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Focus Readers, March 2015

TC’s coverage of Richard Atwell

David Broadland’s piece on the Saanich municipal election, its aftermath and the way other news media outlets covered it is the finest piece of municipal reporting I have seen in a long time (Focus, February 2015).

Broadland’s points on the all-too-common use of “sources say” are well-taken. In addition, news media outlets that regularly recite the phrase might want to consider that to the informed reader, it hints at a questionable story.

Some respected newspapers simply will not run stories that include any anonymous sources. At the very least, the “sources” (and I suspect there is often only one) should be identified in general terms, such as “a Saanich police department employee,” even if their names are not published.

Thanks again to Broadland for taking a hard look at the previously unreported murkiness in the back rooms of Saanich’s Old Guard.

By Leslie Campbell, March 2015

Living with wildlife can be a community-building project. Oak Bay chose a different path.

Reading Oak Bay’s Request for Proposal for the contractor that will kill up to 25 deer, one gets a glimpse of the difficulties envisioned. Besides the required covered truck, steel-toed boots, smart phone, and data plan, the RFP warns applicants in bold: “Experience dealing with angry, aggressive or hostile people an asset.”

By David Broadland, March 2015

Engineers recommended a high level of seismic protection for the new bridge and then, as their cost estimates went south, they secretly cut that level of protection to the bone.

A document obtained through an FOI shows that the new Johnson Street Bridge could experience “possible permanent loss of service” following a magnitude 7.5 earthquake that engineers have estimated has a “30-35 percent chance of occurring within the next 50 years.”

By Briony Penn, March 2015

The federal government seems intent on propping up corporate fish farming despite the high costs.

On the afternoon of February 10, a whale watching boat docked at Port McNeill, packed to the limit with 48 Malcolm Islanders from the small village of Sointula. 

They weren’t whale watchers; well, not the usual type. These were shrimp fishermen, fishing lodge operators, First Nations people, residents, members of local organizations, and biologist Alex Morton, who were coming to an open house of Grieg Seafood, the company that is proposing an expansion of two salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago that would set a precedent of replacing shellfish tenures with finfish. The reason the islanders were delivered by a whale watching boat was because their ferry doesn’t run passengers on Tuesday afternoons; the meeting was scheduled at the time when it only carries dangerous cargo. 

By Judith Lavoie, March 2015

Divestment on its own won’t keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground—but it might help.

The divestment movement estimates it has encouraged over $50 billion to be moved out of fossil fuel stocks worldwide in the last two years. From the industry’s viewpoint, however, in the context of trillions invested in fossil fuels worldwide, such divestments from university foundations and endowment funds amount to peanuts.

But that is not the point, say divestment advocates, who want to persuade universities and other institutions to ditch carbon-related stocks. They point to recent slightly testy responses from the energy industry as proof the divestment movement is being taken seriously.

By David Broadland, March 2016

In trying to save the McLoughlin Point plan, CRD staff instead shoot it in the foot.

Eleven months after Environment Minister Mary Polak refused to support the CRD’s effort to force a central sewage treatment plant on Esquimalt, CRD and Seaterra Commission staff continue to spend tax dollars trying to make it happen anyway.

That was evident at a February 18 meeting of the CRD sewage committee. CRD staff delivered a report on the status of the $255 million Hartland resource recovery centre, which was well into the procurement stage when Seaterra was officially paused last July. 

By Gene Miller, March 2015

Past cultures were gone in a generational eye-blink. Strap in, brothers and sisters!

It just hit me: I’m 71; I might live another 25 years and get to see how it all turns out. I mean, my mom died precisely on her 96th birthday (no, I did not sing “Happy Birthday” as she expired); and Doutza, my adoring 28-year-old ex-fashion model wife, and our two gorgeous and talented children want me to live forever. Okay, that last bit’s pure fiction. Doutza’s 31.

I’ve been reading synoptic reviews of the apparently silly and execrable but eye-popping movie “Interstellar.” Near future, Earth in ecological collapse (like that could ever happen), humanity decimated and reduced to agrarian survival, last viable crop (corn) failing, time running out, helpful aliens, wormholes to other habitable planets, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, black holes, happy endings. 

By Amy Reiwig, March 2015

Jordan Stratford’s feminist adventure story helps girls reboot their own reality.

I first met Salt Spring Island writer Jordan Stratford in 2011, when he organized the Victoria Steampunk Expo at Craigdarroch Castle. Nestled in the musician’s alcove, my brother and I were doing a theremin demo, awed at how Stratford, in his be-goggled top hat and mechanized wrist bracer, had wrangled a motley group of vendors, artists, performers and costumed patrons into this wondrous creation of a new-old, retro-futuristic world within the castle walls. 

By Aaren Madden, March 2015

Nancy Ruhl’s paintings offer vivid homage to domestic architecture while documenting a changing cityscape.

An acrylic on board painting by Nancy Ruhl shows a periwinkle blue Queen Anne bungalow. With the house’s lacy white trim shining, the whole structure seems to reach upward to the sun’s warming rays. The dappled trim and effusive blue are made all the more prominent by contrast to the deep blue-black sky. The small corner lot’s bright green grass and fat round shrubs soften the architectural angles and create a balanced scene. It’s a quintessential central Victoria home. But look in the lower left. A square white sign buttressed by two-by-fours doesn’t display any text, but will still be recognizable to many, and is also the title of the work: “Land Use Application.”

By Robin J Miller, March 2015

Dance Victoria brings Compagnie Käfig to the Royal Theatre, March 13 and 14.

Compagnie Käfig is the second all-male dance company to arrive in Victoria as part of Dance Victoria’s 2014-2015 season. But do not expect this company to resemble the UK’s BalletBoyz in any way except for their explosive maleness. Unlike the (for the most part) classically trained Boyz, the 11 men of Compagnie Käfig come directly from the favelas—the notorious slums of Rio de Janeiro. And it shows.

