governments.
    Neighbour Wayne Todd researched every development mentioned in the article and found virtually all of them had been sold or failed, with congregations forced to rent other facilities. But he also inadvertently stumbled on one church project, not mentioned in the Observer article, that worked out well; in fact it may become Canada’s first net-zero-energy multi-family building.
    Andrew Gregory chaired the planning committee of the North Glenora Community League during the time (2013-2015) the Westmount Presbyterian Church in that Edmonton community sought rezoning for its property in order to put up affordable housing. In a report on it, he stated: “It took dozens of meetings and hundreds of hours of focused effort on both sides to get to ‘YIMBY.’”
    He mentions the wisdom of arriving at “a mutually understood definition for community engagement.” He writes: “It seems that the Achilles heel of most re-development plans in the city is that too many decisions are made too early without involving the community…committing the developer to a plan before engagement has taken place and derailing authentic dialogue before it can happen.”
    Certainly in the Oak Bay case, it does not appear that the church went to neighbours with a blank slate. It had priorities and financial realities that led it early on to think big.
    One major difference between the Edmonton church and the Oak Bay church is that in Edmonton, the North Glenora Community League’s planning committee (all volunteers)—took the reigns to negotiate a community engagement process. Then it took minutes of every meeting which were posted, hosted periodic town halls, and conducted surveys on specific aspects. In Oak Bay, there’s been no similar body providing such leadership. (The Oak Bay Community Association did host a community forum on housing affordability that both sides appreciated.)
    Another difference: the Edmonton church seemed willing to take its time—two years in total from announcement to passing at Edmonton City Hall—whereas Oak Bay United Church representatives seem in a hurry, and seem to believe they’ve already done much of the community consultation necessary—not the hundreds of hours allowed for in the Edmonton case. By the way, it too started out on shaky ground, but in the end, at the final Edmonton City Hall public hearing, two residents spoke in favour of the development, none opposed, and it passed unanimously.
    Another noteworthy difference: the Edmonton church’s proposal was for a 16-unit townhouse development for families.
     
    EVERYONE I SPOKE TO for this article seems to care deeply about their community and be in favour of some affordable housing on the church property. No neighbours expressed concerns about property values. Even the vociferous ad-hoc group I spoke with would accept a three-story building.
    Yet even if the church wins wide community support for its project, it may be embarking on a perilous journey. Its financial straits have been alluded to time and time again, in church minutes, at consultations, at council meetings, and during interviews.
    The church has a $300,000 mortgage now. To create a development on its property, it has borrowed $500,000 from BC Housing (which needs to be repaid, regardless of the outcome). If it gets rezoning approved, it will be borrowing tens of millions more from BC Housing to finance it. Yes, it will get rental income to pay down its debts, but it will also be sacrificing significant space for its activities, along with $100,000 in annual revenues from its thrift store, and $54,000 in annual rent from Threshold Housing Society. These revenues currently get fully spent on church operations and maintenance. Right now, the sanctuary needs an estimated $300,000 in repairs. When Threshold leaves, the church will also have to refund the balance of a loan the housing society provided for renovations—about $40,000 now.
    But the church is committed to the project. And as of last August, it’s doubtful the congregation could back out if it wanted to. The church board transferred all decision-making to its project development team. In church board minutes, it’s noted that the team, composed of four church representatives as well as some external advisors and consultants, has “commission status,” meaning they have “complete authority” until their mandate expires at end of the rezoning process. “The governing body or executive [of the church] may not debate the commission’s decision and come to a different decision.”
    Reverend Slater told me she hopes their proposal goes before council in May, and that it’s approved in advance of the municipal election in October. Given the usual pace of the development process, this seems wildly optimistic.
    Interestingly, the church is already permitted, under its “institutional” zoning, to build three floors of multi-family housing on the church property. But the proposed density will make it necessary to apply for rezoning. For instance, the minimum square footage for a one-bedroom apartment has to be 603 sq ft, not the 420 the church is planning. The project would also take up a far greater portion of the land than its institutional zoning allows.
    Will a majority of councillors be willing to “spot zone” the development as proposed? Will they give weight to the church’s provision of services and financial need? In light of citizens’ complaints, will they send it back to the drawing board?
    When I asked Councillor Ney about this, she reiterated the message of the January meeting, that the way to ensure success is to have a robust consultative process, developing rapport with the community and coming up with something that is amenable to all. “For whatever reason,” she said, “the consultation with this proposal went off the rails,” resulting in people being scared and nervous—especially about the massing. Historically, Ney said, Oak Bay was not planned with adequate transition zones between areas of multi-unit buildings and single-family homes. Ney noted that council often has to “soften the edges” of developments so they are not pushed hard against neighbours.
    But there appears little room for compromise on the part of the church. Thomas said, “Our reality is we’ve made it as small as we realistically can. We are now [in the late April open houses] putting all our cards on the table. This is the best we can do.”
    So what is the church’s fall-back position if rezoning is refused? Thomas said they would probably have to subdivide, selling off the Threshold building to get enough money to do the needed repairs of other buildings. “There would be no housing. And it puts the church in a precarious long-term position,” she said.
    It is admirable that Oak Bay United has stepped up to create some desperately needed affordable housing. Reverend Slater might be overly optimistic, but she’s correct in her assessment that the project proposal is “an opportunity for the community to wrestle with the ‘over-development’ issue, and how a community has that conversation.”
    Leslie Campbell attended the first open house on April 25. She overheard one gentleman saying, “Well, at least it’s going in the right direction.”

    David Broadland
    March 2018
    The City is refusing to provide records that would show who knew what, and when they knew it.
     
    FOLLOWING OUR STORY LAST EDITION about the surprise appearance of bolt-on plates on the new bridge that Victorians had been promised would be “world-class” and “iconic,” the reaction from ordinary people who don’t receive a regular cheque from the City of Victoria was consistently forthright. An English bridge designer, who has written about such projects all over the world for the past 10 years noted: “The latest reports from Focus cover issues with the bridge’s steel fabrication. They highlight the discovery of a problem with the steelwork, which appears to have been covered over with a truly awful-looking bolted plate, a real bodge if ever you see one…Focus is quite right to criticize the detail. It’s clear from the photographs that nothing this awful should be considered acceptable as part of the finished structure.”
     

    Controversial bolt-on plates on Victoria's brand-new $115-million bridge. The larger photo above shows the plate on the south-side ring.
     
    On Vibrant Victoria, a local online discussion forum, “jonny” noted: “I am absolutely gobsmacked that our NINE FIGURE shiny new bridge has two, seemingly haphazard and last minute, bolted-on steel plates that look like they were envisaged and put together by a 9th grade metalworking student.”
    “G-Man” responded, “Couldn’t agree more. It makes me want to puke. I could not care less whether or not an engineer says it’s okay. The brand new bridge should not have this. It is unbelievable. I am embarrassed as a Victorian.” Several days later, G-Man posted a photograph of the bolt-on plate on the north ring. Somehow a bolt had worked its way free from somewhere inside the ring and was trying to escape through a large gap between the ring and the bolt-on plate.
     

    A rusty bolt caught in the opening between the bolt-on plate and the defective north-side ring. Photo by G-Man.
     
    Martin Bache, a 40-year veteran of Canada’s structural steel fabrication industry, and a project supervisor with Canron in Vancouver before retiring to Victoria, wrote to Focus and commented: “I have never seen such an appalling patch.” Bache agreed that the plates would “promote corrosion” in the structure. He had contacted EGBC, BC’s association of professional engineers, which confirmed that the association’s bylaws require a third party independent review of the patches since they are on fracture-critical steel. No such review has been brought forward, or even mentioned, by either the City or the bridge’s American designers, Hardesty & Hanover.
    I covered the initial response from City Hall in a second story posted at focusonvictoria.ca. To put that response as succinctly as possible, the City claimed our story contained “serious factual errors and inaccuracies,” but was unwilling—or unable, to say what those errors and inaccuracies were.
    On January 25, Project Director Jonathan Huggett gave council his quarterly update on the troubled project. Huggett commented on the bolt-on plates: “There has been this inference by some that somebody found a piece of scrap steel, slapped it on as an afterthought, and put a few bolts in place. Whoever makes those statements clearly has no experience in engineering. As engineers we take great pride in our work. Nothing happens quickly or suddenly, and without due process and proper sign-off.”
    Huggett also told the CBC our story was "an attempt to scare people unnecessarily." Presumably Huggett meant that there was an implication in our story that the plates were a public safety issue. We didn't, in fact, say or imply any such thing. The issue we raised is whether or not the plates represent a significant decline in value to taxpayers. Will the plates promote corrosion and therefore increase maintenance costs? Will they reduce the useful life of the bridge and thereby increase lifecycle cost? Do the plates not make a sham of the City's claim to a "world-class" or "iconic" bridge and raise questions about the huge amount of money wasted in pursuit of that futile endeavour?
    The bridge engineers themselves may have metal fatigue concerns—that's why they added the plates—but Focus raised no red flags on that point other than to mention the project's own concern about fatigue. Huggett's claim of "an attempt to scare people unnecessarily" is simply deflecting attention away from the real issues.
    The “pride” Huggett claims has gone into this project is hard to see when you examine closely the two patches on the new bridge. And, if they are any indication of the pride with which the rest of the bridge has been built, Victorians could be in for more embarrassment. But it’s Huggett’s claim that “nothing happens…without due process” that is the focus of my attention this time.
    What has become evident is that Huggett may not have informed anyone at City Hall about the problem that led to the bolt-on plates, thus making it impossible to consider options that would have prevented the delivery of a defective bridge.
    With Mayor Helps and Huggett refusing to respond to our questions, Focus requested relevant records under access to information law. So far, Huggett and the City have been uncooperative and Focus has filed a complaint with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
    In my initial story I raised these questions: Were City councillors informed about the situation that led to the bolt-on plates? If so, were they given any options?
    It’s vital to have answers to these questions. The plates reflect an unacceptable diminishment of the expected quality of the bridge. According to Huggett, people are comparing the bridge to scrap metal. The plates also reflect a lower-cost solution to the problem they were intended to address than a proper refabrication, but the parties building the bridge would have been responsible for any additional cost. Someone’s choice to overlook the public interest and accept a defective bridge has saved the companies building the bridge a lot of money, perhaps millions of dollars. Are councillors responsible for this bad decision? Or were they kept in the dark by Project Director Huggett?
    Thus far, the only indication of what happened that led to the bolt-on plates has been the minimal response from Huggett that I reported in my first story, and a letter from Hardesty & Hanover’s Keith Griesing sent to the City on January 8, shortly after our story was published.
    After reading our story, Griesing “felt it would be helpful if I gave you a brief summary of why those plates are there and how their use came to be.” Griesing is the project’s engineer of record.
    Griesing disagreed with our characterization of the circumstance that led to the bolt-on plates as a “design flaw.” His letter stated: “There was no ‘design flaw’ by Hardesty & Hanover nor any other of the City consultants involved; it was assembly by the fabricator that did not conform to the design plan requirements nor to the applicable detailing and fabrication standards required in the specifications” that led to the need for the bolt-on plates.
    Griesing’s need to make a distinction between a “design flaw” and “assembly by the fabricator” is understandably important to Hardesty & Hanover. If the bolt-on plates resulted from some error made by Hardesty & Hanover, they could become defendants in a legal suit if City councillors realize a world-class bodge has been foisted on City taxpayers. If the cause was solely attributable to an error made by the fabricator, then the company the City contracted to build the bridge—PCL—would be the defendant.
    But Hardesty & Hanover’s concern is not equal to the public interest. Just because Griesing claims Hardesty & Hanover aren’t responsible for the weakness in the rings that required the plates doesn’t mean the City hasn’t received a defective bridge. City councillors ought to be focussed on which companies the City should consider suing, rather than resorting to talking points designed to relieve them of any responsibility for their failure to protect the public interest.
    And just because Huggett tells City councillors there was “no design error” doesn’t mean his apparent concealment of the issue isn’t an issue. Councillors need to examine carefully the role Huggett played in the delivery of a world-class bodge. An examination of what information has been provided by the project shows none of the questions about who did what—and when and why they did it—have been answered. The bridge builders seem to have the support of Victoria City council in avoiding any financial or professional accountability for providing a defective bridge. Why? 
    In his letter to councillors, Griesing attributes the need for the bolt-on plates to errors made by the Chinese company ZTSS, hired by PCL to fabricate the moveable part of the bridge. Griesing states: “In the course of our routine quality inspections in the steel fabrication plant in China, [PCL’s] quality control team [Atema] discovered a violation of fabrication and welding standards in the particular area in question. This determination was confirmed by the City’s Quality Oversight consultant.”
    According to Huggett, this discovery was made on December 9, 2016. What was found? Huggett provided Focus with a single sentence from Atema’s report. It stated: “Weld access holes in MW1 and MW3 to MF1 and TF1 at MW2 were unnecessary, not clearly detailed and may not have been evaluated to proper fatigue design category, and not fabricated to code requirements”.
    That’s largely incomprehensible to most of us, but here’s the essential part: Atema found “unnecessary” weld access holes in steel parts close to where the bolt-on plates were eventually added. Weld access holes are openings into otherwise closed chambers inside the rings that allow welders to complete welds within those closed chambers. Why would ZTSS cut “unnecessary” holes if it didn’t need them?
    With Huggett refusing to provide any information, I sought insight from the aforementioned Martin Bache, who has 40 years of experience in heavy steel fabrication.
    Bache described the process that would have been used for determining where such holes are needed: “Weld access holes in fracture-critical members must be designed by the Engineer of Record [Griesing]. Competent detail draftspersons would be expected, during preparation of the shop drawings, to identify closed chambers where the EOR may have forgotten to show on his plans weld access holes without which the required welding cannot be performed. They would then issue an RFI [request for information] pointing this out, and asking the EOR how they should proceed.”
    According to Bache, then, Griesing would ultimately be responsible for the design of every weld access hole that was required, since every steel member in the rings was designated “fracture-critical.”
    Griesing has told the City that the fabricator was responsible for the weld access hole violations. In that case, the bad holes wouldn’t have appeared on the shop drawings Griesing was required to approve. That means they should have been discovered quickly by any robust quality assurance (QA) program. If found quickly, those holes would still be accessible and could be fixed immediately. Bache noted: “Under what we must imagine would be rigorous QA on this second attempt to fabricate a bridge, we would expect an error to be spotted very soon after the occurrence.”
    But according to Griesing, “Because of its location in a critical area of the structure, this non-conformance was particularly difficult to correct.”
    Why, exactly? If the QA teams were as diligent as Huggett claimed in his quarterly reports, why would “unnecessary” access holes just cut by fabricators end up being “particularly difficult to correct.”
    From what Huggett has told Focus, we know that Hardesty & Hanover’s decision on how to address these unnecessary holes was delayed for six to seven months. During that time, fabrication of the bridge continued.
    It appears that Hardesty & Hanover dithered on fixing the unnecessary weld access holes, which were made inaccessible by subsequent work and couldn’t be fixed. Did Griesing forget to tell someone to do something?
    Bache wrote: “What amazes me is the tremendous time gap between the Atema non-compliance report and the attempted fixes. It sounds as though no one at Hardesty & Hanover could decide what to do, but the work continued and the bridge was shipped anyway to try to keep to a schedule.”
    Griesing’s explanation to the City noted: “The design team and fabrication team designed and reviewed numerous mitigation options. We even consulted two internationally known experts in fabrication and welding for their input. After reviewing all options, the project team unanimously agreed that the bolted plates were the best option, all factors considered.”
    Griesing, obviously, did not factor in jonny or G-Man. Maybe he should have. G-Man and jonny seem to represent the values and priorities of ordinary Victorians better than either Huggett or Helps.
    It wasn’t until after the rings had arrived in Victoria, late last summer, that large holes were chopped in the rings and plates bolted over the holes. That work was done at Point Hope Shipyard in Victoria. The need for these large holes is unclear. Were they needed to allow someone to get inside the rings so bolts could be inserted from the inside and tightened? If so, what happened to the tightener? Hey, we just want to know.
    Griesing’s letter provided no explanation for why a fix wasn’t made immediately in December 2016 when the unnecessary access holes would still have been accessible. So while Huggett and Griesing have successfully focussed the City on shooting the messenger, more important questions that need to be answered are being ignored.
    Let me, just for the sake of thoroughness, offer an alternative story to that being told by Huggett, Griesing and Helps. Let’s start with Atema’s report. Although we’ve been provided with only one sentence from that report, let’s presume that sentence is the whole report and that Atema did find weld access holes that were unnecessary and that those unnecessary holes are the entire reason bolt-on plates were required. All of those assumptions are leaps of faith, but let’s jump. In that case, PCL would have been responsible for the cost of any refabrication necessary to meet the City’s agreed-upon specifications defined in the contract. If the City had been given all the facts about this when it happened, the City would surely have insisted on refabrication rather than accepting a bridge that would forever wear “truly awful-looking” bolt-on plates.
    But wait. According to Griesing, the City did know about the issue. In his letter, Griesing wrote, “City Staff was fully involved in arriving at the best solution, particularly with respect to public safety, cost and schedule impacts.”
    The “was” in that sentence suggests a single person from the City was involved, but we don’t know for sure. Who did Griesing mean by “City Staff”? Did he mean just Huggett? Or did he mean Huggett and other people at City Hall? Again, we don’t know the answer to this yet, because Huggett has refused to respond to a legal request for his records on the issue, and Helps won’t respond to questions. But this is vital to understand because if Huggett didn’t inform anyone else at the City of Victoria, we would have to ask why he kept that information from his client.
    Until we see Huggett’s record of communication on the plates, no judgement can be made as to his conduct. But at this point, with Huggett appearing to have not properly informed his client, the City may need to seek advice about the implications of the plates from someone not involved in the project.
    Griesing’s claim that it wasn’t a “design flaw” that led to the bolt-on plates is an open question until detailed information about what Atema found, and why it took six or seven months for Griesing to act, is released.
    But there is a broader issue that deserves comment. In one sense there is no question that the bolt-on plates are the direct consequence of a design flaw. The design flaw was the open rings themselves. The choice of that particular design approach to creating a movable bridge made the structure unnecessarily complex, difficult to build and overly expensive. Of the three companies originally bidding for the project, two rejected the open-ring design and based their bids on designs that had proven track records. Kiewit’s engineers had concluded that the open rings posed “a fundamentally high risk and expensive design approach.” Bizarrely, the City’s scoring of the bid proposals actually penalized Kiewit and Walsh for not using the risky design.
    As part of PCL’s bid, Hardesty & Hanover embraced this risky design. Victoria taxpayers have been paying the costs ever since. For example: two additional years of construction are attributable to difficulty in fabricating the open rings and fitting them to the trusses. Those extra two years of construction have made people in Victoria frustrated. That sense of frustration, especially in an election year, is not something politicians like Helps  and her councillors want to aggravate with further delays. Their public promise to deliver the bridge by such-and-such a date meant that if any problem arose that would cause further delay, councillors were going to favour whatever solution was quickest. They telegraphed that to Huggett and Griesing. So that’s what councillors got, but in spades.
    So when Griesing tells councillors that the bolt-on plates are not the result of a design flaw, he’s overlooking his company’s responsibility for promoting a design that other engineers warned the City not to build. Hardesty & Hanover’s risky and hard-to-build design created a whole chain of connected events that led inevitably to the bolt-on plates.
    Don’t take my word for it. Huggett has already confirmed that the City's hired technical advisors have given it bad advice on the project. Last summer, in a rare moment of self-reflection in which councillors had an opportunity to openly consider why the project had encountered such difficulties, Councillor Pam Madoff offered the following: “I remember very specifically having this conversation [with the bridge’s designers and engineers] about the mechanics, you know, the—in simplistic terms—the cogs, the wheels, how it was going to lift. I remember at the time saying, ‘Is this basically just a larger version of the Meccano sets that we played with as kids, in terms of its actual mechanical operation?’ And, again, that was the assurance. To me it comes down to: how far does one have to go? We felt like we asked the right questions at the time. It turns out they may not have been the right answers.” In response, Huggett told councillors: “You were not given good advice.”
    A question councillors might ask themselves right now: Why are we still accepting bad advice? Perhaps a sloppily-executed sign with those words on it could be hung from each of the bolt-on plates. With or without such signs, though, each time the bridge lifts and the bolt-on plates descend to the level of pedestrians waiting for the bridge to reopen, those present will be reminded of the bridge’s dubious origins.
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.
     
