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Leslie Campbell

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  1. Leslie Campbell

    The heart and soul of Focus

    It’s an understatement to say that a lot has changed in Focus’ 30 years, but there’s been at least one consistent thread. WHILE OCTOBER BROUGHT LOTS OF CHANGES to this region’s council tables, it also brought changes to Focus. For starters: we turned 30! Do you remember we (those of us of a certain age) used to say: “You can’t trust anyone over 30?” Well as it turns out, you can. And even the fellow who coined the phrase back in the mid ’60s knows it. Jack Weinberg, who was active in the Free Speech Movement at Berkley in the ’60s, explained in 2000: “I was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter and he kept asking me who was ‘really’ behind the actions of students, implying that we were being directed behind the scenes by the Communists or some other sinister group.” Of course the media—and other members of the counter culture—loved it because “it shook up the older generation,” and it spread like wildfire. Jack went on to work for Greenpeace, the Environmental Health Fund, and against nuclear power. He seems like a trustworthy guy, even post 30. Focus certainly intends to continue to earn readers’ trust now that were over 30. If I’ve learned anything from 30 years with Focus, it’s that trust is, without doubt, our most valuable asset. How that trust is gained is pretty simple—it comes from our editorial content being non-commercial, well-researched, fact-based, and fair-minded even when pointed. It respects our readers’ intelligence. It accepts our responsibility to communicate clearly and accurately—and to never dumb things down. It ensures we contribute to the community conversation in a meaningful, helpful way. All this means Focus writers are absolutely key to our success. Over our 30 years, so many things have changed, led largely by technology and its profound reshaping of the publishing industry. But throughout the decades, Focus has been blessed with wonderful long-term writers. A magazine’s editorial content is its heart and soul; its writers create its personality, its integrity and trustworthiness. Besides their literary talent, Focus writers care deeply about their subjects, their “beats,” whether in the arts or on hot social and political issues. Despite modest financial compensation, they take pains to get their facts straight and to craft them into stories that are a pleasure to read. Lately, the Focus writers’ table has seen some changes. Aaren Madden has written for Focus for 15 years. She covered community “players” initially, then moved into arts coverage. With a growing family and near full-time job at the library, something had to give. Fortunately, Kate Cino, who has been immersed in the arts in this community for decades, started to fill Aaren’s shoes a few editions ago. And Aaren has graciously agreed to return for the odd assignment. Watch for her in the next edition. Alan Cassels, who provided 6 years of critical reporting on BC health policy in these pages, has taken a new job as communications director at the UBC Therapeutics Initiative. This will limit his work for us, but he will occasionally pop up in these pages. This edition features Amy Reiswig’s final interview with a local book author—after a nine-year run. Amy works in the Victoria Legislature for Hansard. She recently moved to Mayne Island and with the commute, plus a yearning to indulge in some other creative projects, not to mention have some evenings with her husband, she needed to reclaim the time that Focus occupied. Read Mollie Kaye’s interview with Amy in this edition to learn about one of her other creative endeavours: Banquo Folk Ensemble. We haven’t determined who will fill Amy’s pages yet. Fortunately, Victoria is blessed with talented writers who will love the job of interviewing fellow writers, just as Amy did. Some other changes are strictly positive. Russ Francis joined us as of the last edition to focus mostly on provincial politics. Some of you may recall his investigative reporting back in Monday Magazine’s heyday. He worked there from 1994-2007. In his last column there he reminded readers that the job of reporters was “to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” He went back to school after leaving Monday, then worked in policy development with the provincial government. Now “retired,” we’re thrilled he’s willing to apply his intellect and time to holding government accountable through Focus. This edition—and hopefully beyond—we have Stephen Hume aboard. Stephen has accomplishments and awards too many to list, but you likely read him in the Vancouver Sun where he worked for 27 years. He’s also the author of nine books, both poetry and non-fiction. Amy profiled him in 2011 regarding his book A Walk with the Rainy Sisters: In Praise of British Columbia’s Places, which was shortlisted for the Butler Prizes that year. In the interview, he told her that good journalism, while certainly being about the facts, goes beyond them: “If you can touch [readers’] spirits, you can better transfer the information.” His piece on orcas in this edition offers a fine illustration of his skills in this regard. To be a good editor, I’ve long realized, one just needs great writers. That includes, by the way, all those who contribute impressive letters-to-the editor: thank you, dear readers! The past decade has been hard on publishers and their writers, particularly at the local level. Print media have been massively disrupted by the growth of the internet, with roller-coaster-type plunges in advertising revenue. Being small and simply structured has allowed Focus to adapt as necessary, while always prioritizing fact- and place-based journalism. Yet the reality—that no successful model has evolved for paying for journalism in the new digital sphere—should worry us all. The world needs good, truth-seeking journalism at all levels. And that is not likely to happen when corporate profits or share prices are the priority. Craigslist billionaire Craig Newmark, who donated $50 million to media in the past year, makes a noteworthy observation about his investment: “A trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy.” Our fair city deserves a healthy immune system in the form of local media that digs for the truth, without fear or favour. In an era when journalists in less democratic places get murdered for telling the truth, it’s the least we can do. On behalf of Focus, Leslie Campbell thanks the community for its generous support over 30 fascinating years. Please keep reading, sending us your letters, buying ad space and subscriptions.
  2. Victoria City council will soon be faced with a controversial heritage conversion and demolition project in the heart of Old Town. MOST OF US PAY AT LEAST LIP SERVICE to the value of the City of Victoria’s Downtown heritage buildings. We enjoy how they conjure the past, make Victoria unique, and attract tourism dollars. It’s up for debate, however, whether current powers-that-be—City council, staff and citizen committees—are up to the task of guarding Old Town’s heritage buildings as the continuing development boom rocks their foundations. I set out to examine just one new proposal—that for the 1892 “Duck’s Block” and its neighbour at Broad and Johnson—but right away, it seemed to open the proverbial can of worms. The Duck's Block on Broad Street My first call was to Stuart Stark, as he was the chair of the City of Victoria’s Heritage Advisory Panel which gave the proposed development a unanimous thumbs-down on March 13, citing concerns about the height and monolithic design “absorbing” the heritage building, and noting it was “not consistent with the Official Community Plan (OCP), the Downtown Core Area Plan and the Design Guidelines.” Minutes also state the concern that, “Block by block Old Town is being converted from three to six storeys.” On March 28, however, the City’s Advisory Design Panel gave the project a unanimous thumbs-up. To make things even more confusing, I learned that in August 2017, the Downtown Residents Association’s Land Use Committee had soundly declined to support the Broad Street development for similar reasons as the heritage panel’s. The Committee’s chair, Ian Sutherland, pointed out that the OCP is relatively new (2012), and “was compiled to the satisfaction of the public and the industry stakeholders.” The Downtown Residents Association’s position is that the maximum density of 3:1 for Old Town was a carefully considered policy and should be upheld. The Duck developers are requesting almost double that amount. Since making their presentations to these citizen committees, developers UVic Properties and Chard Developments have made only minor adjustments to their plan for 172 residential units plus ground floor retail. The new buildings are still seven storeys tall. David Chard told me they have now applied for rezoning and permits and expect it will reach the Committee of the Whole in the next couple of months. If passed, it will go to public hearing and City council. An artist's rendering of a redevelopment of the Duck's Block proposed by UVic Properties and Chard Developments Before I could query him about the Duck’s Block proposal, Stuart Stark informed me that he had resigned from the Heritage Advisory Panel, within a month of the March 13 meeting, and that the kind of issues the proposal raises are a good example of how heritage is being endangered by practices and attitudes at City Hall. He was willing to talk to me, he said, “in the hope that citizens might realize that their relied-on heritage program no longer exists.” A long-time heritage consultant in Victoria, Stark had sat on the Heritage Advisory Panel over three different periods in its history—in the 1970s, 1990s and from 2014-18; he chaired it for 6 months previous to his resignation. “We had a fabulous heritage program for 35 years, but for the past few years it’s been disintegrating,” he told me. He’s referring to a constellation of programs, policies, plans and guidelines that are supposed to protect both the individual heritage properties Victoria is renowned for, and the overall character of Downtown’s “heritage conservation area.” This includes Old Town, Chinatown, and the historic waterfront area. Development is allowed in these areas, even encouraged through grants and tax holidays, but there are various restrictions. It was such programs—and their visible results—that led to Victoria winning the Prince of Wales Prize for Municipal Heritage Leadership in 2001, said Stark. One aspect of the program is the Heritage Advisory Panel itself. Composed of 10 volunteers, all with expertise in heritage matters, along with the City’s heritage planner, its mandate is to advise council on proposals regarding heritage in the City. City Councillor Pam Madoff usually attends as a guest, though is not allowed to comment on proposals. They meet monthly to review proposed changes to heritage properties—now only commercial and multi-family ones. This was one of Stark’s complaints. A couple of years back, planning staff made recommendations to council on administrative changes aimed at speeding up permit approvals. Council passed these measures, perhaps without realizing that it meant quite a drastic change. “In the stroke of a pen,” says Stark, “any application for changes to a single-family house became a staff review,” rather than going through the Heritage Advisory Panel. This removed about half of what the Panel once advised council on—and perhaps explains, for instance, how a 1904 house in Rockland, connected to the Dunsmuirs, was able to be demolished. If council has no recommendation against such demolition from its Heritage Advisory Panel, it has a hard time justifying declining it itself. Stark, however, isn’t convinced that the Panel’s recommendations even make it to council, at least in a clear, unaltered fashion. They are “filtered through planning staff,” which sometimes disagree openly with the Panel’s recommendations. “The goals of the OCP are being used to trump heritage,” Stark told me. And indeed, if one reads the OCP, one can see how, despite platitudes about heritage resources being protected and celebrated, there are other goals to do with the economy and walkable cities that might well be used to justify significant alterations to heritage structures. The OCP, for instance, calls for “at least 20,000 new residents and associated housing growth,” 50 percent of them in the Urban Core. But it’s more than that, said Stark. “There was once an atmosphere at City Hall that heritage was important. It’s not there now.” He emphasized that “valuing heritage did not prevent development—and it shouldn’t. But heritage was a lens through which all projects were reviewed—now it seems to be viewed as more of a hindrance to development.” Stark understands that developers are not the problem. They are trying to do what they do best—making a profitable investment through development projects. But he feels that City staff, particularly those at the top of what’s now called “Sustainable Development and Community Planning,” no longer really care about the heritage of Old Town—there’s a lack of knowledge and/or interest. How else to explain the “façadism” that’s being allowed? Stark pointed to Customs House as the most visible example of this currently, with its three walls propped up and a heap of rubble inside. Plans call for Duck’s Building to be gutted and another floor added on top, with the façade retained. The façade of the Customs House building is being retained for a redevelopment at Government and Wharf The lack of value attributed to heritage at City Hall also helps explain, in Stark’s mind, the lack of timely and meaningful consultation with the Heritage Advisory Panel. “We were often the last to see a proposal,” said Stark—and, if they had issues with the proposal, planning staff would complain about the time they’d already put into it. Stark claimed informational presentations by staff about planned changes are relayed to council as “consultation”—as if the Panel had some say on them. After such a faux consultation on zoning changes involving height restrictions in Old Town, the Panel passed a unanimous motion that did not get relayed at all to council, said Stark. Stark met a few times with senior staff and once with the mayor who urged him to stay. Believing things wouldn’t change, he resigned. Stuart Stark I invited Councillor Pam Madoff to comment on Stark’s resignation. She wrote: “Stuart’s resignation from the Heritage Advisory Panel is a loss to the Panel, to City Council and to Victoria. A highly respected heritage consultant, and designer, with decades of experience, Stuart has also been a tireless and effective volunteer advocate of our built heritage for decades. As chair of the Panel he spent untold hours preparing for each meeting and ensuring that all voices around the table were heard. For Stuart to have become so frustrated with the role of the Panel, and how its opportunity to advise council had become increasingly limited, that he felt he had no option, other than resignation, should serve as a wake-up call for how the City’s heritage policies are currently being implemented.” When I asked the City’s Director of Sustainable Development and Community Planning Jonathan Tinney about Stark’s resignation, he acknowledged the wealth of heritage knowledge among Panel members” and said, “We want to make sure we get the benefit of that—and the feedback from Stuart was helpful. Some changes have been made as a result.” He told me more applications are now going to the Panel that formerly were handled solely by staff. An additional heritage planner has recently been hired. Stark remains skeptical that the heritage program has the backing of senior staff, or even the mayor, who he sees as pro-development. Madoff tends to lay the blame at council’s feet: “All council and the mayor have to do is apply things that were put in place earlier.” The appropriate guidelines and policies are all there, she feels. They just need to be applied with consistency. This will provide developers with the surety they need to create projects that will work in Downtown’s heritage conservation area. Madoff doesn’t believe that heritage needs to be sacrificed for other priorities. She pointed to earlier developments which managed to restore and revitalize heritage properties without adding extra storeys on top and devolving into “façadism.” LISTED ON CANADA'S Historical Places website, Duck’s Block is described as “an excellent example of a large-scale Late Victorian commercial building. Constructed in 1892 for Simeon Duck, a successful early local entrepreneur, MLA, and former Minister of Finance for British Columbia, this handsome Victorian building is a testament to the entrepreneurship of its original owner.” Initially a carriage works, it also housed retail outlets, entertainment venues, meeting rooms and a brothel. “Bold decoration and architectural solidity make Duck’s Block a dominant presence within Broad Street’s narrow streetscape.” Among its character-defining elements are “rusticated masonry piers at street level, and stone lintels; bold Victorian detailing, such as arched windows on the uppermost storey, … [and] intact original storefront elements such as cast iron columns.” Both Duck’s Block and the next door building (615-625 Johnson), which is to be demolished under the proposal, are on the Heritage Registry and in the heart of Old Town. The guidelines for this area note: “The distinctive character of Old Town, without parallel in other Canadian cities, derives from Victoria’s decline as a major seaport and centre of commerce by 1900, that protected it from the pressures of urban development that have altered the scale and character of most other urban seaports.” Michael Williams, the late developer and heritage afficionado, bought Duck’s and the Trounce-designed building beside it many years ago, though never developed them. As a result, they now house affordable artist studios, retail spaces, apartments and a dance studio. Williams bequested these buildings, his other numerous Downtown properties, his businesses (e.g. Swan’s Hotel and Pub) and extensive art collection to the University of Victoria upon his death in 2000. UVic Properties, which manages the university’s revenue-generating properties, has sold Duck’s and the corner property (also built by Duck, in 1875, as the Canada Hotel) to Chard Developments, at fair market value, according to David Chard. In 2017 the two properties were assessed at $5.7M. Chard will build market condos on his properties—113 in all. Duck’s will be gutted and have an extra storey built on its roof, and the old Canada Hotel building will be demolished and replaced with a seven-storey building. UVic’s new building will occupy the parking lot to the left of the Duck’s and house 59 non-market rental units for UVic grad students. It’s been noted that once students graduate, there is no requirement for them to move out to make room for other students. In all, that’s 172 residential units—with no parking. Retail shops will occupy the ground floors. Stark told me, “As an alumni of UVic, I am totally embarrassed that the university would inflict this on a heritage conservation area.” I asked Councillor Madoff what Michael Williams would think of the current proposal. Noting that Williams certainly never did anything like what they’re planning to do with Duck’s, she stated, “He was very protective of the character of Old Town. He understood the value, texture and scale of Old Town and that was what he was working to enhance.” Madoff said she told the developers a couple of years ago that she couldn’t see even one principle of heritage conservation fulfilled by their plans. “The storefronts didn’t relate to each other. And in taking the height up, they’d also flattened the height along Broad, when Old Town guidelines clearly call for varied heights echoing the rhythm and character of the conservation area.” Besides being too high, she warned them, it reduced the Duck to a façade. Before I even asked developer David Chard about this, he told me, “We’re maintaining the entire structure, so it isn’t façadism.” At 22.47 metres, the project is well over the 15 metres stipulated in the guidelines. Chard noted that there are heritage buildings in Old Town already over 15 metres, and Duck’s Block itself is one of them. While this is true, Madoff noted, “15 metres was chosen as the limit for new buildings because new infill developments were not intended to dominate the Old Town profile and the profile was to remain ‘sawtooth.’” The main reason for greater height from Chard’s standpoint (and most developers) is that it is needed to accommodate the number of units that “make the economics work.” One huge expense, said Chard, is seismic work which is especially challenging with 125-year-old buildings. With the Duck proposal, the plan is to build the two new buildings before working on the Duck—“We’ll use them to reinforce the Duck while we replace its rock footings with concrete,” he explained. Chard believes that what’s getting lost in the discussion is this: “Many heritage buildings are in poor shape. What will happen to these buildings if they are not redeveloped?” The most concerning aspect of the UVic/Chard proposal for Madoff is that the three-storey Johnson Street heritage building is to be completely demolished. Designed by architect Thomas Trounce in 1874 as the Canada Hotel, it is one of only a few of his designs left. Admittedly, said Madoff, it has been stripped of some heritage features over the years—like bay windows—but it could have been restored. David Chard disagreed with that. He said the poorly-constructed wood-frame building could not be saved, as it was in “very rough shape.” Nevertheless, the property is a registered heritage building, and demolishing it, said both Stark and Madoff, sets a dangerous precedent for Old Town. THE HERITAGE ADVISORY PANEL’S unanimous lack of support for UVic and Chard’s proposal was followed on May 8 with a similar thumbs-down for Reliance Properties’ application for the Northern Junk project. The Panel suggested the seven-storey building on that site be reduced to four or five storeys, and urged that materials be more responsive to the immediate neighbourhood. (See Ken Johnson’s letter to the editor in this edition about the companion issue of selling off City-owned lands that this development necessitates.) Reading through the minutes of the Heritage Advisory Panel shows it is not anti-development. A proposal to build a new eight-storey condo project on Store Street, between the Janion and Mermaid’s Wharf, was recently passed unanimously. And in June, it supported a Heritage Alteration Permit for the 1897 Hall Block at 727 Yates Street, which adds two floors on top for rental housing. Council has since approved it for a public hearing. The current acting chair of the Panel, Rick Goodacre, served as executive director for Heritage BC for 23 years. He told me that dealing with development proposals virtually always involves a type of deal-making or trade-off, because the developers want to get as many units as possible on a site, while the City wants to see heritage buildings maintained, as well as more residential units Downtown. He implied that sometimes a good balance is struck, whereas other times it’s debatable (he pointed to the Janion, with the huge new building behind the historic hotel). In the past, many redevelopments of some of Victoria’s oldest buildings earned the support of the panel, and subsequently council. Madoff can rattle off numerous examples—from Dragon Alley, to the Vogue, Chris Le Fevre’s Wilson’s Storage project on Herald, and Michael Williams’ restorations—all part of a slow and steady stream of projects that revitalized Old Town, proving that developments can add housing while not sacrificing heritage buildings. But can they still do so in the current market? Or have much higher land prices made those more modest, respectful developments financially impossible? Without developers opening their books for me, I don’t know the answer, though I do appreciate the risk they take on. The larger, more complex projects, involving heritage properties, are among the riskiest, taking years of planning and consultation. It’s hardly surprising that by the time a developer gets to the Heritage Advisory Panel, he or she might well feel that they’ve already figured out the puzzle as best as it can be—and they are not inclined to lop off a few floors just because a citizens committee suggests it. Even staff can only advise the developer. In the end, the shape of the application for rezoning and permits is up to the developer, even when they get a unanimous thumbs-down from advisory panels or community groups. The decision on their proposals is ultimately council’s, taking into consideration the reports of advisory panels and land use committees. Two official citizen bodies—composed of volunteers putting in serious time and study—have clearly advised council against the Duck proposal as it stands (though the Advisory Design Panel loved it). They are basing their refusal to support the project on established rules in official documents. Besides the OCP, the Core Area Plan is a principal guide for planning decisions related to Downtown. Madoff said the City developed its Core Area Plan in a very conscious way, allowing, for instance, buildings of 20-plus storeys on Blanshard, because it would save Old Town from such pressures. She supported it, but now states, “If [Old Town Guidelines are not respected] it puts the Core Area Plan into question for me.” Downtown’s heritage conservation area is a relatively small area west of Douglas Street between Humboldt and Chatham. If council doesn’t enforce the regulations around height and density in the area, developers will notice, and we can expect more precedent-setting changes to the character of Old Town. Madoff worries that changes, including the “façadism” trend, are going to make Old Town look like a theme park rather than a vital part of Downtown. “International visitors,” she said, “are discerning. They know authenticity when they see it. If it looks like a stage set, we’ll lose on all counts.” Leslie Campbell knows there are many issues to reflect on, heading towards Victoria’s October 20 civic election, but consider adding to your list the way potential council members manage growth in Victoria’s Old Town.
