Letters to the editor, February 2016

Focus Readers, February 2016

Super Intent City

An excellent article by Leslie Campbell on the homeless camp. Perhaps we should all be grateful to the Intent residents for forcing this issue onto the front page instead of languishing among everyone’s “to do” lists. Six weeks of mud and cold are more than most advocates could—or would—endure for a cause. Maybe we should give them a medal!

Instead of spreading fear, Central Middle School and its parent advisory council should be seizing this opportunity for education. Almost every camper, from military veteran to outdoor enthusiast, has a story to tell if teachers have enough courage to cross the street and take their classes to meet them. What could be more important to our children than learning that we are all citizens, we all have rights and we all have something to share. It is up to us to make this issue our issue, not just “their” issue.

Alison Acker


As a partial solution to the homelessness problem has anyone considered housing the homeless on large sea going barges like the ones used by Seaspan? It could be docked in the industrial section of Victoria Harbour thus eliminating residential concerns. The barge could be fitted with multi levels of suite sized sea containers for shelter. The sea containers/suites would be butted up to one another around the periphery of the barge allowing the back portion to act as a safety barrier. Entrance to each suite/room would face inward to an inner courtyard with ground/central floor area serving as central washroom facility. Access to and from the barge could be a tastefully gated and fenced walkway from the street eliminating access to adjacent properties. Just a thought.

R. W. McKay


Scientists to CRD: petition the feds

The current sewage treatment schedule seems too short to allow proper planning, or to take advantage of broad changes expected to come with decarbonization. I suspect there are a number of people in positions of responsibility who would love to see the whole issue punted down the road for a few decades.  Maybe it makes sense to set a completion date of 2030, with a phased plan and funding for the first stages. It could go something like this:

1. New federal funding for green infrastructure is announced, and the lower island has just the opportunity. Our local MPs carry  the banner in Ottawa, and lobby for assurances in place of the promised existing grants. 

2. BC adopts the advisory panel recommendation to ramp the carbon tax up to $150 per tonne by 2030 (adding to the business case for heat recovery).

3. BC Hydro Power Smart and similar new resources provide financial and technical support to the project.

4. We slowly start again. Studies of innovative and successful projects in other jurisdictions are done. Emerging technologies for treatment of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, heat recovery and power generation are evaluated objectively. Locations (existing pump stations, sea platforms, and other) are evaluated. Deeper public consultation is conducted; not just town halls, but all kinds, for example, asking windsurfers, kiteboarders and sailors what potential outfalls have the best wind for turbines to power plant(s); asking sailors where the strongest and steadiest currents might provide the best ocean power; involving the arts community in planning an innovation-themed site art process.

5. Governments and large private building owners participate in the planning, with the hope of new heating and power generating systems for their facilities. Groups of buildings are identified where district energy would be a good fit.

Dreaming in technocolor? Maybe, but I think all options should stay on the table until something that makes sense emerges; something with a net contribution to the region, and to the next generation of Victorians.

Bob Landell


Amalgamation: the plumber’s dilemma

Thank you to Mr Miller for bringing the amalgamation issue back to the forefront early in the new year.

A couple of comments he may wish to ponder:

During the 2014 municipal election 75 percent of those who voted in Greater Victoria municipalities (representing 90 percent of the CRD population) voted “Yes” to questions dealing with reform of local government. In addition, numerous polls consistently show a very high level (over 80 percent) in favour of some form of governance review or change.  Yes, we have this sticky thing called democracy. Hard cheese, I know.

Andrew Sanction, the Canadian academic who writes about amalgamation, posted a Facebook comment on July 2, 2015 that his writing “has been almost exclusively in the context of the legislated (i.e. forced) amalgamations that were so prevalent in eastern Canada a decade or two ago” and have not included voluntary amalgamations.

As recently as October 25, 2015 Sancton tweeted “Of course amalg can work if that is what citizens in each affected muni want. I have never suggested otherwise.”

Obviously there is a huge research gap of the type required in Greater Victoria, where there is a massive grassroots appetite to look at reform. It is reasonable to expect a study will be useful to provide information hitherto unobtainable.

