Letters to the editor

Focus readers, December 2014

Vote for Mayor Squishy

My oh my, Gene, what was that which you must have dumped into your yuppie porridge this morning? Too many sour left-wing grapes? It must have given you the bends! Please, a little more civility would be nice.

First off, full disclosure: I am an unpaid volunteer, a door-to-door “leafleteer,” campaigning for Victoria mayoral candidate Ida Chong.

Why? Because I believe she has the experience to assume this office and, I hope, to work with fellow Victorians (not exclusively councillors and City Hall desk-pilots) to help get our fair city “back.”

The drift from that collection of councillors and bureaucrats over the past three years has been dreadful. Victorians have not been served at all, especially on the blue bridge, sewage and local taxation.

Why? History will figure it out, but I believe between council and staff, no one was bright enough to “do the jobs.”

So why pound on Ida? You don’t know if she would make a good mayor or not. Have you ever been a cabinet minister, a municipal councillor or held any kind of public office?

As a former journalist, I know how easy it is to chuck barnyard droppings at politicians. But Victoria’s in serious municipal disrepair and doesn’t need a columnist-in-a-snit.

It needs more of what the rest of Focus has been doing: providing excellent coverage of the blue bridge, sewage and other important elements affecting our daily lives as burnt-out taxpayers.

I, too, agree with you on one thing, Gene. Mayor Dean (“A Bridge Too Far”) Fortin may well have burnt his last bridge and will now have to hustle like the rest of us to pay those damnable taxes and so forth. Thanks Dean.

As for the other mayoral candidates, good for them for standing up and running. It is a difficult row to hoe, so good on them all.

John Stanton


I have been an admirer of Gene Miller’s insightful and polished writing in the past. However, with his November column he has lost much of my respect. I didn’t expect him to be an American style political mudslinger with cheap shots from a sponsorship shotgun.

Most objectionable is the subtitle of the article of “Who the hell thought up Ida Chong?” Whatever Gene’s like or dislike is for a particular mayoral candidate, he has no right for the disrespect and venom implied by that line.

He could just as well ask the same question about Changes the Clown, David Shebib or even Stephen Andrew and while perhaps more appropriate to ask, it would still be disrespectful of the fact that these people put their name out for service to the public.

One could guess that Gene has filled his pen with vitriol because the candidacy of Ida Chong is a strong contender to his choice, Lisa Helps, and wishes [Helps] had a Mawhinney-clone for her campaign.

I expect real substance and not cheap rhetoric from Gene and perhaps an apology from Lisa to Ida Chong, on behalf of Gene. I don’t believe that Lisa Helps enjoys smearing her opponents.

George Zador


Gene Miller responds: The very best, and absolutely revelatory, moment in CFAX radio host Ian Jessup’s “Sound Cloud” show for Tuesday, November 4 comes at 57:24, when interviewee Mark Mawhinney, campaign chair for Ida Chong, says to Jessup: “...a private function to convince Ida to run for mayor." 

Any attentive, intelligent citizen—leave alone a venomous, vicious, American-style political mudslinging, cheap-shot bad guy like me—might, upon hearing those words, wonder: “Who the hell thought up Ida Chong?” 

In spite of Mawhinney’s on-air sanctimony, politics is violent, surface or buried. I encourage you to compare my “vigourous” language in a Focus column to the less visible but far greater violence and political cynicism (not to mention disservice to the electorate) of shopping for an ideological recruit and foisting her on Victoria voters. There was never authenticity to Chong’s campaign, and the voters knew it. “Who the hell thought up Ida Chong?” wasn’t a glib toss-away. It was a serious question, worth asking and answering in the column.

I have nothing personal against Chong and wish her well—as anything but Victoria’s mayor.

I raised money for Helps and hosted a number of meetings in support of her campaign. I wonder why? Could it be that I thought she was the mayor Victoria desperately needs? Could it be that I saw in Helps a person burning with formidable intelligence and desire to make this a more successful and finer city? 

I tell you this: I never had to wonder who the hell thought up Lisa Helps.


As an American, I wonder what alternative universe Gene Miller lives in when he sings President Obama’s praises in his recent Focus column suggesting Victoria vote for “Mayor Squishy”.