  3. Leslie Campbell

    Letters to the editor

    Developers & housing affordability I too believe that real estate developers are enjoying unbridled gains by hoodwinking the municipalities in Greater Victoria at taxpayers’ expense and have caused the rise in real estate prices that are now affecting all housing costs. If residents voice any concern about over-development in commercial areas or preservation of their neighbourhoods, they are accused of selfishness, NIMBYism or privilege. So the developers move right along while the rest of the population are divided, pitting old residents against newcomers, renters against homeowners, young against old, healthy green-space advocates against Downtown urbanites, heritage believers against modernists and so on. I think that your editorial well describes how the 2018 Global Issues Dialogue could have included other voices rather than the “unfettered” pro-development ones. But, considering that the forum was put on by developers, they dictated the agenda. In effect, the foxes were preaching to the chickens. A more balanced and inclusive panel of forward thinkers which represents all sides could begin to brainstorm other considerations in the race to “pave paradise” and perhaps tackle the question of how to provide sustainable and affordable housing for all. If the developers are so on the edge of profit margins that a speculation tax endangers their profit, then so be it. A welcome cooling-off period will begin to curb our collective greed and remind us that everyone needs a home. Frances Foster When an Olympic bid is successful, it means displacement of the “less fortunate” for the infrastructure that supports the venues. And while there is some hue and cry over this, the destruction/construction proceeds anyway. And so it is with the “luxury condo market” in the Lower Mainland and south Vancouver Island. On the world stage, BC ’s Janet & Joe Lunchbucket have become the “less fortunate,” and while the hue and cry goes on, the BC economy has become so tied up in real estate and construction—“Together they are about one-quarter of the economy”—that governments on all levels will do everything they can to ensure this remains the new normal. The gestures made towards affordability are only that—gestures. There is little real substance for the displaced. And the cost of all this? Well, everyone outside the Lower Mainland and Victoria still goes begging for services, infrastructure, and jobs, according to research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Because building “affordable housing” is contrary to the interests of the private sector, may I suggest that, if governments really want to address the affordability crisis, they contact Jimmy Carter’s Habitat for Humanity? Richard Weatherill After I read Leslie Campbell’s article on unaffordable housing and Gene Miller’s on amalgamation, my nightmares began. The Victoria of 100 years in the future appeared, a smoggy megacity of highrise condominiums stretching for miles. The city’s parks, alleys, laneways, boulevards, mall rooftops, parking lots, schoolyards, and the areas under bridges and overpasses teeming with thousands of homeless people. Older residents recall a city of beautiful trees and lush gardens. Some remember a stately hotel, the Empress, that once served high tea—with scones, and fancy sandwiches, and tea in china cups—in the lobby. In its place stands “The Mayor Lisa Helps,” a humongous, Soviet-style residential tower patrolled by armed guards. “The Lisa” overlooks what was once Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Drained and paved, the former waterway now houses one of Canada’s largest tent cities. A big, flashing sign proclaims: “If you build it, they will come.” Cheera Crow Great article on housing. You note that CRD says 6,200 affordable homes needed. But what power does the CRD have to do anything about this? Ditto environmental planning—pie in the sky at the CRD as you noted in a previous article. Plans, predictions, no power. The elephant in the room is the absence of regional government with powers to act. As long as that condition exists, the 13 municipalities will chase their collective tails on many fronts and the default actor regionally will be the Province when it suits. Why this elephant is invisible—except to the grumpy taxpayers as far as I can tell—is a puzzle. John Olson In light of the recent housing crisis, the solution appears to be slapping together a bunch of expensive, poorly-designed residential towers throughout Downtown. It’s important to consider that these buildings will have a lasting impact on life in Victoria. We do not need to build high-rises to get optimal density. When people are only a few stories above, it’s possible to look at and interact with people at ground level. This social element is critical. Four-to-six-storey buildings are ideal; dense enough, but not too tall. Tall buildings create shadows, require more energy to heat and cool, and can simply feel dehumanizing. My next point is that new buildings should not be built out of concrete. Concrete has a huge carbon footprint and should be avoided whenever possible. We must reduce our carbon impact as quickly as possible if we are to survive climate change. In the long term, energy-efficient buildings have a much smaller impact. However, when constructed with concrete, much of the damage is already done before day one. Short-term impact is critical; developments like Dockside Green might look sustainable, but concrete high rises (which are part of their plan) are not. Wood buildings are totally feasible up to around 10 stories, and with fire-resistant compressed-laminate timber (CLT) and other low-carbon materials, there ’s no excuse not to build this way. Lastly, new buildings should be thought through, and properly designed. We do not need mountains of car parking, we need solar panels, green space, and public space. Developers should view buildings as a long term contribution to the city, rather than a quick profit. I strongly urge council to limit heights to 10 stories, and to encourage more well-designed, affordable, sustainable buildings. Finn Kreischer Pipeline protesters: Ya done good Thank you for bringing to my attention that very, very odd speech by former Bank of Canada director David Dodge in Edmonton in “Who are the Real Pipeline Fanatics?” I wonder what he thinks about the murder of those four poor Kent State University students, killed for protesting the Vietnam war in 1970? Then there were the many who died fighting racist and plain stupid laws in the US and South Africa. To all of those who were arrested protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion: Ya done good. Just think of how all these billions of dollars could be better spent. The federal Liberals have 18 Members of Parliament in BC. The federal election is next October. It will be fascinating indeed to see how many still have their jobs by Christmas. Finally, the HL Mencken quote provided by protester Gordon Bailey was perfect. I can’t stand seeing Canada debauched by greedy oil companies and out-of-touch politicians like Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley. In 1979, I canvassed for Grant Notley’s NDP in Edmonton Norwood. This wasn’t because of any fervent socialist leanings, but because you need varied, intelligent political debate. Notley and Trudeau are showing zero imagination in dealing with climate change. Louis Guilbault Pipeline fundamentals Polls indicate that most Canadians accept industry and federal government claims that Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is in the national interest. Some important questions are warranted. Is the lack of a tidewater export facility for Canadian heavy oil really costing Canada $15 billion per year? The claim that future Asian markets will pay significantly more for diluted bitumen (dilbit) than existing US markets is debunked in a Macleans magazine piece by David Hughes and elsewhere. Dilbit shipped from Alberta to Asia has higher refining and transport costs than oil from other sources. The federal government’s estimate of $15 billion in annual losses is grossly inflated now, and will shrink further as regulations tighten on sulphur content in bunker fuel. Even if there was a lower cost per barrel in the US, what portion of it would “Canada” really lose? How much of the revenue would go to foreign shareholders, executive bonuses, and to more ill-advised fossil fuel infrastructure? What benefits would remain after accounting for the cost of oil sand tailing pond cleanup, droughts, fires, storms, floods, health effects, seawalls, and setbacks to indigenous reconciliation? Proponents of the pipeline expansion cite this summer’s trade war with the US as another sign that the Asian bitumen market is a must for Canada. Should the decision on a 40-year pipeline be influenced by bizarre US negotiating tactics that could end with the next election—before dilbit could start to flow in the new TMX? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to base the decision on the laws of physics that govern the rapid warming of the planet? Can we trust that the pipeline will create thousands of Canadian jobs? The export of bitumen to Asia sends refining jobs with it. Kinder Morgan’s application to the National Energy Board estimated permanent jobs after construction at 40 in Alberta and 50 in BC. The cost of the Trans Mountain purchase includes $4.5 billion for existing assets, plus an estimated $7.4 billion for the expansion. Many expect this to escalate. Eco-futurist Guy Dauncey projects that just $4.5 billion could “replace most of Alberta’s coal and gas-fired electricity, while generating between 30 and 50 times as many jobs.” Oil sands, as a whole, provide only half of one percent of the nation’s jobs. Why are taxpayers “de-risking” more fossil fuel infrastructure instead of creating sustainable jobs in electric vehicles, wind, geothermal, solar and energy conservation for buildings? Will markets for heavy oil persist? One red herring used to confound people is the issue of non-combustion uses for fossil fuel. Yes, such use will continue in medicine and various essential products, and yes, this would be relevant if such end uses were a significant portion of total use, but worldwide it’s somewhere in the range of 5 percent (7 percent in the US). Let’s stay focused on the 95 percent of the fuel that is burned, releasing greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants. To meet the Paris accord, global emissions must start falling by 2020, and drop to near-zero well before the end of this century. How wise is the taxpayer-funded bet on Kinder Morgan’s pipeline in view of that reality? A recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change concludes that there is “a carbon bubble that, if not deflated early, could lead to a discounted global wealth loss of US $1 to $4 trillion, a loss comparable to the 2008 financial crisis.” Canada will fare much worse than most countries if it continues to delay transition from fossil fuels. Is the pipeline needed to pay for Canada’s non-existent transition plan to a sustainable economy? Prime Minister Trudeau argues that the revenue from oil sands development will fund the transition to renewables. Why is a questionable investment in a sunset industry a prerequisite for a smart investment in clean technologies? Projections indicate that, if the oil sands continue to grow, Canada has virtually no chance of achieving the greenhouse gas emission targets set by the Harper government without the “Hail Mary” of expensive carbon capture and storage, and negative emissions. Thomas Homer-Dixon, CIGI chair of the Balsillie School of International Affairs, explains the larger climate predicament well: “Humanity either undertakes fast and deep cuts in its carbon emissions or, some time later this century, civilization starts to unravel.” No one seems to know exactly how to deal with a dilbit spill, yet some claim that the promised $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan (for only five years, and covering all Canadian oceans) is worth the price of the pipeline project. Should government protection of Canadian oceans be a by-product of an oil industry subsidy? Will a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic through the Salish Sea increase the risk of a catastrophic dilbit spill? Will it push the starving and endangered southern resident killer whales closer to extinction? Fundamental questions remain on economic payback, jobs, and environmental risks. Opposition and protest are legitimate stances until more is known about the Trans Mountain pipeline’s impacts. Bob Landell Board of Variance allows Gonzales Hill development You may have heard by now that the Board of Variance’s (BOV) decision on Thursday, July 26, concerning 1980 Fairfield Place [adjacent to Gonzales Hill Park] was to approve the variance requested. This was a sad decision for most of us neighbours and park users. Those of us who attended the hearing and were against the variance request remain disturbed that the process to reach this decision appeared to be flawed. The legislation for the board clearly states that all BOV decisions are final; there is no appeal. Under the Local Government Act, Division 15 Section 542 subsection (4), a decision of the Board of Variance is final. There is no process for appeal. This request was very similar to one of the two variances denied at the March 22 hearing, with the difference being a slight reduction in the requested setback of the building from 8.48 meters to 7.08 meters. This is a variation of about only five feet. In addition, the new variance would also save a few Garry oaks. How could this be considered a new request? Was the environmental measure a trade off for the fact that no lack of hardship was evident in the setback? Was introducing the saving of the trees, rather, a means to get round the regulation that disallows appeals? We had intended to ask about this at the hearing, but, unlike the previous hearing, only adjacent neighbours were allowed to speak or ask questions. After the hearing, I spoke to the Chair (Andrew Rushforth) and asked him why this request was allowed when appeals were forbidden. In short, he told me that it wasn’t an appeal, but was a “new request.” Who has responsibility for overseeing the BOV’s activities? I would think it is the Province, since the BOV operates under provincial legislation, although its members are appointed by the City of Victoria, i.e. the City council. Most councillors profess to know little about the BOV’s operation. I think the meeting of July 26 was one instance where oversight is warranted and that is for two reasons: 1. If the BOV’s decision is final, how final is final? Was the hearing held for an appeal or a new request? 2. The fact that members of the community were not allowed to speak at the hearing. The dearth of support from most of the area’s municipal politicians was another unfortunate reality for this struggle over 1980 Fairfield Place. Some Victoria councillors were interested (notably Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday) and many listened to our pleas. Many agreed it would be good to save the property and make it part of the park. But to our knowledge, none spoke out for us. City of Victoria council may have discussed the matter in camera, so no information at all was forthcoming. Some of us did meet with David Screech, chair of the CRD Parks Committee. He was helpful and showed interest in saving the park although he doubted the CRD directors also would be interested. Although part of Gonzales Park is in Oak Bay and its residents are significant park users, we received only silence from the Oak Bay council. Interestingly, when the park was created in 1992 the then MP at the time, John Brewin, applauded the mayors of Oak Bay, Victoria, and Saanich for their leadership in establishing Gonzales Hill Regional Park. It is so unfortunate that this lot is now forever lost and to a development—one house for two people—when this small gem, an iconic example of the natural habitat of Southern Vancouver Island, could have been preserved for the pleasure of generations to come. Scott Chapman, Philippe Doré, Janya Freer, Danny Meyer, Sheila Protti, Helen Rodney Amalgamation: the other side of “amalgacide” My favorite columnist, Gene Miller, was quite precocious with his assertion that he’s read the literature and that amalgamation “…generally doesn’t save taxpayers a dime” (Focus, July/August 2018).
 There is a vast and complex literature concerning amalgamation. To illustrate, Drew Dilkens’ excellent 2014 international PhD dissertation examining costs in the amalgamations of Toronto, Ottawa and Windsor-Essex, had a bibliography of 437 studies. This literature includes financial and political perspectives, and common among the political are voices for “public choice,” advocating local control by taxpayers and many small governments. These advocates usually study brief time periods immediately following amalgamations, and find no cost savings (because they are examining a transition period!). Financially-oriented studies tend to be longer-term, with more exacting methodologies, and often find that amalgamation produces increased levels of service with commensurately increased cost. Efficiencies are found in eliminating duplication in municipal administration, obtaining scale economies in purchasing, having in-house specialized skills rather than having to contract them, and not operating lots of little municipal governments. Some examples of financial studies are: Dilkens’ dissertation; Stantec Consulting’s 2011 “St John’s Amalgamation Review”; City of Toronto’s final report “Building the New City of Toronto, January 1998-December 2002”; and the international OECD study “What Makes Cities More Productive.” Timothy Cobban’s article in Urban Affairs Review last July reviewed Ontario’s program of compulsory amalgamations during the 1990s-2000s and concluded “…The main empirical finding in this article is that increasing local jurisdiction size reduces the cost of local administration.” Once you know about these two literatures, if you want, you can pick the one that suits your biases. One literature guides you to make informed decisions that will improve your city, and one is just a collection of short-sighted analysis. Don’t you wonder why anybody would pick the second one?
 Peter Spurr In the past several issues of Focus, I read with shock and awe the series of convoluted “Amalgacide” columns by Gene Miller. He reminded us “that communities aren’t communities merely because they have place names or share postal code or some accidental adjacency, but because they actively practice a range of community functions and maintain commonwealth—that is do things together.” If that is true, every week we experience more examples of how and where that doesn’t happen in our city. Amalgamation Yes has never taken the position that the only path to improved accountability was one large city. The current campaign is focused just on the two largest agglomerations of urban residents. Concurrently we have suggested that the Peninsula 3 could also examine opportunities to build from their common interest and similarly for the Westshore. The question before the voters of Victoria and Saanich is not “do you support amalgamation,” but rather to confirm public support for a serious review of that topic by an independent body of citizens. We suffer from fierce defense of 13 municipal entities, each which resist possible mergers and yet whose councils refuse to agree to consider new inter-municipal agreements. Thus the impasse over regional land use planning, housing supply, transportation, arts funding, and emergency services common to all residents. UVic Professor Emeritus Robert Bish, one of the frequently cited researchers opposed to amalgamation, simply repeats a dogma from advocates of the “public choice” model, introduced by Charles Tiebout back in the 1950s, who argue that administrative fragmentation—a larger number of local governments—is associated with a greater set of choices over public service provision and their costs. They suggest “increased choice and competitive pressure among local government improves quality of local public services.” There are major flaws in this framework. First it limits itself to micro economic consideration of “efficiency.” Conveniently Bish and others offer stories of Toronto or Montreal and never study Kelowna, Kamloops, Abbotsford or Chilliwack. They ignore macro economic measure as to whether mergers can have a positive impact on economic growth and GNP via increased investment, employment and tax base (more on this below). It also ignores the fact that the majority of residents travel through two to four adjacent municipalities on their way to work, play, shop or learn. A singular focus on cost savings to one particular municipality has no reality in terms of “externalities”—who actually uses and who pays for those public works and services? Daily there are over 100,000 vehicle trips by non-residents enroute to ferries, airport, UVic, Camosun, RGH, Uptown, Mayfair, Hartland, Inner Harbour, or their place of employment, on roads and bridges paid for only by residents of Victoria and Saanich. Similarly, non-residents access arts, cultural, sports facilities and festivals, or use community/health/ charity/church services which exist only because of millions in dollars of community grants and property tax exemptions supported by city residents. As for evidence of cost savings, see the 2017 report of Canadian scholar Timothy Cobban: “Bigger is Better: Reducing cost of local administration by Increasing Jurisdictional size in Ontario 1995-2010.” Cobban was able to observe, record and research the significance of scale for local government. Instead of focusing on Toronto, he compared the results in administrative costs over 15 years for 587 municipalities which were amalgamated (to form 146 new municipalities) against another 297 municipalities that were not merged. He found that over time the larger the merger, the larger the savings. Research in Denmark and Israel confirm the same results. International studies provide a picture of development in over 430 urban areas. If their conclusions that “administrative fragmentation is associated with lower productivity” are valid, they provide an answer to Miller’s question, “does everywhere include little old here?” And unfortunately it does. There is a clear body of scholarly research that indicates that amalgamation can absolutely provide savings in three respects: municipal administration, capital financing, and by providing cohesive leadership. That perspective is reinforced by an oft-ignored 2013 paper “A Prosperous Region Needs a Vibrant Core” by our own UVic professors Elizabeth Gugl and David Scoones. They conclude, “Many potentially beneficial agreements are not undertaken [in the CRD], and some of the region’s most pressing problems remain unaddressed.” In a recent column, Miller states: “it takes both a geographic and social border to sustain a sense of community identity and sense of shared purpose reinforced by familiar community structure and protocols.” I suggest that in their daily lives, urban residents within the bounds of Mount Douglas to the Inner Harbour and Dallas Road do in fact recognize “the us” that forms a combined Victoria and Saanich (and likely shared with Oak Bay and Esquimalt). But we need to address the need for changes to outdated municipal regimes if we are to defend and build from that sense of community. Vote yes for an independent Citizens Assembly to identify how we go about that. James D Anderson, Board member, Amalgamation Yes Election campaigning by stealth in Oak Bay I opened my 2018 Oak Bay property tax notice and, in the information insert, I noticed a blatant misrepresentation of a presentation given to Oak Bay Council by the Municipal Finance Authority (MFA). The offending statement reads: “A recent presentation from the Municipal Finance Authority confirmed the District’s strong financial position and low debt...” I attended this particular Committee of the Whole meeting and have reviewed the archived webcast. At no time did the representative from the MFA confirm “the District’s strong financial position.” During the follow-up question and answer, the MFA representative seemed to be going out of her way to stick to the facts and stay apolitical. So, the author of this statement is making an inferential leap. I was curious; who writes and/or guides these district-wide communications? As people are not allowed to ask Oak Bay mayor and council questions and get answers in any public forum, I was able to deduce that the statement was in fact written by our current mayor, Nils Jensen. How do I know? This exact statement appears in the “Message from the Mayor” in the Oak Bay 2017 Annual Report. Yes, Oak Bay has low debt, but massive infrastructure bills are looming ($283 Million). Can Mayor Jensen honestly say that we are in a “strong financial position” when we owe little money now, but are ill-prepared for future costs? I have not contacted the MFA but think they may be interested to know that their apolitical information presentations are being spun into political propaganda. With a municipal election coming up, I find this type of misrepresentation galling and, to top it off, this campaigning by stealth was paid for with my and my fellow citizen’s municipal tax dollars. Curtis Hobson Public lands being sold to Northern Junk developer The City of Victoria is celebrating the new Johnson Street Bridge. On the west side, the City will be creating a new park, which they are currently calling “Festival Park.” On the east side, the City ’s plans are somewhat vague; planning documents indicate the possible development of City-owned property to the north and east of the Northern Junk buildings. If you look north of the Northern Junk buildings, you will see a small parking lot. For many years this lot has been private, used by CRD or City workers. Its civic address is 1324 Wharf Street. It is currently zoned “Inner Harbour-Park.” Just north of this lot, closer to the bridge, is another small City-owned lot; it doesn’t have an address (it shows as “0” Wharf Street) but it is tucked along the roadside of the old bridge site. In the early 1970s, architect Arthur Erickson prepared an Inner Harbour Plan for the City of Victoria suggesting that each end of the Inner Harbour, from Ship Point to the Johnson Street Bridge, would be anchored by a public park. As a result, for many years, the properties at 1324 and 0 Wharf Street were zoned for park space. Yet right now, there’s a development proposal from Reliance Properties working its way through the City planning department, which necessitates that the City of Victoria sell this land to Reliance to facilitate the construction of a seven-storey building between the Northern Junk buildings and the new Johnson Street Bridge. (At an in camera meeting back in January 2010, the City agreed to sell the land in question to the developer at “fair market value” once the development was approved.) The proposed “Gateway” development will rise approximately 120 feet above the waterline, presenting a 90-foot-high wall along the connecting street between the new bridge and Wharf Street. The City of Victoria certainly has the right to sell public lands for the benefit of the City. But selling public lands that would result in a building that has been deemed (unanimously) to be too large by the City ’s own Heritage Advisory Panel, and that would obscure the historic views up and down Johnson Street when coming over the new bridge, is not in the best interests of the public. There would be no real public plaza if this building was placed on these lands. There would be a private plaza that the developers would put in, but this would not be public land. The City would end up with a sidewalk and possibly a set of stairs leading down to the future David Foster Walkway. The BC Assessment Authority currently shows the property at 1324 Wharf Street as consisting of a 10,944-square-foot waterfront lot with an assessed value of $295,500; the property at 0 Wharf Street is listed at 5,407 square feet, a waterfront lot with an assessed value of $195,600. Where in Victoria could you buy any lot for that value, much less one on the Inner Harbour? And how do you put a value on the property that is currently a City street and the large, City-owned, landscaped area in front of the Northern Junk buildings? We assume that the City will engage a professional assessor to determine the “real” price for the property in question. If council approves the development, would they not be in a conflict of interest when it came to selling the public lands? And would not the reverse hold true: if they sell the land first, would they not be in a position of conflict when it came to the question of approval for the proposed development? Some time over the next year these questions are going to have to be asked and answered in public. In the end, the southeast side of the Johnson Street Bridge, next to the Northern Junk buildings, is no place for a seven-storey development. This project must be radically redesigned or rejected, with the latter being the preferred option. The City is increasing in density and, to counterbalance this, we need more open public spaces. To sell these public lands off for the benefit of developers is a disgrace to the future of the Inner Harbour and the City of Victoria. Drive down to the area and observe the current open spaces and imagine a seven-story building on the site. Ken Johnson, President, Hallmark Heritage Society The Malahat I have lived in the area for a quarter century and had always enjoyed a drive over the Malahat. It was and still is a beautiful and safe drive except for the uncontrolled speeders. No matter how much money is spent on widening, abatement barriers and such, the road as we know it today will never change. If the amount of money being spent on these projects was put into proper policing it could be the Malahat of days gone by. Three police stations, one at each end and one in the middle, 8 police cruisers and a platoon of constables working 24/7 not being afraid of stopping errant drivers and speeders would have been far cheaper than what is being done. The wider the road, along with the false sense of security afforded by the barriers, will only encourage more traffic and more speeders. Dedicated police forces would change that. On my last dozen or so round trips over the mountain I never saw a police car. But I saw a lot of impatient fools. William Jesse Proportional representation We have an historic opportunity this fall to take part in a referendum that could potentially change our archaic voting system so that every vote moving forward counts. By doing so, we can actually move towards a more compassionate way of living vs corporate-led fossil fuel initiatives that are destroying this beautiful land, our water, air, democracy and trampling indigenous rights, and destroying cultures. By having the ability to have every vote count, we can elect people who are invested in the greater good of all and show the rest of the country what’s possible. In fact, only the US, Canada and the UK still use a first-past-the-post voting system that dates back centuries and was designed to ensure that wealth and power remained in the hands of those who already had it. No wonder those with the most money and power are beginning campaigns of fear and confusion. I’ve already seen full-page ads and editorials in corporate-bought media…and using names very similar to FairVote Canada, like FairReferendum…ugh! One compassionate initiative that could arise from having proportional representation is the creation of a basic income for all by simply raising the tax rate by a few percentage on those in the position to most afford it, namely multi-million/billion-dollar corporations and the super-wealthy. Had we had proportional representation in place as Trudeau promised us, I can assure you that we taxpayers would not be having Site C and pipelines to pay for. Initiatives like a basic income for all would be possible if we weren’t subsidizing rich oil companies. Real jobs could be created in giving real power to the people through solar installations on every building, with affordable carbon-free power. If you want to regain control of our governments in favour of what’s best for people and planet, tell your friends and neighbours to get involved with non profits like FairVote BC and be sure to vote yes for Proportional Representation. Anything is better than the current archaic system we have. Frances Litman, founder, Creatively United for the Planet Parties aren’t dogs, and to be honest, we like our dogs a lot more. But we keep our dogs on a leash for good reason. The way I see it, proportional representation keeps all the parties on a leash and it puts the leash in our hands. Isn’t that what democracy is all about? Demo means “the people.” Kratos means “to rule.” The people rule, or if you prefer, the people hold the leash. Ann Remnant
  4. How did City of Victoria councillors vote on development issues over the past four years? JOURNALIST SID TAFLER, a former editor of Monday Magazine, has compiled the four-year voting record of current City of Victoria council members on major development issues for his new website called The Record—just in time for the October 20 civic elections. “Some of the results may surprise you—and your readers,” Tafler told us. “There is a theme throughout regarding which way council leans, and some consistent voting by some in the same direction, and what looks like block voting.” Some councillors consistently vote for major development proposals, while others are more nuanced, he explained. Pressed for an example he mentions that Mayor Lisa Helps and Councillor Marianne Alto have voted “yes” on 95 percent of development projects. Others, like Geoff Young, had a 50-50 record of pro and con votes. The Record will look at issues such as amalgamation and responsiveness to community concerns, but development is its main focus. “Development is key to just about anything in the City—transportation, affordability, parks, emergency services (e.g. firefighters will have to deal with more high rises)…and the kind of city we’re going to live in,” said Tafler. He pointed out that development is also an area where City Hall has a tremendous amount of control, so it’s important to figure out whether they are using it wisely. The collapse of professional journalism and general distraction and apathy means no one is really aware of the voting record of incumbents, noted Tafler, who spent many hours reading minutes and listening to videotaped council meetings to help correct that “democracy deficit.” Voters need solid understanding of their representatives’ actions to make an informed choice come voting day. Besides looking at incumbents’ voting patterns, The Record will also look at new candidates, offer analysis around the issues, and explain what happened once the election is over. A Gofundme campaign seeking to raise $3,000 had been almost reached at presstime. Go to www.victoriarecord.com for more. Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus Magazine.
