November 2010 edition

Re: Seeking Answers and Input, October 2010

In your most recent editorial, “Seeking Answers and Input, October 2010, you offered your assessment that the City of Victoria has not provided the public with “proper process” in its deliberations around the reconstruction, refurbishment or replacement of the Johnson Street Bridge. You comment that, “At no time…has the public been truly consulted…” This is not the first time I have heard these words in relation to the current Council’s actions regarding various City projects.

Take the Ellice Street Park project, for instance. When it was first announced publicly that this piece of property was being considered for redevelopment, as a shelter project for the homeless, it was quickly apparent that no true community discussion was wanted or warranted as the planning for this work, and much of the initial implementation, was already well under way. In fact, it was a ***fait accompli**– a “done deal.” Council, along with BC Housing and the Cool Aid Society, already had a plan and were committed to it—with or without public agreement and/or input from those people most affected: the neighbours.

These occurrences suggest an objectionable trend at City Hall. Whether driven by the politicians or the bureaucrats, this lack of consultation is completely inappropriate in a democracy. As a society we do need white lines painted down the middle of our roads or chaos would prevail. That is why we elect our politicians, and in turn, hire our officials - to make these decisions for us, and then get the job done. But, organized and adequate public discussion on important—especially fiscally percussive—matters is essential.

Although there is much to said for “getting things done”—something that all large organizations wrestle with—there are ways to move projects from inception to completion in an orderly and inclusive manner. The development of project frameworks, with “timelines, deliverables and accountabilities” are common in the marketplace and include reasonable flexibility. Your magazine would not be published on a regular basis if this were not the case.

It is not necessary to be as precipitate as, say, the Langford model, nor as regressive and arbitrary as we’ve seen in Victoria and Esquimalt in the past. NIMBYism does not work. It is possible to find a workable middle ground that allows projects to move forward, without endless delays caused by opponents or “concerned” citizens filibustering in the name of “consensus building”.

On the other hand, peoples’ concerns, alternate views and a host of disparate considerations and analyses must be aired and debated in order for our democratic system to work. Then, and only then, can decisions be taken and projects implemented successfully.

To its credit, the new shelter at Ellice Street looks to be a model of the type of housing that we as a community are looking for, to deal with many of the issues around homelessness. Whether or not it will be successful, given the roughshod nature of its execution, remains to be seen.

Hopefully, it won’t cost taxpayers $100 million to discover whether Council really knows what’s best for us regarding the Blue Bridge. The current stench of paternalism (to say nothing of the lack of transparency) at City Hall leaves me uncomfortable at the least and mortified if it’s true.

Please keep the heat on Council! I’ll keep checking the bottom of my shoes…

Charles Traynor


I would like to congratulate your magazine on its unflagging efforts to clear the murky waters surrounding Victoria Council’s efforts to ram a new bridge down the taxpayer’s throats. Delcan has to come up with some answers to its curious cost differences otherwise some duplicity is bound to be suspected. At least some vestige of common sense is making an appearance with the concession that we can do without a railway section. The other thought that occurs to me is that in the event of an earthquake of the magnitude mooted by Council, the least of the city’s problems would be traffic from Vic West. To be in debt to the depth Council seems to blithely wish us to entertain at such a time would seriously hinder far more vital and necessary responses to a catastrophe of that magnitude that would be sorely needed in other areas.

Dr Michael Lewis

 

Re: Lessons from History, October 2010

At times I have wearied of the topic of the Blue Bridge in the same way that I do of the need to face some of the bigger ticket household maintenance tasks—like a new roof or new exterior paint—wishing, instead, that they would just magically fix themselves! However, as it is at home for me so it is for us in Victoria. We need to face up to our ownership responsibilities. The Blue Bridge is ours. The costs of maintaining (or replacing) it are ours. More to Ross Crockford’s point, the City Council is ours.

As he indicates in his recent article, it is up to us to “ratify the City’s conduct,” or not, in regards to the process they have used regarding the Blue Bridge. I, for one, am with him in saying I can’t do it. I think he is right; there is a need for Bent Flyvbjerg’s “strong medicine” here. We need independent bodies that can negotiate contracts and enforce accountability. We need oversight committees with powers to investigate and release documents. We need public hearings where promoters (and denigrators, I would add) are forced to provide answers. There should be incentives to keep costs down. We also need a council full of people who are willing to think critically vs. willing to act “without scepticism” and, for example, accept escalating cost estimates that are patently absurd (like the one behind the August Ipsos-Reid phone survey asking us if we’d prefer “a $77-million replacement to an $80-million repair”).

