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By Judith Lavoie, January 2015

The Houston-based pipeline company says it’s a good corporate citizen but its record in Canada doesn’t support that claim.

The complexities of corporate tax law rarely make compelling reading, but Robyn Allan believes British Columbians will be fascinated and outraged if they take a close look at her analysis of how Kinder Morgan is sucking money out of Canada and paying minimal taxes.

Allan is a thorn in the corporate paw of Kinder Morgan, which wants to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline and triple the flow of bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to Burnaby. While opposition to the planned pipeline has been strong, what sets Allan apart is a background that makes it tough for critics to discount her in-depth financial investigations.

By Amy Reiswig, January 2015

Ian McAllister’s latest book immerses readers in the magic of the Great Bear Rainforest, as well as the threats to its health.

As rain drives sideways against my bedroom window, I burrow deeper under the covers and think somewhat enviously of the bruins cozily hibernating in their eponymous Great Bear Rainforest. And I think, not enviously but with awe, of conservationists like Ian McAllister who,  while the bears snooze through the cold, is heading out for another weeks-long research and diving trip to explore the rough, winter-clear waters of the north-central BC coast. If just for that, he’s a hero in my books.

By Briony Penn, January 2015

Will adventure tourism and forest stewardship trump logging, pipelines and hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest?

The Canadian Embassy in Beijing recently opened its doors to the Chinese public to showcase Canada’s natural resources in big glossy photographs. Visitors shouldn’t expect pictures of oil rigs, LNG plants, mountains of coal or stacks of timber. Instead there are pictures of bears from the Great Bear Rainforest, orca in the Salish Sea, and sockeye salmon in the Adams River. The Chinese wildlife photographer Xi Zhinong, commissioned by the Canadian Tourism Association, told the China Daily, “Everyone yearns for magnificent nature and stunning animals. There are endless seas and forests in British Columbia. Various animals, including black bears, grizzly bears, whales, bald eagles and salmon can be found everywhere. In British Columbia, you can see the world as it first appeared.”

By Gene Miller, January 2015

If we’re going to invest in a pricey new McKenzie Avenue intersection, let’s charge commuters for stop-reduced driving.

By Aaren Madden, January 2015

Jeremy Herndl’s landscape paintings push visual representation into a multisensory realm.

When working en plein air, the painter contends with many variables. Among them are wind, weather and the shifting light of the sun. These things inform not only the composition, but the nature of the oil paint which creates it. 

“If it’s plus 30 Celsius, the paint is thinner and more slippery. I put some paint on [the canvas], and if I want to put more paint on top, it sort of drags through and blends with it. But let’s say it’s a cold day, like today. If I put paint on a canvas and I wanted to paint over top of that, because the paint is thicker, and more viscous, I can just paint wet over wet without moving the paint underneath,” explains Victoria painter Jeremy Herndl. It informs the painting process and, to the careful viewer, offers clues as to conditions in the space when painted. 

By Monica Prendergast, January 2015

The “Spotlight Critics Choice Awards.”

In December, local theatre critics shared their picks for best designs, direction, performances and productions from the previous season. The Spotlight Critics Choice Awards have no ceremony or trophies to hand out (we really should try to make a party of it sometime!), but it does give the theatre community a sense of how their work was valued by the reviewers who cover this particular cultural beat. 

Below is the list of nominees and awards as determined mostly by Adrian Chamberlain (Times-Colonist), David Lennam (CBC Radio) and myself (CBC Radio), with some picks also provided by review blog The Marble. I offer brief comments on each category that are, obviously, my opinion alone. Winners are in bold.


Set Design 

A Tender Thing, Christina Poddubiuk, Belfry

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, January 2015

Lucky for us there are folks taking initiative on some ingenious and beneficial ideas.

Last fall the Dutch town of Nuenen unveiled a kilometre-long stretch of bike path that was inspired by the iconic Van Gogh painting “Starry Night.” Bike paths are nothing new to The Netherlands but this particular section, through the town where Van Gogh once lived, takes the cycling experience to a whole new height. 

Focus readers, December 2014

Vote for Mayor Squishy

My oh my, Gene, what was that which you must have dumped into your yuppie porridge this morning? Too many sour left-wing grapes? It must have given you the bends! Please, a little more civility would be nice.

First off, full disclosure: I am an unpaid volunteer, a door-to-door “leafleteer,” campaigning for Victoria mayoral candidate Ida Chong.

Why? Because I believe she has the experience to assume this office and, I hope, to work with fellow Victorians (not exclusively councillors and City Hall desk-pilots) to help get our fair city “back.”

The drift from that collection of councillors and bureaucrats over the past three years has been dreadful. Victorians have not been served at all, especially on the blue bridge, sewage and local taxation.

Why? History will figure it out, but I believe between council and staff, no one was bright enough to “do the jobs.”

By Judith Lavoie, December 2014

Critics complain the National Energy Board hearings are a farce; Kinder Morgan plays hardball.

The spectacle of energy giant Kinder Morgan wading into pipeline protests swinging legal clubs, while company lawyers claim their survey crews were assaulted by facial expressions, is shaking public confidence in a process that could triple the amount of diluted bitumen flowing through an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to BC’s West Coast.

The hardball tactics startled many British Columbians who watched Kinder Morgan first seek an injunction (which it won on November 14) and then file suits claiming millions of dollars in damages against a citizen’s group and four individuals, including two Simon Fraser University professors.

By Briony Penn, December 2014

A new documentary and public forum in Victoria in January will shed light on election fraud in Canada.