Here are some hard painful economic facts ordinary Americans live with every day:

(1) Real median incomes have been stagnant for almost 30 years according to US Census data. Last year they were $51,929, below the 1989 level of $52,432. Since their 2007 pre-Great Recession peak of $56,436 they’ve been dropping steadily, down 8 percent, even though the Obama recovery has been underway for over five years.

(2) According to the Washington Post, American median real net worth has continued to fall through the Obama recovery and is now $81,000, lower than its 1989 level of $85,000, and far below its pre-Great Recession peak of $135,000.

(3) During the Obama recovery the top one percent took 95 percent of real income growth with a 31.4 percent increase. The rest of us, the infamous 99 percent, have managed just 0.4 percent real income growth, according to a UC Berkeley paper co-authored last fall by economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty.

(4) According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, true unemployment—the so called U6 rate, counting those working part time who’d rather work full time and those marginally attached to the work force—is 11.8 percent, not the headline (U3) rate of 5.9 percent.

(5) Labor force participation has fallen steadily from 65.7 percent when the Obama recovery began in June 2009 to 62.7 percent now, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. If all those people were actively looking for jobs, the unemployment rate would be much higher, but they’ve given up in discouragement. There are still 2.8 million fewer people working full time than in 2007, before the recession, while the total labor force has grown around 13 million since then.

(6) Completing college, the long time route to the American dream, is tougher and tougher as costs soar, well ahead of inflation. Student debt is approaching $1.2 trillion, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Americans don’t think much of Mr Obama, and all these painful facts are much of the reason why.

According to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, published October 28, 68 percent of Americans think their country is on the wrong track and only 28 percent think it’s headed in the right direction. 72 percent have a negative view of the economy. 60 percent have either no trust or not much trust in their government, which Mr Obama has been presiding over for almost six years. 51 percent disapprove of Mr Obama’s performance and 52 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy.

Corporate profits, the dollar, the stock market? Yes, they’re all up and they’re all irrelevant to the average American. Interest rates may be low, but that hurts everyone saving for retirement, and tight bank lending standards mean most people can’t qualify for cheap home mortgages anyway. Inflation is low, until you go to the supermarket. Ground beef is up 25 percent over the past 24 months and milk is up 6 percent over the past year. Sure gasoline and natural gas prices are down, but Mr Obama has done his best to oppose at every step the surge in US oil and gas exploration and production which has driven prices down.

It’s not my place to suggest whom Victorians should elect as their next mayor. But they may want to consider the source of any advice they take, and find one who steers clear of ill-informed opinions about the challenges average Americans face.

Andy Lund


Gene’s response: Hats off, brother. I’m sure you remember the story of all-commanding King Canute who brings his courtiers to the shore to demonstrate the limits of his real power. While not his apologist, that’s how I see Obama. If we’re going to discuss how the “average” American is doing economically, we have to look way past Obama to political, economic and social realities not of his making or his time in leadership.

Should Obama have been America’s latter-day FDR? Does anyone think that particular set of historical conditions and possibilities still exists? That noted, Obama is guilty of breaking a cardinal political rule: never waste a crisis. History handed him the economic catastrophe of 2008, and I wish he had dragged the financial sector to heel, far beyond the constructive but limited prohibitions of Dodd-Frank. And I wish he had stripped the one percent of their money and turned them over to the mob. And I wish he had imposed his version of the New Deal and the WPA. And I wish this. And I wish that.

I believe history will judge Obama less critically and more sympathetically than the current mood would suggest. But in the here-and-now the entire country is broken, disgusted with Washington, in profound pain, facing extraordinary structural challenges, going through culture shock, and unable to reconcile its exceptionalist self-image with current realities, global and internal. Who jumps up and cheers “We’re Number Two?”

My column, as you well know, expressed an opinion only in response to a local observation concerning Obama’s lack of business qualifications to be “the CEO of the world’s largest economy.” I argued that if Obama has no qualifications, it’s worth noting that US economic performance is comparatively strong right now—a lot stronger, say, than the Eurozone, which is dealing with de-facto double-digit unemployment levels and perilous economic conditions.

With all of this said, I feel America’s pain (I’m a dual US and Canadian citizen) and for all of your, and many of my own, reasons, I’m so sorry that Obama couldn’t command the waves to stop.


Outrageous!  How dare Focus columnist Gene Miller dub the long-(s)pending Johnson Street Bridge “Pont More Than eNeuf” when I have already christened it (registered in your very own pages) as “Fortin’s Folly” —aiming to cross, one day, what might legitimately be called “Jackass Gulch.” Miller’s “More Than eNeuf” tag might be more usefully attached to Victoria’s City Council as a whole.