Banishment of the word “amalgamation” might appeal to Mr Miller. This is a type of strategy adopted by various countries in past decades, notably Germany in the 1930s. How did this work out for them? Perhaps, instead, we can speak of “unification,” completed during Germany’s more successful latter decades.

Supporters of local government reform are united in a common belief that the region must be improved. They represent the full political spectrum of voters who can’t be pigeonholed and dismissed as lefties, middle, or right wing.

For the first time, thousands of people have an organization, such as Amalgamation Yes, around which to coalesce and advocate for change, and they will not be deterred from their democratic rights to determine how they are governed.

Thoughtful discourse can take us a long way to improving our regional problems. An unbiased study of the current governing structure will inform and equip us to vote Yes or No for change on a future binding referendum.

But Mr Miller’s desperate and corrosive comments designed to insult and shut down the conversation are not helpful.

Lesley Ewing, board member, Amalgamation Yes


Gene Miller responds: Yes, I’m enraptured by the political management of 1930s Germany, want to reassert it locally, and won’t be happy until cyborgian storm troopers are breaking down the doors of Amalgamation Yesterday advocates and even people who simply want to preserve democratic institutions…and forcing these citizens to watch as their puppies are kicked to death. [Add Miller’s demonic laughter here.] I wonder how you could tell I was that kind of guy.

Is it that hard to read history’s wind? Grand scale-bureaucracy is waning in our emergent post-centralized world that will see its political geography become more local and autonomous. I wrote: “The future is filled with the collapse of impossibly large and unmanageable structures—political, social, economic—that contribute little to citizen well-being or community pleasure. Desperately, longingly, people will look for alternatives and for models of workable, rich, sustaining community. We live in one.”

We live in one.

In my opinion, it would be much more useful if folks spent less time maundering about democratic rights and more time exercising them by further improving our exquisite local governments.—GM


Gene Miller’s fear of amalgamation red flag is really a red herring. Sure, it is easy to cherry pick other cities’ experience with amalgamation and say, for example: “ Look at Toronto—a Harris horror show.” 

Steady on, Gene. Before Harris made Toronto a mega city it had two tier government—a metropolitan government that looked after the needs of the whole region and six boroughs looking after local issues—down from 13 as it happens. Metro government acted on behalf of the region without divided loyalty. Boroughs looked after problems at the local level. This system worked well. It is common. Too bad Toronto no longer has this system. Too bad this region doesn’t have it. It is not for nothing that Jack Knox calls us “dysfunction by the water.” This has not escaped the notice of voters who asked for the Province to also take notice and take a lead towards achieving better governance. The ball is in the Province’s court.

John Olson


Pro amalgamation proponents have been so vocal over the last few years, that I was beginning to doubt my own concerns about how amalgamation of our municipalities would not save money and  result in more bureaucracy and less public engagement. Then I happened to be flipping through Focus, randomly landed on this article that mixed the words plumbing and amalgamation—and lo, my belief that amalgamation would be disastrous has been restored. Good public policy is based on solid research and analysis; the research shows there is little to gain and a lot to lose with amalgamation.

Thank you Gene Miller.

Steve Coe


Commissioner Lowe’s open window

In regards to David Broadland’s article “Commissioner Lowe’s open window,” Stan Lowe’s conduct and actions may not be as transparent as they appear. 

First, consider that the Office of the Police Complaint Commission (OPCC) is staffed partly by former police officers. Also, few people realize that complaints to the OPCC about police departments are first investigated by officers working at the very same police departments about which the complaints have been made. Since complaints about BC police departments are not conducted in an arms-length manner, considerable opportunity for misconduct by the OPCC exists.

Here is one example: In 2010, a former BC Complaint Commissioner, Don Morrison, conducted an investigation into the OPCC’s investigation of a complaint about the Saanich Police Department. Former commissioner Morrison issued a legal opinion citing misconduct by the OPCC and by current Commissioner Lowe in disregarding “deceit and abuse of authority,” including inappropriate threats of arrest, by a police officer. Mr. Morrison also concluded that Commissioner Stan Lowe’s role in the matter had been “fatally compromised” because of egregious failure to consider evidence, ignoring regulations for handling complaints and not following legislation governing the OPCC.