According to Peter Smoczynski, a 40-year veteran journalist and filmmaker from Ottawa, “Electoral fraud is a well organized crime. Millions of dollars are dedicated to duping various demographics of eligible voters in democratically run countries on election day.” Smoczynski, like many Canadians, believes something terribly wrong took place during the 2011 federal election.

The former CBC producer and documentary filmmaker is now half way through production of his new film Election Day in Canada: When Voter Suppression Comes Calling, due to be released before the 2015 election. Victorians will have a chance to preview clips and lend their voice and support to Smoczynski’s film at a forum sponsored by Focus Magazine and Open Cinema at the end of January. 

By Leslie Campbell, December 2014

Why do we spend more than twice as much on prisons as we spend on young children?

Good question. Many may not have thought child poverty relevant to Victoria’s recent civic elections, but mayoral candidate Changes the Clown did. He showed up dutifully at all-candidates meetings wearing his glorious outfit and making sad pronouncements about how we treat children in this province.

He certainly stayed on message: “One in five children and one in two children of single mothers live in poverty in Victoria” must now be firmly embedded in the minds of all candidates and attendees at the forums. 

After Mayor Lisa Helps wrestles that new bridge into place, perhaps she’ll tackle child poverty. As Changes suggested, there are things that cities can do to better the lives of young families. Affordable child care and a living wage policy top his list.

By David Broadland, December 2014

Theories on why the region’s two most powerful mayors lost their jobs on November 15.

November’s campaigns in the two most populous municipalities on southern Vancouver Island brought 15,000 new voters to the polls and the derailment of two long political careers. One-term councillor Lisa Helps defeated incumbent Mayor Dean Fortin in Victoria and political newcomer Richard Atwell took out long-time Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard. 

By Amy Reiswig, December, 2014

A poet explores the tar sands through the eyes of its workers.

The Alberta tar sands trigger a lot of emotion in the public consciousness, mostly around environmental, economic and political concerns. No one I know would associate the bitumen boom with things like music, beauty or poetry. But in his Governor-General’s-nominated collection Prologue for the Age of Consequence (Anansi, April 2014), Victoria poet Garth Martens gives the rarer view: of the often unseen tradespeople employed in heavy construction, which he has been, on and off, for almost 10 years. It’s not a romanticized vision, but it is revelatory—of crude and complex people who in their strengths, vulnerabilities and particular voices are a source of gritty and even mythic mystery.  

By Gene Miller, December 2014

Belief in a Seven-Days-of-Creation God or any other fabulation about beginnings is simply post-Paleolithic ooga-booga.

Aged six or seven, I came home one Saturday morning from Hebrew school (read: jail) with some tiny seed of atheist insurrection sprouting in me (a seed that would grow to a mighty oak over time). Our teacher was a fevered religious fabulist who seemed happiest telling Old Testament stories that featured the word “begat,” as if to prove the fecundity of the biblical generations, and rooting out, with a patented victory shriek, our pocketed, lint-edged slabs of pink bubble gum salvaged from the packets of baseball cards we addictively purchased at the candy store, thus installing early the idea that sin was in our pants.

“How tall is God?” I asked my parents, both engaged at home in policing the pages of the New York Times for anti-worker sentiment.

“How tall is God?”

By Briony Penn, December 2014

Who knew? There are 42 provincial parks, from the southern Gulf Islands to Port Renfrew, that need your help.

Colin Campbell arrives off the ferry for his interview sporting his new sky blue golfing shirt from Elgin, Scotland where he grew up and where he recently returned to play a few rounds and experience the Scottish referendum. This long time public servant looks like a great many of the boomers around Victoria, someone who is ready to spend the rest of his days pursuing a small white ball around golf links. But he is quick to dispel that notion.

By Aaren Madden, December 2014

A new book provides a glimpse into Godfrey Stephens’ remarkable life and art.

As someone who has travelled thousands of kilometres the world over, first by thumb and later in sailboats of his own creation, who has hung with the Beat poets, lived on beaches on Vancouver Island, Jamaica, Greece, Hawaii, and Mexico and a houseboat in Paris (owned by Picasso’s dentist, no less), you would think it might take something spectacular to impress Godfrey Stephens. Rather, it takes something quietly poetic, deeply and personally profound. It’s that the pad of his thumb—the one that took him first to New Orleans, across the USA and through Europe and India—fits perfectly into the upward curve on the wooden handle of the d-adze he holds in his hand. “I never cease to be amazed by it,” he marvels, grasping the tool from which he has sculpted carvings out of massive logs and chunks of driftwood. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, December 2014

Tailoring Christmas celebrations to your own sense of meaning.

All over town the holiday lights are beginning to twinkle and once again I find my soul stirring in anticipation of Christmas. I can’t help it: I’m a dreamer and an optimist and every year I’m confident that this will be the best Christmas ever. This will be the year I have everything ready well in advance so I can put up my feet (or kick up my heels) with the rest of the gang. This will be the year I stumble upon some real understanding of life and its purpose, perhaps while on a night-time walk under a cold starry sky, or in the pages of a book stumbled upon, or in my childhood church revisited, where the story celebrated in hymns and ritual still thrums in a yearning place deep in my heart.

By Amy Reiswig, November 2014

Elizabeth May’s new book is a call to take back Canada.

Our November 15 municipal elections can be seen as a test of the candidates: their platforms, priorities, even personalities. But equally important, elections also test the electorate. How informed are we? How determined to help shape our collective future? Elections are not just an opportunity to participate in democracy but are a way for us to reveal our values as individuals and determine the direction of our communities. They allow us to both express and define who we are.