Exhibition of paintings April 29 to May 25 at Martin Batchelor Gallery
OUR BODIES BEHAVE SO DIFFERENTLY when they are submerged in water. Gravity is counteracted by the liquid support; reflection and refraction of light distort our shape; and a kind of languid, alternate-reality ensues. Victoria-based artist Lisa Hebden captures the other-worldly qualities of the underwater figure in her exhibition entitled “Swimmers.”
The paintings are oil on canvas, featuring brilliant colours and nearly-life-size or larger figures, creating a sense of intimacy and immediacy of experience—and immersion. “When people swim, there’s often a return to playful, child-like behaviour,” explains Hebden. “Of course, there’s posturing and strutting too, but also an abandonment of the restraints of land. We shed a bit of our ego when we are neck-deep in water. I’m interested in who we become when we are weightless.”
Hebden’s application of the paint mimics a certain type of “jumping into the water,” beginning with underpainting and building up layers. “This technique is also a way into the canvas,” she explains. “I basically attack the big white square with colour, then I don’t feel as precious with it. That initial, intuitive mark-making frees my hand.”
Hebden won national recognition in 2003, receiving an award from the Canadian Federation of Artists, and has exhibited in solo and group shows throughout BC. Her work has been featured in International Artist Magazine, the Vancouver Sun, and Victoria News. Her paintings can be found in private and corporate collections in Canada, the United States, Germany, and Australia.
“Swimmers” opens with a reception April 29, 7-9pm at Martin Bachelor Gallery, 712 Cormorant St. See www.lisahebden.com.
America is slamming its door on refugees. Will Canada open its wider?
MY ROUTE THROUGH THIS STORY is circuitous. It sprang from my growing unease about the refugee situation as news arrived almost daily through the early months of 2017—news about the US Administration’s plans of mass deportations, a de facto Muslim ban, and stories of desperate people risking frostbite or worse to escape the US and claim asylum in Canada. Along my meandering path, I interviewed a law professor, immigration workers, private sponsors, and a refugee and his daughter. But any meandering of mine is simply trivial compared to the stories of the refugees themselves.
Suliman Dawood and his family—wife Eman, son Fidel and daughters Samah and Salina—hail from Iraq, near Baghdad, though Dawood himself was born in Palestine; he is a refugee twice over. A university graduate, Dawood had taught history, and then, for 25 years, ran a small furniture-manufacturing business. But when more and more civilians in Iraq started losing their lives in 2005, he began making plans to get his family to safety.
Dawood tells me, “It was no longer safe for us.” The last straw was when seven of their good friends and neighbours were killed by a bomb while walking nearby streets: two adult sisters and their five children. His daughter Samah, now age 20, tells me a bit more about the fateful decision: “If Dad had stayed, they would have killed him.” Besides being Sunni, Dawood, as a Palestinian, had another strike against him. He had to walk away from his business.
In 2006, they made their way to Aleppo in Syria, another dangerous, war-torn place, staying for two years. Dawood says the children became traumatized, developing phobias to any loud noise. He was especially concerned for Fidel who has a disability. “He had no chance in Iraq or Syria” where there are no schools for those with disabilities. As a family, they decided to head to a refugee camp in the hope of a better life elsewhere. They ended up living in Al-Hawl refugee camp in the desert on the border of Iraq and Syria for over two years.
In the refugee camp, run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the family made it clear to authorities it was willing to go to any country that would take the whole family. They were thrilled when Canadian Embassy officials told them Canada would accept them. They were sponsored by the United Church and the Islamic Association, arriving in Canada five-and-a-half years ago.
In 2016, Suliman and Eman Dawood became proud Canadian citizens. The family lives in a modest townhouse in Fernwood. He works for Chix Poultry and has only good things to say about his employer, Victoria, and Canada. His son Fidel attends Garth Homer daily; his daughter Samah attends Camosun and is looking forward to earning a diploma in Community, Family & Child Studies. Dawood’s older daughter has settled with her husband in Alberta; Suliman and Eman are now proud grandparents.
“In Canada, one can keep going forward,” says Dawood. In parts of the world he is familiar with, he explains, “you can move forward a bit only to go back to zero.” Samah explains that the rules everyone follows here are good and applied equally—unlike in parts of the Middle East. Dawood says, “Everybody is equal…all people have the same opportunity if you want to work, study, or to get medical care.”
ONE ASPECT OF LIFE that isn’t so rosy for refugees such as Dawood is that family members end up scattered around the globe. Eman’s family is in Cypress and Sweden; Dawood’s many siblings live in Australia, Texas, Turkey, Tunisia, Norway, and Iraq. Fortunately, none of his siblings are living in refugee camps.
But his cousin Mohammed’s family is.
They have been stuck in a refugee camp in Lebanon for three years. The Dawoods last saw their cousins years ago in Damascus. One of the young cousins subsequently got arrested after taking part in a political protest against the Syrian government. Subjected to torture, after six months in prison he died. “His mom, she cried until now,” says Dawood.
Shortly after that tragedy, in 2013, almost all of Mohammed’s extended family in Syria was killed during a chemical weapon attack in Damascus. Fearing for their safety, the family fled, eventually arriving at a UN refugee camp in Lebanon.
That was three years ago. Since then the father Mohammed managed to make the lengthy journey to Denmark with one daughter. Though he had hoped to be able to bring his whole family there, there is no guarantee that even he will be allowed to stay (he entered illegally, and his asylum claim is in limbo). One thing that is clear: Denmark is no longer accepting any young adult males, so even if Mohammed is accepted, the two older sons, Rasheed, 26, and Tareq, 19, need to find a different place to call home. (I am using only first names for security reasons.)
Mohammed was understandably relieved when Dawood agreed to help the two older boys come to Canada.
Meanwhile, the young men, their mother and 11-year-old brother Omar continue to reside in Chabriha, the refugee camp, in a tiny apartment roughly the size of Dawood’s kitchen. While safe, the camp’s refugees tend to be resented by the local community and there are few opportunities for work, though Rasheed has found a part-time job. The hope is that the mom and Omar can join the father sometime in Denmark, after she’s assured her older sons will be given refuge in Canada.
As Suliman, Samah and I sit contemplating the choices and compromises this family must make, and the uncertainties they face, we all shake out heads in sadness.
Dawood has informed the boys that “we don’t know how long it will take…it all depends on our government.” He tells me Rasheed says it’s ok, as long as things are moving forward.
NATALIE HUNT, A YOUNG VICTORIA MOM who got to know Fidel Dawood and then the whole family when she was working at the Garth Homer Centre, decided to help bring Rasheed and Tareq to Canada. Last summer she, Dawood, and a few other friends formed the Salish Sea Refugee Sponsorship Group, to sponsor the young men in partnership with the Inter-Cultural Association (ICA). As Carla Funk, one of Hunt’s neighbours and a member of the group puts it, “when you learn the histories of these families, it’s like peeling back the onion. There are so many stories of loss, and such epic journeys.”
Hunt, whose current job is at the Access Justice Centre, shows me the thick raft of paperwork she’s just finished working on—for the third time. Despite the fact that the young men are approved through the UN Commission on Refugees and have been vetted by the Canadian government, there is still a lot of vetting going on it seems. Says Hunt, “You have to present a coherent story from A to Z; it’s really hard to do!” This means accounting for their individual whereabouts and activities for their whole lives, with no gaps, which can be particularly difficult to do for people fleeing dangerous regimes. And, she noted, because paperwork in the past was sometimes filled out inconsistently by officials, each of those inconsistencies—whether it be dates or name spelling—have to be reconciled.
“When we started the process, we were told it would take about six to eight months [to get the men here],” says Hunt. The group has now been informed it could take one to four years and are concerned it will likely be at the longer end of the spectrum because these are young adult males. While they are near the top of the pile of the local ICA-approved sponsorships, there are about 16,000 ahead of them Canada-wide.
Meanwhile, members of the sponsorship group keep in touch with Rasheed and Tareq almost daily by Whatsapp or Skype. “It’s important for them to know we care,” says Hunt, “especially now that it might take longer.” The women admit they haven’t had the heart to tell them the latest time estimates.
While the group has raised $17,000 towards the $40,000 required to help them through their first year here, they are also raising a smaller contingency fund to help right now, mostly with the boys’ English lessons and dental work (much lower in Lebanon than here). They sell the book Stepping Stones for $20 (pocketing $10) and they have a facebook page (search “Salish Sea Refugee”) which will be announcing upcoming fundraisers. They’ve even got potential jobs lined up.
“We also have to be realistic,” says Hunt sadly. “They may never be able to come.” Says Funk, “That’s why we’re developing a solid plan B. If they can both hone their English skills and get work experience, and get a certificate of some kind for the younger brother, those are marketable, and their resilience in the world, no matter where they end up, will be improved.”
If the boys don’t manage to be accepted into Canada, the tax-deductible funds raised under the ICA umbrella will go to another refugee family who is.
SINCE NOVEMBER 2015 when the recent surge of refugees from Syria started to arrive in Canada, Greater Victoria has welcomed 415 refugees (170 of which are at least partially privately sponsored)—not a lot, but more than usual. Sabine Lehr, manager of private sponsorship of refugees with the Inter-Cultural Association, like others on the frontlines of refugee resettlement, understands how important it is to help bring refugees’ families together. She says, “Almost every person recently resettled to Victoria has other family members that had to flee their home countries and who are now living in neighbouring countries in difficult circumstances.”
For that reason, the Canadian Council on Refugees is calling for Express Entry Family Reunification, noting that though refugees in Canada can apply to bring their immediate family members to Canada, “sometimes they are forced to wait years to be reunited with their spouses and children overseas, who can be in situations of danger and persecution.” The delays caused by bureaucratic barriers obviously take a particularly high toll on children.
The Council, a national non-profit umbrella organization, also complains that Canada’s plans for 2017 are disappointing. For one thing, Canada is taking only 7500 Government-Assisted Refugees (GARs)—which is less than the average of years from 2000 through 2015. GARS are financially assisted by the government for one year. Canada will accept 16,000 Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSR) in 2017—but there’s already an estimated 45,000 PSR applications in process with 6400 of those now waiting for more than three years. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has said that their goal is to eliminate the backlog of private sponsorship applications by 2019 and reduce wait times for new applications to about 12 months.
Unfortunately, as the Council points out, the 2017 targets “[cannot] accommodate applications submitted to respond to the many requests for family reunification for recently arrived Syrians and other refugees.” It predicts that it will be 2018 or later before recently-applied-for refugee family members (such as Rasheed and Tareq) will be able to come to Canada.
This is despite family reunification being a stated goal of Canada’s federal government. The reality on the ground is often heart-breaking. Even in the “economic immigrant” category, I know of many women working as caregivers here who have waited for 4, 5, or 6 years after they spend 2 years becoming Permanent Residents to be allowed to have their children and spouse join them here.
Donald Galloway, a UVic law professor who specializes in immigration, warns me to be wary of the government’s numbers on family reunification. While the official stats, he says, show 65,000 “family class members” admitted last year, about 45,000 of them are spouses or common law partners sponsored by permanent residents or citizens here. “It operates primarily to allow citizens to select their spouse from the global pool and be able to bring that partner to Canada.” This is very different than the type of reunification needed by many refugees, torn apart as they flee conflict zones.
Recently the Council on Refugees launched the “Wish You Were Here” campaign, along with issuing a manifesto on family reunification, now signed by over 80 Canadian organizations. In part, the manifesto states: “We deplore any immigration or refugee system that is indifferent to the hardships caused by separation of families, and we call for the removal of any and all barriers to family reunification. We underline the costs of family separation, most importantly for those kept separate, but also for society at large which is also the loser when families are kept apart by the immigration system.”
Says Galloway, “We encourage people to apply but the government is not providing adequate infrastructure to consider their applications in a timely manner.” In both Canada and the US, says Galloway, the vetting of refugees is “incredibly rigorous,” involving a two-year detailed examination of identity, work history, relatives, connections, and medicals for all family members. Our aspirations, he continues, clash with the bureaucracy’s ability to implement a way to realize them in a humanitarian and fair manner. The result, he says, is “huge backlogs and family rupture rather than reunification. We put people through horrific trials.”
ALL THIS IS PLAYING OUT against the backdrop of a US Administration apparently bent on criminalizing immigrants and refugees. Dawood says his brothers in Texas have asked him if they should come here. As we chat over tea, Dawood asks me what I think about their well-being in the US. Hmmm. We both try to reassure each other that, since they were accepted by the US as refugees years ago, they must be safe, mustn’t they?
Professor Galloway is not surprised that there is panic in the US, resulting in frightened people risking life and limb to cross over the US-Canada border.
Because of the dangers to these already traumatized people both in their homelands and now in the US, 240 Canadian law professors, Galloway among them, have urged Canada’s federal government to “immediately suspend directing back refugee claimants at the Canada-US border under the Safe Third County Agreement.”
This Agreement, explains Galloway, applies only at official ports of entry. In effect, it encourages people to sneak into Canada (potentially endangering their lives) in order to claim asylum.
Options to suspend temporarily all or part of it are built into the Agreement in order, says Galloway, to “allow time to take stock of what’s going on. It also…allows each country to admit refugees from the other on a discretionary basis, and that discretion can be exercised on a case-by-case basis or…[by government directive] to border officials.”
Given the new US measures, and the chaos and panic there, Galloway and his fellow legal scholars feel a three-month suspension of the Safe Third County Agreement by Canada is the most rational response.
Harvard Law School also wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau in February, asking for suspension and citing a report the School compiled showing that the US was no longer safe for many refugees: “Based on erroneous assumptions about the criminality and extremist tendency of the immigrant population, President Trump’s Executive Orders represent a dramatic restriction of access to asylum and other immigration protections in the United States. They call for a new regime of large-scale detention, expanded expedited removal without due process, deputizing of state and local officials to detain individuals suspected of immigration violations, and aggressive criminal prosecution of unauthorized entry, a means by which many seek access to asylum protection, as recognized in Article 31 of the Refugee Convention.”
The Trudeau Government, however, has so far indicated it has no intention of suspending the Safe Third County Agreement.
Galloway predicts a legal challenge of the Agreement in the courts. He tells me that it won’t be the first. In 2008, the Canadian Council on Refugees went to court arguing that the situation then in the US was not safe. The judge agreed, says Galloway, “citing the US detention conditions, expedited removal, and the way the Americans interpret their international obligations.” That decision was ultimately successfully appealed on procedural grounds, which have since changed (it was ruled inappropriate for the courts to hear the case because no particular individual was involved). “As the Harvard report indicates, things are even more serious than they were in 2008,” says Galloway, and the question of safety could easily be addressed again.
A more welcoming stance to US asylum seekers might well burnish Canada’s already good reputation on the global refugee front. Our acceptance of 25,000 Syrian refugees last year—and allowing them to become Permanent Residents on arrival—was, says Galloway, a beacon of light as other countries push refugees away or refuse to give them any status. He also praises Canada’s rather innovative approach of allowing private sponsorship of refugees, something the UNCHR has recommended other countries emulate.
Certainly many Canadian citizens have become more aware and empathetic, understanding both the need for greater humanitarian assistance, and the enrichment that flows to Canadian society from opening our doors to more refugees like Suliman Dawood and his family.
Up against the 65 million people who are currently displaced world-wide by conflict and persecution, however, we need all the innovative measures and good will we can dream up.
Leslie Campbell is the founder and editor of Focus. Her grandparents all immigrated to Canada from Scotland.
The views of FOCUS readers that were published in the March-April 2017 edition
Escape from BC In the exchange between Rob Wipond and Dr Ronald Pies, Rob Wipond emerges as the clear winner in my opinion. Dr Pies disparages Wipond’s position as lacking balance and critiques him for using “negative words,” suggesting that in doing so Wipond is not being “objective.” However this begs the question, for if on balance the psychiatric drugs do far more violence than good, then the “objectivity” requires that this be said. Correspondingly, Pies states that in his own personal experience he sees the drugs as doing far more good than harm. What makes Pies think that a psychiatrist trained to see “dulling” as a good outcome is in any position to objectively evaluate? Is not the fact that evaluations are overwhelming done by care professionals with a demonstrable bias exactly what has always made the “treatments” look good?
Objective? Hardly! Thank you, Rob Wipond, for exhibiting far greater “objectivity”!
Dr Bonnie Burstow
Getting growth right Leslie Campbell’s article [“Getting Growth Right,” Focus, Jan/Feb 2017] is a valuable contribution, but I think the dichotomy between Core and West Shore is misplaced. The realistic immediate alternative to the McKenzie Interchange (and the other road/highway expansion schemes in the pipeline) is completing the Douglas Street-Highway 1 bus lanes to the West Shore. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is already quietly doing designs for the Highway1 shoulder bus lanes from Saanich Road to McKenzie. Funding is in place and construction could start within months. Shoulder bus lanes on the next 4.5 km from McKenzie to the Six Mile Pub would cost a mere $15 million or so, and could be operating within 18-24 months once funding is in place.
The BC Liberals promised 24/7 bus lanes all the way to the West Shore “soon” in 2008. I’m optimistic that with enough political pressure these bus lanes could be open within 24 months.
Real transit-oriented development requires good transit, and providing good transit to and from the core areas of the West Shore is an important way to spur the kind of changes needed there, and region-wide. The best land use plan is a transportation plan, and given the climate crisis, we need to plan for quick and impressive transit improvements region-wide.
How important is it that we reduce carbon emissions? In discussing the CRD’s Regional Growth Strategy, Director Vic Derman of the CRD has an imaginative answer: “The only thing that could be possibly more urgent to act on,” he says, “would be if a large asteroid was hurtling toward us.” (“Getting Growth Right,” Focus, Jan/Feb 2017).