    Hardesty & Hanover's letter to the City of Victoria with its explanation of the bolt-on plates:

     
     
    Report Article GO TO ARTICLES

    Briony Penn
    March 2018
    Or was the battle fought over an invented crisis?
     
    IN THE KEYNOTE SPEECH at a recent conference on the value of nature in urban areas, Don Luymes, director of strategic initiatives in Surrey, cited a refrain that had many of the participants, like Saanich resident Carmel Thomson, nodding. “The battle for sustainability will be won or lost in the suburbs,” said Luymes.
    The suburbs of Saanich have become one of the most watched of these battlegrounds, because the stakes have never been so high: one of the hottest high-end real estate markets in the world vs. one of the most endangered ecosystems in the country. Emotions run high on both sides. Nowhere in Canada is there a place so rare and ecologically-important pitted against a global luxury housing market so aggressive.
     

    A new house under construction in Saanich amidst a Garry oak ecosystem, the kind of property subject to Saanich's EDPA bylaw
     
    Just as Premiers Notley and Horgan face off over a fundamental disagreement on what constitutes the national interest and constitutional rights (protecting oil investments or the coastal environment), Saanich residents engage in similar clashes over what is more important: protecting their property rights, or nature. Some, like Mayor Richard Atwell, are asserting that there is agreement that nature is valued, but disagreement on the best way to protect it on private property (or if, in fact, it can be protected on private land at all). Others are arguing that the biggest problem is leadership—a failure to listen and bring opposing groups together to work out a less polarized solution.
    For people like Carmel Thomson, a local landowner who has been at the forefront of sustainability initiatives in Saanich and is one of the members of SAFE (Saanich Action for the Environment), the 33-year battle for Saanich’s “rare ecosystems and vital habitat” lost a lot of ground it couldn’t afford to lose on November 6, 2017. That night, Mayor Atwell, and councillors Susan Brice, Karen Harper, Fred Haynes and Lief Wergeland, voted to rescind a bylaw and planning tool called the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA). Their one-vote majority was the result of the September by-election to fill Vic Derman’s seat (Derman died suddenly last year).
     

    Carmel Thomson and Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell
     
    Adopted by Saanich Council in 2012, the EDPA bylaw identified environmentally sensitive areas like Garry oak ecosystems in the municipality, putting them under a special set of guidelines, and requiring a permit before you could alter them (for example the construction of a new building or dock). The areas—representing about five percent of the 40,000 private properties in Saanich (and 52 percent of public lands)—were determined by various inventories of sensitive ecosystems, wildlife trees, and conservation data. Though a permit for alteration was required, numerous exemptions were allowed, for everything from hazardous trees to existing gardens and landscaping to small outbuildings and slope stabilization. If a permit was required, certain guidelines were to be employed. While proponents saw it as inoffensive and helpful, critics claimed it was heavy-handed and an invasion of privacy.
    Thomson traces Atwell’s decision to rescind the EDPA back to a pledge he made publicly to represent a group of anti-EDPA landowners called SCRES (Saanich Citizens for a Responsible EDPA) who were successful in convincing the mayor, at the start of his mayoral career in April of 2015, with their claims that an EDPA designation “places an undue burden on homeowners while not protecting the environment.” Atwell defends his loyalty to the anti-EDPA side: “I pledged to give a voice to the issue at the council table. This is what we do as elected representatives.”
    According to Thomson, this loyalty has led to a “failure” in public process that might have brought some clarification to these claims, and the bylaw itself. The issue has certainly attracted a more-than-average amount of controversy. The biologist who supported SCRES’ claims is now facing disciplinary hearings from his professional association over possible conflict of interest.
    With regard to public participation, the $50,000 independent review of Saanich’s EDPA (called the Diamond Head Report) described the process as “an acrimonious social discourse” and pointed to “confusion and misunderstandings about the bylaw and its implementation.” The acrimony and confusion seeped into town halls, open houses and the by-election to replace Derman, who had been  pro-EDPA.
    Rather than clear up the misunderstandings or implement the recommendations of the Diamond Head Report, Mayor Atwell and council passed a motion to rescind the bylaw on November 6, 2017. The toxicity of the process pushed one frustrated citizen, Dr Lynn Husted (in support of the EDPA) to file a legal petition through the Canadian Charter for Rights and Freedoms, just for the right to express her concerns without interruption from Atwell and some members of council.
    According to Chris Tollefson, who is the executive director for the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation and who took Husted’s petition forward, his rationale for supporting this case is “to stand up for due process and the rule of law when we see things going so sideways.” What he means by “sideways” can be seen on a video of that November 6 meeting, available on the Saanich Council website. What viewers will see is Husted trying to deliver her arguments for why Saanich should have waited before passing a motion to rescind the EDPA, pending results of the disciplinary hearing of the biologist. After being cut off on several occasions by the mayor and Councillor Haynes on what they perceived as a point of order, Husted was ordered to stop.
    Atwell apologized in a settlement out of court, but is not initiating any changes in the chilly climate of debate around EDPAs. According to Atwell, “The rules that currently exist have been in place since we began webcasting council meetings and remain in place unchanged.”
    When asked why he didn’t implement the recommendations of the Diamond Head Report (which was commissioned by Saanich) instead of rescinding the bylaw, Atwell stated: “The overwhelming response is that the EDPA is not working as intended, is burdensome and achieving little in the way of measurable results.”
    Thomson argues that Atwell’s position is inconsistent with the findings of the report which “confirmed the high level of interest, knowledge and passion Saanich residents have towards environmental protection in their municipality…there is support in the community for protecting the natural environment using the EDPA, but that improvement in the Bylaw is required.”
    The 77-page Diamond Head Report provides ample evidence that the EDPA is supported by the public, along with 15 recommendations on how to improve it. The consultation was extensive, and included a review of all public feedback from open houses, town halls, questionnaires, and interviews with landowners, staff members and council—as well as a review of economic impacts of the bylaw, and best practices in other local governments. Atwell’s reference to “measureable results” seems unclear, as the only measureable data available is what staff collected for 2016 on 20 permits for restoration. Those permits resulted in the successful planting of native trees and shrubs in all 20 cases, and removal of invasive species in half of them.
     
    AT THE HEART OF THE ISSUE is whether the battle for sustainability is losing ground because of the limited tools available, or the deteriorating state of public discourse—with real estate prices skewing the debate further. EDPAs are one of the few legal tools that a municipality has to influence how natural areas on private land are protected. It is the same kind of tool that has worked reasonably well for stream and tree protection, flood control, and hazardous slopes where the development permit designation provides restrictions, but also some flexibility to negotiate development design through the permit process. The tool has been available under the Local Government Act and Municipal Act since 1985, but it took Saanich Council 27 years—after a lot of lobbying from citizen groups and people like Thomson—to add ecologically-sensitive areas like Garry oak ecosystems to more conventional stream and slope protection measures.
    The Province kick-started the process in the early 1990s in the Capital region by leading the Sensitive Ecosystems Inventory Mapping project—a necessary first step to establishing this bylaw, and following on BC’s international commitment to biodiversity. The municipal role of protecting ecological values has only slowly been embraced, because the development industry has influenced, perhaps unduly, local government agendas. Understandably, those who had fought for this hard-won planning tool are not happy with the reversal, especially in light of the fact that the independent consultants found the majority of the public was in support of it.
    Part of the problem, Thomson suggests, is the misinformation that was generated by “well-lawyered landowners.” Much of the recruiting for SCRES appears to have emanated from Ten Mile Point. Eight properties that applied for removal from EDPA and were identified in the disciplinary hearing for the biologist’s “failure to undertake proper due diligence and ground work with respect to the preparation of reports” all came from two streets: Tudor and Seaview.
    Residents on both sides of the issue declined to comment, due to the toxic nature of the conflict. When trying to find a spokesperson for SCRES, Focus was directed to the biologist named in the hearings. On the SCRES website, a key resource listed is the Fraser Institute’s Stealth Confiscation: How Governments Regulate, Freeze and Devalue Private Property without Compensation, which claims that property values are lowered by these types of designations. SCRES’ campaign was launched in 2015 on that assumption. Leaflets were distributed stating “it punishes thousands of homeowners without compensation” and “Not only does it impact true property development or subdivision but it also impacts the enjoyment, use AND the resale value of thousands of private properties whose owners just want to plant gardens, add patios and build fences.”
    Yet a BC Assessment Authority report of January 2016 (obtained through a freedom of information request) stated there was no evidence that an EDPA designation devalued property in Saanich. Was this report ignored by those opposed to the EDPA?
    A January 2017 report conducted by Rollo and Associates concluded that in only a few extreme cases would the EDPA guidelines impact property values. These impacts could be eliminated by Saanich relaxing the EDPA guidelines for these very few properties. The authors noted that there was “quite a bit of confusion, uncertainty and misunderstanding regarding the impact of EDPA guidelines on land use and property development.” Again, we have to wonder whether this report, too, was ignored by EDPA opponents.
    Thomson doesn’t buy the idea that this is an unworkable bylaw. The Diamond Head Report points out that “similar EDPAs are implemented in many other BC municipalities without incident.” This includes North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Kelowna, Nanaimo, Campbell River and Surrey. Though “broadly comparable…none had the degree of protest seen in Saanich.” The consultants reviewed the use of EDPAs in nine other local governments and identified key elements that Saanich might want to adopt and improve on. Some of those strategies (outside of the EDPA), Saanich council is already endorsing.
    When mayor and council passed a motion to explore rescinding the bylaw on October 28, they also requested their staff “report as soon as possible on the potential of developing a Saanich program which includes the topics of Climate Adaptation, a Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, and Stewardship Program to serve as a policy framework for other Saanich environmental policies and programs and a new Environmental Development Permit Area be considered part of this program; and the Diamond Head Report recommendations be considered as a component of this report.”
    But by November 6, a resolution was moved by Karen Harper to rescind the EDPA. Dozens of citizens spoke forcefully on the matter—on both sides—and councillors opposed (Brownoff, Murdock, Plant  and Sanders) made the point that it was imprudent to ignore the consultants’ recommendations, throw aside a bylaw that had been years in the making, and act contrary to the goal of a sustainable Saanich.
    Throwing the baby out with the bathwater doesn’t make a lot of sense to Lynn Husted either. “How can a close vote be able to overturn a bylaw that various reports found to be at least as good or better than others studied, that has been in place for six-plus years, and where most of the recommendations for improvements could be implemented within a year.”
    Atwell, on the other hand, seems attached to his voluntary approach to stewardship: “The municipality cannot police private property in any practical way. To accomplish that, it needs an incentive-based approach towards stewardship that gains social license and can be easily understood by residents. The EDPA took the opposite approach, and failed for that reason.”
    Stewardship programs have been underway in Saanich for years, with an Environmental Education Officer who administers programs like Naturescape; Our Backyard quarterly newsletter; the Garry Oak Restoration Project that showcases best practices; workshops; control of invasive species; and a native plant salvage program.
    Saanich has been leading the pack provincially in this regard, but voluntary measures have not halted the downward decline of this vital ecosystem. The Sensitive Ecosystem Mapping Inventory was completed over 20 years ago, and at that time, less than five percent of Garry oak ecosystems still existed, with over a third of these remnants in Saanich (of which roughly half were on private land, and half in Saanich’s parks). One thing almost all municipal planners will agree on is that tracking the success of policy is essential, and that voluntary measures only go so far before laws need to kick in at a critical level—and Garry oak ecosystems are at a critical level.
    Thomson and Husted are hoping that there will be some changes in the process: more education, more use of data about the current state of the environment, and building on the information and ideas generated through earlier consultation (i.e. research and reports like Diamond Head). “We could be engaging the wider community in identifying issues, generating ideas and, together, developing workable solutions that could include notions such as tax incentives for those who have natural areas.” In the Gulf Islands, for instance, the Natural Area Protection Tax Exemption Program (NAPTEP) provides a tax rebate of 65 percent of a landowner’s annual property tax on the portion of their land protected by a NAPTEP convenant. There are lessons to be learned from the wider community.
    According to Thomson, “the battle for sustainability can be won if Saanich shows true leadership, and lives up to its Official Community Plan’s commitment to being ‘a sustainable community where a healthy natural environment is recognized as paramount for ensuring social well-being and economic vibrancy for current and future generations.’ Preservation of our fragile ecosystems depends on it—and our children and grandchildren are depending on us.”
    Briony Penn’s most recent book, The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize. She now lives on Salt Spring Island, but she grew up in Saanich and worked on mapping Garry oak ecosystems in the Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory over two decades ago.

    Leslie Campbell
    March 2018
    Is the CRD failing to steward its only regional park in the core of the city?
     
    ALONG WITH THE DAFFODILS, new lawn signs condemning “overdevelopment” are sprouting up in abundance in Fairfield and Oak Bay neighbourhoods. Developers seem to be finding lots that have been ignored for decades or tearing down older homes to put up something grander. Churches are selling out to condo developers (Rockland’s Truth Centre), or developing their own “excess” property for affordable rental housing (Oak Bay United).
    While the condo and apartment projects add density and sometimes greater affordability to help justify the changing face of a neighbourhood, the many new single-family homes do not. Even though the battles are mostly fought on a case-by-case basis, there’s a cumulative impact on neighbourhoods: they look and feel different.
    As citizens try to modify or halt impending changes to their neighbourhood, they come face-to-face with bureaucracy. People who usually mind their own business and respect authorities blossom into activists, attending City Hall and CRD meetings, diving deep into archival research, organizing meetings and social media. While an engaged citizenry is a good thing, some unfortunately come away soured on local government, skeptical that any justice or sensibleness comes out of these bureaucracies.
    One proposed new development lies adjacent to Gonzales Hill Regional Park, a charming, bluffy paradise with stunning ocean views in multiple directions. The native satin flower can be seen between rock bluffs in early spring; quail are seen regularly. Though mostly left au naturel, atop is perched the Gonzales Observatory, its whiteness rising from the rock like a Greek villa and housing the office of The Land Conservancy of BC.
     

