Letters to the editor

Focus readers, June 2014

A wonderful read

What a wonderful read, back to front, the May issue of Focus is.

Starting with Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic’s “Composting Conundrum,” surprise, surprise; Victoria’s composting program is not working as planned and now all kitchen scraps will be shipped to Richmond for 20 months at a cost of $4.7 million. Of course, Victoria did not have a Plan B in place. Gracious, the only Plan A Victoria has is a Fortin photo-op. Forget about rewarding ratepayers for composting, they will have a green bin and pay for it used or not. Mind you, for $4.7 million, Victoria could hire four people at $50,000-a-year to go around and build and turn everyone’s compost heap for the next 23 years.

Turning the page to Gene Miller’s column on ironitis and why politicians are in thrall with the engineers, he holds up the $24-million McTavish Circus as a prime example of spending any money available rather than thinking if it is needed. Sure it got votes for Gary Lunn, not that it helped him. But the only problem it solved was the pension plans for the ring knockers. Here was a solution in search of a problem. Once again, if there was some logic required, they could have built a tower at the intersection to control traffic, hired four people at $50,000-a-year to staff it for 12 hours a day for the next 120 years, give or take a sick day.

Then to David Broadland’s unforgivable questioning of Victoria City Council, its bureaucrats and engineers over the $100 million and counting Johnson Street Bridge.

This Bridge to Glory, aka Fortin’s Folly, always had niggling questions about need, structure, finances and credibility. Thanks to Broadland, alone in what passes for a press in Victoria, those nigglings are now reality, but Victoria council’s response has been a collective head in the sand. If what Broadland says about these details is not true, surely the City would have refuted them and sued. If council has been kept in the dark, why wouldn’t councillors have demanded some public explanation?

This is not a case of councillors being ignorant of the issues, rather being wilfully ignorant. How can any of the nine be trusted with another four years when they have proven themselves so inept and uncaring about taxpayers?

Patrick Murphy


A world-class case of ironitis

I was euphoric when I discovered Gene Miller’s skewering of the McTavish Interchange in your May 2014 edition. For years I thought I was the only person in the world who hated it. Locals drive miles out of their way to avoid it. Pity the poor tourist attempting to find their way to Victoria whilst trying to navigate this engineering disgrace!

A masterful piece of work Mr. Miller.

Laurie Ingalls


Living humbly as I do in the neighbourhood of Gordon Head, I felt rather left out by Gene Miller’s whacky tirade in the May edition of Focus. Gene took cheap shots at Langford, Sooke and Oak Bay. Why not “share the fantasy” with us? You know, the unimaginative folks living in sterile, cookie-cutter, stucco boxes near the Ivory Towers. You might even manage to slip a few racial slurs past the PC police. 

It seems Gene is jumping on the anti-megaproject bandwagon. In the same issue, David Broadland’s meticulously well-researched investigative journalism definitely exposes political incest regarding the replacement Johnson Street Bridge and the dubious sewage treatment project. It is a cautionary tale for the politically complacent. 

But I draw the line somewhere. For years in the 1990s I commuted from Victoria to Sidney to work in light industry and I used to hate those traffic lights at McTavish and the highway. Gene downplays that hazardous intersection on a highway curve—always a recipe for driver stupidity. It wasn’t just a few cars clogging the left turn lane. Something had to be done. I also am happy to see roundabouts replacing stop-and-go intersections; keeping rolling saves gasoline.

There’s nothing quaint and reassuring about wishing for the old days, Gene. I look forward to the day that there is an absence of traffic lights between Swartz Bay and Uptown on the Pat Bay Highway. Replacing stupid road design with efficient highways is a good thing (something that would be obvious to anyone who has driven in Germany or Holland or Denmark). I suppose that while you’re at it, you’d like to expand 30km/hr zones across greater swaths of the city so we could all slow down and smell the broom pollen, or praise the audacity of jaywalkers in hippy skirts. Presently there are plenty of slow speed zones in this city because...why? Oh, there it is, a gentle curve in the road! Some people who work in this town don’t actually mind efficient road systems, Gene. 

