Letters to the editor

Focus readers, November 2015

An absence of evidence

Great article by David Broadland on the sewage plant and evidence-based decision making. Unlike many opinion pieces, you actually name names, particularly Murray Rankin’s. Good for you!

I have been an opponent of the sewage plant pretty much from day one and particularly from the point that I read the SETAC Report which acknowledged there was no science behind the decision. Yes, it did weakly endorse the project, saying we should do it anyway to improve our image, and—really big arm-wave here—because sometime in the future when the population increases the ocean-based system might actually have a real problem with polluting the marine environment.

As much as I oppose the waste of $1 billion, I disagree with you that the federal government is the main culprit here. After the contamination of drinking water by sewage in Walkerton Ontario, the federal government correctly undertook a comprehensive review of sewage regulations. Their process was actually quite thorough, scientific and open. Yes, the final regulations were a one size fits all; that’s how governments work. But given that the objective of the regulations was to ensure safe drinking water, Victoria had a very good case to make for an exemption (including on scientific grounds regarding the distance from the outfall at which the sewage concentration was measured). No one representing Victoria at any government level has ever asked the feds for an exemption.

The real villain was Gordon Campbell and his successor Christy Clark and her government. Campbell was the one who ordered Victoria to build land-based treatment long before the new federal regulations came out. His reason was to suck up to Washington State’s governor (as the Seattle media have always harped about us flushing our sewage into the Strait) in the furtherance of his dream of an eco-friendly corridor down the West Coast to California where one could drive his or her electric car without worrying about finding a recharging station. This dream was to be his historical legacy. He now has quite a different legacy, but unfortunately the sewage project lives on.

Sharing in the ignominy for this totally wasteful use of public money are every mayor and councillor in the Greater Victoria region since 2010 who have also ignored the science and have failed to push back against the Province, and instead have just gone along with the project saying we (local governments) don’t have any choice. Of course they had a choice! They could have commissioned a referendum; they could have agreed to a thorough environmental review. And particularly after the Province signalled that it wouldn’t override municipal decision-making, they could have just passed the ball back to the Province and told it that if it wants a plant, then it can build one, we’re not!

Maybe in the end the bridge fiasco will be enough to scare the local and provincial pols to avoid a much much bigger fiasco by pushing ahead with land-based sewage treatment. I can only hope!

Mike Day


What concerns me in your article "An absence of evidence” is the marine scientists’ conclusion about the current sewage treatment system that “in spite of some uncertainties, the impact of the present system is small.” The “uncertainties” are composed of non-biodegradable plastics, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals such as sunblock (which is known to have a deleterious effect on corals). The same currents that ensure biodegradables are processed also ensure that these components in our waste stream do not settle out into the silt (as has happened in The Gorge), but continue on to combine with the effluent of thousands of outfalls around the world. The inference here is that, even though there is some cumulative effect, because we don’t know in any great detail just what these effects are, we should continue on. The argument against the use of smoking tobacco had similar undertones in the beginning of that great debate.

Rick Weatherill


Salmon resurgence

In reference to Maleea Acker’s article in October’s Focus, it is fair to say that Greater Victoria has the best coastal and marine environment in urban Canada, no exaggeration.

It becomes clear when you look at the whole package: whales, seals, fishes, birds, clam beds, trees, rare plants, kelp forests, eelgrass beds and all, from Ten Mile Point and the Oak Bay archipelago to Race Rocks and Rocky Point.

Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary is part of this package—Pacific great blue heron, marbled murrelet, harlequin ducks and all. Interestingly, this historic sanctuary is largely unknown to the public and remains without proper signage from Portage Inlet to Oak Bay and Ten Mile Point. 

The health of Greater Victoria’s environment could be a lot better if we manage to bring Pacific herring back to our region, the land of the Lekwungen (Songhees and Esquimalt), the land of the smoked herring. The herring recovery programme in Howe Sound/Squamish, for example, is massively instructive and inspiring.

We are grateful to the CRD’s Gorge Waterway Initiative and other groups and restoration projects for their relentless efforts. Yes, this is a positive CRD story.

Jacques Sirois, Chair, Friends of Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary


Randall Garrison’s claim in Maleea Acker’s October 2015 article that the federal government “stripped protection from every watershed on Vancouver Island” is false. The reality is that laws remain that can be used. What the government did was simplify regulations applicable to “navigation,” which is what the law is for. 

Randall Garrison is prone to making false claims about species, as are those who worship the very common Garry oak tree (which grows south into northern California, according to Canada’s COSEWIC list and SARA database). Garry oaks here are at the northern limit of viability. They are rare on the lower mainland, which is further north with some difference in climate from here. 

