Letters to the editor

Focus readers, January 2015

When voter suppression comes calling

The Harper Conservatives picked the wrong person to mess with when they rigged the 2008 election against Briony Penn. The fact that she is very articulate and bright has come back to haunt them in the form of her sharp observations of their sleazy undemocratic ways, and this is the silver lining of what went wrong in Saanich-Gulf Islands in 2008. I, for one, hope to attend the Focus/Open Cinema film preview and discussion on this subject on January 28. Thank you Focus for all your dedicated, smart writers. 

Mark Fornataro


Prime Minister Harper learned well from his US Republican political mentors. However, digital and legislated vote suppression tactics are not omnipotent. By 2008, presidential candidate Obama realized that while vote suppression would steal 3-5 percent of the vote, effective vote mobilization would add 5-8 percent, negating the suppression effect. 

Vote mobilization means primarily one thing—dedicated and consistent volunteers going door-to-door to meet people in person with a very brief message. Nothing more complex than that.

It’s also why Councillor Ben Isitt received a record breaking 14,000-plus votes. He had the most strategic get-out-the-vote effort among all the contenders, mobilizing volunteers to regularly knock on 10,000 doors at least once over 60 days. Social media played only a minor role, with our funding used to help our organizer-door-knockers. Through both calling and door-knocking more volunteers were found. Great dinners with beer ended many of our evenings.

The landmark book by Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber—Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout —explains how to transform voter suppression and non-participation.

Larry Wartels


From one election to another

“Why do we spend twice as much on prisons as we spend on young children?” 

Changes the Clown makes an observation that I am sure has sailed over the heads of 99 percent of the population (mine included). But the answer is relatively simple: We spend twice as much on prisons as we do on children because we didn’t spend the money in the right place initially. Like the war on drugs, we play a futile game of catch-up. Not only that, but the truncated thinking of our politicos demands results within one election cycle, and not the 12 to 20 years that raising a child takes.

Richard Weatherill


Twenty-five years ago Ed Broadbent rose in the House of Commons for his last speech before he retired. He moved that Canada eliminate child poverty by the year 2000, a laudable and possible objective. It passed unanimously. At the time there were nearly one million children living below the poverty level. The year 2000 came and went with no improvement; in fact, 25 years later there are even more children living in poverty in Canada today.

British Columbia has the highest incidence of child poverty of any province. The government ensures that this is so by going after deadbeat dads so their child support payments can be deducted from the single mother’s welfare cheque. I’m surprised that someone hasn’t assigned a value to the food bank contribution so that can be deducted also.

The government has moved to reduce poverty among senior citizens by introducing the guaranteed income supplement, a monthly top up to old age pensions based on one’s income tax return. But there is no such guarantee for a child’s income. Seniors vote, children don’t.

In the 1970s, two towns in Manitoba were the focus of a federal government experiment for a guaranteed annual income. It replaced welfare and was based on family income tax returns. It was a success but no further action was taken. I believe that the Green Party has adopted the guaranteed annual income as policy and the Liberal Party has said they will “study” it when they come to power (code for “do nothing”). 

A guaranteed annual income would not even cost that much: provincial welfare and its bureaucracy would be eliminated. I know that the NDP has focused on a national daycare program but I believe that a guaranteed annual income program would address child poverty more quickly and effectively.

Strangely, former Conservative senator Hugh Segal has been the strongest proponent of a guaranteed annual income (he is now Master of Massey College). 

Ernie Stigant


While Leslie Campbell’s editorial doesn’t propose a global amount to help with the issue of BC’s child poverty, $1 billion per year would surely help.

That’s about the amount of annual revenue the Province gets from its sanctimonious carbon tax. And what’s to show for it? Carbonless (or any) rapid transit? Incentives to buy electric vehicles? Strategies to reduce  GHGs coming every second from a global population of some 7 billion that is on its way to 10 billion by 2050? Suggestions to advance understanding of the causes and management of global weather change?

You bet not.

While the Province likes to talk about having the lowest personal income tax rates in the country for incomes less than $120,000 per year, wouldn’t the less-heard corollary have to be that, for that income bracket, government services would also have to be the poorest in the country? Wouldn’t the “revenue neutral” carbon tax, which reduces income tax (and services) to balance what it takes, simply be adding to the problem?

Given its social and tax priorities, BC’s message to those who are aboard a leaky, listing ship seems to be bon voyage. In forthcoming elections, those who can’t imagine something better should be tossed out of elected office, or receive no votes at all.

