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Leslie Campbell

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  1. This is the first in a series of interviews with Victoria businesses and non-profits about how they are weathering the pandemic. DESPITE STEPHEN WHITE’S WELL-ROUNDED, long-time experience working in arts organizations, he’s never experienced anything quite like the shake-up caused by COVID-19. For 20 years, White has headed up Dance Victoria, a dynamic non-profit which brings world-renowned dance companies to Victoria. The organization also supports the development of dance through commissioning new works, puts on a 10-day dance festival offering free dance classes, and rents out dance studios. Dance Victoria’s Executive Producer Stephen White The five-member management team at Dance Victoria has been holding daily morning meetings, online of course, for the past couple of weeks. To begin with, White tells me, the focus was primarily to make sure everyone in the organization was safe through the end of June. “Our General Manager Bernard Sauvé has been building the budget so we can retain all core staff.” While the last performance of the season, Ballet BC’s Romeo & Juliet in mid-March, was cancelled, virtually all those who had bought tickets donated the value back to the company, for which White and crew feel incredibly grateful. His greatest anxiety is around Victoria’s small business community. “We’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of sponsorship from the small business community—they’re having the biggest struggle now so our sponsorship campaign is up in the air,” says White. “We’ve never really been successful at getting large corporations as sponsors, so we’ve always been really happy to have so many small businesses as cash sponsors.” Small business sponsorships have also helped grow DV’s audience. Tickets provided to sponsors have enabled business owners to invite clients and friends. “Once people have been introduced to live dance performance, they’re likely to return—so it’s been an effective audience development tool,” says White. DV also relies on donations. With the volatility in the market, White can’t help but wonder if those who rely on investment income will as readily donate to Dance Victoria in the future. Such individual patrons and small business sponsorship together normally constitute about 25-30 percent of DV’s revenues. About 50 percent comes from ticket sales; 15 percent from government; and another 10 percent from studio rentals—which have gone to zero since the “stay home” orders. “But when one’s back is against the wall,” notes White, “it’s time to innovate…it’s causing all of us to rethink our business models,” which he feels is a good exercise. White admits to concern over a possible “residual reluctance for people to gather in large groups, even after we get a green light and restrictions are lifted.” Yet he still feels the work DV has done to build an audience for dance in Victoria will work in their favour. “I am feeling really grateful for the strength of that community, how engaged they are with dance,” says White, noting that visiting dance companies regularly express how impressed they are with the engagement of the local audience. White and crew are now focusing on their next season, feeling some relief that it doesn’t start till November (with Compagnie Hervé Koubi). However, one of DV’s major fundraisers, Cherish: A Glamorous Evening of Fashion and Philanthropy, happens in October. Last year it provided $80,000 in revenues shared equally with Victoria Women’s Transition Centre. Because it relied on scores of cash donations from small businesses, plus silent auction contributions, the team is re-thinking options. Says White, “We are wondering how we can return the loyalty of the small business community.” Leslie Campbell is the founding editor of Focus—a 32-year-old small business and media outlet in Victoria. She, too, has never experienced anything like this pandemic.
  2. A growing budget, a lack of transparency, and a boundary-challenged City Council all merit voters’ attention. IN THIS EDITION OF FOCUS, Ross Crockford interviews candidates running in the April 4 City of Victoria by-election. Who voters choose will provide the current council with some feedback on its direction thus far, so it’s a good time to reflect on recent governance issues and talk to candidates about them. One area of concern is the growth of the City budget and residents’ tax burden. This is central, especially in the face of a climate crisis. Keeping spending in check is both highly practical and a matter of planetary survival. Growth costs us in earthly resources and climate stability. Reducing our collective footprint is the best way to ensure future generations have a place to live. The City can’t be a climate leader without figuring out how to make government more efficient and less demanding of more and more resources, in the form of tax dollars or otherwise. Ultimately, it’s nature that pays for it all. The City’s budget for 2020 will be finalized at the end of April after property assessments are finalized. Land values have gone up in recent years due, at least in part, to City policies around development. The City’s new budget, with its proposed $265 million for operating expenses and $43 million for capital expenses, will require an approximate hike in property taxes and utilities of 3.32 percent. The mayor has boasted about adding new programs and services, while keeping tax increases to the rate of inflation plus one percent. For an average residential home ($805,000 assessment), the proposed total municipal property taxes and utility user fees will be approximately $3,605, an increase of $116 over 2019 (on top of a similar increase last year). Property taxes ($140 million) and utilities (about $40 million) comprise the lion’s share of the revenue side of the budget, with parking fees, grants and other revenue providing the rest. In 2019, the “New Property Tax Revenue from New Development” provided an extra $3.7 million and was used to fund such things as more mayor’s office support ($114k), the urban forest management plan ($858k), an Indigenous artist in residence ($72k), a disability coordinator ($128.5k), a climate outreach specialist ($106k), and a climate grant writer ($117k). The draft 2020 budget notes that it is only in recent years—since 2015—that council has used this revenue to fund services. It used to be used solely to reduce taxes and help fund reserves. In a survey about the budget, residents were asked how the City should allocate new tax revenues from development: 55 percent of the 5,100 respondents said “reduce the tax increase.” Half of respondents also said “save for future infrastructure investment.” Only 16 percent responded “invest in new initiatives,” yet that appears to be what the City has done since Mayor Helps was elected in 2014. That same survey showed over half of respondents wanted service levels cut in order to maintain or reduce taxes. An exception in terms of increasing the budget was made for VicPD, where 67 percent judged current spending too low. Council has resisted the Police Board’s requests for additional funds in the past, forcing the Province to step in and order increased funding. This year, it looks like VicPD will get its requested four extra officers. Every new initiative has costs—even if you get a grant from the Feds or Province, and especially if it’s from new development which increases the need for—and maintenance of—all sorts of public infrastructure, from libraries and schools to roads, parks and sewage treatment, as well as services like policing. The new revenue from development is a pittance when considered against all the costs. Reducing our footprint cannot be achieved with continual growth in spending, whether on an individual consumer level, or by government. Climate leadership, then, involves showing how we can do more with less. And sometimes do without. TRANSPARENCY IS AN ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT of an accountable government, and another issue worthy of consideration on voting day. The City of Victoria likes to think of itself as transparent and communicative, but a recent example shows it needs to do some work. In looking into the City’s climate action plan last December, and finding that its greenhouse gas inventory had been done by Stantec, we wondered how much that had cost. The City’s Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) for 2017 and 2018 noted Stantec had been paid $249,629.95 and $211,874.53, respectively. Municipal governments are required by the Province to produce a SOFI annually. It’s supposed to provide a basic level of accountability. Our inquiry was about one line on a long list of outside suppliers who, in 2018, charged the City a total of $110 million. That amounted to 42 percent of the City’s operating budget. The SOFI names the vendors and puts a dollar figure beside each name. But how can the public know how its money is being spent without a little more detail? Could we find out what work Stantec did for the City that cost taxpayers nearly a quarter of a million a year? Focus asked the City’s “engagement” office what services Stantec provided for those sums. It seemed a simple request to the office that responds to simple requests for information from media. But our simple request for information was directed to the City’s information access and privacy analyst. In a number of lengthy, confusing emails, the analyst noted the “complications” in answering Focus’ question: Two days of work would be required due to, among other things, the accounting system, the multiple departments that might have used Stantec, the 7 different vendor record types for Stantec (with 37 invoices, for example, for just one); and the fact that 2017 records were stored offsite. The official concluded with: “Therefore, under section 6 (Duty to Assist) the City is not required to provide the information you are seeking as it would ‘unreasonably interfere with the operations’ of the City.” We persisted, and eventually we asked a question simple enough that the City could answer. In February, we received a one-page record (see link at end of story) from the City’s FOI office showing City ledger entries for Stantec in 2017 and 2018. Among other things, it showed a 2017 charge for over $83,000 for climate action consulting, and another $924 in 2018. (Which was interesting because we had been told earlier that Stantec was paid $17,587 for the emissions inventory —which, as shown in Focus’ last edition, the City manipulated in such a way as to be unrecognizable.) We found the Kafkaesque response to our simple inquiry revealing. No one at City Hall could easily tell us where nearly $500,000 was spent. The City is meeting its legal requirement to produce an annual Statement of Financial Information. But its ability to provide even a slightly deeper level of detail is very limited. There’s no true transparency. Supplier payments, by the way, have increased a whopping 40 percent since 2015 when Mayor Helps took office. It wouldn’t be so bad if, say, staff costs had gone down, but they have increased 10 percent over her mayoralty, with more coming. In 2020, the number of employees will rise another 20-plus to 882. A THIRD, CENTRAL QUESTION TO CONSIDER on by-election day is: What is the role of City Council, anyway? This has become important to answer because Victoria councillors have pushed the boundaries about what a councillor should spend time on—from the removal of Sir John A’s statue through proclamations on subjects that civic governments have no authority over. Is council wasting precious time and resources? It has been argued that council’s amorphous mandate is not just wasteful, but is causing unnecessary divides in our community as councillors move from overseeing City operations to more ideological stands. Questions about council’s role peaked when Councillor Ben Isitt lobbied for a 50 percent raise for council members to a base salary of over $70,000. In the survey of 5,100 mentioned above, 86 percent said, in effect, fugget about it! Some councillors—Isitt included—already make close to $70k with CRD board and committee activities (Mayor Helps about double that). They also get full dental and extended health benefits, and their pay is indexed to the cost of living. They do have to prepare for and attend a lot of meetings. Maybe a $45-70k salary is not enough, but in what kind of fantasyland does one imagine a 50 percent raise? Should it be viewed as a full-time professional-level job? Or modestly-compensated community service, representing City residents on policies? I am looking forward to hearing the views of by-election candidates on such matters. One thing the City Council and those 5,000 citizens agreed on was that priority number one is “Good Governance.” And surely that includes being careful, frugal even, with resources. On the eve of both the by-election and the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Leslie Campbell reminds readers that a healthy, climate-stable environment needs citizens who don’t forget to vote. She also gives thanks to the candidates for sticking their necks out. FOI release of records from City of Victoria: Payments to Stantec in 2017 and 2018 VIC-2019-121 Responsive record.pdf
  3. Whither the Citizen’s Council? Whither democracy? Here, in this reader’s assessment, is a near-perfect teachable example of how and why democracy is failing: In 2014, under considerable pressure from the electorate, media, almost all sources, a question about amalgamation was included on the municipal election ballot. Over 70 percent of the population of 13 municipalities indicated they wanted the issue examined. What did our elected politicians do about this clear mandate? Almost nothing and, we suspect, absolutely nothing would have been the result if not for pressure from outside municipal offices. Then, in 2018, the question is asked again, in a different way and, again, over 70 percent of the population voted for action on this important topic. Anyone who watched and listened to Fred Haynes, Mayor of Saanich, at the Fall 2019 Victoria Chamber annual AGM, knew he would “slow-walk” this project to a whimpering death if he could—he might succeed yet. His behaviour, his words, were an affront to democracy and he’s proven himself consistent when one compares the confident statements about change he made to get elected, with his action since. Two years to set the terms of reference? We appreciate the urgency… The symptoms appear to describe a political class that has decided it is elite. “Elite” is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as “a select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society.” I hope the word offends folks like Mayors Helps and Haynes because it should. The behaviour is deeply offensive to the electorate, the political offices of Mayor and Councillor, and to our system of democracy. You are not elite. You are us, and of us, and we want better. When politicians make decisions like hiring the daughter of the provincial finance minister right out of university for $130,000, removing a controversial statue in a way guaranteed to sow anger and frustration, refusing to answer valid questions, wasting taxpayers’ money and engagement so they can advance a career in provincial politics, skipping 30 percent of council meetings because they’re finishing a PhD, arguing about the results of surveys they created, giving themselves a raise and justifying it with their own work decisions, and ignoring the will of the electorate, they prove they either don’t understand ethical decision-making (a.k.a. good governance) or don’t care. Which is worse? Either way, we are throwing our hands up in the air. At cocktail parties and other social gatherings, we hear a consistent refrain, supported by lots of polling research: Canadians are increasingly disengaged and detached from politics, politicians and the decisions they make. Canadians feel they have little influence, and that bleeds into a pervasive despair. Municipal elections track 30-40 percent participation, which is not only tragic, but creates an environment easy to manipulate by the incumbents, making the disengagement worse. Throw into this mixture the failing economics of local news and therefore less or no accountability for decisions. Accountability helps us be our best selves and, instead, we have this toxic cycle of worsening behaviour. Dear politicians (starting locally), please, do you not see your contribution to this failure? Every small, unethical decision is a grain of sand—on top of so many grains of sand—in our hearts and we can’t take the weight any more. Blaming the media, the disengagement, the other party, the party/person that had your job before you, none of this is helpful and makes you look hopeless, makes us feel hopeless. Do better! This Titanic turns only in the most difficult, and least likely, ways, in my estimation: it turns on every small decision to serve oneself, or serve the community. It turns on a robust discussion about where the ends do and do not justify the means. It turns on a new commitment to reverse the course of political elitism, rejecting hubris, removing money and any lobby influence from either the right or left. It turns on intellectual honesty, humility and service. I wish I were more hopeful. The next Donald Trump/Doug Ford/Erdogan is going to learn from the last ones and make fewer mistakes. Donald Trump has offended the army countless times because he is a fool and his own worst enemy. If he had the military’s unqualified support, why would it matter what the Supreme Court says about his 3rd, 4th, 5th terms? Do you think I’m being overly dramatic? When our community becomes angry enough about this behaviour, we will be vulnerable to anyone who is eloquent, manipulative, self-serving…an effective populist. I’m saying that this outcome is a direct result of the unethical decision-making we see here in our community today. Stephen Ison Transformation wanted In the spirit of a new year and a new decade, Leslie Campbell’s (“The 2020s: time for transformation”) reference to UK scholar Joe Herbert’s advocating for strengthening the role of co-operatives, is likely the simplest (and dare I say, more effective?) way of addressing the increasingly tenuous connection everyday people have with the “machinery” that puts things on the shelves for us to buy. Co-operatives can be peopled by users/producers, concentrating more on local markets. The shareholders can be more than someone “from away” who simply writes cheques for shares, then cashes them in, more than likely on the advice of some computer program that tells them when to buy and sell—without even knowing (or caring) what product/service is being produced. Good advice, Leslie! Rick Weatherill Insurance policy against failure of climate action plans I found David Broadland’s article on local climate change issues in the November/December, 2019 issue of Focus very interesting, as it exposes how hard it is to make a serious dent in reducing greenhouse gasses (GHG). I was particularly intrigued by his description of an alternative emissions accounting concept on consumption of goods and services. One does not know how much GHGs it takes to produce an iPhone or fly to London. Should this be a consideration when we are buying apples from BC or avocados from Mexico? How might one tax carbon on consumption? I disagree with Broadland that we should set aside second-growth forest as reserves to sequester carbon. Wood is a very good and versatile building material, and our building codes are now being revised to allow up to a 10-storey building with very low GHG emissions. Lumber used in buildings is effectively sequestered for the life of the building. Compare this to concrete. The cement required to make a cubic metre of concrete will create between 150 and 300 kg CO2 in manufacturing due to CO2 driven off from the limestone raw materials, heat, and energy required. (The wide range of values depends on how much cement is used in making concrete.) Even assuming a lower 200 kg figure, a load in a large concrete mixer (10 cubic metres) will have created 2 tonnes of CO2. Estimates of the contribution of the cement industry range between 5 and 10 percent of the world’s GHGs. This is an elephant in the room. Another area of interest to me is the waste of good wood that has been sequestered and all of the rubble that goes to landfill when homes are demolished. A significant environmental levy on demolition of existing homes and buildings should be applied and resulting funds used for good environmental purposes. It is a shame that so many structurally-sound homes are being bulldozed to be replaced with ostentatious mega-homes occupied by two people and a dog. Bill Feyer Defusing BC’s big, bad carbon bomb Kudos to David Broadland’s excellent article on how BC is creating more carbon emissions than Alberta’s oil sands. His article is a very simple and clear analysis of the whole forestry industry, from its effect on the environment and jobs to our future. My daughter is a geologist working in the oil sands of Alberta—I’m proud of how her company is working responsibly to develop the energy that the world needs. They are always being cast in such an unfavourable light. To those naysayers: we still need oil. This article is required reading for our politicians in Victoria who instead of pointing the finger at Alberta should look first in their own backyard. Lori Pollock City of Victoria cheats on emissions count David Broadland’s story “City of Victoria cheats on first emissions count” is very interesting, but it contains at least one major inaccuracy. Overall, the story is disturbing, since the City has clearly misrepresented the data. Moreover, they have obviously wasted the money they paid Stantec to carry out this work using standardized methodologies. And some of the political motivations he attributes to the City are certainly plausible. The assertion that the City’s main source of industrial process emissions are the “concrete batch plants around Rock Bay” really got my attention. I live across the street from Ocean Concrete and I look down on their operations daily. To my knowledge, this plant, and the Butler plant further down Bay Street, are engaged only in mixing concrete and not manufacturing cement. There are no kilns for cement manufacture, and those are the main source of GHGs. As far as I know, the only cement plant in BC is Heidelberg Cement in Delta, so the large emissions associated with Victoria’s building boom would be reported there. I was a senior policy advisor for Canada’s GHG Offset Systems agency before it was axed by the Harper government in 2006, and I know how emissions from cement manufacture are estimated, so this really surprised me. Out of curiosity, I downloaded the reports (thanks for the links) and read them both (I’m semi-retired now and have time on my hands). It turns out that contrary to your assertion, the City does not emit any reportable industrial GHG emissions. See section 5.5.4: “There are no industrial GHG emissions occurring within the City’s boundaries, and a ‘Not Occurring’ notation is used.” The number reported for IPPU is from consumer use of products that emit SF6 and NF3 (refrigerants, aerosols etc.), which the report notes the City has “little influence” over. Moreover, these emissions are only crudely estimated in the Stantec report. That’s no reason to exclude them of course, and at the very least, the City’s report should have explained their calculations. I have no doubt that this was a deliberate effort to deceive the public. But this error raises doubts about the accuracy of other elements of your report, so it might be worth correcting. Thanks for this very interesting article and your effort in obtaining this data. Ken Waldie Generation squeeze I live in Harris Green and I have attended two of the three public meetings that the Starlight developers organized. I was at the December 3 meeting that was mentioned in Ross Crockford’s article. It was described inaccurately by an anonymous writer on the blog Vibrant Victoria as “90 percent senior citizens blathering.” This is not only wrong but insulting. Why would you quote an anonymous insult? The audience at the meeting was mostly middle-aged, some young couples, a minority of older people. I was surrounded by 30-somethings in the back row. From my vantage point, I could see the whole crowd of close to 100 people. The standing-room-only situation left many people leaning on the surrounding walls; these people were not seniors. At the meeting we were given a great deal of information through slides and architects’ talks. There were some impromptu questions from the audience, so by the time question period opened there wasn’t much left out. I felt most questions I had were answered. I think that’s why the audience reaction could be described as quiet. However, the thought of the chaos of 10 years of demolition and construction of an entire city block beside my condo is overwhelming and indescribable. Marilyn Welch Ross Crockford responds: The reader’s description of the meeting is correct, and I should have provided more detail about the composition of the audience. But I’m not sure the anonymous “victorian” quoted in my article was completely wrong, because there is wiggle room in phrases like “middle-aged” and “senior citizen.” I’m 56, and while I like to think I’m middle-aged, I’m probably a senior citizen in the eyes of those in their 20s, so to them, “90 percent senior citizens” might’ve seemed accurate. I agree the comment by “victorian” was insulting, but I ultimately decided to include it because it illustrates the frustration young people have with the lack of affordable housing in Victoria, and where some of them place blame for it, however mistakenly. Heritage at risk An urgent situation has developed around Mount St Angela, the outstanding 1866 heritage building at 923 Burdett Ave. Designed by John Wright, the first architect in Victoria, Mount St Angela, with its spire is the outstanding example of High Gothic brick architecture in early Victoria. The original 1866 school still stands with an 1876 addition, a three-storey red brick hotel wing of 1912, and the attached Temple residence at 924 McClure Street. Financial grants are only provided after heritage designation, which is supposed to ensure building preservation. In 1991 and 1992, all the parts received heritage designation and the British Columbia Heritage Branch gave grants for preservation. In total, taxpayers supplied $75,000 of the $120,000 expended on restoration (Mount St Angela Conservation Plan, 2010, p. 34). The Victoria Heritage Foundation also provided funds for stabilization of the 1866 chimneys. During a series of redevelopment proposals for the entire large property, beginning in 2006, the designation of the 1912 hotel addition was removed.The latest proposal, coming up for a hearing, would see the original 1866 building retained and the 1912 section demolished. This includes parts restored, such as the bay windows’ stucco, the side porch cedar roof, and front brick porte cochere. The suitability of the proposed new structures (in all there will be 132 housing units) crowding in the old building is controversial. Despite my reminders since 2009, civic authorities did not acknowledge the taxpayer-funded grants. After recently checking with the Heritage Branch, civic authorities wrote that “significant private investment” to conserve and rehabilitate one section without government aid is enough compensation. Present policies do not consider past grants. Surely, the best solution is retention for housing, like the hotel’s present use. If this proposal is approved, it would set a bad precedent for heritage, especially in Old Town Victoria. Already the heritage-designated Duck Building is under threat of demolition (only the facade will be retained). As much of Old Town has been preserved through taxpayer-funded grants and tax exemptions, the loss of public money would be substantial. Mary E. Doody Jones, Diploma of Cultural Conservation, UVic Heritage Advocate for 40 years