I’d like Maleea Acker to comment on the effect of blocking passage of salmon up the Colquitz during the night for the convenience of counters who want short hours. Do fish travel at night? Are they stressed by a solid barrier instead of being able to duck into a bay or slow spot and rest?

Keith Sketchley


Maleea Acker comments:

The Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) provided federal oversight for any water body capable of carrying a water-borne vessel. The new Navigable Protection Act provides federal oversight to only 163 lakes, oceans and (portions of) rivers. It is true, though, that the NWPA changes were not the sole basis for the loss of environmental protection for our waters; that happened when the Conservative government weakened the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act during bill C-38. According to Canadian Science Publishing, before this bill any proposed development on a water body covered by the NWPA triggered an environmental assessment. Under the new legislation, assessment occurs only if the type of construction is listed on the “designated projects list.” The new navigation act allows for construction of pipelines, dams, bridges and other industrial development on many waterways without having to notify the government. Waterways that were previously protected are now vulnerable, including many on the Northern Gateway pipeline route. 

Those who “worship” Garry oak trees would better be labelled as those who care for a complex ecosystem that includes those oak trees, which are but one species in a severely endangered ecosystem on the south island. If the Royal BC Museum’s climate change predictions are correct, in a few short decades the Garry oak could be one of the only trees left standing in this area as summer droughts become more prolonged and savannah ecosystems begin to replace our current coniferous forests.

As for the reader’s question, most Coho migrate upstream during daylight hours. Volunteer fish counters keep long hours during the counting season; gates are closed at night but any trapped salmon are protected from predators. Counting enables invaluable scientific data to be gathered on health, size and numbers, which in turn provides a fuller picture of a waterway’s health. 


The view from Here

Regarding John Threfall’s article on the new play Here: A Captive Odyssey, staged at the William Head Penitentiary, let’s be cautious that song, dance and theatrics from people in cages doesn’t become spectacle. Plantation Blacks were permitted these (and sports)—but not demands for freedom.

Dr Angela Davis shows how the prison industrial complex emerged beyond slavery to warehouse the poor and people of colour. Including at William Head. With good intention much prisoner art self-censors liberatory expression: Prisoners’ right to demand freedom expressed through their art. 

Ninety percent of Canadian prisoners are poor or indigenous. The prison’s existence permits free people of privilege to wring our hands of an urgent responsibility. Violence will end when we let go of the prison as a crutch for poverty and racism.

An arbitrary 25-day or 25-year sentence issued by a detached judge in robes doesn’t deter a future burglar or murderer unensnared by “justice.” As civil as we want to believe we are, prisons are strictly for revenge.

Dr Davis says society would be no less safe if all prison gates were opened today. She equates prisons to slavery. Genuine security will begin when more of us are involved in the prison abolition project. That’s the mass resource transfer into ending poverty, social and spiritual oppression, now consumed by police, prisons and militarism. See her at www.DemocracyNow.org.

Larry Wartels


E&N: More red lights ahead

Bravo for publishing Roszan Holmen’s article on the E&N (December, 2014). Congratulations to her for being a finalist for a Jack Webster Award. It was the first bit of daylight in this murky story. The Island Corridor Foundation which owns the E&N property is a federally-registered charity. Where is its governing board in all of this?

Muckraking journalism has a long and noble tradition of exposé in the public interest. The question is, what do the misdeeds revealed say about the status quo in which they occur?

Ida Tarbell, in a classic case of muckraking journalism, exposed the misdoings of the Rockefeller Standard Oil Trust. What she showed was that the structure of law under which the trust operated enabled these misdoings. The Supreme Court took action. The question for Victoria is: Given what has been exposed, what is wrong with the status quo? My answer would be that metropolitan Victoria lacks a structure of effective upper tier government with the power and ability to plan and manage complex region-wide projects with a minimum of conflict. Voters have asked the Province to meet its responsibility for laws governing municipalities and regions, and to take the lead in engaging citizens in answering such a question. So far there’s silence on all fronts. Meanwhile, as long as the metropolis remains as it is, there will be plenty of fodder for muckraking, and sadly so.

John Olson


Orthopaedic waiting game

In response to R. Lindsay’s letter in the Focus October issue, I beg to differ and present my own experience.

First, I have nothing but admiration and praise for all of the orthopaedic physicians facing many difficulties in working under limiting and extremely tight conditions. 

Second, surgery is a personal choice undertaken after careful consideration. Surgery is serious and there are no guarantees as with a warranty on a car or appliance. It is a risk and some surgical procedures are best not done for some. A general practitioner or family MD or NP could go over this with the patient. 

