By Rob Wipond, April 2013
Greater Victoria candidates in the BC provincial election speak out on how to correct growing democratic deficits.
For years we at Focus have been observing an erosion of democratic processes and participatory public engagement at all levels of government. In our opinion, this is worsening government decision-making with respect to many of the challenges we’re facing as a society. And we know we’re not alone.
By Rob Wipond, Derry McDonnell and Alan Cassels, April 2013
• Trend to “oral government” undermining accountability
• Faux consultation on City budget?
• Another fired drug researcher files suit
Trend to “oral government” undermining accountability
Last September, the non-profit Freedom of Information and Privacy Association complained to BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham about a growing trend for public information requests to the provincial government to come up empty. Denham investigated, and in March issued her report.
The Commissioner verified that “no responsive records” replies to Freedom of Information requests have dramatically increased across the BC government from 13 percent in 2008/09 to 25 percent of all requests in 2011/12.
By Gerry Bliss and Brad Densmore, April 2013
In BC, two decades post-FIPPA, it’s harder to get government information than it was before the legislation came into force.
When the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) was introduced in 1993, BC was at the leading edge of citizen access to government information. Architects of transparency and accountability legislation around the world had a vision of better educated citizens, the press holding government accountable for its policies and actions, and legislators bringing the light of day into the public service.
In fact, there hasn’t been a major political party in Canada in the last 30 years without a formally stated commitment to transparency and strengthening public access to government information. People today have every reason to expect to be able to get any information they need to be informed citizens and stakeholders of government services.
By Amy Reiswig, April 2013
A new book tells the story of how the public is denied information about the public’s business.
When a journalist sought two-months’ worth of records around the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s handling of the listeriosis outbreak in 2008, he was told the Agency would take a time extension of 555 days to complete the request. Unfortunately, as a recent book edited by UVic assistant professor of sociology Kevin Walby makes clear, such end-runs around Canada’s information access laws are far from unusual.
By Simon Nattrass, April 2013
Heavy-handed policing of homeless and poor people is the focus of a new affadavit campaign.
Marianne was visiting a friend the first time it happened. Like a scene from a TV crime drama, officers with the Victoria Police Department entered the home and, after a brief search, began accusing her of using illegal drugs based on her proximity to paraphernalia belonging to the house’s occupant. Marianne told the officers that she had stopped using. Finding no evidence to support their assumption, police left without pursuing charges.
By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, April 2013
Tell us how society—not business and government—will benefit from smart meters.
One of these days, I suppose, the BC Hydro folks will send someone to our door to inquire why we’ve been so contrary with respect to the “smart meter.” They might be surprised to see that we don’t wear the metaphorical tinfoil hats that some critics, both local and away, have used to berate anyone who’s been hesitant about Hydro’s behemoth meter replacement project.
By Maleea Acker, April 2013
Victoria was described as a “perfect Eden” by Sir James Douglas. But then the sweet song of bluebirds disappeared.
This spring after darkness descends, thousands of songbirds will navigate up the Pacific Flyway, travelling north to their summer breeding territories. Migrating from Central America, Central Mexico and the Southwestern United States, it’s possible to see their slight forms against the moon, or even hear their furious wing beats as they traverse the Olympic Peninsula, Juan de Fuca Strait, the San Juan and Gulf Islands, and up the reaches of Vancouver Island.
Amidst the Violet-green swallows, Golden-crowned sparrows, and Yellow warblers, Julia Daly, project technician with Victoria’s Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT), is crossing her fingers for the return of a few Western bluebirds, which have not bred here since 1995. That is, until last year.
By Chris Creighton-Kelly, April 2013
Let’s recreate the city’s image by putting the land and its peoples front and centre.
He has had a few glasses of wine. So he, a non-native person, insists on telling me this: “There could be colourful banners, murals on the side of buildings, outdoor pole carvers and businesses selling aboriginal art.”
I respond by saying this is what we already have in Victoria. He counters by saying yes, but we need more of it. He is well-intentioned, but apparently, in some cases, there is a limit to the human imagination!
By Aaren Madden, April 2013
Charles Campbell’s Transporter activates a present space from which to imagine possible futures.
In Open Space Gallery right now, five geodesic spheres a la Buckminster Fuller sit about waist high in random locations across the floor. They are made of heavy cardstock triangles with the interior spaces cut away, leaving only the open lattice of supporting sides held together from the inside by simple binder clips. A different repetition of a single image is overlaid onto the surface of each sphere. As such, from any distance, these spheres appear as light and airy as giant bubbles: attractive, playful, and fascinating. In fact, at the opening reception of Charles Campbell’s Transporter exhibition, of which these spheres form a major component, a few people couldn’t resist the temptation to set them in gentle motion, then retreat and watch as they slowly came to rest.
By Joe Wiebe, April 2013
The Balkan Babes have travelled a long way.
In performance, the Balkan Babes exhibit a calm serenity that underscores the eerily beautiful eastern European melodies and harmonies they sing. At their CD release concert in Duncan in early February, the music is mesmerizing, punctuated occasionally by trills or whoops. Some songs are soft and elegiac, while others are belted out with fervent ferocity. For an all-female choir, the range of voices is impressive. Some songs begin with one or two singers and then slowly grow in complexity until all nine women are singing. Even though they sing unaccompanied without a conductor, no one ever seems to miss a mark or wander off key.
By Alan Cassels, March 2013
Health researcher Alan Cassels explores the context—and theories—surrounding the unprecedented and unexplained destruction of independent drug evaluation in BC.