  4. The biodiversity and climate crises are a reflection of our culture’s emphasis on economic growth. WHILE I WON'T BE ALIVE when the worst effects of the climate and biodiversity crises play out, children born today will be; and I think we owe it to them to be clear-eyed and fierce in our efforts to leave them a healthy planet. This edition of Focus, our entry into a pivotal new year and decade, provides thought-provoking reporting and analysis about the challenges of growth in the region, and what we are and are not doing to maintain the natural world on which we depend. Like Focus’ writers, Greta Thunberg is a refreshing witness to our current situation because she doesn’t skirt around the truth. At last September’s UN Climate Action Summit, she famously told world leaders, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” The dark side of planet Earth (Photo by NASA) It seems apparent that “business as usual”—especially eternal economic growth—is a recipe for the end of much that we cherish on this planet. Many species are going extinct with predictions of more to come as climate change wreaks its havoc. Our own species may have difficulty feeding itself, and many parts of the Earth will simply become too hot and dry for habitation. As Stephen Hume writes in this edition, sea level rise and flooding will progressively render coastal areas unliveable. Climate refugees are already searching for new homes and will grow in numbers, challenging the rest of us to make them welcome. As disasters unfold, however, our GDP (Gross Domestic Product), as a measure of economic activity, will go up. This shows the inadequacy of the GDP as a yardstick of well-being or progress, and certainly of sustainability. Even the economist who developed it in 1934 warned it couldn’t be considered an indicator of well-being. Through the decades, its ups and downs have been reliably in synch with ecological destruction. It has always been easy to notice that rising GDP or economic growth comes with noise, waste and pollution, and that it is perfectly compatible with worsening poverty. But the reality that economic growth also ripped up the Earth and its ecosystems—and warmed the atmosphere—was somewhat hidden behind the scenes. Science and the environmental movement have removed our blinders. We now know (or should) that infinite growth on a finite planet is beyond unsustainable, it’s disastrously destructive. Many advocate replacing the GDP with other yardsticks as a truer reflection of the well-being of a population—from Bhutan with its Gross National Happiness, to University of Waterloo’s Canadian Index of Wellness. The Green New Deal seems to have a more holistic approach, as does the “triple bottom line.” And there’s a growing chorus in support of a “steady state economy” or “degrowth.” Proponents include the likes of E.O. Wilson, Jane Goodall, and David Suzuki. According to the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, “In a steady state economy, people consume enough to meet their needs and lead meaningful, joyful lives without undermining the life-support systems of the planet. They choose to consume energy and materials responsibly, conserving, economizing, and recycling where appropriate…Personal and societal decisions about how much to consume take into account sustainability principles and the needs of future generations.” Technological progress still exists in such a vision, but is driven by the need for better goods and services, as opposed to quantity. A UK scholar, Joe Herbert, takes it a step further, writing: “degrowth argues for establishing more localized economies, which reduce the reliance on high-emission international trade flows. By strengthening the role of co-operatives, solidarity and sharing economies, production processes could be democratically organized around social and ecological well-being, rather than the resource-insatiable profit motive…degrowth not only provides a practical route out of climate breakdown but also offers the prospect of simpler, more fulfilling ways of living, where more time can be dedicated to community, relationships and creative pursuits. To reframe [Robert] Kennedy’s words, degrowth truly has the power to prioritize the things which make life worthwhile.” On the other hand, a system which relies on continual growth will continue to exploit the planet’s natural resources, destroying ecosystems and the atmosphere that supports us all. As David Broadland shows in this edition, we are trashing our coastal forests, a natural gift, centuries in the making. The BC government and industry brag that such forestry—much of it in the form of raw logs shipped to Asia—is our largest export and a valued contributor to our GDP. But as David’s numbers illustrate, given an accounting of the carbon emissions involved, it is utterly nonsensical, resulting in a “carbon bomb” surpassing even that of the oilsands. Moreover, we are blowing the opportunity for an incredible carbon capture and storage system. Our forests, if re-imagined, could transform BC and Canada’s carbon footprint and the well-being of future generations. THE HIGH LEVEL OF CONSUMPTION we in the developed nations engage in results in high levels of global CO2 emissions. Even our purchases of electric vehicles and solar panels have both emissions and other environmental costs associated with them, as they involve resource extraction, manufacturing, and shipping. Every time the Earth is forced to cough up more resources, biodiversity is impacted. The luxury condos we’ve gained throughout Greater Victoria add to the biodiversity and climate crises. Often marketed to wealthy people from away, often as second homes which they will fly to and from regularly, they strain our infrastructure and have immense environmental costs. The planet and our communities would be better off densifying existing housing stock by encouraging single-family homeowners to host secondary suites and garden suites through innovative programs. Could the CRD or BC Housing help launch local industries to make modular or tiny-home garden suites that could be rented or purchased by homeowners willing to rent to others at an affordable (but not money-losing) rate? Right now it’s simply too costly for most homeowners to finance such homes themselves. While there’s a growing call for a stable or steady-state economy that works for everyone, you won’t find many politicians advocating anything but continual economic growth. In fact, any proposal that might cause just the rate of growth to decline, risks condemnation. This helps explain why, for instance, at the municipal level, virtually all development is welcomed with open arms by city councils (see stories by Judith Lavoie, Briony Penn, and Ross Crockford). Most of them appear to believe growth is always good—so it’s up to us to educate them, or vote them out of office. At the provincial and federal levels, the growth-is-good philosophy plays out in the abuse of forests and the continuing subsidies to the oil and gas industry (see Russ Francis in this edition). Canada’s GDP largely parallels our greenhouse gas emissions which, on a per capita basis, are more than double that of the average of G20 nations. Relevant to coverage in this edition, the Climate Transparency organization highlighted this observation: “In order to stay within the 1.5°C limit, Canada needs to make the land use and forest sector a net sink of emissions, e.g. by halting the expansion of residential areas and by creating new forests.” And it’s critical to start making such changes in 2020, says the research body. But it will be far from easy, and perhaps that’s why, once people get elected to office, they do things like buy an oil pipeline or encourage a bigger tax base through carbon-intensive development. Such government decisions mean our role as citizens, actively encouraging wise, far-sighted policy change, is our most important role. While there are other things we can do at a personal level—from eating a plant-based diet to foregoing fossil-fuel-powered travel and home heating—the larger part of our per-capita footprint comes from our collective economy and the reality that 76 percent of the energy that supports it is from fossil fuels. Taken together, Canadian industries, institutions, the jobs they create and the taxes they and their employees pay, provide public health care, education, transportation infrastructure, waste management, care homes, pensions, social assistance, and on and on. We all benefit from Canada’s collective, carbon-intensive economy. Transforming it will not be easy or comfortable. I think it’s safe to predict the 2020s will be a decade of transformation for us all, on many levels. A well-informed public is crucial to make that transformation happen, so Focus will continue to work on that front—aided by our readers. As our “Readers’ Views” section makes clear, you have a lot to contribute to the discussion. Editor Leslie Campbell wishes Focus readers all the best in 2020, mindful that the best things in life are free, including a sense of community, peaceful times in nature and with friends, meaningful work, watching kittens play…
  5. Journalism refugia Thank you Focus for persisting in maintaining a “Journalism Refugia” from whence so many of southern BC’s endangered investigative journalists can disseminate information into the rest of the world. I always end up reading every word in every issue with great relish for the well-researched, straightforward, illuminating and expertly written articles. Jo Phillips Easter Island 2.0 In reading Leslie Campbell’s “Tug-of-war over school lands,” followed by David Broadland’s “An insurance policy against the failure of local climate action plans,” then “Density on trial” by Ross Crockford and “The vanishing ancient forests of Vancouver Island” by Stephen Hume—all in addition to Leslie Campbell’s Sept/Oct article “Strong sanctions needed for destroying public records” and Stephen Hume’s “The Cowichan River: loving and logging it to death”—I hit upon a Eureka moment. What Saanich and Victoria (though not excluding other regions, up to and including the federal government) are embarking on is nothing less than Easter Island Redux (or the more up-to-date nomenclature Easter Island 2.0). Those unfamiliar with the collapse of the civilization of Easter Island can google it. In essence, we have an unresponsive leadership, set on one course and only one course, and sadly with the encouragement of the general population, by non-participation or active support or ignorance. We use our renewable forests and fisheries much faster than they can regenerate for either future use or as carbon sinks. We throw off any natural systems by the simple expedient of wiping out keystone species and introducing foreign species (Victoria is the second “rattiest” city in BC). We build our version of Easter Islanders’ “Moai” but we call them condos and high-rises, all the while encouraging a steady (if not cascading) influx of people, testing Greta Thunberg’s “Fairytales of eternal economic growth.” The only prerequisite seems to be BC—Bring Cash. With a willful series of municipal councils, provincial and federal governments, all of which pay lip service to the “climate emergency,” we are as lemmings. Richard Weatherill Tug-of-war over school land in Fernwood I was interested to read Leslie Campbell’s article on the proposed CRHC housing development in Fernwood. I understand the development will include a childcare facility operated by Fernwood NRG, as well as 154 units of below-market-rate housing. I also understand that this childcare facility will likely be part of the $10/Day pilot program, and workers there will likely be represented by BCGEU. As an early childhood educator (ECE) and an activist for economic justice for childcare workers, I encourage Fernwood residents to consider that a housing development such as this is absolutely necessary if the community wants low-cost childcare in the neighbourhood. Childcare wages in Victoria are very low: for example, Fernwood NRG advertised a childcare position recently at just $16/hour, while ECEs at local non-profits represented by BCGEU make around $19-21/hour. Current childcare policy sets a low goalpost of raising wages to $25/hour for ECEs within ten years (yes, you read that right, $25/hr within ten years), while increasing wages for non-credentialed childcare workers is even less of a political priority. This means that an experienced ECE working full-time at a facility like the one in the proposed development meets current CRHC eligibility requirements, and will be able to apply for a housing unit in the development. It also means that ECEs in the Fernwood area, and other working people rendering useful services, are currently totally screwed for housing. Take a quick look at rental listings in Fernwood and surrounding areas, compare them with the wages above, and you’ll understand why there is a shortage of childcare workers and low-income workers generally. So: want affordable childcare in the neighbourhood? You need to either pay childcare workers a wage that matches up with living expenses—in Victoria, $28/hour is the current “rental wage,” the wage at which workers can afford market rent—or subsidize our housing. If the community chooses to do neither, you can expect the shortage of experienced ECEs to continue and get even worse as older staff isolated from the housing crisis retire, and rent marches upwards four percent each year while wages don’t. Suzanne DeWeese, ECE Density on trial Change is inevitable; unfettered change is not. A 2017 Victoria News article remembering Peter Pollen—Victoria’s mayor for eight years in the 1970/80s—states, “During his time…Peter kept a phone book in his office that had a photo on the cover of Vancouver’s skyline…It was an image he didn’t want for Victoria.” The article noted that the Hallmark Society—the region’s oldest preservation group—honoured Peter with an award of merit for his contribution to heritage preservation.” Regrettably, City Hall has long since abandoned Pollen’s measured and sensible approach toward Victoria. With today’s condos-first agenda—out with the old and never mind the sustainable—Lisa Helps and her council have taken Victoria’s aesthetic and functional demise to the next level. Helps sees herself as an anti-global-warming activist and spends millions on bike lanes, but the growth she encourages effectively grinds ever-increasing amounts of traffic practically to a halt, thus ensuring ever increasing amounts of emissions from congestion and all those idling cars at the far-too-many newly installed intersections. At 2019’s Climate Summit, she proclaimed that Victoria will plant hundreds of trees—where and when not mentioned—while not mentioning the mature trees razed, by the dozens, by developers—under her watch. Therefore, is it any wonder she’s managed to infuriate residents by consistently ignoring the Official Community Plan in so many different neighbourhoods? So finally, the City of Victoria is being taken to court over the matter. Bravo, grassroots! As I write, Helps is on CBC radio declaring the need for, and benefits of, healthy, resilient communities just as council members—who, by the way, are not City Hall staff—want a staggering 50 percent wage increase while other public-sector employees scrape by on two percent. So, from the macro to the micro reality on the streets, what will be the legacy of all of this? With the exception of a few tourist-designated streets and areas, Victoria’s core is neglected and filthy, with ridiculous, childish and poorly-visible crosswalk patterns which are already fading into obscurity. I have been avoiding the Downtown core since walking past the smeared remains of excrement—at waist height—against a wall on View Street. Many times I have seen homeless people trying to relieve themselves discretely, even though that’s entirely impossible in public. Which to despair over more: the climate crisis, or extreme homelessness? Victoria, how did we come to normalize extreme homelessness? What happened to all those promises, plans and funds for converting inns into social housing? I bet the cost of one, traffic-jamming bike lane alone would have repurposed enough suites and probably built a few public toilets around town to avoid the crime of allowing humans to suffer the indignities of having to urinate and defecate on the outside of buildings. Alas, we are no longer behaving like a sane society. Back in 1975, my parents found here a charming little city set in a magnificent landscape with probably more trees than people. A place with a pace of life that came as a tremendous relief compared to the one we left behind in busy, overpopulated Melbourne, Australia. To my 12-year-old self, this was heaven. Today, walking the few intact trails remaining on the outskirts of Victoria (mainly in Metchosin and further out), it’s heartbreaking seeing everything that’s already been lost on the landscape and the continuing dismemberment of what remains. My husband and I are planning to leave Victoria as soon as possible. Our ideal is a tiny, forgotten hamlet somewhere that’s both off the electronic, wireless grid and off the map. Hopefully where someone with common sense—in the style and in the spirit of a Peter Pollen—still runs things, and where island time still runs on actual island time and not on those recently popped-up, wishful thinking, throw-back bumper stickers. Jana Kalina The vanishing ancient forests of Vancouver Island It may seem like inverse logic, but the best way to conserve the BC coast’s legendary Douglas Fir biome is to commit to make wood products that will endure. And the only wood in a Doug Fir log that has any chance of endurance is heartwood. But the reality is that 80-year-old second growth Doug Fir is usually about 50 percent sapwood by volume, and all that sapwood will rot or get eaten by bugs in a very short time. Logging of this immature second growth is actually accelerating the burn of BC’s biggest carbon bomb. David Shipway Let the herring live Briony Penn has provided a very thorough and interesting article on a very important issue with huge implications to the Salish Sea and beyond, including migrating water fowl that rely on herring and their roe to nourish them for their long journeys to nesting sites in the north. Herring are vital to the web of life in the marine ecosystem and in the traditional diet of coastal Indigenous peoples for millennia, as shown in archeologic studies of fish bones in middens. Good science indicates a serious decline in spawning populations of herring which are crucial to salmon, including chinook, which are vital to resident orcas. The DFO “Integrated Management Plan” serves the interests of the commercial fishing industry, but has led to the decimation of all of the herring populations of the BC coast except for one—near Hornby Island and Denman Island, between Comox and Parksville. The logical plan would be to suspend this fishery to allow a recovery to recur before it is too late. David Wiseman, Board member, Conservancy Hornby Island An insurance policy against the failure of local climate action plans David Broadland’s informative and insightful article on conserving selected BC forests for carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in optimizing our collective response to the accelerating climate crisis. It will form an important part of the curriculum for the ṮEṮÁĆES Climate Action Project, a community based, Indigenous-led climate action education for the Southern Gulf Islands. Please check our website at www.sgicommunityresources.ca and click on “climate-action-project.” Paul Petrie David Broadland unfortunately omits the need for all governments to invest in climate adaptation strategies, simply because there is little likelihood of governments anywhere actually meeting the challenge of mitigating climate change. Better than just a “plan B,” adaptation is really the best “insurance policy” for our municipalities to protect their residents by climate-change-proofing our infrastructure. While mitigation is important, climate adaptation strategies may also serve to protect residents against a broader range of risks and threats, even beyond those attributable directly to climate change. While most governments include a brief mention of the need for adaptation, it will only be when significant resources are invested that we will know our leaders are seriously addressing the need for climate change adaptation. John Newcomb This article was courageous because it revealed new construction’s detrimental Earth/climate impact. Every new structure anywhere on the planet creates an extraction hole or swath 10 times the building’s size somewhere else on the planet, in addition to the carbon emitted. That hole or swath applies to the cement, wood, steel, granite, glass, drywall…everything in new construction. New structures should only be built for democratically well-established community need—not private developer profit. They also need to be zero-carbon. See the online study “New Tricks with Old Bricks” by the British Empty Homes Agency charity. It’s a compelling case for a mass renovation program rather than new construction. Developers are not building new homes for bigger families and population growth. There’s already enough housing stock for the existing Canadian population in total. We need to improve and make affordable the places that people already live in. The Green New Deal’s (GND) renovation mass-employment program will invest billions to upgrade existing homes and apartments, starting with the Indigenous. The new GND jobs will allow folks to stay where they are currently living or move with the GND livable-wage job corps to wherever the work is needed. Homeless shall be given nice empty apartments or condominiums. There are more than enough sitting empty right now. Larry Wartels Any demand for Alberta bitumen in Asia? My thanks and congratulations to Briony Penn for her excellent article in the Sept/Oct Focus thoroughly debunking the “need” to get Alberta bitumen to tidewater. As she points out, current tanker capacity at the Westbridge Marine Terminal is greatly under-utilized and most tankers leaving the terminal are headed for California, not China, where the price per barrel is lower. It’s refreshing to read a well-researched article with references, instead of press releases from oil companies which too often contain figures that seem to be pulled out of thin air. The facts presented in Penn’s article make it very difficult for anyone to make a convincing case for building the Trans Mountain Pipeline. She also points out that mainstream media continue to under-report on this issue. Given the cost of the pipeline and the environmental ramifications, this story should be on the front page of every newspaper in the country. It’s particularly galling to me that, as Penn reports in her article, oil sands production has increased by 376 percent since 2000, when oil companies already knew that CO2 emissions contributed to global warming. