Letters to the editor

Focus Readers, March 2015

TC’s coverage of Richard Atwell

David Broadland’s piece on the Saanich municipal election, its aftermath and the way other news media outlets covered it is the finest piece of municipal reporting I have seen in a long time (Focus, February 2015).

Broadland’s points on the all-too-common use of “sources say” are well-taken. In addition, news media outlets that regularly recite the phrase might want to consider that to the informed reader, it hints at a questionable story.

Some respected newspapers simply will not run stories that include any anonymous sources. At the very least, the “sources” (and I suspect there is often only one) should be identified in general terms, such as “a Saanich police department employee,” even if their names are not published.

Thanks again to Broadland for taking a hard look at the previously unreported murkiness in the back rooms of Saanich’s Old Guard.

It’s a pity there aren’t more Broadlands to go around. I can think of more than one other area municipality that could use his insightful eye and articulate voice.

Russ Francis, Oak Bay


My thanks to David Broadland for his well written accurate article about Mayor Richard Atwell. Well done! I am pleased to have this man as the mayor of Saanich.

Anne Simmons

After hearing coffee shop talk from those who swallowed the Times Colonist reports on Mayor Richard Atwell’s performance, it is with relief that I read in Focus what must be described as “the other side of the coin,” so well put by David Broadland. The trouble is that Focus is sadly not read by everyone who reads the TC or for that matter the rest of Canada.

The article points out details which I as a casual observer would never have known and it has changed my thinking considerably. Most of us are casual observers and prepared to believe what the press feeds us. Trouble is we vote or condemn accordingly, and trust too much.

Bill Labron, Saanich


Great work on the Times Colonist’s coverage of Atwell. I don’t know him or Leonard; I don’t even live in Saanich. But I do know grossly biased and incomplete news coverage when I see it, and Cleverley supplied an abundance of both. He, Obee and the TC really needed critical exposure, and you provided it.

M. Campbell


David Broadland’s article on the coverage of Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell by the Times Colonist seems to suffer from the deficiencies and omissions of which he accuses that newspaper. Why omit the fact that Mayor Atwell admitted to lying when he denied that he was having an affair? Why omit that Mayor Atwell admitted to discussions with the woman about her possibly getting a senior post at Saanich Municipal Hall. Could there be bias in Broadland’s article?

Beth Bushby

David Broadland responds:

With respect, Beth, I think you missed my point. No one has identified a substantive public interest that arose as a result of Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell placing a 911 call. So the circumstances that prompted the 911 call are none of the public’s business.

That’s why I omitted the gotcha moments that were inevitably created once the TC and some other media outlets were plunging out of control down the slippery slope of prurient-interest reporting. That’s a genre of reporting that you’re not going to find in these pages. We will confine ourselves to issues that have a compelling public interest attached.

When Mayor Atwell was asked by CHEK’s Tess van Straaten whether he’d had an affair, Atwell gave the wrong answer. He should have said: “That’s none of your damn business.”


Now investigate Oak Bay

David Broadland’s piece about the TC and Richard Atwell is the epitome of investigative journalism. There is little wonder why we are sceptical about most news stories. 

I would like to see Broadland do an article on the mayor of Oak Bay and how he skewed figures and twisted facts about the deer situation just to get a cull permit. From what I know and have heard, so many things were left undone—things which should have been attempted before a cull, which the government says is a last resort. There was no traffic mitigation, the deer count was truly flawed, public consultation was perfunctory, and there was no attempt at speed reduction or enforcement. Mayor Jensen’s concern about deer attacks and parks full of deer feces is pure fear mongering. People do walk dogs at night and children are not hiding in their homes because of the deer. It is a shame that innocent creatures will be brutally slain because of one man’s obsession.

A. Moreau, Oak Bay


Eastside-Westside sewage split

Derry McDonell’s article is both comprehensive and succinct. He gets right to the point, which is that distributed tertiary treatment is the best course for us to follow. 

