July/August 2013 edition


Cry my beloved city

Our magnificent little city is in peril. The core of this wonderful Greater Victoria Regional District is showing signs of rot.

Victoria, with its small population of 75,000 largely modest-income citizens and fragile business community is fast being overwhelmed by huge financial undertakings, undertakings far exceeding the population’s financial capability. Well over 50 percent of the population are tenants; well over 90 percent of the business community are tenants—and they are showing signs of trouble.

The city I love, the city that has given us so much, needs capable leadership. It needs a well-informed mayor and city manager to meet the natural challenges of city governance.

When I was mayor we asked the then city manager to resign and persuaded the city’s financial director to take over as city manager. This necessary reorganization was undertaken by the unanimous vote of council after much discussion.

At present, there appears to be no recognition of the challenges before the City. More and more capital expenditures are blindly being undertaken: a $40m bridge that now has an estimated cost of $100m. Hotel travel lodges for the homeless, millions more. Runaway city staff numbers and salaries are disconcerting. And the bottomless pit of a billion-dollar sewage system we can’t possibly afford. But there is more, much more: millions on park beautification; on advertising including an ad for a development manager and another ad for “meeting the mayor.” The folly continues.

I had the honour of being elected to five terms of office—ten years of service. Our council faced many challenges. All of the members of the council of the day had the perception and the courage to meet the problems confronting the management of the City.

The new city manager at that time advised council of the financial limitations of the core City. For example, the beautiful Lower Causeway in front of the Empress Hotel was built by the City only when the BC premier persuaded his treasury board to provide the funds. Another example was the Royal Theatre, bought by the City for $270,000 to save it from demolition and to use as an affordable performing arts centre. The city manager recommended the purchase as City taxpayers could not afford the millions for a new facility.

In my experience, problems must be faced and prudently dealt with; now the city manager as a first step should go. Perhaps the city’s financial director should again be considered as a replacement to change the course before the ship goes on the rocks. Cities and even states are going bankrupt through imprudent government. It is urgent that we as a community demand action.

Peter Pollen


Casa Blanca, continued

As a Shutters resident I enjoyed the “Casa Blanca” article (May 2013). Although the author pointed out that there are few other white residential buildings of interest in Victoria, I think he was remiss in not mentioning the Laurel Point Hotel. It sits directly across the harbour from Shutters and is also an interesting architectural conceit, different from Shutters, but similarly out of tune with the general tenor of Victoria architecture. These two white buildings, seen when entering the harbour on a boat, ferry or plane, provide bookends to the entry and enhance the experience.

Ivan Strand


Digging the City

Due to the Great Depression, I am in fear for my very own food security so I am renting a 1000 sq ft lot in Kent Street Community gardens. Land shouldn’t just go to those who have $500,000—what you are going to do with the land should be just as important. Most people squander their land by growing grass and ornamentals. 

John Defalque


Clean tech, collaboration and civility

It’s easy for Andrew Weaver to take a swipe at both the Liberals and the voting public by suggesting that in the recent election the LNG proposal was “ a convenient myth, a carrot to attract voters.” But does the Green Party have anything better to offer?

With global competition at hand, LNG is a collapsing market, according to Andrew Weaver. If that’s the case, how will BC’s “clean tech” industries ever compete against markets—and there will be others—with lower costs?

Were BC voters taken in by the Liberal message of natural gas, jobs and prosperity? Was it a “pipe dream” that prevailed at the polls—or was it simply optimism? In a world of uncontrollable population growth, how compatible is a static position such as economic sustainability? Evidence of cannibalism amongst our numbers goes back tens of thousands of years. However primitive in scope, when in human history has there ever been economic sustainability? How will an economic model of non-growth simply feed a world population that is projected to increase from its current level of some 7 billion to perhaps 10 billion by 2050?

Aren’t we by now hard-wired to look forward, to risk, to improvement, to more and better, however difficult or unlikely? After all, we’re looking at colonizing Mars, and outer space mineral exploration. Isn’t this who we are? Isn’t that what the election result was all about?

Brian Nimeroski


While very pleased with the election of Andrew Weaver, I feel obligated to point out some serious concerns that Leslie Campbell’s otherwise good article on this topic has unwittingly exposed.