    The property adjacent to Gonzales Hill Regional Park for which variances are being sought by the developer of a single-family home.
    Gonzales Hill Park is the only regional park in the City of Victoria—and it’s right on the border between Victoria and Oak Bay. At 1.8 hectares, it’s small, but within walking distance of many local residents. CRD stats show 49,060 visitors in 2016.
    An adjacent, undeveloped, oblong 11,255-square-foot lot that lies along the park’s north border was purchased in 2016 by Walter and Karen Madro after the former owner died. Because she had left the lot in its natural state, it could be mistaken as being part of the park.
    The proposed 4000-square-foot house at 1980 Fairfield Place will change that perception. Much of the natural rock will be blasted and removed to construct a house with three levels (officially “1.5 storeys plus basement”), connected by an elevator. Plans show a three-car garage, wine cellar, games and fitness rooms. Despite blasting deep into the rock to create the lower level, it will loom high above its surroundings, particularly the neighbours already below the rocky hill. Six to eight small Garry oaks will be removed.
    Residents in the area began hearing about the development when Zebra Group, on behalf of the Madros, showed those closest to the lot initial plans last August. Louis Horvat, an architectural technologist with Zebra, told Focus, “We’ve welcomed the neighbours to come speak to us. We contacted all who wrote letters to the City’s Board of Variance asking them to meet with us. Only three contacted us.” Horvat says the plans have gone through about eight sets of changes, all to minimize neighbours’ concerns. “We really have made an effort to mitigate any concerns.”
    A Board of Variance hearing scheduled for January 25 to consider the Madros’ request for five variances to the R1-G zoning of the lot was adjourned to March 22 because the neighbours and CRD Parks Committee Vice Chair Ben Isitt complained about the short, 10-day notice.
    Since then, neighbours and park lovers have informed themselves more, spoken to officialdom, and organized towards protecting the park. The Madros, meanwhile, have reduced requested variances to two: one asking for a bigger total floorspace than allowed under the zoning; the other to build about 30 feet closer to the rear border.
     

    A portion of Zebra Design's application to the Board of Variance showing the proposed location the structure. The lot's border with Gonzales Regional Park is shown by the lower dashed orange line.
     
    ON FEBRUARY 21, CRD Director Ben Isitt attempted to get the CRD Parks Committee to weigh in against the Madros’ requested variances at the March Board of Variance (BOV) hearing. In introducing his motion, Isitt said, “This is probably my favourite destination for urban hikes, and I think many Victoria and Oak Bay residents would feel the same way.”
    His motion was to have the Parks Committee urge the CRD Board to communicate to the City of Victoria’s Board of Variance that it was concerned about the effect of the requested variances on the adjacent park.
    Isitt’s main argument was that a development on the border of this particular park, because it is so small and central, is more impactful than a similar development would be along the borders of the CRD’s other regional parks, which are far larger—like Thetis or Sooke Hills Wilderness Park or Elk and Beaver Lake Parks in Saanich. “The relative impact is out of proportion to what we would see elsewhere,” said Isitt.
    The proposed house, he noted, would obliterate “a highly cherished view looking to the north…[to] Haro Strait and the San Juan Islands…I think it’s indisputable that this development, if the variances were granted, would have a substantial negative impact on the use and enjoyment of Gonzales Hill Regional Park by park visitors.”
    He urged the CRD committee to provide additional comment to the one staff had already submitted to the BOV, “which indicated the CRD had no opinion on the application.” A CRD Parks staff report on the matter noted, “The main focus for visitors to Gonzales Hill Regional Park is the view from the bluffs to the south…rather than north;” and concluded the variances “would not result in adverse effects on park visitors when compared with the construction of a house on the property as currently allowed under the City of Victoria’s zoning bylaws.”
    Seven neighbourhood members and two spokespersons for the developer made presentations that day. Zebra’s Horvat explained the two variances being requested—one for total floor space, and one for the rear setback—and how the shape and topography of the site made them necessary. He said, “we feel we have produced a design that meets with our clients’ needs, minimizes the impact on the neighbours, and had the least amount of impact on the site and surrounding area.”
    Liane O’Grady, who lives near the park, took issue with Zebra’s assertion: “It may meet his client’s wants for a larger, grander house. It may maximize the profit, but it compromises the interests of the general public and all the people who live in the area.” Showing a slide of the property, she continued, “All of what you see here above would be destroyed, and it would detract from the overall experience in the park…”
    Scott Chapman who lives just below the high bluff on which the Madros house will be built, told the CRD Parks Committee: “The granting of both or either of these variances on the size of the house and the setback will intrude massively on the park, altering this space forever for future residents and users, and it also severely intrudes on the sunlight and shadowing on the adjacent property owners who expect that the bylaws for building be upheld, especially in this very sensitive region."
    Cheryl Shoji, who, with Brad Atchison, lives on the west side of the lot, called her presentation “The Rock—the Jewel of the Hill.” Noting how it provides habitat for quail and other birds, as well as some rare plant species, she said, “[it] should not be flattened and destroyed for the pleasure of a single family home.”
    Atchison, who has a post-graduate degree in biology as well as an MBA, told the Committee that even though he was “the most impacted neighbour,” he and his wife were willing to have the house move 66 feet closer to them. He implied this would be better for the  Garry oak ecosystem. “In urban landscapes, the preservation of these unique biodiversity islands is critically important…On the basis of climate change alone—which the CRD views as the most important governance and action imperative—the region needs an intact Garry oak forest ecosystem.” He suggested that the property owner would be “blasting away at least $400,000 of an ancient, panoramic landform with spiritual value to produce rubble.”
    Alternate Director and City of Victoria Councillor Jeremy Loveday also supported Isitt’s motion. He referred to a survey reported on earlier at the meeting which “showed that for those who don’t attend regional parks, the second highest reason that they don’t go to those parks is because they’re too far. For many Victorian residents, Gonzales Hill is the only regional park that they frequently attend, and for some it is the only regional park that they can access. These facts all lead me to think that it’s perfectly reasonable for this committee to take a position on this application as we are a directly affected neighbour.”
    But the Chair of the Regional Parks Committee, David Screech, mayor of View Royal, disagreed. He took issue with the matter even being on the agenda, feeling it inadvisedly “politicized” a decision that should be left to staff. “This is a City of Victoria decision. It’s not a CRD decision,” he argued. “Variances have nothing to do with us, and the Board of Variance is supposed to be a unique, independent body that does not suffer from political interference. To me, this is political interference. Just on that basis, I can’t support it.”
    Isitt had also pointed out that not only is Gonzales Hill Park the only regional park within the Victoria/Oak Bay municipalities, but that residents of those two cities contribute about one-third of all park funds, but have only  0.015 percent of the land base of regional parks located within their municipal borders.
    In response, Screech said: “The simple fact is that the vast majority of the users of regional parks come from Victoria, Oak Bay, and Saanich. It follows that those municipalities would be paying a higher proportion of it. I don’t feel that Victoria’s hard done by it.”
    When Isitt tried to respond, Screech said, “No, we don’t need to debate it, I’m the chair and I get the last word. That’s my response to your comments.”
    The vote was called; it was tied, 4 to 4 (Price, Screech, Kasper, and Seaton opposed; Isitt, Loveday, Williams, Plant for) which meant Chair Screech got to call it. The motion was defeated.
     
    THAT DEFEAT NATURALLY DISMAYED the other neighbours of Gonzales Hill Park. They had hoped the CRD would be a powerful ally standing against the variances because of its impact on Gonzales Hill Park and park users. It was also a rude awakening: it seemed the CRD couldn’t be bothered protecting this beloved park.
    A January 25 letter from General Manager of Parks & Environmental Services Larisa Hutcheson to Fairfield Place resident Atchison had bolstered this judgement. In response to Atchison’s letter pleading with the CRD to take some interest and at least be at the BOV hearing, Hutcheson stated: “After careful consideration, in staff’s view the requested changes would not significantly impact the experience of park users when compared with the existing permitted construction of a single-family dwelling on that lot.”
    Atchison questions the “careful consideration,” arguing that the CRD needs to conduct a scientific Environmental Impact Assessment along with a park user survey to really understand the development’s impact.
    Atchison also criticizes the CRD for rejecting a proposal of the Madros in late 2016 to gain access to their property from the Gonzales Hill Park parking lot, which, according to Rus Collins of Zebra Design, would have reduced the amount of blasting, and minimized the environmental impact. He wrote in a submission to the BOV that the Madros, in exchange, “were willing to donate a portion of their property to the park and work out a covenant agreement to protect the trees at the Fairfield Place end of their site.” Zebra’s Horvat also assured Focus that that access would have been over grass and broom and was “the least affecting for the habitat.”
    The CRD, through Communications Senior Manager Andy Orr, told Focus, “Access through the parking lot was declined because the request would reduce available parking by one spot. Parking is already limited at the park. The request for use of the parking space was for the construction of a driveway across the rocky bluff and meadow within the park. This request was determined to adversely affect the park.” Isitt told Focus he too was not in favour of an easement through the park. Isitt plans to try again to get the CRD to voice concern when the whole Board meets on March 14. Once again, the neighbours will attend and speak in support of the motion.
    The subsequent important date for them, and the Madros, is March 22, when the City’s Board of Variance will consider the two requested variances—one for an additional 769 square feet of total floor space (above the allowed 3229), and one for a 29.75-foot reduction in setback from its rear border. Isitt said, “A bigger house [than zoning allows for] will have more of an impact on the park.”
    But Zebra, on behalf of its client, will explain at the hearing that the lot imposes “hardships” because of its irregular shape and a very steep grade in sections due to a 30-foot ascent from Fairfield Place to the top of the hill. It will also point to the report of Julie Budgen, a professional biologist and environmental planner with Corvidae Environmental Consulting Inc. She wrote, “Considering the biophysical features, habitat and available information, Corvidae is of the opinion the proposed project is best sited on the rock outcrop. Locating the project at this location will minimize the overall impact to the existing wooded area.”
    Every municipality in BC has a Board of Variance (BOV), as mandated under the Local Government Act. It is a quasi-judicial body made up of volunteer members appointed by City Council, but independent of it. As the City website explains: “If a hardship is established, the Board may grant the minimum variance that it believes is necessary to alleviate the hardship. However, the Board may deny the variance request if it feels that the proposed variance would substantially affect the use and enjoyment of a neighbouring property, harm the natural environment or defeat the purpose of the Zoning Regulation Bylaw.”
    Minutes from past BOVs are on the City’s website, and it is easy to scan through them and notice that most requested variances are unanimously approved.
    The City states the BOV must be “persuaded that the present zoning creates an undue hardship unique to the property in question.” In one case where a variance was denied, the minutes state, “Board is sympathetic to time, money and material waste—although cannot consider these as hardships.” The Board seems to give weight to neighbours’ opinions, but even when neighbours show up to complain, variances are often approved. The BOV’s final deliberations are carried out in closed sessions and all decisions are final; there is no appeal.
    Currently chaired by Andrew Rushforth, one of the BOV’s other four members is Rus Collins, principal designer and owner of Zebra Group, the developer of the Madros’ property. He will recuse himself from the deliberations on this property. But for Atchison, it’s still a bit too cozy to not potentially influence the BOV. He and other citizens exposed to the BOV process feel it is time for some serious revisions. One Rockland citizen, about a different development, noted in an exasperated email to Focus, “The BOV has no accountability and there is no oversight. Who ensures they comply with the BOV bylaw? Who defines ‘minor’ variance, who defines ‘hardship?’”
    The City of Victoria too has expressed concern about the Board of Variance process. On February 8, City council unanimously passed a resolution (moved by Councillors Isitt and Madoff) to the Union of BC Municipalities to ask “the provincial government to review the provisions of the Local Government Act relating to Boards of Variance and consider amendments to ensure that the issues of public accountability, transparency and local democracy are upheld.” The prelude to this motion noted that “deliberations of local Boards of Variance provide minimal opportunities for public comment on the requested variances, and provide no role for comment from the elected council of a municipality or the board of a regional district in unincorporated areas.”
    Even if the Madros’ variances are denied, it’s doubtful that neighbours will be happy with the situation. Virtually any house on that site will reduce the privacy of neighbours, involve noisy blasting and construction, and block some views from the park. But it’s one of very few official avenues they have to speak against it.
     
    WHY DIDN'T THE CRD BUY THE LAND ITSELF? It would have enlarged Gonzales Hill Park in a significant way, providing more of a wildlife corridor, retaining views, and certainly keeping the neighbours and numerous park users happy.
    The lot in question was listed at $1 million, but there is plenty of money in the CRD’s Land Acquisition Fund, which gets an injection of about $4 million every year through a $20 levy on all CRD households. In the past two years, land purchases totalling $2.62 million have been made, but a healthy fund remains—and grows annually— at least until 2019 when it’s up for review. It can be used for no other purpose than park land purchases.
    Focus asked the CRD why it hadn’t bought the land. An emailed response from the communications manager stated: “The Oak Bay/Victoria part of the Capital Region was not one of the priority areas of interest for park land acquisition. Details about specific land acquisitions are confidential.”
    Interviewed in his home at the base of the steep hill on which the Madros will build, Atchison said it is a shame that the CRD did not purchase the lot when the opportunity presented itself. The CRD’s land acquisition strategy report notes that “To be effective, the land acquisition strategy needs to account for opportunistic acquisition of important lands.”
    Atchison told Focus he’d lead a fundraising campaign in the community, though he believes the CRD should pay for part of it, with the City of Victoria helping. The CRD should, if necessary, even expropriate the lot, he said; and the Madros should be “made whole,” by which he means reimbursed for their lot at fair market value.
    While it seems unlikely, he hasn’t given up hope yet.
    Atchison is clearly disgusted with the CRD’s lack of good stewardship of Gonzales Hill Park, noting among other things, “They have spent squat” on the park’s maintenance.
    However, he is most vociferous in his condemnation of the governing body’s disengagement around the zoning issue. As he stated in a letter to Screech, “the way the CRD has reacted to-date in handling this situation reinforces, unfortunately, the commonly-held perception of the CRD as an unaccountable, unelected local government, largely unresponsive to community needs with a costly staff complement of about 1200 people.”
    He and his neighbours are now linking up with concerned citizens in other Fairfield, Rockland, and Oak Bay neighbourhoods to fight what they see as disrespectful “overdevelopment.”
    Leslie Campbell lives within walking distance of Gonzales Hill Park.

    David Broadland
    January 11, 2018
    Did Mayor Helps conceal a serious bridge design flaw from other councillors and the public at a critical moment? Only the expeditious public release of pertinent records will show what happened.
     

