Letters to the editor
Focus readers, October 2015
Stop Harper—and beyond
In her comment piece, Jo-Ann Roberts condemns party discipline in Parliament. I disagree with her for three reasons:
First, permitting more independence for local MPs would reduce democracy as much as it increased it. It is unusual for voters to know local candidates well enough to vote for them rather than their party. Most of us vote based on a party’s policies and its leader, not on the opinions of our local candidate. I have no idea what my MP’s personal views on many issues are, but I do know what his party’s are.
Second, empowering local MPs could lead us into the morass that the US is in, where congresspeople vote based on the needs of the local interests that finance their elections. This means that wealthy local interests control many representatives’ votes. Goodies for local business interests are tacked onto unrelated bills to buy the votes of individual congresspeople.
Third, I believe that it is more important to get rid of our current government than to elect the particular party I prefer. Anyone who votes for a party that cannot win their riding is voting for the Harper government. So “principled” voting for the Greens in a riding they cannot win (or for the Liberals in an NDP riding, or for the NDP in a Liberal riding) is a huge mistake. Yet Roberts is encouraging us to do just that.
“Reject fear.” Bold words from Jo-Ann Roberts, when talking and even thinking about the election is often hijacked by the command: vote together, stop Harper.
My riding, Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, is an election battleground. ESS got identified as a “Conservative swing riding” in 2011, when NDP Randall Garrison narrowly beat CPC Tony de Souza. We are also listed as one of the swing ridings in the influential Vote Together campaign by LeadNow. However, data on the Vote Together site shows no current Conservative threat in ESS. Polling in May showed the NDP leading at 42 percent, Conservatives trailing at 14 percent. Subsequent polling in September shows the NDP at 31 percent and Conservatives at 16 percent; still not close. In ESS, therefore, pledging to vote together against a Conservative candidate in our riding is moot.
Although Mulcair won’t say “no” to Kinder Morgan, some No Tankers activists are supporting the NDP. They have committed to the NDP as a “strong” but also avowedly progressive anti-Harper choice. But if Trudeau surges ahead, will these pledgers then do everything possible to support our Liberal candidate? In the September polling here, Conservatives, Liberals and Greens are all within a point of each other—and undecideds are 23 percent.
And now there is growing discussion of minority governments and their possibilities. People are agreeing that change is not just about replacing a government, but also transforming and democratizing the process. In ESS, this could result in a “swing” to Green. Many “soft Green supporters” have stayed in the relatively safe closet of undecided, afraid of being mocked for not “voting with their heads.” I hope they’ll come out, and take advantage of the fact that we are among the very few Canadians who could elect a Green MP in this election. To my mind, voting Green in ESS is strategic in the very best way.
Mr Mulcair has changed the NDP even more than Mr Layton did. The changes made in policies are the reason that Paul Manly, Green Party candidate for Nanaimo, left the NDP and is now running for the Greens. Changes in policies are also the reason that, after 45 years of supporting the NDP, I left several years ago as Mr Layton started propping up Mr Harper.
According to Mr Manly, he left the NDP because they abandoned their own policies on several issues that are most important to him. First, he found out that not a single NDP MP voted against the Canada-Korea free-trade agreement last fall—in violation of NDP policy. This agreement has anti-democratic investor-state provisions that give corporations the power to challenge government decisions. More disconcerting is that the NDP’s opposition critic for health, Murray Rankin, appeared as an expert witness for the investor, Bilcon, in a NAFTA case.
It looks increasingly like a Canadian debate over ISDS will be missing in action. Perhaps Elizabeth May will bring up the issue, if she is accepted into the debate on Foreign Affairs, the logical venue for a debate on investor-state and free-trade issues.
Another reason from Mr Manly: He found out that the leader of the NDP supports Energy East, a raw bitumen export pipeline that will expand oil sands production dramatically. This flies in the face of NDP climate policy and he is opposed, like all Greens, to any new raw bitumen export pipelines.