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the oil companies made the calculated decision to get as much bitumen out of the ground and build as many pipelines as they could before public pressure forces the government to take strong action against climate change. We’re still waiting for that action. Murray Goode Climate change is now top of mind I read with great interest Trudy Duivenwoorden’s latest column on the climate emergency we are experiencing. I always enjoy her thoughtful writings, and I know many people do. I agree with her that the politicians, for the most part, are doing next to nothing to solve the problem. They just talk and talk, and they hope the talking would be good enough to get them off the hook and reelected. By the time they actually start taking meaningful action, it’ll be too late. The press is doing a lot more these days, spreading the bad news ever more frequently, and often, like in Trudy’s case, offering suggestions for general policy and individual actions. However, in my view, the press is also late. The coverage that we see now should have been there 20 or 30 years ago. They could have offered suggestions, carried out frequent interviews of the scientists doing the research, performed more science journalism. So many things. All this would have created widespread awareness of the danger ahead, and most likely would have pushed people to action, individually and at the ballot box. The press can be a powerful force. Timely reporting nowadays would be to start telling people that if we manage to solve this crisis, whatever we do—unless an unlikely miracle technological fix is found—it’s going to be painful. A smooth transition to a “new order” is no longer possible, as it would have been 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago. Now the fire is at the gates, and we won’t be able to come out unscathed. Sounds bleak and dark, but it is sadly realistic. J.G.Miranda COP25 concluded without an agreement to combat the climate crisis, leaving a worsening mess for younger generations to clean up and survive—if they can. “Canada is no longer the worst,” writes Elizabeth May, “but we still won a few Fossils of the Day [Awards].” Prime Minister Trudeau found the climate crisis insufficiently important to be worth attending. One wonders what would! Our youth have every right to be angry, but anger needs channelling. Calling people stupid doesn’t help. But what is one to think when on a radio call-in show someone says there’s no point in Canada combatting the climate crisis because we contribute so little to it globally? We contribute little because we have a small population compared with many other countries. Per capita, however, we contribute more than most to climate change. And Canada, having a smaller, well-educated population, is ideally situated to lead in significant actions that others might find difficult to take. Sweden is similarly small, but Greta Thunberg created more awareness about the climate crisis than any politician in the super-powers. Canada could take the lead! Philip Symons Don’t mention LNG! Regarding Russ Francis excellent piece on LNG and where all those wonderful jobs-jobs-jobs have gone, adding to the confusion is this: if Canada’s corporate media is your only source, you may not have read enough to understand what happened over there. Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already issued measures that amount to moratoriums on fracking. Canadian media, so often forgetful of detail, whether deliberately or not, have helped pro-fracking politicians (both federal and provincial) avoid having to answer several awkward questions, including: How can two countries arrive at opposite conclusions about whether fracking is sufficiently safe? Ernst Random Why are we in trouble? I love Maleea Acker’s story on establishing her own native garden—such inspiration! I have a dream where I go around restoring and replanting the most degraded plots of land I can find—of course, starting at home. Thank you so much for doing this and sharing your story! Dominique Argan Thanks for Maleea Acker’s piece in the November/December Focus. There are so many things wrong with our current approach. I will pick on just one. As climate change dries up tadpole pools early, we are not allowed to move them to a new pool to save their lives. Huge fines prevent this. We are not allowed to release them into our back gardens that they inhabited 30 years ago. So they can never repopulate areas again. It is absurd. I think BC needs new rules to allow us to help our native amphibians and reptiles repopulate areas that they lost in the past. My old house in Vic West had salamanders in the basement in about 2002. The only way salamanders can ever return to Vic West is with human help. Why not change the rules to allow this? Brian White UNDRIP in theory—but in action? On October 24 the BC government tabled their Bill on adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. With the support of the Greens, the Bill will surely pass. Last year I attended a meeting at our local college to hear three guests talk about the BC government’s decision to proceed with the Liberal project to build the Site C dam. Amnesty International presented, as did Indigenous leader Bob Chamberlin, and journalist Sarah Cox (award-winning author of Breaching the Peace). I took home a copy of UNDRIP and am astounded at how many articles in this document have been violated by the ongoing construction of the Site C dam. Is there any chance that this bill could be made “retroactive” in order to address these serious violations? Probably not. Sadly, in my elder years, I’ve become somewhat cynical. I see the BC government, hydro, forestry, mining companies, and the LNG promoters publicly getting that “free, prior and informed consent” and then carrying on as planned! The Minister has said so himself: “NO veto over development…minimum standards,” obviously business as usual. Very disheartening. Rosemary Baxter Bicycle lanes on Kimta Road? City council is engaging in what it calls consultation for a new bike path along Kimta Road to link the E & N Rail trail ending at Catherine Street to the Johnson Street Bridge. As part of the consultation process there was a walk through of the proposed route. The plan is to put a two-way bike path on the north side of Kimta Road between the sidewalk and street parking. There were a number of questions asked about this plan. Why not continue the bike path along the E and N rail from Catherine to the Johnson Street Bridge? The answer was, this is very complicated, that part of the trail is privately owned. The long-term plan is for a bike path to be included in the rail corridor—therefore the path along Kimta will be temporary, or so we are lead to believe. In my experience, once something is put in, it is very rarely, if ever, removed. Recently, an article in the Capital Daily indicated very positive signs that the Rail trail may open again to commuter trains. This could happen as early as 2022. I’m guessing this will also include the bicycle/pedestrian corridor. The “temporary” bike path on Kimta Road won’t be completed until 2020 or 2021, so why not wait a year or two for a more permanent solution instead of potentially needing to make two trails? Why the rush? There is already a bike path along Esquimalt Road, so instead of disturbing a residential street, why not put money into linking an already established path and improving it? Supposedly, a lot of cyclists don’t feel comfortable cycling on a busy street, and city council wants to make cycling accessible to all levels. It is interesting that council uses that argument for not improving an already established path along Esquimalt Road, yet they didn’t hesitate to spend huge amounts of money to put new ones along busy streets through the Downtown core. Finally, as Kimta is already a wide street, there is ample room for pedestrians, cyclists and all types of vehicles, so why not just leave it as is, and continue to work on opening up the E & N corridor? The City’s answer was, some cyclists don’t feel comfortable riding by parked cars. This is so absurd as to be ridiculous. I guess if I, as a pedestrian, said I was uncomfortable sharing pathways with cyclists, city council would immediately work to mitigate that situation. No, wait: I have sent numerous emails to council suggesting ways they could make the shared pathways more pedestrian- friendly, and a year later, nothing has happened. These legitimate questions and ideas were virtually ignored, and it soon became obvious this wasn’t a true consultative process. The Kimta Road route is a done deal. In fact, signs have already gone up in the neighbourhood indicating the proposed route. City council is encouraging people to interact in the process, but only as far as picking one of the three types of paths from the options provided, not the proposed route. True to council’s myopic view, this decision has been based on some very old information about the amount of parking allowed on Kimta, disregarding the fact that the Bayview condo complex is not complete. There are very poor sitelines when turning from the sidestreets, and narrowing the street is going to potentially impact traffic flow. Parts of the route behind The Delta Hotel are too narrow, badly paved, and poorly lit for two-way cyclist and foot traffic. This area can’t be widened because it is right up against the hotel wall. The lighting belongs to the condo next door, and although residents have attempted to improve this, in eight years, nothing has happened. Council is going to do it anyway despite these concerns. I am not against bicycle paths in this city. I am, however, against the way City council has gone about creating them. They claim to consult or engage the public, but in reality, it is lip service only. Council has chosen to support their preferred method of transportation to the exclusion of every other form, including transit, pedestrian, and yes, the dreaded car. Council claims that bicycle lanes are good for the environment, and that there are now less cars in the Downtown core. I would agree with this in theory, however when bike lanes impede the flow of traffic, leaving cars idling for longer periods of time, how environmentally friendly is this? We will never know, because council chooses to provide numbers and statistics that support their views only. The increased number of bike lanes have also contributed to cyclists feeling very entitled. They believe they can do whatever they want, including illegal right hand turns, blowing through stop signs and crosswalks, riding on sidewalks and pedestrian-only walkways, cycling the wrong way on one-way streets, cycling on wheelchair accessible ramps…the list goes on. Instead of council acknowledging this, and working at ways to mitigate the situation they continue to ignore it. This only serves to contribute to the belief that again they are supporting one group of commuters in this city. City council claims they want to make the city accessible to all levels of cyclists. Why not try to make it accessible to all? They could start by not putting an unnecessary bike path along Kimta Road and work harder to open up the E & N trail onto the Johnson Street Bridge. Erie Pentland
  6. Victoria’s affordable housing crisis puts the bullseye on public land in Fernwood. WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE OF MY HOME is one of my favourite city neighbourhoods: Fernwood. I love its diversity, its heritage homes, its artsy, alternative vibe and lack of pretentiousness. These days its experiencing a lot of community angst over a proposed housing development on lands owned mostly by School District 61 to the west of Vic High. Called the Caledonia, it will offer 154 units of desperately needed affordable non-market housing. The Fernwoodians I know say they have no issue with the “affordable” aspect. Instead they are concerned with its size, the impacts on the neighbourhood’s traffic, the precedent it will set for further development, and the loss of School District-owned land. The developer—in this case the CRD’s Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC)—has submitted its development application to City Hall, and is requesting rezoning and Official Community Plan (OCP) amendments, with the hope of a fall 2020 construction start. In total there are five separate buildings, including three-storey townhouse rows, and four- and five-storey apartment buildings, with 109 parking stalls underneath. Artist's rendering of one part of the Caledonia redevelopment proposal The first the community heard about the new Caledonia project was last November when an agreement was announced among the City, CRHC, BC Housing and School District 61 (SD61) to create the large housing complex. This “Letter of Intent” was both an agreement to work out a “land swap” among the players and a vision for the 154-unit housing complex. The land swap would “assemble” a 9,000 square-foot rectangular lot, owned by SD61, but leased for 60 years to CRHC which would build the housing. The City of Victoria would end up owning the Compost Education Centre, Spring Ridge Community Gardens and Haegert Park, all important community spaces currently owned by the School District. It was a big deal. Ownership before (left) and after the land swap. The project would go on the SD 61 land (blue swath, right). (Courtesy of Fernwood Village Vibe) After some feedback from the community, CRHC made changes to its plan, and last summer held an open house for the community. Christine Culham, a senior manager with CRHC, told me, “I do think we’ve been really thoughtful in the way we listened to the community around their concerns.” She mentioned that building heights have been reduced (though there’s still one at five storeys)—and topmost floors of the two higher ones “stepped back” to appear less massive. Neighbourhood traffic concerns led to changes in the configuration of entrances. A building of 1,500 square feet was added to provide community space. Long-time Fernwood resident and Fernwood Community Association board member Dorothy Field emailed me in August, saying, “the proponents, CRHC are treating it as a totally done deal. The Fernwood community is not very happy, so the designers have tweaked the plan a bit with ‘green’ addenda but nothing substantive has changed.” She noted that Fernwoodians are supportive of a new development which provides low-income housing, but “we are distressed at the size, density, and height of this proposal. When asked if the number of apartments could be reduced, CRHC said, ‘No, that’s the arithmetic.’” Culham explained to me that while they try hard to keep everyone happy, the number-one priority of the City of Victoria and the CRD is affordable housing, so that weighs heavily in the balancing of objectives. Building costs have increased 36 percent, she notes, “so it’s difficult to make a property affordable without any government grant or intervention. Right now both the provincial and federal governments are coming to the table with funding…that hasn’t happened in 20 years, so we’re looking to take advantage of those grants; you never know when they’re going to go away.” The Caledonia project has already been approved for provincial funding, partly because of its high number of units. Given the cost of land and construction, the only way to have affordability in the City of Victoria is to create density, Culham continued. “How do we get the best use out of land? Just like the fire hall, building up is the only way we’re going to be able to get that.” In the case of the Caledonia, she says, “I am mindful and I am empathetic to the challenge around change, but I do think that the benefits outweigh the change that is occurring.” Culham, who lived in Fernwood in the past and appreciates its special character, feels the Caledonia’s proximity to Cook Street and its amenities mean its “walkability score is off the charts.” A passionate advocate for affordable housing, she sees the provision of it in the City of Victoria as a matter of fairness and equity. With 61 percent of those living in the City of Victoria being renters—with a median household income of $44,600—the average rent they can afford is $1100 per month. But the average rent for listed vacancies in the City is now close to $1500 per month. So in her analysis, with Caledonia rents averaging $1000, she is building housing for the majority of the population. “Those are the people we don’t hear from, even though we have 1,500 waiting for homes on the BC Housing Registry,” she said. I MET WITH FERNWOOD RESIDENTS Dorothy Field and Trish Richards for a look at the site of the proposed housing on a sunny fall day. They first pointed out to me the CRHC housing already occupying some of the SD61 land. Built in 1992, there are 18 units for families in the attached townhouse structure (also called Caledonia). Only 27 years old, it will be torn down, not just to make room for the new development but, according to Culham, because “it’s a leaky condo.” In 2012, the CRHC was given a remediation estimate of $130,000 per unit. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines leaky condos as a “catastrophic failure” of building envelopes, which lets water into the building frame and leads to rot, rust, decay and mould. It has been attributed in part to a building boom in the 1980s and early ’90s, which led to a high demand for workers and materials, and in turn to lower-quality construction and materials. It’s not a stretch to think something like it could happen again, given the current construction boom. Culham told me residents of the old Caledonia will have first right of refusal once the new buildings are complete. Meanwhile, they have been offered alternative units in other CRHC buildings. One current resident, who came by to talk to us as we wandered around, said seven families had already moved out, which seemed premature given nothing had been approved—including the land swap and the rezoning from a combination of “Traditional Residential” and “Parks” to “Urban Residential.” The resident said that due to her special needs, she was having to look at housing out in the Royal Oak area. As we chatted in the sunshine, David Maxwell came by on his bike. He is the chair of Fernwood Community Association’s Land Use Committee. He noted that CRHC has known for years about the problems their tenants have been living with and dragged their feet on remediation of the 18 units. “Why should we have faith CRHC will be able to manage 154 units properly?” he asked. Maxwell and Richards agreed that the first order of business was to let the School Board know they should not be giving up any more school land. Besides the land under the existing Caledonia, much of the lot is “rubble fields” resulting from the demolition of the Fairey Tech school buildings in 2011 (the tech programs moved to a new facility). It was understood by the neighbourhood that this area would provide, once remediated, more green and activity space for the school and community. Eight years later that still hadn’t happened. PERHAPS I SHOULD REMIND READERS that Vic High’s renewal was the subject of a lengthy process of public consultation involving three options for upgrading and necessary seismic work. The community made it clear they preferred the Full Monty, involving seismic and other improvements, as well as creating room for 200 more students and a Neighbourhood Learning Centre. In June 2018, the School Board unanimously supported it. The price tag was $79.7 million. No one was warned, however, “If you choose this option, we’ll have to build housing on school lands.” Yet when the new Caledonia project was first announced last November, and through subsequent consultations, raising needed funds to fix Vic High was part of the rationale. At the end of June 2019, however, the Province came though with $77.1 million in funding for the high school upgrades—leaving SD61 with only $2.6 million to raise. People are now questioning whether the School Board should be entering into long-term leases on Vic High lands when such a small amount could likely be raised by any number of less-invasive means. Chief among those people are Fernwood residents Scott Fox and Corey Kowal. Throughout the fall they’ve been making the rounds of School Board and committee meetings with well-polished power point presentations. The father of two girls who currently attend George Jay Elementary and will likely attend Vic High, Fox’s background as a business analyst is apparent in his presentations. Kowal, like Fox, lives with her family near Vic High. She has a background in strategic planning and operations management with the BC government. Using aerial shots of different local high school grounds, Kowal argued at one SD61 committee meeting that Vic High, after the proposed removal of land for housing, would have less space per child than most other high schools in the district. School green space, research has shown, correlates with improved mental health, safety and school pride, she said, noting, “Once the land is gone, it’s gone.” With an inner-city school like Vic High, where many students don’t have their own back yards, it’s especially important to have green and activity space available. Ministry of Education regulations call for each school in the province to provide a minimum of five hectares of land per 1,000 students. Fox worked out the space left for educational purposes after the land swap to be 4.69 hectares per 1,000 students. Culham disputes those numbers; in CHRC’s analysis, there would still be 5.05 hectares per 1,000 students after the land swap. Either way, of course, it’s very close to the minimum requirement. At an October presentation to the School Board, Fox gave another power point, this one suggesting a lack of due diligence around the land swap. He said that there had been no land appraisals performed by qualified independent appraisers; that no cost benefit analysis had been performed regarding the land swap; and that there had been no internal controls to prevent bias and collusion, as is recommended by the BC Auditor for any real estate asset sale. Fox and Kowal, along with others, have formed the Vic High Neighbourhood Action Group, with a website (www.itsnotsurplus.com) and will host information sessions on November 5 & 6, both 7:30-9 pm at 1923 Fernwood Road. SD61 is holding an open house on the issue on November 12, 6-8 pm at Vic High’s Roper Gym. It is expected the board will vote on the land swap shortly thereafter. THERE ARE NO LESS THAN FOUR levels of government aligned behind the Caledonia project: SD61, CRHC of the CRD, BC Housing, and the City of Victoria. The development package submitted to the City by CRHC includes a 33-page book full of persuasive details about the need for affordable housing, the appropriateness of the site (a “walker’s paradise”), and the project’s many admirable features including energy efficiency, urban agriculture, rain gardens, tot play areas, and a new city “greenway.” In late October, David Maxwell, chair of FCA’s Land Use Committee, was alarmed to learn from a City of Victoria planner that, despite the School Board not having decided yet to go ahead with the land swap, the development application had already moved through all the necessary departments—regarding roads, utilities, sewer, etc—with recommended changes sent to the CRHC. Though the planner assured him “this is the way it’s done all the time,” in Maxwell’s mind, it seemed premature and wasteful. “This is public property, funded by the taxpayers, as are all the City and CRHC staff involved…[They] are wasting all that money before knowing whether it can go ahead.” Echoing others, he says, “It starts to look more and more like a done deal, like we’re all just going through the motions, just playing this huge game.” (It doesn’t help that Mayor Helps and School Board Chair Jordan Watters have made positive comments about the development.) The Fernwood Land Use Committee will soon give the City a formal response on the Caledonia application indicating its lack of support due to the needed OCP and zoning changes, said Maxwell; “We don’t have any five-storey buildings near there.” He believes if such height and density are allowed there, it will set a precedent for the whole area west of the site, over to Cook Street. Fernwood community members know that affordable housing is needed, but have noticed the City hasn’t done much to generate such housing in all the other developments council has approved. As Field pointed out to me, “We also have four large developments approved or almost approved that will add to pressure on existing public infrastructure: Wellburn’s, St Andrews, the former co-housing site [Fernwood Commons at Chambers and North Park], a large new tower at Chambers and Johnson…the City has not negotiated affordable suites in any of these new buildings.” (Going forward, the City’s new inclusionary zoning policy will require 20 percent of all units in larger developments to be affordable.) The task of adding affordable housing, especially in core neighbourhoods, gets more difficult by the minute. Victoria continues to attract those who have wealth—to retire here, to have second homes here, to invest here, causing land values to increase. As Culham pointed out, this makes it difficult to provide enough housing for citizens of modest means—those who work in our nursing homes, shops, offices and cafes. It’s little wonder that once-sancrosanct school lands, churches, and heritage buildings are now being eyed by developers, including those building affordable housing. Perhaps it’s time for neighbourhoods to be more proactive, implementing a bottom-up approach wherein they themselves come up with neighbourhood-supported ideas for increased affordable housing. Websites of all the organizations mentioned above offer more information. Access Caledonia’s development application here. Leslie Campbell is the founding editor of Focus.