Five to three million years ago—before most of our lot was around—sea levels were some 25 metres higher than today, atmospheric temperature some three degrees celsius warmer, and CO2 levels about the same. Two hundred million years ago, atmospheric CO2 was at 5 times present levels. Arguably, the Earth and life adapted and survived.
In the recent American election, a large population had grown tired of being told how to live, where to live, what to believe, what to say, what to buy, what to eat, where to work, how to get to and fro. They voted, and said good riddance to the self-absorbed who righteously spoke for them.
Sitting in an arm chair in front of a fireplace in Victoria and targeting communities like Port Renfrew over water and sewer services in order to restrict population growth and development should be considered retributive and regressive. What, after all, did Victoria look like in 1843?
In matters of urban and regional planning, we’re like the American public. In Victoria and the CRD, we need to see new faces, new politics, new ideas, to hear something worth being said—and the sooner the better.
Sewage & RGS failure point to dysfunctional CRD As is made evident in “Getting Growth Right” (Focus, January/February), the CRD edifice is collapsing under fire from within, setting off alarms. Already it looks as if the Province will have to intervene again to put out the fire. Maybe it will become clear that the building is not fire-proof, and restructuring of governance is sorely needed.
I understand the desire to legally challenge the Province’s approval of the sewage plant at McLoughlin Point but shouldn’t we be addressing the real problem which is the undemocratic and unaccountable CRD?
The sewage debacle is an issue that has its roots in one fundamental problem which underpins the current CRD dysfunctional governance model. The CRD is not directly elected by citizens. As a resident of Victoria I cannot hold a CRD director from another municipality to account.
With the exception of the three electoral areas—Salt Spring Island, Juan de Fuca and the Southern Gulf Islands—CRD Directors are not directly elected. Councils appoint their members to CRD boards and committees. There is an anomaly—Victoria and Saanich use a voluntary double-direct system whereby voters can choose a candidate standing for council and vote for that candidate to be appointed to the CRD. But if the candidate fails to be elected to his or her council then the CRD vote is void.
CRD directors are attempting to serve two masters and they are only accountable to one—their council. Municipal self-interest comes before regional interest and this has defined the way business has been done at the CRD since its inception.
We need to replace CRD directors with a directly elected body comprised of qualified candidates who owe no allegiance to any municipality and who have as their mandate unified, forward-thinking, innovative and focused solutions for the issues facing the Metro Victoria region.
Sewage fiasco and the politics of contamination I just came across the July 2016 article written by David Broadland titled “Victoria’s Sewage Fiasco and the Politics of Contamination” and I was hoping you could pass on my congratulations to the author on a very thorough and well-written summary of a highly technical subject.
I particularly liked his comparison between the 96-hour LC50 rainbow trout bioassay toxicity test and a canary in a cage exposed to car exhaust while trapped within a sealed container.
Troy D. Vassos, Ph.D. FEC P.Eng.
McLoughlin Point’s fatal flaw As I have pointed out in the past, we should not build a treatment plant at the mouth of Victoria’s harbour because of its negative impact on tourism and on development in the Songhees area due to odour and decrease of property values. I have also commented that the McLoughlin Point site is too small and that a second smaller plant would be required to deal with the treatment and processing of biosolids—at great capital cost, operating costs, and the requirement of two pipes to be built from McLoughlin Point to the dump site.
Obviously, the small treatment plant on McLoughlin Point, as noted in David Broadland’s article “The CRD hid McLoughlin Point’s fatal flaw,” will have a limited life because of its small land base. In the longer term it will require an expansion of the plant based on limited capacity, relative to the impacts of growth of population in the service area over the next few years.
More land should be acquired in order to build the treatment plant. I spoke to key regional staff concerning the project over two years ago, as to why they did not acquire additional land for the sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point so that it could be built at an economic size and not require an external plant at the dump site and the even greater cost of two pipes to the dump site.
Interestingly, I was advised that DND had been approached but would not approve the sale of lands to provide for a proper sewage treatment plant. I then asked the question, “Was the Prime Minster approached concerning this matter to intercede to save millions of dollars?” The answer was “No,” the CRD had not involved the Prime Minister.
The article by Broadland on the issue of size of plant relative to the size and configuration of the site, also makes very clear to me that the site on the other side of the Region’s lands should be acquired from DND and is of better use for this project than in the hands of DND or First Nations. The Federal Government should support the need to save so much in unnecessary costs including the elimination of the external biosolids plant and infrastructure.
Surely with support from the Prime Minister, the Federal Government would agree to the sale of the lands to complete total acquisition of the point of land, as shown in Broadland’s article. Obviously this action should have been taken years ago.
Donald Roughley P.Eng, Former Victoria City Manager
The Dallas Road Sewage Pipe Bike Path the city’s proud, new bike path
is 3 kilometres long
thanks for 10 safe minutes
but I think the pride is wrong
like the 100 metres of Blue Bridge
now that sure turned out swell
and the decades of the sewage debate
that had a certain smell
like the E & N railway line
rapid transit made no sense
but the McKenzie Interchange
that sure does
says three layers of government
I’m sitting here in the Colwood crawl
and have some time to reflect
about the beauty of the coastline
and the stream of cars effect
California sure has taught us, car lanes
solves it every time
the paving of our paradise
brings Joni’s song to mind.
and I’m thinking of a bike path
all along the E&N
and I’m thinking of electric trains
and how much we’d have to spend
and I’m thinking of the future
not what the line would cost
I’m thinking of our heritage
and just how much we’ve lost
and I think the Sewage Pipe Bike Path
is so odd, it hurts my brain
I prefer the Boondoggle
now that’s a righteous name
and when I’m cycling on the Boony
with the beauty all around
I’ll forget it’s all a thin veneer
and what stinks runs underground.
A better route for sewage As the CRD Wastewater Board moves to approve funding agreements and obtain final sewage project approval by the end of February, they do so following minimal input from affected communities and from taxpayers in general. How can approval be obtained and commitments be made when only the most high-level budget is made public? We know nothing of the details of the contracts which are being entered into.
The public is being asked to accept the laying of a 48-inch pipeline in a trench along Dallas Road from Clover Point to Camel Point. No estimate of cost is available despite repeated requests to make the estimate known, but you can bet it won’t be a small number. The proposed route stretches 3.4 kilometres along a cliff top showing signs of slumping and within a metre of the sea wall that is constantly under repair. It may not even be feasible from an engineering point of view to lay the pipe along the cliff where Douglas intersects Dallas Road.
Assuming it is possible, construction will take months and disruption will be significant during this time. Once the trench turns the corner past Ogden Point, it is proposed to connect with a pipe that has to be constructed in a tunnel under the Outer Harbour to the treatment plant at McLoughlin Point. This tunnel and pipe emplacement in the tunnel will take well over a year to construct at what can only be imagined to be enormous cost.
The disruption here will be calamitous with dust, noise and trucks right on the tourist route used by the cruise ship passengers. As for the residents, well they will have to put up with construction for months on end. The technical difficulty of drilling and tunneling is immense given the nature of the hard fractured bedrock. Does the contractor have any experience dealing with rocks of this type and with this large size of pipe?
The entire route is within the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary and disruption to the backshore cliff tops will be significant. Presumably permits have been obtained but there is no indication from the Project Board website.
We simply lack design and cost data and to ask for approval in the absence of these data is foolhardy and presumptuous. It is also arrogant given the minimal community consultation which has taken place. It places the councillors on the CRD Board in a very difficult position.
Following a single meeting of the James Bay Neighbourhood Association and the CRD project team, I made a subsea pipeline proposal in February to the CRD Project Team. (I am a retired executive and geologist with a lot of experience managing and implementing projects, all of which have involved drilling and pipelining to one degree or another.) This route would avoid the land route and harbour crossing entirely. This proposal would be far more cost effective, it would avoid the safety and environmental hazards of the onshore route as well as all the disruption during construction. To lay the pipeline offshore would take days, not months.
The community of James Bay and the taxpayers of the CRD need to know that the engineering team has fully considered this viable subsea pipeline option. Before approval to the existing design is given, a reasoned argument for not considering this subsea proposal is expected. To date, all we have received is a dismissive letter from the Project Board. The sea floor proposal could save millions of dollars, mitigate safety and environmental concerns, and avoid construction disruption. How can we have confidence in another engineering project in Victoria when we have no detailed information on plans and costs?
The Project Board says the whole project will cost $765 million, trust us. But we don’t have any idea how we got there. What is the cost of this type of construction? We don’t know. We are not being told. How can councillors be asked to approve funding?
John Gunton, BSc, PhD (geology)
Participatory budgeting? As an ardent follower of your leviathan efforts to rein in City Hall, here’s another thing to examine. Just contemplate the cynicism (stupidity?) of the City of Victoria’s “participatory budget” political exercise. And who hired a New York City agency to help us allocate a mere $60,000 of Victoria’s [$224.5 million] budget?
Dougie Gene Miller makes a very valid point, that Douglas Street is going downhill. Too bad that he got the year for the end of streetcars wrong. 1948, Gene.
It’s also a pity that Miller has ranted against LRT so much, since absolutely nothing would rejuvenate Douglas Street, and Vancouver Island as a whole, more than a more balanced transportation system. Yet the E&N Railway keeps rotting away, and Transportation Minister Todd Stone wants ten-lane bridges and more blacktop everywhere.
Just last week, I happened across a 1938 article in the Cincinnati Enquirer which was the smoking gun that confirmed that General Motors nuked the streetcars in Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky. The car and oil companies run the world, including in Victoria. Just look at Douglas Street! Car dealers, muffler, tranny and lube shops and parking lots.
High on drug industry donations? I applaud Alan Cassels’ article on the BC government’s role in supporting the prescription drug manufacturers and their contribution to the current opioid crisis. Certainly a match made in heaven (driven by money and influence-peddling) to enhance the predatory and profiteering integrated network of interests—which include the global pharmaceutical industry, government controlled pharma-care programs, physicians who legally prescribe these drugs, manufacturers of the drug components, and illegal distribution networks.
Mr Cassels uses the image of babies floating down a river and a village mobilized to jump in and save them one by one. By asking what causes this tragic loss of life, a search reveals that someone is flinging the babies from the bridge.
In a world in which human life is considered worthless—be it the bleak future and intolerable conditions of destitute economic migrants, refugees escaping from war and famine, or indigenous youth and others without a prospect for decent education, shelter, health care, and work—it’s not surprising to see this man-made form of exploitation playing out in social media and on the 24/7 TV news channels.
When the super-rich and their billionaire authoritarian leaders—less than one percent of the world population—are rewarded with more than half of the world’s wealth and resources, it is easy to see who is throwing babies into the river and why. Millions of workers are no longer necessary to produce consumer goods and are rendered redundant by automation and disruptive technologies; millions of uniformed men and women are no longer required as cannon fodder because cyber-warfare and drones can immobilize “the enemy’s” critical infrastructure. It is not hard to see who benefits and why the expedient killing machine of capital is so effective.
In the 1960s, youth and working people from across the globe actively opposed the superpowers and their aggression against the peoples of Indochina, the Middle East, and their henchmen in Latin America. The rule of these war-mongers and blood-thirsty tyrants was called into question, particularly on campuses across the US and Canada. During this time, the US deployed their “Keep Canada White” messengers, funded anti-“pig” agent provocateurs, and groomed police informants to discredit legitimate opposition to wars of aggression, genocide, and crimes against humanity.
At the same time, these same super-rich superpowers also opened the floodgates to pushing drugs and entertaining distractions to divert millions of youth. Drugs were used to pacify those facing the bullets of the National Guard on US campuses; young draftees consumed drugs to escape the horrors they were called upon to inflict in the name of defending peace and liberty.
Today, the game has become more sophisticated, but the end remains the same. Might makes right to ensure the rich get richer and the poor get poorer—with one added twist: most of humanity now represents a cost that the rich (and the governments that protect and promote their interests) can no longer afford to bear. In the race to the bottom, guess who will pay?
Last summer the Canadian government passed a medically-assisted death-with-dignity law. When it cannot provide adequate health care for all Canadians, is it any surprise that Victoria has become the killing-with-kindness capital of the country? The BC government sheds tears about the growing number of drug-overdoses but at the same time collects hefty campaign contributions from the makers of these opiates, and limits the number of funded addiction-treatment centres. This is the killing-with-cruelty side of the same coin.
Drugs and distractions are ever part of the power arsenal that denigrates and destroys those who cannot generate wealth for self-interested saviours who desire to make their vast imperial wastelands great again.
LNG in Brentwood Bay too risky Researcher and activist Dr Eoin Finn spoke in Mill Bay recently regarding the proposed LNG terminal in Brentwood Bay.
He noted that this Steelhead plant would be the first floating LNG terminal in the world (meaning this has never been done before)—and that should worry southern Vancouver Island residents. We must also consider the huge tanker ships, about the length of three football fields, that would pick up the liquified fracked gas in Brentwood Bay.
The process to cool the gas into a liquid would suck in 30,000 gallons of seawater every hour—which means phytoplankton and small fish are also sucked in. Then they release that heated seawater and, because they don’t want anything fouling the pipes of their very expensive ships, they add a little biocide.
This 30,000 gallons of seawater being poured back into the inlet every hour is heated 10 degrees in the process. That is like filling 10 Olympic-size swimming pools every week with warm, toxic (biocided) seawater (five million gallons per week).
“This amount of hypochlorited hot water poured into the Inlet every year, will turn it into a marine desert,” Finn told us.
Saanich Inlet is home to shellfish, herring, and large salmon runs up Goldstream Creek. It also houses VENUS (Victoria Experimental Network Under the Sea), a cabled undersea laboratory for ocean researchers.
And there’s more downsides to the four-foot-diameter gas pipeline that would come into Brentwood Bay. The process cools the fracked gas into liquid to feed the tanker ships and then pipes more fracked gas forward along another route past Duncan, west to Lake Cowichan, and on to the West Coast where another cooling facility and shipping facility is to be housed.
The entire sea route of LNG tanker traffic, and the fracked gas pipeline route itself, is fraught with potential disaster points. This threatens hundreds, even thousands, of lives depending on where those disasters occur. And we know disasters eventually do occur. Just search on Youtube for: “Tanker carrying natural gas exploded in China,” and see for yourself.
Concerned adults need to start demanding answers. We need to weed through the sales pitches of well-paid corporate executives who are selling us a barrel of rotten fish.
Open Letter to Premier Clark I am writing this letter in regards to the drug epidemic and tent cities that are happening in our province, and would like to introduce you to the polar opposite of these.
I have been a drug addict and alcoholic for over 30 years and have been in treatment several times. I am no stranger to an opioid overdose, and once had to be brought back to life after respiratory failure.
Through my life of addiction, I still managed to have somewhat of a normal life (the wife, two kids, jobs) until about two-and-a-half years ago when I came home and my wife had left due to my drinking.
At that point I just kept going (drinking) and before long everything was gone. I left Prince George and headed for Victoria where I have family. I just couldn’t stay sober and ended up homeless.
That’s when I ended up at Woodwynn Farms, a 193 acre therapeutic community in Central Saanich. I’ve been here for nine months now and in that time I’ve regained my self-respect, courage and most of all my spirit back. I’ve lost the obsession or need to self-medicate. I’ve learned to go through pain and not only feel it but embrace it knowing that it only makes me stronger. For the first time in my life, I can envision a future without drugs or alcohol.
I plan to use my experience to help others to escape the terrible downward spiral that is addiction.
This is where I come to the main reason for this letter to you.
Woodwynn Farms has been trying to get fully off the ground for the past seven years and has faced a mountain of challenges and senseless opposition.
Richard Leblanc, the executive director, has worked tirelessly during that time to overcome these objections, most of which are ridiculously trivial.
I have witnessed this first-hand.
I believe this is a case of political bullying on the behalf of the municipality of Central Saanich. Contrary to the overwhelming community support, it seems the small number of opposers’ unfounded complaints carry more weight and has resulted in the failure to obtain permits to grow this program and increase the capacity to help more people.
At this point in time there are only seven participants here, but the farm has the potential for over 100 lifesaving beds. In this time of crisis, I find it an absolute travesty that such petty issues like thistles and wording of signage (typical complaints), stand in the way of the success of this life-changing program. Nothing has worked for me until I came here. If this place can fix me, it can fix anyone.
We need your help Christy.
I know you’re a very busy woman. I see you on the news every day dealing with multiple issues and believe you are doing an awesome job on what seems like an overwhelming situation.
I’m asking that you come to Woodwynn Farms and see firsthand the wonder that is happening here and judge for yourself.
I know it’s not a total solution to this huge problem, but we’ve been throwing expensive little band-aids at this giant gaping wound for far too long and it’s only getting worse. As I’m sure you would agree, recovery is the number-one solution. This place has the potential to save countless lives and we cannot afford to let it fail.
You would totally be welcome to join us for dinner as well. The food is all organic and very healthy. Also, the dinner conversation is very eclectic.
Thank you for your time,
Project promoters are still claiming the new bridge will be “world-class” and “iconic.” Unfortunately, they may be right.
IN A RECENT RADIO INTERVIEW, City of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps described the new Johnson Street Bridge as “iconic” and “world-class.” Those words were optimistically attached to the project back in 2009 and Helps’ use of them eight years later is a bit like Donald Trump describing his popular-vote loss as “a massive landslide victory.” Both are ignoring, or don’t know, the factual history of their respective projects.
So far, nearly four years of bridge construction has produced what looks like an ordinary concrete highway overpass with the middle missing. If the bridge is going to be “iconic” and “world-class” in the way that Helps meant, the missing piece will have to be so architecturally stunning and engineeringly remarkable that it’s able to lift the dull heaviness of what’s been built out of mediocrity.