The NDP leader also suggests that with a better process Kinder Morgan would be acceptable. Mr Manly is unequivocally opposed to increased tanker traffic on our coast. In fact, the Green Party is the only party totally opposed to risky supertankers travelling through some of the most hazardous navigational routes on the planet. When Mr Mulcair is asked about tankers on our coast, he has answered referring to tankers in the St Lawrence!
Paul Manly did not have to change his views when he joined the Green Party. He read the policy document, Vision Green, available on-line, and he found a pleasant surprise. Not only do the Greens have a strong environmental policy but they also have excellent policies on social justice, health, inequality and a range of issues with which he agrees. Linda McQuaig probably agrees, too, so perhaps she will join the Greens in the future.
The $130 millon question
The citizens of Victoria owe you a huge debt of gratitude for your tireless coverage of the Johnson Street Bridge debacle. As others have pointed out, a stationary bridge might have been built for a fraction of the cost, so the additional tens of millions seem to be a taxpayer subsidy of the Point Hope Shipyard, the LaFarge gravel yard and the auto junkyard. Enormous taxes paid by these three businesses are often cited as a reason they must stay in their current locations. The obvious question is this: Are the taxes they pay enough to justify the additional cost of a drawbridge to accommodate them? I recently learned that the junkyard pays only $31,000 a year in real estate taxes. Let’s find out what the other two businesses pay.
The orthopaedic waiting game
I would like to add an account of my experience to the general indignant uproar about having to wait for the miracle of joint replacement as related in Alan Cassels’ feature in Focus’ September edition..
I am currently recovering (slowly) from having a large section of my leg ripped apart and the concurrent disruption of hundreds of nerves and muscles. This is what a knee replacement entails. It is not a panacea for the aches and pains of aging, or a shortcut to better golf scores. It hurts, a lot, and recovery is slow—almost six months so far.
From the time of my diagnosis I was on the path to replacement. I was repeatedly told that according to x-rays my knee was “shot” and beyond repair. I was advised, in fact urged, to get my name on “the list” because things could only get worse. I filled out a questionnaire which documented that I was awakened at night by pain and had difficulty on stairs. At no time did I complain of “excruciating” pain, whatever that means. Still I was deemed eligible, in the moderate to severe category.
After a year the call came. By this time I had so succumbed to the general mass hysteria around waiting lists that I felt pressure to grab this opportunity. Apparently the decision was up to me(!) but strongly recommended by the orthopaedist.
Just as orthotics were routinely prescribed 20 years ago, joint replacement has become the flavour of the month these days.
The jury is still out as to whether this procedure has really improved my quality of life. But I do think that the mysterious waiting lists would be much shortened if people were cautioned about the seriousness and risk a little more, rather than whipped into a frenzy of desperation.
Gender equity in theatre
As one of the women mentioned in Monica Prendergast’s theatre column last month, I feel the need to correct at least one error and to expand on the topic a wee bit.
First of all, I have to point out that Langham Court Theatre’s 2015/16 season actually includes two female directors, not one: Heather-Elayne Day, who will direct Stepping Out, was left out of your article.
Two women, Lorene Cammiade and I, were in charge of the committee to select plays for Langham. We endeavoured to find plays that had at least an equal number of roles for women as men, not an easy task given that most playwrights have traditionally been male. During the play selection process we have learned that if we wish to include classics like She Stoops To Conquer and You Can’t Take It With You, we most likely will be looking at plays written by men for men. We worked hard to reach the balance that we achieved: out of a total of 61 roles, 33 are female.
Another important consideration is the fact that there are other positions of power in the theatre business: producers and stage managers. Over the years I have found that there tend to be more women than men in these roles. Langham Court Theatre, for example, has three women producing five plays this coming season and at least four women stage managing. Perhaps it’s time we accorded those positions the respect due to them instead of ignoring their importance to a theatre’s overall success.
