Letters to the editor
Focus Readers, March 1, 2016
David Broadland’s Option 10 provides so much common sense that it will probably slip by the common denominator. To add to to the insanity, in today’s paper is a short essay by Mike Harcourt, urging us to “Get it done already.”
It’s not that I am against a sewage “solution.” There is no such thing, as a wise man once said. Every “solution” brings with it a new set of problems. But I think most folks are working with a very simple black and white image of the issues, or their emotions are so wrapped up in it, that they don’t say to themselves: “Well, if we did this, what would the consequences be?”
The gist of the Option 10 article implies that the primary reason to implement the billion-dollar-plus waste treatment facility is to make the consultants and construction companies a great deal of money. The same can be said of the Blue Bridge replacement. And in both cases, benefit to the public is incidental at best. What else can explain both the ballooning cost of the new bridge with increasingly questionable efficacy, and a waste treatment proposal that is equally questionable in improving the end product?
Gene Miller once again hits the nail on the head. And, oh my, these “consultants” so remind me of the ones who planted the seed into the malleable minds of our provincial elect several years ago that taking control of the province’s recycling industry (now MMBC) was a Unicorn and Rainbows winner. The new age “Consultant” is not a far cry from the Snake Oil Salesman of the past with a new age twist. It speaks volumes about our elected officials in the City of Victoria that they are so easily swayed by these salesmen. I am constantly astonished that this trend continues in this city—where is the accountability? Let’s speak up people. Like Gene says: “This is a form of legally and socially abetted insanity.”
Why has no politician looked at the option of homeowner installed treatment plants on their own property? It is affordable, treats more than a $2-billion plant would, creates jobs, is scalable, and could likely get federal grants. The operating costs alone on a large plant—estimated to be $500-$1000 per year per household—would pay for a personal plant in just a few years year.
Please expose this option to the public. We do not need a $2-billion hole in our wallets.
I am a Victoria property owner. I don’t like it either that I will have to pay $500-$800 more each year for sewage treatment. I’m quite aggravated about it. Especially when there is another tax that would completely cover it. Last year Canadians paid on average $527 per person for the Ministry of Defence.
This tax, says the Canadian Peace Congress, is 75 percent a total waste. It is going to profit the armaments industry, embedded in unnecessary weapons systems, infrastructure only meaningful for empire proxies, and dense greenhouse gas-emitting fossil-fuel-consuming military machines—all yielding no productive “defence” protection.
Every Canadian, including children, paid this $527 last year. That could build at least one more sewage treatment system. It would also put Canada well on track to the solar-conservation age with dramatic living standard increases for all.
Only a belief in Victoria exceptionalism says we don’t have to turn our urine and fecal matter back into resource.
A charming animation called “Oreos” was done by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream fame. It’s an elegant portrayal of what could be done when we decide to redirect the greatest tax waste ever—spending for militarism—back into unmet civilian needs and the jobs this would create. Watch it at TrueMajority.org/oreos.
Change at Focus
Congratulations on reaching almost three decades of Focus! Thanks too for your editorial outlining changes to the way in which Focus will be published bi-monthly from now on. While we will miss our monthly Focus in hard copy, we applaud your plan to take Focus to the web in a bigger way. In whatever format Focus appears, it remains a critically-acclaimed magazine that enlightens, informs and educates its readers, and encourages intelligent dialogue on a variety of local topics and issues. Thank you for your vision and hard work and for keeping so many of us engaged.
Cairine and Fred Green
It always amazes me when, amidst the plethora of governments and structures and dysfunction that is the Capital Region, there are those who plead to retain the status quo when it comes to municipal governance.
What’s worse are those old, tired, poorly investigated charges of amalgamation being something to avoid like the plague, propped up by folklore, academic bias, misinformation and ignorance. Such is the case with your columnist Gene Miller’s January article on the A-word.