The Blue Bridge is but one of Victoria’s pressing infrastructure projects. We need City Council, without further delay, to develop a workable and transparent process to manage all of them. Otherwise, we are surely doomed to go through this nonsense over and over while inflation pushes costs ever upwards. Meantime, sadly, our fine city erodes!

Julie Graham

 

Re: The Good News about Climate Change, October 2010

I’m very glad to see someone in the media is tracking the underreported stories about global warming and climate change (such as Dr. Weaver’s lawsuit), and the strange tack the national newspapers seem to consistently pursue on the subject.

Just in the last month, as additional examples of the type of journalism Sam Williams described, the Globe and Mail has published a piece by “climate delayer” Bjørn Lomborg, a bizarre article by John Allemang on September 25 about how Canada would be better off in 2050 due to global warming, and another last Saturday by Doug Saunders about how much Greenlanders are looking forward to the coming melt of their ice sheet.

Please continue your excellent work, reporting seriously on the subject of climate change, and keeping a critical eye out for unbalanced coverage by other news organizations.

Chris Darroch

 

Re: Progress Beats Nostalgia, October 2010

I enjoyed the article by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic in the October issue. Right on girl! A few years ago a friend was going on and on about how it was so wonderful when we were young and didn’t I wish we could go back to that time? I am approaching my 79th birthday. No, I said, “absolutely not.” She then spoke of the great “family values.” I replied, “Whose family and whose values?” That gave her pause to think.

I went to a small prairie school in Saskatchewan and I saw kids getting the strap. Worse still was knowing the teacher held all the power in the school. Kids lived in that school in fear.

The other day a friend, age 90, said “We must honour our elders.” I said, “That’s fine but we need to honour all our little ones, young parents, everyone.”

I belong to a book club and during tea our oldest member said “I was molested.” What happened next was all six of us [admitted we had been molested as children]. When I asked “Did you tell your mother?” all said no. I was the only one who did and I was believed and she told the neighbour if he ever touched one of her kids again she would kill him.

I hope we as people have looked at everything—wife abuse, child abuse, elder abuse and if there is anything we need to address, I shall leave it to you.

Carol Meyer

 

Re: The Yoga of imprisonment

This was a courageous humanization of people forced to live in prison. Why forced? 

“Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”—Eugene V. Debs, while in prison for refusing to serve in World War One, he received 900,000 votes for US president as Socialist Party candidate. 

The prison is etched deep into our consciousness as an inevitability. So was the plantation for our southern neighbours. UC California Professor Dr. Angela Davis, author of Women Race and Class, equates prisons and slavery. She calls for "prison abolition". Something is gravely wrong when 90 percent of prisoners are poor and disproportionately people of colour. Dr. Davis asks us to visit a prison  to feel it. The prison confounds a logical, effective and relevant response to social violence. 

Angela asks the forbidden question: Would there be any more crime without the prison fortress in our backyard, such as Wilkinson Road? No, she says. To verify this, she points to research: US states with the death penalty have the highest murder rates. In other words, capital punishment has no impact on the murder rate. 

The same logic applies to prison. More of them--or even their existence--does not mean less “crime.” The prison is a palliative that prevents us from thinking logically about ending social violence. It drains resources needed to eliminate the roots of violence. What we really need are:

—Guaranteed liveable income

—Full and free education

—Accessible quality housing

—Quality prevention-focussed healthcare

—Meaningful, socially and ecologically renewing work

—Compassionate early life intervention where families need counselling and economic resources

—For people with the rage to do harm, compassionate temporary containment in quality surroundings with non-coercive, psychotropic drug-free counselling resources

—All paid for, while money exists, through progressive taxation

 

Everyone can transform, even serial killers. Angela Davis thinks the real purpose of the prison is for social control of the poor, people of colour, and the criminalization of system dissenters. Watch Amy Goodman’s interview: Angela Davis Speaks Out on Prisons and Human Rights Abuses in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina at www.democracynow.org/2006/12/28/angela_davis_speaks_out_on_prisons 

Larry Wartel

 

Re: Commentary on CBC Radio

As a reader of Focus, I am drawn to its thorough and principled exploration of issues and its beautiful presentation. I’ve now learned from a self-styled magazine critic appearing on CBC’s On the Island that Focus is in need of a design redo and, worse, commits the grievous sin of earnestness. In search of guidance I’ve looked up the definition of “earnest” in my Oxford Canadian Dictionary. “Earnest: Serious in intention; not trifling.” Precisely the reason I eagerly await the magazine every month.

Sophie Siebert