  5. Leslie Campbell

    Oh The Places We've Been!

    Oh The Places We've Been! Sep 12-23 - Coast Collective Gallery Lecture: Sunday Sep. 16, 1:00 to 2:00 pm, Meet the Artists Reception: Sunday Sep. 16, 2:00 to 4:00 Travelling in on the cusp of summer, Oh the Places We’ve Been, depicting the painting adventures of Deborah Czernecky, Sharlene Stushnov-Lee, and Marcela Strasdas, will transport you to places near and far. These three amigas are sharing their memories, laughs, and travels in a new body of work. There will be a lecture in the hour prior to the Reception detailing painting locations and destinations as well as providing advice on what to do (and NOT do) when in Rome. Coast Collective is open Wednesday to Sunday, 11:00 to 5:00.
  6. A lack of balance on a June housing forum provides food for thought as to where the community needs to look for answers. DID YOU KNOW THAT VICTORIA is the “hottest” ranking “luxury primary housing” market in the world? According to Christie’s International’s Luxury Defined 2018 report, we beat out Paris and Washington DC and every other city due to our strong year-on-year luxury sales volumes and high domestic demand during 2017. At first blush this might seem rather exciting, something to be proud of. But earning this distinction means a lot of local homes are being bought up by wealthy folks from outside BC; Christie’s mentions an upsurge in buyers from the US and China. The building boom, here and elsewhere in BC, is obviously fuelling the economy: real estate is now BC’s largest industry by GDP, and construction is #2. Together they are about one-quarter of the economy—larger than Alberta’s oil and gas sector. But such glories come with a price. Besides being in danger of the bubble deflating, neighbourhoods and citizens are feeling squeezed as lower-cost units are demolished and replaced with taller buildings offering condos that most in the neighbourhood could never afford. The building boom corresponds with (some argue, has caused) a rise in all housing prices, from rentals through condos, from one end of town to the other. Victoria is now one of the least affordable cities in Canada. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the provincial government, besides funding non-profit housing, has brought in measures to “cool” the hot luxury real estate market. These include taxes like the foreign buyers tax, a school tax on properties over $3 million, and the poorly-named “speculation tax.” Promontory, one of several luxury condos in the Mariashes' 20-acre Bayview Place development in Victoria West. How those in the development and real estate industry feel about these taxes, particularly the speculation tax, was on full display at a June 12 luncheon presented by Kenneth and Patricia Mariash, owners of Focus Equities and developers of Bayview Place. It was misleadingly entitled The 2018 Global Issues Dialogue: Exploring the BC Housing Crisis. Marketing materials listed Kathryn White, CEO of the UN Association of Canada, as a host, and promised to “identify practical and realistic solutions that address housing affordability.” As it turned out, it was mostly a venting of grievances against new taxes and regulations standing in the way of ever-greater development. Even former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was there for some reason, telling us, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Enough people complained to the UN Association of Canada about its involvement in the event that it issued a series of clarifying tweets, one stating, “UNA-Canada did not sponsor the Kenneth W. and Patricia Mariash Global Issues Dialogue. Rather, we were the charity of choice.” THERE WERE ABOUT 300 IN THE AUDIENCE, which included many mayors, councillors and other big-wigs from the region. During the three hours we heard over and over again from the eight male speakers that the speculation tax was wrong-headed. Mariash said buyers were now “running scared” because of the Province’s new tax. BC now stands for “bring cash.” He also criticized the City of Victoria for years-long permitting processes, which he says can add $250,000 to a housing unit’s price. His most surprising remarks centred around how he first heard about Victoria many years ago in LA, and was told “Victoria is on the no-invest list” due to Councillor Pam Madoff. This was all before Mayor Helps gave a short “greeting” from the City of Victoria, assuring the audience that approval times are now down to 6-8 months in 90 percent of cases. One of the forum’s panelists, Jon Stovell, CEO of Reliance Properties (developer of the Janion and Northern Junk properties) and chair of the Urban Development Institute, rattled off all the taxes now faced by his industry: the transfer tax, vacant property tax, speculation tax, school tax, GST, along with the mortgage stress test, which itself is taking many out of the market, he claimed. Even with all these, he noted, we still haven’t done anything to fix the supply. One of the main speakers did at least mention what was needed to do that. Mike Harcourt argued that the lack of affordable housing is not a crisis so much as a permanent condition given global realities, including population growth and climate change. While he admitted city halls need to speed up approvals, and that the speculation tax “needed a second look,” Harcourt argued the solution is mostly about building affordable housing, and that the NDP government was on the right track with its commitment to build 114,000 new housing units over the next decade. No one on the panel offered any ideas on how to accomplish this beyond letting developers continue unfettered with what they do best. During the short Q&A, there was at least one dissenting voice. Nicole Chaland commented, “Many of us locals have noticed the intense building boom has corresponded to the greatest housing unaffordability…Increased supply doesn’t seem to be the most reliable way to meet the challenge.” Panelist Michael Ferreira of Urban Analytics attempted a response by pointing out the “compounding of demand” with people wanting to live in cities, investors wanting to get into the market, and people like him who want to jump in and buy another house to ensure their adult children have a place to reside. “Supply is part of the solution,” he concluded. But supply of what—more million-dollar condos? The developers’ own construction workers must find it difficult to afford decent housing here, not to mention the service workers in restaurants and shops. Even younger people with well-paying jobs fear getting permanently shut out of home ownership. NICOLE CHALAND WOULD HAVE ADDED BALANCE TO THE PANEL. The former director of sustainability at Simon Fraser (2007-2017) is so immersed in community activism right now, she’s put aside plans to start a business until after the civic elections in October. She sits on the Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan Working Group and on the steering committee of Cook Street Village Residents Network. I contacted her after the event and she sent me an op-ed she and Sheldon Kitzul penned in response to the forum and sent to the Times Colonist. In it they wrote, “This was not a genuine exploration of what possible policy solutions are available to solve the housing crisis. Far from it. This was a temper tantrum; a fist-bumping anti-tax political rally featuring an all-male panel of developers and former politicians. “At no point did any speaker give us the impression that they had actually read and understood how the speculation tax works. At no point did anyone explain that one could simply avoid paying the tax by renting out their second home for six months, by selling their expensive home and buying one that is less than $400,000, or by making BC their primary residence and paying income tax like the rest of us.” (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the T-C didn’t publish Chaland and Kitzul’s op-ed. The T-C’s before and after coverage of the Mariashes’ forum, along with three pages of puff pieces on the Mariashes last November, and a recent op-ed by Mariash, not to mention the big golf tournament the paper and Bayview jointly sponsor, all testify to the cozy relationship Mariash enjoys with the city’s daily.) Chaland does not believe there will be any leadership from the private sector in addressing the lack of affordable housing. She wants the Province to “stay the course” with the new taxes. She is also advocating that the City of Victoria demand more from developers in the way of “Community Amenity Contributions” in return for rezoning and density approvals. A draft report she’s written states: “From 2016-2017, Victoria’s approach to CAC’s generated $3,086,000. Some analyses suggest that, given our current building boom, we’re missing out on tens of millions of dollars. This would pay for affordable housing, new parks in the Downtown core and childcare—all amenities which are desperately needed in Victoria.” Chaland told me the City’s Director of Planning Jonathan Tinney seems overly cautious in his insistence that all such CACs must be voluntary. This is not the case in other cities, noted Chaland. IN OUR CONVERSATION, Chaland referred to research by John Rose, an instructor in the department of geography and environment at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He would have been another great addition to Mariash’s panel of speakers. Rose’s research paper “The Housing Supply Myth” seems hard to refute. Rose reviewed the rate at which housing cost increased between 2001 and 2016, alongside how wages increased. He did this for 33 cities across Canada, using Statistics Canada data. He found that in most cities during those years, the rate at which housing costs increased was never more than double the rate of wage increases—a situation that would still degrade affordability. But Victoria’s housing increases were almost three times those of wages. In Vancouver they were six times more. More number-crunching around building volumes allowed Rose to conclude: “the expensive markets are providing not only enough units to satisfy growth in the number of households between 2001 and 2016, but to also provide (in absolute terms) surplus units to the market at rates comparable to (indeed, slightly higher than) less expensive markets.” He continued: “In all of the seven ‘severely unaffordable’ markets where housing affordability degraded most significantly between 2001 and 2016, the relative amount of surplus dwellings, as a percentage share of total dwellings, increased in number.” Or, as he put it in a Globe and Mail interview, “Here [in Vancouver] we’ve had more than enough supply and yet the housing costs have gone crazy.” The same is true of Victoria. Here, as Chaland told the luncheon audience, over the past 15 years, for every 100 new residents, 113 new units of housing have been added. Other researchers looking primarily at Vancouver’s luxury housing boom have argued that a good number of new buyers of luxury homes are foreign buyers, some of whom are merely “parking” or laundering money this way. It is this global trend that is leading the Province to implement taxes and a just-announced public registry of who owns real estate in BC. Said Finance Minister Carole James, “Right now in BC, real estate investors can hide behind numbered companies, offshore and domestic trusts, and corporations. Ending this type of hidden ownership in real estate will help us fight tax evasion, tax fraud and money laundering.” It could well be that such regulations and taxes will not lead towards more affordable housing. But as the research of Rose and others makes clear, neither will unfettered development. The market has proven that, at least given the current global scene, it cannot be relied on to provide what is most needed by BC citizens: affordable housing. THE CRD RECENTLY REPORTED that this region needs 6,200 affordable units. Since these are unlikely to come from the private sphere, Mariash would have served his audience better by including in his speaker lineup some of the knowledgeable people building non-profit housing: Kaye Melliship, for instance, the executive director of the Greater Victoria Housing Society, an organization that has quietly been building non-profit housing for low-wage workforce members, people with disabilities, and seniors for decades. In 2018 the organization earned the “Non-Profit of the Year” Award. Among its 16 properties is Pembroke Mews, an apartment building geared to low-to-moderate income workforce tenants. Built in 2012, it is on the fringe of Downtown and offers 25 apartments on 2 floors above commercial space. Rents are pre-set and tenants are selected with an income no higher than $33,000. Other agencies in the non-profit housing sector locally include Pacifica Housing with 36 buildings on the Island, Cool Aid, which runs 15 supportive housing buildings, and Greater Victoria Rental Development Society (which built the Azzuro on Blanshard and the Loreen on Gorge Road E.) It’s in finding land for organizations like these, easing their approvals through local governments, and donating funding, that affordable housing will primarily be realized. But private developers can get in on the action too. If Mariash had included David Chard or a speaker from BC Housing, we might have heard how private developers could build something like Chard Development’s Vivid on Yates Street. Chard partnered with BC Housing to make the 20-storey, 135-suite condominium project affordable for lower-income and mid-income buyers: they have to have a household income of less than $150,000 and commit to being the primary tenant of their home for a period of two years. Its below-market pricing—condos start at $289,800—was made possible through favourable lending terms backed by BC Housing. Only a dozen units remain unsold. Another source of knowledgeable panelists is the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA), an umbrella group that has produced an “Affordable Housing Plan” with a ten-year roadmap towards sufficient affordable housing across British Columbia. Its extensive research shows exactly what we need and how much it will cost. After dealing with the backlog of nearly 80,000 units in BC (2016), an additional 3,500 affordable units will be required annually on average. How much will that cost? An estimated $1.8 billion per year over the next ten years. It’s a lot, but according to the organization, the non-profit housing sector “can bring $461 million to the table annually through land contributions, leveraging equity from assets, private donations and financing. This requires the provincial and federal governments to each commit an average annual investment of $691 million over the next ten years.” It notes the governments’ portions are not dissimilar to what they already committed in both the 2016 and 2017. This sounds promising. But how is it working out as developers buy up more and more land for luxury housing and inflate land values? Are non-profits being priced out of the core area, thereby threatening the diversity that makes a city vibrant—and making it harder to solve long-term transportation and emissions challenges? Will Downtown be transformed into a resort town where more and more people are just passing through? BCNPHA’s Policy Director Marika Albert (formerly director of the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria) would have been perfect on the panel to address some of these questions. Finally, another obvious choice for any discussion of affordable housing in BC would have been either Carole James or Minister of Housing Selina Robinson. Either could have discussed the government’s 30-Point Plan for Housing Affordability, which includes building 114,000 units over the next decade, along with various measures to dampen speculative-type investment. The ministers could have enlightened us about the new Building BC Community Housing Fund to which municipalities, non-profit groups and housing co-operatives can apply for funding of their affordable housing projects. Ken Mariash is obviously a man of many talents. It takes a visionary with much business acumen to take on a project as large, costly and complex as the 20-acre Bayview site. But his dream project—and the projects of other luxury resort builders—are having the effect of driving up land costs. And they are taking up too much of the City of Victoria’s time and attention. Our civic leaders’ and workers’ efforts needs to be directed toward assembling land—at 100 units per acre, 70 acres would be enough—in parts of the City where denser, far more affordable housing can be created. The CRD accepts that 6200 affordable homes are needed. Let’s focus on that. Focus editor Leslie Campbell has lived through a number of real estate boom-times in Victoria. This one feels different.
  7. Leslie Campbell

    Letters to the editor

    Two sorts of truth Last month’s vote by City of Victoria council in favour of Abstract Developments’ 1201 Fort proposal at the former Truth Centre really solidified the neighbourhood’s sense of cynicism and despair about the development process and our representatives at City Hall. Abstract used the “community engagement” process as an exercise in public relations. They began with a proposed scheme of 6-storey and 4-storey condominiums and 8 to 10 townhouses. Then, for their official submission, they padded their proposal to 6-5-12. When, as anticipated, they were forced by council to make “compromises,” they conceded storeys and townhomes back down to their original 6-4-9 scheme. Even the concession on the townhome height was only the removal of a variance for extra height. By moving this proposal to a public hearing, council took the possibility of compromise off the table. As Councillor Madoff made clear, council was creating a win-lose situation where it didn’t need to. So rather than use its power to force a compromise between parties, City council created a crisis that it then resolved by being too worried about the terrible things the applicant might build. Despite hundreds of nearby neighbours asking for a compromise, Mayor Lisa Helps, joined by councillors Margaret Lucas, Marianne Alto, Charlayne Thornton-Joe, Jeremy Loveday, and Chris Coleman, sided with the developer’s windfall profits at the expense of the community. So if council is wondering about the source of Victoria citizens’ apathy, cynicism, and anger, it has an answer. These councillors helped to make the City like this. As neighbours and others stressed at several council meetings, under council’s current leadership, developers are cashing in by building expensive condominiums that most Victoria residents can’t afford. Abstract’s own presale video shows the development is for wealthier out-of-town folks who can afford these expensive condos and might move here. There’s a big mismatch between what Victoria citizens can afford according to their current income and what these expensive condos will sell or rent for. Councillors know this, but they keep approving these expensive condo developments anyway. 1201 merely adds to the problem. There is lots of evidence that just building more supply of these luxurious condos will not bring prices down. What many of us resent most about 1201 Fort’s approval is not the additional densification or the decision that ultimately went against us. We resent the way, intentionally or unintentionally, City Hall has stacked the deck in favour of rich developers and against local residents. We resent the way council has acquiesced to the City’s own Development Services unit in accepting their ludicrous explanation that no community amenity contributions or density bonuses were due for this application. Councillors seem to believe that the City will recoup costs through the municipal taxes paid by the new residents of the new units. But other cities do that too! However, on top of that, other BC municipalities ask for the developer to contribute to the true cost of the new amenities (bicycle lanes, parks, recreation centres) the new residents will expect. We watched with dismay as council struggled to find money for its many reasonable additional needs. Yet it sacrificed a source of income that would offset the true costs of this development, and others, in effect creating an upward redistribution of wealth. What nearby residents resented most of all is not that council made a decision against our wishes, but that council sold us out for so little: for the promise of only 10 slightly more affordable units somewhere else, in a deal that ties council to that later deal’s approval. Just weeks ago the Capital Regional District’s draft housing affordability strategy reported that we had a shortage of 6,200 units of affordable housing. Yet council traded the bonus density of this jewel piece of property for just…10 of them, maybe. In another city, the 1201 development might have entailed $2.5 million in community amenity contributions and a density bonus, and might have involved some public art for residents to enjoy. But our council sold us out for so little. A bench and a pathway. This experience taught us that rich developers can expect to manipulate neighbourhoods and council into building housing that current residents don’t need instead of building the housing we actually need. Council taught him and other developers that City Hall will not try to promote compromise densification, but will accept all kinds of rezoning for the purpose of personal enrichment—and that it can be backed into a corner through the development process led by Development Services, at which point council will feel forced to concede to the plan at the risk of the developer building a big ugly apartment block. And council has taught the rich-developer community that they can successfully stack the public hearing process with their developer pals, all scratching each other’s backs the next time round. Mayor Helps, and councillors Lucas, Alto, Thornton-Joe, Loveday, and Coleman have a lot to answer for. This process has made it clear that Victoria needs an external review of its community amenity contribution and density bonus policies. Council should pass a motion to have a couple of directors of planning from similarly sized BC municipalities come to Victoria in order to investigate the question of why our community amenity contributions and density bonuses are so atypical. Council is forgoing millions of dollars that might be used to build the amenities Victoria citizens expect and hold dear. Chris Douglas I thank you for the article “Two Sorts of Truth” by Ross Crockford. He said: “It’s debatable if 1201 Fort will be for ‘Everyone’: its one-bedroom units start around $400,000.” I would like to offer a correction. The website for 1201 Fort indicates that prices start at $600,000. A 1,298 square-foot 2-bedroom+den condo on the 4th floor in the 6-storey building is listed elswhere at $1,275,000. A two-bedroom+den penthouse is $3 million. These prices are before taxes, of course. Please add a monthly strata fee. Even for retirees who own an above-average house in Fairfield or Rockland, the selling price of the house will not translate well into downsizing into this particular development. The majority of our council approved a massive rezoning and numerous variances for 1201 Fort project’s sake. Who will benefit from this? Anna Cal Kinder Morgan link to Enron discomforting The latest issue of Focus was, in our opinion, the best. Everything from the fraudulent dealings with the (shall we say inferior) bridge; Horgan’s double-take on the LNG situation and Weaver’s waffle on that topic; the destruction being caused by Site C, another Horgan change of mind; the unhappiness in Oak Bay with the bid to build low-income housing on real estate which is the most expensive in the region; and, of course, the lies and falsehoods put out by our politicians about the Kinder Morgan pipeline, all of which makes us feel our province is going to hell in the proverbial hand basket. The fact that Richard Kinder was the past president of another infamous project—Enron—is discomforting. But what can we as ratepayers and voters do to combat all this mistrust and destruction? Many will fight, but sadly the majority of the population will assume that typical Canadian attitude in times like this—shrugging their shoulders and saying “Oh well, what can you do!” As long as we Canadians take this weak-kneed attitude, politicians will walk all over us. Ruth and Jason Williams Good candidates need to step up Ross Crockford has written a very accurate, appropriate and timely article. Well done and thank you. Chris Le Fevre If you’re not immersed in the minutiae of local political spats, you may be reflecting on the big picture—that which asks how a candidate serves the public interest? Where the common good lies in an economic and social environment dominated by private interests hungry for entitlements from the public purse? Who enjoys most benefit from an increasingly deregulated environment? Who bears the heaviest burdens? The loudest, most influential voices in municipal affairs are property owners (both commercial and residential). Although tenants may represent six out of ten households in Victoria, and pay taxes like homeowners, they can be ignored by decision-makers. Rental tenure remains insecure. The presence of tenants is now diminishing in a city that places greater value on high-end property owners and speculative investors. Ross Crockford suggests that “Victoria gets plenty of scrutiny in a town that eats and breathes politics.” If so, where’s the strong evidence of investigative reporting? Or even critical comment by the media in Victoria, other than Focus Magazine? That Victoria is home to the Provincial Legislature and City Hall is no guarantee any genuine public consultation exists. Or that openness, transparency, and accountability, which form the foundation of democracy, are upheld. Judging from the number of in camera meetings held, and stymied Freedom of Information requests, they are not upheld. What if we demanded that candidates or elected representatives reveal their monthly income and expenses? Their investments? Political donations? Potential conflicts of interest? Meetings with lobby groups or individuals? Those seeking public office might encourage public trust by disclosing such information. Crockford concludes as follows: “Victoria needs articulate people with common sense, experience handling employees and questioning consultants, practical ideas about how to improve the City, and the determination—and the time—to see them realized.” These important qualities are expected of an elected official. What is critical, however, is whom these elected officials intend to serve among the special interests and power brokers.Will such individuals disclose their personal beliefs and any biases that frame their choices? Have they ever disclosed publicly an error or misjudgment, and if so, what have they done to remedy the matter? Where are the candidates’ red lines? How easy it is—in our island paradise—to drift with the flow. What takes courage is challenging the City’s prevailing narrative, being open to criticism, and welcoming new ideas which may undermine our comfort levels. Individuals who can manage this kind of courage are rare. But they’re worth their weight in gold. We need elected candidates of this calibre if we are to build a healthy, inclusive and sustainable city. And, as informed and engaged citizens, we need to do our part to see that such candidates present themselves, earn our trust, and be held to account as valued members of Victoria City council. Victoria Adams Loggers harvesting ridiculously young trees Further to my letter to editor that ran in the past issue (“Why Bambi and Friends Moved to Town”), now I’ve learned that things have actually slipped farther down the tube here along the east coast of Vancouver Island. How? Well, after speaking with a few local residents here in the Comox Valley who are more up on what’s going down in the Oyster River Division, the local TimberWest private forest lands claim, word is that 40-year-old or possibly 30(!?)