Things went seriously wrong for the region after February 2009, however, when the CRD received a consultant’s report claiming that distributed treatment would cost some $2 billion, or more than twice the cost of the centralized secondary treatment plan that later became Seaterra. Most members of the sewage committee jumped to the conclusion that “distributed” treatment was the same as “tertiary” treatment. They thus rejected the tertiary option as too expensive and have held that opinion tenaciously for six years.

They were wrong: the report said three times on the very first page that only secondary treatment had been considered. The committee’s error was not entirely its own. For one thing, staff did not disabuse them of their error as it should have done. For another, it was almost beyond belief that the consultant could have contemplated our spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build up to 10 distributed secondary treatment plants, and then additional hundreds of millions for new pipelines to and from McLoughlin Point. For what? More secondary treatment?

I am less concerned than McDonell about the fact that our sewage trunk lines do not conform to the boundaries of the eastside and westside subcommittees. Perhaps as early as next month the westside group will unveil the second, or technical, phase of its public engagement process. This means that tertiary treatment will at last get a public hearing, and, if the evidence is persuasive, political divisions should not matter.

I am drawn to a foreign participant in the westside program which has applied tertiary treatment to both simple municipal and complex industrial waste streams in dozens of locations on three continents. The company performs treatment in “immobilized cell” reactors, using activated carbon with metal catalysts that are more durable and maintenance-free than membranes.

The company believes it could equip the whole CRD for $350 million plus some moderate costs of in-ground pipe connections. Having been conditioned by Seaterra to accept a bill on the order of $800 million, we may feel that a much lower figure strains credulity. 

On the other hand, when different levels of government agreed to share funding, they increased the appetite for funds. We must make sure that the tripartite agreement among federal, provincial, and regional governments is a genuine three-way sharing of the proper bill and not a tripling of it.

David Bodenberg


Enbridge: The real beneficiaries

Much has been said about the potential dangers associated with approval of the Northern Gateway project and the millions of dollars expended by Enbridge in its attempts to sway the public in support of this dubious project. Opponents have focused on the environmental hazards associated with the project, but there is one salient question British Columbians should be asking themselves before Mr Harper and his appointed cronies on the NEB attempt to force their will on the residents of BC. That question is: Who would be the real beneficiaries if the Northern Gateway project were to proceed?

There are several:

1. Certainly the Chinese, who have made it abundantly clear that their ultimate objective is global economic domination. Providing the Chinese with dilbit, LNG and coal will clearly aid and abet their cause.

2. The shareholders in Enbridge who would most certainly see an increase in the company’s share value and most likely an increase in dividends.

3. The senior executives at Enbridge who would be in line for large bonuses.

4. The payouts, likely discreetly hidden for PR reasons, to the so-called “independent experts” who frequently appeared in full-page newspaper ads extolling the benefits to be enjoyed by all Canadians.

With the exception, however, of short term construction jobs and fewer than 100 permanent jobs, the focus should be on what is really to be gained by British Columbians who are being asked to put at risk their quality of life to satisfy the greed of corporate Canada.

Barry Mayhew, PhD


HOV and LRT no solution

Gene Miller’s “The 90-Minute Solution” (Focus, January 2015) is ridiculous. It’s amazing that people spout about bus-only and High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes when it’s questionable whether they work. Who says? Well, here’s an excerpt from a report by the California Legislative Analyst’s office, which concludes the performance of HOV lanes is “mixed”: “In November 1998, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) converted two of its HOV facilities (one on I-80 and one on I-287) to mixed-flow lanes. In determining whether or not to convert the lanes to mixed flow, the NJDOT identified three objectives that HOV facilities must meet. Specifically, a successful HOV lane should: Induce people to carpool; carry 700 [vehicles per hour], or at least the same number of people as the average of the mixed-flow lanes; and reduce or at least not worsen the overall level of congestion in the corridor.