Unfortunately, evidence is mounting that the City has committed a world-class blunder.
Fabrication of the missing part of the bridge—which will span a gap of 46 metres (151 feet)—has proved to be extraordinarily difficult for Chinese welders. They began work in early 2014 on a much-simplified version of the span originally designed by noted bridge architect Sebastien Ricard of WilkinsonEyre Architects in London, England. Not simplified enough, apparently. By mid-2014, quality control inspectors found the fabricated sections of the bridge had been made of such poor-quality steel, or so badly welded, that they had to be scrapped. Three years after starting, the Chinese welders were reported to be struggling to fit the pieces together. According to project reports, once the Chinese fabricators get the parts to fit, and assuming everything else goes smoothly from that point onward, both in China and Victoria, construction of the new bridge will be completed by early 2018. If that projection holds up, the 156-metre-long, 15-metre-wide (1) bridge will have taken five years to build. The City announced (2) the start of construction on May 17, 2013.
Compare that with the indisputably “iconic” and “world-class” French bridge, the Millau Viaduct (photo below), completed in 2004. The 2460-metre-long, 27.6-metre-wide bridge (3) floats 270 metres above the Tarn River. It took three years to construct.
A comparison of the project costs (4) (5) is also revealing. A standard method of comparing the cost of bridges is to divide the project cost by the area of the bridge’s highway deck (which are the dimensions given above). Doing that arithmetic (6) for the Millau and Victoria projects, we find that each square metre of bridge deck on the new Johnson Street Bridge will cost five times as much as a square metre of bridge deck on the Millau Viaduct (adjusted for inflation to 2016).
So, in a way, Helps could be right. Victoria’s new bridge could very well be judged an “iconic” and “world-class” example of how not to build a bridge.
The project’s problems go deeper than mere extreme cost and long construction delays, though. Many of the original objectives of the project—like architectural significance, a wider navigational channel, and seismic protection up to magnitude 8.5—had to be ditched as the project’s real costs became unhinged from consultants’ promises. But the story of why the project kept costing more, even as its promoters secretly stripped away promised benefits and features is, at its core, the story of what happens when old blunders are covered over by new blunders.
The project was originally justified on the basis that the existing 1924 Joseph Strauss-designed bascule bridge had not been built to any seismic standard, and might collapse in an earthquake. Focus learned through freedom of information requests that City officials had been advised—in writing—by both of the first two engineers involved in the project, Joost Meyboom and Mark Mulvihill, that the City should seismically upgrade and rehabilitate the existing historically-significant bridge rather than replace it. Meyboom told the City that work could be done for $8.6 million (7). What followed was a long series of blunders and misrepresentations by City officials and private engineering consultants that, piled one on top of another, has led to a spectacular design failure and a series of cover-ups that have attempted to hide that failure. A full account of all the misrepresentations is beyond the scope of this article, but one particular misrepresentation, the impact of which is now working its way into the local economy, is worth exploring in depth.
This particular misrepresentation was the inevitable consequence of rushing a poorly-understood design through a competitive bidding process in which all the bidders were warning the City that the project was risky in terms of cost and engineering considerations. Instead of doing the right thing—pausing the project to thoroughly assess the design—its promoters ignored the warnings and hid these concerns from elected decision-makers and the public.
IN MID-JANUARY 2017, a letter (8) from Seaspan Marine to the City of Victoria was leaked to media outlets in Victoria, including Focus. Seaspan is a prominent tug and barge company operating on the West Coast. It frequently pulls barges and guides other vessels through the narrow channel spanned by the Johnson Street Bridge. In the letter, Seaspan told the City that recommendations to lower the speed at which it and other operators could make such transits, coupled with the “doubling of the transit distance”—a result of the project’s hasty decision to leave the concrete support piers of the existing bridge in place—“undermines safety rather than enhances it.” As a result, Seaspan’s Vice-President of Operations Paul Hilder wrote, “we will have to curtail barge service to businesses above the bridge and cease performing bridge assists to other operators.” Hilder requested that the City “reconsider their position to seek a reduce[d] speed limit from Transport Canada and the Victoria Harbour Master.”
The current speed limit past the bridge is five knots. The City would like that reduced to 3.5 knots. Interviewed on CFAX radio, current Johnson Street Bridge Project Director Jonathan Huggett was asked if the speed change was being brought forward because a lower speed limit would allow the use of less robust fendering on the north side of the bridge. Huggett said that the issue was one of whether spending more money on fendering would be an appropriate use of public resources. More robust fendering would cost more money.
The public resources at stake are not insignificant. It’s rumoured that more robust fendering, which would allow the current maximum recommended speed of five knots to be maintained, could cost in the neighbourhood of $10 million. The commercial interests of the Middle and Upper Harbour customers that Seaspan serves are also significant. Whose interest should prevail? Lost in the ensuing public discussion of whether the City should pay for more fendering protection so that barges could be pulled at the speed the mariners thought was safest, were two underlying questions.
First, why was the cost of fendering on the north side of the bridge left out of the construction contract—if in fact it was—when councillors were asked to approve the contract in December 2012? Secondly, why would the new bridge not be able to withstand a five-knot collision on its north side if it was protected with the same kind of fendering that has protected the existing bridge on its north side? The existing bridge has been able to withstand hits by vessels moving at five knots over its 93-year life without it incurring damage to its lifting mechanism. It continues to provide reliable service.
The City has avoided providing factual answers to these key questions. No wonder. Factual answers backed by evidence would reveal why the Johnson Street Bridge Replacement Project will likely be an engineering case study on how not to build a bridge. To understand why, we need to go back to when the fendering issue first became public.
Project Director Huggett brought the bad news about the north-side fendering into the public realm at a City council meeting on July 16, 2015. Back then, he had a slightly different story.
At that meeting, Huggett told councillors that fendering for the north side of the bridge needed to allow for a five-knot speed and would add an additional $3 million—more or less—to the cost of the bridge.
Councillor Ben Isitt asked Huggett: “Could you remind us why the fendering isn’t included in the scope of the contract with PCL?” PCL is the company building the bridge. Isitt was at the critical December, 2012 in camera meeting at which councillors were given the details of the contract and urged to approve it by City staff.
In response to Isitt, Huggett asserted the existence of a contract drawing, one that Isitt apparently hadn’t been shown, in which the north-side fendering had been “clouded out,” signifying that it was not part of the agreement between PCL and the City. Huggett stated, “At the time we went forward with the contract it was left as an issue to be resolved.” A few moments later, again referring to fendering on the north side of the bridge, Huggett was even more definite: “It was not in the original contract.”
After that meeting, Focus filed an FOI request for the document Huggett referred to as proof that the north-side fendering had not been included in the 2012 construction contract. The City was unable to locate any such document (9). Indeed, the PCL contract seems as explicit about the design and cost of fendering as it is about any other detail covering construction of the bridge and related structures.
In its response to our FOI request, the City informed us it had “eight fendering drawings created in 2013 for the north side of the new bridge” that they said “do contain three drawings in which portions are clouded to identify portions of the fendering system that were put on hold.” But that was well after the councillors were shown the details of the contract and asked to approve it.
In other words, there was nothing in the PCL contract itself to signify that north-side fendering was not included, but, as the project advanced, changes to the proposed fendering were contemplated.
The City also informed us that it would not release those 2013 documents because the fendering was part of an ongoing legal mediation with PCL and release of the documents “could compromise the City’s negotiating position at the mediation table.”
In other words, north-side fendering was included in the 2012 construction contract approved by councillors, but it has since become a bargaining chip in the unfolding legal dispute between the City and all of the other parties involved in the troubled project.
Focus has obtained records (10) from the City that show Huggett had been made aware that senior City staff had agreed to a deal with PCL with respect to the cost of fendering, a deal which apparently didn’t include seeking approval from Councillor Isitt and other elected officials. Huggett was informed of this before he told councillors at the July 16, 2015 meeting that north-side fendering was “not in the contract.”
Focus contacted Huggett for his explanation but he did not respond to repeated emails. So let me back up a bit and address the other fundamental question about the fendering issue that the City doesn’t want to answer: Why would the new bridge not be able to withstand a five-knot collision on its north side with the kind of fendering that has been protecting the existing bridge?
At the council meeting at which Huggett first made this issue public, he also explained to councillors why fendering was so vital: “The new bridge is somewhat less robust than the existing structure,” he told councillors. Bingo. He continued: “The last thing I need is a barge to hit the rest pier and knock it two inches out of alignment. For one, I don’t know how I’d get it back again having knocked it out of alignment and then I’m faced with an inoperable bridge. You’ve got $100 million invested in the water here and I’ve got to protect it.”
What Huggett was saying, in effect, is that if an outgoing barge loaded with scrap metal hits the new bridge, it is more likely to be made inoperable than would be the case if the same barge hit the old bridge. By “inoperable” we mean unable to lift or lower the moving part of the bridge.
For a project that was originally justified on the basis of the existing bridge not being robust enough to survive the forces imposed on it by a significant earthquake—and thus posed a threat to public safety—this is an extraordinary admission of project failure. Huggett’s admission, by the way, apparently went right over the top of councillors’ heads.
What characteristic of the new bridge makes it “somewhat less robust” to marine collisions than the existing bridge? We put that question to Huggett but he didn’t respond. But it’s not difficult to understand what’s really at issue.
The first thing to note is that the north side of the main pier has been left unprotected since it was completed. This structure is called the “bascule pier.” It will house all of the machinery used to lift the bridge, and it supports the weight of the “bascule leaf”—the moving part of the bridge being fabricated in China. If protecting the pier itself was so critical, wouldn’t that have been put in place as soon as the pier was finished? Many loaded barges have been towed past it already. From the absence of protection, it’s not unreasonable to infer that it’s not the pier itself that’s vulnerable, but the bascule leaf that the pier will support. But why would that be so vulnerable?
Imagine a tug pulling a barge full of scrap metal headed south from the Upper Harbour toward the new bridge—which in real life is a regular occurrence. The bridge would lift to its upright position to provide clearance for the tug and barge. But imagine that a strong tailwind suddenly catches the barge and the combination of wind, an ebb tide and a narrow channel result in the barge swinging around and striking the main pier of the bridge with great force. What would happen to the bascule leaf?
Try to picture it: the erect span projects 50 metres into the air above the bridge deck—as high as a 15-storey building. When the barge hits the pier, how will that heavy steel projection behave?
This is a particularly crucial design issue for this bridge, which has a one-of-a-kind feature: The bascule leaf’s 15-metre-diameter rings float on steel rollers and are not attached to the bascule pier. There is no central axle that’s bolted to the pier that will hold the leaf in place if the bridge is hit by a barge or an earthquake. There’s nothing but the leaf’s own weight to keep it in place. And, bizarrely, when this bridge is in the fully erect position, it’s top-heavy.
As the bridge lifts, its centre of gravity actually rises. When it’s in the fully-raised position, more than half of the weight of the moving part of the bridge is above the highway deck and there is nothing—other than the wide stance of the rings—to keep the bascule leaf from being tipped to one side in reaction to the pier being hit by a barge. If the bridge were hit in a strong northerly wind that was already pressing the top-heavy leaf sideways, what would happen? Would there be enough momentum from the loaded barge transferred to the upright bascule leaf to tip it over sideways or shift it enough to damage the lifting machinery? Could the bridge get stuck in the upright position with no way, as Huggett put it, “to get it back again having knocked it out of alignment”?
You might think that all of this would have been worked out years ago. But it wasn’t.
Only in 2016, seven years after the open-ring design had been chosen, did the project evaluate “the severity of forces on the bridge and its associated structures resulting from impacts during tug and barge transit through the waterway between the Upper and Lower Harbors passing through the new Johnson Street Bridge when open.” The study, undertaken by Seattle’s Pacific Maritime Institute, determined that the worst probable impact would occur to the north side of the bridge’s main pier. The force of such an impact was estimated to be 1200 tonnes. What effect would that have on the bascule leaf in the open position? The City isn’t saying, but what we do know is that the project proceeded in 2013 without such an evaluation. Now the City faces the additional cost of ensuring that a 1200-tonne impact never occurs.
Let me summarize: The City can’t provide any evidence of Huggett’s assertion that the fendering for the north side of the bridge was explicitly excluded from the 2012 PCL contract. And, although the City and Huggett would not answer questions about the positional stability of the unattached bascule leaf in a barge collision, what is known suggests the project realized—after construction had begun—that the experimental design created an unforseen vulnerability.
This has been the modus operandi of the project since 2009. At critical moments, when it was realized the open-ring design would produce a construction-cost risk or a seismic risk or an operational risk, the project’s promoters hid the risks. They misled councillors and the public about the flawed design to get more money to keep the project moving forward. The most iconic, world-class moment on this long downhill slide occurred in November 2012 when City managers made their recommendation to councillors on the three construction bids.
At a closed-to-the-public meeting, the managers urged councillors to allow them to begin negotiations for a contract with PCL, even though the company had produced a design in which every single element of the bridge had changed significantly from the design envisioned by the City’s project manager MMM, and WilkinsonEyre. Even though it wasn’t in the interest of any of the three bidding companies to alienate the City’s influential project manager, all had produced polite but scathing criticisms of the design and supporting engineering done by MMM. Two of the companies’ bids were based on completely different mechanical lifting concepts. PCL’s quickly-produced adaptation was the only option left to City managers for proceeding with the project. The City officials failed to relate any of the information in the critical reviews to councillors. Rather than accepting the realities exposed by the companies’ critiques—that MMM had greatly under-priced and under-engineered the design—the officials instead hid these concerns, and the accompanying financial risks, from councillors.
Many of the senior City managers who played a direct role in this deception later departed abruptly as the implications of a hastily-conceived design on cost and construction duration became clear. Their replacements have been kept busy ever since hiding the ways in which the project had to be scaled back, including seismic protection, fendering, and the original architectural vision. WilkinsonEyre has now removed all traces of its association with the project from its website.
As for the deceived, although then-Mayor Dean Fortin was removed by voters, most of the councillors who had the wool pulled over their eyes are still sitting around the council table, asking Mr Huggett polite questions about pathways and the kind of grass being planted on the bridge approaches.
At a December council meeting City Manager Jason Johnson told those councillors that a “mid-term lessons learned” exercise on the project had been completed by City staff. Focus asked Johnson whether that exercise had included public input and whether the results were available to the public. In his response, Johnson didn’t answer either question directly but said the City “will release all of the findings when the bridge is finished.”
More likely, the project will be protected under a shroud of legal advice for years to come, and making the “lessons learned” public would—and I’m just taking a wild stab in the dark here at what the City will say—“compromise the City’s negotiating position.” Thus City officials, former and current, will be spared public exposure of the role they played in the building of Victoria’s iconic, world-class blunder—and will be free to move on to other projects.
David Broadland is the publisher of Focus Magazine.
We analyzed the climate action strategies of BC’s political parties in the lead-up to May’s election.
ON A FRIDAY AFTERNOON LAST SUMMER, after a six-month delay, the BC Liberals released their climate plan. It was a time slot guaranteed to attract the least possible public attention. Still, with announcements that the carbon tax would remain frozen and the 2020 emissions target abandoned, the plan was predictably greeted by charges that Premier Christy Clark had abandoned any pretense of the climate leadership claimed under former premier Gordon Campbell.
Thomas Pedersen, chair of the Canadian Climate Forum and founding executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, wrote in an email that the Liberal plan not only ensured that BC would miss the legislated 2020 target, but the Province would almost certainly miss the 2030 target, suggested by its own Climate Leadership Team. He also said it was likely to miss the 2050 target of 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 2007.
“It would appear that Premier Clark has thrown in the towel with respect to taking any serious action on emissions reduction in BC,” said Pedersen, who hopes government inaction will be top of mind in the upcoming election.
Indeed, as the May 2017 election looms, there’s an increasing appetite among voters to understand what measures are needed to address one of the primary social and economic problems facing the Province and the world at large.
Marc Lee, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said there is little that could be called leadership and not much of a plan in the Liberal Climate Leadership Plan. “It’s more a glossy public relations document. For the most part they have delivered an advertising campaign that promotes them as a climate leader when, in fact, there’s almost nothing in that plan,” he said.
It’s a view vehemently denied by Environment Minister Mary Polak, who insists the Liberals have not abandoned climate change, but are being practical. BC is already “way out in front” when it comes to a carbon tax, Polak said in an interview. “The last time I checked, if you are in front, you are not following anyone, you are leading and we are leading by a lot,” Polak said.
The Liberal plan calls for BC to wait until other provinces catch up to the $30 per tonne carbon tax before increasing the level to $50 by 2022, as mandated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Polak pointed out that BC already has some of the lowest per capita emissions in the country because of clean hydropower.
According to Environment Canada figures, the 2013 emissions per capita for BC were 13.7 tonnes, compared to the Canadian average of 20.7 tonnes per capita and a whopping 66-plus tonnes per capita in Alberta and Saskatchewan. However, BC is slightly above per capita rates for Ontario and Quebec.
The relatively good performance makes it difficult to shave off emissions, Polak said. “The kind of emissions reductions we are going to get in BC are a lot of work to find. It’s a little like watching one of those programs where people compete to lose weight. If you are the person who is quite large, the weight drops quite quickly. If you are trying to drop the last 10 pounds, it’s difficult,” she said.
IN CONTRAST TO THE MIDSUMMER DOLDRUMS announcement from the Liberals, provincial New Democrats, with well-publicized support from several environmental organizations, announced details of their climate action plan in February. They promised to, among other things, unfreeze the carbon tax and set emissions targets for 2030 and 2050.
