April 2013 edition

Romancing the harbour

The harbour affair certainly does raise questions about governance in the region. There are many problems, and they stem from the fact that the region should be a metropolitan city but is not. Instead we have the CRD. Where a metro-run transit department should exist—as in OC Transpo in Ottawa (and this arose after the Ottawa region had to amalgamate)—there is BC Transit and various committees. Without metropolitan government, odd entities like the harbour authority arise. The province apparently cannot demand amalgamation, as was the case in Ontario some decades ago. So the real question for the region isn’t: What’s next for the harbour authority (or for that matter, transit authority)? It is: How will Victoria ever unify into a coherent metropolitan city with professional operating divisions capable of running services such as the harbour and transit?

John Olson

 

Your “editor’s letter” on the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority was excellent. You did a wonderful job summarizing GVHA issues. 

The public outcry at the board meeting was a mere skirmish; not much of a win, as some concluded. All the board did was temporarily allow Gudgeon to be present and thus got out of the spotlight. They have not changed methods, operations, intentions or goals. They did not state the City could appoint its own representative in the future, did not say they would change the bylaw or their policy.

Janis Ringuette

 

While I feel the GVHA showed misjudgement in their initial move to not welcome Shellie Gudgeon to the board table, I think before the authority is maligned as some fortress unaccountable to the community, we should remind ourselves as to who sits on the board. The vice-chair is the mayor of Esquimalt and, in addition to Gudgeon, you have John Doyle, the auditor general of the province. Also on the board is the mayor of View Royal and the chief of the Esquimalt Nation. Another is a director with Butchart Gardens, etc. 

I am pleased Shellie Gudgeon has her rightful place on the GVHA board. However, this chorus of community calamity over the GVHA’s democratic status is ripe for grounding and distribution to the ducks at Beacon Hill Park. 

John Vickers 

 

The right to sleep, continued

I agree with your timelines in the item re: solving homelessness. However, understanding the causes would have to come first, and I see no evidence of that happening any time soon to solve this tragic situation. In a sense, it’s a shame about the effort that has gone into Johnson’s “crusade” that you outline. He should understand the feds and the province collect all the money but want the municipalities to deal with and find solutions to social problems with only property tax revenue.

Firstly, regarding the cause of homelessness: Canada has allowed extensive internal and external speculation in land and property in the past, and this is the number one factor. This is still the case and there continues to be no protection for Canadians from this form of exploitation. This has dramatically driven up land prices. Other countries use legislation to prevent this, although not many. 

Secondly, we cannot continue to pack new arrivals into six urban centres. Vancouver and Victoria are absorbing 45,000 annually. Both of the above factors have escalated land prices and continue to do so. Victoria has escaped this overcrowding to some degree because there are very few jobs, even at minimum wage.

Compounding the land-cost issue is that almost all of those arriving will never be able to afford adequate accommodation. They eat up lower-end, “affordable” accommodation like basement suites, or “fit” whole families into two-bedroom apartments, or live with relatives in single-family dwellings. This in turn pushes up rents and squeezes out especially vulnerable residents onto the street. 

A recent article in the Vancouver Sun on housing described a successful lawyer and his wife, a practising teacher, who can only afford a two-bedroom apartment. They have two children and say they will never be able to afford a house in Vancouver. The federal government seems oblivious to this issue and the opposition NDP want to increase immigration from 250,000 to 350,000. So they don’t understand the problem either.

Anthony Mears

 

Canadian mining races to the bottom

Thanks to the large numbers of engaged Focus readers who came out to hear Alain Deneault’s Imperial Canada talk on February 26. And apologies to the many we had to turn away for lack of space. Alain laid out in compelling detail the reasons that Canada has become the global “flag of convenience” for mining companies and the devastating impacts of Canadian-based mining projects around the world. Alain’s presentation was particularly timely as more and more Canadians are concerned about the role of Canada Pension funds and even so called “ethical” investments in supporting extraction industries fraught with environmental impacts and rights violations. We’re working on a video of Alain’s presentation, and as soon as it’s up we’ll post a link to it on the Mining Justice Action Committee Facebook page, along with upcoming events focused on Canadian mining impacts and community resistance.

Sharlene Patterson and Nedjo Rogers

Mining Justice Action Committee

 

City council ignores financial realities

For well over a decade, taxes and the operating expenses of the City of Victoria have grown much faster than our population growth and inflation. In most years, the gap has been large and there is no end in sight. In addition, we continue to ignore: (1) Aging infrastructure and the need to build adequate reserves to refurbish or replace things like sewers, roads, buildings and bridges; (2) A tourism industry that is no longer what it used to be and is unlikely to recover in the near- or mid-term based on global economies; (3) A downtown core that used to be the region’s economic engine, but seems to be in decline; and (4) Though we are no longer the centre of the region, we continue to act as if we are in our willingness to financially support the larger region’s needs.

The chatter about filling the gap by freezing a few dozen civil servants’ pay, cutting elected officials’ stipends and curtailing inconsequent expenditures is just that—idle talk in the face of difficult facts. The City needs to look at managing its affairs in a sustainable fashion. We need a council that has a vision for dealing with a significant and growing structural deficit. We need a council that is willing to deal with the challenges and not delay the inevitable. Some form of amalgamation or sharing of services with others, eliminating extravagant expenditures on such things as junkets to Asia are just a beginning. We need to think out of the box.

The City of Victoria has governed itself on false premises, which is another way of saying it hasn’t told itself the truth of what is required to stabilize the City’s finances, today and tomorrow.

Paul Brown