Housing is now a commodity
Canadians are slowly waking up to the fact that, as with our natural resources and food supply, we have also lost control of our housing. Subsequent governments have turned housing and land use development over to the private sector unregulated, and this has led us to the housing crises we face today. Canadians currently have a record amount of debt and are second only to Greece’s household debt growth rate.
Much of this is mortgage debt, mostly on over-priced, high-rise apartments referred to euphemistically by the real estate industry as condominiums. In Vancouver, for example, only 18 percent of the city’s housing stock is single-family homes. The rest are often poorly built condos or row houses and a large proportion are garage, garden and basement suites that are untaxed and unregulated. Our major cities are becoming more and more congested and municipalities, with only property tax revenue, are expected to provide an ever-increasing number of services conveniently downloaded by senior governments. This includes affordable housing, social housing and infrastructure upgrading and expansion costs.
So how did housing prices escalate out of the reach of hard-working Canadians? Look no further than our federal and provincial governments’ complicity in allowing housing in Canada to become a commodity. They have allowed foreign investment, 4 billion in US dollars last year by Chinese residents alone. Many rich entrepreneurs, who bought citizenship under a federal business promotion program, decided to go into real estate to buy homes to flip. Internal investment speculators have also played a big part in escalating housing prices. The development industry has mainly provided accommodation that turns the biggest profit—usually on the smallest amount of land with the municipal infrastructure already provided.
Pouring 250,000 immigrants annually into our limited major centres, on top of an over-priced housing market, means they are forced to compete for housing with existing Canadian residents in a continually shrinking rental market. This, along with a lack of any viable affordable housing strategy, has added significantly to the growing homeless population.
Many of our residents now live in converted garages, attics, garden and basement suites etc built on single-family lots. Their rents, called mortgage helpers, subsidize the homeowner. Often this rental income is unreported and therefore untaxed.
With little revenue to provide the necessary services for this new rental population, the only option is to raise property taxes and introduce user fees that are paid by all taxpayers, even the majority who do not have these rental units. Also, as regulation is very difficult and expensive, there is no way to ensure building code standards for fire, health and safety are complied with.
It’s time to ask: Are things getting better? Well certainly not in the 50 years I have lived in Canada. Our cities are much more congested and polluted, our road and alternate transportation systems are inadequate; food and other prices (including housing) are out of sight; we are charging less corporate taxes and are cleaning up the mess of foreign businesses that make billions, have a bad year and leave. Most Canadians cannot save for retirement. We’re paying world market prices for our own gas and the projections indicate this will also apply to electricity.
There is no doubt that many bad decisions have been made by our government representatives and other viable options are not being considered. Unless these problems are addressed soon—hopefully by a newly elected government—they will only get more and more complex and entrenched.
Turn focus on Oak Bay
In my community there is an association, Oak Bay Watch (www.oakbaywatch.com), dedicated to “transparency, public consultation and accountability.” In their September newsletter they noted, for example, that in the wording of the new Official Community Plan, “Single-family” designated neighbourhoods arbitrarily became “Established” neighbourhoods. This significant change in land-use wording effectively opens up most of Oak Bay to multi-family dwellings.
Oak Bay Watch is concerned that there will be insufficient community consultation prior to the approval of developments that may change fundamentally the very nature of a neighbourhood. They suggest that the rights of developers be reduced and balanced with the rights of existing residents. Residents should not be burdened with the cost of accommodating unwanted over-development, both in their taxes and in the negative social impacts. The main benefit is the profit to real estate investors and speculators.
Graham R. Ross
Editor Leslie Campbell mentions Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He concludes his book somewhat sceptically: “We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction. Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”
Friedrich Engels was referenced on page 228. A renowned 19th century German industrialist, futurist and social scientist, he wrote The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State.
This visionary anthropological work documents a human epoch when class exploitation, war, scarcity, gender and other oppression, religion, habitat destruction, individual violence, psychological trauma and fear didn’t exist. The book well-supports these claims with anthropological and archaeological evidence.