“I am sure it will be an issue in the election and we were more than happy to put out our plan well in advance of the election. We want people to know we have a plan and that we care,” said George Heyman, NDP environment spokesman. “It’s not a question of the environment or the economy. It’s a question of a strong economy based on strong action on climate change.”
Citing a study by Clean Energy Canada and Navius Research on the implications for jobs and the economy if BC met its 2050 climate target, the NDP plan states: “Climate leadership will create 900,000 new jobs between now and 2050 and provincial GDP is expected to nearly double to $425 billion a year by 2050.”
New Democrats would increase the carbon tax from $30 a tonne to $50 a tonne by 2022—estimated to cost consumers an extra 4.4 cents per litre, meaning a total of about 11.4 cents a litre carbon tax—and would start phasing in the increase in 2020 instead of 2021 as required by the national carbon price.
The NDP have made climate action a central plank of their platform. This contrasts to 2009 when they campaigned against a carbon tax. Leader John Horgan, while describing how the party views have changed since then, managed to accelerate the issue to the front burner with promises of a rebate cheque for 80 percent of households as the carbon tax increases, followed by direct investment of the tax proceeds in projects such as transit, infrastructure and clean technology. The NDP plan notes that right now “Less than 40 percent of BC families get a rebate from Christy Clark’s tax.” The bulk of the proceeds from the carbon tax—65 percent—go to corporate tax cuts.
Adding drama to the climate action differences, BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, a noted climate scientist, is playing his cards close to his chest and holding back on releasing his plan.
“We are not going to release the plan early because we have two parties that are out of ideas and, every time the BC Greens put something forward, they co-opt it as theirs. We will do it in due course,” Weaver said in an interview. When the BC Green’s roadmap to addressing climate change is released, it will certainly be better than anything that is currently on the table, he assured Focus.
“The Liberals have no plan and the NDP plan is that we will do something in 2020…It’s clear they are just kicking the can down the road and they won’t be held accountable for anything because it’s 2020,” said Weaver, adding that there has to be new thinking to replace three decades of failing to meet targets.
FOR THOSE WITHOUT A SCIENCE OR CLIMATOLOGY BACKGROUND, what are reasonable targets and how can the average voter assess the balance between economic interests and fighting climate change?
It’s a question that Andrew Gage, West Coast Environmental Law Association staff counsel, has attempted to answer with a score card comparing the Liberal and NDP plans.
Overall the NDP plan received a B and the Liberals received an F.
“The BC NDP’s climate plan suffers from a lack of detail, which is understandable given the more limited resources of an opposition party. It is a promising start, which will need to be fleshed out further if the party wins the election in May,” he wrote. The BC Liberals, on the other hand, he stated, “seem to have dropped the mantle of climate action that their former leader, Gordon Campbell, had taken up.”
In an interview, Gage explained that, provincially and nationally, governments have had a tradition of setting targets with no plans to get us there. Time is running out, he noted, yet the Liberal plan will not reduce emissions until after 2030. His scorecard shows that the Liberals, although they met the 2012 targets, failed to meet the 2016 target and will fail to meet the legislated 2020 target. “The government’s plan does affirm the 2050 target of an 80 percent reduction in emissions, but identifies no path to achieving it,” the score card notes.
The NDP plan also aims to achieve the 2050 target but proposes a new 2030 target of 40 percent reduction. The NDP will also create new targets for different parts of the BC economy, such as transportation, industry and home building, the report card notes.
On the job creation front, WCEL gives the NDP a B because it “recognizes the synergies between building a new type of economy and job creation” and its willingness to divert carbon tax revenue into transit, building retrofits and other measures to reduce carbon pollution.
The Liberals earn only a D: “The Liberal plan assumes that job creation lies in conventional industries, and does not fully realize the job creation potential of moving towards a sustainable economy.”
Gage noted that BC’s carbon emissions are on an upwards trajectory, and that the Liberal plan relies largely on forestry measures—ranging from tree-planting and fertilizing forests to increase the amount of carbon they can store, to using wood for building rather than pulp and paper.
Polak, when asked about this, argued that the government’s aggressive actions on forestry will save about 11 megatonnes annually. The government is aiming to reduce annual emissions by 20 megatonnes by 2050.
And, she insisted, emissions are not continuing to rise. “What we have seen is a slight uptick and then a slight downturn in the following years. The trend line is still down and we would like to see it going down more,” she said. Provincial figures show that in 2014—the latest year for which data is available—BC’s emissions had dropped by about 5.5 percent from the 66.3 megatonnes of emissions in the baseline year of 2007. However, there has been a 2.7 per cent increase since 2011.
To Polak’s complaint that the NDP plan gives no details on how to achieve targets, Heyman told me the NDP plan lays out the framework and, if elected as government, one of its first steps will be to reconvene the Climate Leadership Team—adding labour representatives to the mix of environmentalists, academics, First Nations, community and industry representatives—to recommend how to cut emissions sector by sector.
THE CLIMATE LEADERSHIP TEAM was put together by the Clark government in May 2015 with a mandate to provide recommendations on updating the Province’s climate action plan and advising government on policies needed to meet emissions targets while maintaining a strong economy.
The members were a who’s-who of the academic, environmental, First Nations, business and community sectors, with members such as Pedersen, Matt Horne of the Pembina Institute, Merran Smith of Clean Energy Canada and David Keane of the BC LNG Alliance.
Remarkably, in November 2015, the team released a blueprint for reducing carbon pollution and reached consensus on 32 recommendations, with only one key recommendation on increasing the carbon tax by $10 a year starting in 2018, having a dissenting opinion from one member.
The recommendations included reaffirming the 2050 target of 80 percent reduction in emissions below the 2007 level; a 2030 target of 40 percent reduction, broken down through the transportation, industrial and building sectors; expanding coverage of the carbon tax to all emission sources; amending the Environmental Assessment Act to include the social cost of carbon; amending the Clean Energy Act to increase the target for clean energy to 100 percent by 2025; phasing out diesel generation in remote communities; reducing fugitive and vented methane emissions; and development of a low-carbon transportation strategy.
The plan seems to have been removed from the web and Tzeporah Berman, a member of the team, said “Not a single recommendation was accepted as we designed it.” She also told Focus that the NDP has been consulting with team members and, although there is no plan to take up the team’s original recommendation of a $10 carbon tax increase by 2018, the plans appear positive. She feels it makes sense to harmonize carbon tax increases with federal pricing and simultaneously increase regulations to meet emissions reduction targets.
Berman also noted that, “The evidence is showing regulations in California, like zero emission vehicles and tighter low carbon fuel standards are having a bigger impact than price, ” and that both are needed to meet targets.
Polak disputed the claim that her government has ignored all the recommendations. “The plan we announced, which is only phase one and will get us 25 megatonnes, addresses 19 of their 32 recommendations,” she said. “Where the team was expressing their displeasure was with us not taking the aggressive pricing they wanted us to pursue in our carbon tax and there is good reason for that,” Polak said. Other provinces have to first come up to BC’s standard, she reiterated.
THE STICKING POINT for many environmental groups doing comparisons of the climate plans is the Liberals’ inclusion of subsidies for the LNG industry.
Provincial numbers show natural gas accounted for 18 percent of the Province’s 2014 emissions, and they will rise if the LNG industry takes off.
Polak argues that using electricity instead of natural gas in the production of both oil and gas, reduces emissions while ensuring that jobs are saved. She said that, on the international stage, many jurisdictions are a couple of decades away from viable renewable energy, such as solar or wind, so offering natural gas from BC, which is “the cleanest LNG in the world,” means they are not using coal or diesel. “You have a chance to significantly reduce emissions worldwide,” she said.
BC has an emissions cap on LNG facilities, but critics say that although LNG is cleaner than coal, emissions from extraction still make it impossible to count LNG as a clean industry.
West Coast Environmental Law’s Andrew Gage said BC’s climate plan must be one of the only ones in the world that proposes to increase subsidies to fossil fuels in the name of climate action, through cheap electricity and infrastructure for LNG and other oil and gas operations. “Making sure the LNG industry has cheap electricity seems to be counter to the goals of a climate plan. When you make sure you have extra ways to extract fossil fuels, I don’t consider it to be a climate plan. It’s more a ‘let’s appear to be doing something’ plan,” he said.
Economist Marc Lee described government support for LNG expansion and subsidies, which include a low royalty regime locked in for 25 years, as a massive contradiction. “All of that will completely swamp any benefits that are going to come from this very modest plan,” he said.
As for the NDP, leader John Horgan has said LNG projects will be considered only if they are in the right location, First Nations concerns are resolved, and emissions fit within a carbon reduction plan.
For Heyman the key is developing clean energy in BC and creating jobs based on a green economy. “If you look around the world, the clean energy sector is thriving…We can do that in BC if we have a carbon reduction plan throughout every sector that is mapped out for years to come,” he said.
Weaver, who finds little substance in the NDP plan, does agree that clean energy and green jobs are the key to a prosperous future for BC. “We cannot talk about a climate plan in isolation from an economic plan. That will be our strategy. Our climate plan will actually be our economic plan,” he said. “The economic opportunity of dealing with emissions is the greatest economic revolution humanity will ever experience,” he said.
Steve Kux, a climate change analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation, said BC has a long way to go in supporting a clean tech industry, even though it is apparent that those are the jobs that will become more valuable as the world moves away from fossil fuels. “There’s definitely an opportunity. The question is whether or not we are going to see it,” he said.
As political parties present their conflicting views of the best way to fight emissions and deal with the changing climate, the Province’s Auditor General Carol Bellringer is looking at whether the Province is adequately managing risks presented by climate change. Unfortunately, her report will not be completed until after the election.
So British Columbians will have to weigh the different visions before heading to the polls. Andrew Gage is hoping people will vote for the kind of future they want to see for our planet and communities. “Climate change has always been an issue that the more you understand about it, the more upsetting and scary it gets,” he said.
Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith.
The “selling sickness” model is in full display in pushing grade 6 boys towards a questionable vaccine.
DESPITE THE TITLE, be assured I am addressing this to all busy parents—both moms and dads who juggle households, careers and kids in sports—in the hope that you might take a few minutes to learn about a decision you will soon be asked to make.
If you are the parent of a middle-school boy in the fall of 2017, you will be asked to get your son vaccinated for the human papilloma virus (HPV) that is linked to cervical cancer. Since your son doesn’t have a cervix, you might be wondering, uh, WTF?
To which I would say, haven’t you heard of the worldwide epidemic of anal and penile cancers, not to mention an incredible rise in HPV-related genital warts? I know this because I follow health media closely and followed a huge bolus of vaguely familiar scare stories passing through the digestive system of the media last fall. These stories featured the same prominent patient “spokespeople” telling us that we need to be worried about the genital health of our boys. Clearly this was a textbook disease-mongering campaign, where the marketers know that raising the spectre of a horrific epidemic of something (in this case it’s a virus, but it could be your cholesterol or bone density) will often drive you to the doctor to demand something to deal with or avoid it.
Well, the BC government decided last month they might as well just give in and submit to the corporate-sponsored media messages linked to the HPV vaccine makers Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, two of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies. Along for the ride were the Canadian Cancer Society and assorted industry-linked cancer researchers who were all playing their part in the lobbying machine designed to get the government to subsidize the vaccine for boys. Promotions even featured a 13-year-old boy from BC who apparently was part of a human rights complaint against the BC government because they only paid for the HPV vaccine for girls. Sheesh. Using kids for a pharma-sponsored marketing schtick strikes me as a crime against humanity.
But I digress. At the very least, the $400 vaccine becomes a seamless way to transfer our tax dollars to two big pharmaceutical companies via your boy.
I’ve been a professional chronicler of selling sickness for over 20 years. Selling Sickness is the name of the 2005 book I wrote with Australian journalist Ray Moynihan. Way before there was even an HPV vaccine, Ray and I were documenting the pharmaceutical industry’s thorough involvement in the creation and selling of disease in order to expand markets for their products. From pumping up a little-known risk factor into a disease, then funding the care and feeding of researchers and specialists, while enlisting the professional media to drive interest, and fuelling the legislative campaigns to get a new drug covered, we’ve seen it all before—because that’s how the model works.
In the marketing of the two HPV vaccines which target a few strains of the virus believed to lead to some forms of cancer, they often downplay one simple fact: The vast majority of us will get HPV in our lives and clear it like the common cold virus.
Gardasil, the first vaccine for HPV, started being recommended for girls in 2006, despite the lack of any proof it has prevented a single case of cervical cancer. Persistent HPV infections may increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer and a man’s risk of HPV-related anal, penile, mouth and throat cancers (especially if they sleep with other men). Even though the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) recognizes over 40 distinct types of HPV infection which can infect the genital tract, they say “about 90 percent of infections are asymptomatic and resolve spontaneously within two years.”
Then why is there such a push to vaccinate all boys? (Boys with “increased risk” because they have sex with men, are questioning their sexual orientation, are street-involved, infected with HIV, or are in care or in custody, are already eligible for free vaccination.)
Well, the two vaccine makers are doing what drug companies do best: They are trying to expand their markets and bring increased profits to shareholders. That means selling the disease. One study that came out last month said half the men in the US are infected with HPV, yet only “11 percent of men and 33 percent of women have been vaccinated.” This is a classic tactic in selling sickness: point out the incredible underserved population. The companies have already developed the vaccine, now they just have to get more and more people to think about the spectre of genital warts—and get governments to pay for it.
As a parent, you might have had your daughter immunized with the HPV vaccine. I hope that went ok, but let me tell you, it hasn’t been ok for some parents. Did you know that the vaccine is highly controversial, and that, for example, the Japanese government withdrew its recommendation of the HPV vaccine back in 2013, citing serious vaccine-related adverse effects. You probably don’t know about groups in places like Spain, Denmark and France that are petitioning governments to remove the HPV vaccine due to what they see as a large number of young girls suffering serious adverse events following an HPV vaccination (e.g. headache, nausea, fainting, fatigue, loss of memory and numbness in their hands and legs).
Public health authorities in the US maintain the vaccine is safe, yet as of December 2016 the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting (VAER) system in the US lists 49,033 adverse events linked to the HPV vaccine and 300 deaths. Remember, these are associations, not proven causation. Experts almost always call adverse event reports made to regulators “anecdotal,” but does that mean we should ignore them altogether? Does that mean the vaccine will be perfectly safe for boys?
Global concern over the many unexplained adverse effects of the HPV vaccine was so high that the European Medicines Agency ordered a review of the HPV vaccine. This extensive study eventually reported that it was generally “safe.” Unfortunately that EMA assessment is most certainly flawed, according to Dr Tom Jefferson, who works with the Cochrane Collaboration and Oxford’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine. He understands why European countries were questioning the HPV vaccine’s safety, writing that “there is a possible association between exposure of young women to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines and two ‘dysautonomic syndromes’ (a collection of signs and symptoms thought to be caused by autoimmunity)—complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS).” There have been reports of girls developing weird autoimmune disorders and a range of other symptoms. Dr Jefferson has examined the EMA’s evaluation in great detail and found this “safety review” was hardly an independent assessment as it mostly relied on manufacturer-supplied data. This is like letting the kids mark their own papers.
Meanwhile, that EMA report is cited by public health officials, including our own Provincial Health Officer Dr Perry Kendall, as proof of the vaccine’s safety. Of the HPV vaccine, he said in a news release, “Vaccine safety monitoring continues to show the safety of the HPV immunization,” adding that “it’s just as effective in preventing HPV-related cancers in males as it is in females, and the benefits are long-lasting.”
I hope he’s right. But hang on, “long lasting benefits”? C’mon, even the highest-ranking doctor in BC doesn’t have any access to data on the long-term effects of these vaccines. No one does. Remember, soccer moms and dads, HPV is an incredibly common virus, which happens to spread mostly (but not always) through sexual contact, and more than 90 percent of people clear the virus on their own with no problem.
You may find yourself asking: Why haven’t I heard about this before? Some of you might have caught wind of parts of the controversies, but the guiding hand of pharma’s marketing machine, their influence on the media, patient groups, physicians, researchers, and politicians is professional, thorough and mostly invisible.
Given the many unanswered questions, you might wonder why the BC government is now interested in paying for the HPV vaccine for boys. Lori Cascaden, a spokesperson at the BC Ministry at Health, wrote me to say: “when a new or improved vaccine is approved for use, BC considers it for inclusion in the publicly-funded schedule using a number of factors to inform the decision, including: efficacy, burden of illness, cost-effectiveness, feasibility of delivery, and public acceptability.”
Sounds good, except to say on all those factors, immunizing our boys with the HPV vaccine simply doesn’t pass muster.
Me? I’d prefer if the Ministry just admitted what is really going on. Why don’t they tell us that despite the $2.2 million (plus “operational costs”) this decision will cost us, everyone who has a prominent opinion on HPV is in on the lobbying game. The Canadian Cancer Society, for instance, proudly displays Merck’s logo on its website and tells us that they, “along with 25 other health organizations, submitted a letter to BC Health Minister Terry Lake in early June requesting an expansion of BC’s vaccination program to include all genders.” Is it worth noting that in 2016 the Society received a one-million-dollar contribution from Merck, the maker of Gardasil, to create a new website about the latest scientific discoveries in cancer?
So, soccer parents, you’ve got a few months to think about this decision and do some research. Try to steer clear of the HPV propaganda if you can, and remember, in this government where “pharma-friendly” should be the logo of the Ministry of Health, your boys are a really convenient way to transfer money to the pharmaceutical companies—which have also donated generously to the BC Liberal Party. Health policy is something we all need to consider as we head towards the May 2017 provincial election.
Alan Cassels is a Victoria author and pharmaceutical policy researcher. He has written four books on the medical screening and pharmaceutical industry including the latest, The Cochrane Collaboration: Medicine’s Best Kept Secret.