-year-old stands of timber have been harvested for some time now. Find this hard to believe? Then take a gander at the weigh station on the highway just north of Duncan. Perhaps if you are (un)fortunate enough you will catch a loaded logging truck just arrived from TimberWest’s Cowichan claim sitting on the scales stacked with what are no more than veritable sticks of trees on their trailers. You know, like the size of tree trunks in the cedar hedge you have planted along your property line. Rick James Electoral reform referendum The reaction from electoral reform opponents to last week’s report by Attorney General David Eby was as swift as it was predictable: “The deck is stacked!” and “it’s too complicated!” But is that really true? We find it normal that governments make many important decisions without holding a referendum, but now that we, the voters get to make the decision, the deck is somehow stacked? Really? The first referendum question will simply ask us whether we want to keep our current system, or move to a more proportional system. That is no more complicated than deciding which shoe goes on which foot. The second referendum question gives us the opportunity to express our preference between three voting systems. All three systems contain the principles which we find important: a local representative, more proportional election results, having (almost) all our votes count, a threshold of five percent to keep out fringe parties, no loss of regional representation, and little or no increase in the number of politicians or the cost of elections. BC had multi-member ridings in our history before 1990, when the last dual riding was abolished (without a referendum), so the Dual Member Proportional (DMP) system is not really new to BC. The Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system would give us one vote for a local candidate, much like what we have now, plus a second vote for a regional candidate. Is that so complicated? The Rural/Urban system proposes to use different voting systems in rural and urban areas because the Single Transferable Vote (STV) voting system works well when combining small urban ridings, but doesn’t translate to some of our already gigantic rural ridings, which instead would use the MMP system. Much information is coming our way, and we have five months before we vote in November to find a little time to look at these three systems, any of which could work just fine in BC. Then, should we decide for a new system, there will be another referendum after 2 elections in which we can decide to go back to our current system. This is about our democracy, about how we choose our governments. We are very lucky, because we, the voters get to make the decisions every step of the way. Considering the many benefits which introducing proportionality in our voting system could bring, a little effort to get informed is a small price to pay. Sjeng Derkx The business case for proportional representation Successful corporations prosper because they spend valuable time building “goal congruency” for both short and longer term corporate goals. This is achieved by working as a team with all levels of management and their employees in the annual budget and planning process. Corporations that are divided, adversarial and do not spend time discussing short and long term goals will be outmanoeuvred by their competitors. These benefits of goal congruency and objective setting can certainly apply to a country as well, especially if it has a proportionally elected minority government. A system where every vote counts makes voters feel more responsible. Coordination and cooperation are encouraged between parties to act in the interest of the people—goal congruency. Proportional representation ensures the most effective and economic use of labour, capital and energy in the long term. Countries that have adopted proportionally representative electoral systems, such as the Scandinavian countries, Germany and New Zealand, seem to have more success in developing progressive common goals. Sweden, a country of only 10 million, tops the Global Green Economy index and is among the top ten countries in World Competitiveness. Germany is phasing out nuclear power by 2021, with an emphasis on energy conservation and green technologies. New Zealand has successfully settled the majority of Maori treaty claims with both right- and left-leaning minority governments since 1996. Achieving common goals does not happen as naturally under “one party” government for they are essentially adversarial and there is very little opportunity to discuss common goals with other parties. For Canada we just have to think back to the composition of our recent federal parliaments, that have been dominated by the two traditional parties with 40 percent or less support of the voters while holding absolute power. Not only do these parliaments neglect to hear the voices of other parties but they continually lurch from each other’s polarizing economic and social policies with all the consequences of correction that entails. For instance, the present Trudeau government (39.5 percent support) spent their first year in office changing taxation and immigration legislation that a Harper government (39.6 percent) had enacted, just as Harper had removed Chretien’s earlier legislative initiatives. Probably the most important aspect of proportionally representative government is the more congenial style of party leadership, for any prospective premier must show some team-building skills and be able to work with other parties in the legislature. Government formation normally takes about a month and this a crucial time for all parties to review their positions on common goals in order to see what “goal congruency” exists between them. After having survived 150 years of “one party” government under the present system, surely we can take this unique opportunity to catch up with over 60 percent of the world. BC would be the first Canadian jurisdiction to try a Proportionally Representative electoral system in North America for electing our politicians. Colin Mackinnon Gene Miller: to laugh and/or cry? I want to thank you once more for producing such an important magazine for our times; it never fails to inspire me to continue social and political activism, no matter how dire the future appears. Speaking of which, Gene Miller outdid his brilliant dark self in the May/June issue; sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry (usually both) when I read his column. Because of the volunteer work I do at our local school, I was especially taken by Gene’s comments on how modern technology puts us at odds with our biology (and our better human instincts, surely) by supporting solitude and putting us all in states of anxiety, fear, depression and anger. Researchers like Dr Lucy Suchman at Lancaster University in the UK sounds similar alarms in her work, urging us to pay attention to what is happening to the parts of civil society that are being handed over to artificial intelligence. She gives examples like Google rebranding its research division as Google AI, and the fact that AI now controls important civic functions such as road safety, scholastic grading, health care and aspects of policing. All of this goes to support Gene’s final comment in his most recent column: think community. Yes, that is where our only hope of activism can make a difference—with people we know and with whom we can (as Mother Jones said) organize, and not just mourn. The warrior mentality does not work in groups where stories, music, art, and projects for the public good are a priority. With gratitude for all the work that goes into Focus. Susan Yates Alan Cassels’ articles appreciated Thanks to Focus Magazine for providing the public with well researched articles on pharmaceuticals. There are limited reliable sources for this type of information and good resources are invaluable to the public in forming decisions about drugs they may be prescribed. I’m not suggesting a person would refuse to take a drug as a result of an article in your magazine, but more likely be able to ask better questions of the medical profession and pharmacy staff before ingesting something. It’s good to know more about true efficacy rates, potential side effects etc. The articles provided by Alan Cassels are always helpful in raising awareness on drug testing, marketing, efficacy of drugs, and side effects, and where else are we going to get such well researched data? We can google until the cows come home, but would likely not be able to draw good conclusions from what we individually might glean from internet sources. Judy Spearing Editor’s note: Alas, in light of a new job with BC’s Therapeutic Initiative, Alan Cassels has penned his last Focus column for the forseeable future. We already miss him but congratulate him on his important new role. Tar sands operations = ecocide When governments cross a line and start destroying their own populations, we have words to label these actions: “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” These words tell the rest of the world that something is not right, and that action must be taken. As of 2013, 715 square kilometres of boreal forest had been destroyed by the extraction of bitumen from the tar sands in Alberta. As of October 2017, 242 square kilometres (The Guardian) stand in poisonous, sludge-filled tailing ponds. Less than one percent of this land has been certified as reclaimed. Alberta has destroyed much of it boreal forest (and plans to destroy more), poisoned its water, and accelerated climate change. Now, with the support of the federal government, it wants to extend its ecological destruction through the mountains and to the coast of BC, where the wreck of only one of a fleet of tankers would have disastrous consequences for the vital inland Salish Sea. While the logging and mining industries have modernized their practises to be more eco-friendly, the petroleum industry has not. Perhaps this bitumen should be left in the ground until a less destructive way of extracting it has been developed. (In the late 1950s, it was seriously being considered to use underground thermonuclear explosions to extract the oil. The proposed project was known as Project Cauldron. The Diefenbaker administration put a stop to it in support of an underground test ban that the USA and USSR were negotiating at the time, and aren’t we glad it did!) In the meantime, we need a word to describe the situation when a state supports methods of resource extraction that endanger the common good and exceed an acceptable degree of environmental degradation. Perhaps the word “ecocide” should be used to alert other countries that what is happening in Alberta is wrong, and that action must be taken. Arnold Porter Hit the pause button on Crystal Pool Hold on! Now we hear that the Crystal Pool rebuild in Central Park plan has morphed into “Let’s add in affordable housing.” The rebuild-instead-of-renovate choice by council was misguided to begin with. There was no consideration for the outdoor recreation facilities that the new pool would displace by moving from the northwest corner to the southwest corner of the park. No thought for the Steve Nash basketball court, the tennis court, the newly installed exercise equipment, the kids’ playground—all popular and necessary elements to the park. Instead, we were to get a parking lot with 140 spaces on the site of the current pool. When the optics in an election year of paving a park became obviously embarrassing, the tune changed to underground parking with affordable housing on top. Does council not see the increasing value of green space in an increasingly dense core? How is it that the City hasn’t done a full survey of its City-owned properties and offered up land for housing on suitable lots? How is it acceptable to, first of all, come up with a plan that ignores all but the pool structure and increased parking, leading to a bad decision to rebuild that jettisons the amenities already there? It looks to me like the agenda was hijacked by the regional swim clubs using the pool. Council went along with it, decided it didn’t need a referendum to spend the money [that may change given recent statements by the Province], and focused on the pool structure, ignoring those who use the green space and outdoor recreation facilities. Next thing you know we’re asked to consider building housing in the park, increasingly valuable in a city becoming more congested with development and traffic. Parks provide respite and space to breathe. We need parks to remain parks. It’s time to hit pause and do a complete rethink, starting with the extravagant decision to rebuild a grander structure offering something for everyone in the region—the price tag: over $69 million. Is this starting to sound like the Blue Bridge debacle? Never mind the Di Castri-designed current pool that would be consigned to the landfill. Never mind the need to protect every bit of green space we have. Allan Gallupe City aids Chinese bike companies at expense of locals As a long-term tenant of the City of Victoria at various locations and most recently at 685 Humboldt Street, and as President of Cycle BC Rentals, I recently wrote Mayor Helps and councillors to voice my concerns and objections in regards to the dockless bicycle program that has spread throughout Greater Victoria. I’m sure the mayor and council were full of good intentions when they headed to Asia, at local taxpayer expense, to attract foreign investment. However, they either didn’t do their homework or they didn’t care how their actions might affect local businesses when they rolled out the red carpet for U-bicycle, the Chinese company behind the green dockless bikes spreading throughout Greater Victoria. A quick check with cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Austin, Dallas, Beijing, Shanghai and on and on, would have shown that there are many problems associated with dockless bikes. We now have Greater Victoria councillors and mayors actively promoting the U-bicycle company within their municipalities, bylaws are being changed to accommodate U-bicycle, and to top it off, free rent is provided throughout Greater Victoria for their equipment. Who could wish for more!? I know we’re not the only bicycle business in Victoria that would have appreciated a visit from the mayor, a councillor or anyone else from City Hall. The cost to the Chinese company to buy and import the bicycles, using low-cost Chinese labour and Chinese steel, is less than what we pay the City of Victoria in annual rent, let alone what we contribute through local employment, taxes and community support. Within a two-year period we pay the City of Victoria in excess of $100,000 while a Chinese company, importing bicycles made and assembled in China at a cost of less than $100 / bicycle, can flood the City’s streets with over 1,000 bicycles for less investment. The City should understand the adverse effects their actions have not only on bicycle rental businesses like ourselves, but on many other bicycle-related businesses. Bicycle retailers will be adversely affected by the thousands of dockless bikes scattered throughout the city, and many bicycle tour companies will not be able to compete against U-bicycle tours departing from City-owned land. U-bicycles can park their equipment in areas that are unavailable to the rest of us, including but not limited to, the cruise ship facilities at Ogden Point, Fisherman’s Wharf, front of the Empress, Ship’s Point, Harbour Air, Provincial Museum, etc—pretty much any prime area in Victoria. U-bicycles brochures are being offered through Tourism Victoria, offering day rentals on bicycles at a fraction ($10/day) of what any of the competing bicycle rental companies can offer. Existing cruise ship bicycle tour companies are being forced to cut their tour rates due to undercutting by U-bicycles. Easy when you don’t have to pay real estate rent, don’t have to pay property taxes, don’t have to pay local wages, don’t buy locally, and effectively have the City looking after marketing. Clearly it’s not a level playing field. Think the U-bicycles are green? Do a Google search on “dockless bike piles” and you will see the only thing green is the colour. I am asking that the City reconsider its position on dockless bikes, and that it consult with existing bicycle rental and retail businesses throughout Victoria. The dockless bicycle program is resulting in serious financial losses for many of the existing businesses, and if left unchecked, will likely result in the loss of several businesses that depend on the summer tourism trade. Was the intent of introducing dockless bicycles to Victoria to provide short-term commuter transportation, as is the case with most docked bicycle programs, or to flood the streets with thousands of bicycles that will destroy many of the existing bicycle businesses and ultimately result in discarded bicycles clogging our waterways, sidewalks, parks and public spaces as has occurred throughout hundreds of other cities around the world? Doug Turner / Cycle BC Rentals The Malahat and the E&N Premier Horgan suggests that a bridge from Mill Bay to North Saanich would be a better idea than the E&N to provide an alternate route to Highway 1 over the Malahat. I don’t think so. After paying for feasibility studies, environmental studies and interchanges on both sides, building a bridge across Saanich Inlet, widening secondary roads and purchasing land, we will be left with the Pat Bay Highway being more crowded or West Saanich Road being straightened out and widened, but only after successfully convincing three First Nations that this would be in their best interest. Green Party MLA Adam Olsen improves on Horgan’s idea by suggesting a car ferry to cross to the Peninsula. On the west side of the inlet, the ferry will start at Cowichan Bay thus ruining that area with car traffic, and end at the Pat Bay float plane dock. Ferries will have to be purchased and terminals built; infrastructure will have to be provided to park and stage cars at each of the ferry terminals and to accommodate passengers. This idea would be good for anyone going to the airport, but how many would be doing that? While it avoids the construction costs of the bridge, where do the cars and passengers go from there: West Saanich Road? Pat Bay Highway? Where do cars line up to board? Where do the 50 cars that arrive at the same time go? Horgan and others have suggested replacing the Mill Bay Ferry with one of a larger capacity. This would require replacing the docking and loading infrastructure at both ends to accommodate the larger ferry. Would the streets in Brentwood be able to handle the increased traffic when a ferry lands? Those vehicles would then have to use West Saanich Road or any of the cross-peninsula roads that were not designed for heavy traffic. We know from the Pat Bay Highway experience that ferry traffic puts a heavy burden on the roads for only a short period of time but they need to be able to handle it safely. If there is going to be a ferry, picture what would happen when the Malahat was closed: hundreds of cars would immediately be diverted to a ferry that carries a maximum of 50 cars and would have a round trip of close to an hour. Of course, this is the same problem with roads: they have to be designed to handle rush-hour traffic, but for most of the time they are overbuilt for the amount of traffic they carry. The above ideas assume that everyone using the Malahat is going to, or coming from, downtown Victoria. In reality, traffic will also be going to Esquimalt naval base, Royal Roads University, Langford, Colwood and Sooke. If those people have to take the bridge or a ferry to North Saanich, they will then increase the traffic on the connecting roads leading to those destinations. Finally, both ideas seem to ignore the fact that there is a considerable amount of truck traffic and some bus traffic on the Malahat, which will be more difficult for the infrastructure to accommodate than cars. Another idea that has been suggested is to put a road through the catchment area for the reservoir that provides Greater Victoria with its drinking water. Victoria has a safe, secure supply of water that requires a minimum of treatment for drinking. Why would we want to build a road through that area to introduce pollutants that would then have to be removed from the water? An idea that I haven’t heard proposed yet is to tunnel through the mountain. It’s what the Swiss would do. Every time there is an accident on the Malahat, ideas for an escape route abound. So far, the solution has been to widen portions of the highway and put in abatement barriers in an attempt to eliminate accidents. However, we know from experience that even the best designed roads have accidents, usually because of human error, so it is unlikely that road improvements are going to eliminate them. I don’t see any of the above alternatives being better or cheaper than the E&N which would run on a frequent daily schedule, giving Islanders an alternative to driving the Malahat. They will learn to appreciate the safety and convenience of rail travel. Diverting vehicle traffic from the Malahat to an already traffic-burdened Saanich Peninsula is not a good solution. Let’s face it: the problem is cars; there are too many of them and they go too fast. If you make the roads easier to drive on, there will be more cars, and they will go faster and they will cause more accidents. Errol Miller
  8. The fuzzy thinking of Canada’s mainstream political establishment is driving some good citizens to despair. DAVID DODGE, a former Bank of Canada governor, recently gave a speech in Edmonton in which he predicted “there are some people that are going to die in protesting construction” of the Trans Mountain pipeline. As reported in the Edmonton Journal, he was warning his audience to be prepared, that the deaths would be a test of will for the Canadian government and its people, but certainly not a reason to stop the pipeline. “It’s going to take some fortitude” to face the deaths and continue, he said, but continue we must: “We have to understand this is a resource where the long-term viability isn’t there, not because we’re running out of muck in the ground, but because we actually, collectively, as the globe, are going to have to stop using as much of this stuff.” Dodge obviously understands the dictates of global climate change. His response is to urge Canadians to continue to exploit the main source of the problem in the closing window of time we’ll be allowed to. Even if it means people die. Meanwhile sensible, caring people who try to stand in the way of such exploitation are viewed as fanatics and felons. MURRAY REISS, an award-winning poet who lives on Salt Spring Island, is 72 years of age, just a few years younger than Mr Dodge. Arrested on March 23 for standing in front of the entry gate to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion construction site, he told BC Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck: “nothing less than the impending end of the world gets me to put my body on the line. I wish I was exaggerating. Tripling the Trans Mountain pipeline’s capacity will recklessly escalate tar sands extraction. James Hansen, who knows as much about the science of climate change as anyone, has stated, repeatedly: maximum tar sands exploitation puts civilization at risk.” Murray Reiss “The laws of physics are non-negotiable,” continued Reiss, “the notion of selling more fossil fuels today to pay for climate action tomorrow is sheer delusion. By that ‘tomorrow’…runaway global warming will be locked into the system. Already every year—almost every month—sets a new record for heat, for flooding, for wildfires, drought.” Lisa Baile of Pender Island, also in her 70s, had a long career as a medical researcher. The long-time mountaineer, wilderness educator, and author of the book, John Clarke, Explorer of the Coast Mountains, told Judge Affleck: “Knowing that climate change is reaching an irreversible tipping point, I cannot stand by and allow this pipeline to be built knowing that it will be contributing to a local and global catastrophe. I have to stand up for my home, the coast of BC and the planet—to do my utmost to leave a better world while there is still a chance—for my three-year-old granddaughter, my two grandsons and for all the youngsters and unborn children in the world. To do nothing would be irresponsible.” She is doing her 25 hours of community service at an alternative transportation organization. Lisa Baile Reiss and Baile are among the 203 people arrested and charged, mostly with criminal contempt of court, for protesting on Kinder Morgan’s construction site after the court granted the company an injunction—an injunction that now covers all BC work sites related to the pipeline. Criminal contempt is a step up from civil contempt. According to BC Civil Liberties Association, criminal contempt is “where a court order is breached, but the nature of the conduct interferes with the public’s interest in the ‘proper administration of justice.’” Kris Hermes works with Terminal City Legal Collective and Protect the Inlet Coalition, helping to demystify the legal system for the protesters. He’s in court every day taking notes and reporting by email to arrestees what the judge is saying so people are more aware. He feels that from the beginning there seem to have been problems with the administration of justice. For instance, notes Hermes, “Despite being told by the RCMP that they were being charged with civil contempt of court, and signing a PTA [Promise to Appear] to that effect, arrestees were surprised to find out [later] they were being prosecuted for criminal contempt of court.” He also notes that “people of colour and indigenous land defenders were often treated with a heavier hand, with some being violently arrested by the RCMP.” Unlike other criminal court cases, arrestees are not being given access to “duty counsel” to make sure they understand the process and what pleading guilty means. As well, the vast majority of those arrested, says Hermes, fall into an income bracket that makes them ineligible for legal aid—which has a high threshold these days—yet unable to afford a lawyer. Thus many people are representing themselves, which makes for interesting court sessions, says Hermes. They are given a bit of latitude by the judge but “they are often pleading guilty without advice of a lawyer on how to defend themselves.” “A lot of people are struggling with this process,” says Hermes. “This has been raised numerous times…but the court seems not to care.” One defence lawyer complained in court that defendants were being subjected to a “factory cookie-cutter process” geared to expediting the 203 cases through the courts. Judge Affleck admitted he was aiming for an expeditious, though fair, process and added, “the issues are narrow, and on issues of whether the pipeline is an environmentally wise structure, I will not hear that evidence.” Instead, the judge has ruled that people’s defence is limited to consideration of the evidence put forth by the Crown—were they standing or sitting at the gate or not? Despite that, says Hermes, there have been attempts to use unorthodox defences—“the necessity defence” for instance. The judge, however, ruled against it as there wasn’t evidence of “imminent peril,” and defendants had not exhausted all of their legal defences. They could, for instance, challenge or appeal the injunction (a costly process, no doubt). The statement made in court by Barbara Stowe, a writer and movement teacher who lives on Pender Island, illustrates the gulf between the expeditious legal process and a citizen’s moral sense: “Coming to this court with no criminal record, never having been arrested before, I have been overwhelmed by this process and had much need for guidance. I recognize the fortunate position I am in, having legal counsel, and perceive that many have none and are at a disadvantage.” In pleading guilty, Stowe told the judge “if such a plea were allowed, nolo contendere would more accurately reflect what I feel in my heart, which is that I am guilty, but acted solely to oppose a greater crime. When doctors, professors, politicians and faith leaders start committing civil disobedience, it begs the question: who and what is the real danger to our society, to all that we hold dear? Are people sitting in front of a fence, putting their freedom at risk, willing to pay fines and do community work service or go to jail, displaying a greater contempt for the law than those riding roughshod over the rights and safety of tribes, communities, cities, this province, and the environment that sustains us all?” Barbara Stowe Stowe’s brother, a physician, also protested and was arrested. He was fined $500, while Barbara will serve 25 hours of community service. She and her probation officer will determine where. WHILE WE HEAR ALL SORTS OF STORIES that give the impression that our justice system is terribly bogged down and slow, they are moving through the pipeline protesters’ cases quickly. The efficiency is due in part to a Crown-approved roster of sentences issued on May 23. The document shows how sentencing is being used to deter those charged from pleading not guilty, and to discourage others from further protesting. As time wears on, penalties increase. Those arrested in the early days of the protest (prior to April 16) who pled guilty quickly, received a $500 fine or 25 hours of community service. That escalates to a $4500 fine or, if unable to pay, 225 hours in community service for later arrestees, as long as they plead guilty quickly (usually meaning by the first day of their trial). That latter proviso meant that the sentence for Victoria resident Gordon Bailey, a retired Capilano College teacher, was ten times that of other protesters arrested on the same day as he was. Says Bailey, “I was sentenced to a $5000 fine or 240 hours community service or jail time. If I hadn’t been sick earlier and had a medical test for which I’d waited three months, I might have had the earlier sentencing. Interesting.” (He is now volunteering 10 hours a week at Our Place in order to meet his November probationary deadline.) Gordon Bailey Bailey, who has written books and articles on social theory, ideology, education, and a trilogy of eco-detective fiction, also finds it “interesting” that “the historic concept of civil disobedience carries no power or sway in the hallowed halls of our judicial system. To protest and resist injustice is now seen as not only civil contempt of a court injunction but also as criminal contempt. It’s as though the judge and the Crown prosecutors are historically illiterate. Tolstoy, Gandhi, Thoreau, and such celebrated people as Rosa Parks are deemed irrelevant to the modern intelligent consciousness.” Those arrested after May 8 who plead guilty face a mandatory seven days in jail—and likely higher if they plead not guilty, go to court, and are found guilty. The escalating sentencing appears to be giving the Crown what it wants: Few have protested since May 8. On June 19, however, 69-year-old grandmother Laurie Embree from 108 Mile House sat at the Westridge Terminal gate and was arrested. She said she wanted to tell the government: “We have the technology to make the change and to stop using fossil fuels and transition to renewables. We have the people to make these changes and there are jobs in making those changes. The only thing lacking is the political will.” She will likely be going to jail soon. The escalating sentences, along with the sweeping expansion of the injunction to cover all BC worksites, says Hermes, mean that “Essentially the company is using the courts to stifle meaningful protest.” (After the sale of Trans Mountain is finalized in late summer, it will be the Canadian government.) IN ALL THE STATEMENTS I READ, people alluded to their concern for First Nations. Sentenced on May 29 (the day the federal government announced it was buying the pipeline), Nan Gregory, a retired storyteller, children’s writer and lay chaplain of the Unitarian Church, told Judge Affleck: “I’ve never before been an activist…I’m here to stand up for a just and honourable reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.” Murray Reiss, mentioned earlier, asked, “How could I not oppose this pipeline, whose sole purpose is to gouge ever more bitumen from the ancestral lands of Lubicon, Mikisew and Beaver Lake Cree, Athabasca and Prairie Chipewyan First Nations? Whose existence would make a mockery of Canada’s pledges of climate action in the Paris Agreement and decolonization in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Whose construction would mean turning our back on negotiating free, prior and informed consent with First Nations, with whom we must learn to share this land.” George Rammell, a sculptor (who assisted Haida artist Bill Reid for 10 years) and retired art teacher, told the judge, “We were there because we saw a multitude of injustices perpetuated by our prime minister and Kinder Morgan to push this reckless pipeline expansion forward at the expense of Aboriginal nations, animal species and the environment. Our actions at Kinder Morgan’s gates were necessary to help press the pause button until real justice is restored.” He noted, “It was under [the] Canadian apartheid system that the first pipeline was built from the Alberta tar sands to Burrard Inlet in the early 1950s. The Tseil-Wauthuth were vehemently opposed to it then as they are to Kinder Morgan’s current proposed expansion. Many Aboriginal Nations in BC were not adequately consulted or warned of the dangers of the proposed massive increase in dangerous diluted bitumen moving through their territorial lands and waters. These people’s rights are being violated by our own Federal government that espouses to be championing reconciliation, yet we’re expected to stand idly by in complicity.” FOCUS CHOSE TO GIVE THESE CITIZENS a little space here, not just because of the strength and eloquence of their words, but because of the resounding lack of coverage in the mainstream media of what’s happening to them in the courts. With the exception of the arrest and court appearance of Members of Parliament Elizabeth May and Kennedy Stewart, Victoria’s local daily hasn’t covered the protesters’ court cases at all. In fact, the Times-Colonist’s editorials have been consistently in favour of the pipeline. On May 30 it wrote: “We don’t believe [MP Elizabeth] May should lose her seat…but she should perhaps consider what would happen if everyone decided to be selective about the laws they obeyed.” This is over-simplifying things in a way that would rule out any cases of civil disobedience ever. An earlier T-C editorial, shortly after Kinder Morgan threatened to pull out, urged the federal government to “fight for the pipeline.” In June, the paper ran a highly partisan op-ed on the subject by Gwyn Morgan (retired founding CEO of Encana Corp) in which he stated, “the battle has been zealously joined by [MLA Andrew Weaver’s] many local ground troops and international NGO professional protesters who share his fantasy that the end of fossil fuel era is nigh.” I think the protesters would protest: it’s not a fantasy; it’s a moral imperative if we want to prevent death and destruction from climate breakdown. Gordon Bailey wrote an op-ed, as yet unpublished, in which he cited H.L. Mencken’s observation on the subject of civil disobedience: “The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime: he is a good citizen driven to despair.” Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus.