Mr Miller (“The Plumber’s Dilemma,” January 2016) highlights a Toronto Star article suggesting that the forced amalgamations by the Harris Government in Ontario in the 1990s didn’t “save money.” If I said to Greater Victoria residents, “You could have a region with strong, vibrant neighbourhoods, a sewage system, a regional police and fire service, a governing transportation authority, a cohesive waste disposal program, enhanced social equity for our impoverished, cost sharing for large infrastructure projects and one-stop shopping for economic investment, but you wouldn’t save money,” would you take advantage of it?
While creating tremendous efficiencies in how we operate, amalgamations don’t generally save money in terms of lower taxes. But don’t be fooled that that represents a lack of success. Halifax, Nova Scotia comes to mind. The forced amalgamation was not welcomed by those communities and Halifax experienced a protracted and costly period of unification. So where is amalgamated Halifax today? Twenty years after amalgamation the city’s debt is about $250 million, almost where it was in 1996 and that’s after two decades of inflation. Halifax’s debt servicing stands at 6 percent, which is the envy of the Nova Scotia government whose debt servicing is 15 percent. Meanwhile, Halifax enjoys a regional police and fire service, a sewage system, one transportation department, one waste disposal program, one-stop shopping for regional economic investment, and the list goes on. Halifax is in such great financial shape that the city recently added $10 million to its strategic infrastructure reserve.
I would further draw Mr Miller’s attention to the Fraser Institute’s review of those Ontario amalgamations. Would he be surprised to know that all the communities reviewed by the Fraser Institute have considered their amalgamations to be successful? Success could present a broad range of community implications—the point being there is much more to an elephant that noting a level of psoriasis on its skin. When you consider the efficiencies of modern day Halifax compared to a fragmented Greater Victoria the difference is night and day!
Amalgamation governance reviews are not unusual in Canada. One was completed this past fall showing significant benefit, whereby seven municipalities in Atlantic Canada are now moving forward with their amalgamation discussions. On the same coast, the Federation of Prince Edward Island Municipalities, citing strong community benefits from past amalgamations, are introducing an amalgamation tool kit to assist those communities considering amalgamation.
Amalgamation Yes has no stated position on the level of amalgamation. All we have ever sought is to have a regional study, so why the fear? With last fall’s Angus Reid survey showing just 7 percent regional support for 13 municipalities followed by a 75 percent positive vote for a governance review, what in the world is wrong with supporting such a review?
When I think of amalgamation, I think of a regional transportation without 13 traffic directors. I think of being able to assist the poor and lessen the disproportionate share of wealth amongst our municipalities. I think of the Victoria region being represented in the caucus of big city mayors to discuss infrastructure support, homelessness and other urban issues. I think of safer communities where police, like criminals, don’t pay attention to municipal property lines, and a greater community that understands that yes, even deer don’t pay attention to those municipal lines. I think of regional arts funding where municipalities can no longer turn their backs on paying their share of arts support, particularly when their own residents’ participation is funded by others. I think of a strong, united region.
To refuse an amalgamation review based on scare tactics and misplaced academic agendas will not succeed. It will only harden public resolve to see democracy respected and fulfilled
John Vickers, Amalgamation Yes
Gene Miller rants against the proposed amalgamation of the 13 municipalities that comprise Greater Victoria. He suggests the proponents be spanked and sent to bed without dinner for acting on their “delusional desire.” Mr Miller, a member of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability, claims that residents and visitors alike describe the province’s capital city as “paradise.”
Whether one is in favour of amalgamation or not, perhaps Mr Miller should ask whether the 59 percent of households who rent in this “paradise” consider their accommodation affordable. Where should more than 500 tenants in James Bay relocate who now face displacement by a new corporate real estate owner renovating his apartment units and raising rents by 100 percent in a rental market with a tight .6 percent vacancy rate?
Where should working people, young families, seniors on fixed income, or retired couples who have sold their homes to live in a maintenance-free place move to find appropriate and affordable rental accommodation when all levels of government promote and subsidize home ownership (particularly condos) over rental tenure? Few new purpose-built rental units are being constructed in this city.