Not that I mind you pointing the finger at urban planners and politicos who might waste taxpayers’ money; it’s just that a little grounding in factual reality might strengthen your case.

But if you are writing only to entertain, hey, what’s another rant between anarchic, hippy freaks like us?

Baron B. Marks


Gettin’ there

Usually when I read Gene Miller’s column I laugh, wince, and nod my head in resigned agreement to whatever topic is the brunt of his astute observations, bulls-eye black humour, and pithy comments. His April column, however, brought a more sober and contemplative reaction from reading something I know is sadly true: “The plausibility of a planetary-scale ‘tipping point’ highlights the need to improve biological forecasting by detecting early warning signs of critical transitions on global and local scales, and by detecting feedbacks that promote such transitions.”

This is surely why the current federal government (with the provincial one close behind) is so thoroughly deregulating, dismantling, and destroying the scientific (DFO), cultural (CBC), and socio-political (long-form census) means of detecting such feedback. I could list a dozen examples under each of these categories, all done for purposes of short-term political gain at the expense of long-term environmental, social, and cultural degradation and loss.

Thank goodness for the last sentence of Miller’s column, wherein he reminds us that the real heroes in our lives work locally, with far-reaching beneficence: “Our local heroes organize and direct community choirs that sing us to safety.” That reminded me of a well-loved line from a favourite children’s book by Rosemary Wells: “We sing our songs in the direction of trouble…”

Where I live (Gabriola Island) our community champions do likewise, and I consider them heroes—they teach our children well, they support our seniors, provide homes for people in need, protect our shores and forests, work endless hours on our Commons land and buildings, and truly advance the goals of humanity at its best. And they direct choirs and informal singing groups that sing us to safety, harmony, comfort and joy. Thank you, Gene, for reminding us that peace reigns when people sing together.

Susan Yates


Forest tenure reform

Our gratitude to Briony Penn for her recent article bringing to light the politics associated with the Province’s Area Based Forest Tenures Discussion Paper. 

Time and again, Provincial concessions have been made to minimize Licensee costs at the expense of the short and long-term common good. This cumulative degradation of value has not been good for forests, public owners, workers, communities or even forest companies. 

Let’s look at a brutal fact: No one in authority owns the long-term forest stewardship problem. 

The Province, acting on our behalf, does not. The BC Auditor General in his 2012 forestry report noted that beyond free growing (7-20 years) of a new forest after logging, no forest stewardship plan is required.

TFL licensees, acting in their own self-interest, do not. Between 1998 and 2009 most private land in Tree Farm Licenses was deleted, and some sold for real estate. This deletion contradicted the principle of combining private lands and Crown land into sustained yield units that was a foundational concept for establishing Forest Management Licences post World War Two. In his 1956 Forest Resources of British Columbia Report, Chief Justice Sloan stated: “The basic reasons for the award of any licence [are], first, to repeat, stability of employment in dependent communities and, second, establishment of permanent forestry on private lands.”

The good news is that citizen owners can incrementally turn this around—by accepting the heavy (and rewarding) political responsibilities of ownership, especially to our children, each other, our forests and our future. 

An attractive tenure alternative to Tree Farm Licences is the Forest Land Trust. USA Trust Lands total 54 million hectares in 23 states, with most trust lands located in the 15 mid-western and western states. Trusts provide funding to their beneficiaries of public schools and similar institutions from permanent funds and annual revenues. In the 1990s, USA Trust lands distributed annually about $3 billion (US) from permanent funds, and about $1.5 billion (US) annually from land management revenues. Timber revenues are significant in four states: Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Washington.

The long and short-term public benefits of forestland trusts are ecological, economic, and social. 

Ray Travers, Registered Professional Forester (Ret.)