Jeremy Hespeler-Boultbee


On emissions, LNG, and a new vision

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has made it quite clear that disaster lies ahead if world governments fail to agree on an immediate course of action to reverse our output of CO2 emissions.

Despite these warnings we are told that Canada is doing very little to fight global climate change, and that its latest attempt at dealing with CO2 emissions (Bill C2) will actually allow greenhouse gas emissions to skyrocket. (BC and Alberta are the main contributors.)

Green Party MLA Dr Andrew Weaver thinks it’s time to change. He wants Canada to choose a different path. He claims to have “a vision that would take us from the current backward-looking 20th century strategy to a 21st century economy which will return our province to a place of leadership.”

In order to pursue this vision Weaver wants to “develop our province into one of the most prosperous jurisdictions in the world” by building “a sustainable, diversified and resilient economy for this generation and the next.” He believes this can be accomplished if we focus on clean tech and “jobs in digital media and life sciences,” which are “characterized by fast growth.”

There’s no doubt that a shift in the clean tech direction will help mitigate climate change, although the most recent IPCC message seems less hopeful. But Weaver’s vision is somewhat myopic, particularly if its focus is limited to a couple of generations and doesn’t take into account the unavoidable problems that accompany fast growth.

Weaver wants us to believe his vision will help us adapt to global warming, and he may be right. Unfortunately, any vision that relies on growth will sooner or later run head first into the law of diminishing returns. In this regard Weaver’s vision is no different than the NDP’s or the Liberals’. Weaver, the NDP and the Liberals can’t bring themselves to tell the truth: Growth economies are leading us to disaster. Infinite growth on a finite planet is fantasy.

Ken Dwernychuk



I thouroughly enjoyed your November issue, hearing about the candidates, the ongoing blue bridge stupidity, and especially Amy Reiswig’s interview with Elizabth May.

What really got me was the remark that we all inadvertently make: “the Harper Government.” No—it is our government. We must get this back. Our government.

Peggy McCann


Thank you for highlighting the importance of leadership in your November issue. The election of new mayors for Victoria and Saanich are clear evidence that citizens of the Capital Region want more open, transparent, collaborative government.

With municipal elections now behind us, attention turns to the upcoming federal election.

This is a crucial time in Canada’s history. So much has already been lost. And, if we don’t change the course of the country now, our beloved Canada will truly be unrecognizable from the proud, peace-loving, diplomacy-oriented, and welcoming country we once knew.

Democracy is being dismantled; just like Canada’s unparalleled magnificent wilderness, it is at risk.

Our federal and provincial governments are selling us out, exploiting the natural wealth of public lands to feed the insatiable appetites of corporate greed and growth. In turn, they are rewarded with millions in campaign funding to buy their way back into power. This is not democracy. And we must end this self-destructive downward spiral.

Collaboration is the only way. To quote Maude Barlow (Council of Canadians), “To change everything, we need everyone.”

We need the Liberals, the NDP and the Greens to cooperate. In the 2011 election, these three parties garnered 53.4 percent of the vote, while the Conservatives have been running (ruining?) the country with a mere 39.6 percent. We need Nathan Cullen to resurrect his plan for collaborative change, and his party—the NDP, to support him.

We need a coalition that puts Canada ahead of political ambition. We need Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau to show they value democracy more than power. We need Elizabeth May in a leadership role.

We need to cooperate now to prevent further decimation of democracy, and then change the flawed voting system to one that is fair and representative and will give us the government we ask for, the one we truly deserve.

We need the Council of Canadians, Dogwood Initiative, Fair Vote Canada, LeadNow, the David Suzuki Foundation, and every other grassroots organization in this country busy mobilizing citizens who seek change to work together. We need a united front. Yes—the internet is a phenomenal organizing tool, but we are all petition/pledge/email weary and donation poor. If these well-intentioned organizations continue to work in silos, our collective energy will continue to be divided and dissipated. The need for collaboration has never been greater.

Not only do we owe this to our children, and our children’s children, we owe this to our ancestors—those who came to build a more equitable country, many of whom gave their lives in the fight for freedom. We owe it to those whose land we stole to build an inclusive, equitable future together. The next federal election may be our last chance to take back our country. Let’s do it.