1. Contrary to the devout wishes of Campbell and the current BC Greens, the party and the supporting movement cannot forgo the old right vs. left dichotomy and during much of the 1990s the federal, Manitoba and BC Greens knew that full well but have now “forgotten” or buried that knowledge. Any party concerned about developing an ecologically sustainable / steady state / zero material growth economy cannot look to capitalist firms and the society-wide or global capitalist markets which are viewed by right wingers as ideal mechanisms to regulate these firms, to jointly lead us to an ecologically sustainable economy. If capitalist firms and the market that regulates them cannot maintain unceasing material expansion / growth, they will soon collapse; unfortunately, many Green supporters—not to mention many NDPers—are more attached to a capitalist ethic than an environmental ethic and cannot imagine an economy in which both the market and central planning play only subordinate roles. Those progressives who can imagine such an economy are on the left not the right. Unfortunately, from what is reported by Campbell, Weaver and the Greens do not currently have that vision.

2. It is great to have a person with a strong natural science background elected but what is really most needed is not more empirical or theoretical scholarship of a natural scientific nature as to how bad bad is with respect to what humans are doing to make the planet less habitable for our species and others. What is actually needed far more are (a) social scientific (e.g. ecological economic) demonstrations as to why we can not depend on capitalist firms and the markets which regulate them to put an end to the ecological crisis that they, more than any other causal factors, have created; (b) the development of models of and practical experiments with largely re-localized, zero growth, nature-embedded economies; and (c) a deeper understanding of why so many Greens—and NDPers too—have a stronger attachment to capitalist ideology than to green principles or the survival of our endangered species, among others.

3. The Greens, Campbell and apparently Weaver erroneously believe that ending corporate and union donations will enhance democracy, but a respectable social science would not support that view. In the absence of the limited political involvement by unions that are becoming weaker by the day, thanks to the erosion of their powers by transnational corporations and neo-liberal governments, corporations, including media corporations, and corporate supported, right wing think tanks and the like, corporations and capitalist firms generally would have an even more disproportionate influence over election outcomes, than they do currently. Moreover, squelching the limited powers of unions, the only organizations that could potentially represent and protect all non-managerial workers, who constitute the vast majority of the citizenry, is profoundly undemocratic and life threatening. Wherever unions are weak or non existent, from Bangladesh to Texas, workers and other citizens die needlessly or are exposed to workplace hazards that governments are unaware of until too late.

4. Proportional representation, though touted by Campbell, is vastly overrated as a device to promote democracy. What is more urgently required is far more direct democracy and sovereignty inside local communities and workplaces.

5. The urgency to act to mitigate climate change and other dire threats, dictates that the current Greens and the NDP recognize that they have too much in common to be splitting the left or progressive vote. Neither party is as green, as democratic or as anti-capitalist as it must become to lead the movement to an egalitarian and sustainable economy and society. There is no compelling reason why this transformation cannot occur more quickly within one party and movement.

John R Bell


Voices from the broken land

Briony Penn writes (about the Peace River country) that “...many local residents and First Nations don’t sense that urban British Columbians are hearing their voices over the clamour of LNG boosters...” Considering that the most notable booster of LNG is Christy Clark, why is it that the Peace helped give the BC Liberals an overwhelming fourth term majority?

Richard Weatherill


Global psychiatric war hits home

Thank you for Rob Wipond’s article about the DSM. He’s right—this mental health “bible” has profound power and a critical understanding about its risks is sorely lacking. As someone who worked in BC’s child and youth mental health system, I saw firsthand how the DSM is used and abused. Misdiagnosis is common and, therefore, so is misguided treatment resulting in the long-term use of therapies and medications that are ineffective and harmful. The most common example I saw was the misdiagnosis of the effects of trauma, abuse and neglect and developmental/learning disabilities as ADHD, anxiety and depression. The symptoms can be similar but, when the DSM is used, it is far more likely for the latter disorders to be diagnosed and for medication to be prescribed. This was particularly concerning in the cases of children at risk or in foster care who rarely have anyone to advocate on their behalf. It is tragic to see that our society seems far more prepared to medicate these children rather than invest in trauma-informed care or the educational supports to meet their needs.

On a related note—thanks also for Rob Wipond’s feature on Bruce Saunders, a local hero who has done so much to raise awareness of mental health issues and inspire hope in us all. 

Manuela Bizzotto


The pharmacist of film

As a long-time fan of Movie Monday, it’s great to see Bruce Saunders get the credit he deserves. I’ve attended a number of the outstanding films mentioned in Rob Wipond’s article and, as someone who works with people with mental health issues, I have frequently encouraged the people I work with to attend Bruce’s movies. 

I would like to point out, however, that it was through my contacts in the Japanese taiko community, that I was able to bring Inclusion—the movie about developmentally disabled drummers from Nagasaki—to Canada and screen it as part of Friends of Music Society’s Music Movie Wednesday program that runs in partnership with Movie Monday.