Environment Minister Polak cancelled South Island Aggregates’ wastewater discharge permit, but will the bad taste left behind impact the provincial election?
CHAMPAGNE FLOWED in Shawnigan Lake village in late February as elated residents celebrated Environment Minister Mary Polak’s decision to cancel the provincial permit for a controversial contaminated waste site upstream from the lake that supplies their drinking water.
“We were celebrating with champagne and hugs and even a few tears. After an hour-and-a-half there were five empty bottles of champagne. This celebration has been a long time coming,” said Sonia Furstenau, Shawnigan’s director on the Cowichan Valley Regional District board and a Green Party candidate in Cowichan Valley.
However, Polak’s decision, although a major victory, is not quite the end of the war that came to a head in 2013 when the Province issued a permit allowing Cobble Hill Holdings to store up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year on the Stebbings Road property.
Until the soil is removed, residents will be keeping a wary eye on the weather wondering if rain or snow will bring poison flowing into the adjacent stream and, over time, into Shawnigan Lake.
“It’s not the end. We need to get the soil removed,” said Furstenau, who has been at the forefront of the community battle.
Provincial tests showed that, late last year, nine metals exceeded drinking water guidelines, and concerned residents are adamant that Polak must ensure the site is completely cleaned.
In January, BC Supreme Court Justice Robert Sewell referred the case back to the Environmental Appeal Board after he found Cobble Hill Holdings had given “false and misleading” evidence about the company’s relationship with Active Earth Engineering Ltd, which conducted the site’s technical assessment, but also had an ownership interest in the operation.
That made it clear that the entire premise for choosing the site was flawed and unreliable, said Furstenau, who wants to work with the provincial and federal governments to clear the site.
“It was the federal government who sent contaminated soil from CFB Esquimalt to this site, even though they knew there were significant problems” Furstenau said. “They need to come and get their soil and take it away.”
Polak, who previously suspended the permit in January after the company failed to provide the ministry with sufficient information or security bonds, said Cobble Hill Holdings still has responsibility for the site and ministry technical staff will decide what actions are necessary.
“All contaminated soil is not created equal, so the appropriate treatment of that soil will be determined in conjunction with the work that our staff will do,” Polak said. And if necessary, the Province will not hesitate to take legal action, she said.
However, lawyer John Alexander, who acts for Cobble Hill Holdings, warned that people should not jump to conclusions. “I have not had a chance to review and understand the minister’s decision yet, but there should not be an assumption that there is any remediation required,” he said in an email. “This comes as a shock to the company after it worked hard to answer the ministry’s concerns within the time provided,” he added
Meanwhile, the long battle over the dump will inevitably be an issue in the provincial election.
Furstenau’s opponents include Liberal Steve Housser, who also fought the Province’s decision to allow the dump. He’ll likely face residual anger against the Liberals in Shawnigan for the government’s lengthy reluctance to step in. But Housser is hoping his personal credibility and willingness to speak out strongly against the project, combined with Polak’s recent decision, will outweigh that anger.
“The government did not know at the time that they were dealing with people who would stoop to using flawed and misleading evidence. The permit was given without full knowledge of the characters they were dealing with,” he said.
If elected as part of a Liberal government, Housser wants to ensure that no other community is forced to raise money through sock hops and bottle drives to defend itself against its own government in efforts to protect the drinking water supply. “There should be an understanding that a watershed that people depend on for drinking water should be off limits for contaminated material,” he said.
It’s certainly a concept supported by Furstenau, who emphasizes that water safety should be a concern for communities all over BC and a priority for government. The Liberal government has failed to adequately protect water in the province, largely because of lack of enforcement and weak compliance regulations, she said.
The Cowichan Valley seat has been held for the last eight years by New Democrat Bill Routley, who is retiring, and the recently-nominated NDP candidate is Lori Iannidinardo, a Cowichan Valley Regional District director.
Iannidinardo said that, through the CVRD, she has been involved in the dump battle from the early days. “Government didn’t act appropriately at all—they shouldn’t have given them a permit. I am running to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” she said. “Our communities have paid one million dollars fighting against our own government.”
Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith.
The City of Victoria wants to build a $70-million swimming pool but must first obtain consent from electors to borrow $60 million. Will they vote Yes?
ON FEBRUARY 16, Victoria councillors agreed to direct City staff to draw up plans to replace Crystal Pool, at a cost of up to $69.4 million, and to hold a referendum, likely at the end of 2017, that could see the City borrowing up to $60 million — the largest amount in its history.
But Victorians are going to be asking many other questions before we see the one on the referendum ballot.
Do we really need a new pool? Six years ago, a report by CEI Architecture said Crystal’s mechanical and electrical systems had “effectively reached the point of failure” and the pool was at risk of “immediate shutdown.” Last December, a followup study by HCMA Architecture + Design estimated that refurbishing the pool would cost $41 million and add 30 years to its life, while a $69.4-million replacement would last 50 years. There’s not much difference in per-year costs, but HCMA claimed a new facility would tap into a “latent demand” for swimming, resulting in a 22 percent increase in use.
Why so expensive? HCMA recommended a 50-metre new pool, based on surveys of some 1200 people (presumably most of them current users), and estimated it would cost $35 million to build. The other half of the $70-million budget is taken up by “soft costs” (design, project management), escalation, and funding for contingencies; this means the City won’t have to drain its reserves to cover overruns as it has for the new Johnson Street Bridge. Yes, Langford did open a new facility last year in partnership with the Westhills development and the YMCA/YWCA that cost $30 million, but their pool is only 25 metres long. City of Victoria staff say the Y doesn’t want to take on another project, and Victoria’s NDP councillors are against any deal that might threaten the “public” (unionized) status of the pool.
The main question is, though: Do you trust your City to manage another big project? The City staffers who sold us a new bridge have all moved on, but the arguments for replacement sound eerily similar. We’re facing an emergency. Repair means closure for a year or more. A new facility will be more accessible, and energy-efficient. The criticisms sound familiar too. The City has been warning that the pool is “nearing the end of its usable life” since at least 2004. The City has been conducting demolition by neglect. (CEI noted that “for the greatest portion of the building’s life, maintenance requirements have been deferred or completed only on an ‘as failed’ basis.”) The City refuses to simply repair as it goes, and largely ignored a 2015 Stantec report that said refurbishing or replacing the pool’s major systems would cost only $6.3 million and extend its life by 15 years. And the huge budget for soft costs and contingencies looks like a buffet for consultants’ fees.
It’s hard to guess, at this early stage, how the referendum will go: in a recent CHEK web poll, only 51 percent of 1175 respondents said Yes to a $69-million new pool. Although the pool sees 400,000 visits annually, the City doesn’t know what percentage of residents actually use the pool, or how much they’re willing to pay for it. The pool’s 4750 passholders will likely vote Yes, but the No side may be cheered on by business owners, who will also get hit with the 3.5 percent property-tax increase projected for replacement.
Recently I wrote to Mayor Lisa Helps, asking her to take the time to survey more of the public and determine what type of pool we want and can afford. Attaching a copy of a 2009 article on the decaying Crystal, she replied, “I think we’ve probably waited long enough to make a decision.”
She may be right. And there certainly would be benefits to having a brand-new aquatic centre. But later this year we’ll get the detailed costs of sewage treatment and a new firehall, and we’ll see if the new bridge and Downtown’s two-way bike lanes work as promised. If all that news is bad, the mayor may have to wait before diving into a new pool.
Award-winning journalist Ross Crockford is a director of johnsonstreetbridge.org, a former editor of Monday Magazine, and the author of Victoria: The Unknown City.
Despite all the noise, pollution and overfishing—the orca are still here.
IT IS A COLD, WINDY MORNING in the new year at Deception Pass, a spectacular narrow channel between Whidbey Island and the mainland at the US end of the Salish Sea. Around 70 people are gathered to mourn the death of 10 members of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) in 2016 alone. Amongst the deaths are Granny, J2, believed to be over 100 years old, and nine other members of this endangered orca population—three of them newborns. The Samish people (relatives of Saanich First Nations) are holding the ceremony, sending cedar planks graced with chinook salmon and boughs of cedar out to sea as an offering to the whale families—J, K and L pods.
Samish elder, Rose James, a granny herself, wraps the witnesses in blankets; drummers accompany the singers as they push the fish out on the makeshift boats.
For the Samish, the whales are their family. The stories and songs have been composed from thousands of years of co-habiting these waters.
James thanks S’ila (Granny) for showing herself to people and making them happy. Loons, scoters and buffleheads bob offshore and bald eagles, gulls and some wily crows eye up the salmon. The human witnesses are from all around the Salish Sea: whale scientists, ecotourism operators, members of orca-related non-profits, journalists and people who just love whales.
With the population of resident orca now down to 78 individuals, our little human group mirrors the whales in more ways than just numbers and range of ages. Like us, these orca have complex cultures and diverse languages. They care for their families and are led by matriarchs, long after their reproductive years. They have rituals for sharing territory. They sing, share their food, play, court, nurse their babies and, like us, grieve at loss.
I look around at the faces and reflect on what it would be like if this was all that was left of my community. I imagine the decimation is not unlike what the Samish and other indigenous groups endured through colonization. What would it be like to lose 10 percent of this clan in one year? Losing three of the babies to accumulated toxins in mother’s milk would be devastating. Young adults are dying from accidents with ships and starvation. For the orca, the prime food (80 percent) is chinook salmon, which have been overfished, their spawning rivers dammed and polluted.
One of the Samish speakers notes that when matriarchs like Granny die, a century of knowledge is lost for the families. The genealogical history of Granny carries not only orca and Samish history, but our western environmental history. Moby Doll, the young L-pod male who was captured in 1964, launched international awareness of orca societies, but also led to their popularity in aquariums. Moby Doll was likely Granny’s son. Lolita (Tokitae), who has been incarcerated for 46 years in a Miami aquarium, galvanized an international community around her release. She too is an offspring of Granny. Both were captured within sound range of where we are standing.
Every five minutes, the ceremony is interrupted by fighter jets—flying barely 100 metres above us. They are so loud that everyone immediately puts their hands over their ears. The speakers, singers and drummers stop and wait until the jets have descended to the naval airbase at nearby Oak Harbour, and then resume.
The orca likely have a similar reaction to the noise of ship traffic. In order to catch chinook, orca need to echolocate, but if the equivalent of a fighter jet flies by every five minutes, they have no choice but to go silent and wait out the noise like we do. Earlier, I had asked a local walking her dog how she and her pet coped with this ear-shattering noise. She looked at me suspiciously and said: “It’s the sound of freedom.”
At the ceremony, however, a young woman tells me she left Texas where she was born and raised, the offspring of a petrochemical engineer, to find a culture for whom whale calls were the sound of freedom. And I’m reminded of how whales draw people from all cultures to a greater awareness and connection to the natural world. For those who have been raised to believe humans are separate from the rest of the natural world, often their first inkling that we are all connected comes from these animals. Through the story of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, people see how orca survival is intrinsically linked to their own.
MANY OF THE PEOPLE AT THE CEREMONY have made the pilgrimage there after attending a full-day research workshop hosted by the Orca Network. Howard Garrett, the co-founder of Orca Network, started working for the Centre for Whale Research in 1981. He and his partner Susan Berta have been tireless educators and activists ever since. The workshop raised the question: Is there hope for reversing the orca population decline?
The answer, according to researchers, is yes, but it will require cooperation throughout the watershed in both countries. From the American side, they are working against the ecological clock to get permits to breach four dams on the Lower Snake River and restore key historic chinook spawning grounds. Jim Waddell, retired US Army Corps of Engineers who leads the charge, told me Obama had given the OK but they got stalled at the state level. Now with President Trump, they are back at square one, though no less determined.
On the noise issue, acoustic researchers Val and Scott Veirs have documented the range of acoustical noise of large ships in US waters, measuring the noise-output of 1600 vessels in all. The Veirs team have narrowed down the offenders to specific bulk carriers, tankers and container ships. Since the 1960s, the growth of commercial fishing has resulted in a 10-fold increase in low-frequency noise. Reducing the traffic, both in terms of number and noise frequency is part of the solution.
A traffic reduction or limit in terms of area would also help to reduce ship strikes, which was what killed J-34, Doublestuff, this December.
Canadians have also started their own acoustic research project, ECHO, with Port Metro Vancouver setting up a hydrophone listening station to monitor underwater vessel noise.
At the research workshop, attendees also heard about Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s Population Viability Analysis which ranks the various threats to the Southern Resident Killer Whales, and determines the ability of the population to recover. The analysis shows that by increasing chinook populations and quieting the sea, we can almost eliminate the risk of them going extinct within the next century.
As a result of its analysis, Raincoast has launched a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion. The judicial review is requested on the basis that legal protections for marine species at risk were not applied. Raincoast wasn’t the only one stating that the Southern Resident Killer Whales would have a high chance of extinction with the project. Kinder Morgan and the National Energy Board came to the same conclusion, with NEB acknowledging there would be “significant adverse effects.”
Despite that, the project was greenlighted by both federal and provincial governments in their determination to expand ports to get bitumen to market.
As for increasing their food supply, according to a 2010 DFO scientists’ study on chinook salmon, the Southern Resident Killer Whales need 67,000-81,000 chinook over the peak summer feeding period. The conclusion was that chinook fisheries management plans should take the orca’s needs into account “in order to ensure adequate chinook availability for the whales in their Critical Habitats.” Not surprisingly, the federal government under Stephen Harper in 2015 ignored its own scientists and drew up an Action Plan for the Southern Residents that would only “investigate” fisheries closures as a “possible” tool in poor chinook return years.
Fishing levels of chinook are pretty high these days, sometimes at 40 percent or more of stock assessments. This is in a population where spawners have declined in rivers by more than 50 percent over the last 15 years. A 2015 study by Lacey et al showed that just a 20 percent increase in chinook consumption would reverse the decline of the Southern Resident Killer Whales and provide a 1.9 percent growth rate of the pods.
But the forces are stacked against that happening. In 2015, the US and Canadian fishing industries caught close to 2 million chinook. About 80 percent of the salmon caught in BC waters is harvested by Jimmy Pattison Group’s Canadian Fishing Company (Canfisco), and there seems little appetite to let a pesky pod of orca get between the corporate fishing industry and its profits. Another division of the Pattison Group, Westshore Terminals, is Canada’s busiest coal-export terminal, catering to those noisy coal bulk carriers at Robert’s Bank. Pattison has been a big supporter of the BC Liberals; in total, Pattison-related corporations have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Liberals over the past decade.
IT WASN'T ALL BAD NEWS at the Orca Network’s research workshop. Veteran whale researcher John Calambokidis brought some good news about the other whale populations of the Salish Sea. Since 1990, researchers have noticed growing numbers of what constitutes a Salish Sea resident grey whale pod, affectionately known as Sounders. With grey whales returning to historic levels and reaching a carrying capacity on the feeding grounds off the outer coast, a group of greys have moved into the Salish Sea where they spend their spring.
Using amazing footage from suction cup video tags, Calambokidis’ research shows that these whales forage on ghost shrimps in the mudflats of the Snohomish Estuary. As their numbers rise, they could well return to the mudflats of the Fraser Estuary. Calambokidis has found these animals equally as sociable and complex as orca. Unfortunately, they are subject to the same threats of oil spills, ship strikes, and habitat destruction from shipping ports that orcas are.
Humpbacks are also returning to their historic numbers with a population that has levelled off after increasing at 7-8 percent a year. Humpbacks are recolonizing the Salish Sea not just seasonally but overwinter, providing frequent sightings on ferries for visitors.
Likewise, fin whales are increasing at 3-5 percent a year and were spotted in the Juan de Fuca Strait last summer for the first time in a century. Fins are the second-largest whales in the world and forage after krill (small crustaceans). Prior to the voluntary arrival of the fins, the only time you would see these whales around here was dead, wrapped around the bow of a ship. The US banned krill fishing in 2009 to provide for marine mammal foraging and the well-being of other species; Canada wouldn’t follow suit.
BACK AT DECEPTION PASS, the ceremony ends with a feast for the humans. We retreat into a little park hut to get out of the cold wind and reduce the jet noise. There we find a welcoming table of bannock, smoked salmon and hot drinks.
The Samish ceremony left me with a lot of hope. The whales are still here, despite everything thrown at them. They are strong, determined, and have kept their language even with a century of suppression. They are reminding us all what the real sound of freedom is.
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.
Mel Bolen and Jim Munro built monuments to the written word.
IN 1963, Jim Munro was managing the fabric department of an Eaton’s department store in Vancouver. A mundane job. But he had a secret dream: to own a bookshop.
“He was not really a team player, and he did not play golf, so he really wasn’t going to advance very far at Eaton’s,” his daughter Sheila told the audience gathered at Jim Munro’s memorial service, held on February 20 at Alix Goolden Hall. “His friends told him he was crazy, there was no money in books, Victoria was a backwater, and so on. But it made no difference. One of my father’s great virtues was that he didn’t necessarily pay attention to the advice of others.”
Victoria lost two pillars of its literary community late last year, when Jim Munro, the founder of Munro’s Books, died in November at the age of 87, and Mel Bolen, the founder of Bolen Books, died just before Christmas at age 72. Though their obituaries have been written, their legacies endure, and it’s worth reflecting upon how their unique personalities and shared determination helped make Victoria the city it is today.
As Sheila said in her tribute to Jim, “All the things he loved came together in his bookstore.” Jim grew up in Oakville, Ontario—not a place famous for aesthetic interests—but rode the train into Toronto to attend art college, and travel around town with his grandfather, a United Church minister who taught him to appreciate grand architecture and a good argument. At age 14, Jim was so moved from hearing The Magic Flute on the radio that he started collecting records and inviting friends to listen to them. “When he discovered something he was passionate about,” Sheila said, “he had to share it.”