The NJDOT found that neither the I-80 nor I-287 HOV lanes met all three objectives. The review further concluded that due to underutilization, the HOV lanes actually had a negative impact on traffic congestion and air quality by increasing traffic volume in the mixed-flow lanes thereby leading to slower travel speed, greater congestion, and higher emissions.”

But the real story is BC Transit’s misuse of statistics. Transit’s gonzo $950-million estimate for a 16-km light rail train (LRT) is based on rail lines that are completely unlike a Downtown-Langford operation. The 2011 study compares a surface Victoria LRT with Edmonton’s North LRT (mostly undergound), Vancouver’s Canada Line (mostly underground), the Calgary West LRT (a lot of elevated), and the Ottawa LRT (a long tunnel). What’s going on here? Why no mention of inexpensive at-grade lines in Salt Lake City, Charlotte or Norfolk, say?

Or, for that matter, Besancon, France, which just opened six months ago. Project manager Pascal Gudefin, who oversaw the rail project in this small (metro population 227,000) city near Switzerland, writes about “cost innovation.” He supervised a two-pronged, 14.5 km light rail line built for just $25 million/km, almost 60 percent less per kilometre than what we’re supposed to pay in the BC capital—and less than one-fifth as much as the Skytrain Evergreen line. 

LRT is plagued by high costs and bureaucracy. Another problem with the Victoria estimate is that it includes the complete re-construction of 10 kilometres of road, wider sidewalks etc. Is all this necessary?

Louis Guilbault


Taking a chance on insanity

Obviously we are a country of gamblers. Here in BC we happily hand over $2 billion a year to our provincial government for the opportunity to gamble and play a “Game of Chance” (BC Lottery Commission’s annual revenue from gambling/gaming). We love scoring points in the games of chance we embrace weekly. 

I am told that our statistical chance of winning a lottery operated by one of the gambling pimps we’ve permitted governments to operate openly and everywhere stands at about one in 30 million. So certainly that’s something governments should encourage and promote, and since the odds are so favourable we definitely will want to buy our “chance to make a bundle” every week.

Right now governments in Canada are also hot about protecting us from terrorists (most of whom, we’re told, are of the Muslim-persuasion). So Bills are passed in Parliament, which permit spy agencies to scrutinize everyone’s email and phone calls and postal mail (although for mail that doesn’t pose any significant risk any more given the level of service), because there may be an actual threat to innocents if we were ever to let down our guard.

Again, citing statistics, the actual threat to our lives posed by terrorists stands at about 1 in 20 million (at least it’s higher than our chance of winning a lottery). But those awful statisticians won’t leave us alone. They go on to tell us that our chance of getting killed or maimed by lightning is about one in 136,000 and from hurricanes, tornados, or floods the actual risk of getting killed or maimed is about one in 84,000. What about death due to sharp objects? That apparently stands at one in 38,000. Car accidents? One in 500. OK, but what about suicides? That apparently is one in 100. Heart disease and cancer? One in seven. 

Stop, you’re upsetting my preconceived notion—not to mention the federal government’s spin-doctors. They now command centre-stage and are demanding millions of dollars to keep us out of harm’s way. But to inform we ordinary citizens that spending our hard-earned taxes on surveillance and security represents a good investment and demands complete acceptance and accolades, while health care and disease prevention only receive a few crumbs that fall off the Budget Day table—that almost qualifies as madness. Something has to change.

For starters, we need to concede that the real threat posed by terrorists is infinitesimally small, and hardly worth all the millions being expended by our federal government. 

If we really were concerned about the number of people being killed and maimed we need look no further than preventing suicides among our military personnel, or attacking the actual causes of disease, such as cancer, through a rigorous regime of stopping pollutants from going into our air, water and the additives put into our food.

If we really wanted to enhance life and provide real security then we would have to demand a complete change in public policies and practices. Are the current crop of players and politicians capable of leading us in that direction? Maybe this is important enough that we will re-enter the political stage and demand that our democratic structures actually offer us what we believe is necessary to give us life and essential services. Are we up for it?