We’re helping China suffocate

Thanks to Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic for outlining in April’s Focus how China is “losing its lungs” and how BC exports are contributing to serious illnesses there. An April Globe & Mail article further reported how those who can afford to are fleeing the dangerous levels of air pollution in China, while those who can’t are forced to live with the consequences. A concerned Canadian embassy official says that children below the age of eight could have permanent damage to their lungs. “Fumes from coal-fired power plants kill 250,000 a year in China.” Casualties of this order are as if we were at war!

BC exports of coal, wood chips, and LNG are a life and death matter to the Chinese and ultimately affect the whole planet. Edward Burtynsky’s sobering photo exhibit “A Terrible Beauty” illustrates the impact of hyper-industrialism and hyper-extraction on our planet. In “Manufactured Landscapes” Burtynsky showed us what we would otherwise never see. Our work is to get BC politicians to see the big picture and take bold environmental leadership that will be recognized and remembered by children of the future in all countries. Clearly, in BC we need to tackle the global climate issue by changing our export policies.

Jane Brett 


Ocean acidification: Jellyfish anyone?

In early March 2014, Bob Woodruff, on assignment in Beijing for ABC News, recorded a staggering 610 parts per billion air quality reading (measuring five atmospheric pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, suspended particulates, carbon monoxide, and ozone). Twenty ppb is considered safe. He travelled by train 600 miles south and recorded consistently high, unsafe readings. The readings were taken at ground level. You kind of have to wonder how high up this foul air extends. It would seem to me that if this massive blob of polluted air is produced 24/7, year in year out, it will eventually be carried across the Pacific. Wouldn’t the cumulative effect of high concentrations of CO2 coming off the Pacific be a cause for pH levels in the ocean to increase?

The question is, why are marine scientists left scratching their heads as it seems in Judith Lavoie’s April 2014 Focus article: “We never imagined that the rate of burning of fossil fuels would keep accelerating to the levels they have been for the last few years. We didn’t imagine that, collectively, we wouldn’t take action.”

Do you expect East Asian nations to stop burning coal cakes to heat their homes or fuel their industries? That won’t happen.

So I suspect that Ms Lavoie and the marine scientists she quotes may simply have not taken into account the devastation of the Earth’s air by China and other nearby countries. The only way these Asian producers of goods we consume will stop polluting is if we force them to adopt stringent pollution standards. We in North America can affect change in how our goods are made.

Until then, like the shellfish industry, people will just have to learn to adapt.

Steve Hoffman


Wade Davis’ Earth Day request

While Stephen Harper was downlisting humpback whales, Elizabeth May was honouring Earth Day by inviting world renowned ethnobotanist Wade Davis to Victoria to speak on an issue dear to his heart—the conservation of “The Sacred Headwaters,” the name given the valley where three of British Columbia’s critical salmon rivers—the Stikine, Skeena, and Nass—originate.

Davis, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, lives (seasonally) in these Sacred Headwaters in the rugged mountains of Northern British Columbia. He has travelled the globe extensively, yet told the packed house at Alix Goolden Hall that nowhere has he seen such unparalleled, pristine wilderness. He is passionate about its preservation and frustrated by the BC Government’s repeated attempts to open the area to industrial development, despite unanimous opposition from First Nations. (You can listen to the entire presentation here: www.ustream.tv/recorded/46657880.)

Davis, now teaching at UBC, urged each of us at his talk that evening to “do something”—let MLAs know we value wilderness conservation, write letters to editors to highlight the issue, ask media outlets why there isn’t more reporting on this issue, donate to the only environmental organization working for conservation of the Headwaters, the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition.

Thank you for your magazine’s informative analysis in helping us understand what is happening behind the scenes in British Columbia.

Sally Garcelon


The fracking issue

When hydraulic fracturing shafts are immediately completed, one out of every five concrete casings sealing the fracking shaft is known to leak due to imperfect mix and human error. This breakdown in the concrete casing acts as a conduit for toxic fracking fluid, methane, and toxic gases to escape into aquifers, wells, ponds, and rivers as the toxic mix makes its way to the surface due to high underground pressure.