  9. VISA faces eviction by School District ARTS ORGANIZATIONS LIVE PRECARIOUSLY, often in need of funds. But now, with the city growing and real estate going crazy, it’s even harder. Just ask Wendy Welch, executive director of Vancouver Island School of Art (VISA). She is planning her fall semester without knowing whether the school will remain in its current venue. Since 2004, VISA has been renting the 1921 heritage school in Quadra Village from the Greater Victoria School District. VISA' home on Quadra Street Last year the School Board upped VISA’s rent by 40 percent (to over $4000/month), and also hinted that they might need the building in a year or so. At the beginning of 2018, though, it appeared from discussions that VISA’s 200 students would be able to enjoy its five classrooms and their great natural lighting for another 18 months—with perhaps some space shared with the School District. On April 2, however, Welch was told VISA had to leave by the end of this summer. The School District intends to do extensive renovations and, by fall 2019, house one of their own programs there. The School District’s Mark Walsh told Focus that fresh numbers indicate that an estimated 2000 new school spaces will be needed over the next 10 years. Right now, spaces that seem on offer (and affordable) to VISA are much smaller and primarily on the outskirts of the city, said Welch. VISA offers a wide selection of courses and workshops, an artist residency program, and hosts the Slide Room Gallery where student works are exhibited. In honour of its 10th birthday several years ago, it painted the exterior of its beloved home with a design inspired by the Razzle Dazzle ships from the early 20th century when the school was built. Welch just recently went public with the “renoviction” news. Since then, she said, there’s been an outpouring of support from her students and the wider community. Because of it, she said, “I have decided to fight the School District and try and get a five-year lease. I have come to the realization that they have several buildings that are newer, larger and in better shape than VISA (they just need seismic upgrading). It doesn’t make sense to evict a thriving arts organization in the heart of an urban centre when there are other alternatives.” She is asking people to write to the district’s MLA Rob Fleming, who is also BC’s Minister of Education, and Victoria City Hall. Welch said she has some great options long-term, including possible space in the new Crystal Pool building, with perhaps another branch at the planned Juan de Fuca Performing Arts Centre. “I am interested in both propositions (we could have two branches). However these are long-term plans not to be finished until around 2021. We need the School District to let us continue in the Quadra building until we can move to a more permanent place. It feels the right move to fight rather than to surrender, because the arts always get swept away to the background.” Leslie Campbell is the editor of Focus Magazine.
  10. Leslie Campbell

    Letters to the editor

    Math & ethics argue against Trans Mountain Canada’s federal and provincial governments have squandered billions of taxpayer funds to perpetrate the myths that ongoing fossil fuel development will be a net employment generator and revenue producer for the country. The only obstruction to achieving that economic utopia are those “anti-business,” “left-wing,” “drum-beating,” “tree-hugging,” “foreign-funded” environmentalists. That’s bovine crap, paid for with our tax dollars. The fact is, subsidizing fossil fuel expansion in genera,l and the Kinder Morgan project specifically, is as much or more about BC’s and, ultimately, Canada’s economy as it is about the environment. Continuing to commit more taxpayer dollars to the billions that have been poured into this financial black hole to date would be a crime against those taxpayers who, as evidenced by recent federal and provincial budgets, are being increasingly burdened with additional taxes to fund the subsidies to these non-viable projects. Don Gordon Focus continues to inform me, to encourage me, and to delight me. I very much admire your Editor’s letter opening the March/April edition. It’s understandable that we here on the West Coast and in the western-most province should be nervous about probable tanker mishaps and the escape of dilbit into the sea and onto our coastal shores—to the point of protesting the pipeline’s expansion and rerouting. But your letter takes on a related, truly national aspect: the incongruity of increasing fossil-fuel-export-related emissions from Alberta, while countrywide, reducing overall the fossil-fuel carbon released in order to meet our commitment made in the Paris Accord. And your piece does it with “math,” with reliable numbers displayed graphically. Then the conclusion—from the facts, from the math—is rendered in your column’s final paragraph. Many thanks. George Kyle Victoria’s marijuana regulations Thanks for your article. Good balance, I thought. I became acquainted with this issue because of the circumstances of Chris Zmuda, but that was just a portal to a realization of the proliferation of cannabis retailing. The City has strived to meet this challenge (with some success). However, this issue is not improving city life (it seems to me), and it’s not going to go away when the Province and the Feds enter the picture. I hope you will keep your eye on this issue in the coming months. Dave Rodenhuis Bridge names, continued With reference to Steen Petersen’s suggestion for a name for the new Blew Budget Bridge: two or three years ago, in a letter published in Focus, I suggested the name “Fortin’s Folly.” In my imagination, this new monstrosity spans Jackass Gulch. Jeremy Hespeler-Boultbee Gonzales Hill development alarms citizens Thanks for Leslie Campbell’s fantastically well-researched and well-written article. I was at Gonzales Hill Park today with my mom, brother and nephew and we spent quite a bit of time on the area sited to be developed. To allow this to happen reveals a complete lack of environmental stewardship. Anybody who spends five minutes on this property can immediately see that it is completely inappropriate to develop on it. This is rare land in the area especially because it is in an almost pristine state. For this reason alone, development should not be permitted. Some of the rocks here are millions of years old. And somehow the CRD considers that it would be appropriate to dynamite and blast these rocks out of their natural location to create a flat ground for a single-family luxury home? It is a travesty that the CRD did not purchase this small parcel and make it part of the park. With all the rampant development and need for increased densification in the Greater Victoria area, we need to take into consideration that development and densification should be balanced with some recognition for the need for humans to have green spaces. During our time in the park and surrounding area, we met several people who were coming to check out the spot that is going to be developed. One local resident, who has been making use of this park for decades, was extremely upset about the development plans, and she was stopping everyone who was visiting the area today to tell them about the plans for the site. All those hearing the news for the first time expressed utter shock and disbelief. Not one person thought it was a good idea. Of course these people were a biased audience in that they understood the importance of public green spaces as they were making use of one of them. I recommended to all that they read your article. People were taking photos of the signs that have been posted with the email address to contact to protest the development. One person who lived nearby said that if she had even known the land was for sale, she would have petitioned all her friends in the neighbourhood and easily raised $1,000,000 among her Oak Bay contacts to buy the land for the park. It seems this was all done in secret, which reveals that something is amiss with the plan. This is something definitely worth fighting for because once this piece of land is lost to private development, it is lost forever. Wendy Welch I thought your article on the Gonzales Hill Regional Park was excellent—what some might call a disastrous private/public sector interface. The owners/proponents bought a topographically-challenged property on spec. In order to justify their million-dollar property investment, they needed a bigger house than the zoning allowed, and requested variances. If the variances are not approved, then too bad, so sad. There is no obligation to approve the variances or bail them out. Caveat emptor, buyer beware. It’s all about due diligence. I’m usually pro-development, but the two remaining variances are egregious, do not pass the litmus-test, and should not be approved in order to accommodate the proposed residence. Boards of Variance should be accountable to someone, but then the City of Victoria could refuse the request somehow? CRD staff could be criticized for their ho-hum non-comments regarding the development, and then not approving the requested driveway easement/land swap which would ameliorate the development somewhat. The CRD politicians have not been helpful in this situation, which brings to mind Gene Miller’s column on “Amalgacide” and the distant non-accountability of our fourth and well-paid level of government. The CRD should have bought the property. It’s an obvious solution. I felt the neighbours’ frustration, a combination of NIMBYism and the inability of the proponent and government to work out compromises or solutions to the problem. Based on what I read, I hope the development does not proceed and the property owners are not in any way “kept whole” by government. Tony Beckett Editor’s note: In late March, the City of Victoria’s Board of Variance denied both requested variances by the owners of the property. It’s not clear what the lot owners will do now, but neighbours are hoping to help purchase the lot for public use. Saanich’s EDPA I am the President of SCRES, the Saanich Citizens for a Responsible EDPA (Environmental Development Permit Area). I believe the article by Briony Penn is very one-sided with significant misunderstandings and mistruths about the issue. I have been the public face of SCRES since it was created. Penn made no attempt to contact me, despite saying that she did try to find a spokesperson for SCRES. Penn implies in the article that loss of property value due to the EDPA bylaw was something that SCRES or landowners made up to try to get rid of the Saanich EDPA. The Rollo report that the District of Saanich commissioned stated that “some recent public concerns regarding the adverse impact of the EDPA on property values are justified, with substantial impacts on some” and then goes on to specifically list the types of properties that are likely to be impacted. BC Assessment, in meeting with SCRES, indicated that most properties in their report were bought and sold with no knowledge of the EDPA’s existence on the part of the buyer and real estate agents, and that sale prices likely did not reflect any potential impact of the EDPA on property value. Most landowners did not know that their property was in the EDPA because Saanich did not directly tell them. Saanich never told BC Assessment about the EDPA when Saanich passed the legislation. Real estate agents mostly had no knowledge of the EDPA. When the EDPA was disclosed in property sales, we have seen losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in what was a very hot market at the time. Penn indicated in her afterward to the article that she was involved in the original Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory (SEI) which was used as the basis of the mapping for Saanich’s EDPA. What she failed to point out was this mapping was never verified on the ground, as was done in many other jurisdictions. If she had, she would have found out that many of the Garry oak ecosystems, mapped in areas that have been developed for many decades, no longer exist. They consist of homeowners’ lawns, gardens, homes, driveways, and areas covered by invasive species, all which no longer meet the criteria of Sensitive Ecosystems as required by the bylaw. As an example of how poor the EDPA mapping is, the photo in Penn’s article shows a Garry oak ecosystem that is not actually mapped as being in the EDPA. The EDPA on this property was mapped in the back of the property which no longer had any natural vegetation remaining. The reason Saanich has had such a pushback on the EDPA is because it is still trying to protect fully developed lots that have not had natural vegetation for 50 to 100 years. This, and what many people have called heavy-handed implementation. Penn talks about measurables from the bylaw and 20 cases of successful plantings of native species and removal of invasive species. What Penn failed to find out was that these were just native plant gardens that were required in exchange for a building permit, that were placed in areas that did not have any native species before. Not only is this not required by the bylaw, but this is not restoration of Garry oak ecosystems, or any natural ecosystem. These are small pockets of areas that now have common native landscaping material. Other landowners were required to place large covenants on their properties, in some cases up to sixty percent of the property, in areas that were completely covered by invasive species, with no restoration planned. Penn missed an opportunity to put a focus on Garry oak ecosystems in Saanich Parks, which are mostly severely degraded, and overrun with invasive species. Many hard-working volunteers remove invasive shrubs; however, invasive grasses have severely degraded many Garry oak ecosystems that were wonderful wildflower meadows just a few decades ago. Saanich needs to find funding to maintain what still exists and restore the rest. This will have far more impact, and less conflict, on the remaining Garry oak ecosystems than expecting landowners who no longer have these ecosystems to leave their properties alone, in which case invasive species will dominate in perpetuity. SCRES has always supported a well-crafted and well-implemented EDPA bylaw. SCRES has put forward recommendations for a landowner stewardship program to Saanich Council and provided significant recommendations for improving biodiversity in Saanich in a report to Council that is front and centre on our website. I feel that Penn has provided a biased, unsupportable article on the Saanich EDPA which misleads and ignores many important facts and information. Anita Bull Briony Penn responds: Anita Bull raises an important point about Saanich’s capacity to maintain and monitor the ecological integrity of their own parks, and the ongoing issue of invasive species on both public and private lands. However, it was not the focus of the article. Mayor Atwell and fairness of the public process/governance was the main focus. There was also no intention to verify or provide evidence for the various claims which Bull makes on behalf of SCRES. The issue was the toxicity of the debate, and the failure of a council to bring different parties together with accurate information and provide a forum for constructive dialogue. Citizens’ charter rights to ask questions and get straight answers about why information wasn’t made available, and why recommendations were not implemented, was the issue being discussed. There are a lot of important questions to be discussed, and the issue requires a respectful forum. Residents on both sides of the issue that I spoke to early on showed a great deal of fear of speaking to the issue, which was consistent with the Diamond Report—this is why it became an article on the toxicity of public discourse. Should farmland be reserved for food? In the lucid article by Judith Lavoie, Kent Mullinix, director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, states: “We have got to get real. We can no longer allow a bunch of capitalist cowboys to run roughshod over the natural resources and the ecosystems that all our lives, livelihoods and—literally—happiness rely upon.” Capitalist private profit is the problem Dr Mullinix shows. Ten other accompanying Focus stories also covered private profit’s various impacts and defects: The bridge, nuclear bombs (investors profit from these too), Trans Mountain, Gonzales Hill Park development, EDPA, drug over-prescription, marijuana regulations, the Holocaust (scapegoating Jews to mask Germany’s capitalist crisis), “Amalgacide” and Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic’s citation of the Site C Dam. Albert Einstein, in an essay “Why Socialism?” in the socialist Monthly Review Magazine’s inaugural May 1949 edition, stated: “Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.” Evo Morales, Bolivia’s President, speaking at the United Nations Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2008 put it this way: “If we want to save the planet Earth, to save life and humanity, we have a duty to put an end to the capitalist system. If we do not put an end to the capitalist system it’s impossible to imagine that there will be equality and justice on this planet Earth. This is why I believe that it is important to put an end to the exploitation of human beings and to put an end to the pillage of natural resources; to put an end to destructive wars for raw materials and for the market; to the plundering of energy, particularly fossil fuels; excessive consumption of goods and the accumulation of waste. The capitalist system only allows us to heap up waste.” Larry Wartels Not in our space Monica Prendergast’s piece in the latest issue prompts me to write. Ms Prendergast regrets that “fifty years of feminism” has not changed some negative aspects of male behaviour. Personally, I do not see any reason why it would. It seems that society as a whole has not yet come to terms with the way we have viewed men over a long stretch of history. We are still subjecting little boys to conditioning aimed at suppressing elements of tenderness and vulnerability within them. Male roles have kept men set in the hardest and most dangerous jobs, including soldiering. Psychosocial inclinations have pushed men toward the darker reaches of human imagination and interaction. In story and symbols, and in actual life, men are typically the ones to be regarded with suspicion and fear. The worst thing in all of this is the resistance by a lot of men to change. Maleness, almost certainly, evolved as a necessity for survival in much earlier stages of human development and it had to be programmed into male psyches. And it still is. Many men continue to view being a “real man” as an indispensible part of their existence. It is necessary that we come to see that the behaviours of certain men can be linked with the reality that they are, in fact, themselves victims and casualties. This understanding does not obscure the criminality, nor the culpability surrounding their deeds. But the fact that men are operating in that part of the field serves to illustrate that it is they who are driven to playing the B side, not women. In order to foster the degree of change that women claim to want, and which some men, including this writer, want, we need to evolve more progressive movements deeper and farther-reaching than what feminism has been. Even with that, it’s probably liable to take some time before we see the kind of change where numbers of men can more easily transcend the confines of traditional maleness. Then we really might be able to honestly claim that we have gender equity. Peter Halling Backyards fight climate change I thought, in terms of neighbourhood planning, that people might like to read a recent article in the New York Times: “A Secret Superpower, Right in Your Backyard.” It states: “Your average backyard has hidden superpowers: Its soil can absorb and store a significant amount of carbon from the air, unexpectedly making such green spaces an important asset in the battle against climate change. Backyard soils can lock in more planet-warming carbon emissions than soils found in native grasslands or urban forests like arboretums, according to Carly Ziter, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.” Aside from the abundant lifestyle and health advantages (gardening and recreation) of preserving generous backyards, this research shows a definite climatological benefit as well. It has become commonplace in Fairfield to tear down one house and fill the lot with two big houses almost completely filling the lot and leaving scarcely enough room for a narrow strip of green in front and back. Is this really the way we want our neighbourhoods to go? Is it good for our community values, our health, our food security and, even more importantly, helpful to the environment? Arnold Porter Amalgacide & governance review One cannot think of anything much healthier that citizens asking each other if there are better ways that they might be governed when confronted with realities of their life that give them pause. Greater Victoria is now a region of some 350,000 people. Politically it comprises 13 governments. They all have to deal with issues that cross their borders. Transit does not end at these borders, neither does sewage. Growth affects everyone in the region. So does traffic congestion. The list is long and the issues often divisive and requiring intervention. When they boil over, the Province has to provide what the region cannot: government. Thus we are not really in control of our own affairs. Edith Slack of the Munk Centre—a doyenne of local government thinking—suggests that this state of affairs is not to be endured for it is a drag on citizen efforts to enjoy better lives. To become “masters of our own house,” the region needs to be in charge of its own affairs while local governments—however many—do likewise. Calls for a review of governance—local and regional—are increasing. It’s time to heed them. John Olson Human impacts wide & deep: witness the orca The impact of human activity on the planet has been identified and discussed at great length by Focus. If you look around the planet it is impossible to ignore the changes we have wrought in the past half century. Our species is only 1000 centuries old by most reckonings but our impact is wide and deeply ingrained in the world we currently occupy. Some of us are deeply concerned by what has changed, and even more concerned by what will change in the next few centuries. Some of us are desperately insisting that many things must change very quickly before it is too late. Can we revert back to an earlier time? Can we revert to a past that did work for most of human history? I am concerned that many people do not fully appreciate the ramifications of what they propose should happen. Let’s take some simple examples that I think illustrate my concerns. The orcas in the Salish sea are dying. As Focus’ David Broadland illustrated through available scientific research (November/December 2017), they are starving. Their food is no longer as readily available as it was a few decades ago. Their normal migratory and hunting patterns are being widely disrupted due to human activity. The waters they swim in are less friendly to their physical well-being. Yet ecologically-minded people propose that we stop farming fish and eat more wild salmon, their historic food source. In other words, they propose we compete more aggressively for the orca’s food source. I think we can guess who will win that one. Another example. Between 1830 and 1870, whales were the world’s primary source of liquid hydrocarbons. The demand for it resulted in the decimation of whales worldwide. The first successful oil well in North America was drilled in Oil Springs, Ontario in 1857, and soon followed by one in Oil Creek, Pennsylvania. The subsequent oil rush and new source of liquid hydrocarbons saved the few remaining whales. We can all be thankful to the oil industry for that. Look out whales if we shut down all the oil wells. The next time you go for a walk or ride your bike, glance down and see where 10-15 percent of the 90+ million barrels of oil currently consumed per day ends up. Concrete produces a ton of carbon dioxide for every ton of cement used. The return to cobblestone streets is our current best future road surface option. An electric vehicle should be in everyone’s garage. However, I am sure that electric planes are not going to be a travel option any time soon. Can the world support 9 billion humans? How about 1 billion? By what process do we transition between what we have and what is sustainable? Do we revert back to the 4 horsemen to ride herd on our future? As Pogo said over 60 years ago, “We have met the enemy and they are us!” Jim Knock Why Bambi and friends moved to town Many of us long-time Island residents have wondered why deer have invaded urban areas all along the east coast of Vancouver Island over the past 10 to 15 years. I put that question to both the guys at a local sporting goods store up here in the Comox Valley, which caters to local hunters, and Focus’ Briony Penn. They had the same answer. To quote Dr Penn: “Our coastal black-tails are very dependent in the winter on arboreal lichens which accumulate on older trees and most particularly on the old growth of south facing slopes where the sun hits the slope and the combination of sun and old growth canopy reduces snow cover. It is places like McLaughlin Ridge (near Port Alberni and recently mowed down by TimberWest) that provide critical winter habitat, especially when bad weather hits. When you lose this habitat the deer die or move to the cities to munch in garden beds in the winter. And, of course, cougars follow the deer. It is the fundamental reason we have cougar problems…” Just another environmental disaster (like the flooding and subsequent boil water alert up here in the Comox Valley last winter) all thanks to the creation of the Private Managed Forests Land Act back in 2003 by a newly elected Liberal government. In essence, the bill served as one colossal giveaway to TimberWest and Island Timberlands since there’s been virtually no government oversight of their operations here along the east coast of the Island since. As one old logger so aptly stated, “the fox was left in charge of the chicken house.” As a result, not only has all our incredible first growth virtually disappeared but now any mature second growth (70 to 120 year old timber) is going, going…gone! All of which would have provided ideal habitat to blacktail deer and their close associates, the cougar. Rick James