Life was not as Thomas Hobbes said, “Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” How do we get back to that future? That too is revealed by the book’s end (or just apply the antonym to each of the title’s three elements—community, public property, and statelessness).
Another great book about the time when animal slaughter and exploitation were absent is Dr Jeremy Rifkin’s Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture.
Sewage sanity requested
I am writing to you as a last hope of inserting some sanity into the push to have Victoria switch from its twin deep sea outfall sewage disposal system (at Clover Point and McCauley Point) to a land-based tertiary treatment system(s).
It seems that all Victoria’s media outlets support this move, even though the existing system has never been shown to allow sewage to reach Victoria’s or Port Angeles’ shores in over 30 years of operation, and is infinitely cheaper. I suggest you contact Dr Rebecca Warburton for further details.
Focus well read in Mexico
I’m chillin’ in Sayulita, Mexico in the 40C Humidex that is the Mexican wet season. No A/C but the ocean is nearby. The summer thunderstorms (tormentas) are enough to rattle the windows, flood the pool, clean the streets of debris,and blow out my computer and electronics. Weather (or climate)-wise, the average Victorian would think the end is nigh, global warming and armageddon have finally arrived. But the local Mexican restaurant owner empties his overhead tarp and carries on. The beach gets swept clean of the run-off debris by the waves and tide. Nature at work.
Back in Victoria last week on family business, I made a point of getting your September 2015 edition. As always, excellent. A few feedback comments, if I may.
1. Victorians rely on, are critical, and have been part of government too much. The articles on volunteering at Restore/Habitat for Humanity, and the swallow nest builder, point out the need for more serious, non-critical, citizen engagement in many areas. Don’t ask or wait for government to do it.
2. The blue bridge fiasco. Geoff Young is right that we should push on, and learn from our mistakes so that the CRD sewage project does not become another fiasco, 10 times the size. Both projects are doomed to failure, and neither required in my opinion, but if/since approved should be P3 projects, with government and bureaucrats and erstwhile citizens out of the way. That said, your reporting on both issues has been outstanding journalism.
3. Briony Penn’s article on the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement and Eco-Based Management (EBM) is positive, however it points out government’s or other entities’ ability to interpret and find loop-holes in these agreements. First Nation logging is both good and bad, depending on whose trees are being cut. Just look at the tax code for people’s ingenuity to outwit others who wish to control or influence their actions.
4. The Prime Minister’s thinly-veiled fascism is leading me, a conservative, to cast my fate to the Greens, although I disagree entirely with the Green and “left” anti-hydrocarbon policies. The private sector and capitalist economics will provide the incentives for sustainable energy policies and programs. Speaking of which, I agree with Site C, although a few eggs will be broken in the greater public good omelet.
5. Alan Cassels’ article on the “Orthopaedic Waiting Game” was balanced. I received a new left hip in March, after a one-year wait once I was on the list, and hope to get the other side done before Christmas. Rebalance is a great improvement over what came before, and is an example of what health care delivery could be if we had a truly mixed public/private and two-tier delivery system.
6. Lastly, the arts. Notwithstanding gender-equity issues in the theatre, which I thought less a problem than ageism, when all else is failing hopefully we will have a vibrant, citizen-supported arts and culture scene to assuage our weary breasts.
The importance of trust
Congratulations to Mike McSorley for his letter in the July/August edition of Focus. Consequences are increasingly absent from today’s permissive western society.
The whole scenario as outlined by Focus publisher David Broadland in “The Whistleblower’s Tale”, part 1 and part 2, (Focus, May and June editions) is both sad and depressing. As a long-ago, long-serving municipal alderman in a well-known Canadian city, trust, openness, effectiveness and efficiency have long been recognized as essential to expected quality of administration. From that foundation we can build the necessary confidence of citizens.
Thank you Focus for your presentation of these issues.