  7. Strong sanctions needed for destroying public records At first blush, I thought Leslie Campbell’s editorial was going to be about the Harper government ’s destruction of records. However, the first couple of words dispelled that. But, just as Harper’s heavy-handed governance revealed signs of autocracy, so too do the “Mini Me” governing tendencies of the City of Victoria, Esquimalt, and indeed our current and recent past provincial governments. The desire to hide (or obfuscate) “inconvenient truths” seems to be pandemic to British Columbia; and, if this is so, there is no reason to assume it is not a plague in this entire country. Richard Weatherill As a citizen, my personal experience with Freedom of Information requests to the City of Victoria has been less than satisfactory. In particular I have sought source data for the City’s press releases and media reports regarding short-term rental licensing and compliance reports with very little success. I also draw your attention to a recent change at City Hall. It appears the City of Victoria has removed the email server addresses for its senior management group: Jocelyn Jenkins, Chris Coates, Susanne Thompson, as well as all department heads. The only public emails listed on the City of Victoria website directory are for general information, with the exception of Bill Eisenhower’s email contact, which is for media inquiries. When I spoke with Christine Havelka (Legislative Services) about the inability to contact the Renters’ Advisory Committee (a committee appointed by the mayor), she indicated that council is not seeking input from anyone other than the 12 individuals appointed. This is contrary to the protocol of a similar committee operating under the direction of the City of Vancouver, which has provided their Renters’ Advisory Committee with full information on the committee plus three contacts—an email address for the committee as well as two additional names, telephone numbers and email addresses for a housing staff member and meeting coordinator. It seems that the openness, transparency, and accountability window is being dramatically closed to members of the public. This also comes at a time when the mayor has decided not only to leave Facebook but also close her Twitter account due to too much negative feedback. Perhaps it’s coincidental, but the City’s website changes seem to coincide with your “duty to document”—a critical part of public access to information which is sorely absent in the City of Victoria’s governance model. Victoria Adams Huggett’s greatest hits Thank you David Broadland for your educational rants about the new Blue Bridge. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the collective incompetence of the “experts” involved, and the lackadaisical approach of Victoria’s councillors. Let’s hope that the renovations, modifications, and quality of work going on at the Bay Street Bridge are superior to those of the new Blue Bridge. I’m sure the Bay Street Bridge will be pressed into service far more often than was ever intended. Jack Clover Water torture I must commend Gene Miller for his last two searing articles: Water Torture (July/August 2019) and Ecocide Cometh (Sept/October 2019). I have read Miller’s articles for years, and at times was lost in the language, metaphor and hidden messaging. These last two articles have laid bare his message, and it is one that all Victorians should heed: without a sense of community, and protection of what Nature we were blessed with when our ancestors (or us) first arrived, this place will become a lego-block duplicate of many other featureless, urban/suburban cityscapes across North America. Victoria is now seen as a refuge for well-heeled refugees from around the world, who can, in his words, enjoy “progressive living”—the life you want for yourself—filled with self-celebration, apotheosis, the happy marriage of intelligence, education and good taste, all of it validated and made worry-free by a terrific income and a gilt-edged investment portfolio. “Living the dream” is a passable colloquial synonym, he concludes. All this worry-free living at the expense of the last few remnants of one of the most endangered ecosystems in the country, and at the expense of the First Peoples who watched those ancestors arrive, and welcomed them. The year 2020 could be, as Mr Miller states, “the year of perfect and terrifying visual focus” given the rapid and unpredictable advances of climate change, and the political drift toward loud and dangerous strongmen running countries around the globe. What tools do we have to face the dark, he asks? I agree with his conclusion: “the intentional practice of community,” and would add respect for and communion with the First Peoples who are still here, and the natural ecosystems that they (and we) will have to depend on, if all else fails elsewhere (and here). Thomas Munson Looking our future squarely in the eye A couple of colleagues and I were talking the other day when one of us said, “We must tell the kids the truth.” We all agreed. The truth is, we’ve missed the window for stopping climate change. As Naomi Klein said on CBC radio (Sept 17), “Climate Change is here, and we have to face what that means.” So what does it mean? It means that before 2100, Earth’s human population will decrease by roughly five billion people from its peak of about nine billion around 2030. Climate change will not be the only cause—starvation, disease, economic and social collapse, and, at worst, violence and war will bring about our population crash. We are rushing like proverbial lemmings towards a cliff, urged on by governments and corporate elites. But there is something we can do. We can go over the cliff-edge with parachutes! I don’t know exactly what form our parachutes might take. They will, however, encompass more democratic governments, and a more equitable distribution of wealth—“more sharing” as Naomi Klein put it. To do this, we must undergo a paradigm shift in the way we think and act. Will we reach that tipping point in time? The current climate strikes by our youth give me hope. Philip Symons Who, me? It seems that every time I read Focus I say to myself, “Best issue ever;” and I wonder how the magazine can continue on this trajectory, but it does. I especially appreciate the in-depth reporting of important political, social, and environmental issues that does not stop with just one article and then move on to the next “newsworthy” item. And I truly appreciate Focus not dwelling on lurid topics of death and destruction, even if they are real, but rather covering such topics with inquiry instead of sensationalism. I tutor science for children, and volunteer at a local elementary school, and so appreciate investigative articles like David Broadland’s “Who, me?” I enjoy delving into the language of science with children; I also like talking politics with them. And so “science curiosity,” the “hunger for the unexpected, driven by the anticipated pleasure of surprise,” as described by Professor Dan Kahan in Broadland’s article, is something I want to practice. More importantly, it is a crucial reminder for me to always check the facts, even if what I read (and pass on) comes from a source so respected that I might just assume “this is true because Dr Suzuki said so.” I worked to re-elect Green Party candidate Paul Manly for my federal riding, and the one thing I count on from Mr Manly is truthful statements about the work we all need to do. I’m very glad to have Focus reminding me to always ask whether a policy is good for the planet, or just good for the party. I also need to know that if it’s good for the planet, party lines can be crossed for cooperation and collaboration, and that means not becoming culturally polarized, but instead converging on the best evidence relating to controversial facts. Susan Yates Your September/October edition was great. It’s terrific having a print alternative to the Times-Colonist. How many op-eds have they run by Gwyn Morgan? Oh yeah, we know about the critical importance of the dynamic, cutting-edge oil industry yadda yadda. Jeez, I never had sleep apnea before. I don’t under....zzzzzzzz. Jonathan Huggett sounds like a primo example of “consultant creep” wherein civil service engineers who should be doing their jobs aren’t. Thus, we pay bloated costs for outsiders, who don’t do much of a job either. At least the scale of the bloat hasn’t reached that in California. There, the LA-Bay Area high-speed rail project (a most worthwhile undertaking, contrary to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop sci fi) has bogged down in armies of consultants tripping over each other while drawing astronomical salaries. I was delighted to read that longtime Liberal David Merner bailed on his party the day Justin Trudeau announced that our taxes are paying for the Trans-Mountain Pipeline. Trudeau is happy to waste other people’s money propping up a lumbering industry that needs to sail into the sunset. But then, Justin’s grandpappy Charley got rich off gas stations in Montreal, so our PM just can’t cut loose from the buggy-whip business. Louis Guilbault Time to clean house Here is a plea for us to raise the bar in the quality and competency of our local politicians in Victoria. There appears to be a worsening trend regarding City of Victoria politicians and their increasing lack of transparency, lack of accountability, and intellectual arrogance. Many Victoria councillors routinely don’t bother returning the respectful, earnest emails and queries of their constituents. Some councillors are on-going media hounds, looking for beneficial PR on certain hot-button issues (such as Climate Catastrophe and social housing) and then go incommunicado when the going gets tough. Victoria council declared a “Climate Emergency” but acts, on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, as if an emergency doesn’t actually exist. Mayor Helps has tolerated the unbridled abuse of our natural assets by developers, with her strident pro-developer attitudes, including increasingly allowing the bulldozing of existing building stock (some of it historical in nature) and the literal scouring of lots (removing any vestige of carbon-sequestering soils, bushes, and trees, etc.), while at the same time, claiming she cares about dealing with Climate Catastrophe. And she has done nothing to discourage unbridled overpopulation growth in the region, past its ecological carrying capacity. She and council have allowed the homeless population to increase while ineffectively dumping money into the vortex of a black hole with no clear strategy to reverse the plight of the homeless. She has also encouraged densification, which does not address housing affordability. Council has allowed traffic to appreciably increase, while dilly-dallying on expediting a 30-year-overdue mass transit and regional transportation strategy. They have encouraged the development of very costly bike lanes, but tolerated many design flaws which increase, not decrease, safety issues! Victoria, like almost all municipalities across Canada, keeps increasing its property taxes at rates above the cost of inflation, an increasingly unsustainable situation, in financial terms. Our Victoria council never seem to learn from their avoidable mistakes when it comes to tackling significant projects, which always run well behind schedule and well over budget. The city’s adherence to tried-and-tested project management tools and processes is abysmal! Victoria council keeps cost-ineffectively growing its bureaucracy, increasing staff, and acquiring capital assets (including pieces of equipment with low utilization rates). The bureaucracy is peppered with “communications officers.” The organization is top-heavy, with far too many managers in relation to non-management staff. In the three-plus decades I have lived in Victoria, municipal salaries of both bureaucrats and politicians have increased appreciably. As well, Victoria councillors collect their basic salary and then most featherbed it with the remuneration they receive from participating on various CRD committees. The net result is an undeservedly high remuneration package in a bureaucracy which has become increasing non-accountable and non-transparent. Providing “spin” and lots of wheel-spinning, rather than getting the job done, seem to be the major preoccupations of the day. It’s time to clean house. Brad Atchison
  8. The “duty to document” may sound like boring bureaucratese, but it’s crucial to a functioning democracy. SOMETIMES A MEDIA STORY TAKES SO LONG TO UNFOLD that readers might well wonder why it’s still being told. I imagine that’s the case with the story of former Chief of Police Frank Elsner’s fall from grace. Court battles kept most players—including the Office of Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC)—quiet for years. But policy-wise, we can lay a lot of the blame for dragging out such stories to highly imperfect access-to-information laws. Information that government relies on to make critical decisions is often just not available to journalists or citizens. Unless the public, often via journalists, has access to all the records behind such decisions, it’s impossible to shine a light on how and where costly mistakes were made, or poor judgement was exercised, and thereby hold public officials accountable—essential ingredients for a healthy democracy. The Elsner case implicates both the City of Victoria and Mayor Helps, as well as the provincial government, for denying the public’s right to know. That denial was made possible, in particular, through a lack of legislation around what’s called “duty to document.” In October 2018, Focus’ David Broadland filed an FOI request with the City (shortly after the OPCC issued its investigation report) for communications between Mayor Helps and Mayor Desjardins during their three-month internal investigation of Elsner. The City transferred that request to the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board. In the Board’s response, there were virtually no communications between Helps and Desjardins about the drama unfolding around them during September, October and November 2015. When Broadland asked about this, he was told Mayor Help’s emails had been deleted due to “email retention schedules.” But when he asked to see those schedules, the Police Board admitted there were none. Moreover, the Police Board did not have custody and control of Mayor Helps’ emails. The City of Victoria did. In January, Broadland submitted a formal complaint to BC’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) that the City of Victoria had failed to provide complete records. As he pointed out in his January/February Focus report, the City of Victoria has a policy requiring that both electronic and paper records created to “document the operations of the mayor” must be “retained for 10 years overall, and then transferred to Archives for selective retention.” The email record in question was only three years in the past. Finally, in July, we received a response from OIPC Senior Investigator Trevor Presley. He wrote, “Subsequent to your complaint, Rob Gordon [the City’s Information Access and Privacy Analyst] did a second search with a relatively new eDiscovery tool, which did a much more thorough and comprehensive search, including searching for deleted emails. After doing this, he found an additional 271 emails plus 152 pages of attachments which he believed were responsive.” Those emails were released to Focus and, though highly redacted, they did allow some details to be filled in, including around both mayors’ knowledge of sexual harassment and bullying charges against Chief Elsner in the fall of 2015. This is all covered in Broadland’s July/August feature report. Broadland then asked OIPC for an inquiry because he questions some of the redactions. The inquiry has been granted and a date set for October 2020. But right now I want to draw your attention to the way Investigator Presley summed things up: “The main problem here seems to be the deleted emails. I would note there is nothing in FIPPA [Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act] which would require either the City of Victoria or the VEPB [Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board] to retain these emails, nor can the OIPC enforce record retention schedules set by public bodies.” Therein lies a big problem for a functioning democracy. The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) and other like-minded groups have been advocating for years that FIPPA legislation must include the duty to document, which “would compel government to document their decision making process so that citizens can exercise their information rights.” As the non-profit organization notes on its website: “The original lawmakers who drafted the FIPPA did not anticipate that government would hold meetings in person and over the phone without writing anything down (a phenomenon known as ‘oral government’), use personal email addresses to conduct government business, and maliciously delete records in order to circumnavigate freedom of information laws (a practice known as ‘triple-delete’). But unfortunately that is now the reality in which we are living.” The NDP promised two years ago to amend the almost-30-year-old FIPPA to include a duty to document. When the Liberal government was caught in 2015 purposely “triple deleting” communications about the Highway of Tears, the NDP had a lot to say. And well they should. It involved willful destruction of publicly owned, government records—records essential for transparency and accountability. (In the end, one government employee got fined $2,500—not for destroying the records, as there are no rules or penalties for that, but for lying about it under oath during Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s investigation.) Current and former Information and Privacy Commissioners have urged the provincial government to amend FIPPA to include a duty to document. Denham’s cogent and strongly worded Access Denied report describes it as necessary to restore public confidence and make clear that the government does not endorse an “oral culture” devised to avoid accountability. BC’s current Attorney General David Eby, as part of an all-party special legislative committee on the subject in 2016, made a specific recommendation to include a duty to document within FIPPA. Among the many risks of poor record retention cited in that all-party report was this one from David Loukidelis, QC (a former Information and Privacy Commissioner): “Loss of public confidence in government over time due to the perception that the absence of documentation reflects a deliberate tactic to hide, among other things, wrongdoing (including corruption or favouritism).” During the 2017 election campaign, the NDP unequivocally committed to updating FIPPA and including a duty to document. Unfortunately, since they’ve been in power, nothing has been done. In fact, they muddied the waters last spring when they passed changes to another act, the Information Management Act, bragging about them as a Canadian first. Vincent Gogolek, FIPA’s executive director, called the changes “a pathetic excuse for a response to massive pressure for action on this issue. A legal duty uses the words ‘must’ or ‘shall,’ not the word ‘may.’” BC’s current Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy condemned the NDP’s legislation as ineffective and cynical: “As it now stands, the Information Management Act designates the Minister herself as primarily responsible for ensuring her Ministry’s compliance with the duty to document decisions. Citizens would find it very surprising that, on its face, the current law makes a Minister responsible for investigating her own conduct.” And it gets worse: guess who, within a couple of months of the bill passing, was found to be using her personal email address to conduct government business in order to circumvent Freedom of Information laws—laws which she oversees? Minister of Citizens’ Services Jinny Sims—who had a year earlier already been caught doing the same thing. Seriously. Perhaps the capper is that the Information Management Act applies to only 41 public bodies, not the 2,900 that come under FIPPA legislation, where duty to document really needs to be enshrined—as mandatory (the City’s non-mandatory records retention policy illustrating why). And it has to have significant penalties to be meaningful. Finally, implementation and enforcement of proper documentation must come under the jurisdiction of the independent Information and Privacy Commissioner. Unfortunately, it seems once a party is in power, at any level of government, the public’s right to know how decisions have been made sinks way down the priority list. Looking at the federal situation, a duty to document was never part of Bill C-58, the long-overdue federal attempt to update information access legislation dating back to 1983. In 2016, federal, provincial and territorial commissioners issued a joint resolution calling for—the third time, they noted—a legislated duty to document accompanied by effective oversight and enforcement provisions. Passed in June 2019, the new federal regulations were largely panned by those on the side of transparency for, among other things, excluding prime ministers’ and cabinet ministers’ records from access coverage, and for not including a duty to document. In my research, I was surprised to come across an example used by the federal Information Commissioner to illustrate the importance of duty to document. It related to Transport Canada’s behaviour in relation to the Victoria harbour airport, the focus of my feature report last month. The investigation of Transport Canada, the commissioner’s report stated, “revealed that the institution had taken no notes or minutes at some of the regular meetings officials had held with the City of Victoria, especially meetings related to the expansion of the harbour in 2010.” At the commissioner’s urging, Transport Canada eventually came up with 10 pages. I could give more examples of how journalists and citizens alike have been frustrated—perhaps disgusted is a more apt description—at the seeming disregard of public officials, all paid by taxpayers, to maintain proper records of how they arrived at their decisions. Given the paucity of records, it sometimes seems decisions are made in a cavalier fashion. A recent Victoria example of this, shown through a citizen’s FOI, was the removal of the Innovation Tree at Humboldt and Government Streets. And there’s always the worry that some sort of corruption or influence from improper quarters is being applied. How can we know—unless it’s all fully documented and accessible under the law? Did you know September 28 is Right to Know Day? Editor Leslie Campbell recommends the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association’s website fipa.bc.ca. Empower yourself through one of their free FOI workshops.