Mr. Morrison recommended that an external investigation be conducted into the OPCC’s handling of this complaint. Commissioner Lowe was advised of this finding, but he has never responded or taken any further action. 

Regarding the VPD chief’s inappropriate communications with another police officer’s wife, there may be other motives for Commissioner Lowe’s sudden interest in providing an “open window.” In the past year, there have been reports of other police departments in Canada questioning whether police boards should be run by civilians. The Police Complaint Commissioner has issued what appears to be an order to the Victoria and Esquimalt mayors with respect to their conduct as VPD Board members. I believe that sets a dangerous precedent. 

Civilian oversight must not be bullied nor dispensed with; it should be strengthened with respect to all public authorities, especially the police.

Lois J. Sampson


Split DFO in two

When I was a kid in the 60s, in addition to the spectacular beauty seen from BC Ferries, I also looked forward to an affordable and delicious salmon sandwich. No White Spot on the boat in those days. And no doubt the salmon was wild.

I admire Alexandra Morton’s epic work to keep profit-driven salmon farms off our coast so wild salmon can survive; however, there is an intractable dilemma—the farms exist because there are two classes of consumers: those who can afford wild salmon and those who can’t in the capitalist world market.

Do we want wild salmon to be a food of privilege?

Anything that restricts fish farms increases the farmed and wild salmon price under capitalism. Anything that limits the wild catch also increases the price. That prevents more people from having access to salmon, except the well-to-do.

The only fair and ecological solution is to start the long re-wilding process. That means abolishing fish farms, allowing coastal First Nations enough to feed themselves, and decommodifying salmon with world quotas.

Frances Pearson


Walbran logging

In response to your article “In terms of emissions logging the Walbran makes no sense,” besides emissions there is another salient point in not cutting old-growth forests. This came to me one very hot summer day while riding my bike down a long exposed hill which leads into Mt Douglas Park. When I entered the park, which is old-growth forest, the temperature plunged what felt like 20 degrees. And I realized that forests, especially old-growth forests, are wonderful natural air conditioners. 

With this in mind, let’s consider the glaciers of the Himalayas,the Hindu Kush, and Kilimanjaro to name a few. Most, if not all of the old-growth forests in their foothills have been stripped. Now when the hot air from the plains rushes up the slopes, there is no forest to cool the air. Consequently the glaciers melt.

And I might add that old-growth forests do something else called respiration which sends up into the atmosphere vast amounts of water which comes down as rain. When these forests are cut, it stops respiration which helps create drought.

Old-growth forests are vital and it would help the biosphere immensely to leave them be.

Stephen Fairclough


Premier Clark: Please decarbonize

Under Letters in your January issue I see where Dorothy Field addresses her concerns re LNG and the destruction of the Peace River Valley in a letter to Ms Clark. Even though I’ve read just a few articles so far, I’m beginning to see a thread—the increasing loss of our fragile environment.

I found myself remembering what the author Yann Martel did to enlighten Stephen Harper. He mailed him a carefully chosen book every two weeks, some accompanied by a note, some not. After reading Briony Penn’s article on her visit to New Zealand and Trudy Duivenvoorden’s on championing something local, I found myself wanting to find them on the Focus website and email them to the Premier because of the not-so-subliminal lessons in them. But then, using Yann’s approach, I wonder if a subscription to Focus might be an easier way to get these powerful messages to her on a continual basis! I’m more than willing to gift her with a subscription and pay extra to have it registered so she has to sign for it. Otherwise, I fear, Ms Clark’s legacy may centre around her leadership and complicity in the destruction of all we hold dear in this beautiful province.

Rosemary Baxter, Courtenay


Tomorrowland: Victoria and the New Economy

In his December column, Gene Miller paints a rosy picture about how “Victoria is ground zero…a living laboratory, a model in the transition to the sharing economy, a place the world could visit and study.” Apparently people will flock to this former colonial outpost on the southern tip of Vancouver Island to admire “the contours of an open-ended future” which is being shaped before our very eyes.