Brian Nimeroski


Lisa’s landslide & the Atwell attack

David Broadland’s article referred to “the inevitably higher initial capital cost of distributed [sewage] treatment.” Other things being equal, it would indeed cost more to build 10 or 20 small plants than a single large one. However, other things are not equal if the processes are not the same. If the distributed units treat to a tertiary level, the outcome will be clear water, reusable for lawns and gardens, and there will be no sludge because particulate matter is gasified. 

Since there will be no need for a secondary treatment plant at McLoughlin Point, a bio-solids facility at Hartland, or new pipelines from Clover Point to McLoughlin Point to Hartland, the distributed plan would save the hundreds of millions involved in that plan. Our existing mains will serve as backup while the distributed plants are being tested and will then continue to accommodate stormwater runoff.

The notion that a distributed system would cost much more than a centralized one was suggested in a report prepared for the CRD in February 2009. It has been chanted like a mantra ever since. The key point is that the distributed system contemplated was a low-tech secondary treatment system like Seaterra’s. It was bound to be impossibly expensive, for it was assumed to absorb all the costs of Seaterra plus a cool billion for acquiring new distributed sites and buildings, often in expensive residential neighbourhoods. 

Why was secondary treatment assumed rather than tertiary? Possible reasons would have included these: A secondary level of treatment was all that the federal and provincial governments ordered; as generalists, CRD board members are subject to sway by specialists and staff; and secondary treatment is popular with construction interests because it entails large civil works.

We must become persuaded that distributed tertiary treatment will give us the best results for the least cost. No more expensive consultants, please—let potential bidders present their credentials and display their pilot plants, while the public learns from the experience and contributes to the decision-making. Municipalities can suggest sites, engineering staff can focus on tie-ins with our existing system, and we can all take pride in the process and the results achieved.

David Bodenberg


Trans Mountain pipeline heats up

We live on a small BC island, knowing all things are connected. In November we were present-in-spirit on Burnaby Mountain, applauding brave people who stepped over the line. We know from experience that this is not a step taken lightly, and we respect the decision to be arrested. 

We are pleased to witness the growing community solidarity and much-needed media attention. We are glad for whatever success the actions represent in the big picture of efforts to protect ecosystems and life on Earth.

However, while glad on one hand, recent news makes me disappointed for arrestees who will not have their say in court. An opportunity for public comment has once again been arrested.

A CTV news report stated, “The judge also threw out civil contempt charges against dozens of protesters after Kinder Morgan admitted it provided incorrect GPS information in its original injunction request.”

I am suspicious that Kinder Morgan intentionally placed the line in the wrong place, because it didn’t want protracted trials and media attention at a later date. I have contacted lawyers to ask whether there is any basis for legal action(s) against Kinder Morgan, and if so, to recommend it.

Can it be proved the GPS error was intentional? How and why did that occur; when and why did the company report their “error”? (And if it was an “honest mistake” how can we trust this company to lay out a pipeline in difficult remote terrain?!)

Perhaps there should be a class action suit by the arrestees for unnecessary personal distress. It seems unfair for the company to put people to this test due to a stupid mistake—or a false pretense.

And maybe there should be additional public legal action for the extraordinary police and judicial costs of enforcing Kinder Morgan’s erroneous line. We all pay for the RCMP and a lot of British Columbians don’t like this use of limited police budgets.

Even if legal challenges fail, I believe the courts may be a good venue for shedding light on what’s going on. 

Lannie Keller, Surge Narrows, BC


Pipelines are big news these days but as usual we are not getting the facts from the mainstream media. The protesters, when given airtime, also have not done a very good job of explaining why they are out there in the cold and rain facing lawsuits and jail time. 

Kinder Morgan and Enron on the other hand have dipped into their lucrative oil profits to hire public relations firms and spin-doctors to promote their side of the story through expensive TV and newspaper advertising campaigns. As usual they are seducing the public with the tried and true messages of jobs, growth and prosperity.

It seems to me, then, the main points are:

We are often told we live in one of the most seismically active zones on the planet and we can expect the “Big One” any minute, or sometime soon. The experts say it’s not a matter of if, but when, etc etc. So the better question is why would we build a big new pipeline or triple an existing one in such a high-risk area? After all, we are continually warned how we should prepare and act when the ground starts to shake violently and collapse around us. Pipelines, however, can’t get under desks. In the event of such a catastrophe the amount of oil that would rupture onto our coastlines and, most likely some local communities, would be impossible to contain or clean up, particularly as much of it would be heavy, unconventional tar sands bitumen.