     
    TWO BOLT-ON PLATES DEFACING THE FRACTURE-CRITICAL RINGS of the new Johnson Street Bridge aren’t a problem, according to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. The real problem, Helps stated in a Facebook post, were “a number of serious factual errors and inaccuracies” made by me in my story about the issue in the January/February edition of Focus.
    Below her Facebook statement Helps endorsed comments posted anonymously on the social media site reddit. On reddit, anyone can call themselves an “engineer” by providing an email address to a computerized registration system. Helps’ and her Facebook fans were moved by the assurances of reddit “engineers” HollywoodTK and thisguy86 that there was nothing unusual about a new $115-million bridge sporting repair patches before it even opened. My own article on the issue, on the other hand, even though it is likely subject to the careful scrutiny of libel lawyers working for the companies and professionals named in the article, is, according to Helps, untrustworthy.
    I will come back to Mayor Helps’ role in the City’s response to the issue, but first let me report on information that came in after publication of my original story.
    Firstly, City of Victoria Councillor Jeremy Loveday confirmed that he had not been informed about the issue before he read our story. Loveday’s statement seems to suggest that Project Director Jonathan Huggett, a professional engineer, did not properly inform his client—the City of Victoria—about a significant structural issue that had arisen during construction of the rings in China. However, it’s also possible that Loveday is the only person at City Hall that wasn’t told.
    Secondly, photos taken in Victoria show the work of cutting steel out of the rings and then adding the bolt-on plates took place at Point Hope Shipyard in Victoria in October.
    Thirdly, engineers and experts in steel fabrication have expressed concern that the bolt-on steel plates will likely create a corrosion problem that could increase maintenance costs and shorten the useful life of the bridge. While social media comments have focussed on the way in which the steel plates diminish the structure’s aesthetic value, the plates may end up costing City of Victoria taxpayers tens of millions of dollars as a result of premature loss of use.
    Professional engineers and steel fabrication experts that have contacted Focus have confirmed that the concerns we identified in our story are reasonable. Even with only one sentence of the Atema report that first identified a weakness in the rings during construction in China, engineers confirmed that at least partial responsibility for the issue likely lies with the rings’ designers, Hardesty & Hanover. Until the full Atema report is released, the full extent of Hardesty & Hanover’s responsibility for the weakness in the rings is unknown.
    If the City had insisted on rings that did not have bolt-on plates, whatever additional costs were incurred would have been borne by the various parties to the extent they were responsible for the weakness in the rings. The extent of blame assigned to each of the parties involved is unknown.
    What we do know is that Hardesty & Hanover’s Engineer of Record for the project was able to sign off on a cheap, bolted-on plate solution even though he was the Engineer of Record at least partly responsible for the structural weakness that needed to be addressed. The record of how all this played out needs to be made public since there seems to be an inherent conflict of interest at work in what occurred, with City of Victoria taxpayers coming out on the losing end.
    Following publication of our story, a concerned steel fabrication expert asked Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (EGBC) to confirm that the addition of bolt-on plates to the fracture-critical rings needed to be approved by an engineer other than the Engineer of Record. The EGBC confirmed that such an approval would have been required and directed the expert to Hardesty & Hanover’s Keith Griesing, the Engineer of Record, for Griesing’s confirmation that such a review took place.
    In response to advice from one professional engineer, we checked EGBC’s online membership directory to confirm that Griesing is a registered professional engineer in BC. The EGBC did not confirm his membership. Griesing has not yet responded to a request for information from Focus. The expert in steel fabrication told Focus, “I believe it is not necessary for the Engineer of Record to be registered as a member of EGBC provided that he is registered as an Engineer in a jurisdiction acceptable to EGBC.”
    Lastly, we have learned that the public statements issued separately by Helps and Loveday—the same statements, word-for-word—were provided to them by City Manager Jocelyn Jenkins. Since Jenkins is not an engineer, the claim Loveday and Helps made that what we reported in our story as a “design flaw” should have been called a “fabrication challenge” had to come from Huggett. (Loveday has since apologized for not making it clear that his statement was copied from a briefing note. Mayor Helps’ has made no such clarification.)
    The entire attempt to build architect Sebastien Ricard’s unproven design has definitely been a “fabrication challenge,” but the specific way in which a structural weakness had been engineered into the rings remains a design flaw until further, more complete information proves otherwise.
    Aside from the important issues of safety, lowered life expectancy and diminished aesthetic value, there are other questions involving professional and political conduct that need to be examined. If it isn’t clear to you already, let me outline why the City’s characterization of our story as “a number of serious factual errors and inaccuracies” ought to be seen as obfuscation—a non-denial denial, as I predicted in my initial story.
    The weakness in the rings was first identified on December 9, 2016 in China. At the time, the rings were still being fabricated. Reinforcing the problematic section of the rings in a way that would not create long-term corrosion problems or diminish the aesthetic value of the bridge was still possible. Since the cost of that refabrication would have been the responsibility of those companies whose work had contributed to the structural weakness in the rings, the best interests of the City of Victoria would have been served by refabrication. But that didn’t happen. Why not?
    On the surface, it appears that no one in Victoria was told, so there was no opportunity for the City to consider its options.
    If the City had been told, and it had insisted on refabrication—and why wouldn’t it?—who would have had to pay? Hardesty & Hanover and/or PCL.
    Somehow, Victoria got a defective bridge and PCL and Hardesty & Hanover got a free pass. What happened?
    Huggett should have been informed about the Atema report’s findings shortly after December 9, 2016. If he was, it’s not clear whether he even notified the City. The evidence that he didn’t tell his client, so far, is the absence of any mention of the issue in his public reports, and Councillor Loveday’s public statement that our story was the first he had heard of the issue. So let’s pursue—cautiously—the hypothetical case in which Huggett told no one at City Hall. What would be the implications of that? Keep in mind that Huggett is paid approximately $300,000 each year by taxpayers to watch over the City’s interests on the project.
    If Huggett had told no one, the main beneficiary of such a concealment would have been Hardesty & Hanover and/or PCL. But Huggett’s client is the City of Victoria. If this was how things happened—Huggett telling no one—how would we expect a sensible mayor to act when the existence of the design flaw was publicized by Focus?
    A sensible mayor would see that if Huggett had kept the City in the dark, that would have allowed Hardesty & Hanover and/or PCL to avoid the higher cost of refabrication as compared with bolt-on plates. A sensible, cautious mayor would, on first hearing of this issue, understand that Huggett’s apparent failure to inform her would require the immediate production of all the records that could show exactly what took place during the nearly eight months between the Atema report and shipment of the rings to Victoria. Otherwise, public trust in civic government would plummet. A sensible mayor would demand: “Release the records.” But that didn’t happen.
    Rather than acting swiftly to push for release of those records, Helps parrotted Huggett’s statement, assuring the public that the real problems plaguing the bridge project were serious factual errors and inaccuracies in the observations of the guy who first noticed the bolt-on plates.
    So, given that Helps is a reasonably sensible mayor who is perfectly capable of sniffing out corruption, we can likely reject the hypothesis that Huggett didn’t tell anyone at City Hall.
    That leads us, inevitably, to the only other reasonable hypothetical possibility—that Huggett informed one or more officials at City Hall, and that between them they decided that the best course of action was to keep the issue concealed from Loveday (and probably other councillors) and settle for a quick, cheap fix that kept the bridge on schedule for completion well before next November’s civic election, bolt-on plates and all.
    Let’s cautiously explore this possibility. As a reporter, I’ve found that when public officials won’t answer direct questions, they are usually trying to avoid public embarrassment. It’s awful to be publicly embarrassed, but public embarrassment is a powerful and legitimate tool that has been traditionally used to hold people accountable for their actions when they screw up some decision they had to make.
    In preparation for my initial story, after Huggett declined to say whether he had informed the City, I emailed questions to Mayor Helps, including whether she had been filled in by Huggett on the issue. The questions were simple and could have been answered with a “Yes” or a “No.” I also asked her for important dates when things might have happened. The mayor did not respond to any of five emails sent over a one-week period.
    Then, following Helps’ release of the Huggett-Jenkins statement on her Facebook page and her implicit endorsement of the anonymous reddit engineers, I emailed her a request to itemize the “serious factual errors and inaccuracies” she had referenced in her statement. Normally, a public official that makes such a claim would have proactively provided that information without being asked. That’s the process: We make a mistake, the official tells us about the mistake we made, and if they are correct we acknowledge our error. So I asked the mayor to make those mistakes clear.
    Then something peculiar happened. Mayor Helps’ inadvertently copied me on a “proposed response” to my questions that she had meant to send only to Jenkins and Huggett and one other City staffer. “Do you see any downfalls in this approach?” the mayor asked Huggett and Jenkins. Later, realizing what she had done, Helps emailed me: “David there you have my response. Sent before my morning meditation and copied to you inadvertently. But truth may walk through the world unarmed. So please feel free to use what I have said.” She had written: “I trust all of the reporters at the Times Colonist. I trust all of the reporters at Vic News. I trust all of the reporters at CBC and CFAX. I trust all of the reporters at CTV, CHEK, and GLOBAL. This trust has come through hard conversations, good reporting and relationship building. I do not trust you. As such I feel that however I answer your questions you will use the answers to suit your own needs, not to serve the public good.”
    Mayor Helps made no attempt to point out even a single error or inaccuracy.
    The mayor’s insistence that Focus needs to negotiate stories with her before she will provide factual information is an interesting issue all by itself, but it’s not the issue at hand so let’s not be diverted by it.
    Why wouldn’t the mayor respond in a straightforward manner and provide the “serious factual errors and inaccuracies”? Added to her failure to answer questions for the first story, my reporter’s nose tells me Mayor Helps is hiding something.
    Here’s what now appears to me to be the most likely chain of events: Atema issued its report in December 2016. Huggett informed then-City Manager Jason Johnson. Johnson informed Helps and perhaps City engineering staff. Between them they decided to accept the quickest fix to the weak-rings problem and to conceal the issue from the other councillors and the public, perhaps thinking that no one would notice the bolt-on plates. Now the City is busily trying to hide their miscalculations and errors in judgement to avoid embarrassment.
    If I’m wrong, and neither Helps nor Huggett have anything to hide, all they need to do to prove that is to release the full Atema report, the record of all Huggett’s communications about that report and the bolt-on plates, and the required independent third-party review of the proposed fix, if that was done. Then all local media can share that information with the public, which will then be better able to gauge whether the public interest—or a corporate, political or personal interest—was served by the actions of whoever was involved. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus Magazine. He has been, reluctantly, following the bridge issue for about nine years.

    David Broadland
    January 2018
    The latest cover-up on the $115-million project raises the question: What needs to change at Victoria City Hall?
     
    LIKE MANY VICTORIANS, I visited the Johnson Street Bridge construction site in early December to check out the newly-erected rings. My attention was immediately drawn to two large, heavily-bolted plates attached to the underside of each of the rings at the 12-o’clock position. Uh-oh.
    As you may know, I have been watching this project closely, for nine years. No such plates had ever appeared in any of the detailed construction drawings or project photographs that I had seen over the past five years of construction. I snapped a few photographs. At home, blown up, the photos showed that the welded steel rings—which took three years to fabricate in China—had recently been cut open. Steel plates, angle steel and hundreds of bolts had then been placed over the openings. This assemblage had a “quick-and-dirty” appearance, the kind of short-term repair you might expect to see on a bridge deemed to be near the end of its useful life—not at the start.
     

    As a result of a flaw in its structural design, the signature feature of the new bridge—the rings—required the addition of external bolt-on plates (inset).
     
    I sent my photos to Project Director Jonathan Huggett and asked him for an explanation. Over Huggett’s nearly four years on the job, I’ve sent him questions several times. Before this, he hadn’t answered a single question. In his last non-response, he had explained, “I am very busy trying to deal with a multitude of issues right now.” I didn’t expect to hear from him this time, either, but he surprised me.
    In an email, Huggett revealed that Atema—the quality-control company hired by the City of Victoria to monitor fabrication in China of the large steel parts of the bridge—had issued a “non-compliance report” (NCR) on December 9, 2016 after an inspection of the rings. Atema’s report indicated the structure contained a design flaw that could leave the rings vulnerable to metal fatigue.
    In response to discovery of the design flaw, Huggett says, “Lengthy discussions occurred in China and North America during the first half of 2017 and a number of different options to remedy the comments in the NCR were presented and reviewed. After discussions involving many experts in steel fabrication, the Engineer of Record agreed to design a bolt-on steel plate to ensure that the rings had not only the required strength, but also met the fatigue design requirements for the opening and closing of the bridge. This amended design was carried out and signed off by the Engineer of Record.”
    Wow. That’s a dramatically understated admission that the project had gone dangerously off the rails. After three years of fabrication, the rings had to be hacked into with cutting torches and hastily repaired. Yet not one of Huggett’s public reports to City councillors even hinted at such a problem. Huggett apparently had no intention of publicly acknowledging the design flaw, or the repair, unless someone else brought it up. Were those his instructions from the City?
    One question that immediately occurred to me: Is this the structure’s only design flaw?
    Huggett, a private engineering consultant, was appointed project director in 2014 by the City of Victoria after a report he authored condemned the project for its lack of leadership. He billed the City about $300,000 for his services, including expenses, in 2017.
    When pressed for more information, including the date he had informed City of Victoria officials about the design flaw, Huggett simply responded: “We have no additional information to provide.”
    If Huggett had informed anyone at City Hall about the design flaw, it most likely would have been City Manager Jason Johnson, who hired Huggett in 2014. But Johnson was fired by City council shortly after the rings arrived in Victoria, so I was unable to confirm whether Huggett told Johnson about the design flaw and repair. Five emails to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps asking her to confirm whether or not Huggett had informed City councillors all went unanswered.
    I’ll come back to the question of why City Hall is reluctant to acknowledge what has happened, but first let me describe more exactly what was done to the rings after the design flaw was discovered. (If some readers have a hard time wading through this account, my apologies. I am hoping that an engineer with bridge design and/or bridge construction experience will come forward to comment on the repair that has been done to the new bridge.)
    I provided Huggett with a written description of what appears to be a hastily-executed repair that has been made to both rings and asked him to correct any part of my description so that it would accurately reflect the “amended design” for the public record. Huggett provided no correction.
    Sometime after the trial fit-up of all the major parts of the bridge in China in March 2017, significant, identical alterations were made to each ring. This included cutting out a section of steel plate from the inside flange of each ring. Steel appears to have been removed from the centre of each ring right out to their outer edge. This removal included about one metre of steel along the edge of the rings, including the weld.
     

    This project photo of the south ring in March, 2017 shows the intended design. Despite having known about the design flaw for over three months, the project then proceeded in such a way as to make it impossible to back-track and properly address the issue. Later, a large section of steel (in the area indicated by the yellow circle) was cut away from both rings and then covered over with bolt-on plates.
     
    These cutouts in the rings would have allowed access to the interior of the ring. Work may have been done inside the rings to address the fatigue issue identified by Atema. A photograph of the rings taken during their fabrication (see below) shows an abrupt narrowing of the structural steel in the same area where, later, the bolt-on plates were installed. This abrupt transition in the structure, along with an internal access port, may have prompted Atema’s report.
     

    The south ring during fabrication in China in July 2016. The yellow circle indicates the area of the ring later red-lined by Atema’s non-compliance report.
     
    Whether or not any steel was then added to the internal structure of the rings is unknown. If not, the next step would have involved attaching the external plates, which are about two metres by two metres in size. That required drilling 180 approximately three-quarter-inch-diameter holes into each ring, with matching holes in the plates. The plates are bolted along the edge of each ring to a steel angle that protrudes from the gap cut in the rings. The angles are bolted to the inside of the rings’ side webs. Filler pieces roughly support the plates at their forward edges where the plates span an uneven surface. The plates appear to be deformed (bent) across this uneven surface.
    One question that arises: Wouldn’t drilling a large number of holes, in a small area that had already been identified as having a weakness, further weaken the rings? The rings are considered “fracture-critical,” which implies their failure could lead to collapse of the bridge.
    As well, gaps and joints between the rings’ original steel and the bolted-on steel parts, evident in photographs, seem to make it possible for moisture to get between the steel surfaces and from there into the bolt holes. If that happens, corrosion would occur. The plates, angle steel and bolts introduce the need for careful, ongoing inspection, additional maintenance and future repair that would not have been required if a properly fabricated structure had been delivered.
    While many questions require answers from the City, what is known seems straightforward and damning: The design flaw was pointed out by a company whose actual job was to certify the grade of steel being used, monitor the quality of the welding, and ensure fabrication proceeded according to drawings that originated with Hardesty & Hanover, the company that engineered the steel lifting section of the bridge. Its drawings were supposed to be checked and approved by the City’s project manager, MMM Group, which has billed the City for close to $20 million for its services on the project since 2009. Fabrication of the lifting section began in China in early 2014. So it took nearly three years before anyone noticed this flaw in Hardesty & Hanover’s design, and then it was discovered by someone not responsible for the engineering of the structure. The structural integrity of this part of the bridge was judged to be so far below standard that an extraordinary intervention was required. It then took, according to Huggett, another six or seven months before a decision was made about how to address the flaw. Part of that decision included choosing to conceal the problem from the public. Another part of the decision was to do a quick-and-dirty repair. Is that because the rings had already been shipped to Victoria, precluding a proper repair at the steel fabrication plant in China?
    So many questions with no answers.
    While the Engineer of Record may have “signed off” on the bolt-on plates, the Engineer of Record works for the same company—Hardesty & Hanover—that engineered the structural flaw into the design in the first place. As engineers, their work is now suspect and their stamp of approval on their solution to a problem they created seems fraught with potential for conflict of interest. Wouldn’t City of Victoria councillors have wanted to obtain an independent, disinterested assessment of the proposed fix? Did they?
    If councillors had been made aware of this flaw and its proposed remedy, and agreed to accept a substandard bridge anyway, they have a lot to answer for—public oversight of the project appears to have failed.
    Until the City of Victoria makes it clear whether or not Huggett informed City officials of the circumstances related to the design flaw, it ought to be assumed that he did. If that’s the case, City councillors will need to explain the basis for their decision to accept a  bridge that needed to be repaired. At the very least, they ought to provide public answers to the following:
    1. When were City councillors informed about the design flaw?
    2. When were they informed about the proposed fix?
    3. Did the City of Victoria obtain an opinion from an independent  professional engineer—one with no previous involvement with any of the parties undertaking the project—as to whether the City should agree to the proposed fix?
    4. In return for accepting a substandard bridge, has the City of Victoria obtained a long-term guarantee from the builder (PCL), beyond the limited two-year warranty previously agreed to, that the damaged rings will be replaced by the builder if the repair shows any sign of deterioration or failure over the expected life of the bridge?
    5. Were councillors planning on informing the public of the design flaw and repair before the coming civic election?
    It has taken 9 years and, if we’re honest, about $115 million to build a 156-metre-long bridge that needed to be repaired before it could be opened.Why has this happened to our city?
    Long before this particular design flaw emerged and its cover-up commenced, the project had repeatedly reduced the value of the bridge being built, each time concealing that fact from the public. Focus has documented this sad history, right from the project’s origins in 2008. This seems an appropriate moment to recount why this troubled project has turned out the way it has.
     