Karyn Woodland


Friends of reality

I very much enjoy reading Gene Miller’s column every month—but his October analysis of life on this planet is not a dystopian future, it is a dystopian present. Perhaps his emphasis on evil far right conservative, Republican, religious bigots is a little over the top as his ideas might be too readily pushed aside to the milieu of extreme left wing liberal Democrat atheist abortionists. Hence his often intelligent concepts are set aside as hyper lunatic ravings. 

Mr Broadland’s analysis of the blue bridge and sewage treatment fiascos is a great deal more tempered and enlightening (but not as much fun to read). Perhaps the mayor and council’s rush in the beginning to tap into federal infrastructure funds was not well thought out and the CRD’s sewage treatment process clearly shows that governments and agencies of all political stripes are not really well equipped to develop wisely. Fast Ferries and BC Place are cogent reminders. That is why the sale of the James Bay land near the parliament buildings was a good decision (please note, Ben Isitt).

Unfortunately Focus all too often paints the corporations as rapacious and evil—all profit is against the best interests of society. Perhaps a read of The Rational Optimist might be enlightening? From Man’s beginnings on Earth, trading was an important process to enable prosperity.

In conclusion the miracle of our existence on this three billion year old planet whirling in our solar system amidst the Milky Way and billions of other galaxies might be more appreciated in a thankful manner. Gratitude is called for in our existence whether that be seen through the lens of pure rational analysis or the cosmology of those who sense a power beyond rational consideration. Remember Gene we don’t need to denigrate those who think differently than we do—Besides you can always learn from a different point of view?

Patrick Skillings


Site C Dam is not “clean” or “green”

Why do we persist in the use of the adjective “Clean” in our descriptions of dam/generator-created hydro power? From my perspective, hydro power is neither “clean” nor “green.”

What is “clean” about a source of electrical power that floods valley bottom-land totally and in perpetuity? Any system producing electrical power that eliminates a large and complex set of living eco-systems forever can only be described as “dirty”.

Consider Williston Lake behind Bennett Dam in Northeast BC, the largest man-made lake in Canada; study a map of Northern BC to get a sense of the hugeness of the project and the massiveness of its impact. Large areas of low-elevation land, rich with ecological diversity, essential wintering grounds for countless ungulates, predators and smaller creatures, bird and animal migration routes, and human sites and trails in use since the glacial era, have been removed to be replaced by water and mud, not to mention acres and acres of dead trees. Much the same will occur behind Site C Dam. What is “green” about that?

If Site C Dam is built, some of the richest, low-elevation, south-facing agricultural land in BC will be eliminated—gone. How much land in BC is good for farm use? Two percent? Three percent? And the lake will not even be useful for recreational purposes. Have you driven by the upper end of not-so-beautiful Lake Koocanusa on the Kootenay River in Southeast BC? If you do, you’ll see that, with its typically shifting water levels, the place is nothing but a mud field.

John Schreiber


There is no “away” for fecal coliform 

After more than 35 years of year round commercial fishing and diving experience working on and under local waters I have an opinion regarding sewage treatment in the CRD that is not based on sentiment.

In August of 2013, I posted a diving video on youtube entitled: “CRD sewage outfall pollution in Victoria BC,” showing the accumulation of the sewage outfall sediment and the highly degraded marine environment at Coghlan Rock, a rocky reef located on the north side of Albert Head, approximately five km from the Macaulay Point outfall. 

Sediment and biological samples collected from Coghlan Rock and seven other locations between William Head and Trial Island all tested positive for unsafe levels of fecal coliform (fc) bacteria.

In the spring of 2013 the CRD’s own sampling revealed fecal coliform counts ranging from 5000 fc/100 ml to 13,000 fc/100 ml in sediment samples collected from the seabed, beginning at the terminus of the Macaulay Point outfall and moving south for several kilometres toward Race Rocks. The health standards are approximately 200 fc/100 ml for swimming and 350 fc/100 ml for shellfish. 

The local currents do not disperse the effluent into oblivion, but rather act effectively to expose the local seabed and marine life in the upstream and downstream tidal ranges of the outfalls to the fecal matter, microbes, micro-plastic, and all the other chemical contaminants and pollutants contained within the 18 million kilograms of solid waste we pump into our near shore waters annually. There is no “away.”

Allan Crow, commercial fisherman