At the University of Western Ontario, Jim met Alice Laidlaw, an aspiring author, and they married in 1951. Jim started working for Eaton’s (his father was chief accountant for the company), and they moved to Vancouver where he often entertained their three young daughters so Alice had time to write. But Vancouver’s book market was dominated by the local Duthie chain, so Jim decided to build a store in Victoria, and he and Alice established Munro’s Books on Yates Street, across the street from the Odeon movie theatre. Their shop, known for its hippie decor, was a success, partly because it was the only one in Canada to stock the work of the Beat poets, which Jim got from regularly visiting Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s bookstore in San Francisco.
Alice Munro won the Governor General’s award for her first collection of short stories in 1968. She and Jim separated in 1972, but they remained friends, and he persisted with his dream. In 1984, he chanced on an art show in a former Royal Bank on Government Street that had been “hideously” renovated with linoleum floors and dropped ceilings concealing the building’s neoclassical columns. He haggled with the owners for two years, bought the building for $360,000 (it’s now assessed at $4.1M), and his second wife, the fabric artist Carole Sabiston, designed the store, turning a bank—as Pacific Opera Victoria artistic director Timothy Vernon told the audience—“into a temple to the life of the mind.” In 2015, National Geographic Travel named Munro’s one of the Top 10 bookstores in the world.
Jim was also a great citizen. He was one of the founders of POV, and once financed an opera performance in Beacon Hill Park. Passionate about local history and politics—longtime Victoria councillor Pam Madoff said Jim was her “barometer” for the mood of Downtown businesses—he served on numerous City committees and the Provincial Capital Commission, and was instrumental in getting Ogden Point cleaned up to welcome cruise-ship passengers. Dave Hill, a manager for 40 years at Munro’s, said one of Jim’s favourite tasks was polishing the brass nameplates outside the store, because regular customers or total strangers would come up and chat with him. “Jim enjoyed people. That’s part of what made him a great businessman.”
MADELINE “MEL” BOLEN also came from an unlikely background for a bookseller. She grew up in Saskatchewan, only received a Grade 8 education, and worked in a bakery. She got into the book business when her husband took over a small bookshop in Hillside Mall in 1975. But they split up soon afterward, and Mel had to take over the business to raise their two children, putting in long hours to make it succeed.
“People loved her work ethic,” said Mel’s daughter Samantha, in her office at Bolen Books. In the 1970s, banks wouldn’t give loans to single women, but the manager of the mall was so impressed by Mel’s determination that he co-signed a loan so she could expand her store, which she did several times. Today, at 20,000 square feet, Bolen Books is one of the largest independent bookstores in Canada.
One would think a mall would be an unusual place for a thriving bookstore, but as Samantha told me, Victorians are unique in our support for independent businesses, and our tendency to shop in our neighbourhoods instead of driving across town. Unlike most malls, Hillside is also surrounded by houses, so it serves as a kind of community centre. “We also have a college and a university nearby, and Uplands. That’s diverse. You’ve got students who want to get a coffee and look at books, you’ve got people who have more money, and right behind us, you’ve got working families. This could not be a better area for a bookstore.”
Mel made it work because she knew her customers, and she took chances. “She was very daring, she would order 50 or 200 copies if she saw a book she liked and knew it would do well,” Howard White, the founder of Harbour Publishing, told me. “She would really get behind it, she’d put the author out in the concourse of the mall with a big stack of books, put ads in the newspaper, and really push it.” While Munro’s tended to host book signings by politicians (Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien) or literary authors (Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje), Bolen celebrated popular writers in a wide variety of genres, whether it was comedy (Charlie Farquharson), gothic erotica (Anne Rice), science fiction (William Gibson), or sports (Ken Dryden).
“The experience at Bolen Books taught me what people really read,” said Robert J. Wiersema, who organized many of those author events, and now is a successful novelist. “When you work in a bookstore you see the value that whole genres of books that are often disparaged hold for people, and why. As a writer, that was really valuable. It doesn’t have to be Can Lit, or literary fiction—what’s important is the connection the book makes, and the effect it has on the reader.”
Mel and Jim’s instincts were so refined that they also knew when it was time to pass their businesses to another generation. Mel retired and sold Bolen Books to Samantha in 2010, and Jim turned Munro’s over to four senior employees in 2014, the same year he was named to the Order of Canada.
Asked then what advice he would’ve given his younger self about getting into books, he replied, “Don’t do it, too uncertain…It’s a tough time for the book business.” But as he noted, it’s often been tough.
Book publishing remains strong: The industry is still worth almost $1 billion in Canada alone. The current challenge for bookstores comes mainly from online dealers, which account for half of all books sold. But even Amazon is opening bricks-and-mortar stores (in Seattle, Portland and San Diego, and six more coming soon), perhaps realizing that many readers still crave the tangible pleasures and communities of learning that surround real, physical books.
Mel Bolen and Jim Munro built monuments to the written word, and made Victoria known as a place where it is celebrated. Now it’s up to us to see that their legacies continue and thrive.
Ross Crockford is a journalist, former editor of Monday Magazine and author of Victoria: The Unknown City.
Artist Susan Point has pushed boundaries for women and Coast Salish design.
SINCE LAST AUGUST, anyone passing the 700 block of Johnson Street will likely have seen “Woven Together,” a public artwork installed on the façade of the Johnson Street Parkade. It is made of powder-coated aluminum forms in colours ranging from golden yellows and oranges to cool blues to muted browns and blacks. The forms fit together to describe circles, either in total or by suggestion using negative space. The effect, should you pause in your daily rush (and shouldn’t we all, now and then?), is of several circles advancing and receding with your eye’s movement, making a private communication to the viewer in this very public realm. Look a little longer and you will see eyes, butterfly wings, or just a collection of intriguing concave and convex shapes fitted together to make a whole. As is typical of contemporary Coast Salish artwork, it is at once engagingly complex and poetically simple.
The artwork is by Susan Point and one of her four children, Thomas Cannell. It is one of many of her public artworks that, like a silent story, punctuate Coast Salish territory (the lower mainland, southern Vancouver Island, and northern coast of Washington State). With these and private works, Susan Point has been credited for bringing the intricate flow of Coast Salish visual style back into practice, leading by example and inspiring many more young artists to spark a renaissance in Coast Salish art (she has the awards and accolades to prove it, including the Order of Canada). Perhaps one of the most bold declarations of Coast Salish style is her giant red cedar spindle whorl and welcome figures installed at the Vancouver International Airport in 1995 and ’96.
The spindle whorl, a round weaving implement, is an important item in Coast Salish culture. Usually made of wood, the discs are traditionally about eight inches in diameter and carved with shapes of humans and animals using distinctive design elements such as crescents, trigons and ovals. As part of their great spinning and weaving tradition, Coast Salish women have been using them for centuries.
Susan Point’s own mother, Edna Grant-Point, is among those women. She and other family members had a great influence on Point’s future career as an artist. Born in Alert Bay while the family was salmon fishing in 1952, Point was raised on the Musqueam Reserve near Vancouver. Point recalls, “We, my brothers and sisters, watched our mother wash, card and spin wool endlessly as we grew up…she was an excellent knitter.”
Her mother’s methods left a great impression on Point: “In creating her designs for knitting, my mother would design her images on graph paper—in an old ragged graph book that she had for years—using dots to create an overall design. To me, this was amazing!”
Along with aunts and an uncle, her mother also instilled a great awareness of her culture in Point, which, combined with her natural environs, she uses as inspiration in her artwork today. Despite having spent five years as a child in residential school, Point, now 64, says, “I will never forget the cultural teachings I was taught as a young child and I will forever cherish the stories and legends I was told.”
While she had the stories, the visual culture of the Northwest Coast First Nations had been only associated with northern groups like the Haida and the Kwakwaka’wakw. “It was not until January of 1981 that I first became aware of our unique art form while taking a jewellery course at Vancouver Community College,” she relates. She was on maternity leave from a legal secretary job at the time. Intrigued, she set out to learn more. Over time she travelled to museums and public archives in Canada, the US and Europe to do research. “The imagery upon the various utilitarian tools and houseposts were definitely one of-a-kind and unique to what we call Coast Salish art today,” she says.
Soon after her jewellery class, Point was making her own jewellery designs. And later that same year, at her kitchen table, Point created her first original print titled “Salmon,” a one-colour image of four salmon swimming toward a central point.
It is clearly suggestive of a spindle whorl, and the implement continues to be of particular inspiration to Point. Several of her prints have an explicit or implied circle at the centre of a spherical design to represent the middle of the spindle whorl. But even those that are rectangular in format evoke a circular flow, with the distinct undulations of her form of Coast Salish design. “The circle is a natural inspiration for me,” she explains. “It represents the circle of life, the Sun, the Moon, the ripples in a pond, salmon eggs, and so on. This triggers my inspiration, as I am sure it did for my ancestors and mankind, kindling invention and harmony, our connection to the land.”
Point has conveyed that continuity and connection in media ranging from cedar to paper to glass, steel to metal and stone, often working in areas that, at least when she plunged in, had traditionally been the preserve of men. But she admits that while she loves the challenge of a new medium, she enjoys the freedom of printmaking “simply because I love to draw and go beyond what I know…to explore and experiment.”
Her newest print, being done as this is written, is titled Robins. It comes during a flurry of activity, as she prepares for a retrospective of her work at the Vancouver Art Gallery, February 18-May 28. Aptly titled Spindle Whorl, it will feature over 100 of her works. Curated by Senior Curator-Historical Ian Thom and Audain Curator of British Columbia Art Grant Arnold, a 160-page hardcover book has been published to accompany it.
Though the exhibition will provide her with an opportunity to reflect on a career full of accomplishment, she seems most gratified by the work she has been able to do in collaboration with her children. “Over the past 35 years, since childhood, all of my four children have watched me create art,” she shares, “and each one of them are true artists within themselves.”
Along with the Johnson Street installation, son Thomas Cannell has collaborated multiple times with Point and also done his own public commissions, sometimes in collaboration with siblings. Recently he was one of three Coast Salish artists whose designs adorn one of the new Coastal Class BC Ferries; his is Salish Raven. And Point adds proudly, “My oldest son, Brent Sparrow, has been assisting me with carving on large-scale projects and at the same time working on his own public art commissions. And there’s my daughter, Rhea Guerin, who has produced her own works on paper and has collaborated with me on a limited-edition lino-cut print. Then there’s my youngest daughter, Kelly Cannell, who has also collaborated with me on a few public art commissions as well, and who has also been working very closely with me for the past few years, assisting me with carving and painting. At the same time, Kelly also works on her own public and private commissions producing works on paper, in wood, metal, and in glass. It’s a family affair!”
Nowadays, Susan Point also particularly loves “drawing and learning from my grandchildren.” With thirteen and counting (one’s on the way), Point’s circle continues to get fuller.
Susan Point’s retrospective exhibit “Spindle Whorl” is at the Vancouver Art Gallery until May 28. In Victoria you can see “Robins” and other serigraph prints by Point and her children, Thomas Cannell and Kelly Cannell, at Alcheringa Gallery, 621 Fort Street, 250-383-8224, www.alcheringa-gallery.com.
As her own children grow, writer Aaren Madden is increasingly aware that she will learn more from them than she will ever be able to teach them.
Former Ballet Victoria star returns to Victoria with renowned Alonzo King LINES Ballet of San Francisco, March 10 & 11.
AS WE GROW OLDER, it becomes easier to brush off criticism and disappointment. We’ve been through enough, we know that life will go on and we will somehow survive. But imagine being 12 years old, already knowing exactly what you want to do with your life, and then being told that you will never be able to do it.
That’s what happened to Robb Beresford.
Born and raised in Elmira, Ontario, Beresford was accepted into Toronto’s National Ballet School of Canada, which starts at Grade 6. He thought he was doing well at the prestigious and rigorous institution, which requires two to four hours a day in the dance studio on top of a regular school day. After Grade 7, however, “I was not re-accepted into eighth grade. They said it was because of my body, a shape thing––I didn’t have the right proportions to be a dancer.”
Instead of crushing Beresford, however, the rejection “made me even more determined, more convinced that this is what I was meant to do. Their decision to let me go is what led me here, to Alonzo King LINES Ballet. If they’d kept me, I might not have made this journey. I am so happy here where I am now, it’s hard to have bad feelings.”
It’s certainly true that Beresford has landed in a privileged spot in the dance world. Among many other honours, Alonzo King––choreographer, founder and Artistic Director of LINES Ballet––was named a Master of Choreography by the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, in 2005, and has received a Jacob’s Pillow Creativity Award, the US Artist Award in Dance, and a New York Dance and Performance Bessie Award. In 2015, King received the Doris Duke Artist Award in celebration of his ongoing contributions to the advancement of contemporary dance, and his choreography is in the repertoire of classical and contemporary dance companies around the world. “I never thought,” says Beresford, “that I’d make it into the company. I thought it was impossible.”
After the National Ballet School’s rejection, Beresford found a less well-known school willing to take a chance on his odd body shape (I challenge anyone to figure out what’s wrong with his 6-foot, 4-inch physique today). The Quinte Ballet School in Belleville, Ontario, “had wonderful teachers,” he says, who prepared him well for his first professional company, Kelowna Ballet. A year there in turn led to four seasons with Ballet Victoria, starting at age 19.
“I remember Ballet Victoria very fondly,” says Beresford. “I loved being there. It was small and young and everyone worked so hard—did a million roles each, with a tonne of outreach in the community, a lot of touring. I had so much time on stage, made so many great friends, found so many people I loved.”
Ballet Victoria’s Artistic Director Paul Destrooper sounds like a proud papa talking about Beresford today: “I was thrilled when Alonzo King chose him. He deserved it. He’s a brilliant dancer.” But that brilliance took a little polishing. “When Robb came to audition for me,” says Destrooper, “I saw so much potential in him. He was very statuesque and had a lovely, natural movement quality, but his artistic side had not been tapped into.” Over time, with a few suggestions from Destrooper, Beresford found a way to “unlock his emotions on stage. By the time he left, he was such a wonderful, generous partner.”
That artistic and emotional development, says Beresford, has continued in the four years he’s now been with LINES. “I came to San Francisco to audition for LINES in 2013, after seeing the company in Victoria. It was my first time seeing them and I was so moved by the show. I fell in love. I like to think Alonzo saw my willingness to go on his kind of artistic journey. He’s not interested in having dancers do what he says. He pushes us to personalize the movement, to understand it for ourselves. It was a completely new way to work for me. You have to be ready and willing to dive in.”
For Paul Destrooper, Beresford’s entry into the company was also “a testament to what we are doing here in Victoria.” Others from Ballet Victoria to go on to larger stages include Matthew Cluff, Beresford’s successor as male principal, who is now with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens; Io Morita, who dances with Oklahoma City Ballet; and Mahomi Endoh, also with Les Grands. “When a dancer is willing to do the work,” says Destrooper, “it’s wonderful to see them bloom and develop and go to the next level.”
Robb Beresford will be dancing in both pieces presented by LINES Ballet here at the Royal Theatre on March 10 and 11. The first, the 30-minute Shostakovich, premièred in San Francisco in 2014. Set to music from four of Dmitri Shostokovich’s string quartets, “it has great, athletic pas de deux,” says Beresford. Not what you would call a “light” piece, Shostakovich represents Alonzo King’s attempt to capture both the suffering and the poetry so apparent in the Russian composer’s music. It’s “a little darker, a little bolder,” says Beresford, than the second piece, Sand, which is more of an ensemble work, “very poignant and heartfelt.”
First performed in April 2016, Sand is set to a jazzy, bluesy score by pianist Jason Moran and tenor saxophonist/flutist Charles Lloyd—a score that has been described by one critic as “effusive, sophisticated and lyrical.” That same critic also called the piece “an instant classic,” and said Robb Beresford was “never better.” Beresford himself says the work is not really “about any one thing. One of the things Alonzo believes in strongly is that your experience watching a piece is as valid as anything he or anyone else might tell you about it.”
The choreographer also believes in allowing his dancers the room they need to grow. “Alonzo has helped me figure out who I am and what I want to say,” says Beresford. “When I was a young dancer, I was very focused on dancing like I’d seen other people dance. I wanted to fit into what I thought dancers should look like, move like. Now, I am not afraid to be an original, to honour who I am, my voice. It’s scary to be yourself on stage. It’s a difficult thing to do, to be in such a vulnerable place, but totally worth it.”
Plus, says Beresford, in a few short years he’s gone from never having travelled outside of Canada to “now running out of pages in my passport. I get homesick, definitely, and I will be so happy to be back in Victoria, in Canada, to show everyone what I’ve been up to. But for the time being, I know I am where I should be.”
For ticket details see www.dancevictoria.com.
Victoria-based Robin J. Miller writes for national and international arts publications, and for business and government clients across Canada.
The Millies give voice to their daring, fun-loving, theatrical selves in a benefit for Hospice.
DORIS DAY, in the title role of Calamity Jane, sang: “Once I had a secret love that lived within the heart of me. All too soon my secret love became impatient to be free.”
When Day sang it in 1953, “Secret Love” was a somewhat meditative confession about an unspoken crush. When belted out with silky sass and playfulness by Victoria a cappella trio The Millies, it’s more like a joyful collective confession about their artistic practice and gratitude at having found one another through an act of daring to ask for what their hearts desired.
In fact, that’s part of their appeal. The Millies are not just witty, entertaining and gorgeous singers weaving exquisite harmonies crafted by an expert arranger; their performances also offer a passionate reminder for all of us, at any age, to never stop seeking and giving ourselves permission to pursue our own secret loves.