    THE LONG RECORD OF CONCEALMENT OF PROBLEMS with the bridge’s design and construction seems to be a natural consequence of the project’s controversial origins, and the haste with which a conceptual design was chosen. The project was born at the height of the world financial crisis in late 2008 and early 2009, when governments around the planet rushed forward with gigantic plans for infrastructure spending to stimulate the global economy. In Victoria, the possibility of a big federal-provincial grant appeared just after the City had received an engineering assessment of the condition of the 86-year-old Johnson Street Bridge. This unfortunate coincidence determined the fundamental nature of the project that followed: It was hurried, and therefore ill-conceived.
    To justify going after a big grant, whose application deadline was only weeks away, City officials had to quickly manufacture a plausible rationale for replacing the Johnson Street Bridge. They did that by abruptly announcing that the Johnson Street Bridge had a serious seismic vulnerability. On top of that, the City claimed that repairing the bridge would require lengthy closure—at great economic cost to Downtown businesses. Since that repair would be only marginally less expensive than building a new bridge at $40 million, the City argued, building a new bridge was the best choice.
    But before the City took that position, it had been advised, unequivocally, by two professional engineers on two separate occasions, to repair the double bridge rather than replace it. The first engineer to provide that direction, Joost Meyboom, told the City in 2008 that an adequate repair, including seismic upgrading, would cost $8.6 million. The second engineer, Mark Mulvihill, gave the same advice in 2009. Mulvihill based his recommendation on the structure’s “high and significant” heritage values. But Meyboom’s and Mulvihill’s professional recommendations were concealed by the City, and were only revealed through FOIs filed well after City council had committed to a new bridge.
    That’s how the project started. Founded on a fundamentally deceptive approach to providing information about the project, City managers went on to repeat—for the next nine years—that same pattern of misrepresentation and concealment in response to every major challenge that came along.
    Instead of following Meyboom’s and Mulvihill’s recommendations, the City placed its bet on a back-of-the-envelope concept created by Sebastien Ricard at the British architectural firm Wilkinson Eyre. Inexplicably, Ricard’s design depended on a novel open-ring (no axle) lifting mechanism that had previously been used for only two small bridges in the Canary Wharf development in London. Just a few years old, the bridges had almost no record of performance or durability. Nor was there any proof that the open-ring design could be successfully scaled up to the size proposed for Victoria. By July 2009 the City was estimating the project would cost $63 million.
    When it tried to proceed without electors’ consent, a counter-petition—mounted in the middle of a cold winter by indignant Victoria citizens—successfully forced the City to put its plan to a referendum. The City’s response to that setback, in preparation for a vote, was to spend heavily on creating the perception that building a new bridge would be less expensive than repairing the existing structure, and that Ricard’s design would allow a number of highly desirable features: dedicated bicycle lanes, rail, a high level of seismic protection, a wider navigational channel and a “signature” structure with high-level architectural qualities that would make the bridge “world class” and “iconic.”

    Sebastien Ricard’s glamorous, but hastily-conceived, 2010 design was approved by voters in a borrowing referendum. 

    Critics of the project, like Ross Crockford, a director of the watchdog organization that had forced the City to hold a referendum, pointed to the unproven, experimental nature of the design. To Crockford— who, unlike the City, had sought out the advice of bridge engineers not involved in the project—the design presented an unnecessary financial risk to City taxpayers. The design flaw discovered by Atema is exactly the kind of risk critics like Crockford warned the City about, before and after the referendum. The City ignored those warnings, and so did the majority of City voters. In the November 2010 referendum, electors approved the City’s now-$77-million-plan.
    Soon after the referendum had been won, project engineers and City staff quietly began stripping away most of the promised elements of the project’s scope, even as the project’s cost continued to climb.
    The first things to go were rail and a wider navigational channel.
    Ricard’s renderings of the bridge from 2010 all show a bridge wide enough to accommodate rail and long enough to allow a navigational channel 47 metres wide. But records obtained by Focus showed that project engineers suspected Ricard’s open-ring design couldn’t actually accommodate either. By early 2011, MMM engineers were gathering evidence to help convince City managers, behind closed doors, that the City should build a much smaller bridge.
    By mid-2011 the City had signed a design contract with MMM that, contrary to promises made before the referendum, eliminated rail, reduced the opening span from 47 to 41 metres, and reduced the required life expectancy of the approach bridges from 100 years to 75 years. There was no proactive disclosure of these latter two reductions in quality and scope. They only became known to councillors and the public later, through FOIs filed by Focus.
    The shortage of truthfulness wasn’t confined to the engineers. Just before the civic election in 2011, City Manager Gail Stephens  announced that the project “continues to be within the budget of $77 million and the March 2016 timeline.” But, as we learned much later, she was hiding the truth from both councillors and the public. An FOI filed in 2012 showed Stephens had been warned months before by City staff that the project was definitely over budget. Those staff advised her that councillors should be informed. Stephens failed to do so. As for her claim of being on schedule for completion by March 2016, the truth of that is now evident.
    In mid-2012, while the City was working with three companies short-listed to bid on the bridge’s construction contract, two significant changes were made to the project’s scope. Each of these changes was made to lower the cost of the project after the three companies bidding on the contract made it clear the City’s recently-expanded $93-million budget would not cover the cost of even the shrunken bridge it wanted them to build.
    The first of these changes was a decision to leave the support piers of the existing bridge in place. That would eliminate the cost of removing and disposing of the piers, but this also resulted in losing one of the primary objectives of the project: a wider navigational channel under the bridge. The width of the channel was limited by the existing piers which were 39 metres apart. Leaving them in place meant the navigational clearance would be virtually the same, with no reduction in the risk of marine traffic hitting the bridge. Project managers hid this change, too, from councillors, who were left to learn about it from the pages of Focus.
    At the same time, in mid-2012, City managers secretly accepted a lower standard of seismic performance for the bridge. While no engineer can, with great certainty, guarantee that a bridge will be accessible to traffic after a large earthquake, MMM engineer Joost Meyboom had convinced the City that it should buy the highest level of seismic protection possible. Meyboom put the cost of that protection at $10 million and, during the 2010 referendum, electors were told the bridge would include that high level of protection.
    However, after it had been established (in secret) by the three companies bidding for the construction contract that MMM’s estimate of cost was too low, MMM introduced a document into the procurement process that accepted a much lower level of seismic performance than Meyboom had previously advised the City to accept. This document’s reduced seismic design criteria allowed for the replacement of the planned all-steel approach bridges with more economical—but more seismically vulnerable— concrete structures.
    Again, councillors were left in the dark. I’ll come back to the lowered seismic design criteria in a moment, because the way this issue was manipulated by the City when it was made public in these pages is a good indicator of how the City will respond publicly to the design flaw issue. But first, let me refresh your memory about the warnings about the design that were provided by the companies in their bids for the construction contract.
    Two of the bid proposals rejected Ricard’s open-ring design outright as too risky in terms of cost, reliability, and repairability. The third bid, from PCL, rejected a part of Ricard’s design and altered what remained in a way that allowed PCL to meet the City’s price ceiling. But that alteration also resulted in material changes that PCL expected would reduce the life of the bridge before major repairs would be needed. PCL admitted its proposal would result in a bridge in which parts that were “subject to wear” would last only 30 years.
    Senior City managers kept all these warnings out of sight of elected officials. Records obtained by Focus show that at a critical in camera meeting soon after the bids were received—a moment in which councillors could have been fully apprised of the companies’ warnings before committing to Ricard’s design—City staff didn’t even mention them.
    In light of the design flaw discovered by Atema and its warning of the risk of metal fatigue, it now seems possible that one of those parts “subject to wear” is the entire section of the bridge built in China.
     
    LET'S GO BACK AND PICK UP THE THREAD about the project’s reduced seismic design criteria. The document mentioned above later became part of the City’s contract with PCL. Its presence in the contract protects PCL from any future legal claim from the City of Victoria in the case that the bridge suffers unrepairable damage—or is unusable by emergency vehicles—following a much smaller seismic event than that for which Meyboom had recommended the City prepare.
    Keep in mind that Meyboom had put the value of that additional protection at $10 million, and the City had agreed to pay for this extra protection in exchange for an implied guarantee that the bridge would stand up well in a large earthquake. That $10 million had been included in the “$77 million” estimate in 2010. That extra $10 million was meant for such features as all-steel approach bridges, which have much better seismic performance than concrete.
    Recall that questions about the seismic vulnerability of the existing double bridge had been the primary rationale for replacing it. Ironically, all four of its approach bridges were steel. But inclusion of the Seismic Design Criteria document in PCL’s contract meant the City had, in effect, agreed to a lower level of seismic performance, so concrete approach bridges could now be used in the new bridge. None of this was divulged to councillors when they were asked to approve a contract with PCL.
    When the issue was brought to light by Focus in 2015, Huggett, by then project director, provided an extensive non-denial denial that carefully avoided even acknowledging the existence of the contract document that contains the lowered seismic design criteria. For readers unfamiliar with the expression “non-denial denial”: This is a term coined by journalists to describe a response from a subject that sounds like a refutation of facts, but, on careful examination, doesn’t actually refute anything specific in the reporting and doesn’t provide any evidence that disproves the report, yet isn’t, itself, untruthful.
     
    EACH OF THE ABOVE DECEPTIONS was first divulged to the public in the pages of Focus. The City has never presented any evidence that what we have reported was inaccurate or untrue. Yet, in almost every case, some City official—often the mayor of the day—has appeared at other Victoria media outlets with vigorous non-denial denials of our reports.
    The City hasn’t limited its defensive tactics to traditional obfuscation, though. They’ve been ground-breakers on keeping the record opaque. When Focus filed an FOI that sought evidence that Stephens had been advised the project was already over-budget in 2011, the City employed a legal maneuver—used against a media outlet only once before in BC’s history—that allowed it to delay responding to our FOI. On the very day the City was required to provide evidence to the Office of the Information Commissioner to support its tactic, the City withdrew its claim. Such self-inflicted wounds to the City’s credibility have not been without cost.
    One cost of the serial deceptions has been a continuous loss of top-level City managers closely associated with the project: City Manager Gail Stephens, Director of Operations Peter Sparanese and Director of Engineering Dwayne Kalynchuk all “resigned” suddenly—or were fired. Others, too, have disappeared.
    As well as that huge loss of senior personnel, the serial deceptions have had a corrosive effect on the community’s trust in its civic government. Why didn’t City councillors put a halt to the repeated cycle of beating down the value of the project and concealment of their actions?
    The majority on council went along with the original rushed decision in 2009, and concealment of the project’s problems provided those seeking re-election in 2011 and 2014 with cover for their original error in judgment.
    To be fair, in many of the cases in which City staff reduced the scope of the project in significant ways just to keep Ricard’s open-ring design alive, councillors were simply not informed. In some cases, once those issues were made public, senior staff soon resigned or were fired. But getting rid of project managers didn’t have any effect on the basic underlying problem: The initial decision to proceed had been rushed, and in that rush a difficult-to-build and under-priced design had been chosen.
    That brings us back to the current issue of the design flaw discovered by Atema and concealed by…well we don’t know who yet, but when we do, we’ll let you know.
    What we will likely hear from the City now, if past behaviour is any predictor, is an adamant non-denial denial. Regardless, Victoria is now stuck with a badly degraded version of Ricard’s problematic design, and the only recourse for electors seeking accountability is to get out and vote in November’s election.
    UPDATE: A follow-up story has been posted here: Victoria City Hall continues cover-up of bridge design flaw
    (This story was edited in June 2018 to reflect information about the physical size of the plates obtained by FOI. The plates are each about two metres by two metres in size, not one metre by one metre as we originally reported.)
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.

    Pamela Roth
    November 2017
    The organization appears to offer addicts a needed route to recovery, while preserving farmland. What’s the hold up?
     
    RYAN COLWELL WAS ONCE ON THE FAST TRACK TO DEATH. Addicted to heroin and fentanyl, the former Surrey resident found himself living on the streets of Victoria at the age of 24, bouncing from shelter to shelter for a place to lay his head. Every day was the same routine—search for more drugs and money, which he’d steal and rob from people in order to get his next fix.
    “It’s pretty sad,” said the soft-spoken Colwell, sitting on a pile of hay bales at Central Saanich’s Woodwynn Farms. “You do whatever you have to do. You just want to be blissful.”
    Eventually, friends and family lost their patience, and cut ties with Colwell’s drug-fuelled life. He started seeking fentanyl to get high, even though he knew the dangers of using the deadly and highly-addictive opioid that’s 100 times more potent than morphine and 20 times more potent than OxyContin. Even one dose can be fatal.
    So far this year (October, 2017), 1,013 people have died of suspected illicit drug overdoses in BC compared to 547 deaths at the same time last year. Fentanyl was detected in more than 80 percent of the deaths—an increase of 151 percent over the same period in 2016.
    Colwell never overdosed on fentanyl, but has seen plenty of people who have. He just never thought it would happen to him.
    “You see people around you die, but you think that you’re not going to die because ‘I don’t do as much’ or ‘I don’t shoot it with a needle,’” said Colwell, who’s watched many acquaintances receive multiple injections of naloxone—a prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose. “It’s scary, but you’re mostly scared for that person. You think they’re going to die.”
    Battling his addiction since the age of 18, following the death of his father, Colwell has been in and out of numerous treatment facilities, but none of the tools he learned from them ever stuck long- term. Last January, sick of life on the street, he wound up living at Woodwynn Farms, waking up every day at 5 a.m., slinging hay bales to feed the livestock, and whatever else is required among the lengthy list of daily chores.
    The 193-acre organic farm has been operating for eight years now, providing those struggling with addictions, homelessness or mental health challenges with a therapeutic community that gives them the tools needed to integrate back into society. Those who come to the farm are mainly men, ranging in age from 19 to 60, and stay for an average of 18 months.
    Although the facility has attracted a large crew of volunteers, and thousands of donors, service clubs and church groups to help out, it’s still trying to get fully off the ground, due to an eight-year battle between the Creating Homefulness Society (Woodwynn’s operator) and municipal authorities over the housing and operations of the farm.
     

    Woodwynn Farms' Richard Leblanc (Photo by Pamela Roth)
     
    RICHARD LEBLANC, WOODWYNN’S FOUNDER and executive director, worked as a contractor for much of his career, but couldn’t help notice that Victoria’s homeless problem was spiraling out of control. Feeling like there had to be a better solution, he stumbled upon a free therapeutic community in Italy called San Patrignano, which has become the largest therapeutic work community in the world with 1,800 participants at a time. In 30 years, San Patrignano has helped more than 20,000 people. Seventy percent of them are still drug-free years later.
    “Everybody has something meaningful and purposeful to do here every day,” said Leblanc about Woodwynn. “Over and over again you’re watching people that might die. You help them out and they move on with their life.”
    Each day begins with a morning yoga session at 5:45 a.m., followed by a healthy breakfast from food grown on the farm, then a group meeting. The rest of the day is spent tending to the daily duties of running a farm that has 400 livestock consisting of chickens, cows and pigs; food crops (60 different fruits and vegetables); and a woodworking shop that’s helped spruce up the property immensely.
    The goods created there, which range from salad dressings, jams, pickled zucchini, soaps and herbal teas to meat and produce, are sold in a market at the farm, providing what Leblanc calls an “incredible showcase” of what those who work there can do.
    But it’s only scratching the surface of the farm’s potential. Most of the property is currently used to grow hay, noted Leblanc, who wants to use more of those hay fields for even more food crops and livestock, with a small portion devoted to housing farm workers.
    A dozen donated recreational vehicles for housing are parked in a meadow on the farm, but only eight people can be housed on the property at a time, due to Central Saanich zoning restrictions. In mid-September, four people were living at the farm, but the average is closer to eight.
    Leblanc’s vision is to house 96 people at a time, who would arrive through a gradual process in order to build the necessary staff and management required. First they detox for seven to nine days at Royal Jubilee Hospital, and then go to Woodwynn, as long as they’re willing to commit to the farm’s long-term abstinence-based program for a minimum of 90 days.
    Leblanc has worked with an architect to design a cluster of eight small dorm buildings (housing up to 15 each), along with a communal dining room that will sit on 1.5 acres (.08 percent) of the large site so it wouldn’t detract from the amount of land available for farming. But first he needs a zoning permit from the municipality in order to proceed.
    Despite the society’s commitment to farming, some people and politicians are still firmly opposed to Woodwynn. Central Saanich council has refused to amend bylaws to permit the facilities necessary to house the labour force needed to grow more produce, and has even taken the matter to BC Supreme Court. Effort is now being made to settle the matter out of court.
    Most recently, council requested that the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) review the Society’s application for temporary housing for up to 40 farm workers, to ensure it is consistent with uses allowed on the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The matter remains under review by the committee, with no timeline set for the decision. And the final outcome still lies in the hands of council, which rejected the society’s 2012 application to the ALC to spot-rezone a couple of acres for housing.
     