My understanding is the letter writer was not warned properly about the risks and discomfort, or perhaps he or she may have misunderstood the pre-operative classes and did not ask enough questions. My choice took a while because no one in my immediate circle of friends and family had ever had a knee replaced and I felt that I was too young. But I did some research on these implants and decided to go for it. 

My lengthy career as a registered nurse had compounded my pain on walking and even turning over in bed. I limped with excruciating pain estimated as a 9/10 and at times a 6/10. It became worse. I had become an insomniac, so surgery was a godsend, although a risk. Three years now from the first knee replacement with the second total knee replacement in April 2015, I am enjoying a much better better quality of life. 

My own post-op pain was moderate for a few days then eased up. Medications and moving about with a walker for a week, then a cane, all helped, as did post-op physiotherapy at ReBalance. 

I would heartily recommend orthopaedic hip or knee replacement surgery for anyone in a painful predicament. Thank God we have this service of highly-trained specialists here in Victoria.

D. Poeckert 


Turn focus on Oak Bay

I have to agree with Graham Ross’ letter about the lack of transparency in Oak Bay. Our family has been in the community for over 40 years. We have had good and very good mayors and councils. In the past, mayors and councils were quite open and did not do much to upset or divide the community. Our present mayor and council, except for one or two council members, seem to think transparency is just a word with no meaning.

This started with the deer situation when the mayor told the residents that to cull 25 deer would cost us $12,500. If opponents to the cull did not investigate we would never know that we paid well over twice that to cull 11 deer. There was no transparency in that case. Now with council changing things in the OCP, it is again only through Oak Bay Watch that this hoped-for (by mayor and council) building boom has been exposed. I cannot recall any previous council that divided or upset residents like this council does. Unfortunately, until a new mayor and council are elected, we will still have to probe some of the “transparent” dealings going on in the community.

M.W. Robertson


Displaced by vibrancy

Gene Miller’s ramble in the October issue revealed the sense of entitlement he wears. He calls it “Fairfieldness” but it is the name of any member of the Victoria elite who feels above it all.

Gene’s piece spins a narrative around his pride at leaving his wallet unopened to a panhandler and attacking the Blue Bridge process. I wouldn’t call his body language Fairfieldness, I call it the attitude that “he knows best” when looking at development issues and the future of the city, since he won’t suffer any negative consequences anyway.

He rants at the “professional, consultant and political culture” even as his protégé Mayor Lisa Helps continues the development culture at City Hall. The mayor, who Gene says was “a brilliant hire in the last election” (September Focus), approves every project that crosses her desk and is never one to demand “green” or “better,” all the while praising staff who check off the lists of required steps in the juggernaut of growth. Had she been on council when the Blue Bridge replacement was first discussed, I have no doubt she would have seen this as a “bold” and “vibrant” part of her New World Order.

Although Gene Miller has done some good writing about the coming environmental catastrophe, he doesn’t see the connection between the rampant growth fuelled by the wealthy developer class and the panhandler. There is no shortage of new housing for all of those new wealthier citizens coming down the pike; there is nothing for the panhandler and the working poor who are displaced by all of this vibrancy.

Tristan Trotter


TimberWest responds to "Sonora Island old growth to feed pensioners?" 

I am compelled to correct Briony Penn’s characterization of TimberWest’s involvement in the Great Bear Rainforest’s multi-stakeholder planning process and our company’s actions in respect of that process as described in her September edition article entitled “Sonora Island old-growth forests to feed pensioners?”

First, the process to reach a Great Bear Rainforest Order under provincial legislation is one that formally began in 1997 with dozens of stakeholder tables convened to develop the Central Coast Land & Resource Management Plan. TimberWest actively participated over that entire period, contributing thousands of hours of staff time and providing over $250,000 funding for study work to support the process. 

Secondly, we have relinquished significant timber harvesting rights without compensation to make the deal work. Specifically, TimberWest has relinquished over 20 percent of its production from the area. When certain cutblocks became controversial on Sonora Island several years ago, we voluntarily suspended work in the area even though the cutblocks are fully permitted. We have invested millions of dollars in roads and planning in those suspended cutblocks. We are working with the residents of Sonora Island and other key stakeholders to find a mutually acceptable path forward. 

Ecosystem-based management is predicated on maintaining the appropriate balance between ecological integrity and human well-being. TimberWest continues to be fully committed to achieving this goal in the southern Great Bear Rainforest. TimberWest has been operating on the coast of BC for over a century. We are proud of the over 1000 people who work for and with us every day to ensure that our working forest continues to be sustainably managed for generations to come.

Domenico Iannidinardo, RPF, RPBio, PEng, VP, Sustainability & Chief Forester, TimberWest