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Focus readers, November 2015

An absence of evidence

Great article by David Broadland on the sewage plant and evidence-based decision making. Unlike many opinion pieces, you actually name names, particularly Murray Rankin’s. Good for you!

I have been an opponent of the sewage plant pretty much from day one and particularly from the point that I read the SETAC Report which acknowledged there was no science behind the decision. Yes, it did weakly endorse the project, saying we should do it anyway to improve our image, and—really big arm-wave here—because sometime in the future when the population increases the ocean-based system might actually have a real problem with polluting the marine environment.

By Leslie Campbell, November 2015

Let’s make sure that next time we can vote our conscience and know it will count.

As I was working out the details of how I would get my mom, Jade, to the polls on election day, her careworker Cristina asked if there might be trouble. Trouble? What do you mean, I asked. She told me how the Philippines had often had trouble with “flying voters”—referring to electoral fraud where people are paid to get on lists illegally and vote a certain way. Well, there might be some robocalls misdirecting people to the wrong polls, but as far as I know, no “flying voters.”

By David Broadland, November 2015

Was the surveillance software installed on the newly-elected mayor’s computer by Saanich staff a case of tit for tat?

Late last May I received an interesting phone call from Dr Gerald Graham. Graham had made a presentation to an August 14, 2013 CRD Board meeting at which an extraordinary incident had occurred minutes before he spoke. When Graham phoned, he told me he had filed an FOI for whatever investigation of the incident had been undertaken by the CRD. He told me there was no doubt at the CRD about who was responsible for the incident and that the FOI records he obtained showed this. When I asked if he would share those records he was non-committal. In the end he didn’t  share them. I’ll come back to Graham and draw a connection to the infamous installation of surveillance software on Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell’s computer, but first let me tell you about what happened at that 2013 CRD Board meeting.

By Judith Lavoie, November 2015

“Housing First” is easier in theory than in practice, especially given multiple municipalities and lack of senior government support.

Solving chronic homelessness is pretty simple—give people homes, says Sam Tsemberis, the psychologist-turned-outreach-worker credited with eliminating persistent homelessness in cities across North America, from New York City to Phoenix, Arizona.

It seems self-evident. A nice, neat solution, requiring only large cash injections, that will allow everyone to live happily ever after, with the streets cleared of the evidence of human misery now seen every day in the parks, doorways and alcoves of Greater Victoria.

By Briony Penn, November 2015

The rise and fall of fish farming in Ahousaht territory.

Qaamina Hunter starts our telephone conversation by telling me I’ve reached the general store in Ahousat village. I apologize that I have called the wrong number (Is there a general store in Ahousat?). Then I hear him laugh. Judging by the children’s voices in the background, it might as well be a general store I’ve reached. Qaamina’s house is certainly some kind of major hub for this First Nation of 2000 people.

By Alan Cassels, November 2015

Are flu shots 60 percent effective? Or are they 3 percent effective in a good year and 1 percent in a bad year?

It’s the season when the flu sound bites are flying around like sneezes in a windstorm, threatening to infect anything in contact. Despite all the media discussion of mutating viruses, hand hygiene and anti-flu drugs, there is a common punchline to all the chatter: “The best thing you can do to protect yourself is get the flu shot.”

According to the US Centre for Disease Control the flu vaccine this year will be “50 to 60 percent effective in preventing flu in those who get their shots,” a level of effectiveness that often gets repeated by Canadian public health officials.

By David Broadland, November 2015

Would the new bridge survive a collision with common sense?

A thicket of 12 rusting steel pipes sprouted in front of the new Johnson Street Bridge’s bascule pier in mid-October. Now a permanent feature of the project, fendering was somehow left out of architectural renderings of the controversial project. The steel pipes are part of a redesigned fendering system. Engineers’ concerns about the ability of the new bridge to withstand the impact of a marine collision have apparently led to much more extensive (and expensive) fendering than originally anticipated. In July the City of Victoria’s Project Director Jonathan Huggett told City councillors the new structure will be “somewhat less robust” than the existing bridge and so the fendering needed to be beefed up.

By Bill McKibben, November 2015

Decades ago the company’s scientists warned about climate change but Exxon executives chose to fund doubt.

I’m well aware that with Paris looming it’s time to be hopeful, and I’m willing to try. Even amid the record heat and flooding of the present, there are good signs for the future in the rising climate movement and the falling cost of solar.

But before we get to past and present there’s some past to be reckoned with, and before we get to hope there’s some deep, blood-red anger.

In the last three weeks, two separate teams of journalists—the Pulitzer-prize winning reporters at the website Inside Climate News and another crew composed of Los Angeles Times veterans and up-and-comers at the Columbia Journalism School—have begun publishing the results of a pair of independent investigations into ExxonMobil.

By Gene Miller, November 2015

The homeless on Victoria’s downtown streets offer a full-colour snapshot of response failure.

A friend reminisces that back around 1970, when we both arrived, there was literally one visible Victoria “street person,” whose image I can conjure to this day, though not his all-in-the-family-era name (Cliff? Ralph? Stanley?): a tall, grizzled, indeterminately-aged, spastic-limbed panhandler who, at various pub entrances—principally, the Churchill on Government Street, near Morris Tobacconists—would make his lurching approach toward passersby and exiting beer hall patrons, never begging but asking in a repetitive singsong: “I work around the house for a dollar.” Given his uncertain control of his limbs, it seemed safer to give him spare change than a job, which may have been the point. Whether he was homeless or just a “business-hours” beggar is unknown to me.

By Maleea Acker, November 2015

Carmel and Woody Thomson show how love of place can keep it safe.