Their movement is fiery and raw and full of personality: Each dancer is an individual with a story to tell. Yet they also work as a collective to move beyond mere physical virtuosity to present pieces with true artistic and emotional depth, and that is the work of the company’s French/Algerian artistic director and primary choreographer, Mourad Merzouki.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, March 2015

A small house doesn’t have to be a big compromise.

Is it just my rose-coloured glasses or am I finally seeing some real incremental change in the way we do housing on southern Vancouver Island? I realize the sprawling mansions will always be with us—probably one day destined to repeat local history and be split into multiple units—but smaller homes seem to be gaining local favour.

Focus Readers, February 2015

Saanich spyware issue

On January 14 two conflicting press releases were issued regarding Saanich Mayor Atwell’s allegation of spyware software being installed on his work computer without his consent. The press release from Saanich claimed the installation is legal, but the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner suggests it violates privacy law.

The Saanich statement acknowledged that Spector360 software was purchased on November 21, 2014 (just after the municipal election while Mayor Leonard was apparently still responsible for the municipality).The software vendor says it is meant to “Deter, detect and detail harmful employee activity.” Basically it takes a picture of the computer screen every second and logs every keystroke.

By Leslie Campbell, February 2015

Green candidate Jo-Ann Roberts reflects on why a strong public broadcaster is important to democracy.

On the evening of January 28, a couple of hundred Victoria-area citizens were given a sneak preview of Peter Smoczynski’s film-in-progress about voter suppression tactics used in the 2011 federal elections—something which  journalist Michael Harris calls “the biggest unsolved crime in Canadian electoral history.” 

By David Broadland, February 2015

In their coverage of two stories, was the local daily concocting a case for an overturn of November’s election in Saanich?

Bill Cleverley, municipal affairs reporter for the Times Colonist, described his “favourite news story of 2014” in a December 20 piece called A gotcha moment on April Fool’s Day: “Working with Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard and Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen, we concocted a story about them approaching the Province to rename the University of Victoria to the University of Saanich Oak Bay—USOB—to better reflect where the campus is located.” 

By Derry McDonell, February 2015 (Updated)

Will breaking into two groups create a consensus solution on sewage treatment? Or new unresolvable problems?

Last August Saanich councillor and CRD Director Vic Derman presented a motion calling for the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee, otherwise known as “the sewage committee,” to shift its focus away from a “one size fits all” approach. He advocated a best practices sounding of “individualized” solutions to sewage treatment. 

The motion failed to pass. The sewage committee remained wedded to the plan to put a single treatment plant at McLoughlin Point. 

Since then, however, the CRD’s failure to get the necessary zoning for McLoughlin—along with local elections in Greater Victoria— appear to have altered both the balance of votes at the sewage committee and the will to consider alternatives to the original plan. 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, February 2015

The extraordinary potential of Vancouver Island forests to sequester carbon is being lost due to government inaction.

Vicky Husband, one of BC's best-known environmentalists and a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of BC, states the situation in her typical forthright fashion: “Our forests are being completely plundered. It’s a cut-and-run approach that isn’t providing local jobs, isn’t going into value-added products, and certainly isn’t seeing money coming back into the pockets of the people of BC. Forest management in BC, as it is practised today, is none of those things.”

It also isn’t helping preserve the capacity of BC’s unique coastal forests, world-famous for their huge and ancient spruce, fir and cedar, to absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and sequester that carbon in those giant trees. 

By Judith Lavoie, February 2015

The low price of oil is raising big questions around pipeline proposals, BC’s carbon tax, emissions, and consumer behavior.

Lineups materialized at the Costco gas bar as soon as the price of regular gasoline dropped below one dollar a litre. The prospect of a deal brought Greater Victoria’s avid bargain hunters rushing to Langford to fill their tanks—with some then returning later to fill the second family car. 

In the short term, BC consumers are revelling in the pocketbook bonuses provided by dropping oil prices. British Columbians are largely unaffected by the major concerns plaguing their Albertan neighbours who are looking at oil patch job losses, oil sands projects on hold and the prospect, according to Premier Jim Prentice, of this year’s projected $1.5-billion surplus turning into a $500-million deficit.

By Alan Cassels, February 2015

A Victoria resident spearheads a national vaccine compensation movement.

Bob Martin is the kind of guy who inspires people to action. Fit, energetic, with a wry smile, a spiky crewcut and sparkling eyes, Martin exudes so much energy you’d think this 77-year-old has never had a health problem in his life. You might have met him in the Oak Bay Rec Centre where he works as a personal trainer, easily passing for someone 20 years his junior. One thing you learn very quickly about Bob is that he’s a man with a mission. 

In October 2010, two weeks after getting his routine annual flu shot, Martin lapsed into a severe case of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a disorder where the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. It left him paralyzed for eight months, four of which were spent in intensive care, so weak and disabled he needed a machine to do his breathing for him. 

By Gene Miller, February 2015

This City has been managed by stewards, not visionaries…until now.

The CD liner notes state that only once in his career, a century ago, the German symphonic composer Engelbert Humperdinck transcended his own talents and reached a higher musical plane. Königskinder (The King’s Children) has “genuine qualities,” sniffs the writer, but it is in Humperdinck’s opera Hansel und Gretel alone that the “mysterious phenomenon occurs when talent becomes genius.”

What a succinct and tantalizing formulation: that “mysterious phenomenon…when talent becomes genius.”

Taking nothing away from the musical locus of this idea, I want to shift its thesis from artistic creativity to local civic leadership. In offering this narrative, I don’t have an especially credentialed viewpoint, only a 45-year resident’s perspective.