Victoria’s existing rental housing stock is dwindling; small bungalows, older low-density rental properties, and post-war provincial government offices are being demolished to make way for upscale multi-storey condos being purchased by affluent empty-nesters and overseas real estate investors.
Has this former colonial outpost on the southern tip of Vancouver Island now become an exclusive enclave for the privileged members of our society—retirees from across Canada, snowbird long-stay vacationers, and American tourists benefiting from the depreciated Canadian dollar?
Judging from the strategy of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability, precious little has been done to address the needs of the homeless population and no serious effort has been undertaken to sustain the quality of life of Victoria’s rental households.
Perhaps it’s time for the real issues to be discussed instead of denigrating those are who attempting to alleviate the growing inequities that exist in Mr Miller’s “paradise.”
Who among us is capable of living on our own with just $610 a month as our total income? That’s what the BC government expects of people living on income assistance. Of course, should we have children, we would receive $946 a month (one child) up to a maximum of $1,161 per month to cover all expenses. For the corporate managers running our province, that seems generous, but who among us could do it?
Those rates were last raised April 1, 2007, and haven’t been adjusted upwards since then. Such is the absurd situation people living on income assistance face in BC, and most of us couldn’t care less.
Set that beside current generous support coming from thousands of wonderful people responding to requests to support financially refugees entering Canada these past several months. The basic expectation the federal government has for private sponsors of refugees is for them to come up with $40,000 per year (that’s $3333 per month) to welcome the desperate people fleeing mayhem in their homeland. And quite amazingly lots of us are prepared to raise funds to greet them into our communities. However, when it comes to thousands of BC people living in dreadful circumstances, we seem indifferent.
Some of us, however, can no longer tolerate such an example of public neglect and we are demanding that our provincial government stop being so miserly in providing people with basic sustenance. Last month a coalition was formed representing a number of agencies and churches in the area, including Our Place, the Dandelion Society, Together Against Poverty, Faith in Action, Mustard Seed Church, and the Anglican Diocese of BC. A joint letter was delivered to Minister Stilwell and Premier Clark on January 14, 2016. To date they have not responded. Currently Victoria City council is adding its voice to the coalition, supporting the same demands.
If you agree with the position taken by the Coalition let your local MLA know and urge her/him to take on this vitally important issue facing all of us.
Dale Perkins, Income Assistance Coalition
Ship’s Point squandered
Included in the Strategic Plan approved by Victoria City council last year was the creation of a high-quality green space and festival site on the City-owned land at Ship’s Point, scheduled for completion by 2018. To date there appears to be little concrete progress toward this goal. This is disappointing and discouraging.
For more than three decades these lands have sat vacant, except for brief glimpses into their potential when the pavement has been transformed by festivals and cultural events. I know of no other city, especially one in which tourism is an important economic sector, that chooses to squander acres of valuable waterfront land at the edge of its downtown core on an unsightly—and under-utilized— surface parking lot.
A strategic plan without follow-up action accomplishes nothing. It’s time for the City to move forward on this. A good place to begin would be to make this a high priority for the Department of Sustainable Planning & Community Development, which could get the ball rolling by engaging the public on both design and implementation.
This highly visible and long overdue enhancement of Victoria’s public realm would be a powerful and inspiring legacy for the current City council.
Bosa approval confusing
The St Andrews property at the corner of Pandora and Vancouver streets presented a real opportunity for the new “progressive” and “green” City council to do something really innovative. There was an opportunity to create a project here that would meet both the commitment to increasing density in the city’s core and to providing low income housing, small businesses to employ local and marginalized people, green space for community garden food-growing and outdoor gathering spots. The old art deco style school building could have been upgraded and repurposed with counselling rooms, addiction recovery facilities, and possibly even the much-needed and long overdue safe consumption site this city needs.
But no, instead of any of this, we will be getting a big box store (35-50,000 square foot), probably a grocery store. Also, a fortress-like construction of 200 market rental housing units, some very tiny, with a few (22) discounted units called “affordable”—but certainly not if you are earning minimum wage or on disability or income assistance.