  9. An airport in our midst Leslie Campbell’s article on Victoria’s harbour airport in the July/August edition was very informative. I live overlooking Victoria’s middle and outer harbours, and have clear views of both Middle Harbour’s Alpha Runway (East-West) and Outer Harbour’s Bravo Runway (NE-SW). Campbell’s article quotes Transport Canada’s Simon Rivet on the subject of “noise mitigation strategies” implemented by Transport Canada for Victoria Harbour air traffic: “We only allow three-bladed turbo-prop aircraft, which is the quietest version of a floatplane in existence.” It is true that turbo-prop aircraft make up most of the traffic in Victoria Inner Harbour Airport, but there are also a number of smaller piston-engined aircraft that take off. Hence, I challenge Rivet’s statement “we only allow…” One’s attention is certainly attracted to the piston-engined aircraft; one’s hearing suffers when these noisy beasts take off. It is time to enforce the ban on aircraft that do not meet the three-bladed turbo-prop rule. Rivet is also quoted as saying: “Best practices include the reduction of reverse thrust when landing, with sufficient room to allow for a natural slowdown, rather than have to put it in 'reverse’, which is quite noisy.” According to Rivet, “The preferred runway for landings is eastbound on Alpha Runway”—that’s the runway right through where people live. But an important percentage of landings are westbound on Alpha Runway, taking advantage of the wind from the south. This means that aircraft are now heading west, away from town. There is then every incentive for pilots to stop as quickly as possible on landing, because they’re going the wrong way—away from their destination. I would estimate that eight out of ten landings from the east involve pilots reversing engines to stop as quickly as they can, creating completely unnecessary, high-decibel noise, to the annoyance of all who live on both sides of Middle Harbour. Pilots and airlines are their own worst enemy. If they keep on behaving this way, they’re going to get themselves kicked out of the harbour because of the noise they create. The use of reverse thrust should be prohibited except in the case of an emergency. Leslie Campbell interviewed a few of the thousands of people who live and work on both sides of Middle Harbour. Many are concerned about the safety of mingling aircraft with boats, canoes, the Coho and other harbour users. We are told that aircraft fly within 50 metres of buildings on the Songhees side. This means that airplanes are passing within only a few metres of the boats tied up in the Victoria International Marina at the foot of Cooperage Place in Middle Harbour. The alarm clock for the occupants of those boats will be the 7am flight out of Victoria—the first in the day. In my mind’s eye, the thousands of inhabitants on both sides of Middle Harbour will one day rise up and shout, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” (from the movie Network). They will take to small boats and fill the harbour, preventing all aircraft movement. The problem is, where are they going to go, these airplanes, if they get chased away? To solve the problem of the safety and noise in Middle Harbour, Alpha Runway should be closed. The aircraft will simply have to use Bravo Runway. Donald Shields That was a most informative and thorough article on our centre-of-town water airport. A fine piece of reportage. No matter how much the lady harbour master says that everything is hunky dory, I agree with the chap who says it’s a disaster looking for just the right conditions to explode. Ross Smith My congratulations and sincere appreciation to Leslie Campbell for an exceedingly well-written article, which presents for public viewing many of the safety and health concerns related to the design and operation of Victoria Harbour Water Airport. In 2017, Transport Canada (TC) advised that, by the end of that year, there would be an amendment “to raise the current certified water aerodromes safety level to one comparable to that found at certified land airports.” This was yet another in almost 20 years’ worth of unfulfilled promises, but this was the first time that TC actually admitted to applying a lesser level of safety when certifying water aerodromes, which, to me, was and is reprehensible, especially when the water airport is located in the heart of a city with planes approaching at greater than 100 mph within 50 metres or less from a popular walkway and multi-storey residences, a distance that could be closed in less than a second! I’ve seen and reported to TC on too many close-call incidents to think anything other than it’s a case of “when” not “if” a crash will occur here. I firmly believe that TC’s recently released notice of proposed amendments “to establish regulatory requirements for the operation and certification of water airports in Canada” is no coincidence. TC media relations staff were approached by Focus months ago, so TC was well aware that the article would soon be made public. TC has had more than 19 years to prepare the text of such an amendment and, I believe, had it ready just in case. I think “just in case” arrived in the form of the Focus article, which now has made TC take the first step to right the wrong I believe they’ve perpetrated here since 2000 when TC certified Victoria Harbour Water Airport. Thank you Leslie Campbell and Focus for this achievement! I urge all those who have similar concerns about our water airport to respond to Transport Canada CARAC’s invitation [despite the September 2 deadline]. Susan M. Woods Did the mayors obstruct the Elsner investigation? Thank you for keeping this dreadful waste of money and deceitful behaviour in the public awareness. Our current police force could have had the benefit of the funds instead of keeping an arrogant lout on the payroll. Betty Young More entertainment, less art Thank you, Ross Crockford, for such an insightful, enlightened piece. I am sharing it far and wide in hopes it reaches the general population of the CRD. It is time to tell it like it is when it comes to the underhanded tactics of the Royal and McPherson Theatres Society. Jennifer MacLeod Great article; a really great summary of the situation as it has unfolded. I have one question though: where do you get the figure of $580,000 for the municipal support of the theatre? According to the Royal McPherson Theatres Society’s own online annual reports, the amount the three municipalities (Victoria, Oak Bay, Saanich) contribute to the Royal is only $100,000, and Victoria alone contributes $350,000 annually to the McPherson Playhouse. Is there another $480,000 coming in some form that doesn’t appear on their financial statements? Full disclosure: I am a 29-year veteran musician of the Victoria Symphony and president of a national organization of symphonic musicians, and I have seen this scenario play out in similar fashion across the country. We all pay lip service to how much our communities value resident arts companies, but we provide terrible infrastructure for them to serve the community from. This whole situation feels like a “renoviction” except that we have only one choice of where to move to next, and the opera and dance companies have no choice. Robert Fraser Ross Crockford responds: Thank you for the kind comments. I’m not an accountant, so I can’t speak to how the RMTS breaks down its financial statements, but it did state in its presentations to the three owner municipalities that it receives $580,000 annually from them, via the CRD—$480,000 for capital expenses, and $100,000 for its operating budget. A part of the problem may be that this amount of funding has not increased since 1998, when it was established by a bylaw. The RMTS is proud that it has not asked for an increase in this funding. Maybe it needs to be increased anyway—and more municipalities need to pay for the services the theatres provide. Not your grandpa’s wildfires Urban wildfires are certainly a horrifying possibility. I appreciate the information Stephen Hume shares with us about it. However, his article may have left an impression that we might be better off reducing urban trees due to the possibility of wildfires. I asked two forest ecologists and a professor of urban forestry whether urban trees dry out vegetation, as the article suggests. All replied that the issue was complex and does not lend itself to generalization. UBC urban forest professor Cecil Konendijik wrote: “It’s very bold to state that trees dry out the ground. In many places forests are the natural ecosystem, and actually help maintain the proper water cycles. The question is more to imitate nature where possible, and develop close-to-nature forest systems rather than planting a lot of non-native tree species that require more water and are less drought tolerant.” He adds: “I am not a forest fire expert, but the solution is definitely not to just remove trees. There are many ways to deal with forest fire risks, including ecological processes, working with the reality of fire as part of ecosystems, as well as e.g. the FireSmart program to minimize fire risks. In urban forestry, we always have to deal with risks (e.g. fire, falling trees), but these have to be considered in the wider context of the many essential benefits forests and trees provide.” California’s Sierra Club says a home itself is often “more ignitable than the vegetation surrounding it.” A common sight after wildfires in urban areas can be smoking holes in the ground, where houses once stood—still surrounded by living, green trees! Well-spaced plant life can actually block wind-blown embers from reaching one’s home. On the other hand, a yard completely devoid of vegetation can create a “bowling alley” for embers. Burning embers can float in on the wind from as far as a mile away. If people are considering cutting down urban trees, please first read the Sierra Club’s “5 Ways to Protect Your Home from Wildfires.” It suggests fire-proofing from the house out, including replacing or treating flammable shingles, keeping gutters cleared of dry leaves and needles, considering external sprinklers, not piling firewood beside or near the house, and making sure embers won’t find an easy entry point. Let’s make well-thought-out decisions about trees. Mature trees are not easily replaced. They take decades to grow. And most importantly, they may well be the key to reducing climate change. A recent study found that planting trees, and preventing further deforestation, are by far the best climate mitigation tools we have. A lead researcher said, “I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.” Last year, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change warned that we have only 10 to 12 years (now 9 to 11) to make drastic changes, in order to prevent catastrophe. Wildfires are a possibility, and we should do all we can to protect ourselves. But the climate crisis is here now. It is more important than ever before to preserve and protect every tree we can, and to plant many more. Grace Golightly Stephen Hume responds: It is true that any one home itself may be more ignitable than the vegetation surrounding it, particularly if it has wooden sidings, decks and a cedar shake roof. Or it may not. However, this depends upon the house, the type of vegetation and the proximity of that vegetation to the structure. Municipal and provincial fire authorities are quite clear that among the most significant urban wildfire hazards are non-fire resistant vegetation adjacent to, touching or overhanging structures. This becomes more significant during prolonged drought and hot spells. Leaf and needle debris on roofs, in gutters and so on pose major hazards in urban-wildland interface fires. Let us indeed make well-thought decisions about trees, their type, placement and management. That’s why the article calls for a “vigorous, mature, adult conversation at the community level about the danger zone at the fringes of Greater Victoria.” I have the greatest respect for the Sierra Club but, as a former volunteer firefighter, I believe fire safety information is best obtained from fire safety experts. Two excellent sources are the Saanich Fire Department (summer-fire-safety.html) which deals with extensive urban-wildland interface zones and the provincial government’s fire safety website: (firesmart) The letter suggests that I imply “that urban trees are nice and all, but that we might be better off without them due to the possibility of wildfires.” What I said was that while the urban forest is beneficial, not all trees are the same and drought-intolerant trees that are not fire resistant can pose a risk that deserves discussion. I said: “Does that mean we should mow down the urban forest? Of course not.” Regarding the impact of certain kinds and species of trees on groundwater in drought conditions: A study published in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences found that fast growing exotic tree plantations, in this case eucalyptus, had water budgets over a three-year period which exceeded rainfall replenishment of subsurface moisture by 62 percent. “These results have obvious implications for the long term sustainability of growth rates from these plantations and the recharge of groundwater.” One of the implications is that deep-rooted non-native trees which use more water than is replenished by rainfall may pose a threat to more shallow-rooted—and fire resistant—native species like Douglas fir. Local gardeners and horticulturists may find a 2012 article in National Geographic, “Plants That Will Suck Your Yard Dry,” of interest. Finally, climate-driven urban-wildland interface fires are not a possibility, they are a fact. They occur with increasing frequency and intensity on every continent and while, as with weather, there is variability from year to year, the trend has been relentlessly upward along with global temperature. Adapting to wildfire threat is not a zero sum equation. It doesn’t mean removing urban forest and all its benefits. It does mean thoughtful strategic planning regarding appropriate tree species and types for available water budgets, placement in built environments, and management within the highest risk zones where thinning, pruning and judicious removal of ground fuel can reduce fire risk substantially. How and where to do this seems a reasonable subject for public discussion. Rare but serious side effects of “Cipro” Thanks so much to Alan Cassels for a very valuable article. However, given that officialdom has even admitted that as low as one percent of adverse drug and vaccine events ever gets reported, I doubt that casualties from these fluoroquinolone antibiotics are rare at all. Just within my own circle of contacts, I know of several people who’ve seen their health devastated by Cipro, Levaquin etc. Some years back, when I had severe ear infections in both ears, I was given a prescription for Cipro with a loud warning from the specialist that if I didn’t take it, I would end up with “cauliflower ears.” Having successfully avoided antibiotics for decades and knowing how serious Cipro’s side effects could be, I opted for an internal homeopathic remedy and herbal ear drops which cleared things up in days. When the ENT—who was totally ignorant of Cipro’s dangers—saw me, she was shocked and meekly said, “Well, whatever you did, it sure worked.” Roxanne (name withheld) Fun and loafing in the BC public service I was amused by Russ Francis’ article in the July/August 2019 Focus. It reminded me of advice I received during a middle management course many moons ago in the federal public service. The instructor informed his astonished class that it was possible to get by in the public service by putting in only a 35 percent effort—and that anything less might draw attention to the employee! More important in Francis’ article, is the damage he notes being done to the historical record in the public service by the advent of electronic means of written communication. Most business is now done by e-mail and most e-mails never end up in a record management system. While bad for maintaining a corporate memory, it will also be impossible for historians in the future to analyze and write about how public policy has developed in these decades. That will be the real shame. David B Collins Cruise ship emissions need City’s attention If Victoria City Council is so concerned about the environment, why don’t they make it mandatory for all cruise ships to hook-up to shore power when parked at Ogden Point? Compared to modern cars, cruise ships are environmental dinosaurs and spewing their exhaust in a residential neighborhood is unacceptable. If Victoria wants to keep expanding the number of cruise ship visits then authorities should install adequate shore power facilities and require all cruise ships to use them. Steen Petersen Open letter to Victoria City Council This is an urgent request to have the Victoria City Council approve the expropriation of the lot at 1980 Fairfield Place, which lies adjacent to Gonzales Hill Regional Park and resides within a degrading mature Garry oak ecosystem at the top of Gonzales Hill. As you would presumably know, the City has the right under the BC Land Expropriation Act (RSBC 1996 and current to August 7, 2019) to carry out this action, even without the approval of the lot owner. I would submit, in light of its declaration recently of a Climate Emergency, my tabling of numerous scientific studies and reports, and neighbourhood presentations (particularly focussing on ecosystem resiliency, water runoff and blasting legal co-liabilities to us and another immediate property owner, and dealing with the Climate Emergency), the City has a duty to approve such an action. To date, when this topic has been brought up, emails to individual councillors have been mostly ignored (which is disrespectful, discourteous, and unprofessional). Regardless, no tangible and precise reasons have been given by council regarding the reluctance to expropriate in this exceptional instance (especially dealing with a highly unique and rare greenfield site), other than the timid excuse that the situation doesn’t warrant such an action. Repeated requests have been made to the City for evidence that formal offers were made to the owners to purchase their lot. Councillor Isitt claims three offers were made and Mayor Helps claims five or six offers were made, while the owners claim no offers were forthcoming. To date, in spite of related requests, no evidence of any such offers to purchase has been provided. To date, and on a broader related note, there seems to be focused political will and concerted actions to continue to support developers who ransack our region’s natural assets. “Densification” continues to serve as a convenient excuse and talking point for the lack of fortitude of any of our local politicians, including this council, to deal with discouraging, not overtly encouraging, at every turn, continued significant increases in population growth. The benefits of densification are entirely offset by continued population increases in addition to the need for additional municipal infrastructure and higher possible fire risks with the proliferation of downtown high-rises. Council encouraging and endorsing continued regional population growth is the antithesis of dealing with a Climate Emergency (as is encouraging a cruise ship industry, and as was approving an Inner Harbour luxury lot marina). Anyone who understands ecology and the concept of ecological carrying-capacity would appreciate this science-constrained fact. Our regional ecosystems, including our watershed, can only stand so much adverse impact before the resiliency of the region’s ecosystems are undermined. Council needs to “walk the talk” on dealing with the council’s declaration of a Climate Emergency. Our neighbourhood has shared dozens of studies and presented the latest scientific evidence for the need to preserve the ecosystems within an urban setting and the urgent need to deal with Climate Catastrophe. Yet the City continues to encourage and allow the literal scouring of soil and vegetation on individual lots, replacing it with a lesser number of immature tree species and mostly sterile topsoil. Some egregious examples of tree, vegetation, and soil lot scouring include: Abstract’s “Belvedere Park” development at 1201 Fort Street and the complete removal of a mature urban forest, except for two large trees, with the City’s full blessing; the scouring of the two lots connected to the Rhodo project along Fairfield Road. Another lot scouring is the apparent entitlement of the owners of 1980 Fairfield Place to build an additional structure (i.e., a 600 square foot garden suite). In light of a bona fide Climate Emergency, there comes a time when a politician has to come down on the side of ecosystem legal rights and the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Unfortunately, in this case, it is to the detriment of individual rights. There are, however, two good options: (1) the purchase of the lot by the CRD and/or the City of Victoria (to make up for the initial, ill-considered mistake of creating this polygonal lot in 1955 and then not putting it on its Land Acquisition List over a 64-year period) or (2) expropriation. Victoria Council needs to act urgently. Show you actually have the foresight, wisdom, and strength to expropriate this lot. Please act like you actually believe there is a Climate Emergency! Brad Atchison
  10. It’s probably just a coincidence but on July 8, Transport Canada announced its Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) - Water Airports. It’s only been 19 years in coming. Citizens and community bodies have until August 22 to provide feedback to the proposed amendment: see https://wwwapps.tc.gc.ca/Saf-Sec-Sur/2/NPA-APM/actr.aspx?id=57&aType=1&lang=eng