  11. ONE DAY, Focus may tell you about a housing proposal that everyone in the neighbourhood is happy with, where the public process surrounding it is hailed as transparent, inclusive, effective and painless for all involved. But that day isn’t here yet. When it was announced last summer that Oak Bay United Church wanted to build some affordable housing on its property at Granite Street and Mitchell—just one block over from Oak Bay Village—it sounded refreshingly bold and in tune with the times. Affordable housing is the region’s number-one need. Oak Bay United Church in Oak Bay Soon afterwards “Stop Overdevelopment by Oak Bay United Church” signs popped up like mushrooms on neighbourhood lawns. A “concerned citizens” website was created, and media reports citing divisions and alarm were heard. Some early concepts for the development indicated up to five-storey buildings and 160 units could be proposed. For a 1.2-acre lot in a leafy, mostly single-family neighbourhood, it did seem perhaps too bold. Now, church representatives claim they have listened, and in their recent plans—unveiled at open houses at the end of April—have tried to meet neighbours’ concerns as much as possible. We shall see how that works out. IN HER OFFICE in a 1920s-era duplex behind the church, Oak Bay United Church Minister Michelle Slater told me the idea of developing the property stems back to 1994 when the heritage church was “condemned” as unsafe, and the congregation had to conduct services elsewhere. It wasn’t clear that the church, built in 1914, could be saved, so everything was up for consideration, including selling off the whole property. Eventually, it was decided that restoration was possible, and the congregation worked hard for years to raise $1.5 million. In 2010, 16 years after its closure, the church reopened. Oak Bay United Church Minister Michelle Slater Once back in their church, congregants had little appetite for further change any time soon. But, said Slater, “it was always accepted that that was just the first step to renewal.” There are five structures on the 56,000-square-foot property. The church occupies 9000 square feet. There is also a large storage shed; an office building (often called the “duplex”); the cinder block, seismically-challenged Gardiner Hall (with a gym); and Threshold House, which is rented to Threshold Housing Society, and has nine studio apartments for vulnerable youth. With the exception of the church, the latest plans call for demolition of all these structures. Slater said that if the 200-strong congregation was dwindling, they would look at amalgamating with another church and selling off the property. But it’s actually growing, though that includes those who use the church’s many services. “We’re becoming increasingly aware, particularly through our ministry to children and families, of the real crisis with diverse and affordable housing,” said Slater, mentioning seniors who attend weekly coffee meetings and young parents who come to church activities. Sometimes congregants can’t afford a prescription they need, so the church steps in. It has also provided food vouchers, or even a funeral for those in need. In all, she estimates that Oak Bay United provides about $2.5 million annually in community services (calculated by a formula arrived at through research by the Halo Project at McMaster University). Some of it, she noted, comes in the form of saving the community money—for instance when members notice another congregant is unwell, and ensure they receive help before needing an expensive hospital bed. At this point, Slater stopped herself, noting wryly that it sounded as if she’s trying to justify the church’s very existence—perhaps in reaction to the heated atmosphere in the neighbourhood of late. The social services she alluded to have added an extra layer of complexity to the debate. Do such services mean the church deserves more right to develop as it pleases, despite neighbours’ concerns? Continuing the historical overview, Slater told me that a few years ago, the board asked a couple of members to look into options for developing the 56,000-square-foot property, in keeping with the mission and purpose of Oak Bay United Church. That led to them devoting $20,000 to a feasibility study led by Chris Corps, a land economist, which in turn led, in March 2017, to the church board giving unanimous support to applying for a $500,000 loan from BC Housing to do a thorough proposal involving “diverse, inclusionary and affordable housing,” said Slater. “We could make a lot more money if we just put up some luxury condos. But that’s not what this community needs,” said Slater. “And making the most money is not the most important thing to us.” The church got the BC Housing loan, and by last August, its board members had started knocking on doors to inform immediate neighbours that the church was thinking of developing its property. Some became alarmed, Slater said, and asked for a meeting. About 60 people came. They wanted to know the plans, but, said Slater, “We’re not a developer; we wanted input first.” In November, four sessions with “near neighbours” were held. “We asked what would you be most concerned about?’” said Slater. Feedback was all over the map, she said. “We got everything from ‘nothing’ to ‘six stories.’ [On style], we got ‘traditional’ to ‘contemporary.’ We gave all the input to the architect. In mid-December we presented four scenarios for siting and massing to test people’s responses.” (The scenarios involved three-, four- and five-storey buildings; many neighbours were aghast there were no smaller options.) The biggest concerns were around height, density and traffic. “We’ve worked hard to mitigate or solve the concerns people have—which are for the most part legitimate,” said Slater. However, she argued, Granite Street, running parallel to Oak Bay Avenue, is viewed by the municipality as a transition street, from the busy Oak Bay commercial zone to residential. “It is not solely a single-family-home neighbourhood,” said Slater, pointing to the boxy, 3.5-storey Granite House condos across the street towards the Village. “Our project will be much more attentive to the character of the neighbourhood than Granite House.” Reverend Slater is diplomatic when speaking of the resistance to the development: “I am not surprised at the depth of feeling, because everyone values their neighbourhood and wants to preserve what’s best about it. I was distressed by some of the personal comments about our consultants,” along with the level of distrust. “We feel we’re really trying to do something good,” she said. “This is a good way for Oak Bay to contribute to the region and show leadership.” She seems bewildered and dismayed that some people do not trust the church. AN INDICATION OF THAT DISTRUST, and perhaps another brick in the wall between the church and its neighbours, occurred at a meeting of Oak Bay’s Committee of the Whole on January 15. The last item on the agenda was a request from the church that council approve a process to expedite the church’s development application, once submitted, as a pilot project for affordable housing projects. It brought citizens out in force; they filled all the seats and the hallway. Numerous letters of concern had been sent in. Kim Fowler, the planner on the church’s team, explained that they are working on “a minimum, break even” budget, and delays would be costly. She pointed to other municipalities that have adopted streamlined processes or a “concierge”-type service with staff dedicated to ushering non-profit proposals through various hurdles at City Hall. (Fowler played a similar role at the City of Victoria when she worked as the project manager for the Dockside Green redevelopment project). Councillor Tara Ney, noting the evident community interest, voiced a concern that “the amount of time for making decisions, the amount of time for consulting thoroughly with the community—that those parts of the process are not compromised.” Fowler assured her that that would not happen. When Councillor Hazel Braithwaite warned that “it takes a long time to get something correct,” there was applause from the gallery. Braithwaite also suggested that shepherding the application through City Hall was Fowler’s job—and that it would have been “friendly” if the church had notified citizens of its request for expedited service. When Councillor Tom Croft asked, “Where is the extra cost of delay when the church owns the land?” Fowler alluded to an existing mortgage (it is about $300,000), and the escalation of construction costs. At 6 percent, she said, that translates to $170,000 in carrying costs per month. Other councillors noted that with “complicated applications like this,” the best way to expedite it is to have a good application, and to not short-circuit public engagement. Councillor Eric Zhelka advised studying the case of Oak Bay Lodge—which came to council two times with proposals that were both rejected. The lesson being: “Find a design with everyone here [meaning the audience] before you come to council, that everyone can support.” The Committee decided not to even vote on Fowler’s request. Later, Ney told Focus the request for an expedited process was “not an example of good timing.” On a Saturday morning in April, I met with five members of “the resistance” at Sue MacRae’s house, right next door to the church property. They expressed many concerns: about Oak Bay’s infrastructure not being adequate to handle another 100-plus residents on the one-acre site; about the unfairness of the church having $500,000 to put towards developing their plan and doing PR, while their group relies on volunteer time and digs into their own pockets for signs and flyers; and about the size and scale of the proposals they’ve seen and how it will impact their beloved streetscape, characterized by lots of trees and 100-year-old single-family homes. But they were most perturbed by the public consultation process, and the distrust they feel it has fostered. Both Reverend Slater and the church’s development team co-chair Cheryl Thomas have told me that what they were actually trying to do in consultation sessions in the fall was get neighbours’ input before designing anything. But it seems to have backfired, as these neighbours believed that there was a plan, but it was being kept secret. They pointed to the church’s application for a BC Housing loan, which they obtained through a Freedom of Information request. Though 90 percent redacted, it shows that as early as March 2017, the church was outlining options to BC Housing and Oak Bay municipal staff—whereas the neighbours only got notified in August that the church was considering development. Cheryl Thomas assured me that only financial models went to BC Housing, not actual designs, yet it seems clear those would have required some assumptions about size in order to project costs and revenues. Diana Butler, a former mayor of Oak Bay who lives on Granite Street, suggested the fall consultations were mostly for show, and as evidence, pointed to the short time lapse between the November “consult sessions” and the “reveal sessions” in December, at which the scenarios involving 101- to 160-unit buildings were presented. The development team’s unwillingness to entertain a project with a much smaller profile fuelled suspicions around the church’s motivations, as well as its strategy. Two of the church's neighbours, Wayne Todd and Diana Butler At our meeting, neighbour Wayne Randall said he believes it’s now the church’s strategy to focus solely on the wider community and ignore the neighbours. Butler concurs. She has written extensively on the Concerned Citizens’ website (ccn-oakbay.com), at one point writing: “We have spent hours and hours working with the development team to design a better consultation process. We placed our trust in the development team truly wanting to engage the neighbourhood in a meaningful discussion. We are very disappointed that they have so abruptly abandoned this route, in preference to taking their project to the wider community where they hope to get more support.” The development team contracted Gene Miller to help with consultations with this group of neighbours, who say he sincerely tried to help. They told me he met with them separately a couple of times, to try to work out a better process. But, they said, “he failed.” (Disclosure: Gene Miller writes for Focus. I did not know he was involved until recently, and have not had any communication with him about the project.) Curtis Hobson, a special education teacher who lives directly across from the church, told me, “We feel excluded, manipulated, and are being painted as against change or affordable housing.” Hobson and other neighbours I spoke with said they are in favour of affordable housing on this site, but not at the scale the church has in mind. Curtis Hobson and Sue MacRae, both close neighbours of the church's property. Threshold House (in the background) would be demolished to make room for the project. At the meeting, these residents provided me with an outline of what they would accept: A maximum three storeys, with massing along Granite Street, with some variation in height, and a more traditional design in keeping with the neighbourhood. Ideally, they’d like the buildings broken up or clustered so that pedestrians can move through the site. They want to keep Threshold House, but if it must go, they want alternative housing to be provided on the site for the nine vulnerable youth (age 16-22) now housed in its studio apartments. This heritage-style building, they argued, is only 25 years old, fits into the neighbourhood well and serves a valuable purpose. The main stumbling blocks towards agreement, however, will be the massing and the number of units: the neighbours’ wishlist calls for 25-40 suites, whereas the latest church plans (not unveiled when I interviewed them) call for 98. AT A MEETING WITH the Development Team co-chair Cheryl Thomas and architect Rod Windjack, I was shown rough drafts of the plans that will be unveiled at the late-April open houses. Thomas lived in Oak Bay when her kids were growing up, and got involved in the church in 2012—mostly to sing in the choir. She ended up on the board and came to realize “we’ve got to make this place sustainable.” As a congregation, she said, “we wanted to live our values and provide something that was truly needed. Obviously affordable housing is desperately needed.” Windjack, an architect who was involved with the design for the new Oak Bay High School, had his work cut out for him, trying to accommodate the needs of both church and neighbours. Besides the concern over size, he said, one thing that came through loud and clear from neighbours was that the development shouldn’t result in additional parking on nearby streets. This, he noted, created a burden on the church financially, because underground parking is so costly. After numerous iterations, Windjack eventually came up with a 3.5-storey (four floors), L-shaped building with 98 units (predominantly one-bedrooms) and tilted it, so it’s not monolithic from the street. “We’ve tried to deal with how the building responds to neighbours, through how it sits on the site and by playing with the massing of the building—using articulation in front, further extended by our use of materials,” Windjack said. Materials include some brick, echoing the church. The main building has a gently-sloped roof with dormer elements that are common in the neighbourhood. At 51 feet high, it is slightly higher than the ridge line of the church. Oak Bay United Church's 98-unit proposal, unveiled at the end of April In the location where the church office now stands on Mitchell, the project is proposing a three-storey “brownstone” building with four market-priced leasehold units. Parking—for 116 vehicles—would all be underground. Virtually the whole site would need to be blasted (through granite) to create a two-storey parkade, costing about $5 million of the $26-million total price tag. About half would be for church-goers and the other half for project residents. While they cannot prohibit a resident from having a vehicle, they can tell prospective renters that units do not include parking. Residents would have good bike storage and likely a car-share vehicle, perhaps even bus passes, noted Thomas. Everyone with the church and the neighbourhood was in agreement that a green strip, with majestic Garry oaks, that runs along the back of the property, had to stay. Units would be small, even by present standards: one-bedrooms approximately 420-455 square feet, two bedrooms 650-700 square feet, and three bedrooms 850-900. “That’s what makes them affordable,” said Thomas. (Brownstone units are larger.) Rents for the affordable units would be set by BC Housing and CMHC, and rent increases would be tied to the cost of living (not the market). A one-bedroom unit would cost about $1000 per month. Thomas stressed that the development team has tried to accommodate all that they heard from neighbours, but the financial realities are limiting. In their attempt to keep the height to 3.5 storeys, only 50 units will be officially “affordable,” though 44 others are characterized as “market affordable.” The feedback at the Open Houses planned for late April might help them “further refine what we’ve got, but we don’t see major changes,” said Windjack. CURTIS HOBSON DIRECTED ME TO an interesting 2014 article in the United Church’s Observer magazine, called “The Perils of Redevelopment.” In discussing the trends for many churches—declining congregations, rising costs, and the sale or redevelopment of their properties—it warns, “Even a plan conceived with the best of intentions can go horribly wrong.” The article stresses the importance of constructive community outreach, without which, it warns, years can be spent fighting with neighbours and municipal governments. Neighbour Wayne Todd researched every development mentioned in the article and found virtually all of them had been sold or failed, with congregations forced to rent other facilities. But he also inadvertently stumbled on one church project, not mentioned in the Observer article, that worked out well; in fact it may become Canada’s first net-zero-energy multi-family building. Andrew Gregory chaired the planning committee of the North Glenora Community League during the time (2013-2015) the Westmount Presbyterian Church in that Edmonton community sought rezoning for its property in order to put up affordable housing. In a report on it, he stated: “It took dozens of meetings and hundreds of hours of focused effort on both sides to get to ‘YIMBY.’” He mentions the wisdom of arriving at “a mutually understood definition for community engagement.” He writes: “It seems that the Achilles heel of most re-development plans in the city is that too many decisions are made too early without involving the community…committing the developer to a plan before engagement has taken place and derailing authentic dialogue before it can happen.” Certainly in the Oak Bay case, it does not appear that the church went to neighbours with a blank slate. It had priorities and financial realities that led it early on to think big. One major difference between the Edmonton church and the Oak Bay church is that in Edmonton, the North Glenora Community League’s planning committee (all volunteers)—took the reigns to negotiate a community engagement process. Then it took minutes of every meeting which were posted, hosted periodic town halls, and conducted surveys on specific aspects. In Oak Bay, there’s been no similar body providing such leadership. (The Oak Bay Community Association did host a community forum on housing affordability that both sides appreciated.) Another difference: the Edmonton church seemed willing to take its time—two years in total from announcement to passing at Edmonton City Hall—whereas Oak Bay United Church representatives seem in a hurry, and seem to believe they’ve already done much of the community consultation necessary—not the hundreds of hours allowed for in the Edmonton case. By the way, it too started out on shaky ground, but in the end, at the final Edmonton City Hall public hearing, two residents spoke in favour of the development, none opposed, and it passed unanimously. Another noteworthy difference: the Edmonton church’s proposal was for a 16-unit townhouse development for families. EVERYONE I SPOKE TO for this article seems to care deeply about their community and be in favour of some affordable housing on the church property. No neighbours expressed concerns about property values. Even the vociferous ad-hoc group I spoke with would accept a three-story building. Yet even if the church wins wide community support for its project, it may be embarking on a perilous journey. Its financial straits have been alluded to time and time again, in church minutes, at consultations, at council meetings, and during interviews. The church has a $300,000 mortgage now. To create a development on its property, it has borrowed $500,000 from BC Housing (which needs to be repaid, regardless of the outcome). If it gets rezoning approved, it will be borrowing tens of millions more from BC Housing to finance it. Yes, it will get rental income to pay down its debts, but it will also be sacrificing significant space for its activities, along with $100,000 in annual revenues from its thrift store, and $54,000 in annual rent from Threshold Housing Society. These revenues currently get fully spent on church operations and maintenance. Right now, the sanctuary needs an estimated $300,000 in repairs. When Threshold leaves, the church will also have to refund the balance of a loan the housing society provided for renovations—about $40,000 now. But the church is committed to the project. And as of last August, it’s doubtful the congregation could back out if it wanted to. The church board transferred all decision-making to its project development team. In church board minutes, it’s noted that the team, composed of four church representatives as well as some external advisors and consultants, has “commission status,” meaning they have “complete authority” until their mandate expires at end of the rezoning process. “The governing body or executive [of the church] may not debate the commission’s decision and come to a different decision.” Reverend Slater told me she hopes their proposal goes before council in May, and that it’s approved in advance of the municipal election in October. Given the usual pace of the development process, this seems wildly optimistic. Interestingly, the church is already permitted, under its “institutional” zoning, to build three floors of multi-family housing on the church property. But the proposed density will make it necessary to apply for rezoning. For instance, the minimum square footage for a one-bedroom apartment has to be 603 sq ft, not the 420 the church is planning. The project would also take up a far greater portion of the land than its institutional zoning allows. Will a majority of councillors be willing to “spot zone” the development as proposed? Will they give weight to the church’s provision of services and financial need? In light of citizens’ complaints, will they send it back to the drawing board? When I asked Councillor Ney about this, she reiterated the message of the January meeting, that the way to ensure success is to have a robust consultative process, developing rapport with the community and coming up with something that is amenable to all. “For whatever reason,” she said, “the consultation with this proposal went off the rails,” resulting in people being scared and nervous—especially about the massing. Historically, Ney said, Oak Bay was not planned with adequate transition zones between areas of multi-unit buildings and single-family homes. Ney noted that council often has to “soften the edges” of developments so they are not pushed hard against neighbours. But there appears little room for compromise on the part of the church. Thomas said, “Our reality is we’ve made it as small as we realistically can. We are now [in the late April open houses] putting all our cards on the table. This is the best we can do.” So what is the church’s fall-back position if rezoning is refused? Thomas said they would probably have to subdivide, selling off the Threshold building to get enough money to do the needed repairs of other buildings. “There would be no housing. And it puts the church in a precarious long-term position,” she said. It is admirable that Oak Bay United has stepped up to create some desperately needed affordable housing. Reverend Slater might be overly optimistic, but she’s correct in her assessment that the project proposal is “an opportunity for the community to wrestle with the ‘over-development’ issue, and how a community has that conversation.” Leslie Campbell attended the first open house on April 25. She overheard one gentleman saying, “Well, at least it’s going in the right direction.”
  12. If we’re going to lower emissions, allowing Alberta to increase fossil-fuel-related exports will harm the economic prospects of the rest of Canada. WHEN PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU said a year ago that the Alberta oil sands would be “phased out” over time, Albertans were furious. Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who represents Fort McMurray, told CBC, “We certainly don’t need out-of-touch, federal politicians sounding like Jane Fonda on this topic.” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was more circumspect. Still, if Albertans aren’t ready to embrace the end of the oil sands ever, then it’s not surprising some of us are fighting to keep bitumen in the ground. With politics being what it is, we are going about that task in a round-about way. The BC government is heading to court to get a ruling “to reinforce BC’s constitutional rights to defend against the risks of a bitumen spill.” In effect, this should allow BC the right to put limits on what goes into (and comes out of) pipelines that cross our province. If it’s judged that we don’t have that right, I am not sure what the government’s next move is, but many citizens seem ready and willing to block construction if that’s the only option. Meanwhile, BC First Nations are also in court with no less than 15 challenges to Kinder Morgan’s plans. They have been joined by other First Nations. “First Nations all across Canada are not going to let First Nations in BC stand alone in their fight against Kinder Morgan: now more than ever we have to stand up for the water, a livable climate, and a decent future for the next generation,” said Chief Arnold Gardner of Eagle Lake First Nation in Ontario. While the court cases play out, Trudeau and Notley continue to try to sell their scheme of building “a bridge to a cleaner economy” by expanding oil sands production and finding higher-paying overseas buyers. They argue this will be good for the rest of Canada’s economy—that it is in our national interest. But their math doesn’t work. Only if we’re not concerned about all the impacts of fossil-fuel emissions—sea level rise, ecosystem disruption, ocean acidification, desertification, drought, crop failures, and so on—would Trudeau and Notley’s insistence on getting Alberta bitumen to foreign markets make sense. But they say they are committed to capping emissions at a level that will keep us meeting our international commitments, which are aimed at a maximum 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming—necessary to reduce the intensity of all of the above impacts. Canada has agreed to lower annual national emissions to 150 megatonnes by 2050. In 2015 we emitted 722 megatonnes of carbon, so we’ve a long, long way to go. Alberta has agreed to cap oil sands production—currently at 67.8 megatonnes (at least)—at 100 megatonnes annually. Just on the face of it, this is going to pose problems as the “caps” pull in opposite directions. But it’s even more problematic as some number-crunching shows. Last year in Focus, David Broadland showed why it is more than likely that Alberta’s oil sands are already pumping out more than its annual cap of 100 megatonnes of carbon emissions. He pointed out that when applying the nonpartisan US Congressional Research Service figures for average emissions intensity—instead of less reliable Canadian figures—emissions from Alberta’s oil sands (from extraction, upgrading and pipeline transportation) are already at 116 megatonnes, and not at the 67.8 megatonnes that Environment Canada has them. David tried another, more conservative analysis, and got 94 megatonnes. Neither of these totals include “fugitive emissions”that escape from tailing ponds, oil sands mine faces, oil and gas valves, pumps and pipelines. Alberta already produces the lion’s share of those in Canada at 35 megatonnes each year (Canada’s total is 61 megatonnes). Because Alberta and Trudeau’s government only acknowledge 67.8 megatonnes, Alberta has permission to ramp up another 50 percent above current levels. “The contradiction of facilitating oil sands growth while discouraging the use of fossil fuels with a carbon tax or fees is jarring enough,” wrote David. “But the bizarre, long-term consequences for the Canadian economy of these two initiatives, if they both play out as hoped for by Trudeau and Notley, seems to have been overlooked.” Alberta would have a stranglehold on allowable emissions. Bitumen production for export will come to dominate Canada’s national carbon budget. Virtually all other industries will have less and less ability to emit, because the oil sands will be using up our national allowance. As shown in the accompanying graph, by 2045—or 5 years earlier if oil sands emissions have been underestimated—fossil-fuel-export-related emissions will have eaten up Canada’s entire carbon budget. This includes all of Canada’s fossil-fuel exports, not just Alberta’s bitumen. That leaves only 22 years to transform every household and every industry to operating totally carbon-free just so Canada can develop its low-value hydrocarbon export industry. Most of those emissions will be tied to Alberta’s export of low-value bitumen. How will Canada's many industries that have higher value per tonne of emissions than oil sands mining fare in a North American economy in which fossil-fuel exports to the US can't be reduced without that country's agreement? Federal emissions reduction targets (red line) plotted against expected increases in upstream emissions that would result from extraction of fossil fuels destined for export, mainly to the US. The light grey uses emissions intensities claimed by Alberta and Environment Canada. The yellow plot uses emissions intensities from the nonpartisan US Congressional Research Service. The National Observer’s Barry Saxifrage has arrived at similar conclusions. In a recent piece on oil sands domination of future emissions, he writes: “On the present course, almost everything else in Canada would have to shut down for the country to meet its climate change targets.” Saxifrage starts with the current acknowledged emissions claimed by Environment Canada. Still, by 2050, the oil sands will consume 78 percent of Canada’s allowable emissions. More actually, because, as he reminds us, “the Paris Accord requires all nations to set increasingly ambitious targets every five years.” Instead of being part of a climate solution for Canada, he points out, “Alberta’s ‘hard cap’ allows just one industry to consume our nation’s climate goals and obligations.” Saxifrage also does some interesting number-crunching on jobs, which shows the myth-making afoot when Notley and Trudeau say we need to develop the oil sands for our economy. Estimates from Stats Canada and Petroleum Labour Market Information (PetroLMI) show the oil sands provides a paltry 2.5 percent of Canada’s GDP, and only 0.5 percent of Canada’s jobs. It would be folly to think that’s going to get better. Recent data from PetroLMI, Saxifrage notes, show the oil sands industry is on track to reduce its workforce by 21 percent per barrel between 2010 and 2021. “All sectors of the industry—in situ, mining and upgrading—are significantly reducing workers per barrel,” he writes. “Demanning” or “zero manning” the oil sands is how one Cenovus Energy executive describes it to investors. Meanwhile, Suncor is replacing hundreds of its workers with driverless trucks. The math and logic are clear, and so is our moral responsibility to future generations. Canada’s per capita GHG emissions are the third highest in the world. Notley can’t be allowed to increase Albertans share of allowable national emissions for the purpose of increasing fossil fuel exports. To do so would damage the economic prospects of all other Canadians and prevent us from being a good global citizen. Leslie Campbell is Focus’ editor. For more on the numbers, see “Alberta’s Deathgrip on Canada” and check out Barry Saxifrage’s work at www.nationalobserver.com.