    CENTRAL SAANICH MAYOR RYAN WINDSOR has been watching the matter unfold ever since he was elected to council in 2013. He understands the concerns around the opioid crisis, but noted the issue at Woodwynn simply revolves around land use.
    According to Windsor, the municipality has communicated many times that farming is the primary purpose of that land, and it’s what he believes it should be used for as well. Windsor acknowledges the Society’s plans to increase farming on the Woodwynn property, but noted the problem still lies with the number of people the organization wants to house. Regardless of what the ALC recommends, he suspects the application will likely lead to a public consultation process. When that could happen is anybody’s guess.
    “Agricultural land has a very specific use and we want to see it used for productive farming. It wasn’t reserved for housing or other uses,” said Windsor, noting it’s up to Woodwynn to gather support from the community—something that will be seen when the matter proceeds to public consultation.“It’s important when you have a significant piece of land like this that farming remains the primary use and a couple of acres for housing and therapeutic activities that maybe are beyond farming, I don’t think are in the spirit of the agricultural land use. I think most of my council feels that way too.”
    Comprising just five percent of BC’s total land base, the ALR is a provincial land use zone where agriculture is the priority use, but regulations do not require the farmland to be farmed. ALR regulations also stipulate any housing “must be necessary for farm use,” but what’s seen as “necessary” is influenced by what the local authority advises.
    About 60 percent of the land base in Central Saanich is designated as farmland. But how much of that is actually farmed? Central Saanich’s CAO told Focus they do not track such usage, but a 2011 report by the Agricultural Area Plan Steering Committee District of Central Saanich noted that “The farmland base used for crops, other than tame hay, represented less than 30 percent of the total farm area. About 21 percent of the farms did not have any land in crops and were kept in tame seeded pasture, natural pasture, woodlands and wetlands.” Over half of the cropped area, it stated, “is in tame hay grown for the local livestock and equine feed market.”
    The 2011 report spelled out the pressures leading to a “deteriorating” use of farmland, and made a number of recommendations. Key among them was reducing non-agricultural demand for farmland by limiting the size of housing through bylaw amendment and other disincentives to non-farm use. Central Saanich has never done that, though maximum heights of structures on agricultural land are specified.
    Though focused on the Lower Mainland, a May 2017 Postmedia investigation explains why such disincentives are important as farmland crucial to BC’s future food needs is “increasingly falling into the hands of speculators and builders of luxury property.” Stories of huge houses—often 12,000-square-feet-and-up—abound on farmland in the Richmond area. With minimal effort, such investors (showing $2500 in farm revenue) claim major (often 50 percent) tax breaks, which are prompting politicians to look for ways to crack down on the trend of farmland being used for trophy estates.
    Meanwhile, Leblanc feels Woodwynn has already bucked the trend: Since the Creating Homefulness Society took over Woodwynn’s 193 acres, more food crops are coming off its land than in previous decades.
     
    THIS YEAR THE PROVINCE IS ON PACE to lose more than 1,500 people to drug overdoses, compared with an average of about 200 from 2000 to 2010. Last year there were more than 900 overdose deaths, with fentanyl at the root of the epidemic.
    Victoria is among the three cities in BC experiencing the highest number of illicit drug overdoses this year, with 65 deaths recorded so far this year. A supervised injection site, to be located on Pandora Avenue next to Our Place, was recently given the green light from Health Canada, but won’t begin services until the spring or summer of 2018. Four overdose prevention sites have been set up in the meantime and continue to be heavily used, but they don’t provide any treatment.
    Victoria police started noticing fentanyl creep into the city’s drug culture in 2012, and now officers see it on a daily basis. Staff Sargeant Conor King said the drug seems to be replacing heroin as the opioid that’s available on the street due to its powerful, euphoric affect that users are becoming accustomed to. Drug dealers are also seeing there are profits to be made, since fentanyl is relatively easy to procure.
    One of the most concerning things for King is that the drug is now being detected in samples of other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, but the user is likely unaware it’s there.
    In response to the crisis—King believes it will only get worse—police are now targeting dealers selling the deadly drug. Those who go through the court system are also getting slapped with tougher sentences. A recent investigation by Vancouver police resulted in a 14-year prison sentence for trafficking fentanyl.
    “Every two to three weeks we are laying new charges in our ongoing fentanyl operations plan, so it’s a regular occurrence. We have a good basis of knowledge for who the traffickers are on the South Island,” said King. “Where we get frustrated is that we will arrest one trafficker and incarcerate them, but another trafficker will fill the void. Where we feel there is some light at the end of the tunnel is there has been some very stiff sentences handed out in BC.”
    As police and paramedics continue the fight against fentanyl on the front lines, addicts keen on transforming their lives are still left with few options. A handful of detox facilities exist in the capital region, but they only last for a week or so. The only long-term recovery programs are privately run and can cost thousands of dollars, putting them out of reach for those eking out an existence on city streets.
    Seeing a need for more solutions, Our Place Society is proposing to set up a long-term, live-in, locked-down treatment centre for addiction and chronic homelessness at the former youth custody centre in View Royal. The facility is owned by BC Housing and is currently being used as temporary housing for the homeless, but it’s slated to shut down at the end of the year.
    According to Our Place spokesperson Grant McKenzie, the society plans to model the proposed centre after the same therapeutic community program in Italy as Woodwynn does, housing up to 50 men at a time for a minimum of 12 months and up to two years. The facility already has a gymnasium, a woodworking shop and an art room, which could allow for some social enterprise. The days will be busy, with various programs taking place to change criminal thinking and street mentality so people have a higher chance of success. Some participants could also be bussed to Woodwynn to work on the farm during the day.
    The plan is to have the facility up and running by early 2018, but the matter has yet to go to View Royal’s council for rezoning. So far McKenzie said that council has been supportive about the proposal, along with the provincial government, which would provide funding for operations during the first seven years.
     
    DESPITE THE HURDLES HE CONTINUES TO FACE, Leblanc feels a facility like Woodwynn is needed more than ever, as the ballooning homeless and opioid crises continue to show no sign of slowing any time soon. Every day he receives calls from people in despair about the risk of losing their loved one. He’d like to help, but continues to be challenged with the number of people Woodwynn can accommodate, due to government restrictions.
    Leblanc received pushback from some neighbours at the get-go, even though police have only been called to the property twice to deal with two minor incidents involving program participants over its eight years. But he feels like he’s gaining support, noting some key people at the provincial level are doing their best to make things happen.
    “It’s frustrating. The doors should be flying open. People should be tripping all over themselves to rewrite zoning, to rewrite bylaws and [issue] permits to make the obvious rational decision of helping us in any way possible to bring more people here,” said Leblanc, noting the services are free, depending on an individual’s financial situation.
    “We have a solution to an enormous public health crisis and we are not being allowed to even give it a try.”
    Current Woodwynn worker/resident Ryan Colwell admits life on the farm, with its structured routines and hard physical labour, hasn’t been easy. But after watching many of his acquaintances overdose and die from fentanyl, he knows staying at Woodwynn is necessary if he wants to save his life.
    “Conquering any addiction is hard work,” said Colwell, who’s not sure he would have been ready for it a couple of years ago. He understands that “there is no magic pill, no special fix. You have to find a different way to cope and to live.” Now, after nine months at Woodwynn, he feels he has never been in as good shape physically, emotionally or mentally, though he said he still has a lot of soul-searching to do. “There’s a lot of solidarity, peacefulness, just being in the moment and being okay with that. It’s always been go-go-go, excitement and chaos for me. You have to be super-willing to change and put in the work.” Woodwynn is giving him the space, time and training needed to do just that.
    A journalist since 2003, Pamela has spent the bulk of her career covering court and crime for various newspapers in western Canada, including five years at the Edmonton Sun. An avid traveller, Pamela also specializes in travel writing and recently published a true crime book called Deadmonton.
    Editor’s Update:
    On November 9, 2018, Woodwynn Farm’s application to house up to 40 worker/rehabilitation participants on its 193-acre property was denied by the Agricultural Land Commission.
    The Commission’s executive committee, led by Frank Leonard, stated: “Based on the current and proposed agricultural activity…the Executive Committee finds that the level of agricultural production, both current and proposed, is insufficient to justify the placement of 40 farm worker accommodations. Furthermore, the Executive Committee finds that the addition of 40 farm worker accommodations would increase the residential footprint and non-farm based infrastructure on prime agricultural land that is currently in production.” It also noted that “the Proposal could be located on lands outside of the ALR.”
    As noted in Pamela Roth’s Focus article, Woodwynn’s proposal for housing only involved 1.5 acres of the 193-acre property. A prime purpose of the Creating Homefulness Society is to offer therapeutic rehabilitation to people recovering from addictions and homelessness—and it does this by engaging them in farming the land.
    In a press release after the ruling, Richard Leblanc stated: “As the founder of this project, I cannot quite articulate my oh-so-deep level of disappointment. While our Board of Directors and our core funders are somewhat at their wits end, my own resolve is only temporarily shaken. Daily, our phones ring and our email inboxes fill with desperate requests for help.” He referred to the latest record-breaking number of overdoses in BC: 1,100 as of the end of September for 2017.
    It seems worth noting that if the Creating Homefulness Society gave up their fight to provide a sorely needed rehabilitation program and sold the Woodwynn property, the ALC would be powerless to stop a new buyer from completely ignoring all the farming (and rehabilitative) potential of the land and merely using it as a trophy estate. This has happened to many properties in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

    David Broadland
    November 2017
    Recent scientific studies show how resident orca populations are affected by diminishing chinook runs and—critically—why the chinook are disappearing.
     
    RIVERS RUNNING INTO PUGET SOUND have perennially low returns of chinook salmon—currently estimated at just 10 percent of their historic levels—even though many of them are enhanced with hatcheries. Last year, scientific research connected this decline to secondary sewage treatment plants discharging partially-treated effluent into Puget Sound.
    Last June, a group of Washington scientists published a study showing the extent to which the decline in the birth rate of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, listed as “endangered” by both the Canadian and US federal governments, is linked to the precarious state of the Salish Sea’s chinook salmon. Puget Sound chinook, which were given “threatened” status under the US Endangered Species Act in 1999, have become a cross-border issue.
    Recovery of both Puget Sound chinook and the Southern Resident Killer Whale population would require investment of many billions of dollars by Washington State in new sewage treatment infrastructure. While taking action to protect both the orca and chinook is required by US federal law, Washington State currently has no plans to make that investment. Is our southern neighbour ignoring its responsibility to be a good environmental steward?
     

    Killer Whales can be long-lived (“Granny,” above, lived past 100), but their birth rate is dependent on chinook salmon, a threatened species in Puget Sound. (Photo: markmallesonphotography.com)
     
    LAST JUNE, A BRILLIANT SEVEN-YEAR-LONG STUDY that correlated the declining birth rate of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population with falling chinook salmon numbers, mercilessly compared what’s happening to the remaining orcas to the mass starvation of the Dutch population at the hands of German Nazis during World War II.
    The authors stated: “The Nazis closed off the borders of Holland between October 1944 and May 1945, causing massive starvation over a 5–8 month period, with good food conditions before and after. There was a one-third decline in the expected number of births among confirmed pregnant woman during the under-nutrition period. Conceptions during the hunger period were very low. However, women who conceived during the hunger period had higher rates of abortion, premature and stillbirths, neonatal mortality and malformation. Nutrition had its greatest impact on birth weight and length for mothers experiencing hunger during their second half of gestation, when the fetus is growing most rapidly.”
    The inclusion of the word “Nazis” in a peer-reviewed scientific study on the reproductive dynamics of an endangered whale population may strike some as odd, but the Dutch Famine, as the above events are known, was highly unusual: it took place in a well-developed, literate population that kept excellent health records and the vast majority of those affected survived. Thus it was one of the first events in human history for which scientists had accurate, reliable records to help them understand what health impacts occur when a population of mammals is starved.
    The orca scientists found that a similar dynamic between food availability and birth rate has been impacting the Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population, but with one big difference: For the orca, this is not a one-time event. For them, a months-long famine now occurs almost every year.
    Dr Samuel Wasser, the study’s lead author, is a research professor of conservation biology at the University of Washington. Wasser’s team gathered evidence from 2008 to 2014. They found that 69 percent of detectable pregnancies in the SRKW population failed during that period. Of those failed pregnancies, the scientists found, “33 percent failed relatively late in gestation or immediately post-partum, when the cost is especially high.” That high cost included an increased risk of mortality for the would-be mother.
    The scientists observed: “Low availability of chinook salmon appears to be an important stressor among these fish-eating whales as well as a significant cause of late pregnancy failure, including unobserved perinatal loss.” They added: “However, release of lipophilic toxicants during fat metabolism in the nutritionally deprived animals may also provide a contributor to these cumulative effects.”
    In other words, not only are the orca being starved, but when a starved, pregnant orca begins burning off her fat reserves in response to the scarce supply of food, toxins bioaccumulated in her fat reserves—such as PCBs and PBDEs—begin to have more of an impact on her health, such as a reduced ability to fight infections. This could contribute to the demise of the fetus and increase the risk to the mother’s life.
    As a consequence of these conditions, the study found “the 31 potentially reproductive females in the SRKW population should have had 48 births between 2008–2015. Yet, only 28 births were recorded during that period. The 7 adult females in K pod have not had a birth since 2011, and just two births since 2007. The 24 females in the remaining two pods (J and L) have averaged less than 1 birth per pod since 2011, with no births in 2013, but had 7 births in 2015. One of the two offspring born in 2014 died.” As of this writing, the population has dwindled to 76 whales. As recently as 1996 there were 98 orca in the 3 pods.
    How did the scientists determine that 69 percent of all pregnancies failed? After all, many of the pregnancies terminated early on, and there would have been no visible signs that the females had been pregnant. How does one detect whale pregnancies? Detection dogs.
     

    Tucker, one of Wasser’s orca poop detection dogs (Photo: University of Washington)
     
    Over the seven years of the study, the scientists intermittently followed J, K and L pods through the Salish Sea and used specially-trained dogs stationed at the bow of the research vessel to sniff for orca poop, and then point out its location to the scientists. The poop was collected and later genotyped (associated with a known individual whale) and analyzed for hormone measures of pregnancy occurrence and health. The scientists also looked for chemical indicators of nutritional and disturbance stress in the poop. By making the same measurements over time, they were able to distinguish between nutritional stress caused by low availability of chinook salmon, and disturbance stress caused by the presence of nearby boats.
    Fisheries scientists had previously estimated that 70 to 80 percent of the SRKW population’s year-long diet consists of chinook salmon. The whales are thought to prefer chinook over other species of salmon partly because they use echolocation to find their prey. Since adult chinook are physically larger (they can weigh as much as 55 kilograms) than adults of other salmon species, chinook might be easier for orca to find. As well, there are runs of chinook returning to spawn in different river systems in the spring, summer and fall (sockeye, coho and chum return only in the fall). In the past that meant a reliable, almost year-round supply of chinook. And chinook may be preferred by the orca simply because of its higher fat content compared to other salmon. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) estimates that reliance on chinook rises to 90 percent during July and August as the resident orca target returns to the Fraser River and rivers flowing into Puget Sound.
    Although the link between the abundance of chinook salmon in the Salish Sea and the physical health of the southern resident population was known, Wasser’s research provides the first confirmation that low availability of chinook is suppressing the population’s birth rate and endangering the health of reproductive females.
    Wasser included comparison over the seven years of the study of the two main chinook runs that are keeping the southern orcas alive: the Columbia River early spring run and the Fraser River summer and fall runs. Depending on the timing of those runs, and how many fish were in them, the southern resident orca experienced more or less intense famines through the winter months and between the spring and summer runs.
    Estimating how many more chinook would need to be in the Salish Sea to make up for the southern orcas’ nutritional deficit wasn’t part of Wasser’s research. But in 2010, DFO estimated the nutritional requirement of the southern resident orca population, which then numbered 87, at about “1200 to 1400” chinook per day. Over the five-month period the orca occupy their critical habitat in the Salish Sea each year, that would amount to 180,000 to 210,000 chinook.
    Wasser’s research shows the whales weren’t catching enough chinook in 2010 and the deficit is threatening the population. Yet in the Salish Sea in 2010, the total number of chinook caught by commercial and sport fisheries, plus the number of chinook that escaped to spawn, was about 500,000 fish. (These numbers are from the US EPA and the Pacific Salmon Commission.) Of those, 320,000 returned to their natal rivers to spawn. The 180,000 fish taken by commercial and sports fishers were split roughly in half between Canada and the US, even though 94 percent of the spawning fish were headed for the Fraser River in Canada. Only 6 percent were headed for rivers in Puget Sound. Note that the total catch taken by humans is roughly equivalent to the catch required by orca.
    The quickest way to end the orca famine would be to end the commercial and sports fisheries for chinook in the Salish Sea, and  Canadian scientist David Suzuki called for that action following the release of Wasser’s study. To recover chinook populations, however, will require a deeper understanding of why they are declining. A comparison of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population with their northern cousins helps in that understanding.
    Wasser noted the “significantly lower” fecundity rate of SRKW compared to the Northern Resident Killer Whale (NRKW) population. From a 2011 study by Ellis, Tower and Ford, we know that in 1974 there were 120 whales in the NRKW population; by 2011 that had risen to 262. According to Canada’s Species at Risk Registry, the population grew to 290 by 2014. DFO used this number in its 2017 reports.


    Above: Both NRKW and SRKW populations feed primarily on chinook, but one population of whales is growing while the other has stagnated since 1974. Data from DFO and The Center for Whale Research.
     