  11. Victoria boasts one of the busiest water airports in the world—some think it’s too busy. IT’S QUITE UNUSUAL—and ambitious—to have an airport smack in the middle of any city, on water or land. According to Transport Canada, which runs the harbour aerodrome, “Victoria Harbour is Canada’s only certified water airport and port that is home to cruise ships, floatplanes, passenger ferries, recreational boaters and kayakers.” And don’t forget the big yachts in the new marina. Did you know Victoria is now the busiest port of call for cruise ships in Canada? Or that the airport has earned the title of Canada’s, and sometimes the world’s, busiest water airport, averaging 100 flight movements (take-offs or landings) a day? Floatplanes coming and going on the busy Victoria Harbour Airport (Photo by David Broadland) As Transport Canada’s graphic depiction of the harbour’s transportation avenues shows (below), all of the traffic in the harbour is occurring in a small space, one surrounded by dense development of the waterfront, including hotels and thousands of condos. Note the pinch-point between Songhees Point and Laurel Point, a narrow channel that all vessels, including aircraft, must squeeze through to get into or out of the Inner Harbour. And notice that airport runways are superimposed on the lane for boats over 20 metres in length. Transport Canada’s “Traffic Scheme” for the Public Port of Victoria The airport might even get busier if recently-announced plans to convert Harbour Air’s fleet to electric motors come to pass. Harbour Air is the main airline operating out of the harbour, with flights to downtown Vancouver, South Vancouver (YVR), Pitt Meadows, and Whistler. With over 40 aircraft, it is possibly the largest seaplane airline in the world. It has won numerous awards over the years, including Canada’s Best Managed Companies (for 10 years), and Business of the Year in Victoria. Its founder and owner, Greg McDougall, was just inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. It claims to be the world’s first fully carbon-neutral airline (accomplished through an offset program). And now it plans to become the first commercial airline to be powered by electric propulsion. When electrification of its fleet is complete, flight costs could come down as much as 70-80 percent, according to Roei Ganzarski of magniX, which is developing the new engines. If flight costs were reduced, it follows that fares might come down, too—certainly the offset charges would be eliminated. That would likely translate into greater demand—from tourists, business people, government employees, and even for freight. Typical fares now are over $200 to Vancouver, but imagine a $100 fare: the 30-minute trip could become enticingly convenient and affordable to a lot more folks. When I suggest such a possibility to Harbour Air President Randy Wright, he said, “Fuel costs will come down, but it will take a while to convert the entire fleet. There is also a significant capital cost involved in this refit. As a result, at this point, it’s difficult to say what the impact will be on fares.” He also doesn’t think flight numbers will increase. Residents with ringside seats on the harbour have expressed concerns for many years about the airport’s safety, noise and exhaust fumes. While Harbour Air’s electrification plans—if they are carried out—will eventually help on some fronts, the safety concerns will not go away, whether flight numbers increase or remain the same. IN THE EARY 1990s, when construction of condos began on the Songhees, floatplane flights numbered about 11,000 annually. Though they have ranged as high as 34,000, they’ve been hovering around 25,000 in recent years. (Helicopters not included—they add another 9,000 or so.) In 2000, the harbour aerodrome was certified as an airport by Transport Canada, which regulates the Port of Victoria—basically from Ogden Point to the Selkirk Trestle Bridge. In 2008, the City of Victoria, in response to growing citizen concerns about safety, noise and emissions, set up a committee to look at the airport. In the minutes for a meeting that included representatives from Transport Canada, the anger of residents comes through loud and clear. One resident, an experienced pilot with over 1600 hours of flight time, including in floatplanes, stated: “it’s an accident waiting to happen…Any experienced pilot is astonished. If it was grass between the shores there’d be no airport.” He and others commented that they had given up complaining because of the apparent futility. As one person put it, “Complaining to Transport Canada is a big black hole, nothing happens.” Another argued, “There has to be some limitation [of flight numbers] and some people think the carrying capacity has long been exceeded.” A Songhees resident described how “on a typical day I wipe off my balcony and the rag is filthy [from plane exhaust].” That committee’s final report in 2009 made clear that the City had no real power over the airport. It could ask Transport Canada to play nice, but that was about it. Among the things it “urged” Transport Canada to do were conduct an independent aeronautical study, and study the impact of noise and air quality. No such studies have been done. Former Councillor Pam Madoff, who chaired the committee on the airport, describes the issue as “one of the more frustrating files to have dealt with” over the course of her 25 years on council—largely because of Transport Canada’s “lack of responsiveness and a level of disinterest that was quite extraordinary.” Another key “urging” of her committee was to finalize the Water Airport Regulations and Standards, after adjusting them to address “quality of life factors and the dense urban environment.” The regulations have never been adjusted or formalized—they have been in draft form since 2000. Songhees resident Susan Woods has shown me an almost comical two-decade record of annual promises from Transport Canada that the final regulations, along with a 30-day public comment period, were just around the corner. The continuing delay led Victoria City Council, in July 2017, to pass a resolution to ask “the Government of Canada move forward with publication of Canadian Aviation Regulations and Standards for the Victoria Harbour Water Airport, to allow for public comment…and provide certainty for residents, operators and passengers.” In May 2018, after a motion by Councillor Ben Isitt, who noted the years of “runaround” by Transport Canada, the City sent another request for the regulations. Madoff believes the reasons for the delay—19 years now—is the legal requirement that the regulations and standards will be subject to a 30-day public notice and thereby be held up to scrutiny—scrutiny, it’s implied, that could upset the airport applecart. Marg Gardiner, president of the James Bay Neighbourhood Association, has been studying the harbour and the airport for decades. She uses words like “shameful” and “depressing” to describe how neglectful both the City and Transport Canada have been in addressing and protecting local residents from unhealthy levels of exhaust and noise, as well as potential accidents. She believes the City encouraged development around the harbour knowing about the liveability issues around a busy airport. She says it’s only through citizen action that airport traffic hasn’t increased more over the years: “It’s a political game.” Referring to the City’s committee and its recommendations, she adds, “There was lots of talk, but in the end nothing…no one demands anything from Transport Canada.” HARBOUR MASTER MARIAH McCOOEY, who also acts as the airport manager, assures me that, over the years, Transport Canada has developed measures to ensure all harbour users can coexist safely. Key among these measures is “a detailed traffic scheme, which has been in place for almost 20 years. It includes runways, lanes, and different zones that keep traffic flowing for all the diverse users.” She admits, “From shore it looks a bit random, but it’s actually well organized.” Victoria Harbour Master Mariah McCooey (Photo be Leslie Campbell) Besides wall-to-wall windows on the water side of her Fisherman’s Wharf office, McCooey, who holds a Masters in Maritime Management, has a number of large high-resolution video screens providing views from 23 cameras around the harbour. The Coast Guard has access to these videos as well. The data is kept for 120 days so recent incidents can be reviewed if necessary. Victoria Harbour Airport operates under a “Prior Permission Required” system: not just anyone can land their plane. All pilots flying into the harbour airport do special studies and take an exam, McCooey tells me. NAV Canada provides “flight services” including up-to-date weather and water conditions for pilots, but, unlike at larger airports, no air traffic control (though NAV Canada’s tower on the harbour looks like an air traffic control tower at a regular airport, it isn’t). Pilots can communicate with NAV’s flight service advisors and with each other. NAV Canada facility at Shoal Point looks like an air traffic control tower—but isn’t. (Photo by Leslie Campbell) McCooey oversees on-the-water patrollers—a couple in the winter and seven in the summer. The biggest safety issue, she says, are “transient” boat operators who don’t know harbour rules. Towards their enlightenment, she and the patrollers give out 2,500 brochures over the summer. These include the map, with its highlighted warning telling boaters to stay away from runways. McCooey is not worried about the amount of traffic. “We have a lot of coordination [among partners], with lots of safety meetings…A lot of top professionals are looking at the harbour to make sure it works and is safe,” she says, mentioning representatives from NAV, the Coast Guard, City of Victoria, and the RCMP. All the partners meet every six months to make sure everyone’s in the loop about any developments and issues. There’s also a database that includes all reports of infringements that is available to all the partners. “It’s pretty fantastic,” says McCooey. Every incident in which a runway is crossed, or there’s been a misuse of boat lanes, is included and analyzed. There were 700 such non-serious incidents last year, but no real accidents. The incidents are recorded, says McCooey, as they do pose some risk. “We’re always asking what we can do to reduce it.” Regular users, she says, are well-versed in proper procedures. Tug operators know they can go “right up the middle,” for instance. The whale-watching boats also use the middle lanes. Harbour ferries have to regularly traverse runways, so are heavily involved in safety meetings, she notes, telling me in all, there are 120,000 ferry movements per year. Each ferry has a two-way radio. A few years back Randy Wright described the arrangements as “working like a Swiss watch.” Still, there are barges coming and going and there will be, eventually, some mega-yachts. As well, the Coho and other big ships have to use the airport runway. It seems an incredible amount to choreograph. SUSAN WOODS, who lives in a condo on the Songhees and has a masters degree in marine science, is not reassured by the Harbour Master’s confidence. Her main concern is the way planes are allowed to fly close to residential buildings on the north side of the harbour. (Full disclosure: my mother lived in a Songhees condo for 24 years.) The allowed distance from the edge of the take-off and landing areas to the nearest building is 50 metres. She believes it should be more like that of other airports: 300 metres. She notes, “In the event of a problem with the aircraft, strong gusting winds, momentary inattention by the pilot, or some other mishap, this 50-metre gap would be closed by an approaching plane in about one second.” Something Transport Canada calls “vertical transition zoning” has been allowed to get around the fact that buildings poke into the usual amount of transitional surface required for a safe runway zone. In a document online, Transport Canada states this type of zoning “is intended to provide relief for small aerodromes in mountainous regions, used in VMC [visual meterological conditions], where river valleys, etc. are the only sites available. At other locations an aeronautical study and Headquarters’ approval is required.” Woods also believes pilots should be prohibited from taking off or landing while there are obstacles (i.e. watercraft) present anywhere on the take-off and landing areas. Marg Gardiner, who lives in a condo across the harbour in James Bay, agrees, lamenting that runways have been superimposed on the marine arterial highway used by the Coho and other large boats, which means that the unobstructed airspace for the landing and taking off of aircraft—a requirement of other airports—is not being met. While there have been no accidents in many years, Gardiner says, “There have been close calls.” She’s seen near-misses between aircraft and buildings or watercraft. She has also seen and reported incidents in which, during rough weather, taxiing planes seemed to lose control and come perilously close to fuel docks. Woods says the only incident she’s witnessed (and reported) recently was one in which “a Twin Otter landed eastbound on operating area Alpha, and the pilot had to use probably-maximum reverse thrust in order to attempt to complete the landing prior to crossing east of the line joining the N and S markers. However, it appeared that the plane had neither completed its landing nor was at or below five knots before crossing the line.” Woods and her fellow Songhees residents have pressed for years for an aeronautical study to identify the deviations and the remediation needed for airport safety—one conducted by a qualified, professional, independent consultant. To no avail. AND THEN THERE'S THE NOISE. Harbour Air’s eventual shift to electric planes will definitely help. Wright predicts, “The electric planes will be about 75 percent quieter.” Meanwhile—and it could be a long while— it’s noisy, as those living on the harbour or walking the Westsong Walkway can attest. “Especially during the busy summer period,” says Woods, “windows and doors have to remain closed due to conversation-stopping noise and the noxious fumes which accumulate inside homes.” A City of Victoria presentation from October 2008 suggested that noise problems were primarily due to propeller noise—not just engines—and that they were “exacerbated by proximity of aircraft to shoreline buildings.” (What Gardiner refers to as a concrete canyon over water.) I found a 1995 US study of seaplane noise that stated: “The principal factor in the intensity of seaplane noise is first the type of seaplane…, next the tip speed of the propeller (RPM’s), followed by the angle and distance that can be kept between the seaplane and the listener, and lastly the power setting (throttle).” It stated that a Cessna 206 with 300 hp engine and three-bladed propeller has a maximum of 88 dBA. The only noise study done by Transport Canada dates back to 2000. It found that average noise was “just below acceptable level,” and acknowledged a problem does exist. Single-event levels during one three-hour period in the afternoon exceeded 85 dBA 14 times, Woods noted. With more than 100 flight movements a day in summer, such numbers don’t seem surprising. (City noise bylaws do not apply, given the federal jurisdiction.) Noise is more than a nuisance; it’s a recognized health hazard, increasing stress, the risk of hypertension, and ischaemic heart disease. It also has negative effects on sleep, communication, performance and behaviour, reading and memory acquisition, and mental health. When I raised the question of noise with Transport Canada, Simon Rivet, a senior advisor with its Communications Group, listed the noise mitigation strategies that have been implemented: “We only allow three-bladed turbo-prop aircraft, which is the quietest version of a floatplane in existence. Best practices include the reduction of reverse thrust when landing, with sufficient room to allow for a natural slowdown, rather than having to put it in ‘reverse,’ which is quite noisy.” He also noted that rules around runway use dramatically reduce noise levels: the majority of take-offs are from Bravo runway in the Outer Harbour; while the preferred runway for landings is eastbound on Alpha, “because it also minimizes the amount of idling and manoeuvring on the surface.” Finally, he noted that no flights are allowed before 7am. But with no noise-level studies in two decades, how do they know if these measures have been successful, or to what degree? Harbour residents are still finding it very loud. And quieter electric planes could be a long way off. Gardiner feels that until things change, all prospective harbour condo buyers should be warned about the noise. As I talk with her on the phone, the Coho blasts its horn in the background. UNTIL SEAPLANES CHANGE TO E-PLANES, the city’s booming core population means that more people will notice the noxious fumes around the harbour. Susan Woods believes “unburned or partially combusted fuel from floatplane operations at Victoria Harbour Airport result in volatile organic compounds and suspended particulate matter being spewed into the surrounding environment, including the walkways and residences…The sooty, oily film which begins to coat our windows, soon after they’ve been washed, is a visible testament as to the volume of particulate matter polluting our air each and every day.” (I too have seen the greasy film that coats windows on the Songhees side.) Transport Canada’s last study, based on 1998 activity levels, found that VOCs being released into the harbour came from both motorboats and planes. While more VOCs were produced by motorboats (including whale-watching vessels), aircraft emissions, because of their dispersal in the air, tend to affect humans more. Many floatplanes run on “avgas”—a petroleum fuel with lead added to it. Lead was phased out of gasoline for automobiles decades ago because of its serious health effects. Yet small planes with piston engines still use it. Wright assured Focus that none of Harbour Air planes flying to Victoria Harbour use leaded gas. However, Transport Canada’s Rivet told me there is no requirement for planes to use unleaded gasoline. So other planes flying into the harbour likely do use it. Rivet also said the airport has no air-quality monitoring program. No one really knows just how bad the air around the harbour is these days. Beyond the health of locals, of course, is that of the planet. All carbon-burning craft play starring roles in warming the planet. Aviation, however, states the David Suzuki Foundation, “has a disproportionately large impact on the climate system. It accounts for four to nine percent of the total climate change impact of human activity.” The industry has been “expanding rapidly in part due to regulatory and taxing policies that do not reflect the true environmental costs of flying.” Travelling by air “has a greater climate impact per passenger kilometre, even over longer distances. It’s also the mode of freight transport that produces the most emissions,” the Foundation states on its website. Harbour Air has worked hard to be as green as possible under these circumstances. Its Victoria terminal has a green roof and solar panels. Most importantly, since 2007, it has had an impressive carbon offset program. All emissions of the company, 97 percent coming directly from seaplane fuel use, are “offset” through Offsetters Clean Technology, a company that specializes in both calculating carbon emissions and finding appropriate projects to invest in—both regional and international—that reduce carbon emissions. Harbour Air has information about the projects online and makes customers aware of the offsets by showing their cost on ticket receipts. It also tells them that a return flight to Vancouver produces 87 kg CO2-equivalent per passenger. Nevertheless, Harbour Air’s overall emissions have crept up over the years to 12,793 tonnes CO2-equivalent in 2017. While offsets may be better than nothing, critics have argued they are a bit of a shell game, allowing people to rationalize their carbon-intensive habits rather than changing them. Most experts agree they are not a substitute for directly reducing emissions, given the urgency of tackling climate change. University of Ottawa Professor, and President of the Environmental Studies Association of Canada, Ryan Katz-Rosene, told The Georgia Straight an honest definition of “carbon offset” might be something like, “a framework to enable people to continue to produce carbon dioxide and to absolve themselves of responsibility when they might not even work in the first place and, if they do work, are things that should be happening anyway.” So the Harbour Air electrification moves are potentially very good news for those concerned about climate change and air quality. (Unfortunately, there are no such technological fixes foreseen for larger planes.) How soon will Harbour air electrify its planes? Wright says, “We plan to have an eplane ready for flight testing in late 2019. But it will take a while for Transport Canada regulations to catch up. We anticipate that it will be a multi-year effort to convert the entire fleet.” Judging from the 19 years Transport Canada has taken, so far, to finalize the airport regulations, we may have a long time to wait for those electric planes. A shop mock-up of how magniX’s aero’s electric propulsion system would be adapted to a Cessna aircraft Marg Gardiner says she’ll believe it when she sees it. She’s seen too many failures along such lines, including aborted plans to electrify the buses going to and from cruise ships. Even if Harbour Air’s plan is realized, and electric planes reduce both health and environmentally- damaging emissions, as well as some or most aircraft noise, “it doesn’t address the safety issue at all,” says Gardiner. On that front, Transport Canada needs to step up, do the aeronautical studies, and finalize the standards and regulations for the airport that it has long promised. No one is suggesting the airport be closed or moved out of the harbour. Most agree that it provides a valued service and brings economic benefits to Victoria. But it is publicly owned. The private airlines pay nothing in port fees. Taxpayers pay for it all—the Transport Canada managers, the Harbour Master, the on-the-water patrollers and their boats and brochures, along with the frustrations, possible health issues, and benefits that come with having an airport in the middle of Victoria’s harbour. They understandably want to be assured of adequate safety measures and quality of life. Editor Leslie Campbell misses her regular visits to her mom’s old condo. The view of our busy, beautiful harbour is hard to beat.
  12. Behind the curtains at City Hall A look at the City of Victoria’s first quarterly 2019 “Operational Highlights, Accomplishments and Metrics,” reveals the value of the City’s construction permits has increased from $125.2 million in 2014 to $347.9 million in 2018. And, at the end of 2019’s first quarter, the value of construction in Victoria reached $82.8 million—a 56 percent increase over the same time period in 2018. So, have taxpayers benefited from this housing boom? Less than $15 million was collected by the City in development and community amenity charges, and fewer than 100 affordable housing units (out of 3,786 built) were added over the past four years. The lucrative real estate sector and escalating land values are fuelling changes everywhere. Yet, the greatest negative impact has been felt by renters who face soaring rents and large-scale displacement. But this is of little concern to elected officials whose only role is to approve the ever-increasing taxpayer-financed projects to upgrade infrastructure and beautify the area surrounding these upscale housing developments. Such projects include the new Johnson Street Bridge, Ship Point redevelopment, David Foster pathway, not to mention protected bike lane corridors throughout the core area. Preserving property entitlements also includes providing more than $40-million-worth of ten-year tax exemptions to 450 owners of heritage condo properties Downtown. Their latest tax-holiday decisions now support the most expensive residential restoration project in the City: the Customs House condo and commercial complex, only steps away from the Humboldt “Innovation Tree.” It’s not hard for City council to justify removing an “iconic” mature tree, especially if it obstructs the flow of people, vehicles and bikes around the Customs House waterfront property whose units range in price from $900,000 to more than $10 million. Council’s role seems to be to facilitate more upscale real estate investment. Every decision they make must ensure maximization of profit for investors at the expense of maintaining a healthy environment and ensuring the well-being of the majority of the City’s households, who are tenants. If the City is concerned about mitigating the negative impact of climate change, why are they approving the construction of the largest consumers of energy and emitters of greenhouse gas emissions—high-density, amenity-rich condo towers, concentrated in Downtown? Truth-telling requires everyone to observe what’s going on around them, not to mention what’s behind the curtains at City Hall. As a wise friend once told me, follow the money and find out who stands to gain and who stands to lose from the decisions made. Victoria Adams Stop birching and complaining! Kudos to the FOI requester, however I think she was barking up the wrong tree. The root of the problem is the second-rate governance and management at the City of Victoria. The bike lanes are a gong show, and the design at Government and Humboldt is nothing short of hazardous. One must wonder about the decision-making processes at Centennial Square, which leave much to be desired, as you have so consistently reported, and would not be helped if the public were consulted ad nauseam about the removal of one tree. I’m fully supportive of an urban forest, as opposed to a concrete jungle—developers, property owners, and don’t forget renters too, guided and assisted by common sense policies and programs, should be encouraged or required to plant new and replacement trees on private and public property, and receive property tax credits in addition to the feel-good Earth-saving nature of the exercise. Tony Beckett This is the season I just wanted to thank Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic for her homage to the late, great Patrick Lane. I will now run out and find a copy of Mr Lane’s 2004 memoir, There is a Season. Thanks, Trudy, for your lovely prose about the joys of finding wisdom and humility amongst the plants, trees, soil and rocks. Robert Dunn Goodbye Victoria, kale and all I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I’ll write an email instead. I was born in Victoria 64 years ago. I’ve lived here all my life. Like so many others, I remember Victoria as it was. Affordable. Room for all. Sleepy, dusty, and quaint. Trips to Cook Street Village with my grandmother to buy pastries at Ethel’s Cake Shop; fish and chips, greasy and fragrant at the local eatery; and to the drug store on the corner for cocoa butter. What she used it for, I don’t remember. Sundays, with the roast in the oven, we went in the family car to Douglas and Hillside to travel all the way around the roundabout. Then home to ride our bicycles to Beacon Hill Park until supper. It was safe back then. Now I’m almost ready for old age pension cheques and all the other subsidies that will make my life easier, or so I’m told. As I look around my third-floor walkup in which I can no longer navigate the stairs or climb down to the basement to do my laundry, the rent is $1200 and climbing; I know I have to leave. I’m glad, in a way. Victoria has become a city of condos—unavailable to most of us, and only really affordable to a very few. I’m leaving for the northernmost tip