Mr Miller embraces the notion of post-capitalism “sharing” like an ardent born-again evangelist who, having repudiated the sin of substance abuse and anti-social behaviour, now finds salvation in the modern American consumerism gospel according to Messrs Paul Mason and Jeremy Rifkin.

Allegedly, Victoria “seems to have the right DNA for this—the unplanned purpose for which this place was made.” The city possesses not only that elusive quality of being “self-aware” but also enjoys the unique role of being a “global crucible for this profound social and economic transformation.”

According to this fanciful urban mythologist, Victoria is known for its “love of generosity,” “benign climate and fecund nature,” and not a lot of “financial aggression and make-a-zillion triumphalism.”

The sharing economy, however, isn’t about sharing relationships, redistributing wealth, or establishing a collaborative global village. It is simply another slick way to make money, most of which ends up in the pockets of multi-billion-dollar entities, investment banks, and accredited private investors.

The sharing economy is a network of digitally-mediated commercial exchange platforms that facilitate a link between those who own something and those who wish to use that something on a short-term basis. It’s about owners of goods and services making money by offering consumers access to their goods, services or resources for a given period of time and for a specified fee.

It’s a pity the author hasn’t assessed one of the darlings of the “sharing” economy, AirBnB. This multi-billion-dollar venture-capital backed peer-to-peer short-term lodging service is having a negative impact on affordable rental housing in many high-cost-of-living cities around the world in which it now operates. (See “The Sharing Economy Isn’t About Sharing at All,” Gina M. Eckhardt and Fleura Bardhi, Harvard Business Review, January 28, 2015.)

While 58 hotels operate in the Victoria area, a variety of online vacation rental platforms now offer hundreds of premium condo suites and penthouses for well-heeled short-stay guests. Local residents seeking permanent rental accommodation are being squeezed out of the housing market in favour of the higher valued, “sophisticated sharing guests” who are hosted by condo owners seeking additional income opportunities without being regulated or taxed as a hospitality industry provider.

While some “sharing” platforms present an unassuming face to the world, others reflect predatory, anti-competitive business practices, such as the new “Uber” ride-sharing service, backed by Google and Goldman Sachs. (See “Debating the Sharing Economy,” Juliet Schor, October 2014, www.greattransition.org) Or, they represent the corporatization of auto-sharing services such as Zipcar.

The new “sharing” economy favours concentrating ever greater amounts of wealth in fewer and fewer hands in the shortest time possible, with little or no interference by government or regulators.

Whom does the “sharing” economy serve, and who really enjoys its promised “benefits”?

V. Adams


Gene Miller responds: Hey, V. Adams, fabulous letter! Puts me in my place. You have me entirely rethinking my perspective, and now I recognize that the “sharing economy” is simply a Trojan horse for more capitalist agglomeration by mega-corporations. I’ve been an inadvertent cheerleader for the billionaires. I simply didn’t realize it. I feel like such a fool.

My friend, life right now is a matrix of rackets run by the cynical and the self-absorbed. Victoria, within my poetics, is the capital of innocence and (relative) social honesty. Do you really want to fault me and tear down my propositions about Victoria’s potential to emerge as a centre for economic and social sharing, as practiced by the Fernwood NRG (Neighbourhood Resources Group), various co-housing projects and a range of other community-scale initiatives? What, too sunny and hopeful for you?

Please give me a call (250-514-2525) so we can plan to meet. We have lots to talk about and I’ll buy the coffee.—GM


Slicing Up The Great Bear Pie

I’d like to think that most British Columbians have heard of the Great Bear Rainforest—one of the most biologically productive landscapes in the world, stretching from the Yukon-Alaska-BC corner all the way south to Bute Inlet, from the interior coastal range west to the Pacific. It harbours runs of salmon in the millions, great bears and wolves, birds that nest only in ancient trees, rainfall that can reach four metres annually, and extensive forests hundreds of years old. 

Remarkably, you and I—and all British Columbians—still own the Great Bear, although we are morally and ethically obligated to hold it in trust for all of Canada and the rest of the world.