When I met Robert Brown for coffee a couple of years ago he had something to show me. It was a sample of a new drug called Pradax (dabigatran) that his doctor had given him. It was the first in a new class of drugs prescribed for people with atrial fibrillation (AF), a relatively common condition that can increase one’s risk of having a stroke. The standard script for AF is warfarin, a widely used blood-thinning drug. I didn’t want to worry him but in the course of our coffee I asked if he was aware of the drug safety controversies surrounding Pradax. It was an innocuous question but when the 64-year-old retired professor of statistics and actuarial science called me a few weeks later, he was outraged.
By David Broadland, March 2013
Information obtained through three FOIs raises serious questions about how the City of Victoria's FOI office is being run. That office's attempt to block Focus' access to City of Victoria records last fall was misrepresented to City councillors, and the City prepared no evidence for the hearing called by BC's Information and Privacy Commissioner.
By Leslie Campbell, March 2013
Who does Victoria’s harbour authority answer to?
I wasn’t alone in deciding to spend my Valentines’ evening in a windowless hotel conference room. About 100 other people showed up for the 5:30 pm public meeting of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. The woman signing us in ran out of agenda materials just as I arrived; she said she had only prepared for the usual 30 guests.
What had stirred so much interest was the GVHA’s refusal to accept the City of Victoria’s nominee for a board position. But beneath that concern lay Victorians’ passion for their harbour and for democratic governance.
By Briony Penn, March 2013
BC Liberals go ahead with another giveaway of publicly-owned land to corporations.
Three years ago, in a feature report entitled “The Big Burn,” Focus revealed the findings of a dozen retired forest service professionals about BC Liberal plans to privatize BC’s forests under pressure from what are called “distressed asset managers.” These are the mega-corporations like BAM (Brookfield Asset Management; now the top performing company in Canada) and TAM (Third Avenue Management) that buy up majority interests in distressed logging companies (including Canfor, Weyerhauser, Catalyst, Western Forest Products, TimberWest, Island Timberlands etc).
By Pete Rockwell, March 2013
A proposal for a new 200-unit building shows competing visions for a quiet North Park neighbourhood.
It’s almost warm in the sun on this cold clear day as I walk down Mason Street, which runs parallel to Pandora, just off Cook Street. On my left is a modest park. A few trees. Couple of benches. A small playground where two mothers push their kids on swings. Two older women sit and talk on a bench. A Hipsterish couple walk their dog. Across the street a young guy with a beard talks to his cell phone and leans against the brick wall of a coffee shop called Yoka’s.
Walking west, I pass the Mason Street City Farm. Neat, well-tended vegetable gardens and a few greenhouses occupy the back and side yards of older wood frame houses. Earlier era houses extend down to the end of the block. Narrow Mason Street seems a modest, friendly, quiet place. So close to downtown, yet a world away.
By Rob Wipond and Leslie Campbell, March 2013
The right to sleep, continued; RCMP agrees to stop tracking innocent drivers; A healing journey in dangerous times; Ombudsperson pans incapability assessments
The right to sleep, continued
If David Arthur Johnston gets his way, the City of Victoria’s bylaw disallowing camping during daylight hours will be challenged in BC Supreme Court soon.
By Rob Wipond, March 2013
There’s growing local interest in land trusts as a way to tackle housing costs and reshape our communities.
"It’s not a housing strategy, it’s about land reform,” said Michael Lewis. The declaration felt rousing, as if we were in an impoverished part of Latin America rather than a comfortable University of Victoria meeting room. Lewis was leading a discussion with representatives from Vancity, Victoria and Esquimalt municipal governments, the Capital Regional District, the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC, and local non-profits and other groups searching for solutions to this region’s housing affordability crisis. And though no decisions were reached, there was general agreement that Lewis’ research report (funded by Vancity) and innovative proposal to build a regional Community Land Trust (CLT) to support multi-owner homes merited further discussions.
By Amy Reiswig, March 2013
The WordsThaw symposium brings writers together to discuss how writing and social consciousness coalesce.
An upcoming symposium reminds us that when it comes to the question of how we keep our communities—our families, our markets, even our minds—healthy and vibrant, the wealth we most need to tap into is each other.
Malahat Review editor and poet John Barton describes the March 23 “WordsThaw” event as “an intellectual icebreaker at the cusp of spring where readers and writers come together to exchange and encounter new ideas. Quite simply, words thaw and the writing we love comes to life.” Focus and the Victoria Writers Festival are helping sponsor the event. With three panels plus an evening of readings, the symposium serves up a full day of brain food and an opportunity to engage with local authors talking big topics.
By Gene Miller, March 2013
Is there an app for zapping bad buildings?
Twenty or so years ago, I was for a while a development consultant or, as I called myself in private moments of searing candour, a “developer’s finger puppet.” I was paid on a performance basis (“employed by the outcome,” was my trippingly elegant phrase for it), and was of course highly motivated to succeed. As I made the rounds door-knocking in various neighbourhoods and attending countless public meetings, I would listen to a predictable and repetitious litany of neighbours’ concerns: too high, too big, too dense, too close, too much traffic, too much shadowing, loss of privacy, and my favourite change-up: “I support density, just not here.” I knew this repertoire was code for something else, something much more emotionally raw and elemental, like: “I don’t want that monstrosity, that death star, anywhere near me! If it goes up, I’m going to hate my life every day!”
By Chris Creighton-Kelly, March 2013
If art requires the quality of uniqueness to be art, can web-based expression be art?
In the last Culture Talks, I opened a discussion about the intersection of art and politics. I made reference to Walter Benjamin’s 70-year-old idea of the “aura” that accompanies visual artworks or live theatre productions. It is this uniqueness—in the art object or the onstage performance—that, according to Benjamin, gives art its authenticity.
He also states that by reproducing artworks, this aura is displaced: “...that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art...the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice—politics.”