Lynda Raino (Lynda Millie), Mollie Kaye (Mollie Millie) and Elizabeth Adilman (Lizzie Millie)—left to right in the YouTube video above—came together while singing in a jazz choir, after the director offered the opportunity for small ensemble work. The chance to break out of being vocally and physically buried in a choir seemed to answer a need they each felt, so last spring they began arranging Patti Page’s 1954 hit “Cross Over the Bridge.” As Kaye struggled with a three-part harmony, Raino (founder of longtime Victoria cultural icon Raino Dance) offered to enlist the help of a composer friend, Governor General’s Gold Medal-winner Stephen Hatfield.
While it was supposed to be a one-off collaboration, the process proved magical for all of them. “As he was walking out the door,” Kaye tells me, recalling that moment of excitement and longing, “I thought, ‘He’s an internationally recognized composer. Why would he want to work with us?’” But she blurted out: “Do you have any other ideas of songs we could sing?” His answer: an enthusiastic “Do I!” As Hatfield says, “We were all looking for something we needed.”
Since then, they’ve been meeting twice a week, and they staged their first public performance in May 2016. From the tightness of their sound, the flow of their moves, and even their coordinated costumes, it’s hard to believe they’ve been singing together for under a year.
Though they each have decades of experience with various styles and genres in other contexts, in this group they’re exploring a very different and difficult, though ultimately liberating, kind of performance.
“It’s not simply a soprano up on top carrying the melody with some harmony lines underneath,” Hatfield explains. “It’s like that illusion where you have an empty birdcage on one side of a card and a bird on the other. If you keep flipping it back and forth, you eventually see the bird in the cage.” What excites him as a writer is the challenge of creating the depth and density of jazz or of an orchestra with just three voices—what Kaye calls “sleight of ear.” In fact, after one show, an astonished audience member came up and told them: “It sounded like there was a whole band behind you.”
From poppy ’50s broadway hits to swingin’ jazz, sultry torch songs and even vintage commercial jingles, The Millies aren’t just trying to recreate or capture bygone sounds. Hatfield’s original arrangements, created specifically for their voices, means they avoid being simply a nostalgia act appealing only to those who grew up in a certain time. Rather, they’re reinventing and re-exploring each piece even as they pay homage to the past. When working on “Cross Over the Bridge,” Kaye recounts, Hatfield explained that it was actually about making monogamy and marriage sexy again in the post-war era, which led the group to some new flirtatious gestures and attitude. Kaye says, “It opened me up to performing in a totally different way. He coached us to really change the whole context of that music.”
The secret love they all had for theatricality was also let loose, allowing them to not only inhabit the characters of The Millies but, within those characters, to also each truly be themselves—fun and fearless. “We are really set free,” a beaming Raino tells me. “Personally, I was looking for salvation after letting go of my dance world. This has absolutely been a phoenix for me.” Adilman agrees: “I think it’s the way we’re connected to each other. You can see us looking at each other, weaving in and out with each other.” And, still seeming a little surprised, Kaye admits: “I do things on stage with them that I’ve never done in my life as a performer.”
When they sing, they each radiate an unabashed, uninhibited joy, revelling in not trying to steal but share the spotlight. As a result, the audience is also treated to a show of trust, respect and solidarity.
It’s something the singers themselves all value just as much as they love singing uplifting repertoire while wearing white gloves and ’50s taffeta party dresses. In fact, the matching outfits are a symbol of the group’s unity. “There’s something very poignant about the fact that we are women of a certain age,” Kaye notes. “We’re not the same. We’re not three lithe young women in our 20s, so there’s something a little bit tongue-in-cheek about wearing these. But to me, there’s a lot of meaning in the fact that we’re wearing these matching outfits even though our bodies are different, our ages are different, our lives are different. There’s something really bonding that happens to us. We become The Millies. To me, the harmony starts with the outfits.”
Raino, who found the dresses in a Fairfield shop, shares that sense of empowerment. “If you ever said to me, ‘You’re too old or you’re too big or you don’t have the right feet to do whatever,’ to me it would be a call to arms to say: ‘Watch me.’ It’s been the mandate of my school forever, and I don’t feel that a certain-aged woman is not supposed to sing or perform. I think we feel pretty committed to doing it until we can’t.” Indeed, as they huddle up for the 1958 jazz standard “Centerpiece,” the line “Our happiness will never cease” seems to sum up their feelings about the group and about each other. Inspired by what they have accomplished and are still becoming, my mind floats back to the first song of their rehearsal, and I hear it like a Millies’ mantra: “At last my heart’s an open door. And my secret love’s no secret anymore.”
Turning that love outward, The Millies are putting on a benefit concert for Victoria Hospice on April 28 at Hermann’s Jazz Club. Adilman, who has volunteered at Hospice for several years and whose parents both died in hospice, brought the idea forward. “I’ve just always been very moved by it,” she says. “We’re hoping to have a sellout show!” Tickets are available through brownpapertickets.com.
To hear more, visit www.themillies.ca.
Writer Amy Reiswig found her secret music love playing percussion with early music group Banquo Folk Ensemble.
The Belfry gives us two stories from Canada’s beloved Nobel-winner.
THERE IS A FORM OF THEATRE that presents literary texts in verbatim style, or word for word. San Francisco is home to theatre company Word for Word that has been staging literature verbatim-style since 1993. Some authors whose work has appeared on stage there include Richard Ford, Barbara Kingsolver, Emma Donoghue and James Baldwin. The artists who tackle this kind of work have to attend to the challenges presented by dramatizing literature, but without the intermediary step of crafting a script. Every. Word. Counts.
The risk of this kind of theatre-making is that it slips into a mash-up of Reader’s Theatre (talking heads) and Story Theatre (in which both narration and action are spoken). The risk is that the result is like watching an audiobook, lacking the essence of stagecraft: theatricality. Yet what I hear about some past Word for Word projects sounds intriguing, inviting both actors and audiences to imagine the transition from page to stage together. Techniques such as having inanimate objects tell part of the story, or using visual metaphor to illustrate interior psychology, can create powerful moments on stage.
For example, New York company Elevator Repair Service has performed a six-hour verbatim version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby titled Gatz that proved a great hit there as well as on tour to many countries worldwide. Set in an office, a worker frustrated by a broken computer pulls a copy of the novel out of his Rolodex and begins reading it. Magnetically, his peers are pulled into the reading and staging of the novel, using only what is available to them in the workplace. New York Times’ theatre critic Ben Brantley describes the effect of the experience: “It’s…that elusive chemistry that takes place between a reader and a gorgeous set of sentences that demand you follow them wherever they choose to go.”
In April, the Belfry embarks on its first-time-ever word for word literary project, staging Alice Munro Stories. I spoke to Belfry Artistic Director Michael Shamata about how this production has unfolded. It turns out Word for Word has performed two Munro shows themselves, and Shamata was contacted by Word’s Artistic Director Susan Harloe. Would the Belfry be interested in bringing in their latest Munro show? Shamata tells me, “I realized that having an American company come here to perform Canadian literature could not be justified.” He suggested to Harloe, “What if we did our own production and have you come and be the consultant?”
Shamata travelled to San Francisco with General Manager Ivan Habel and Vancouver director Anita Rochon to see a sampling of their work. Then the Belfry held a workshop a year or so ago to experiment with the word for word approach, and to select their choice of two Munro stories. Director Rochon carried out a second workshop earlier this year in Vancouver with the acting company hired for the production.
All Alice Munro fans will want to know which stories from her canon will be staged. Shamata gives me some insights, saying, “The first story is Differently, a beautiful piece about couples, essentially about a woman who encounters a man that she used to have a relationship with. It’s about regrets, about the ways we can behave to each other. Set in a hospital room, it will start with a woman in bed, her husband and daughter by the bedside and they begin reading the story, with a doctor and nurse coming in at some point.”
And Act Two? Shamata discloses that, “The second one is a bit more acted out. Save the Reaper is a fascinating but complex story about a grandmother and grandson in a car who head off to try to find a place that had some memory for her and stumble on some bizarre events.” The story’s subtitle “Can you trust your children with your mother?” indicates that this one has some of the heightened dramatic tension, verging on horror, that appear in certain Munro tales.
And what about the director Shamata has chosen for the production, Anita Rochon? Shamata describes her as “a smart, smart young director” whose work has been previously seen here. Itai Erdal’s one-man show How to Disappear Completely and Spark Festival shows KISMET: One to One Hundred and Through the Gaze of a Navel were all co-created and/or directed by Rochon. She has cast actors Jenny Patterson (Homechild), Gerry Mackay (A Christmas Carol, Jitters), Michael Scholar Jr. (The Black Rider), Carolyn Gillis (And Slowly Beauty) and newcomer Arggy Jenati. The production is designed by Peter Hartwell (Red, Best Brothers), lit by Alan Brodie with sound designed by Antoine Bedard.
Shamata describes what he hopes audiences will experience when they come to see Alice Munro Stories: “It’s a wonderful way of hearing the actual words that have been written, without messing with Alice Munro, putting it in a theatrical realm and finding a theatrical vocabulary for it without changing the words at all. I think it will be a very cool event, it will feel like theatre but I know that Anita is smart enough to not try to disguise what it is we’re doing, that we’re celebrating the words, not trying to pretend it’s something else.”
Alice Munro Stories is the final mainstage production of the 2016-2017 season. It runs April 18 to May 14.
Backing up a bit to March, the Belfry presents Spark, its annual festival of innovative theatre from across Canada (March 9-26). This year I am looking forward to seeing a mix of local and touring productions. Local shows include a new project by Atomic Vaudeville, BlissKrieg, “a musical comedy about the last two people in the universe.” Those familiar with Vaudeville’s comedy revues and their hit shows Legoland and Ride the Cyclone will look forward to this one. Victoria actor and sound designer Brian Linds is premiering Reverberations, a site-specific show that takes place in an “undisclosed location” close to the Belfry. Spark is also presenting Theatre SKAM’s new play Joan by Matthew Payne about longtime Victoria arts devotee Joan Mans and her touching friendship with Payne, who now tells their story.
Another production coming here for Spark is a new Itai Erdal project, This is Not a Conversation. Erdal, an Israeli Jew, enters into dialogue with Palestinian Arab Dima Alansari. A discomforting but necessary exchange ensues. Also, Toronto’s Evalyn Parry brings us SPIN described as “a tour-de-force performance celebrating the Bicycle as muse, musical instrument and agent of social change.”
But the play I look forward to most is brilliant Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s What a Young Wife Ought to Know, presented by Halifax’s 2B Theatre. Two of Moscovitch’s earlier plays have appeared at the Belfry’s Spark Festival, Little One and The Russian Play. She can be counted on for her intelligence and innovation.
With all this activity at the Belfry, don’t miss out on other shows around town in March and April, including season closers at the Phoenix (The Government Inspector) and Pacific Opera Victoria (Les Feluettes/Lilies), based on the play by Quebec’s Michel Marc Bouchard). Langham Court has Taking Leave, a dramatic comedy inspired in part by King Lear, followed in late April by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Finally, Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre opens its summer season with Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker. Plus, Canadian puppeteer/genius Ronnie Burkett returns with his hilarious and risqué Daisy Theatre to Intrepid Theatre. How lucky for us! See the calendar at www.focusonvictoria.ca for dates and details for all of these productions.
Monica works at the University of Victoria in the Faculty of Education and is currently undertaking a new research project on Canadian Theatre for Young Audiences. She also reviews theatre on CBC’s On the Island.
Andrew Struthers takes readers on a long, strange—and fun—trip through marijuana and human culture.
MANY WRITERS AGREE that stories are found in the strangest places. Like experiencing cosmological visions while bobbing at the bottom of a Tofino hot tub, stoned to the gills on cannabis-infused chocolate cake—although, sans actual gills, breathing through a length of rubber hose that once connected a heater to a propane tank. It’s from here that writer and filmmaker Andrew Struthers tells much of his tale in his new two-sided non-fiction book The Sacred Herb/The Devil’s Weed (New Star Books, launching in April).
The subject is timely. In downtown Victoria, you can barely walk a block without passing a pot shop. Since the federal government declared its intent to legalize marijuana, cannabis dispensaries have sprouted like, well, weeds. Even though many aim to serve customers for medical reasons, dispensaries currently occupy a legal grey area, and different municipalities take different approaches. Esquimalt won’t license dispensaries, and one that tried to open in Langford was shut down after just a day. Clearly, the cannabis controversy persists, and Struthers—the author of three previous books and contributor to publications including The Tyee and Monday Magazine—saw an opportunity to break into the conversation.
But the book isn’t what you might expect. This is no stoner puff piece or simplistic “marijuana good/marijuana bad” debate. In fact, the book’s flip-side structure highlights the incomplete understanding that comes from such cut-and-dried dualistic thinking.
Instead, Struthers represents two ways of accessing the story of pot—or, really, any story you might engage with. For Struthers is less interested in what there is to know than he is in how we know it. Take his tale from the tub. He writes that he “embarked upon that inward voyage Joseph Campbell would call the hero’s journey, although I ate the cake by accident, so to be honest this trip is what my friend Olaf would call a total fuck-up.” It’s all about how you interpret the experience, how meaning is made in the mind.
Anyone who’s read Struthers’ 2014 Victorian travelogue-style Around the World on Minimum Wage will know he’s no stranger to bizarre circumstances. Now living in Victoria, he was born in Scotland but moved to Holland when he was three; to Uganda (under Obote and his right-hand-man Idi Amin) until he was seven; then back to his Scottish homeland as a refugee (where Struthers was beaten up for having an English accent); and finally to Prince George when he was 13. Before he’d ever smoked pot on his last day of high school in 1978, Struthers had already been on a long, strange trip through human culture.
At his Chinatown studio—a dreamworld of film props he’s collected and created, like his mind turned inside out onto the shelves—Struthers recalls events like seeing a man getting stoned (not the smoking kind) for shoplifting in Uganda. Part of his early formative questioning therefore was: How do you make sense of the world when you grow up in a sea of contradictions? He also describes discovering in Uganda the disconnect between what you hear on the news and what you know from family experience—the idea that there are very different sets of stories.
The book’s format reflects that fascination with different modes of knowing. The Sacred Herb side, structured as a series of questions and answers, represents the perspective of the rational, with data from scientific studies, archaeological finds, and neuroscience alongside paeans to teenage camaraderie, the highs of toker friendship, and creative living. But to make the point that this is just one, incomplete way of approaching the world, Struthers uses deliberately selective studies, seemingly contradictory data, and the dryness of terminology that turns most of us right off. Like when he discusses how “the neurotransmitter Anandamide…is perfectly shaped to fit into a neuroreceptor slot called CB1. Together, Anandamide and CB1 form the so-called endocanabinoid system.” But he stops himself, adding: “The problem with all of this is that when you saw the word ‘neurotransmitter’ your eyes glazed over. I felt it happen.” Trying to reach people with clumsy science jargon, he laments, “is like wearing clogs to a discotheque.” As he puts it to me: “You can understand that way, but you can’t be that way.”
The Devil’s Weed side, structured around the seasons, is a weave of human stories, tales of personal experience that lead, sometimes improbably and sometimes naturally, one into the other—anecdotes of misadventure that express misgivings and dangers, not a-la “reefer madness” hysteria but in terms of real consequences for real people’s lives.
Implicit is the fact that being only this way (in a world of prohibition, particularly) might well get you killed. Like the guy who “finds a bag of bud under his couch with yellow spores on the leaves like tiny buttercups,” and with optimism of the will but neglect of the intellect bakes it into muffins, eats them and “recoils like a rattlesnake bit him. His throat swells bullfrog-style and he spends the next hour dry-heaving into a Coke can wondering if this is how Rasputin felt when he was poisoned.”
The two sides offer a kind of balance. Struthers, who studied astrophysics at UVic, says: “I see the world through connections,” noting that he had to go deep to find what unites us after the fractured experiences of his youth. Connectivity is one of the book’s prevalent themes, and he sees out-of-the-box, divergent and lateralized thinking as some of pot’s greatest gifts, hammering hierarchies into networks and dissolving dualities, even in the seeming isolation at the bottom of the hot tub: “down here in the roaring dark everything is connected to everything else in an endless ouroborean ring.”
But part of his point is that you don’t really need pot to get there. Pot can grease the wheels, but the real vehicle is your own mind. As a single dad to a daughter, often having to be both mom and dad, he feels like he got to travel between worlds, and he believes the biggest block people face to growth, openness and change is their own thinking. “People mistake the story of their lives for reality,” he tells me. “People cling to their rules of traffic as if they’re the laws of physics.”
That’s partly why he uses humour, because when you laugh, you lose what he calls “headlock,” and so he delights in disrupting expectations. Like in his well-known Spiders on Drugs video—currently with over 41 million YouTube views—which plays on the old Hinterland Who’s Who series, or in his illustrated account of Clayoquot protests, The Green Shadow (originally serialized in the Georgia Straight), which won a National Magazine Award for Humour in 1995. In this book, he again sneaks the serious in on you. For example, in answer to the Sacred Herb side question, “Will doobies derail my perfect life plan?” Struthers answers: “Hopefully.”
With his analytical apparatus constantly dialled up to 11, Struthers builds the book with cerebral playfulness. His microlevel referencing and riffing on books, movies or lines from songs and poetry is a reflection of what the book is doing as a whole—flipping suppositions, inverting expectations, giving your skull a little shake so that things come a little unstuck and can settle back in a slightly new way, as in the Sartre-ian inversion “Help is other people” or his twist on Nietzsche: “What does not kill me makes me stranger.”
While the topic here is marijuana—both revered as sacrament and reviled as scourge—the real story is about how we construct and receive stories themselves. From this, we can extrapolate out to how every academic report, scientific study, news article, presidential order or personal anecdote is an opportunity to expand our thinking a little bit sideways. Is there a difference between what you’ll read about pot and what you’ll learn? Hopefully.
