Letters to the editor
Focus readers, June 2015
Thoughts on the need for respect
On the evening of April 13, 2015, at a Saanich Council meeting, Councillor Judy Brownoff took the chair and addressed the standing-room only crowd of residents (average age 55+) about the need for respect, before any member of the public had spoken. Indeed, we were subjected to a total of four such lectures during the evening. While I respect Councillor Brownoff’s right to her opinion, I would respectfully like to express a different one.
Respect is not something you can legislate, as the councillor seems to think. Nor can one demand that it be given as some form of royal prerogative. Respect is a two-way street. It must be earned. Respect must first be given before it is returned. A councillor who gives me an honest, sincere and transparent answer will earn my respect, even if I don’t like the answer. I would far rather hear a hard truth than an easy lie. For instance, when Councillor Brownoff states publicly that, regarding the spyware scandal, “We had no idea,” while on the same day other council members are stating that they not only knew about the spyware, but had discussed it during in camera meetings, my respect will not be earned.
Nor will respect be earned by Councillor Wergeland who said, “I regret that the mayor is taking this personally,” when both the mayor and members of the public have been spied upon illegally. When council members willingly, and knowingly, accept lies from senior levels of Saanich management, and then try to portray those lies to the public as “just a simple mistake,” no respect will be earned.
While I have not yet learned how to read minds, I can read body language. During the evening of April 13, the first member of the public to speak was a retired Chief Information and Privacy Officer of a crown corporation. She spoke, very respectfully, of the need for an independent investigation into the law breaking as documented in the OIPC report. The speaker was highly knowledgeable. While she spoke, Councillor Derman was slouched back in his chair, with a look of utter disdain on his face. It appeared as if he wished he was anywhere other than the council chamber, listening to the public. He did not earn my respect that night.
To repeat, respect must be earned, over a period of weeks, months, or years. It can be lost in a small fraction of the time it takes to earn it. Saanich Council has a lot of hard work ahead of it.
The whistle blower’s tale
Wow! I couldn’t stop reading David Broadland’s latest article on the spyware affair in Saanich. That is journalism at its finest. Another fantastic article by Broadland.
I think it has the makings for a gripping documentary. You must send the article to Fifth Estate, The Passionate Eye and all the other investigative TV shows. David’s material is gold.
Be sure, also, to send your article to CBC’s Carol Off, as she recently interviewed Mayor Atwell for As It Happens and may be very interested in hearing how the story just gets better and better.
I can’t wait for your next installment. No doubt, the floodgates and Pandora’s Box will both open at once, with all sorts of other WB’s wanting to clear their consciences.
How will this story end? Stay tuned for the next chapter!
Cautionary tales & homelessness
Leslie, you mention in your article, “Most of us seem to accept a ‘housing first’ strategy as key to getting people off the streets longterm.” Yes indeed, the average citizen seems capable of realizing that a relatively small cash infusion by way of social services will save us large dollars in the long term. Our political representatives, however, are reluctant to grasp this notion. Perhaps the unfolding Johnson Street Bridge fiasco will galvanize the electorate so that we begin asking just where our tax money goes. The same goes for the sewage debacle, and other plans the CRD has that most of us do not even know exist.
Leslie Campbell’s editorial in the May issue is a good reminder that we have the ideas, but the will, the follow through, are holding us back from proven solutions.
When a homeless person falls ill on the sidewalk from drug use, an ambulance comes and takes him or her to the hospital. How much money is being spent daily on this temporary stopgap that could be redirected to a program like the one described in Portland? Let’s get moving. This is a cause for all the municipalities and the Province.
The homeless gravitate Downtown, but it is not just up to the City of Victoria to fund or solve.
Editor Leslie Campbell wrote: “With a federal election coming, it’s time to query candidates on whether they are committed to rejuvenating a robust national housing strategy.”
Absolutely. It would help us voters if this could take the form of a spread of pages in Focus with about 250-word statements by the local candidates, side by side and perhaps accompanied by editorial comments.
Thanks for your great magazine, a real asset to Victoria!
Deer questions continue
At an April 13 Oak Bay in camera council meeting the budget for deer control was tabled and for the year 2014 Oak Bay had budgeted $25,000. According to the same document $21,112 was spent. I do not know which calendar council was using but the deer cull, to the best of my knowledge, was held in 2015. What I as a taxpayer would like to know is what was the $21,112 spent on in 2014?
After the cull ended the mayor stated publicly that they had paid the contractor $16,000. The budget for 2015 is $35,000. Did that $16,000 come out of the 2015 budget? Again, if memory serves me the mayor had stated that a cull of 25 deer was going to cost us $12,500. The amount spent in 2014 and spent so far in 2015 is a far cry from that $12,500, which in this case took only 11 deer.
The mayor also promised that a full report on the costs and other items relating to the cull would be released by the end of March. We are now entering the second week of May and there has been nothing. The complete lack of transparency is alarming and suspicious.
Ingrid Brown, Oak Bay
I have just read the final update on the Oak Bay website dated May 11 regarding the deer cull and it is a finely spun document obviously prepared by a public relations firm ($26,310.21 for communications) that demonizes the innocent deer and makes the mayor into a knight in shining armour.
The obvious and shocking part is the cost to Oak Bay taxpayers ($52,182.21) which was more than four times that predicted when this plan was conceived.