Not to detract from Bruce’s Movie Monday but on the basis of credit where credit is due, Friends of Music Society deserves to be acknowledged for their role in the Canadian premiere of Inclusion and for initiating the collaboration with Uminari Taiko.

Jacob Derksen, Uminari Taiko


Too many decibels, too few quiet moments

The article in June’s Focus on noise is spot on. One of the biggest culprits are sirens. Living in Oak Bay it seems the fire department is intent on proving that. I cannot fathom why sirens are needed in the wee hours of the morning when there is nary a vehicle on the streets. And as they often travel in procession why do all vehicles need to use sirens? I believe and I could be wrong that the highway code states that sirens should only be used when an emergency vehicle is exceeding the speed limit. On a recent weekend trip to Seattle I heard only two sirens although that city has a lot of other noise—mainly a constant hum of  traffic.

Ralph Burns


When even the sounds of birds become irritating, I know my capacity for absorbing noise, has been exceeded.

While the increase in noise on our street has been gradual (over the last 12 years), this spring I could no longer bear being on my porch and we are on a deep setback. Any stillness between the mowers, weed wackers, the cars and that rattle-snake bird, has been in short supply—it was enough to make me want to purchase a slingshot—but escaping inside didn’t help: between airplane and vehicle sounds that penetrate the walls, the interior sounds of fans, fridge, washing machine and dryer, don’t help. And no, we have no other electronics, or devices (or children), like those found in other households.

Add to that my husband’s exhausted snoring, yes my nerves are often shot. At least when we pull out the scythes at the end of summer to cut our five-and-a-half-foot tall grasses, no one will be bothered. Sometimes, I envy the dead—I mean the deaf. Thanks for another article confirming what I’ve long suspected. Sadly, change is seldom for the better.

Jana Kalina


Jobs, jobs, jobs—and other exaggerations

I wish to commend Focus for its excellent reporting on last year’s CRD ad campaign for the beleaguered sewage treatment project. Many of the CRD’s claims simply don’t hold up to basic scrutiny.

The story behind the story of the advertisements is also very interesting.

Denise Savoie stepped down from her seat on August 31, 2012 which created the need for a by-election.

The writ for the by-election was issued on October 21, 2012 and the election ran until November 26, 2012. These CRD ads began to appear in local newspapers during the last week of October in the middle of the by-election and weren’t pulled until November 5, 2012.

Our group was instrumental in getting those ads pulled by the CRD after we initiated an online letter writing campaign which began on Friday, November 2. By Monday November 5, after receiving hundreds of emails, the ads were pulled by former CRD Chair Geoff Young.

It was clearly the right thing to do but how did these ads get authorized in the first place? Who has taken the responsibility for that? What was the purpose of these ads? To date, we have heard little to nothing.

What is more telling is that the ads promised an insert which was to appear on November 14, 2012 which has never seen the light of day. This was to be the same day that the CRD was to vote on the “commission bylaw” (now passed) handing control of their sewage project over to an unelected body of experts.

The optics of this ad campaign remain awful and yet the CRD continues to struggle to engage the community in a more meaningful way than simply feeding it glossy images annotated with their opinion emphasizing only the project’s positives as they see it.

Richard Atwell


The thin air of bonus density

There are many unmet needs that could be readily fulfilled with enough tax revenue. Let’s do what’s needed to generate the local share. 

The overarching need is a socially just transition from urban carbon dependency. David Suzuki recommends the www.StoryofBroke.org video about how to do this. Carbon transition determines what Victoria needs to do: Much greater bicycle and pedestrian friendliness. Grade-separated bike paths. Free public transit. 100 more buses. 100 less police (guaranteeing their transition livelihoods). Phased automobile abolition. Free or affordable quality housing for those without. Earthquake proofing. Insulation and window upgrades. Solarize buildings. Livable wages for all Victoria residents. Convert lawns to food gardens. Livable-waged urban farmhands. Supporting struggling small businesses. Add some more.

The article suggested aristocrats were history. Our contemporary aristocrats—developers, global realty firms, land speculators, large landlords, bankers, box store and chain retailers, mall investors, industrialists—want one thing and one thing only from the city: the unimpeded ability to maximize profit.

That’s why cities came into existence—elite-dominated centres to accumulate private property to maximize profit. It’s called the “highest-and-best-use-of-land-for-profit” process. It created Manhattan and puts high-rise pressure on Victoria. Commercial and residential high-rises don’t actually have substantive social function beyond profit maximization—a constructed function. 