The other major point is Canadians are currently on the hook for billions of dollars for toxic pollution cleanup and containment. Our well-paid, well-travelled, political decision-makers have allowed businesses to destroy the environment, leave toxic waste, and walk. A recent report identified tens of thousands of these sites throughout Canada, each with varying degrees of contaminants. Taxpayers must now pick up the tab.

The Yellowknife Giant Mine site alone, for example, is costing one billion of our tax dollars to contain the 237,000 toxic tons of arsenic trioxide that was left. The companies were allowed to leave after taking a record amount of gold. The ongoing annual cost to taxpayers is several million dollars to stop this toxic poison from leaching into the city’s soil, groundwater, the Great Slave Lake (deepest in North America), and Canada’s biggest river, the Mackenzie.

All this in the face of government reports that have warned we are not getting adequate compensation for our resources from foreign companies. They cite difficulties in determining how much is harvested by these firms and the cost of an adequate workforce to regulate them. If you also consider how much of our portion of the “profits” is going towards decontamination costs—we really are getting shortchanged. 

So ignoring issues like legacy for Canadians, sustaining our oil supply, and losing the predicted future increased price the diminishing reserves will surely result in—the risk to Canadians posed by pipelines is only going to get worse. This is because the Harper pro-business government wants to get the oil out as fast as possible after dramatically reducing environmental assessment protections for resource development.

Anthony Mears  


E&N: More red lights ahead?

I found the article by Roszan Holmen on the E&N Railway very interesting and well written. 

The photo on page 37 showing a steel trestle is actually a picture of the Arbutus Canyon Bridge, approximately 2 kilometres north of the Niagara Canyon Bridge (photo attached). I have travelled this area on foot many times during my insulator collecting days. In later years we used the Niagara for rappelling practice.

Also a thank you for the excellent coverage on the Blue bridge fiasco.

Armin Sielopp


A united front for federal election

The letter on elections by Karyn Woodward urging federal opposition parties to collaborate to defeat the Conservatives in the next year struck a chord with me. From now on every time I get an email from a political party I am going to reply with the following:

“Will the Greens, the Liberals, and the NDP put Canada ahead of political ambition, prove that they value democracy, and unite to take back our country. We owe this to our children, and to our ancestors.”

Patrick Lawson


Open letter re Oak Bay’s deer cull

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

Congratulations for being (re)-elected to Oak Bay Council. The purpose of this email is to remind you of the official position of the BC SPCA regarding the proposed deer cull in Oak Bay.

BC SPCA’s CEO Craig Daniell wrote to Oak May mayor and council in June 2013. The following are, in my opinion, the most important statements from his letter:

“Decades of wildlife studies on culling activities show that removal of animals in such a transient system only creates a ‘sink’ territory for more animals to move into.”

“An indiscriminate cull which neglects considerations for gender and age class is unethical and contrary to generally accepted principles of wildlife management.”

“Based on lessons learned from other North American cities dealing with this issue for the past 20 years, the proposed cull actions are not a scientifically-sound or sustainable solution.”

I spoke recently with Dr Sara Dubois, chief scientific officer of the BC SPCA. She assured me that the official position of the BC SPCA on this matter has not changed since the above letter was sent to Oak Bay mayor and council.

For a comprehensive review of the matter, please see my comment “The Deer Question” in Focus magazine of November 2013 (in archives at focusonline.ca). I analyzed the various points that deer cull advocates commonly make and refute each and every one of them based on facts and evidence.

Wherever a deer population reduction program has been carried out or attempted in BC (e.g. Invermere, Kimberley, Cranbrook), the emotional response has been very strong and has traumatized and divided residents, caused lawsuits, and traps have been systematically vandalized. I am afraid that we can expect a similar or stronger response in an urban environment such as Victoria municipalities, so we should take this factor into consideration very carefully before resorting to this barbaric and unnecessary action.

I urge you to do your own research on the deer issue before taking a final position.

Prof. N.R. Spogliarich



Re: “Lisa’s Landslide and the Atwell Attack,” Focus, December 2014, Richard Atwell did not make the parody sketch based on the movie Downfall, as suggested in the story. Says reader Tom Maler: “There is a pre-made script on the internet and one of us RITE planners typed in the subtitles based on the CRD boondoggle. The script then creates the video with the new subtitles. The only thing Richard Atwell had to do with it is that he ‘liked’ it on facebook, just like we all did. I think it was brilliant.”