Over 50 years, the amount of casing breakdown and leakage rises to 50 percent of fracking shafts. With a million and a half fracturing sites in North America to date, the damage and contamination to surrounding land and aquifers has been horrendous.

The oil/gas industry is planning to frack another million sites in the next five years. Hundreds of thousands of wells and aquifers have already been contaminated—contamination which doesn’t go away.

In the US, farmland, homes of the wealthy, and entire towns have become worthless overnight because the water supply is contaminated from the hydraulic fracturing processes used to obtain natural gas.

This explains why the BC Liberal government is making changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve—so they can allow for hydraulic fracturing on farmland.

Do we really want to deny our children and grandchildren fresh water on our farms and property? Can we justify the short-term gain in dollars for the loss of our drinking water?

It is important to understand what “fracking” is and why drilling for natural gas contaminates aquifers. You’ll find a worthwhile documentary titled Gasland part 2 on YouTube. Another is Tar Sands, Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent.

Bill Woollam


Response about political ad

Many thanks for publishing the the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) Campaign advert in the April issue of Focus. BDS is a huge international movement that emphasizes a peaceful way for the world’s citizens to have their voices heard, not just in supporting peace for Israel/Palestine, but by giving us all a “focus” to stand up for our own and our neighbours’ human rights.

As you know big media continues to ignore the BDS Campaign’s very existence as well as its phenomenally grassrooted, burgeoning power.

Thanks for being, as always, there for the little guy, and a voice for truth, free speech and democracy.

T. Hunter


In response to the paid ad in Focus magazine of April 2014 and the response by some of the Jewish community in the May editions “Readers’ views”: I am of the opinion that the ad for the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid tells only a portion of the atrocities being committed by Israel against the Palestinians. Add to that the many atrocities committed by the Israeli IDF,

Jewish Settlers, and Government of Israel, such as “The right of return,” the size of Palestine which now consists of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Israeli control of what and who enters these regions and economic control. If this is not “Ethnic Cleansing” then the term is being misused.

The United Nations has sanctioned Israel more times than the rest of the world for its behavior. Other groups have condemned Israel for its atrocities. What more does the Jewish community expect? This has gone on for over 60 years.

If the Jewish community feels the rest of the world is anti-Semitic, perhaps it’s time they “Look in the mirror” to see where the problems lie.

Mike McSorley


I could refute the arguments made by Aaron Devor of the Jewish Federation of Victoria & Vancouver Island re (the alleged absence of) ethnic cleansing (or indeed of Israeli apartheid) employing only the work of courageous Jewish (and mostly Israeli) academics who have frequently been treated as pariahs in Israel for acknowledging inconvenient and nasty truths many Israelis are in denial about and still others are perversely proud of. 

Contrary to what Mr Devor says, I do not think that Israel is held to a higher  or exceptional standard with regard to its treatment of Palestinians (a word Mr Devor seems incapable of using though Palestine existed long before Europeans (sorry, I should say Jewish settlers ftom Europe) arrived in Palestine and then seized most of the territory to form the state of Israel. In light of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians since the late 40s, I would say that Israel has been held to a very low standard indeed. What is really going on here is that successive governments in Israel and their supporters at home and abroad are asking the world to treat Israel differently or exceptionally when that nation behaves in an inhumane fashion towards Palestinians for six and a half decades rendering many of them homeless. If the Holocaust teaches us anything at all it should be that “never again”  ought to apply to all peoples not just Jews in Israel or wherever they might be.

I said I could refute what Mr Devor has said, but I won’t because that would usher in a war of words that might go on throughout my retirement years. I do want to say though that you have done the right thing and if you receive a continuing barrage on this subject I will take the bait and write in your defense.  

John R Bell