Yet research shows that people are most content in widely distributed structures lower than six floors separated by large green spaces. We don’t need more highest-and-best-use-for-profit buildings. There are already enough vacant spaces for every homeless person. Realty-god forbid they should be supported to live there.

The aristocratic talk on the golf course is not about how to increase Victoria’s eco-social good. It is “How great this next project will be for my bottom line!”

Relative to special interest benefit, a 6:1 bonus density charge is quite fair. I got my MA in urban planning from UCLA in 1985. Sadly, if I don’t say that, I might have to run for cover from golf club-wielding developers. 

Larry Wartel


When the subject of “bonus density” was first conceived at City Hall, I never could understand the rationale behind it. I remember discussions with some of the planners about this topic and the basic concept of rezoning. “What’s in it for the City?” they would always say and I would attempt to provide the points that you have successfully made in your article, obviously to no avail.

The idea of bonus density or  the return of benefits to a City was taboo , if not illegal, back in the  70s. I remember the City Solicitor at that time, Jacob deVilliers, would be continually advising the planning department that a rezoning application must be considered on the basis of land use and not on what benefits the applicant was offering or the City requiring.

Of course, the City is stone broke and is looking at any means to fill their coffers, even if irrational thinking is involved. Perhaps they have finally noticed that Stew Young  started selling rezoning over a decade ago and now they want a piece of the pie.

Ian Phillips



Tax-time number crunching

It’s property tax time again and I did a bit of checking. Going over our household statements for 2013 and 2001, I found some spendthrifts and a few prudent folks.

Schools have gone up a mere 16 percent and BC Assessment 13 percent over the past 12 years. 

 A bit more expensive are municipal costs at 55 percent and a 46 percent rise for garbage. I suppose 4 or so percent a year increase is defensible.

Rather excessive are the CRD “general charge,” which is up 74 percent, and CRD hospitals with a 99 percent levy increase. I keep wondering what we have to show for these boosts.

Next to worst is the water and sewer increase of 91 percent although the change in reporting and billing formats obfuscate the comparison somewhat. And I guess this area is only going to get worse if the poop percolating plant proceeds. Abolish the senate and put the money to good use funding this project.

And the winner is—BC Transit. It is up a whopping 251 percent. Blimey, they’ve got too many spanking new trolleys running around one-third full now and they keep making noises about incurring more debt and new costs for studies and pipe dreams.

Rob Watson



Ageing greacefully

After reading numerous excellent articles by Rob Wipond in your magazine via the internet, I was fortunate enough to be given a copy of the June issue. What an amazing cover. And I would like to add what an insightful magazine you produce.

However, I have been, and continue to be taken aback by the Heart & Stroke Foundation’s in-your-senior-face campaign [mentioned in Trudy Mitic Duivenvoorden’s article] regarding the last ten years of my life.

Which is going to be full of sickness according to them. I am 73 years of age, and suffer from a chronic pain syndrome (and related issues). If I hadn’t been hit by a car eight years ago my current life would be much fuller, able to do more things, and generally, have a higher quality of life. Quite frankly, I don’t need to be reminded about the last 10 years of my life. My body is already the sum of the parts of what preceded me in my choices—including a lot of natural choices. However, they didn’t prevent the car from hitting me.

So enough with the split screens of what an elder person may look like—full of tubes—or not. This campaign should be aimed at the younger generations which are better acquainted with the need of exercise, better choices, etc.  I’m very happy that Trudy can jog, and is aware of how to prevent what were once inevitable diseases.

I can’t jog and do the exercises that would make my last 10 years above average.

I am sickened by this campaign, and exceedlingly disapppointed in the lack of sensitivity about seniors—especially those who are already on the decline.

Please pick on someone your own age!

Jo-Ann Ferriman


Subscriber notes

Please find enclosed my cheque for $35 for my yearly donation to Focus. I will continue to pick up my copy each month at Lifestyles on Douglas Street in Victoria. It’s a perfect start to my day. I have been an avid reader of your magazine since 2002 when it was first brought to my attention through the former chapter of Status of Women Action Group. In fact, in the September 2002 issue, Sara Cassidy wrote an information feature on us: “Women Speak Out on Health Issues.”

Now, as time goes by, this magazine, so rich in scope and diversity, continues to scrutinize the way with a sharp focus of checks and balances with each edition.

For me, your magazine has made such a positive impact on my life with your truth telling in each article that I find myself more connected to my neighbourhood.

Thank you.

Sheila McCullough