Back in the late 1990s I learned of a legendary property in West Saanich that a few lucky UVic students lived on each September through April. On tiny Maltby Lake, there was a large house for communal living and a smaller off-the-grid cottage for a couple. When I finally visited one fall, the students renting from caretakers and part-owners Woody and Carmel Thomson were playing banjo on the lake’s dock, stoking the woodstove and exploring the hand-cut trails that circle the lake and fan out through its forests. The paths wound through Douglas fir and cedar laden glades, into open meadows of Garry oak and moss and along headwater streams for the Tod Creek watershed. I thought I had stumbled on paradise. 

By Aaren Madden, November 2015

Amy Frank’s art practice encompasses creative expression, advocacy and powerful coping tools in her struggle with mental illness.

In Amy Frank’s illustration “Changing Seasons” (see this month’s cover), a crisp maple leaf floats on the surface of the Goldstream River. Rendered in pale yellow, brown, green and gold pencil crayon with a black ink line whispering around each of its interior veins, the leaf emerges from the picture plane due, paradoxically, to its simplicity. Below the suggested surface of the water, a cacophony of colour and pattern causes the eye to dance from one visual target to another. The fine detail is thereby temporarily contained, pulling the leaf toward the viewer. (Fun fact: this common phenomenon is called saccadic suppression.) Simultaneously, the intricate patterns in the background evoke the rush and babble of the river and create a multisensory capsule of place. 

By Amy Reiswig, November 2015

Arleen Paré explores tiny but sometimes momentous moments of intersection, where we connect unexpectedly.

Questions can be a strange weight. From early insistent childhood, we ask in wonderment: Why? How? As we get older and are initiated into life’s more painful realities—like loss, loneliness, injustice—those simple questions become more heavily freighted, as frustration and even anger mix in with our lingering awe at the world. In her new collection He Leaves His Face in the Funeral Car (Caitlin Press), Governor General Award winner Arleen Paré shows us how seemingly small packets of poetry, with language that is at once filament flexible and titanium tough, can receive and help carry the weight of those questions. 

By Mollie Kaye, November 2015

An early music ensemble from France is expected to perform magic at Alix Goolden Hall this month.

Jaunty, popular songs from 100 years ago bear so little resemblance to the strains of what today’s teens are writhing to on their iPhones that it’s hard to believe the top hits of both 1915 and 2015 foundationally share something in common. They do, though, since both employ polyphony, defined as “a texture consisting of two or more simultaneous lines of independent melody.” 

If you go back 1000 years, you can find the earliest known polyphonic songs. And if you go to Alix Goolden Hall in the middle of this month, you can hear them performed live as part of the Early Music Society of the Islands’ concert series. 

By Monica Prendergast, November 2015

Ronnie Burkett returns to town this month with his puppets and improvisational-style theatre.

There are a number of countries in the world, following an original initiative by Japan, which designate certain people to be “Living National Treasures.” These treasures are artists or crafts persons who have achieved high levels of excellence and significantly contributed to national and international culture. If we had such a program in Canada one of the first theatre artists I would nominate is Theatre of Marionettes founder Ronnie Burkett.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, November 2015

The story of a young soldier from Victoria helps us remember why we should strive for peace.

In this month of remembering our veterans, I bring you the story of a young Victoria soldier who fell from the sky without a parachute and survived. He was Norman Wharf, born on the Gorge in 1920 and a “telegraph boy” in his mid-teens, delivering telegrams by bicycle at three cents apiece. 

Against his father’s wishes he joined the Royal Air Force and became a rear gunner. He was typical of airmen in those days—exceedingly young and with less training in flying and gunning than it now takes to get a driver’s license. He was only 24 when his plane was shot down.

Focus readers, October 2015

Stop Harper—and beyond

In her comment piece, Jo-Ann Roberts condemns party discipline in Parliament. I disagree with her for three reasons:

First, permitting more independence for local MPs would reduce democracy as much as it increased it. It is unusual for voters to know local candidates well enough to vote for them rather than their party. Most of us vote based on a party’s policies and its leader, not on the opinions of our local candidate. I have no idea what my MP’s personal views on many issues are, but I do know what his party’s are.

Second, empowering local MPs could lead us into the morass that the US is in, where congresspeople vote based on the needs of the local interests that finance their elections. This means that wealthy local interests control many representatives’ votes. Goodies for local business interests are tacked onto unrelated bills to buy the votes of individual congresspeople.

By David Broadland, October 2015

There’s no scientific case for sewage treatment in Victoria, but the community faces a billion-dollar price tag anyway. Where do the candidates stand?

At a UVic election forum on the role the federal government should play in scientific research and support, NDP candidate for Victoria Murray Rankin told the mainly-student audience that “We’re not proud of what Stephen Harper has done to science. His war on science is everywhere to be seen and his victims are everywhere in our system.”

The Green Party’s Jo-Ann Roberts, running against Rankin, went further. “This is not just a war on science, it’s information and knowledge in this country that is under siege. Canadians are angry and embarrassed that ideology is replacing evidence when it comes to policy making.”

Appearing for the Liberals, Saanich Gulf Island candidate Tim Kane declared, “The war on science ends with a Liberal government.”

By Judith Lavoie, October 2015

Rankin acted on behalf of an American mining corporation in its successful bid to sue Canada using NAFTA.

A startling ruling by a North American Free Trade Agreement tribunal last March could force the Canadian government to pay Delaware-based Bilcon more than $300 million because an environmental assessment review panel rejected a massive basalt quarry and ship-loading facility on the Bay of Fundy that scientists believed would threaten endangered right whales.

By Leslie Campbell, October 2015

The provincial LNG fiction-writing exercise has some lessons towards October 19.

Here’s a cautionary tale, gleaned from a recently received Freedom of Information request, one you might want to keep in mind as we head to the polls this month.