Its presumed protection and management rests in Victoria with people like Premier Clark, Forests Minister Steve Thompson and an entrenched public service historically steeped in resource exploitation.

For 50 years it has been managed almost exclusively for the timber industry; a half century of insider politics have effectively left the people of BC on the outside looking in. Roughly one-tenth of the area was designated Protected Areas in the ’90s, then a series of land-resource management plans carved up the remainder for various forms of “management,” almost all it based on logging and road building.

Some of you are familiar with the fraudulent insider committee originally set up to massage public comment on the South Okanagan park plan; you have seen the offensive and absurd conditions Minister of Environment Mary Polak has set for Park designation; hunting, off-roading, grazing, helicopter intrusions, all protected. The message is “What’s left, the rest of you—the ‘crazies’ as one Liberal MLA calls engaged citizens—can have.”

Early in 2016 the “government” will hand us a Great Bear Rainforest plan conceived through the same kind of ideological scheme proposed for the Okanagan. Hand-picked enviros, regional Indian bands, commercial interests and the timber industry—annointed by government—have sliced up the Great Bear pie without having ever done an environmental impact assessment, without an open process for incorporating public scrutiny, and “free” of the best conservation science. Citizens who did submit comment saw it disappear into the maw of government who fed it to the insider participants.

The Great Bear “plan” capitulates to vested interests like all insider deals do. Scientifically sound conservation measures are disembowelled by pro-business and timber industry bias in legislation and management plans that state habitat protection is acceptable only if it can be implemented “without unduly reducing the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests.” The Liberal government commissioned a report by MLA Mike Morris—“Improving wildlife habitat management in BC”—that rightly recognizes the timber supply protection clause “significantly lowers the threshold protecting our biodiversity” and “This…has contributed to a degradation of biodiversity.”

British Columbians want to be optimistic about 2016. We know we are entitled to a great deal more “democracy” but we’re going to have to battle for it.

Dr Brian L. Horejsi, Penticton


Missing and murdered indigenous women inquiry

An open letter to Minister Bennett, Minister Wilson-Raybould, and Minister Hajdu:

We are a group of families from the traditional territories of the Indigenous peoples living in the Province of BC. We are family members of loved ones who have gone missing or who are now passed on to the spirit world after being violently murdered. We are writing after hearing that there is planning ahead for a pre-inquiry process, which will then lead to a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We are writing to advise of our experiences (or lack of experiences) in the Oppal Inquiry, which took place here in BC from 2012-2014.

First of all, we are relieved to hear that there is a pre-inquiry process being planned in order for our voices to be heard. This did not happen with the Oppal Inquiry. We want to ensure that you are aware of the issues that we, as families, had to deal with as a result of the lack of consultations with the Province of British Columbia. We believe that there are many lessons learned from the Oppal Inquiry that can be addressed in the planning of the National Inquiry.

When the Oppal Inquiry began, the Province of BC already had appointed a commissioner and its staff, and had finalized its terms of reference. No one had any opportunity to make recommendations for anything. We believe that commissioners for the National Inquiry must be appointed with consultations with families and advocates of MMIWG to advise regarding who the commissioners should be. We would recommend four commissioners. 

Families need to be informed about what an Inquiry actually is and what it will do, and be informed about the process at all stages.

The terms of reference should not already be set in stone, as they were in the Oppal Inquiry. Consultations with families and advocates must include the discussions of the terms of reference.

There must be a family/advocate advisory committee to provide advice to the commissioners at all stages of the inquiry.

All families and advocate organizations must be given immediate standing with proper resources provided to legal counsel at the Inquiry. This did not happen at the Oppal Inquiry and we, as families, were totally silenced. 

Proper support (i.e. mental health counsellors, Elder guidance) should be provided at the pre-inquiry and inquiry process. We feel that we will also require supports for at least a year after the National Inquiry and right now. Families are already being triggered.

We wish to reiterate that you must meet with families in northern communities as well as on Vancouver Island.

Lorelei Williams, Michele Pineault, Elaine Williams, Harriet Prince, CJ Julian, Bernie Williams, Lillian Howard, Gertie Pierre, Melody Pierre, Lila Purcell, Mona Woodward