    Over that same period, though, the SRKW population went from 70 to a high of 98 in 1996 and then dropped to the current 76. Although both resident groups experienced a decline in population after 1996-1997 following significant declines in chinook runs, the northern population then recovered and grew steadily while the southern population has languished.
    As mentioned above, scientists have determined that both orca populations prey heavily on chinook as they return to spawn. It’s also known that, while their territories overlap, the northern orca rely on chinook returning to spawn in rivers north of the Salish Sea. The relative strength of the northern population compared to the southern, then, suggests the low availability of chinook that’s limiting growth of the southern orca population is a result of something that’s happening to the southern chinook that’s not happening to the northern chinook. What could that be?
    The most dangerous period in a chinook salmon’s life, according to fisheries scientists, is its first year. Research scientist Dr James Meador, an environmental toxicologist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Fisheries) in Seattle, estimates the current first-year survival rate of Pacific Northwest ocean-type juvenile chinook salmon at 0.4 percent. That’s four-tenths of one percent. Another way of stating that is that 99.6 percent of ocean-type chinook salmon die in their first year. That year is spent in their natal river, their natal estuary and marine waters not too far from that estuary. Since this is where almost all of the mortality occurs, it follows that any substantial recovery of chinook numbers would require conditions in these areas to improve. A doubling of the current rate of survival in that first year—so that only 99.2 percent of them die—could double the number of fish that return to spawn. We’ll come back to Meador later.
    Wasser and his University of Washington team concluded their paper with this noteworthy comment: “Results of the SRKW study strongly suggest that recovering Fraser River and Columbia River chinook runs should be among the highest priorities for managers aiming to recover this endangered population of killer whales.”
    What about Puget Sound, where chinook runs are listed as “threatened”? Historically, according to Jim Myers of the Northwest Fisheries Science Centre in Seattle, the Puget Sound chinook runs were about 25 percent greater than the Fraser River’s. But in 2010, according to the US EPA and Pacific Salmon Commission, Puget Sound returns were only 6 percent of Fraser River returns. The much bigger hole in chinook numbers is in Puget Sound. Shouldn’t international attention be focussed there?
    Instead of accepting responsibility for the role it has played in the orca famine, Washington State has shifted public attention away from its lack of action, thereby reducing the chances of the Southern Resident Killer Whales’ survival. Now the situation is getting critical. The EPA recently downgraded the endangered whales’ survival status from “neutral” to “declining.” Time is running out.
    Wasser, on sabbatical, was unavailable to explain why the recovery of Puget Sound chinook stocks shouldn’t be a priority in the effort to recover the southern population of killer whales. However, an examination of two scientific studies published by Meador shed light on why Wasser and other fisheries researchers might not regard recovery of the Puget Sound runs as a likely prospect to save the orca.
     

    The decline of the Southern Resident Killer Whales may be linked to the low survival rate of juvenile Chinook salmon in contaminated Puget Sound estuaries. (Photo by Roger Tabor, US Fish and Wildlife Service)
     
    IN 2013, DR JAMES MEADOR published the study “Do chemically contaminated river estuaries in Puget Sound affect the survival rate of hatchery-reared chinook salmon?” Meador was with the Ecotoxicology and Fish Health Program at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. NFSC is a division of NOAA.
    In that study, Meador observed: “Ocean-type chinook salmon that rear naturally or are released from a hatchery migrate in the spring and summer to the estuary as subyearlings (age 0+) and reside there for several weeks as they adjust physiologically to seawater and increase in size and lipid content before moving offshore to marine waters… Conversely, juvenile coho salmon spend their first year in freshwater and migrate to the estuary in the spring or summer as yearlings (age 1+), generally spending only a few days in the local estuary before proceeding to more open waters. This major difference in life history can have a large effect on the degree of toxicant exposure in contaminated estuaries, which can affect fish in several ways, including impaired growth, altered behavior, higher rates of pathogenic infections, and changes to physiological homeostasis, all of which can lead to increased rates of mortality.”
    The physiological process of a juvenile salmon acclimatizing to saltwater is known as “smolting.” The juveniles become “smolts.”
    Meador examined the records from hatcheries on major rivers flowing into Puget Sound over the 36 years between 1972 and 2008. Some of the rivers had contaminated estuaries while others were considered uncontaminated. He determined the difference in the chinook smolt-to-adult return rate between rivers with contaminated estuaries and those with uncontaminated estuaries. Meador noted that the smolt-to-adult return rate is the “primary metric to assess life-cycle success.”
    He did the same analysis for hatchery coho in these rivers. Coho pass quickly through their natal estuaries and so would be far less impacted by contaminants in that estuary. The coho data, Meador clarified, “was used as another line of evidence to test the hypothesis that contaminated estuaries are one of the main factors determining the rate of survival for chinook.” And that’s what he found: Coho survival was not substantially impacted by contamination in their natal estuary.
    Meador noted that “Salmonid survival is dependent on a large number of factors, many that co-occur. The analysis presented here is simplistic, but highlights an important relationship between hatchery chinook survival and contaminated estuaries. Because this analysis examined the smolt-to-adult survival rate in fish from a large number of hatcheries and estuaries over several years in one geographical location, many of these factors were likely accounted for and therefore had less of an effect on the overall results.”
    As mentioned earlier, mortality in the first year of an ocean-type chinook is high. Meador described this as follows: “Survival for first-year ocean-type chinook in the Pacific Northwest has been estimated at 0.4 percent. Rates of survival over successive years are considerably higher for 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old fish at 60 percent, 70 percent, 80 percent, and 90 percent, respectively. Clearly, first-year survival is important for chinook, and most of the mortality for first-year ocean-type chinook is attributed to predation, poor growth, pathogens, starvation, and toxicants.”
    Meador determined whether or not a particular estuary was “contaminated” or “clean” based on existing records of contaminants found in juvenile chinook tissue in that estuary, records of sediment contamination, and whether or not the estuary had been listed as a contaminated site.
    He noted that most of the data on contaminants he was able to access had focussed on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
    The scientists did not make their own measurements of contaminants in the estuaries, nor did they speculate on the possible sources of such contamination. They simply compared the statistical differences in survival rates for chinook smolts between apparently contaminated estuaries and apparently uncontaminated estuaries.
    Meador concluded that “when all data were considered…the mean survival for juvenile chinook released from hatcheries into contaminated estuaries was 45 percent lower than for fish outmigrating through uncontaminated estuaries.” In other words, a contaminated  natal estuary causes a nearly two-fold reduction in survival compared with uncontaminated estuaries.
    Wow. That was quite a discovery: A single factor that doubled the mortality of a threatened species of fish that was known to be the cornerstone of the diet of an endangered species of whale.
    Meador’s data was confined to juveniles that came from hatcheries. Does his conclusion apply to river-reared chinook? Meador’s study reported that, except for the Skagit River, Puget Sound rivers are all dominated by hatchery-bred chinook. But, for juveniles whose parents spawned in rivers, the effect of contaminants may be even greater than for hatchery-bred fish. Meador noted that “wild juvenile chinook spend approximately twice as long in the estuary as do hatchery fish, which would likely increase their exposure to harmful chemicals.”
    If the incidence of a contaminated natal estuary was limited to one or two of Puget Sound’s smaller rivers, this effect might not be of too great consequence. But that’s not the case. Some of the Sound’s largest river systems have contaminated estuaries. For example, the Snohomish and Puyallup rivers have the second and third largest drainage areas in the Puget Sound Basin, an indication of their potential for rearing chinook. Two forks of the Snohomish—the Skykomish and the Snoqualmie—have, according to Washington fisheries scientists, the potential for up to 84,000 spawners. But over the last four decades these rivers have been averaging only 4,500, a mere 5 percent of this river system’s potential. Meador’s research suggests this and other rivers’ collective capacity to provide nourishment for a healthy Southern Resident orca population is being cut in half, year after year, by the contamination in their estuaries. But what contamination?
     

    The Puyallup River—which once hosted one of the largest chinook salmon runs in Puget Sound—now hosts the Tacoma Central Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is permitted to discharge up to 10,000 kilograms of suspended solids per day into the river’s estuary, habitat critical to juvenile chinook.
     
    IN 2016, MEADOR PUBLISHED “Contaminants of emerging concern in a large temperate estuary” in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution. The CECs targeted in the study included a long list of pharmaceutical and personal care products, hormones, and a number of industrial compounds. Many of these substances, the authors observed, “are potent human and animal medicines.” They considered their targets to be just a “representative subset” of CECs in the environment, not a comprehensive list of what’s actually there. The scientists estimated there are over 4000 CECs leaking out into the ecosphere.
    Meador referenced his earlier study, noting that “juvenile chinook salmon migrating through contaminated estuaries in Puget Sound exhibited a two-fold reduction in survival compared to those migrating through uncontaminated estuaries.” His choice of targets suggests that he suspected secondary sewage treatment plants might be the source of the contamination that is causing that two-fold reduction in juvenile chinook survival. He noted that “some CECs are poorly removed by wastewater treatment plant processing or are discharged to surface waters, including streams, estuaries, or open marine waters due to secondary bypass or combined sewer overflows.” Having found no other research by other scientists along this line of investigation, Meador noted that “bioaccumulation and comparative toxicity to aquatic species constitutes the largest data gap in assessing ecological risk” posed by CECs.
    Meador’s team targeted 150 contaminants. They focussed on three estuaries, two considered to be contaminated and one uncontaminated. The two contaminated estuaries (Puyallup River and Sinclair Inlet) each had one or more secondary sewage treatment plants discharging treated effluent into the rivers on which they were located. The third, the Nisqually River estuary, which doesn’t have a sewage treatment plant above it, was intended as a reference—an uncontaminated estuary to establish the extent to which the other two were contaminated.
    The researchers took water samples from the estuaries and effluent from the treatment plants and analyzed each for the 150 target contaminants. As well, they netted juvenile chinook and Staghorn sculpin from the estuaries and whole-body tissue analyses for contaminants were performed.
    Eighty-one of the CEC’s were found in effluent being discharged from the treatment plants; 25 were detected in the estuaries. To the surprise of the researchers, nine (9) of the CECs were detected in the water column of the Nisqually estuary, which they had supposed was uncontaminated. Their data indicated an even more disturbing situation: “Collectively, we detected 42 compounds in whole-body fish. CECs in juvenile chinook salmon were detected at greater frequency and higher concentrations compared to Staghorn sculpin.” Finding more CECs in fish tissue than estuary water meant juvenile chinook were quickly bioaccumulating the CECs. Moreover, the chinook were absorbing a higher dose of toxins in just a few weeks than were the Staghorn sculpin, which spent their entire life in the estuary.
    Of the targeted contaminants, 37 were found in chinook. This included, from A to Z: Amitriptyline, Amlodipine, Amphetamine, Azithromycin, Benztropine, Bisphenol A, Caffeine, DEET, Diazepam, Diltiazem, Diltiazem desmethyl… well, you get the picture.
    How might multi-contaminant doses lower the survival rate of juvenile chinook? The scientists found “several compounds in water and tissue that have the potential to affect fish growth, behavior, reproduction, immune function, and antibiotic resistance,” all of which could lead to early mortality. But they also noted that even if individual contaminants weren’t at a lethal level in tissue or organs, the cumulative effect of so many different contaminants in the juvenile chinook at the same time could very well be lethal—the drug-cocktail effect that so many humans experience, sometimes with fatal results.
    The scientists put this finding in the context of Puget Sound as a whole: “The greater Puget Sound area contains 106 publicly-owned wastewater treatment plants that discharge at an average total flow about 1347 million litres per day (Washington Department of Ecology (2010)). Our study examined two of these with a combined total of 71 million litres per day. The output for these two wastewater treatment plants alone was on the order of kilogram quantities of detected CECs per day into estuarine waters of Puget Sound. Considering the low percentage of commercially available pharmaceutical and personal care products analyzed in this study and the amount of effluent discharged to Puget Sound waters, it is possible that a substantial load of potentially harmful chemicals are introduced into streams and nearshore marine waters daily. If the concentrations from the two studied effluents are representative of that from other wastewater treatment plants in Puget Sound, then it is reasonable to assume that inputs to streams and nearshore waters are substantial and likely on the order of 121 kilograms per day (approximately 44,000 kilograms annually) and even higher if secondary treatment bypass, permitted flows, maximum outputs, unmeasured compounds, septic system contributions, and transboundary contributions are considered.”
     

    Some of Puget Sound’s largest secondary sewage treatment plants. There are 106 publicly-owned sewage treatment plants in the Puget Sound Basin. Many are located on or near to the natal estuaries of threatened chinook salmon runs. All of Puget Sound is considered to be an estuarine ecosystem.
     
    The data the scientists collected contained another ominous finding. The concentrations of the targeted contaminants found in the effluent from the treatment plants were unexpectedly high, by American standards. Meador found that “a large percentage of the chemicals detected in Puget Sound effluents are among the highest concentrations reported in the US, which may be a function of per capita usage of these compounds or the treatment processes used at these wastewater treatment plants.”
    One final, noteworthy point: In the estuary that was thought to be uncontaminated—the mouth of the Nisqually—the researchers found 9 of the targeted contaminants in estuary water and 13 in chinook. Meador observed, “Based on our water and fish data, the Nisqually estuary was more contaminated than expected, which highlights the difficulties of establishing suitable non-polluted reference sites for these ubiquitously distributed CECs.”
    This observation has an interesting implication with respect to Meador’s earlier study, mentioned above, in which he was comparing the survival rates of juvenile chinook between contaminated estuaries and those considered uncontaminated. The Nisqually estuary was on the “uncontaminated” side of the ledger in that study, but on investigation it was, in reality, merely less contaminated. Would Meador’s finding of double the rate of mortality have risen if he actually had a number of pristine estuaries to compare with those that are contaminated?

    IN AN EARLIER STORY (“Washington’s phony sewage war with Victoria,” Focus, May 2016) we reported on the 32.4 million kilograms of suspended solids permitted to be discharged by 77 of Puget Sound’s largest wastewater treatment plants each year. Attached to those solids are many contaminants, including PCBs and PBDEs, not targeted by Meador’s study, but known to have a negative impact on the health of fish and their sources of food.
    The additional impact on chinook smolts, after they leave their natal estuaries and migrate through this near-shore chemical soup—dubbed “Poisoned Waters” by the 2005 PBS film of that name—is hinted at by the Puget Sound Basin’s 10-fold decline in chinook returns from historic numbers. As the urbanization of Puget Sound’s shores has spread, and the daily recontamination of marine and estuarine waters has grown, the chinook and the Southern Resident Killer Whales have been pushed closer and closer toward extinction.
    This intense urbanization—right beside the critical habitat of both whales and their prey—is not occurring for the Northern Resident Killer Whale population, and that difference may be the deciding factor in the  different birth rates of the two populations.
    Given the seriousness of the situation and the headlines in the media about drugged fish in Puget Sound, one might have reasonably expected that Washington State’s political leaders would respond to Meador’s findings. After all, what Everett-Seattle-Tacoma residents were flushing down their toilets into Puget Sound by way of sewage treatment plants was doubling the rate of mortality of a fish already listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
    They did respond, but apparently only to deflect attention away from Puget Sound’s contamination from sewage plants. To do that they pointed at…Victoria.
    Just two days after an embarrassing drugged-chinook story appeared in the Seattle Times, Washington State Representative Jeff Morris boldly announced a proposal to ban Washington State employees from claiming travel expenses for trips made to Victoria until Victoria built a sewage treatment plant just like the ones around Puget Sound.
    A week later, Morris sent a letter to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps claiming that “chemical loading” from Victoria’s marine-based sewage treatment system poses a “long-term risk” to “our shared waters.” Morris’ letter was signed by 36 other Washington legislators whose districts border on Puget Sound.
    The legislators’ letter informed Helps: “We recognize the shared risk in short-term loss of tourism activity on both sides of the border from publicity surrounding [Victoria’s lack of secondary sewage treatment]. However, we believe the long-term damage to marine mammals, in particular, but all marine wildlife, does more long-term damage to ecotourism.”
     

    Washington State Representative Jeff Morris
     
    Morris’ idea that extinctions should be prevented because they’re bad for tourism highlights the gap between a politician’s level of understanding of this critical issue and the depth of knowledge that has been created by scientists like Wasser and Meador. If State legislators were drawing up an action plan for the recovery of Puget Sound, they could do worse than to put on their list: “Read some science about contamination.”
    The Washington legislators’ proposal to discourage State employees from travelling to Victoria—a move they didn’t follow through on—wasn’t the only action precipitated by Meador’s science.
    There was a bureaucratic response as well. The Puget Sound Partnership (PSP), which describes itself as “the State agency leading the region’s collective effort to restore and protect Puget Sound,” undertook two related “actions” after Meador’s study had been published. One of those was “Action 0156,” which directed the University of Washington to conduct an “analysis of impacts…from Victoria, BC sewage.”
    Nowhere to be found on PSP’s long list of actions was any analysis of the impacts from the 106 publicly-owned sewage treatment plants around the Sound that are permitted to discharge over 32.4 million kilograms of suspended solids each year.
    The PSP also committed to “Action 0048,” which was “Identifying sources of contaminants harmful to juvenile salmon.” PSP reports that after the expenditure of $273,000, the project is “off-schedule.” Contacted by Focus, the Washington State Department of Ecology—the agency responsible for undertaking the analysis—clarified that the study “was not actually funded.”
    It appears that little else on the “Action” list for the Sound’s recovery is funded, either. PSP estimated its list of “Actions” for 2016 would cost $130 million, but acknowledged that only $17 million of that had been found.
    Washington’s Department of Ecology confirmed that, as of 2016, the State had no plans to upgrade or relocate any of the existing large sewage treatment plants on Puget Sound.
    Washington State says it’s commited to the recovery of Puget Sound. That would require the State to act on its scientists’ findings about the ecological impacts of ongoing contamination from its sewage treatment facilities. Unfortunately, the State’s current course doesn’t appear likely to produce anything that the Southern Resident Killer Whales will be able to chew on.
    David Broadland is the publisher of Focus Magazine.