of the island, in hopes of securing a fixer-upper mobile home. I’m in shock really, not quite believing how this came to be. I can scarcely walk more than a block or two, and yet somehow I have to find the strength to turn an old, musty shell of a mobile home into something liveable. Where did the years go? Where did my Victoria go? As I turn the pages through Focus to the last page, there is an article about gardens, and how wisdom and humility are nurtured in them. The author writes if she were to be banished from here to an island she’d pack some seeds and gardening tools. I’m curious about where she would live. The gulf islands have become as unaffordable as most of the island. Her advice? Plant kale. Easy to grow and loaded with nutrition. My balcony, and all the other apartments in my past that had no balconies at all come to mind, as well as the lack of sun needed to grow kale. I guess I could have bought a grow-light. I’m sure that’s what the author meant. The irony of it all. Kathleen LeCorre I loved the articles in your May/June Focus by Gene Miller (“In Praise of Modesty”) and Trudy Mitic (“This is the season”) because they delve deeply into the nature of Nature and human nature. Gene’s thoughts on greed and its relation to power coincide fully with my Judaeo-Christian beliefs. I go a little further, however. He says in a magnificent little paragraph: “Nature is, in this sense, the ultimate parent, and in a bizarre act of self-destructive, anti-ecological spite, we attempt to appropriate nature’s secrets and powers, and try to kill the world. Ego set against eco.” For his initial word “Nature” I would substitute the word “God,” i.e. Creator. But not the “idealized projection of human beings” mentioned in the paragraph following. The Creator I trust and believe in “is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine”—a parent who is able even to replace (in another dimension?) the priceless heirloom we treated as a toy. Of course, this hope does not alleviate my responsibility to Mother Earth in the slightest. I also loved Trudy’s reflections on gardening and nature. What a delicious quote from Patrick Lane: “Every stone in my garden is a story, every tree a poem. I barely know myself in spite of the admonishments of wise men and women who tell me I must know my life in order to live it fully. What I know is that I live in this place where words are made. What we are is a garden. I believe that.” James Hill A Message for the Minister of Forests The headline above Briony Penn’s article (May/June 2019) stated that Forest Minister Doug Donaldson “talked and ran.” As the organizers of the Forest Dialogue that he attended, we must say that this is an unfair characterization. When the minister agreed to speak, his office was always clear that because the legislature was in session, his time was limited. So his speaking and then leaving was no surprise. Furthermore, the minister arranged for one of his senior staff to attend the entire proceedings and to make himself available to meet with the organizers to review feedback from the meeting. It is our sincere hope that the Forest Dialogue has set the stage for new opportunities to exchange viewpoints, discuss values, and learn from experts and communities about the myriad issues facing our forest ecosystems. With more effective communication, we can move beyond the old tireless debate of jobs vs. the environment to a constructive dialogue around managing forests to both conserve the environment and keep the economy moving. Thoughtful, progressive people, including many who attended the conference, know this can be done, and that there are numerous examples of where it is being practiced. It is time to work together on a broad new forestry vision for BC, and for the BC government to step up with courage to embrace the leadership that is called for to make it a reality. For more information on the April Forest Dialogue, to listen to the speakers, and learn more about the state of BC’s forests, please go to: www.northwestinstitute.ca. Bob Peart, Pat Moss, Ivan Thompson Editor’s note: Mea culpa. I (not Briony) composed the offending titling. Government needs to assign a dollar value to every hectare of old growth or mature forests left standing in the province. The current rule of thumb is approximately $10K per hectare per year in environmental services they provide, including, of course, carbon sequestering. Until a forest is logged, government places $0 value on these forests that have been providing free services to society since the last ice age. Older forests and their services are worth much more to society today and to future generations than stumpage taxes. It’s clear that the Ministry of Forests has not known how to grow back a living forest, let alone high-quality trees, due to their continued reliance on natural forests to meet the majority of their Annual Allowable Cut. Ross Muirhead Forests suffer from drive for growth On Vancouver Island alone, I have witnessed the forested land being cut down to build subdivision after subdivision—from Swartz Bay to Victoria, and all the way up the Island. Meanwhile, the large corporate logging companies who hold the lease to harvest the forests on the Island are cutting so much timber that there is negligible old growth remaining, and the newer trees are one-tenth the size. These newer forests are not like the older forests which were made up of cedar, hemlock, spruce, fir and balsam. No, they are made of quick-grow, single species trees that are being planted. Ken James of the Youbou Timberless Society once stated: “If we processed our lumber in BC instead of shipping out raw logs, we could cut half as many trees and employ twice as many local people.” These ancient forests once helped maintain oxygen levels on this planet; they stopped flooding in the winter/spring by absorbing water; and these large trees kept the forest floors cool in the hotter months. These same old-growth forests took the carbon from the atmosphere and converted it to oxygen. Today we have flooding in the rainy season, and forest fires in the hotter months. We have water restrictions starting as early as May! And by June, it is fourth-stage water restrictions. Hot weather is showing up in April instead of June. A record number of forest fires are taking place each year. This is happening across BC, which was once one of the world’s greatest rainforests. Our forest protection is vital to maintaining a balanced climate. It is my understanding that we can no longer base our lifestyle on continuous consumption and never-ending growth. We cannot continue to cut our forests down for expansion of housing areas. We cannot assume that this environment we live in can be squandered and used up. Even the animals are showing up in our towns and cities because of human encroachment in their habitat. We must replace our assumption that happiness can be found by clearcutting our forested areas to build our large homes. We must learn to find contentment within our very being, instead of exploiting the world we live in. This continuous drive for growth and wealth is the very source of our environmental woes. Bill Woollam Logging hurts fish & tourism Interesting to learn in Focus how tourism is such a major contributor to our economy here in BC. But still, it’s very different than what it once was. Consider sports fishing some 50+ years ago. Throughout the early postwar years, it was a big-time recreational activity along the southern coasts of Vancouver Island. Indeed, sports fishing in the local waters throughout Saanich Inlet and Cowichan Bay, was incredibly popular with massive schools of spring and coho salmon returning to spawn in local rivers during the summer and fall. Indeed, there were numerous marinas and boathouses lining various bays, coves and beaches, where very popular fishing derbies were being run back in these good old days. Also, it should be noted that these were major fund-raising undertakings like the Solarium Derby which contributed thousands of dollars to the Queen Alexandra Solarium for Crippled Children in Saanich. Sadly, sports fishing to any extent has all been pretty well DOA since the mid-1970s. Also, in the same edition, it is most distressing to learn of how the local orca population is in danger but no one will actually deal with or face up to the actual source of this catastrophe. Well, as it happens, there at the top of the whale’s menu are spring salmon which are well on their way to extinction with the on-going wholesale destruction of second growth and now third growth forests all along the east side of the Island. (Check out the loaded trucks at the weigh station on the highway just north of Duncan.) So what happened here? Well, our local rivers flood regularly during winter and then dry up in the summer, which has resulted in the destruction of healthy spawning habitat. The reason? I asked an old retired Comox Logging & Railway Co. hand how it was that the company back in the early years of the last century was dropping huge first growth trees right into the Tsolum River and then booming them up? Well, he told me that back then the valley was entirely untouched prime Douglas fir forest land where the understory humic layer was very deep and intact. These soils and layers acted like an incredible sponge that soaked up the winter rainfalls to accumulate water and then gradually released it throughout the year. And today? As my contact stated, “There’s little water in all our rivers during the summertime…and they can flood like the bejeez’us during the winter, now that all the old timber is gone!” This colossal disaster is all thanks to the former Liberal government’s rewriting of the Private Managed Forest Land Act, which threw the door open to rampant, out of control timber harvesting by Island Timberlands and TimberWest corporate entities thanks to the Liberal’s model of “Professional Reliance.” Basically the fox was left in charge of the chicken house and there’s been absolutely no government oversight of private forest lands since the early 1990s. Rick James, Royston, BC A moratorium on wireless 5G urged I am alarmed by the 5G rollout that is soon to commence in Victoria and much of the world. This is not the 5G wifi that has already been installed. This is the next generation of radio frequency (RF) transmission for cell phones that promises to increase speed and performance. Unfortunately, it will also blanket our environment with transmitters (about one to every five houses) that will conduct pulsed signals at much higher frequencies. In 2015, over 230 scientists from more than 40 countries expressed serious concerns about the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) generated by electric and wireless devices, well before talk of a 5G rollout. Numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMR has adverse effects on living organisms, including increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free-radicals, genetic damage, structural and functional changes in the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders and negative impacts on general well-being in humans. Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is growing evidence of harmful effects to both plants and animals. (See Rainer Nyberg, EdD Professor Emeritus, Vasa Finland and Lennart Hardell, MD PhD Professor, Department of Oncology, University Hospital, Orebro Sweden). A cancer epidemiology update, following the 2011 World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluation of RF EMR, states that evidence is now conclusive that RF radiation is carcinogenic to humans. Previous studies that show such radiation is carcinogenic include those by Hardell 2017, Atzman 2016 and Peleg 2018 (from Environmental Research, volume 167, Nov 2018). On September 13, 2017, this declaration was made: “We the undersigned, more than 180 scientists and doctors from 36 countries recommend a moratorium on the rollout of the fifth generation for telecommunications—5G, until the potential hazards for human health and the environment have been fully investigated by scientists independent from industry. 5G will substantially increase exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF EMF) on top of the already existing 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, etc, for telecommunications already in place. RF EMF has proven to be harmful for humans and the environment.” Some cities in the world—most notably, Brussels, the capital of the EU—stopped the testing of 5G when its Minister of the Environment and Energy, Housing and Quality of Life Celine Fremault reported, “I cannot welcome such technology if the radiation standards, which must protect the citizen, are not respected, 5G or not. The people of Brussels are not guinea pigs whose health I can sell at a profit. We cannot leave anything to doubt.” Vaux in France, Neuchatel and Geneva in Switzerland, Florence in Italy and Portland, Oregon have all halted 5G implementation for public health reasons. The telecom industry has not invested in independent research to prove that wireless 5G is safe. In fact, industry representatives have publicly admitted that there was no investment in independent research, nor any plans for such. They intend to roll it out, and once it’s implemented, it will take decades to prove any damaging impact. Note: it took 40+ years for the damaging effects of tobacco to be taken seriously. I am a member of a group of concerned citizens who are proposing a moratorium on the deployment of wireless 5G in the City of Victoria, based on the lack of evidence that 5G is biologically safe. Glen Timms Heritage church replacement a sad sign of the times A number of commentators in the media have recently expressed disappointment with the anticipated demolition of the Fairfield United Church, a heritage building. As others noted, this flies in the face of Victoria’s reputation as an innovator and leader in heritage conservation, particularly as there is now a long experience and widespread practice in Canada and beyond in the repurposing of historic churches. However, what is even more egregious is the scheme being proposed for the Fairfield church’s replacement. Churches such as this are preserved for symbolic, as well as practical purposes. Even empty of their congregation they remain anchor monuments in their neighbourhoods, statements about community aspirations signalling thoughts a little higher up the values chain than say a casino or gas station—even to those who never, or rarely, set foot in them. Fairfield United marks the very core of a unique arts-and-crafts bungalow neighbourhood. It signalled “neighbourliness” in its construction. Red brick echoed the Edwardian James Douglas Elementary School which originally faced it across the street. Half-timbered gables, bracketed roof detailing, and an expansive pitched roof repeated the texture of the surrounding bungalows and cottages lining the adjacent streetscapes. So where were the Fairfield Neighbourhood Association, the City’s planning department, its heritage and design committees, and the council when this over-scaled abstract cubist design was proposed? Were the developers and design professionals blind to architect Shiv Garyali’s brilliantly executed new James Douglas School, just across the road, which respectfully and literally grows out of the form, scale and craft character of its environs? I am afraid this exercise, perhaps intended to challenge the status quo or reflect the “new spirit of our times,” will instead stand as an object lesson in political disinterest, questionable professional practice, and community amnesia. Is this what awaits Victoria’s historic residential neighbourhoods? Martin Segger Subsidizing climate change, via LNG It no longer seems that our BC government is an agreement between NDP and Greens. It is now a government of NDP and Liberals, given licence by the Greens to subsidize global warming by giving away $6 billion of our tax dollars to an LNG industry that can only accelerate our free-fall into economic and social destruction, brought on by the irreparable destruction of our environment. What the heck is Horgan’s bunch doing? Ian MacKenzie
  13. The demise of the Humboldt “Innovation Tree” leads a citizen to investigate the City’s decision-making. WHEN I HEARD THAT SOMEONE had filed an FOI request with the City of Victoria around the January removal of the Humboldt “Innovation Tree,” I was curious. Not so much about the tree, as about her. I thought her action might be a great example of citizenry—of demanding transparency and holding power to account. And, as it turns out, I was right. Over coffee in a James Bay café, Mariann Burka tells me that when she first heard about plans to remove the tree as part of the new cycling network improvements, she immediately contacted City of Victoria staff and council members to obtain more information and see if an alternative was possible. And she asked for a moratorium on its removal. She says, “I was provided with standard responses,” taking the form of reassurances that other options had been looked at to fix the intersection at Humboldt and Government, but “operational needs” necessitated its removal. But something didn’t ring true for Burka. And that Humboldt Tree had special meaning for her. Though she’s now retired from the provincial government, where she worked in senior positions (including acting as assistant deputy minister a couple of times), her last years at work were spent in the Belmont building in an office that looked out on the tree. She also confides that after the tree was celebrated as the City’s Innovation Tree and bedecked with sound-triggered lights, she and her partner would stop on their walk home and clap hands or sing to make the lights change colour. “There were always other residents or tourists who would join us,” Burka tells me. It was a welcoming presence for all: “I remember those moments of communal delight and joy.” As Burka witnessed the Humboldt tree being removed on January 28, someone said, “Well, that’s that.” But she thought, “No, I am not letting this go.” That same day, she filed her FOI with the City, asking for “all design options considered for changes to the intersection at Government and Humboldt; and what specific operational needs could not be met without removal of this specific tree and why.” She received the City’s response on March 22 (yes, it often takes that long). So what was in that 37-page file? Not very much. As Burka notes, “The drawings in the FOI appear to still show the tree…they are hard to interpret…I saw no evidence of any serious attempt to explore alternatives or to identify or evaluate alternatives in any systematic way.” The closest the records come to showing any design options are rough “scratch notes” supplied by Transportation Planning and Development Manager Sarah Webb, who explains: “The team meetings and notes from October and November 2017 (sent in the scan) indicate general comparisons of the two options, but the option of the full re-design of the intersection was preferred as an overall solution and was pursued through detailed design.” There’s also an agenda for an October 25, 2017 meeting which allots all of 10 minutes to cover 3 items, including “Government/Humboldt/Wharf—full intersection as preferred.” The only record provided by the City to support its contention that it had “explored a number of alternative designs” were two pages of a staff member’s notebook. In other words, the tree was bumped out of the picture in 2017 without, apparently, a lot of thought. Council approved the “60 percent design” at a meeting in May 2018—without making a peep about the missing tree. The general public seemed to be out of the loop entirely about the fate of the healthy 40-year-old birch until January 2019. Once that 10-day tree removal notice went up, however, things got heated. There were media articles, letters-to-editors, and a petition to save the tree that garnered 1,200 signatures within a few days. The FOI response shows that Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe wrote to staff on January 18 of this year, stating: “I am not supportive of the removal of the tree on Government. Is there anything that can be done to save it?” Director of Engineering and Public Works Fraser Work responded to her, copying other councillors, saying, “The design requires the removal of this tree…We tried very hard to keep the central intersection tree, but had to compromise in order to design a safe intersection, that is affordable, and effective at serving the vehicle and pedestrian volumes, with a new cycle track.” When questioned, staff rely on boilerplate, non-explanatory statements that the tree had to go. As Burka put it in a draft report she shared, “The FOI material reveals that the City relies on undefined, vague and, at times, changing criteria of ‘operational requirements.’” Sarah Webb, in responding to the FOI, lists constraints and considerations, but as Burka notes: “In none of the documents provided is there any explanation or description of these ‘constraints/factors,’ whether they represent operational requirements, how or why they might be essential to the project, or any exploration of how these factors could be achieved in different ways.” And, she points out, there is no consideration of the value of a mature tree. Research shows they provide ecosystem services like water filtration, cooling shade, and carbon sequestration. They contribute to our health by absorbing such pollutants as nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone; they even filter particulates out of the air. Recent research makes clear that the older a tree is, the better it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere. The staff of the City’s Parks department oversee all the trees on City property. The FOI records suggest their involvement was limited, but that they were fully supportive of the Humboldt tree’s removal. ANOTHER PROBLEM THAT HAD LEPT OUT at Burka in the FOI response, related to public consultation. The tree’s removal notice certainly seemed to surprise not just citizens, but some council members as well. According to Webb, “Both designs were shown to the public through consultation material in Fall 2017, with the preferred option articulated.” Those materials were not included in the FOI response, but Burka found reports about (and graphics used in) the engagement process on the City’s website. She notes, “Despite the City’s public assurances of detailed consultations over the past two years, there is no evidence that explicit information about tree removal (and alternatives) formed a significant component of consultations concerning the intersection.” Early engagement activities were limited to nearby businesses, service providers, and residents (very few of the latter). “Preserving mature trees and maintaining the urban tree canopy is a matter of broad public interest for all of Victoria, not just those who live and work in an area where a specific tree is targeted for removal,” Burka points out. Besides advocating the City “make more effort to engage the broader public on issues of tree removal and retention,” she states, Victorians are “entitled to explicit and full disclosure about tree removals and [should] be allowed an opportunity for meaningful consultation.” (Not just at the 10-day notice period.) Burka is not sure we’re going in that direction: “It’s especially troubling to me that in February budget discussions, the City agreed to accelerate implementation of the cycling network which includes ‘streamlining consultation.’” Worse, she feels the City has “almost encouraged divisiveness” by presenting a false dichotomy—trees or bike lanes—when most citizens are in favour of both. “The City should be taking the lead to harmonize those goals,” she says. Instead, she says, some statements by City officials helped falsely suggest those who wanted to save the tree were against bike lanes or even addressing climate change. The City’s recent vote to implement its 2013 Urban Forest Master Plan, with $1.26 million in funding—along with pressure from citizens—means more effort is already being made to retain the City’s mature trees. City staff assured me that plans for the Vancouver Street section of the cycling network retain all existing trees and allow for some new ones—proving it is possible to both encourage people to get out of their cars and maintain a robust urban forest. In this era of media disruption and cutbacks, however, it will come to rest more and more on citizens to investigate, through FOI and other means, government decision-making and truth-telling. Let Focus know what you learn. Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus. Did you know that, last measured (2012), Victoria’s forest canopy was 18 percent, and that its Urban Forest Master Plan suggests 40-45 percent is more appropriate for a city such as ours?