The update also reports that 23 deer fatalities were addressed by Oak Bay police and Oak Bay public works in 2012. The number grew to 40 in 2013 and 39 in 2014. The word “fatality” according to my dictionary refers to death by accident or disease. This report leads one to believe 39 deer were killed in motor vehicle accidents. This is incorrect as some deer died as a result of old age, and a fawn drowned when chased by a dog into the ocean.
Although the Province had suggested non-lethal options as a means of dealing with urban deer, the only option indicated in this report was to cull. Nothing else was addressed. Other items such as public education were touched on but nothing concrete was ever done save some inserts hidden among the flyers in the local newspaper. Signage was also listed but putting up eight small deer warning signs is hardly helping the situation. [Vehicle] speed readers were excellent, but from my understanding these were paid for by ICBC and they were only situated in the area for a month. Speed control was another suggestion, yet it was not mentioned in this report, nor was it ever seriously undertaken.
Mayor and council believed that the majority of people in Oak Bay supported the cull, but this has never been proven. There was a well-organized and articulate public opposition from citizens, and from animal welfare organizations from across the country and throughout the world which played a significant role in how the project was viewed outside of the District. The District did not care. Regardless of how these persons and organizations felt, the only answer from the District was to kill.
In conclusion I might be able to accept a lethal cull but I cannot accept this number fudging, fear mongering and the misleading facts put out by what we had hoped would be an honest mayor and council. That shining armour is starting to rust.
William Jesse, Oak Bay
The new proposal for controlling the deer population in Oak Bay by a private group sounds like a definite plan. Obviously a lot of scientific research has been explored and the results are promising. Being funded privately will save the taxpayers the enormous amount of money that had been paid out just to cull 11 deer this year.
Of course this in itself will not alleviate problems such as traffic accidents, but then again culling 25 deer as initially proposed won’t either. There has to be cooperation on the part of the council and the community in better warning signage and mainly speed reduction, a point that has been stressed since the beginning.
I see this project as viable, but there is just one fly in the ointment. The mayor of Oak Bay will have to agree to the project and when other viable options were offered in the past he ignored them. It is up to him to show courage and forget his only option of culling.
Editor’s note: The private group referred to is the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society, which hopes to demonstrate that non-lethal methods to reduce the population of deer in Greater Victoria are more effective and less costly than killing animals. See www.deerplanoakbay.nationbuilder.com.
An Earth Day Message
Murray Rankin’s Earth Day message in Focus’ April edition states “New investment in infrastructure and public transit can offer urban residents quicker commutes and cleaner air.” It is extremely difficult to reconcile this statement with the fact that Mr Rankin supports enhanced sewage treatment in the CRD. The unfortunate fact is, tax dollars wasted on needless sewage treatment construction and operating costs will starve any meaningful investment in future public transit initiatives (like light rail). And that is neither good for the environmental health of the CRD or the Earth.
Seaterra must go
[The following letter was addressed to Lisa Helps as chair of the Capital Regional District’s sewage committee (CALWMC) and copied to all CALWMC directors and alternates.]
WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, are a group of concerned business owners from the Capital Regional District. The reason for our concern is both past and recent developments regarding the Seaterra program and CRD staff.
In its relatively short history, the name Seaterra has already become synonymous with the high cost of bypassing meaningful public consultation. The project’s track record of questionable expenditures, ill advised land acquisitions, and in camera decisions is already well documented. Thankfully the program was paused last year. However, in the intervening months, both Seaterra management and CRD staff have seemed unable to adapt to the region’s new direction regarding sewage treatment.
As recently as the last Core Area meeting (April 8), directors found out that the Seaterra Commission was still meeting, via conference call, without reporting minutes and that the winning bid on the McLoughlin Request for Proposal was being extended without the committee’s input. At this point, it would seem management is either unaware of or unwilling to meet the mandated level of transparency. Regardless of the project’s status, this kind of backroom operating is just simply no longer acceptable.
Far more worrisome is the apparent cross-pollination between the project, the contracted engineering consultant, and CRD staff. What has been a brewing problem within the CRD for years has finally boiled over into a palpable distrust. Suspicions that staff and consultants are attempting to steer the process towards a predetermined outcome threaten to undermine both the efforts of the Select Committees and the integrity of the CRD itself. The CALWMC’s refusal to accept a staff report on February 18 serves as a public confirmation of the conflict.
In the six months since the municipal election, itself a de facto referendum on Seaterra, considerable progress has been made in regards to creating an open and accountable process through the Select Committees. However, if a majority of CALWMC directors feel there has been any attempt by CRD staff or project management to interfere with or obfuscate the process currently underway, further action must be taken. It is certainly understandable to want to spare real people the embarrassment that can come with accountability, but any further accommodation would surely risk undoing the gains made by voters on November 15.
As a group of business owners with a considerable stake in sewage treatment, we’d like to express our support for any democratic means necessary, including a non-confidence vote, to bring a positive resolution to this situation. With tens of millions in unrecoverable costs, the Seaterra Program has already left an expensive and embarrassing legacy for the region’s taxpayers. We know that the CALWMC is far from unanimous in its feelings towards the project and the Select Committees. However, we encourage the new chair and the progressive voices within to bring a definitive end to Seaterra and any related dysfunction within the CRD.
62 Victoria-area business owners signed the letter which can be viewed at the CRD’s website with the agenda for the May 13, 2015 CALWMC meeting