Over two long evenings of hearings, 130 people spoke about their views on the project. Though two-thirds of them spoke against the development, council approved the project. Ben Isitt, Pamela Madoff and Jeremy Loveday were the only members of council who seemed to really listen to and honour the input of the majority of Victoria residents who spoke out at those hearings. Most, but not all, were from the North Park neighbourhood. Lisa Helps and Marianne Alto, who campaigned as “green” and “progressive” when running for office, suddenly and stunningly voted for the big box proposal—not by lauding its merits, but because it did not contravene the official community plan.
Both of them went on at some length about what a hard decision it had been, the most difficult one they’d had to make as councillors, as did Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe. But what forced them to make such a decision? Surely they didn’t have to pass a bad development plan simply because it didn’t contravene the official community plan, which was made some time ago. With the current clear community opposition to this plan, wasn’t this enough to trump a somewhat abstract community plan made as a general guideline for development?
Where did all that innovative, forward-looking and responsive-to-community input rhetoric go?
Now it appears that another development, opposed by the residents of Cook Street Village, will also probably be rubber stamped despite the very considerable opposition from residents of the neighbourhood and also officially by the Fairfield-Gonzales Community Association. Just how does that equate to the “listening to the people” so touted by our mayor? Why waste the time and energy of residents of Victoria in giving this input if it is going to be ignored by most members of council, including Mayor Lisa Helps, even though she’s the one who keeps using this “inclusivity” language? It’s frustrating, confusing and infuriating and will discourage the very input she claims to be seeking.
I listened with dismay to a UBC economics professor on CBC recently. Here is one of his anachronistic “truisms”: Economic efficiency, including labour, is good. Mostly, not true! If automation is encouraged as an outcome to decrease production costs (including labour), whom specifically is labour efficiency good for? Are escalating numbers of under-employed and unemployed workers good for society, including families? How specifically is business consolidation (which is an important aspect of “economic efficiency”) a beneficial process to society-at-large (think about our national newspaper chain, PostMedia, owned by a NY-based venture capital company)? How does this centralization of media and control outside our country benefit Canadians or our democracy? If we want a healthy (meaning financially, socially, and environmentally healthy) economy, how is Canadian society served by allowing foreign ownership of iconic, profitable Canadian companies such as Tim Hortons and Rona to be transferred to foreign ownership (with few economic benefits to Canadians)? Again, who specifically benefits from these “economic efficiency” initiatives?
It’s important to understand that business faculties at colleges and universities are designed to propagate the status quo, which, at this point, is killing the planet. Nothing more, nothing less. I know because I have taught in these business faculties, including post-graduate MBA programs, for several decades.
Traditional, anachronistic economics is founded on numerous false assumptions, and “economic efficiency” is one of them. A lack of “integrated systems thinking,” which is the essence of how a biologist thinks about issues, is part and-parcel of this uncreative, dangerous economic thinking as well. A very strong case can be made for doing exactly the opposite of what this economics professor and most of his peers advocate: We need to increase, not decrease, the labour content in jobs. The trend to significantly reduce labour content and outsource jobs to low-cost countries started around 1980 and has worsened. The “social contract” has been broken by corporate owners and their boards with government complicity.
The delusional deal with the devil in this transition towards “economic efficiency” has been the provision of low-cost goods and services to the masses. In other words, we have been bought off. Fundamentally, this present economic system has been designed to allow the significant financial benefits to flow to the shareholders and corrupt politicians, rather than to a range stakeholders in that business enterprise.
The ultimate constraints in any economic system are natural assets or resources provided by nature: healthy air, soil, and water as well as species vitality and biodiversity.
At this juncture in human civilization, we are in deep doo-doo and, yet, we hear the same old tired, uncreative tropes from our media, politicians, and business mis-leaders.
We need to move aggressively toward a post-fossil, decentralized, no-growth economy. There is no other option to ensure we have a healthy planet. The equation is really that straightforward.
Brad Atchison, MBA, CMC, MSc