  13. Leslie Campbell

    Letters to the editor

    Bridge design flaw hidden for a year David Broadland’s article on the Johnson Street Bridge design flaw—and on the City’s failure to openly disclose it—displays an uncanny level of diligence and public-spirited curiosity, unmatched by anyone in Victoria. Incidentally, the City’s FOI web page contains links to information on the Johnson Street Bridge site. But on January 9, shortly after publication of the Focus story, the links all reveal nothing but error messages. For instance, clicking on the main bridge site link yields the following: “Our site www.johnsonstreetbridge.com is temporarily unavailable due to maintenance.” Did someone at City Hall discover weakness or fatigue in the bridge website as well? Perhaps, as we speak, City Hall staff are furiously bolting steel plates over those website weaknesses as a temporary fix. All under cover of darkness, to be sure. There are two flaws here: the first is in the bridge design; the second is the way the City dealt with the first. Mr Broadland raises some essential questions regarding who knew what, and when. It is simply not credible that none of the councillors were told of the problem shortly after the December 9, 2016 non-compliance report. When they were told—likely no later than December 10, 2016—one has to wonder who advised them that the better path was to keep it undercover and hope that nobody noticed. Fortunately, Mr. Broadland did. And I bet that, upon hearing of the flaw, more than one city councillor uttered two words: the first would have been “oh,” the second starts with “s.” Russ Francis Excellent article by David Broadland on the Victoria Bridge. A wonderful piece of well-researched journalism, highlighting a major problem which will certainly promote rapid corrosion of that structure. After 40 years in the structural steel industry, I have never seen such an appalling patch—which definitely needs a thorough third-party review by an independent engineer, NOT by the engineer of record! Congratulations on a job very well done. Martin Bache I was very interested in David Broadland’s article on the new bridge. Some time ago, an engineer who had been given a thorough tour of the existing Blue Bridge told me that it could be fixed up for about a million dollars and then be good for another 50 years. Here we are, looking at a project riddled with flaws and unnecessary expenditures. Why is it that as soon as people are elected to City council (or any government position) they lose all fiscal responsibility, as well as their common sense? Einstein was right when he said that human stupidity is infinite. Terry J. Waller Bravo on continued attention to the JSB project. Like Ross Crockford, I predicted cost overruns, and as I was enrolled—concurrent to the protest and beginning of the design phase—in the Master’s Certificate in Project Management (UVic Gustavson/Schlich), I saw parallels in examples of failures in the larger world. Once the Sydney Opera House construction got to 100 percent above estimates, there was no turning back. It eventually reached over 1400 percent cost overruns. The bridge requires movement, and was sold to the public as both a seismic event survival essential—as well as a sculptural engineering civic element of pride. I speculate that like the Montreal Olympic Stadium, we will be seeing maintenance and challenges that will bring on unfortunate financial woe now and in the future. How will it cope with wind, and what will be its eventual lifespan? The tale of who knew what, how scope changes were not reported, and the hidden decisions, is ready for the casebook of all studying project management. Keep up the investigative reporting, as no one at City Hall seems to have the big picture—nor public purse—truly in mind. Hugh Kruzel Why isn’t the mainstream media picking up on the scandalous way the City of Victoria has handled the Johnson Street Bridge Replacement Project, as outlined in Focus (Jan/Feb 2018)? David Broadland provides a chronology of the scandalous cost overruns, City council cover-ups, engineering problems, and City staff incompetence. Originally estimated at $40 million, the current estimate is $110 million with the final price tag yet to be determined. To make matters worse, design changes were made to reduce costs, including no budget for “bumpers” or landscaping, reduction in required life span specifications, reduced earthquake resistance, removal of the rail component, etc. Since these amenities and more were part of the original design, the cost overrun is really even more significant. In effect, the City originally budgeted $40 million to buy a Cadillac, and ended up paying $110 million-plus for a motorcycle that may or may not do the basic job. In particular, why isn’t the media outraged at how the City has resisted, thwarted and lied in response to repeated FOI requests by Focus over the past five years? Mainstream media should be ashamed that they have stood by silently, while a small independent bimonthly publication has been left to bear the financial burden necessary to conduct a thorough investigative journalism report on such an important issue. It’s time now for the mainstream media to amplify the message, so it is heard by everyone, not just the subscribers to an independent local, but exemplary, magazine. John Amon I am no engineer, nor a bridge-builder, but when I see patchwork, I can recognize future trouble. As an old-fashioned woman who still does some mending if needed, I know that any worthwhile patching is done in support of the material around it. A hole beside a hole spells danger that one or the other will break away—zip into the one beside it—and the tearing process begins. Besides all the money spent, the time overrun, and the folly of the whole design to begin with, whenever (!) this new bridge opens up for usage, I will hopefully no longer live in Esquimalt and need to cross it on a regular basis. I am a strong swimmer, but I would not like to go down with a bunch of metal on top of me. Gundra Kucy Bravo for Times Colonist editor-in-chief Dave Obee’s commitment to provide “context and analysis about news events” (1/28/18). Unfortunately, it’s been sadly lacking since the two repair patches bolted onto the new bridge came to the public’s attention in early December. Since then, the TC’s reporting on this project reads like public service announcements: “Existing Johnson Street span to close Saturday, open Sunday about 5 p.m. if all goes well.” Obviously, all has not gone well. Where’s the context and analysis offering insight into how and why Victorians got stuck with a brand-new $115 million bridge whose signature feature—the rings—is defaced? In contrast to the TC’s unfulfilled promise is David Broadland’s initial article on the patches, later supplemented online by a second article, with Mayor Lisa Helps’ criteria for trustworthy journalism—hard conversations, good reporting, relationship-building, and serving the public good rather than the journalist’s interests. The criterion of serving the public good coincidentally addresses a problem noted by the mayor in her TC re-election interview (1/1/18). “We come to conversations with our minds already made up and our positions already established. So there’s not room to change our minds.” For me, the public is best served by journalism that opens a person’s mind on an issue and triggers critical reflection on the thinking and assumptions behind his/her position. The outcome may be a changed mind or, equally important, an unchanged but more insightful and considered position. It’s the process behind this outcome that’s important. Agreement or disagreement with the journalist is irrelevant. As for the criterion of hard conversations, was the Victoria News interview with JSB project manager Jonathan Huggett (1/31/2018) a hard conversation? No. Was the TC’s interview with Mayor Helps on her re-election campaign a hard conversation? No. Was Broadland’s piece the beginning of a hard conversation? Yes. On good reporting, all would agree with the mayor that the foundation is the absence of serious factual errors or inaccuracies. Unfortunately, she has provided no examples to support her claim that David’s article was deficient in this way. On the criterion of relationship-building, would a journalist making numerous FOI requests on contentious City issues lose points? In proportion to the resources available at their respective organizations, I wonder what the track record is on making FOI requests for the Times Colonist or other journalists in comparison to Focus journalists. The mayor’s score, based on these criteria: David untrustworthy, and all other Victoria journalists trustworthy. Possibly because I place weight on the criteria differently, my score was different. The one that I undoubtedly value the same as Mayor Helps, and all other readers, is the absence of serious factual errors or inaccuracies. So let’s start there. My ask of the mayor is for her to provide the examples of inaccuracies, to allow David to make any necessary corrections. Then, with an open mind, engage in the hard conversation of how and why Victorians got stuck with a brand-new $115-million bridge where its signature feature—the rings—is defaced? John Farquharson What’s in a name? I have recently heard discussions concerning what to name Victoria’s new bridge. To me it will always be the “Blew Budget Bridge.” Steen Petersen Will “sunshine” finally come to BC? Alan Cassels’ article makes some cogent points, which are unfortunately diluted by a prominent error. The drug referenced in the central anecdote of the story, Prolia or denosumab, is referred to wrongly as a bisphosphonate drug. Then the link between bisphosphonates and osteonecrosis of the jaw and other risks is played up, and the patient’s prescription of denosumab/Prolia accordingly questioned. The other drugs mentioned (Fosamax, Actonel, Zometa) are indeed bisphosphonates. Denosumab, however, as is handily made obvious by its “-mab” suffix, is a monoclonal antibody, a very large multi-protein-chain biologic drug, a wildly different class of molecule than the bisphosphonates which, as their name implies, are fairly simple, double-phosphonate-containing, small molecules. It turns out the difference is not great in incidence of osteonecrosis of the jaw in both denosumab and the bisphosphonates (at about 1 to 2 percent, with no statistically significant difference between them). However, it’s absolutely essential in critiquing pharmaceuticals and medicine that we avoid inaccurate generalizations. The remaining thrust of the article (on conflicts of interest arising from pharmaceutical industry payments to doctors) needn’t be damaged by the error. However, the Canadian initiative mentioned (openpharma.ca), and similar efforts to shine light on physician payments, while laudable in principle, are arguably far less useful for fixing medicine than the initiative AllTrials (http://www.alltrials.net/), which aims to have all clinical trials reported and their data made available. Achieving this would largely obviate the need to report every muffin given or speaking fee paid to a doctor, since the science could be independently verified on whether the drugs truly work. For a superlative backgrounder on the rationale for AllTrials by one of its founders, Ben Goldacre, read his excellent book Bad Pharma. Samuel Mercer Alan Cassels responds: Mr Mercer is totally right in pointing out that I was incorrect when I said that denosumab is a bisphosphonate. It isn’t, and while much of my article talks of bisphosphonates like Fosamax, Actonel or Zometa, it does appear that denosmuab has some of the same adverse effects of the bisphosphonates. I apologize if I have confused my readers. I applaud Mr Mercer for mentioning openpharma.ca and AllTrials, both very good initiatives that will hopefully make our access to independently verified drug research much easier and bring more transparency to physician-pharmaceutical industry relations. One less thing to worry about for BC grizzlies When I came back from the holidays and picked up my copy of Focus, I could not believe my eyes, so I had to read the whole article just to make sure. I was ecstatic about the decision of the NDP government to ban the grizzly trophy hunt. It was obviously the right decision, which was long overdue. However, what disturbs me the most about the whole debate are the motivations pro or against that I read in the newspapers and hear on the news. The only two criteria that are usually considered in the discussions, at least from the government side, are always based on the science and the economy. I am a scientist myself, so I always welcome scientific arguments in support of any decision-making. However, in this particular case, I strongly feel that these are irrelevant. The trophy hunt is ethically immoral above all other considerations. The fact that the government, or the outfitters legally operating in the province, have been accepting big money from individuals coming to BC to shoot an innocent animal from a safe distance, giving it no chance to defend itself, for the sole purpose of taking home a trophy, is, in my opinion, highly unethical. Moreover, at least 80 percent of British Columbians have been consistently and vigorously opposing the hunt for many years, while the Liberal government allowed this shameful activity, undemocratically ignoring the position of the vast majority of the people. In my opinion, ethics and the will of the people are the only criteria which should have been applied to the case of the grizzly bear trophy hunt, regardless of any other scientific or economic argument. I applaud the decision of the NDP government to finally ban the grizzly bear trophy hunt, even though I still doubt that it was made for the right reasons. Nabhraj Spogliarich Victoria’s new policy on short-term rentals Pamela Roth’s article on Victoria’s short-term rentals dilemma (January/February 2018) presents a balanced view of this controversial topic; however, it fails to consider why STRs appear to be exacerbating the housing crisis in every major city around the globe. The new internet-based, unregulated “sharing-economy” business model lies at the heart of the issue. Few governments have been able to exercise their regulatory control or taxation authority over this online lodging-booking platform. The massive expansion of the deregulated global economy over the past two decades, proliferation of off-shore tax-free safe havens, and the rampant growth of investment in a highly speculative asset class such as real estate, has concentrated wealth in fewer and fewer hands. This has eliminated the possibility of earning the decent living required to put a roof over one’s head without assuming intolerable debt levels. Before Airbnb, (the premier “online marketplace and hospitality service” established in 2008), all bed-and-breakfast operators in the City of Victoria were required to obtain a commercial business license to operate as a lodging supplier, and pay appropriate taxes, as hoteliers do. The disruptive digital technology home-sharing enterprise said their business model was simply an intermediary tool to link property owners willing to rent unused space to guests interested in alternative if not cheaper accommodations than those provided by hotels. The crux of their argument is this: data on host properties and transactions is confidential information which cannot be shared with any regulatory agency. Consequently, if said authorities wish to exercise control over the home-sharing economy, they must assume the costs of regulating and monitoring the property owners and housing units listed. New technology offers the means to book temporary use of a room or a home offered by property owners to guests at a suitable price. This, together with the rapid growth of new high-end condos Downtown, serves the interests of developers who sell the units as income-generators. Prospective owners stand to benefit, especially those who seek a financial investment property for part-time personal use. To suggest that City council, which approved the Downtown development permits over the past decade, were unaware that the new units were being used for this purpose, is at best a red herring. Or perhaps just another excuse, like the Johnson Street Bridge fiasco, to remind everyone of their incompetence. Victoria Adams On the frontlines of the opioid crisis The opioid crisis is heart-breaking. The 19-year-old son of a colleague of mine died in his sleep at home in his own bed from an accidental overdose a year ago. The family is still shattered, and likely will be for years. I have a daughter the same age; it could just as easily have been me who lost her child. I feel for all the families whose loved ones have died or are struggling. I am also a naturopathic physician, and believe that we are missing a few pieces to the puzzle of addiction and recovery that could provide tremendous help and could be addressed quite easily. The use of opioid painkillers for acute and chronic pain management could be greatly reduced, if not eliminated, by refocusing pain management on non-addictive methods of treatment, including homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractic. The use of arnica and hypericum as homeopathic remedies given in a specific protocol after surgeries and many injuries would have the potential to drastically lower, or even eliminate, the need for most conventional pain medication. Opioid medication after a back injury was what addicted Ms McBain’s son. Very likely a combination of homeopathy and acupuncture for the acute pain, followed by chiropractic, could have prevented his addiction and death. Physicians need to be educated to either start integrating those methods into their clinical practice, or to collaborate with other trained health care providers such as naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists and chiropractors in an open and respectful manner. I myself underwent a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction due to breast cancer in 2010 and only needed 2 Tylenols at the end of the first day. No other pain killers were given, although the nurses frequently asked if I wanted morphine. My pain was managed perfectly with homeopathic remedies and relaxation tapes. My daughter had three wisdom teeth removed last year, one impacted, and did not require one single painkiller; it was managed with homeopathy. To those calling this anecdotal evidence: there is a long history of clinical use of arnica, hypericum, and other homeopathic remedies for acute pain management and a small body of good, published research as well, showing effectiveness. Most studies are not done by homeopaths, unfortunately, and don’t use the right potency of the remedy and correct frequency of dosing; otherwise, results would be much better. I’m happy to teach anyone interested how to dose correctly to prevent or reduce the use of post-injury and post-surgical painkilling medications. Chronic pain can also be effectively managed with naturopathy, homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, biofeedback, meditation, hypnosis and related methods. There must be supervised injection sites for obvious reasons. And physiological support for withdrawal symptoms at those sites and all treatment centres. Opioid agonists are an obvious helpful choice, but don’t address the neurological damage done by the drugs, and are therefore really only a stop-gap measure. Intravenous amino acids and other nutrients have been used with success in several treatment centres in the US and Mexico, as well as in a number of clinical studies. IV nutrients help deliver amino acids needed to route more neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, directly to the brain, bypassing often-damaged digestive systems. In studies, this has greatly shortened the duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms from a multitude of addictions, including alcohol, cocaine and heroin. Ms McBain’s son could not shake off these physical withdrawal symptoms; this approach might have helped him. In addition, users should be supplied with high quality nutritional supplements, including high-dose multi-vitamins and minerals, additional chromium to help address blood sugar imbalances, lithium orotate and vitamin D to stabilize mood, and vitex agnus castus capsules to reset dopamine receptors. Clients should also be counselled on the benefits of high-protein, high-fat, low-sugar diets, and provided with food vouchers to buy such foods. I believe that using such an integrated strategy could greatly help alleviate the addiction crisis by preventing a large part of it in the first place, and by helping to heal the addicted brain. Dr Anke Zimmermann, ND, FCAH Sewage and science Did CRD staff commit fraud and/or breach of public trust? David Broadland is absolutely correct (November/December 2017). The fact that the enhanced sewage treatment juggernaut rolls on, with no regional opposition, is the real crime here. This is especially true when you consider the political sea change since the senior governments of (BC Liberal) Gordon Campbell and (Conservative) Stephen Harper forced the Capital region into an unnecessary and costly enhanced sewage treatment project. Now, BC Liberals have been relegated to official opposition, and the Capital region’s own John Horgan is premier of a New Democratic government full of south Island ministers. Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau, who campaigned in 2012 for the “anti-sewage treatment” Liberal candidate and the need for “science-based decision-making,” is now Prime Minister. It’s profoundly disappointing that neither have moved to re-examine the need for enhanced treatment ordered by the two Capital region adverse former governments. Perhaps even more disappointing in this new political landscape is the inaction of Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, a “star” scientist who built a career on the impact of greenhouse gases on climate change. Besides hijacking public spending, enhanced sewage treatment will needlessly increase CO2 emissions during construction and operation. But rather than using his new-found power and influence to lobby for transit improvements over enhanced sewage treatment, Mr Weaver instead tables—again—a ride-sharing bill that does little for daily commuters, but benefits American ride-sharing giants like Uber and Lyft. As with Site C, there should have been an independent review of the enhanced sewage treatment requirement in the Capital region. The vast amount of public funds required for this unnecessary project should instead be applied to a regional-based rail transit system. Doing so would not only benefit the region by reducing commuting time and enhancing livability, but the global environment as well by contributing to greenhouse gas reduction. Dave Nonen On the relationship between theatre and memory Monica Prendergast’s article stated: “This generation is living longer than any prior one, and so is also suffering with diseases like Alzheimer’s at a higher rate.” Dr Stephen Genuis, University of Alberta, has three articles online that indisputably reveal how the current neurological disease epidemic, including Alzheimer’s, results from the massive environmentally-dispersed chemical exposures we are all immersed in. It has nothing to do with increased longevity. Just because these diseases show up later in life doesn’t mean that’s their cause. People in their 40s are often showing early signs. The Pesticide Action Network North America corroborates this. See “Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence.” Pitying the aged distracts us from the political indignation and action needed to change policy. We got angry at, even as we suffered from, asbestos, tobacco and thalidomide. We abolished or severely curtailed their use. Let’s summon up the same intelligence and passion to stop all corporate, profit-driven poisoning of our sacred biology. Let’s end this toxic exposure epidemic by our grandchildren’s generation through abolitionist policy. Larry Wartels #MeToo: what’s next? I think the article by Mollie Kaye (January/February 2018) is a welcome note of sanity in a highly-charged MeToo debate which seems to have replaced the real estate market as the most common dinner party conversation. On that note, I wanted to share with you a recent experience with CBC radio. As you know, announcers always announce a piece of music by a symphony orchestra by saying “conducted by” or “under the direction of” X. The CBC announced a piece performed by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, but did not say the conductor’s name. Since the MSO had a prolific and well-regarded recording oeuvre when Charles Dutoit was the conductor, I enquired and found out that the CBC management has issued a directive that Charles Dutoit’s name not be announced and associated with the MSO on air due to the allegations against him, the specifics of which I am not aware. For Dutoit to suddenly become a “non-person” with the CBC struck me as wrong. Perhaps in 30-40 years time, another Trudeau will be standing in parliament and apologizing for the injustices which occurred when people’s careers and reputations were destroyed by mere allegations. I will be taking the latest Focus with me to Sayulita, Mexico next week to read cover to cover. Tony Beckett First things first: Making every vote count The debate over proportional representation (Focus, November/December 2017 and the responding letters in the January/February 2018 edition) brought to mind the time when Sweden decided to switch from left to right side of the road driving: Högertrafikomläggningen, as it’s officially known (or H-Day to avoid this tongue-twister), took place on September 3, 1967, when Sweden switched from left side to right side of the road driving, to coordinate with its immediate neighbours, Norway and Finland. The task was monumental, expensive, and happened despite the majority of Swedes being opposed to it. Switching to a useable PR voting system cannot be as fraught with potential calamity as that which confronted the Swedish decision. And yes, we must get away from first-past-the-post (FPTP), as it plainly only works adequately within a two-party system where the parties are so alike as to be two sides of the same coin—or a system with no political parties if we really want to accommodate a diversity of beliefs and ideologies. Heck, if we really want to stay with FPTP, then we may as well pay people to vote. Berating potential voters for not voting has done nothing to encourage and increase turnout. Pay voters $100 to vote. Federally, that would come to $2.5 billion per election, or $625 million per year—less than 20 bucks a head. And make the $100 tax free. But if we don’t want to encourage voting in such a “mercenary” fashion, then at least let’s (as Leslie Campbell said) start by making every vote count. And let’s convince letter-writer John Amon that he too needs PR. Richard Weatherill One man’s trash: part 2 Seems like more and more houses are just being demolished. Where does all of the stuff go to? How much is recycled, and how much goes to the landfill? I think the City should charge a heavy demolishing fee to encourage people to make good environmental choices. Jean Siemens Woodwynn Farm I have just been reading the letters concerning Woodwynn Farms. in the latest edition. I knew about the Creating Homefulness Society and the good work they are doing, but it wasn’t on my radar recently, so I was unaware of how much it had developed. I am appalled, but not surprised, by the blinkered and short-sighted approach of Central Saanich Council to the request for a change in zoning to house the workers at the farm. However, I would remind those concerned that initially, Saanich Council banned electric cars here, but now things have changed. Sometimes patience is needed. I wonder if an online campaign could be started on behalf of the Society which could be presented to Central Saanich Council with the hope that they might change their minds? Jean Margison Editor’s Note: The Creating Homefulness Society has had to sell the farm property to pay off its mortgage holders.