    Briony Penn
    September 2017
    The practice may have played a leading role in creating some of BC’s most high-profile environmental blunders.
     
    FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, as a reporter for CHUM TV (aka The New VI), I got a call from a professional wildlife biologist in Port Alberni called Mike Stini. He’s an Island guy to the core—understated, drives a pickup, knows the bush like the back of his hand and, more than anything, loves this place and isn’t afraid to share his knowledge. 
    He was clearly upset. The BC Liberals had changed all the rules on forest management, and suddenly wildlife experts like him, who were hired by government prior to harvest plans to identify the old growth where elk and deer overwintered, or find and map the bear dens and the goshawk nests, were being shoved out the door. His concern wasn’t about losing the work; he could always go back full-time to taxidermy. It was about what was going to happen to his habitat on McLaughlin Ridge, the forested mountains that were about to be levelled by industry.
    But the government seemed to reason that biologists like him were dispensable. If what was standing between a company and profit margins was a bear den, an ungulate winter range, or a goshawk nest, then the best thing to do was to get rid of the people who have that knowledge.
    My reporting crew travelled all over McLauglin Ridge to do the story, looking at the hard-won designations of old-growth management areas, riparian zones, wildlife trees, and habitat for species at risk. We even crawled right up to one bear den that Stini had been monitoring for years, to check out the condition of the bear who looked out at us in a torpid state from the old-growth tree that served as his home for six months. Stini had data stretching back decades on the bear dens that he had found in the region. Up on the south-facing slopes of the ridge, under the big old Douglas-firs laden with arboreal lichens, he pointed out the signs of the deer and elk that overwintered there, surviving on lichens that blew down from their canopies in each winter storm.
    All these areas, under the old designations, were about to be put under the control of logging company biologists—in a system that was referred to as “professional reliance.” The Forest Practices Code had been gutted, and the discretion to manage 45 million hectares of our public forests for the public’s interest, which included the protection of wildlife, water, recreational opportunities, cultural sites, subsistence hunting and so on, was now in the hands of industry.
    Under the new regime, there was no legal requirement to have the forest surveyed for ecological or cultural values prior to logging; it was up to the professionals hired by industry to judge. If the public wasn’t happy with “the results” in this “results-based system,” they could take issue. But what use would taking issue be after the fact? And how did one assess results when the evidence for what had been there was gone? Especially when no one had been mandated to collect it.
    Stini forecast that all the places that we visited would be logged under the new system. In 2015, I revisited those sites and he was right—everything was levelled, from the bear den to the winter range. Even worse, under the current designation of working forest, there is no chance the forest can even recover. In an industry-led cutting cycle of under 50 years, the trees will never mature long enough to produce a tree with a suitable diameter for a bear den, goshawk nest, or arboreal lichen to grow.
     

    Logging on McLauglin Ridge
     
    As Stini said in 2002 for the TV show, “Basically the wildlife is being punished by changing the rules all of a sudden. We are removing the checks and balances and turning it over to industry that is in the business of making money. All the habitat biologists feel strongly that this is backwards; they need to review the plans prior to logging, because once an area is logged, the habitat is gone forever. The real big danger is we are going to lose so much and no one will know. This legislation is so far-reaching that it will make it difficult for future generations to rebuild wildlife habitat. It is going to be a major problem. This legislation is wrong. It shouldn’t be happening.”
    The government extended the practice of relying on resource extractors’ own professionals to evaluate the environmental aspects of mining and other projects.
     
    “SILENT BUT DEADLY,” is how Green MLA Sonia Furstenau describes professional reliance. “Most people have no idea what it is. It’s only when you encounter it that you recognize it for what it is.”
    What is professional reliance for those who haven’t encountered the beast? After 17 years in the media following this slippery, seemingly innocuous monster that couldn’t make a headline if it drove itself off a cliff, I describe professional reliance, at best, as an elegant euphemism for deregulation and privatization. At its most egregious, it is this century’s master weapon for white-collar crime. Those who utilize these weapons—knowingly putting the public interest at risk—are referred to by David O. Friedrichs, a Distinguished Professor of Criminal Justice, as “trusted criminals.” Wendell Berry, land reformer and activist, calls them “professional vandals.”
    How do the proponents of professional reliance define it and defend it? And why is reviewing it one of the top four priorities in the 2017 Confidence and Supply agreement between the BC Green and NDP caucuses? With all the issues they could have picked, why did it push its way to the top?
    Forest Practices Board legal counsel Mark Haddock, who was with the UVic Environmental Law Centre in 2015 when he did a lengthy analysis of the failures of the professional reliance “experiment,” says it is a grey term and has multiple interpretations that can easily mislead. His definition is “the substitution of professional opinion from experts inside of government for that of professionals in the employ of the [resource development] proponents.” He suggests renaming it “decision-making reliance.” Furstenau thinks it should be rebranded for what it is—conflict of interest.
    British Columbians are not unfamiliar with how deregulation, with a loosening of standards around conflict of interest, can spiral into corporate white-collar crime. The Mount Polley disaster is a case in point of how badly it can go wrong with no third party oversight. The fact that the company, Imperial Metals, can continue to operate with no penalties, after destroying a lake for generations, clearly pushes citizens to the edge. Citizen groups are pursuing private prosecutions, and Premier Horgan has now committed to determine why a deadline was missed by the BC Liberals to lay charges against the company. 
    Furstenau feels the blame should lie in the failure of government to protect the public interest by handing over the responsibility to industry.
    Over the years, corporate spin-doctors have found devious new ways to shed rules and government oversight, but professional reliance was a stroke of pure genius. Many were lulled into thinking that handing the management and oversight of our public lands and interest to a coterie of smiling, reliable professionals, with their reputations and professional associations hovering above to keep them in line, was a grand solution. After all, it was expensive to fund government-hired professionals.
     

    MLA Sonia Furstenau
    Furstenau’s close encounter with professional reliance was over the issue of South Island Aggregates and Cobble Hill Holdings filling an active quarry in the Shawnigan watershed with contaminated soil. She realized that not only could industry legitimately hire people who had a personal stake in that business (as employees, business partners or shareholders) to assess the environmental impacts of their activities, but there was no way to stop harm as long as those people were “up front” about their relationships. If the case hadn’t found a “deliberate concealment” of the discussion of ownership with the company hired to conduct the environmental assessment, South Island Aggregates might still be shovelling dioxins, hydrocarbons and furans onto what an independent hydrogeologist warned was fractured limestone “that provides no natural protection for the established drinking water sources in the region.”
    In the last 17 years, virtually every news story about damage to  public forests, lakes, rivers and oceans, affecting wildlife, water, air, soil, climate, and First Nations rights, with repercussions on every aspect of our health, can be traced to flaws in professional reliance. The big issues like Mount Polley, the Testalinden Creek landslide, and Shawnigan Lake are what catch the headlines, but they represent a fraction of the damage to our forests, communities and wildlife that Mike Stini predicted.
    Citizens’ only recourse is to take the matter into their own hands, which is what they did in Shawnigan Lake. Haddock summarizes this state of affairs this way: “The deregulation takes government out of the picture and leaves health, safety and environmental protection outcomes to the ‘social license’ to operate for a given proponent or industry.”
    Removing that “social license” at Shawnigan Lake cost local citizens $2 million in legal fees and thousands of volunteer hours with the very real possibility, still, of a contaminated watershed. As Furstenau says, “I want to be able to live my life without having to monitor and watchdog every aspect of my life from the water I drink, to the bridges I drive over. This is the main reason I got into provincial politics—to build trust in government again to protect its citizens.”
    The lack of trust pervades not just government, but the professional associations themselves. As Furstenau points out, it isn’t their job to look after the public interest. And in a deregulated environment, with narrow terms of reference, there are virtually no laws to break, therefore no disciplinary actions to be taken. 
    The whole thing is a Machiavellian bag of worms. Haddock, along with a recent report by Evidence for Democracy, both revealed the level of concern that many professionals themselves have with provincial decision-making on natural resources. Few professionals are willing to talk openly. But, under protection of anonymity, they told Haddock of the many problems: “expert shopping”; clear conflicts of interest, but no way to address it; lack of checks and balances; loss of expertise in government; lack of confidence in government monitoring; problems with independent monitoring; lack of confidence in the disciplinary process of professional associations; reduced formal public involvement; greater user conflicts; no one out in the field who knows what is going on; filtering of information by proponents; too many grey areas; inexperienced crews operating; cavalier approach to risk…and the list goes on.
    With the professional reliance model no longer being tied to the public interest, many professionals found it intolerable to work in an environment in which the term “stewardship” has largely been stripped out of their duties.
    And now, at least one has resorted to legal action: Professional forester Martin Watts has accused the Province of blacklisting foresters for raising concerns over the quality of inventory data. Watts is spending his retirement savings to fund a case he might not win, but which will certainly lose him clients.
    Furstenau, now overseeing the professional reliance file for the Green caucus, is at the information-gathering stage, helping Minister of Environment and Climate Change George Heyman set out a direction for the review. For her, citizen involvement is essential. It is important to hear from everyone who has been impacted by professional reliance, both within the professions and as citizens who have fought these issues. As she says, “this needs to be a robust review.”
    As for predicting the outcome of the review, she can’t speculate, but one thing is certain: She wants an outcome in which she can return to her community and not feel as if all the responsibility for safeguarding the environment is in the hands of volunteers like herself on the Shawnigan Lake issue. It is a powerful motivator, and biologists like Stini will be cheering from the sidelines.
    Briony Penn has been reporting on regional environmental issues for over 20 years. In the 2000s, she hosted the TV show “Enviro/Mental” which was nominated one of the top three magazine shows in Canada. She lives on Salt Spring Island.

    David Broadland
    September 2017
    To create a realistic pathway to a low-carbon regional transportation system, science—not activism—needs to lead the way forward.
     
    IT HAD LONG BEEN MY UNDERSTANDING that cycling—all on its own—would become a significant part of the solution for reducing local transportation emissions. However, when I used the Capital Regional District’s most recent comprehensive travel survey to estimate the relative amount of work done by each form of transportation at the regional level, I was flabbergasted to find that cycling accounts for such a tiny share: 1.5 percent in 2011.
    The amount of work done by each transportation mode can only be compared when you consider the total distance travelled each day by CRD residents using each type of transport. Replacing the work done by fossil-fuelled automobiles is essential if we’re going to reduce emissions. But how much of that work can be replaced by humans exerting themselves by cycling or walking instead of driving?
    More than is currently the case in our region, no doubt. But when we consider how to shift enough of the work done by automobiles to more energy efficient modes of transportation, like walking, cycling, and transit, the magnitude of the challenge facing us becomes clear. There has to be a huge shift in how people move around, quickly. Why time is such a critical part of the equation should be obvious, and the Trudeau government’s announcement late last year of a mid-century emissions goal establishes the rate of descent for making reductions. The perplexing question is: What do we shift to?
    Cycling and walking are part of the solution, but there needs to be a massive shift of the work done by cars to public transit. If other places that have already made this change are any indication of what Victoria will choose to do, the role of cycling and walking will largely be for making the first short leg of a trip made by public transit. While we’re seeing local governments create isolated pockets of inordinately expensive improvements for cycling, there’s little evidence that the region is on the verge of making sensible (let alone massive) investments in public transit.
    I pointed this out in the last edition in “Mayor Helps’ 1.5 percent solution,” which was subtitled, “Local government’s response to reducing transportation emissions may be wishful thinking. Or foolish.”
     

    New two-way protected cycling corridor in Downtown Victoria
     
    Responding at a local level to the existential threat posed by climate change, rising sea level and ocean acidification—all caused by carbon emissions—will be a transformative, Herculean task that requires constant, difficult conversation about the path we should be on. If we Earthlings don’t do this work—including the conversations—we’re cooked.
    What is the task facing us? According to the CRD, 55 percent of emissions generated in the region come from fossil-fuelled vehicles. Unless there is a significant and quick decline in their use, the planet will be at increasing risk of runaway warming. We simply can’t take a long-term approach to this shift. How rapidly do we need to act?
    The Trudeau government’s overall emissions goal is to lower them by 80 percent (compared with 2005 levels) by 2050. As yet, no targets have been set for individual economic sectors, but it’s reasonable to assume that the transportation sector’s contribution would have to be on the order of 80 percent, give or take a few percentage points. To be on the most gradual descent that would get Canada to that goal, transportation emissions, and those from other sectors, would need to be reduced by about 34 percent over the next 12 years.

    Canada’s mid-century emissions target, announced in late 2016, means an overall emissions reduction of 34 percent by 2030—12 years from now.
     
    To put that time frame into perspective, consider that the City of Victoria started the process to replace the Johnson Street Bridge in 2008. It will, hopefully, open for traffic in 2018, ten years later. The amount of time left before 2030 is only a little longer than the City of Victoria needed to build a 156-metre-long bridge.
    What would this rapid transformation mean for drivers of fossil-fuelled cars in Victoria? Collectively, over the next 12 years, we will have to either drive 34 percent less distance each day, get new vehicles that use, on average, 34 percent less fuel, shift 34 percent of our travel to non-fossil-fuel modes of transportation, or employ a strategy that combines some or all of these.
    What is the CRD’s plan for responding to the goals announced by the Trudeau government in late 2016? In its already-outdated 2014 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), the CRD noted: “Long-term transportation planning efforts and investments are therefore needed to help reduce GHG emissions and adapt to a changing climate—both requirements are fundamental principles to all of the themes elaborated in this RTP. This means focusing on integrating land use and transportation planning to support sustainable transportation choices and reduce trip distances.”
    The CRD’s short-term plan is to double ridership on public transit by 2030 and build more cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
    Will this suffice to meet our national emission reduction target? The short answer is a definite “No.” I’ll show you the arithmetic for that conclusion later on.
    In “Mayor Helps’ 1.5 percent solution” I used the CRD’s most recent and most comprehensive survey of the region’s transportation system, done in 2011. It showed that autos accounted for 88 percent of the distance travelled in the CRD each day. By comparison, public transit accounted for 7.1 percent, walking 1.7 percent, and bicycles 1.5 percent. I questioned whether the CRD’s plan would be able to significantly shift the share of the work being done by the various modes of transportation enough to significantly reduce emissions.
    These numbers baffled cycling advocates, who were more familiar with “mode share” to describe cycling’s contribution to our transportation needs. Mode share is a way of comparing the number of individual trips made by each form of transportation in a day. Using mode share, both a 3-kilometre trip on a bicycle and a 10-kilometre drive in a car are given equal weight. Although the CRD’s 2011 information shows bicycling had a mode share of 2.8 percent in the region, in certain places and for certain trip purposes, such as commuting to work in the City of Victoria, cycling’s mode share can be considerably higher. The Victoria area isn’t much different from Vancouver, where cycling accounts for about 1 percent of total distance travelled. Notably, Metro Vancouver’s equivalent of the travel study done by the CRD includes such information, whereas the CRD does not.
     
    Share of total distance travelled by each mode of travel (Source: 2011 Metro Vancouver Regional Trip Diary Survey Analysis Report)
    Presenting basic information about the work done by components of transportation systems in this way might be discouraging to cyclists. However, when the primary consideration is reduction of emissions, “mode share” provides no useful information. As laid out in the CRD’s emissions reduction plan, the task will be to shift some fossil-fuelled auto use to a combination of transit, cycling and walking. Only by including the distance travelled, which reflects all the current realities about where people live, study, work and play and how far they have to travel each day to accomplish what they need to do, can we gauge how much energy needs to be shifted from autos to other modes. To put it as plainly as possible, a 34 percent reduction in emissions would require, after factoring in small increases in fuel efficiency and a small shift to electric vehicles, a shift of about 25 percent of the distance travelled in fossil-fuelled autos to non-fossil-fuelled modes over the next 12 years. I’ll elaborate on this later.
     
    AS MENTIONED ABOVE, my use of “total distance travelled” to compare the current energy contribution of different modes baffled cycling advocates. Former City of Victoria councillor John Luton, who has played a lead role in promoting cycling infrastructure projects in the region, wrote on Facebook, “Stories emerging from unreliable sources claim that CRD numbers show that only 1.5 percent of trips in the region are bicycle trips.” Luton went on to state, “Promoters of this theory are dishonest or unable to understand statistical information…The premise used to sell this fairy tale is that total mileage equals number of trips. That is false.…lying about the numbers is not a useful contribution to these discussions.”
    Edward Pullman, president of the board of directors of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coali