The Sacred Herb/The Devil’s Weed launches April 20 at the Union Pacific Coffee Shop, 537 Herald Street at 7 pm.
Writer, editor and musician Amy Reiswig has smoked marijuana a grand total of five times in her life since moving to BC but has worked at expanding her thinking a lot more often.
And somebody should definitely do something about this sometime.
I’M GREATLY ATTRACTED TO “imperishable,” a word loaded with dimension, promise, futurity…the next best thing to a 100-lifetime written guarantee. Of course, the word deserves an entry in the Book of Unintended Paradoxes, since neither the progress of ends nor the end of ends is known. Everything breaks, eventually, so it takes manic optimism to conceive a word that so bravely contradicts logic and the facts of life, and whose opposing truth is “here today, gone tomorrow.”
I recently brushed against the word reading a reminiscence of Romanian keyboard phenomenon Dinu Lipatti who died in 1950, at age 37, from a burst abscess in his lung caused by then-always-fatal Hodgkin’s Disease.
His last concert performance included the 14 Chopin Waltzes (his legendary Chopin is treasured by music-lovers). He finished 13 of the demanding works, but was drained by his exertions and could not summon the energy to play the fourteenth. He ended the recital not by abruptly rushing from the stage but by heroically, stoically substituting Bach’s less taxing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring:
Lipatti’s illness crushed his defenses and he expired 12 weeks after this recital. The critics call his Chopin “imperishable” to honour his pianism and memorialize his short life.
Imperishable, Mr Lipatti. It wasn’t for nothing; it was forever.
I remember an early, if less hallowed, lesson in such matters when, as a kid, wide-eyed and shocked, I witnessed my grandfather, Mendel, throw objects within reach—food items, tableware, bric-a-brac—at other adults who, daring to talk nearby, distracted his rapt communion with the New York Times-owned classical music radio station WQXR. At other times, he would pace the parquet floor of his Bronx Park East apartment and madly gesticulate like a man receiving God, lecturing me that Vladimir Horowitz was incomparable, simply the greatest pianist ever, or that Arturo Toscanini was the finest conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and that Toscanini’s successor, John Barbirolli, was “just a woodchopper.” His certainty was fortified, made unassailable, by his passion, and I was too young then to understand that every belief system begins as an opinion.
My current interest in imperishability, though, isn’t rooted in story or nostalgia. No, this is clear-eyed, reasoned worry about the tenure of the future, significantly intensified by the election of a psychopathic narcissist-liar as US president, and his selection of the likes of climate change-denying Scott “Jesus told me so” Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency; which invites anthropologist and systems theorist Gregory Bateson’s famous remark in Steps to an Ecology of Mind: “The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.”
A sentiment ominously echoed in Charles Bowden’s Desierto, Memories of the Future: “I don’t think silence lends protection any longer. I don’t think anything lends protection any longer. And I’m not sure that protection is as important as knowledge at this date. It is time to know because soon it may be too late to learn. All space is now temporary as the vise grip of our appetites tightens against it.”
For me, it’s impossible to see Trump’s ascendancy as anything but a perverse re-expression of the jagged mess and residue of previously unmanaged, or unsuccessfully managed, social projects—grand-scale failures of equality, security, comity, well-being—coming back to haunt America…and all the rest of us.
Or maybe history, without explanation, just deals the ace of spades every so often.
And locally in the letters section of the daily newspaper: “I took family Downtown to do our annual [Christmas] walk. I was let down. The Downtown experience has decayed. There was an unbelievable number of invasive and aggressive panhandlers, open smoking of dope and injecting, two fights, and sidewalks being taken up with sleeping bags, loitering and camping. I am tired, absolutely tired, that our city is left to this zombie apocalypse...we need to get our streets back.”
While you may want to parse these perceptions or disagree entirely with the writer’s sentiments, the condition he describes, in its entirety, remains our local unsuccessfully-managed social project.
Look, leaving moral resonances or questions of social obligation aside, the sheer economic costs of homelessness and empty-pocketed poverty—homeless management, addiction management, health care and emergency response services, social services, poverty and addiction-driven crime, policing, legal and court services, Downtown business impacts, property value impacts within the war-zone parts of Downtown and nearby halo areas—are mountainous. These are the costs passed on to the rest of us: the current and very real price tag of an unsuccessful social response. It’s an irony and an economic indictment that they vastly outweigh the costs of housing provision and effective social management.
There is also another potent and very real, if un-priceable, cost: the social poisoning of our civic community, damage to its self-image. Reading local newspapers these days can feel like reading a report from the front: fentanyl deaths, a seeming epidemic of small-time criminality and violence, a sense of diminished safety, and a pernicious eating away at Victoria’s identity, social coherence and sense of mission.
And while I won’t beat it to death, yes, homelessness and soul-crushing poverty are our community’s shame. I mean, what else does the outraged letter-writer imagine he’s really describing when he demands a better response—the need for more enforcement?
We are fond of intoning locally (as the sun sets on this vestige of the British Empire), somebody should definitely do something about this sometime. Harumph!
As in, our mayor.
What I sense about Victoria’s Mayor Lisa Helps is that she journeys between two shores of thought in her ideas about how to act toward certain civic challenges: that is, between institutional responses and community responses, between use of the formal, structural tools of government and an abstracted desire (or hope) for something more people-based, energetic and publicly engaging. It’s the poorest of analogies, but I mean the difference between conventional garbage pickup and recycling. Yes, both are social responses, but they start from different places and lead to different outcomes. Obviously, edict is more politically legible and efficient, social engagement more transformative but more challenging to pull off.
Revisiting that outraged Downtown visitor’s letter, note how emotional hyperbole like “Our city is left to this zombie apocalypse” and “we need to get our city back,” in spite of “our” and “we,” really means “You.” “You: do whatever it takes to get this human crud off Downtown streets.”
People feel stymied, powerless, on thin ice. Community is a slipping value, its meaning and practices abstracted in these times. We’re between what we were and what we will be, and it’s not a stable or comfortable place. The very grounds for well-being and social utility are made uncertain as we flounder through a time of massive structural and cultural change. Faced with threats large and small, real and imaginary, folks want to hunker down, retreat to communities of protection, to friends, to family, to the like-minded—all perfect prerequisites, by the way, for the installation of a big-daddy/soft dictator.
Charles Eisenstein, author and speaker, writes: “We are exiting an old story that explained to us the way of the world and our place in it. We are entering a space between stories.” We are now in a phase favouring various temporary and “retrograde versions of a new story.”
This is the definition of social crisis.
Pope Francis spoke recently: “Crisis provokes fear. After the crisis of 1930, Germany is broken, it needs to get up, to find its identity, it needs a leader, someone capable of restoring its character, and there is a young man named Adolf Hitler who says: ‘I can, I can.’”
Maria Konnikova, writing in Politico about America’s new “flagrant liar-in-chief,” postulates: “When we are in an environment headed by someone who lies so often, something frightening happens: We stop reacting to the liar as a liar. His lying becomes normalized. Trump is creating a highly politicized landscape where everyone is on the defensive: You’re either for me, or against me; if you win, I lose.”
So, thinking of our Downtown “zombie apocalypse,” let me, in all seriousness, pose a question bracketed by the quotes above: Are you ready for the future? Readily available news stories predict that by 2030, robotics and AI will have eliminated 50 percent of jobs everywhere, rendering a lot of men and women jobless and with too much time on their hands.
2030—that’s 14 years from now. Think of your age and add 14. Putting aside whistle-in-the-dark fantasies of a universal basic income, or the fiction of the newly “free-time-endowed” turning to environmental restoration, or personal growth, or other kumbayah social initiatives, the social management challenges are going to be vast and overwhelming, making the zombie apocalypse of 2017 seem like the good old days.
In “How Do Systems Get Unstuck?” Rex Weyler, Canadian-American journalist and co-founder of Greenpeace International, notes: “a real, living system—including a society at risk—must keep its detection tools sharp and functioning.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Somebody should do something about all of this sometime. Harumph.
Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an affordable housing concept and, with partner Rob Abbott, has launched the website FUTURETENSE: Robotics, AI, and the Future of Work.
Preserving the flora of the Garry oak meadow ecosystem in the face of development.
WHILE COMPLETING A PhD IN WILDLIFE BIOLOGY between 1970 and 1985, Louise Goulet worked in some of British Columbia’s most beautiful and remote areas—including the Stikine, the Kechika and the Liard River valleys. She often travelled by helicopter or even by horse. Pilots would ask her and her female colleague if they were sure they wanted to be dropped in the middle of a remote BC valley, by themselves. “We’re sure!” she would chirp.
Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Goulet completed wildlife impact assessments and protected areas strategies, evaluating the impacts of potential infrastructure projects, like dams, while working for BC Parks, BC Hydro, and the Province’s Ecological Reserves program. She eventually became the first executive director for the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) after her move to the Island. Living through what she calls the golden time in BC (during the NDP Mike Harcourt years), her motto was “Now is the time.” In just over five years, the Province designated over 500 protected areas and doubled the BC parks system. When the Liberals came into power in 2001, she tells me, the Parks budget was cut by 65 percent.
When asked if things are changing for the better in the Capital Region, Goulet doesn’t even pause: “If you’re in conservation, you better be an optimist.” Sitting in the vaulted-ceiling kitchen of her self-designed home, 20-foot tropical plants soaring in front of the back garden windows, her stories roll forward with the humour and excitement of someone who has long loved her work. Now she’s focusing that enthusiasm on southern Vancouver Island. But will her dreams for Island ecosystems come true?
Upon her move to Vancouver Island, Goulet, turned her attention to Garry oak meadow species. “I wanted to contribute to conservation,” she says, “and I wanted to learn something.”
Her husband, Michael, ran a surveying business that gave him access to many of the region’s large-scale land developers. Goulet used Michael’s contacts to establish plant salvaging arrangements on many large-scale development properties, often removing the entire top layer off shallow soil sites, saving native plants such as Roemer’s fescue, nodding onion, and camas. She even successfully transplanted Garry oak and arbutus seedlings—notoriously difficult because of their long tap roots. She stockpiled the bulbs, soil and seed in her own garden, giving them away to other gardeners, to Native Plant Study Group members, and organizations like GOERT.
Now that she and Michael are both retired, however, their developer contacts have thinned. New methods of conservation will be needed if we are to protect the species that once thrived here.
Garry oak meadows have been identified by many as the south coast ecosystem most likely to survive climate change. Both Goulet and Briony Penn have called the ecosystem a refugia that may act as a seed bank if other ecosystems—coastal Douglas-fir, Western hemlock, for instance—fail to adapt to the lengthening droughts and uncertain weather patterns that climate change is already bringing.
In recent decades, however, Vancouver Island’s southwest coast has lost hundreds of acres to development, including many of the remaining shallow soil Garry oak meadows in Langford, Colwood, Saanich and even Metchosin. Losses include parts of Christmas Hill, Broadmead heights, and the current McKenzie interchange construction, for example.
With last summer’s sale of 110 acres on Skirt Mountain (Bear Mountain) and extension of the Bear Mountain Parkway, more of these fragile ecosystems will disappear in coming years. Langford has shown little interest in preserving parcels like the south face of Skirt Mountain, which is currently used as a recreation and hiking area. Many other properties, thanks to the skyrocketing real estate market, are now out of reach of conservation organizations unless donated by their owners.
Goulet rues that the next generation of environmental leaders don’t have as much time or money as did hers—the baby boomers. Her concern reminds me of a meadow on Mount Helmcken where I used to walk. Formerly a high mountain swath of moss and flower-covered bedrock with lodgepole pine and a small forest pond, it was paved and carved into lots just over a decade ago. When one day I emerged from a bluff on the trail to the blacktop road that had been cut across it, something inside me shattered. It took years to get back on the path of environmental action. “Frustration can keep you doing things,” says Goulet; but it can also stultify a generation into inaction or despair. As organizations like GOERT see precipitous drops in Federal and Provincial funding, it’s even more essential that public awareness and action do not falter.
As a first step, says Goulet, the resilience these remaining species provide should be better protected by both Federal and Provincial governments. “At a certain point you have to secure the land base,” she says. “You need a good salesperson to convince developers to donate critical areas.” With a 123 percent projected growth rate in Langford between 2001 and 2026, remaining parcels are disappearing fast.
The onus, however, doesn’t just lie with funding for protected areas. “We also need to get the public to value what’s out there. Then we steer the action. Perfection is the enemy of good,” she advises. Perfection, for ecologists, might include preserving every last acre of Garry oak meadow in the region, as well as restoring many other sites. Part of valuing native ecosystems, argues Goulet, means that every resident on the South Island should cultivate these species in their own yards.
“When I talk to gardeners,” she tells me, “I have to remember that they want a garden.” So she advises them to plant native plants that have the colour and blooming cycle of a horticultural species, but the benefits of a native species. Common harebell is a perfect example. Similar to blue hyacinths, or bluebells, which are invasive, the harebell blooms for six months, supports native insects and looks good in a residential garden. Use of plants like the harebell contributes to the refugia that Penn and Goulet stress is so important, and adds to the seed bank in the region.
Goulet would also like to see municipalities in addition to Saanich formalize a plant salvaging program, which, she says, should be mandatory before any development can occur. Saanich’s program, which residents can join for free through the municipality’s website, provides liability protection for developers after residents have completed a training workshop.
Participants are notified by email when a site opens and can arrive, shovels in hand, for free plants.
Goulet loves the physical aspect of salvage, and stresses that though native plant study groups and books are important parts of conservation, the key is getting people out on the land. “It will keep you young,” she laughs, “if it doesn’t kill you first!”
Goulet now grows seed and parcels out bulbs to garden tour visitors (led by Habitat Acquisition Trust and the Native Plant Study Group) and through private visits by plant ecologists, Parks Canada staff, and the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific, to name but a few. She also supplies growers like Kristen Miskelly and parks such as Playfair in Saanich and Uplands in Oak Bay with great camas bulbs, which can be difficult to locate in the wild.
When planting natives in the garden “we don’t know what is going to happen, ecologically, with climate change. I’m confounded every single time,” Goulet says. Still, a seed bank that has its roots in all our gardens will help to assure the survival of not just Garry oak ecosystems, but the region’s diversity, beauty and health into the future.
Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.
A FUNERAL CAN TEACH YOU A LOT about life. Last Saturday I found myself comfortably squished in an overfilled church for the final celebration of an elderly man who had died quite suddenly but while still actively engaged in life, or, as his daughter told me afterwards, “while still in the saddle.”
Her father had accomplished much in his professional life, and while that was presented in a brief bio, it was his deep goodness, kind nature, and abundant zest for living that triggered a genuine outpouring of love, admiration and gratitude that afternoon. Embedded in the eulogy delivered by his sons were the secrets of a life fully lived, an earthly journey fully embraced. We heard what we really already knew—that his family and community meant everything to him, that he gave endlessly to so many without keeping tabs, and that he had an unselfconscious inner radiance that drew people in and kindled in them the yearning to be that way too.
Last fall I sat at the death bed of a cherished uncle in Holland whose ravaging disease had suddenly come roaring back after a 10-year reprieve. There wasn’t much time to get ready, he conceded sadly, but he put his heart and soul and remaining energy into the future well-being of all of his beloved ones and everyone he knew. This wasn’t new; it was how he’d lived his entire life, and how he had become everyone’s hero and mentor. He’d always had a special inner light—of which he himself was quite unaware—and now, in his waning days, it held its glow even as his health and strength rapidly deteriorated. I’ll never forget my last visit with him before I reluctantly caught my flight home. He died about a week later.
He wanted no flowers at his funeral, which puzzled the hundreds of mourners because the Dutch do and say everything with stunning bouquets. Then they saw the buckets of white roses flanking his casket, heard the invitation to take one home, and understood the magnitude of his final gift and goodness. (Goodness will exist for as long as there are people to carry its torch. People like my thoughtful cousin who, knowing my sorrow over missing the funeral, emailed me a photo of the rose he’d been given so that I could also have one for my own.)
When I asked another cousin for his thoughts on the service, he replied most candidly in the plainest English, “I lost a lot of tears.”
Both my uncle and my friend’s dad had amassed over their lifetimes a wealth of “eulogy virtues,” to use a term coined a few years ago by New York Times columnist David Brooks. According to Brooks, eulogy virtues are the intangible assets of inner character that are quite unrelated to the more conventional and measurable “resumé virtues.” They’re the enduring qualities—kindness, generosity, honesty, empathy, and so on—that we’d all like to see more of in ourselves but, well, often just don’t get around to cultivating, life being so busy and everything.
Eulogy virtues are not just for eulogies, of course, but it is then, when all other preoccupations are temporarily muted and life is contemplated through a longer lens, that clarity can alight. I came away feeling resolved to live my life more gratefully and fully alert. These men inspired me and I wanted to linger for a while and stand in their aura.
Back in my daily routine, obstacles such as pride, impatience and selfishness get in the way and probably always will. And then there’s the question of motive. If I’m “improving” myself just to be praised at my hopefully far-into-the-future eulogy, that’s just more me-ism and gallingly disingenuous. (When I was a kid I decided I was going to get some respect by becoming a saint. The holiness lasted for about a day. Motive is everything.)
Brooks’ own research suggests that deeply good people are selfless and humble. I believe that they also love life, respect and revere nature, possess great empathy, laugh easily, are deeply rooted in community and lead an intentionally meaningful life. I would bet that they’re good listeners.
From them, and especially during these unsettling times, I can learn a lot about life.
Trudy looks forward to getting back into her garden where Humility is waiting with more of life’s lessons.