  14. Thank you Thank you for seeing through the smoke and mirrors, dispensing with red herrings, writing for truth and with great intensity, and supporting journalism of the highest quality. And for a magazine I read cover to cover because it’s so interesting, relevant, hard-hitting, beautiful and…funny in the right places! Susan Yates Grandstanding? Or grand gesture? While I found Judith Lavoie’s reporting very interesting, I am far from convinced that the proposed class-action suit, supported by Victoria’s mayor and council of ideologues led by Ben Isitt, is anything but grandstanding. Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law is hardly unbiased in his assessment of the litigation’s eventual success. The question is: how many decades and how many billions? Looks like a win/win for the legal profession on both sides. This is political over-reach at it worst. K.H. Demmler In the March/April Focus I was surprised to learn that a City of Victoria councillor sees carbon taxes and road-user charges as the “biggest and best tools” for climate-change action. This view is inconsistent with the landmark UN IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (October 2018)—a report with over 6,000 references and 42,001 expert and government review comments. Given the dire state of the climate crisis according to evidence-based science, and the need for policymakers at all levels to take responsibility, I think it’s incumbent on elected officials to have read the full IPCC report, especially those who make public statements on climate action. The IPCC report clearly states that the emerging body of studies—that focus on the performance of various policy mixes—affirm that a range of measures and complementary mix of policies are required to generate a 1.5°C pathway to avert risks of environmental breakdown and catastrophic suffering. The report elucidates unequivocally that—according to evidence and theory—while relevant, carbon pricing alone cannot reach the incentive levels needed to hold temperature increase to the essential goal of no more than 1.5˚C. The report highlights the need for accountability at all governance levels, including local, and describes at significant length the numerous ways cities play a key and essential role in climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. It emphasizes the requirement for rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes, stressing that there’s no time to delay. Reading the full IPCC Special Report would aid more informed and responsible councillor public comments. I’m grateful to the mayor and other councillors who—in accord with evidence-based science—are taking climate action seriously, understand the essential role that cities have in climate action strategies, and the urgency required. Young people in rapidly growing climate movements around the world are demanding immediate and serious climate change action by policymakers, that they tell the truth about the climate crisis we are in, and that they follow the science. I invite people to do their own research by reading the actual scientific documents—and not just rely on those professing their economic credentials nor just the analysis of mainstream media. One can then make their own informed decisions about responsible climate action. Genevieve Eden, Ph.D As the tipping point nears In Ms Duivenvoorden Mitic’s article on the lack of a clear plan to combat climate change, she urges people to focus their despair and/or frustration on the positive glimmers of progress. However, the people who “are getting pissed off over inaction,” are unaware of their involvement with the pollution of the Earth’s air with vast amounts of pollutants. Most consumer goods bought by North Americans are manufactured in China. One-third of the world’s pollution is produced with no environmental controls in place by Chinese industry, thus making North Americans complicit with China in polluting the air. Add to this scenario the shipment of coal to help heat the homes of hundreds of millions of people in China, and we’re left with the realization that no amount of effort will alter climate change. Steve Hoffman The case for ending the herring fishery In the mid 1990s I was involved in the herring spawn dive surveys, where every 1500 feet along the beach in spawning areas, a diver swam along a lead line starting at 30-foot depth into the beach with a quadrant. Dive records had been kept for 30 years and the DFO managers had some solid evidence to base their herring stock abundance estimates. Unfortunately that method of assessment was dropped for sonar surveys, with no overlap of methods so the new sonar methods could be calibrated. The derby fishing by seine boats was madness, often leading to over-harvesting of allowable catch by 25-30 percent. Now, thankfully, the over-fishing has been replaced by boat quota shares in a slower fishery wherein the catch can be truthfully reported. Still, with prices paid for roe so low, we have to wonder if this is really a fish pellet production fishery for pet food and salmon farms. Howard Pattinson Stephen Hume’s comments are factual and accurate. I have witnessed the decline of our fishery since my arrival on the West Coast in 1974. The most significant deterioration began in 1996 and continues to this day. Politicians fiddle while our precious fish and the natural environment burn. I have no doubt that our leadership-deficient Prime Minister Trudeau will claim that those decisions are made in the interest of preserving jobs. This near-sightedness will soon eliminate our salmon and the related fishery jobs, to be followed by both the sports-fishing and tourist economy. Should we be prepared to see government-sponsored commercials for contaminated, foreign, farm fish? We need to make changes if we are to save our planet, our environment and our fish. Noel Murphy, Squamish Streamkeeper The major problem with commercial fisheries is the term “harvest.” Fishing is not in any way like farming. It is hunting. And all societies—except enlightened science-based ones—know that if you over-hunt something, it is gone forever. Richard Martin The Care Index I am jazzed about this techy way of outing those making sensational claims about how to reduce auto-dependency. Bike lanes alone won’t do it. But the cameras are also a distraction. Five percent of greenhouse gases is a contribution that still has to end. We know what has to happen to cars—just abolish them. E-cars too—most in the world are charged with a fossil fuel source. Their production and use are a fossil-fuel-subsidized privilege of the world’s 20 percent. They have no place in an equitable and carbon-free future. For a rational, nature-respectful transit vision, watch on YouTube Taken for a Ride—The US History of the Assault on Public Transport in the Last Century. It basically says that public transit must be free and accessible everywhere, and will need billions of dollars to make that happen. That’s one of the the Green New Deal’s key elements. Ever been to Manhattan? Five out of six folks there don’t own a car. You can get everywhere on public transit. It’s skanky yes, but people aren’t kvetching to own cars. The Uber infatuation is a consequence of the US and Canada spending grotesque amounts on militarism (nearly $2 billion per day in the US; $30 billion/year in Canada if the Liberals get their way) rather than on public transit. China is spending billions for electric buses. What a farce that we’re more concerned about Huawei than doing the same thing here! Larry Wartels I appreciate the latest project of detailing the increase/decrease of assorted modes of transport at intersections across Victoria in order to discern if all the alternative transportation-encouraging measures are having an effect. It is certainly a head-scratcher (warning sign of endemic insanity?) when swathes of mature trees are being cut down for bike lanes. And putting the onus on us drudges to clean up our fossil fuel addiction when pater government is merrily guzzling away with their cronies is indeed maddening. But I did find several slants in the article a bit disconcerting. Climate change has really brought to the forefront the burning question: is there actually any evidence for scientific evidence? The continuum of “scientists have said” runs the gamut from climate change is a hoax and lots of CO2 in the atmosphere is good for the planet, to projections of drastic, life-as-we-know-it-stopping changes occurring within 10 years. Having read quite a few reports from several points along the climate-change spectrum, I do find David Broadland’s suggestion that “the time frame over which that full temperature increase (between 1.5 and 4.5˚C) would occur could take hundreds of years to play out—perhaps more than a thousand” to be overly generous in its outlook. As in “oh goodie…I don’t have to make any serious changes in how I live or relate to the world just yet.” Some have even called the recent IPCC report that gives us 12 years to make “rapid and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to be overly generous. And I’m not so sure that one can even tidily put the climate crises “in a nutshell” as Broadland has done. The Arctic, for example, has already had temperature increases considerably over 4.5˚C, resulting in serious melting of ice and potential release of methane pockets, both of which will impact weather for the rest of the planet. This is just one of many feedback loops that need to be somehow figured in to climate disruption projections. Add in our rapid destruction of life-supporting ecosystems such as forests, soil, air and water, and it becomes tricky to make nutshell explanations or credible predictions at all. A very good read on this topic is the recently released book End of Ice by another investigative journalist par excellence, Dahr Jamail. I understand the impulse to point out all the hypocrisies and inconsistencies and downright why-bothers of the sudden municipal drive to force and cajole us, the public, into lowering our communal carbon footprints. But it seems to be so easy for us beleaguered humans to use someone else’s refusal to change their eco-destroying actions to justify carrying on with our own. This is totally understandable, which is perhaps why we need to avoid putting even one toe into enabling that propensity. Instead, what this time in history, which many have called unprecedented in its scope, is blatantly pointing out to us Earth-dwellers is our requirement to come back to our original understanding of the sacredness of and respect for the ecosystem that supports us and our fellow creatures, and from which we have veered mind-bogglingly off course. We don’t need any prompting to look at our neighbours’ or at other parts of the world’s wrongheadednesses as an excuse to not bother. We need to bother. For our own spirits to not wither. Jo Phillips Editor’s note: Broadland accurately paraphrased information provided by US NOAA senior science writer Rebecca Lindsey in her article “How much will Earth warm if carbon dioxide doubles pre-industrial levels?” Broadland wrote:“The arithmetic suggests that by 2060 it will have reached 550 parts per million, double that of the pre-industrial era. At that point, scientists tell us, the planet will be committed to a temperature rise of between 1.5° and 4.5° Celsius. The time frame over which that full temperature increase would occur could take hundreds of years to play out—perhaps more than a thousand—according to scientists. But they also say that by the time CO2 has doubled, average temperature will have increased between 1° and 2.5° Celsius.” I am writing to thank you for the recent “The CARE Index” article in Focus. Hopefully, local politicians will use it to shape their thinking and make evidence-based decisions. David Broadland correctly points out that unintended consequences follow decisions that are not well-grounded. “For example, the City of Victoria’s well-intentioned ban on plastic bags appears to have created an unintended consequence. A survey of garbage bins in my neighbourhood shows that many households are simply replacing the no-longer-available thin plastic bags their groceries were packed in with heavier, brand-new plastic garbage bags. In trying to eliminate single-use bags, the City appears to have eliminated two-use bags and replaced them with heavier, single-use bags.” The size of a typical plastic grocery shopping bag is 15 x 12 inches with the handles reaching an additional 6 inches. The smallest purchased garbage bag I could find was the Glad Kitchen Catcher, measuring 16.5 x 20 inches, which is more plastic per bag than the shopping bags. Many of the purchased bags are treated with an air freshener so more chemicals are being introduced into the landfill. I predict that in a few years’ time we will see another unintended consequence as our non-recyclable re-usable shopping bags wear out and enter our landfill in large volumes. The handles will detach, holes will appear, and seams will rip. Repeated washings will weaken the fibres and hasten deterioration. Unlike plastic bags, the reusable ones are not recyclable so it will be interesting to see what happens as these bags are disposed of. I wonder if our local politicians have a plan in mind. I wonder if we will be seeing similar bans in the future for the reusable grocery bags that are now being lauded as “the answer.” Charlotte Gorley, PhD, CEC, Qualitative Researcher A recent California Air Resources Board climate report says California needs to reduce per capita car travel by 25 percent in just 11 years to meet their climate targets, even with a tenfold increase in electric car sales. We need to achieve at least as great a reduction, just to meet BC’s inadequate targets. However, it is important to understand how the carbon footprint of transportation can be reduced in cities. Automobile traffic, and the resulting greenhouse gas pollution expands and contracts with the amount of available road capacity and parking. Therefore, projects like the McKenzie Interchange make congestion and the climate emergency worse. Conversely, anything that reduces road capacity for cars makes traffic disappear—and the climate pollution disappears with the traffic. This does not depend on generosity, just common-sense decisions by people. Numerous experiences of disappearing traffic have been documented. As the Seattle Times reported, “The cars just disappeared” after Seattle’s Alaska Way elevated freeway, which carried 90,000 cars per day, was closed in January and the predicted traffic chaos didn’t happen. Making Government Street a pedestrian priority zone would be an effective climate action, as would replacing parking with trees. Measures like bus lanes and protected bicycle lanes both make traffic disappear, and provide low-carbon mobility. The carbon footprint of construction is also an important issue. Reducing the amount of concrete and steel used to build underground parking garages, by replacing parking minimums [for housing units] with parking maximums as Mexico City recently did, is one way our municipal governments can make a big difference. Cities cooperate globally on climate action. If we stand out from the crowd (as Mexico City just did in parking policy) the power of Greater Victoria’s good example will be felt around the world. Eric Doherty, Professional Planner David Broadland replies: In reality, the traffic in Seattle didn’t disappear. The elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct was replaced with a $3.3-billion tunnel and, following demolition of the viaduct, a new 8-lane vehicle highway will be built on the surface above the tunnel. Halifax regional government provides an interesting approach to transportation planning as well as insight into effective regional governance. Certain questions arise from this example relevant to mobility and growth in the Capital Regional District. Yes, senior government plans to look at south Island mobility issues. That is good, especially given problems with the Malahat corridor and prospects for the E&N corridor. Meanwhile there is the CRD itself, and its mobility and growth issues needing a regional response, as in the case of Halifax. But does governance in the CRD have the powers such as Halifax has to act? If not, and that appears to be the case, where will plans for action and action itself—such as those we see in the Halifax region—come from in this region? Is there reason to be concerned that, as things stand, they may not, or not adequately, or not in a timely fashion? A region of some 500,000 people is in view. How well will it function? John Olson BC Ferries should build ships at home In March, BC Ferries’ CEO told media that in order to keep ferry fares low he has to contract foreign ship builders to build new BC ferries. In other words, he wants BC tax money and ferry profits to go to support the economies of political systems of other countries—a policy promulgated by a former premier of BC who decimated the province. The neo-liberal globalization ideology, espoused by the BC Ferries CEO, is being discredited all over the world. It is now recognized by many that it is the cause behind the economic crashes and recessions, the dislocation of millions from their ruined economies, and the rise of right-wing populism and violence. Under this ideology, our tax dollars and profits from most, if not all of our purchases, go to support the economies of other countries (and the off-shore tax-haven bank coffers of the super-rich) whose political, social, and economic systems and ideologies are ones we would not want to emulate. They offer cheap manufacturing, low taxes, and minimal, if any, social services and labour protection because their people live desperate lives. Back in the days when Canada was discussing globalization, it was argued that the corporation- driven form of globalization proposed would lead to only one thing: a race to the bottom. Since many of our taxes and profits are “repatriated” to off-shore coffers, that money is not recycled into our own economies and communities. So funds from and for this community are slashed, and taxes and profits left over go to ensure the infrastructure needed by huge international corporations are provided to them for free (’cause they don’t want to pay taxes!). The rich and powerful know darn well what they’re doing, and why, and its effects. Governments have been made their lackeys. They are doing all they can to increase unemployment, destroy job benefits, and eliminate workers’ rights so that corporations can become “competitive” with other nations’ corporations. And then the added benefit is that they can point at the underclass they’ve created—the unemployed, the under-employed, and the working poor here in BC and Canada—and say “Look at those slackers! Do you want your tax money going to support them? No! Canadians want lower taxes and lower prices and they want those lazy bums to go get jobs! See where your taxes are going?? So we’re gonna cut them. Yay, us!” We need some new thinking. We can start simply by abiding by the UN Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms—and perhaps, just perhaps, others will see our success and emulate us. And if they don’t, at least we’ll have lived our lives uprightly and honourably. Dean Helm Heaven? Press 35. Gene Miller’s concern, and mine, is that we—civic leaders, developers, and citizens—have placed too little emphasis on those things that truly define this place—naturally, culturally, and emotionally—and have instead embraced rather more modest objectives for our built environment. This is an instrumental approach, one that meets (barely) the essential needs, but misses entirely the opportunity to inspire, to evoke a positive and uplifting emotional experience of place in our citizens. Miller rightly notes that healthy “urban culture must be authored and constantly renewed. And land use, urban form and urban design—what goes where, and why, and with what consequences—is central to that process.” For inspiration in this regard, and a compelling point of comparison with so may of the recent land-use decisions Downtown, one need look no further afield than the City of Calgary and its extraordinary new public library. Modelled on the Chinook clouds that are native to the Alberta foothills, built using local materials, and celebrating “education is the new buffalo” as both an homage to the city’s past and a harbinger of its future, this is so much more than a building; it is a point of civic pride. And a physical and cultural landmark that is authoritatively rooted in a sense of place. This is the mysterious “why” to which Miller refers, “the secret sauce” that becomes a story in itself, a story that can unite a people or divide them. What is the equivalent here? Toward the end of his column, Miller wonders if Victoria can “remain or re-become an identifiable and coherent urban community, not simply a crowd of people to whom the future happens?” He doesn’t answer his query directly, yet surely knows that his call is about worldviews, institutions, and technologies, and the way in which they are discussed, designed, and used here. Worldviews are the mental networks of concepts, beliefs, and values—often emotionally charged—that allow people to interpret things around them and plan their actions. Institutions are a community’s rules that include the subtle and unwritten social norms in a culture about what behaviour is appropriate at specific times and places. And technologies are problem-solving tools that are used to define a place at a moment in time. I would respectfully submit that it is past time for Victoria to be explicit about the way in which worldviews, institutions and technologies are used to shape this place we call home. Failure to do so will result in the slow, and not-so-slow, erosion of all that makes this place sacred. Time to set aside the merely instrumental and reach for something greater; time to reach for Heaven in our Downtown. Rob Abbott
  15. Holes in the new local elections financing act give an advantage to incumbents. That’s not necessarily in the public interest. Soon after the BC NDP formed the government in 2017, they delivered on some promises around election financing for both provincial and municipal elections. On the announcement regarding local elections, everyone seemed happy. News reports from that fall quote multiple politicians and organizations like the Union of BC Municipalities, not to mention Minister of Municipal Affairs Selina Robinson, saying it’s about time to get money out of politics, to end the Wild West reputation we’d earned, and level the playing field. Chief among the new rules were, first, a ban on donations from corporations and unions, donations that in the past often fuelled many campaigns; and, second, a cap of $1,200 per year for individual donations. I assumed such regulations would rein in the campaigns of higher-spending candidates and level out the playing field somewhat. I was wrong. And it appears the government knows that more needs to be done. Even before last October’s civic elections, when it became clear there were some big holes that money could still flow through, Minister Robinson was already promising to review the rules. All candidates had to submit their disclosure reports on their campaign donations and expenditures by January 18. They were posted at Elections BC soon thereafter. Somewhat surprisingly, there has been no analysis in local media, at least that I could find. I suppose the new regulations have helped, but seasoned political operatives have, by the looks of it, found ways to play by the new rules while still drumming up lots of money to promote their candidates. Let’s look at Mayor Helps’ disclosure statement as an example of what can be done within the rules. The new formula upon which campaign expense limits are based resulted in Helps being limited to $54,121.50. (The formula is $1 for each resident in the municipality up to 15,000 and then $.55 for each additional person.) Helps spent $52,611 during the campaign period, so was within the limit. Lisa Helps (right) outspent Stephen Hammond (left) 4 to 1 in winning the Victoria mayoralty contest in October 2018 However, the “campaign period” only covers the month before voting day. During the “election period,” which runs from January 1 to “the 29th day prior to voting day” (nine months), she spent an additional $51,359. Or $103,970 in total—quite a bit more than the $88,564 she spent in the 2014 election. There is no limit on how much a candidate can spend during the “election period.” Elections BC Communications Coordinator Melanie Hull told Focus, “The expense limits apply to campaign period expenses only.” Candidates had to record their donations starting January 1 of the election year, but spending limits didn’t take effect until the official campaign period began on September 22. This timing loophole favours incumbents who know they will run in the next election. Hypothetically, the new rules would allow unlimited lobbying for donations during the period an incumbent was still in office and making decisions. That incumbency could attract potential donors. Money raised early on could be spent, for example, on staff dedicated to fundraising and/or on a long-term social media campaign. Based on the description of Helps’ heavy spending during the “election period” in her disclosure form, she could have had a fundraiser and robust social media campaign well ahead of the campaign period. These days, that’s a big advantage. As it turned out, Helps’ spent a surprising amount of money for each vote she received. Her nearest competitor, for instance, was Stephen Hammond. He got 8,717 votes, compared to Helps’ 12,642 votes. So Helps spent $8.22 per vote, while Hammond spent $2.20 (he spent a total of $19,143, including $3,716 for his own campaign and $15,427 from newcouncil.ca, an electoral organization). On a per-vote basis, Helps spent about four times what Hammond did. Other mayoral candidates in Victoria also spent far less than Helps. In a weird sort of way, it’s reassuring that even with all the funds at her disposal, all her experience and name recognition, she still earned only 44 percent of the votes for mayor. While the money strengthens a campaign, and definitely makes for an uneven playing field, spending a lot more money may have diminishing returns. It’s also interesting to look at other municipalities of roughly the same size to see what their per-mayoralty-vote expenditures are. Maple Ridge, whose politics I know nothing about, has a population close to that of the City of Victoria. As a result, the campaign period spending limit for mayoralty candidates was similar: $54,992. The successful candidate, also an incumbent, spent a total of $43,604, far less than Helps. Michael Mordon received 11,287 votes, which works out to $3.86 per vote. Again, much lower than Helps. Closer to home, Fred Haynes in Saanich spent $70,436 and harvested 15,312 votes, at a cost of $4.60 per vote. In Kelowna, incumbent Colin Basran won the mayoral race at a cost of $4.22 per vote. Even in the City of Vancouver, where campaigns had been raising and spending millions in previous elections, the new Mayor Kennedy Stewart spent only $6.23 per vote for the 50,000 votes he received. (His total expenses were $310,337 over the two periods.) It’s actually pretty hard to find any mayoral candidate in BC who spent more per vote than Mayor Helps. But persistence with the two relevant websites pays off: a close race in North Van saw Linda Buchanan win with 3,800 votes, at $17.47 per vote due to her $66,408 expenditure. And in neighbouring Oak Bay, incumbent Nils Jensen spent $9.95 per vote, only to lose to Kevin Murdoch, who handily won while spending only $3.76 per vote received. Jensen’s costly votes seem more a reflection of his dramatic trouncing than of relative campaign expenses. (Murdoch got 5,042 votes to Jensen’s 2,138.) Incumbents may be favoured, there are no guarantees. ANOTHER LOOPHOLE THAT I HOPE Minister Robinson looks at is around corporate and union donations. While corporations cannot donate, their owners, employees, and associates certainly can. And unions have other ways of helping candidates they prefer. An astute reader emailed me right after the posting of the disclosure statements to show me how nine people who worked in some capacity with Abstract Developments had given donations totalling $23,400 to various Oak Bay, Saanich, and Victoria candidates. All perfectly legal. Helps’ campaign got a total of seven $1,200 donations from Abstract employees and associates, so $8,400. She also received donations, usually of $1,200, from others in the real estate and development field, including Jon Stovell (Reliance), Fraser McColl (Mosaic Properties), Leonard Cole (Urban Core Ventures), Steven Cox (Rize Alliance Properties), Ken Mariash (Bayview), and Mohan Jawl (Atrium, etc). A conservative estimate—without googling every single name on Helps’ lengthy donors list—of donations from developers and their teams amounted to $23,000, thereby fuelling over 22 percent of her campaign’s total expenses (i.e. from January through October 20). In some ways, the ban on corporate donations just hides them. Sarah Henderson gave $1,200 to each of five candidates’ campaigns; in all, $6,000. She is Abstract’s sales manager. As an individual donor, her civic generosity is totally legit. But I bet the candidates she donated to in Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay know she works for Abstract. I am not sure how the Minister could address this particular issue. Maybe some readers have suggestions? AND THEN THERE'S “third party advertising.” In Victoria, so-called third parties could spend $2,706 on advertising directly endorsing candidates for mayor and council during the campaign period (such bodies can also spend up to $150,000 advertising about issues in the campaign period). There is no cap on contributions to these groups. There is also a transparency issue as they don’t need to identify themselves or where the money comes from in advance of the campaign period. A good example of how this can play out in unintended ways is probably the businessman in Vancouver who ponied up $85,000 to plaster billboards with ads for a mayoral candidate prior to the official one-month-long campaign period. Another area the Minister will likely review relates to “elector organizations,” for which there are no expense limits other than the $1,200 per individual donor per year. So we see situations like the Burnaby Citizens Association spending over $500,000 on its slate of nine candidates, seven of whom got elected. In Victoria, the relatively new group Together Victoria, which endorsed three new candidates, all of whom got elected, shows how effective such organizations can be. It raised over $45,000, though it spent only about $25,000 divided amongst the three candidates, all of whom also raised additional small amounts on their own. On the other hand, newcouncil.ca raised a total of $62,000, most of which it split between five candidates, none of whom got elected. These groups are in their infancy in Victoria, but over time could become like political parties in our civic arena. If money is allowed to sway the citizenry through high-priced promotional campaigns, many of us grow more cynical and less trusting of our government and its processes. We need people to feel the system is fair, and that if they decide to run for council, money will not be the deciding factor. The new limits get us only partway there. Leslie Campbell’s eyes took a beating exploring many candidate disclosure statements and voting results; perhaps the Minister can figure out a streamlined way to report the numbers. P.S. Many readers will miss Briony Penn in this edition; she will be back in Focus come May.
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