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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.

By Briony Penn, October 2015

The Unfair Election Act is coming soon—very soon—to a polling station near you.

In September 2, Chief Councillor of Tseshaht First Nations Hugh Braker QC made a phone call to his local Elections Canada office in Port Alberni. He was calling on behalf of the members of his community, many of whom are elders, new voters, or those without computers. He recorded the conversation and it went like this: 

Office: Hello, Elections Canada 

HB: Hi, I am the chief councillor for the Tseshaht First Nation. Do you have any printed material on how to register to vote that I could give to my members?

Office: We have posters here in our office. You can come in and write down what it says. 

HB: No, I want to give it to the members and help them register. Can I get a poster from you for our office? 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, October 2015

As she leaves us, our correspondent reflects on a decade of First Nations treaty negotiations, court rulings and attempts at reconciliation.

Eleven years ago, I wrote my first article for this magazine. A profile of author Sylvia Olsen, it appeared in the June 2004 issue of what was then called Focus on Women.  

Now, with considerable sadness, I am writing what will be my last piece for the magazine—at least for now. Next month, having worked previously in both New Zealand and in British Columbia as a treaty negotiator, I am returning to New Zealand as a Chief Negotiator for that government. In my new role, I will be helping to conclude some of the remaining Maori land and marine settlements in the country.  

By Gene Miller, October 2015

That $90 extra million on the bridge could have transformed Victoria.

A scientific report informs us that the brain of an octopus is organized in an unusually sophisticated way for an invertebrate. Octopus brains possess 64 distinct lobes, and they increase in size and cell number throughout the octopus’ entire life. The creatures are capable of learning, discrimination and spatial awareness, and have impressive memories. The report concludes with this startling existential observation: “But we do not yet have evidence that they can process suffering as we do.” 

By Liz McArthur, October 2015

Why are marijuana dispensaries the growth business in Victoria?

In downtown Victoria empty retail storefronts are quickly being filled with marijuana dispensaries and business is booming for the legally ambiguous operations. In what has been likened to a new gold rush, it is not the federally approved “Licensed Producers,” but these rogue dispensaries who are successfully tapping in to an eager market. If marijuana is Canada’s new gold rush, then British Columbia is the Wild West. Regardless of a warning shot fired at them by Health Canada in September and proposals to regulate them at the municipal level, the retail marijuana industry seems likely to grow.

By Cheryl Thomas, October 2015

Halting the decay of our democracy isn’t difficult. It starts with valuing your vote. UPDATED

On September 30, 2015 Cheryl Thomas announced she had resigned her candidacy, stating:

"I want to take this moment to apologize unreservedly for past comments on social media that have come to light. When looking back at them, I understand that they are offensive and have no place in our political discourse. I want to apologize particularly to the Jewish and Muslim communities for these insensitive statements. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have utmost respect for all religions and communities and those past comments do not truly reflect who I am. As someone who has worked in the Middle East and interacted with the various communities, I know firsthand that my comments were inappropriate.

By Maleea Acker, October 2015

Thanks in part to volunteers like Dorothy Chambers, coho salmon are thriving in Colquitz River—but for how long?

A walk along the Gorge Waterway in the months of October and November usually yields the occasional splash of a salmon.  Last fall those splashes, amidst the smooth currents of the waterway, became a leaping river, as mature coho salmon returned from the open sea to their natal spawning streams. “It felt so amazing, exciting and satisfying” to see the high returns, Dorothy Chambers tells me. “Close to 4000 passed under the Admirals Bridge.”

Chambers, a Gorge-Tillicum resident and nurse, assisted in counting 1600 coho in the Colquitz River in 2014. This year Chambers, a Colquitz River Steward and 25-year volunteer for Friends of Cuthbert Holmes Park and the Gorge Waterway Initiative, is hoping again for thousands, but climate anomalies may pose the newest threat.

By Amy Reiswig, October 2015

Briony Penn’s new biography of beloved BC conservation hero Ian McTaggart Cowan.

A friendly, knowledgeable voice, perhaps somewhat mysterious, encourages you to explore deep secrets in hidden places. For a child, it’s the stuff of dreams and adventure—an invitation to Wonderland. Such was the young Briony Penn’s first meeting, in words, with BC biologist-naturalist Ian McTaggart Cowan (1910-2010) who, in his influential 1956 handbook The Mammals of British Columbia, invited us to join him in “unraveling the innermost secrets of the lives of mammals.” 

By Aaren Madden, October 2015

Rod Charlesworth celebrates both place and paint.