  14. Is the CRD failing to steward its only regional park in the core of the city? ALONG WITH THE DAFFODILS, new lawn signs condemning “overdevelopment” are sprouting up in abundance in Fairfield and Oak Bay neighbourhoods. Developers seem to be finding lots that have been ignored for decades or tearing down older homes to put up something grander. Churches are selling out to condo developers (Rockland’s Truth Centre), or developing their own “excess” property for affordable rental housing (Oak Bay United). While the condo and apartment projects add density and sometimes greater affordability to help justify the changing face of a neighbourhood, the many new single-family homes do not. Even though the battles are mostly fought on a case-by-case basis, there’s a cumulative impact on neighbourhoods: they look and feel different. As citizens try to modify or halt impending changes to their neighbourhood, they come face-to-face with bureaucracy. People who usually mind their own business and respect authorities blossom into activists, attending City Hall and CRD meetings, diving deep into archival research, organizing meetings and social media. While an engaged citizenry is a good thing, some unfortunately come away soured on local government, skeptical that any justice or sensibleness comes out of these bureaucracies. One proposed new development lies adjacent to Gonzales Hill Regional Park, a charming, bluffy paradise with stunning ocean views in multiple directions. The native satin flower can be seen between rock bluffs in early spring; quail are seen regularly. Though mostly left au naturel, atop is perched the Gonzales Observatory, its whiteness rising from the rock like a Greek villa and housing the office of The Land Conservancy of BC. The property adjacent to Gonzales Hill Regional Park for which variances are being sought by the developer of a single-family home. Gonzales Hill Park is the only regional park in the City of Victoria—and it’s right on the border between Victoria and Oak Bay. At 1.8 hectares, it’s small, but within walking distance of many local residents. CRD stats show 49,060 visitors in 2016. An adjacent, undeveloped, oblong 11,255-square-foot lot that lies along the park’s north border was purchased in 2016 by Walter and Karen Madro after the former owner died. Because she had left the lot in its natural state, it could be mistaken as being part of the park. The proposed 4000-square-foot house at 1980 Fairfield Place will change that perception. Much of the natural rock will be blasted and removed to construct a house with three levels (officially “1.5 storeys plus basement”), connected by an elevator. Plans show a three-car garage, wine cellar, games and fitness rooms. Despite blasting deep into the rock to create the lower level, it will loom high above its surroundings, particularly the neighbours already below the rocky hill. Six to eight small Garry oaks will be removed. Residents in the area began hearing about the development when Zebra Group, on behalf of the Madros, showed those closest to the lot initial plans last August. Louis Horvat, an architectural technologist with Zebra, told Focus, “We’ve welcomed the neighbours to come speak to us. We contacted all who wrote letters to the City’s Board of Variance asking them to meet with us. Only three contacted us.” Horvat says the plans have gone through about eight sets of changes, all to minimize neighbours’ concerns. “We really have made an effort to mitigate any concerns.” A Board of Variance hearing scheduled for January 25 to consider the Madros’ request for five variances to the R1-G zoning of the lot was adjourned to March 22 because the neighbours and CRD Parks Committee Vice Chair Ben Isitt complained about the short, 10-day notice. Since then, neighbours and park lovers have informed themselves more, spoken to officialdom, and organized towards protecting the park. The Madros, meanwhile, have reduced requested variances to two: one asking for a bigger total floorspace than allowed under the zoning; the other to build about 30 feet closer to the rear border. A portion of Zebra Design's application to the Board of Variance showing the proposed location the structure. The lot's border with Gonzales Regional Park is shown by the lower dashed orange line. ON FEBRUARY 21, CRD Director Ben Isitt attempted to get the CRD Parks Committee to weigh in against the Madros’ requested variances at the March Board of Variance (BOV) hearing. In introducing his motion, Isitt said, “This is probably my favourite destination for urban hikes, and I think many Victoria and Oak Bay residents would feel the same way.” His motion was to have the Parks Committee urge the CRD Board to communicate to the City of Victoria’s Board of Variance that it was concerned about the effect of the requested variances on the adjacent park. Isitt’s main argument was that a development on the border of this particular park, because it is so small and central, is more impactful than a similar development would be along the borders of the CRD’s other regional parks, which are far larger—like Thetis or Sooke Hills Wilderness Park or Elk and Beaver Lake Parks in Saanich. “The relative impact is out of proportion to what we would see elsewhere,” said Isitt. The proposed house, he noted, would obliterate “a highly cherished view looking to the north…[to] Haro Strait and the San Juan Islands…I think it’s indisputable that this development, if the variances were granted, would have a substantial negative impact on the use and enjoyment of Gonzales Hill Regional Park by park visitors.” He urged the CRD committee to provide additional comment to the one staff had already submitted to the BOV, “which indicated the CRD had no opinion on the application.” A CRD Parks staff report on the matter noted, “The main focus for visitors to Gonzales Hill Regional Park is the view from the bluffs to the south…rather than north;” and concluded the variances “would not result in adverse effects on park visitors when compared with the construction of a house on the property as currently allowed under the City of Victoria’s zoning bylaws.” Seven neighbourhood members and two spokespersons for the developer made presentations that day. Zebra’s Horvat explained the two variances being requested—one for total floor space, and one for the rear setback—and how the shape and topography of the site made them necessary. He said, “we feel we have produced a design that meets with our clients’ needs, minimizes the impact on the neighbours, and had the least amount of impact on the site and surrounding area.” Liane O’Grady, who lives near the park, took issue with Zebra’s assertion: “It may meet his client’s wants for a larger, grander house. It may maximize the profit, but it compromises the interests of the general public and all the people who live in the area.” Showing a slide of the property, she continued, “All of what you see here above would be destroyed, and it would detract from the overall experience in the park…” Scott Chapman who lives just below the high bluff on which the Madros house will be built, told the CRD Parks Committee: “The granting of both or either of these variances on the size of the house and the setback will intrude massively on the park, altering this space forever for future residents and users, and it also severely intrudes on the sunlight and shadowing on the adjacent property owners who expect that the bylaws for building be upheld, especially in this very sensitive region." Cheryl Shoji, who, with Brad Atchison, lives on the west side of the lot, called her presentation “The Rock—the Jewel of the Hill.” Noting how it provides habitat for quail and other birds, as well as some rare plant species, she said, “[it] should not be flattened and destroyed for the pleasure of a single family home.” Atchison, who has a post-graduate degree in biology as well as an MBA, told the Committee that even though he was “the most impacted neighbour,” he and his wife were willing to have the house move 66 feet closer to them. He implied this would be better for the Garry oak ecosystem. “In urban landscapes, the preservation of these unique biodiversity islands is critically important…On the basis of climate change alone—which the CRD views as the most important governance and action imperative—the region needs an intact Garry oak forest ecosystem.” He suggested that the property owner would be “blasting away at least $400,000 of an ancient, panoramic landform with spiritual value to produce rubble.” Alternate Director and City of Victoria Councillor Jeremy Loveday also supported Isitt’s motion. He referred to a survey reported on earlier at the meeting which “showed that for those who don’t attend regional parks, the second highest reason that they don’t go to those parks is because they’re too far. For many Victorian residents, Gonzales Hill is the only regional park that they frequently attend, and for some it is the only regional park that they can access. These facts all lead me to think that it’s perfectly reasonable for this committee to take a position on this application as we are a directly affected neighbour.” But the Chair of the Regional Parks Committee, David Screech, mayor of View Royal, disagreed. He took issue with the matter even being on the agenda, feeling it inadvisedly “politicized” a decision that should be left to staff. “This is a City of Victoria decision. It’s not a CRD decision,” he argued. “Variances have nothing to do with us, and the Board of Variance is supposed to be a unique, independent body that does not suffer from political interference. To me, this is political interference. Just on that basis, I can’t support it.” Isitt had also pointed out that not only is Gonzales Hill Park the only regional park within the Victoria/Oak Bay municipalities, but that residents of those two cities contribute about one-third of all park funds, but have only 0.015 percent of the land base of regional parks located within their municipal borders. In response, Screech said: “The simple fact is that the vast majority of the users of regional parks come from Victoria, Oak Bay, and Saanich. It follows that those municipalities would be paying a higher proportion of it. I don’t feel that Victoria’s hard done by it.” When Isitt tried to respond, Screech said, “No, we don’t need to debate it, I’m the chair and I get the last word. That’s my response to your comments.” The vote was called; it was tied, 4 to 4 (Price, Screech, Kasper, and Seaton opposed; Isitt, Loveday, Williams, Plant for) which meant Chair Screech got to call it. The motion was defeated. THAT DEFEAT NATURALLY DISMAYED the other neighbours of Gonzales Hill Park. They had hoped the CRD would be a powerful ally standing against the variances because of its impact on Gonzales Hill Park and park users. It was also a rude awakening: it seemed the CRD couldn’t be bothered protecting this beloved park. A January 25 letter from General Manager of Parks & Environmental Services Larisa Hutcheson to Fairfield Place resident Atchison had bolstered this judgement. In response to Atchison’s letter pleading with the CRD to take some interest and at least be at the BOV hearing, Hutcheson stated: “After careful consideration, in staff’s view the requested changes would not significantly impact the experience of park users when compared with the existing permitted construction of a single-family dwelling on that lot.” Atchison questions the “careful consideration,” arguing that the CRD needs to conduct a scientific Environmental Impact Assessment along with a park user survey to really understand the development’s impact. Atchison also criticizes the CRD for rejecting a proposal of the Madros in late 2016 to gain access to their property from the Gonzales Hill Park parking lot, which, according to Rus Collins of Zebra Design, would have reduced the amount of blasting, and minimized the environmental impact. He wrote in a submission to the BOV that the Madros, in exchange, “were willing to donate a portion of their property to the park and work out a covenant agreement to protect the trees at the Fairfield Place end of their site.” Zebra’s Horvat also assured Focus that that access would have been over grass and broom and was “the least affecting for the habitat.” The CRD, through Communications Senior Manager Andy Orr, told Focus, “Access through the parking lot was declined because the request would reduce available parking by one spot. Parking is already limited at the park. The request for use of the parking space was for the construction of a driveway across the rocky bluff and meadow within the park. This request was determined to adversely affect the park.” Isitt told Focus he too was not in favour of an easement through the park. Isitt plans to try again to get the CRD to voice concern when the whole Board meets on March 14. Once again, the neighbours will attend and speak in support of the motion. The subsequent important date for them, and the Madros, is March 22, when the City’s Board of Variance will consider the two requested variances—one for an additional 769 square feet of total floor space (above the allowed 3229), and one for a 29.75-foot reduction in setback from its rear border. Isitt said, “A bigger house [than zoning allows for] will have more of an impact on the park.” But Zebra, on behalf of its client, will explain at the hearing that the lot imposes “hardships” because of its irregular shape and a very steep grade in sections due to a 30-foot ascent from Fairfield Place to the top of the hill. It will also point to the report of Julie Budgen, a professional biologist and environmental planner with Corvidae Environmental Consulting Inc. She wrote, “Considering the biophysical features, habitat and available information, Corvidae is of the opinion the proposed project is best sited on the rock outcrop. Locating the project at this location will minimize the overall impact to the existing wooded area.” Every municipality in BC has a Board of Variance (BOV), as mandated under the Local Government Act. It is a quasi-judicial body made up of volunteer members appointed by City Council, but independent of it. As the City website explains: “If a hardship is established, the Board may grant the minimum variance that it believes is necessary to alleviate the hardship. However, the Board may deny the variance request if it feels that the proposed variance would substantially affect the use and enjoyment of a neighbouring property, harm the natural environment or defeat the purpose of the Zoning Regulation Bylaw.” Minutes from past BOVs are on the City’s website, and it is easy to scan through them and notice that most requested variances are unanimously approved. The City states the BOV must be “persuaded that the present zoning creates an undue hardship unique to the property in question.” In one case where a variance was denied, the minutes state, “Board is sympathetic to time, money and material waste—although cannot consider these as hardships.” The Board seems to give weight to neighbours’ opinions, but even when neighbours show up to complain, variances are often approved. The BOV’s final deliberations are carried out in closed sessions and all decisions are final; there is no appeal. Currently chaired by Andrew Rushforth, one of the BOV’s other four members is Rus Collins, principal designer and owner of Zebra Group, the developer of the Madros’ property. He will recuse himself from the deliberations on this property. But for Atchison, it’s still a bit too cozy to not potentially influence the BOV. He and other citizens exposed to the BOV process feel it is time for some serious revisions. One Rockland citizen, about a different development, noted in an exasperated email to Focus, “The BOV has no accountability and there is no oversight. Who ensures they comply with the BOV bylaw? Who defines ‘minor’ variance, who defines ‘hardship?’” The City of Victoria too has expressed concern about the Board of Variance process. On February 8, City council unanimously passed a resolution (moved by Councillors Isitt and Madoff) to the Union of BC Municipalities to ask “the provincial government to review the provisions of the Local Government Act relating to Boards of Variance and consider amendments to ensure that the issues of public accountability, transparency and local democracy are upheld.” The prelude to this motion noted that “deliberations of local Boards of Variance provide minimal opportunities for public comment on the requested variances, and provide no role for comment from the elected council of a municipality or the board of a regional district in unincorporated areas.” Even if the Madros’ variances are denied, it’s doubtful that neighbours will be happy with the situation. Virtually any house on that site will reduce the privacy of neighbours, involve noisy blasting and construction, and block some views from the park. But it’s one of very few official avenues they have to speak against it. WHY DIDN'T THE CRD BUY THE LAND ITSELF? It would have enlarged Gonzales Hill Park in a significant way, providing more of a wildlife corridor, retaining views, and certainly keeping the neighbours and numerous park users happy. The lot in question was listed at $1 million, but there is plenty of money in the CRD’s Land Acquisition Fund, which gets an injection of about $4 million every year through a $20 levy on all CRD households. In the past two years, land purchases totalling $2.62 million have been made, but a healthy fund remains—and grows annually— at least until 2019 when it’s up for review. It can be used for no other purpose than park land purchases. Focus asked the CRD why it hadn’t bought the land. An emailed response from the communications manager stated: “The Oak Bay/Victoria part of the Capital Region was not one of the priority areas of interest for park land acquisition. Details about specific land acquisitions are confidential.” Interviewed in his home at the base of the steep hill on which the Madros will build, Atchison said it is a shame that the CRD did not purchase the lot when the opportunity presented itself. The CRD’s land acquisition strategy report notes that “To be effective, the land acquisition strategy needs to account for opportunistic acquisition of important lands.” Atchison told Focus he’d lead a fundraising campaign in the community, though he believes the CRD should pay for part of it, with the City of Victoria helping. The CRD should, if necessary, even expropriate the lot, he said; and the Madros should be “made whole,” by which he means reimbursed for their lot at fair market value. While it seems unlikely, he hasn’t given up hope yet. Atchison is clearly disgusted with the CRD’s lack of good stewardship of Gonzales Hill Park, noting among other things, “They have spent squat” on the park’s maintenance. However, he is most vociferous in his condemnation of the governing body’s disengagement around the zoning issue. As he stated in a letter to Screech, “the way the CRD has reacted to-date in handling this situation reinforces, unfortunately, the commonly-held perception of the CRD as an unaccountable, unelected local government, largely unresponsive to community needs with a costly staff complement of about 1200 people.” He and his neighbours are now linking up with concerned citizens in other Fairfield, Rockland, and Oak Bay neighbourhoods to fight what they see as disrespectful “overdevelopment.” Leslie Campbell lives within walking distance of Gonzales Hill Park.
  15. We’re all immigrants, but the newest amongst us make great sacrifices to keep our country strong. OVER THE PAST FOUR YEARS my family has been blessed to have Cristina Katigbak in our life. As the live-in caregiver for my mom Jade, Cristina made it possible for Mom to remain comfortably in her home, even as she nears 90 with a condition that robs her of her mobility. My sisters, who reside in Vancouver, and I have been able to rely heavily on Cristina, knowing she was fully capable, honest, kind and wise. Mom had gone through all sorts of health issues leading up to Cristina’s arrival—I have not-so-fond memories of at least three longish stays in the hospital with additional trips to Emergency. But in the four years with Cristina, there’s been a general calmness and stability for Mom, with not one hospital stay. Cristina Katigbak and Jade Campbell Trained as a nurse in the Philippines, Cristina and her family had emigrated originally to Ireland. But then the UK changed its immigration policy in a way that denied them any hope of citizenship, despite employers who were keen to keep them. After four years there, Cristina applied to come to Canada. Well over a year’s worth of bureaucratic processing ensued before she was accepted as a caregiver for my mom. Her husband and son, however, had to head back to Manila. Canadians are ever-so-fortunate that Cristina and many other Filipinos are willing to sacrifice so much to come here as caregivers for our elderly and people with disabilities. We are also lucky that they have usually stayed in Canada despite being parted from their own families for many years. Though they are able to apply after two years of approved, continuous employment, for permanent residency—which allows for family members to immigrate—the reality is, due to backlogs caused years ago, it’s often many more years before they can be reunited. It took “only” two additional years in Cristina’s case, but cases of six or more years are not uncommon, resulting in arduously long marital separations and children growing up without their moms. Frustratingly, there seems no way of knowing where one’s application for permanent residency is among the piles that must occupy officials’ desks. Thankfully, in December, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen promised to process 17,000 backlogged permanent residency applications from live-in caregivers in 2018—leaving another 19,000 for the two subsequent years. Despite such discouraging wait times and other obstacles, the Philippines—the source of so many caregivers—is Canada’s fastest growing subgroup of immigrants and top source of new permanent residents. In the last census, their population here stood at 837,130, which is about 2.4 percent of Canada’s population. Cristina supported her family financially through her work with us. Once she had her “open work permit” after two years with my mom, she took another job on the weekends. Like so many other Filipinos I’ve met over years of care for both my mom and father-in-law Bob Broadland, working hard seems part of her nature. Last summer, after what at the time seemed interminable delays, Cristina got her permanent residency, and after another two months her family was approved and in Victoria. Within a few weeks of arrival, both husband Joey and son C.J. had jobs—in construction and cleaning services respectively. I have no doubt they are valued by their employers for their conscientiousness and intelligence. Despite her family living here in an apartment, not to mention her ability to get a higher-paying job elsewhere, Cristina committed to staying with Mom till December 20th. There were tears all round on Cristina’s final day of work with us. We wish her and her family the very best, and plan to keep her in our lives if at all possible. She and Mom have developed a strong bond that will be impossible to replace. Cristina is a quiet, uncomplaining person, but over the years I was able to appreciate what an immense sacrifice she and her family had made. In the hopes of a better future, mostly for their son, they had agreed to live apart—for years. “Thank God for Skype,” she’d often say. And I’d think, thank God for Cristina—and for the immigration program that made it possible. CRISTINA CAME TO US under what was known as the “federal live-in care program.” The government, recognizing there were not enough Canadians willing to be full-time nannies or caregivers, allowed families like mine—after jumping through hoops that usually required help from an immigration consultant—to employ a foreign resident full-time, paying at least minimum wage. After two years of approved live-in work, they became eligible to apply for permanent residency and could work wherever they wanted. With our aging populations, seniors facilities and home support agencies were—and remain—happy to employ them. An in-home care “pathway” to residency is still available, but the rules have changed considerably in the past few years. Recall the 2014 eruption of indignation about McDonald’s hiring foreign workers over local Canadians. That led Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to make hasty changes which swamped the live-in program in its wake. Going forward, caregivers were lumped into a tightened-up Temporary Foreign Worker program. Wages are determined so differently now (so as not to undercut Canadian citizens) that the minimum one must pay a foreign caregiver in the Victoria area is $18.93 per hour. The wage is the median paid in this geographical area for “similar” work, all determined by a head-spinningly obscure process. On the Lower Mainland, the wage is $16 per hour. It was already a stretch for most families to employ someone full-time, so no doubt the new minimums are leading more frail seniors—my mom among them—to head to a publically-funded nursing home. Obviously, this will cost taxpayers more. DESPITE SUCH MADDENING IMPERFECTIONS in Canada’s immigration system, a scan of the headlines coming out of the US leaves me feeling somewhat smug about Canada’s approach and attitudes about immigration. The US’s xenophobic travel bans, wall-building fantasies, round-ups of “illegals” and its president’s utterances on the subject all seem designed to terrorize immigrants. When President Trump praised Canada’s merit-based system as worthy of emulation, he seemed to be confused, apparently believing that our system would help him reduce immigration to the US. Yet our government and industry leaders understand that for Canada to thrive economically we absolutely require immigrants—and more of them, given declining birth rates and an aging population. Since the 1960s—when the federal government removed race, colour, and nationality as considerations—Canadian immigration policy has aimed at being responsive to the nation’s labour force needs. This is done through a point system in which work skills, education levels, language ability, and family connections are the main considerations in determining about 60 percent of Canada’s annual 300,000 immigrants. On November 1, 2017, the Canadian government announced its “multi-year immigration plan” that aims to bring 980,000 permanent residents in over the next three years. The economic (point-based) class will continue to account for the majority (58 percent) of all admissions; the family class will account for 28 percent; and 14 percent will be admitted under the humanitarian and refugee categories. Many would like to see even more immigrants welcomed here. A new report from the Conference Board of Canada states: “If Canada were to welcome 450,000 immigrants per year by 2025, real GDP would grow by an average of 2.05 percent annually between 2017-2040. This is 0.20 percentage points higher than the estimated 1.85 percent growth currently forecast.” But even at 300,000 immigrants per year, Canada “boasts one of the highest per-capita immigration rates in the world, about three times higher than the United States,” writes author Jonathan Tepperman in a recent New York Times article. Calling our approach “radically rational,” Tepperman notes: “Canada’s foreign-born population is more educated than that of any other country on Earth. Immigrants to Canada work harder, create more businesses and typically use fewer welfare dollars than do their native-born compatriots.” While there’s much more to ponder and debate on the subject of immigration policy, I am confident that, like Cristina and her family, the vast majority of immigrants enrich our communities and nation both economically and culturally—as workers, taxpayers, citizens, consumers, and entrepreneurs. My family feels proud to have played a role in Cristina’s journey towards Canadian citizenship—not so much because we helped Cristina. We actually helped make Canada great, period. Like all Canadians, with the exception of First Nations peoples, Leslie Campbell is only a generation or so away from ancestors who immigrated to Canada, in her case Scottish economic migrants.