Dale Perkins


US Navy endangers humans & wildlife 

Contrary to what many Canadians and Americans believe, the US Navy, from its Whidbey Island base, will endanger—not protect—humans, wildlife, wilderness, the Juan de Fuca Strait or the Pacific Ocean and on either side of the border. In the guise of protecting us from an unseen enemy, they will in fact increase our exposure to noise pollution and radiation, and stress ecosystems and already endangered wildlife on land and sea.

In 2006, the US Navy began planning the Pacific Northwest Electronic Warfare Range and the North West Training Range Complex (NWTRC). They hope to see their plans become reality during 2015.

As Canadians and residents of the Pacific Northwest, we must know where we stand legally. Are there any treaties, agreements, and Canadian laws which can protect us and our sovereignty? These are questions I hope our members of Parliament can answer. Both MP Murray Rankin and MP Elizabeth May are looking into the issue.

Last fall the US Navy announced its intent to test powerful radio frequency electromagnetic radiation devices within the NWTRC. The story was largely ignored by local and national media, but thanks to journalists like Dahr Jamail, Olympic Peninsula and southern BC residents are now informed. The Navy, forced to hold public meetings across the Peninsula, has met with growing opposition.

In Mr Jamail’s excellent Truthout article “Navy Plans Electromagnetic War Games Over National Park and Forest in Washington State,” we learn that across the Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Forest and Park, and the Quileute and Quinault Indian Reservations (without their permission), 2900 training exercises will occur, 260 days a year, at least 16 hours a day, as squadrons of EA 18G Growler Supersonic fighter jets fly three abreast at only 1200 feet, between 15 mobile cell towers and a fixed-emitter proposed for Pacific Beach. The 4-8 GHz frequencies are very high and travel great distances. 

The supersonic Growler jets will be heard here (they already are). Pilots can have instantaneous hearing loss; the US Administration of Veteran’s Affairs spends over $1 billion annually treating them. The Navy’s own data states Growlers, as they approach a landing, register at 114 dB, 4.33 times as intense as Prowler jets.

Mr Jamail quoted David King, the mayor of Port Townsend, saying “My main concern is that over the last year we’ve heard much more noise impacts than we’ve heard in prior years, and a further expansion of the Growler fleet seems to me to indicate the situation will only get worse.”

Phuong Le of the Associated Press reported on January 26 that the US Navy “is seeking permits to expand sonar and other training exercises off the Pacific Coast, a proposal raising concerns from animal advocates who say more sonar-emitting buoys would harm whales and other sea creatures. The Navy wants to deploy up to 720 sonobuoys…The devices, about 3 feet long and 6 inches in diameter, send out sonar signals underwater so aircrews can train to detect submarines.”

This plan has been met with opposition for years. In March 2009, the Natural Resources Defense Council and virtually every wildlife and environmental organization in the area, submitted a 59-page letter to the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest about the proposed NWTRC. Their letter notes that,“The NWTRC almost completely engulfs the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary [NMS], a region of extraordinary biological diversity. Twenty-nine species of marine mammals occur in the Olympic Coast NMS, including eight threatened or endangered species of whales, otters and pinnipeds.” 

The groups cite a NOAA report from 2008 that “specifically identified both military activities and underwater noise pollution as two of several emerging threats to the Olympic Coast NMS. The report…finds ‘an increase in Navy activity or areas of operation, if not properly controlled, could have potential to disturb the seabed, introduce pollutants associated with test systems, and produce sound energy that could negatively alter the acoustic environment within the sanctuary.’”

The third US Navy plan, reported in the Associated Press and other US media recently, is to build facilities at Port Angeles to support seven vessels (up to 250-feet in length) which escort Ohio-class Trident Fleet Ballistic Nuclear Missile Submarines between the Hood Canal and the Pacific Ocean. Concerns have been raised about the construction and vessel activity endangering nearby reefs and eel grass beds teeming with life . 

With all of this military activity on our doorstep, the question we must ask ourselves is: How much are we willing to risk in the name of national and international security?

Helene Harrison