When a viewer stands close enough to the surface of an impressionist painting, he or she will see the image disperse into its component parts. A sun-dappled tree, say, will become flecks of brown, yellow and green; a field of flowers flies apart into dashes of red. The image at close range speaks to the perception and activity of the artist, revealing choices made that result in a recognizable arrangement of colour and form. Not only does the viewer realize the relationship between the whole and the sum of its parts, but there is a kind of communion between painter and viewer that moves beyond seeing toward a sense of shared experience. 

By John Threlfall, October 2015

Geographic and cultural history combine in a bold new play about one of Victoria’s most infamous locations.

For those who love the past, Victoria can be a living archive. You can still land a boat at Clover Point, just as James Douglas did in 1842, and walk through Beacon Hill’s camas fields. And it doesn’t take much imagination to hear a Songhees drum song at the Inner Harbour and feel it reverberating down through the ages to nearly 10,000 pre-contact peoples.     

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, October 2015

Low voter turnout in 2011 allowed a small minority of Canadians to elect a majority government.

Did you know that right now you own something so coveted by certain prominent Canadians that they and their varied confreres are spending an arm and a leg to convince you to give it to them? You guessed it; I’m talking about your vote. 

But let’s start over, because that first sentence is not entirely accurate. It’s true that millions of partisan dollars have been bringing election buses and podium rhetoric to almost every whistle-stop in the country—such excitement!—but not everyone necessarily wants you to vote.

Focus readers, September 2015

Saanich investigations

The continuing saga about the trials and tribulations of Saanich and its bureaucrats makes me wonder just how much of that sort of thing is going on in other districts, things that are escaping the public eye and ear. As an example, how many in camera meetings are used for things they were not intended for? How much is being hidden from the taxpayers? How much erroneous information is spread? And how many council members are afraid to speak up to the mayor or CAO? I am certain Saanich is not alone with its problems and would like to see Focus investigate other community councils and staff to see what’s going on.

P. D. Davidson


By Alan Cassels, September 2015

Vancouver Island’s aging baby boomers, coupled with stretched budgets and operating rooms, have created a perfect storm for timely access to needed joint surgery.

Sixty-eight year old Nancy Tienhaara, who works in marketing for a Victoria software company, felt she needed a new knee but couldn’t get it. The pain, she recalls, was unbearable and X-rays showed there was very little cartilage in her knees. Walking was difficult and painful. After seven weeks of waiting, she finally got in to see an orthopaedic surgeon. But she didn’t hear what she wanted to hear: She wasn’t a good candidate for surgery—her pain and immobility were not yet severe enough.

By David Broadland, September 2015

The Johnson Street Bridge project director says the new bridge will be “somewhat less robust” than the existing bridge. Why?

City of Victoria taxpayers are now facing a price tag of $130 million for the new Johnson Street bridge project (see breakdown of costs below). That’s a tripling of the $35-40 million cost put on the project in 2009 when councillors first voted to build a new bridge instead of repairing the one city residents already owned. It’s more than double the $63 million that citizens were told a new bridge would cost when the City forced them, in the middle of winter, to counter-petition for a referendum on the project. It’s also $53 million above the price former City Manager Gail Stephens had in mind when she claimed the project was “on time and within budget” shortly before the 2011 civic election. And it’s almost $40 million above what “Fixed-Price” Fortin campaigned on just last November.

By Leslie Campbell, September 2015

Animals, vegetables, and a thought-provoking book.

Four years ago David and I decided to combine Focus’ July and August editions. This has allowed us to spend a good part of recent summers at our property on Quadra Island from which we watch the rhythms of nature unfold.

This summer I grew vegetables, David dug a new well and worked on a renovation project, and we both did a lot of birdwatching, reading and swimming. It was idyllic, a natural high. 

One of the great books I read this summer was Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a book that makes you think about what humans have done to themselves—as well as other creatures. He takes readers on a swashbuckling ride from the birth of our species 200,000 years ago, through the rise of agriculture, industry, science, empires, trade, capitalism, and monotheistic religions. 

By Judith Lavoie, September 2015

Where do the parties stand on allowing another 890,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen to be shipped past Victoria each day?

An intricate pipeline-politics dance is being performed in the run-up to October’s election as BC voters question federal candidates about their stand on Kinder Morgan’s plans to triple the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline running from Alberta’s oil sands to the west coast. The 1000 kilometres of new pipe would allow 890,000 barrels a day of bitumen (diluted with other hydrocarbons) to flow across BC to an expanded Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby.