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Focus readers, November 2014

Sleeping with the fossils

David Broadland’s “Sleeping with the Fossils” is excellent reporting. Evidence of the comfortable relationships between government and industry are everywhere we choose to look, and you are certainly looking in the right places with the Environmental Assessment Office, a few ministries, and especially the Oil and Gas Commission. At the OGC, it sometimes looks like they’ve all been to a key party with the gas industry, and on Monday everyone looks forward to seeing who they’ll be working with that week.

By Leslie Campbell, November 2014

In seeking a fairer election process, for starters, follow the money.

At the first all-candidates meeting for the City of Victoria, one advantage of incumbents over newcomers was clearly on display: They are much more practiced at giving relatively intelligent-sounding one-minute answers to highly complex questions. With 24 candidates on the stage, many only got to speak for one-minute during the whole evening. 

But not the incumbents. With the majority of questions directed their way—they do, after all,  have more to answer for—they got to shine more often, Mayor Dean Fortin in particular. This is how the advantage of incumbency tilts elections to re-elections.

By Andrew Weaver, November 2014

BC's shift from a policy of absolute emission reductions to reducing emission intensity is an illusion of action. What’s needed is a shift in direction to develop clean tech industries.

In the 2007 speech from the throne the BC government launched a climate action plan which included the first ever in North America revenue neutral carbon tax, a program to participate in a regional carbon cap and trade system, and public sector carbon neutrality. At the centre of the policy was a legally binding obligation to reduce provincial greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 30 percent from 2007 levels by 2020 and a reduction target of 80 percent by 2050.

That leadership on climate policy is still heralded as visionary by environmentalists and economists, and in the ensuing years has been cited in other jurisdictions as they format legislation and regulations to deal with the current and future effects of climate change. 

By David Broadland, November 2014

Key votes at City Hall raise questions about the judgment of some councillors seeking re-election.

The primary role of media in a democratic society is to provide citizens with information and analysis on important issues that allow those citizens to hold their government accountable for the decisions it makes and the actions it takes. This is particularly important in the period just before an election. If a politician has played a significant role in enabling an unfolding fiscal disaster, for instance, the period just before an election is the time to make that clear. For that politician, though, just before an election is a really inconvenient time for truth-telling. It’s an excellent time to say things like, “It’s with the lawyers, so I can’t talk about it.”

By Judith Lavoie, November 2014

Journalist Stephen Andrew’s candidacy was catalyzed by Mayor Fortin’s lack of answers about the Johnson Street Bridge.

There’s middle ground, somewhere between a pit bull and a teddy bear, where Stephen Andrew believes he belongs. Andrew, a journalist who has worked for Victoria radio and television stations since he moved from Toronto in 1994, is known as an in-your-face reporter with tough questions. Now he is hoping for a new job as mayor of Victoria and he wants voters to know that his pit bull teeth emerge only when someone evades questions or when he sees an injustice.

Collaboration, transparency, and non-partisan inclusiveness are key words in his campaign.

“On my report cards it would say ‘Stephen works well with others’—and I do,” he says during an interview at his Gorge-area home.

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, November 2014

Helps wants the public more directly and meaningfully consulted before decisions are made by City Hall.

Why should Lisa Helps be the next mayor of Victoria? “There’s a very high talk-to-action ratio in this city and that needs to change,” Helps responds bluntly. “Victoria’s next mayor needs to know how to bring together diverse people and perspectives and make things happen. For the last 17 years in this city that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.”

By Judith Lavoie, November 2014

An energetic downtown and fiscal restraint are among Ida Chong’s priorities.

There’s no doubt that Ida Chong has friends in high places and those relationships could be beneficial to Victoria if she is elected as the City of Victoria’s mayor.

But Chong, who during her 17 years as Liberal MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head held 10 cabinet posts, insists that she will not ask for special favours from her former cabinet colleagues; she will simply advocate strongly for BC’s capital city.

“My job, if I am elected, will be to go after the provincial government for Victoria’s fair share,” says Chong, who believes current Mayor Dean Fortin has failed the City, both in his leadership and dealings with senior levels of government.

Chong maintains that she would be a strong, budget-conscious leader and, as a bonus, can offer the benefit of cabinet experience.

By Leslie Campbell, November 2014

Oak Bay mayoral challenger would bring a different approach to solving the sewage impasse.

In conversation with Cairine Green, her significant skills in communication and diplomacy are apparent. While she’s confident that she can provide better leadership than incumbent Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen, she says it in the nicest way possible. Since Jensen won by only 428 votes in 2011, it’s likely he’s taking her challenge seriously.

A council member for Oak Bay for the past three years, Green earlier served on North Saanich council for six years. “Politics was always part of my life,” explains Green. Her parents met through politics, and her father served as both a Liberal MLA and, later, reeve of Saanich (1952-58). 

By David Broadland, November 2014

Mayoral candidate would provide stronger leadership and open up Saanich and the CRD to greater public involvement.

When Environment Minister Mary Polak decided last spring that she would not support the CRD’s plan to force Esquimalt to host a central sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point, she created the conditions that pushed Richard Atwell into running for mayor of Saanich.

Polak’s decision means the CRD will need to develop a new plan; Atwell has been a leading critic of the CRD’s plan and Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard has been a leading supporter of that plan. Atwell seems the perfect opponent to fight it out with Leonard on this issue: bright, articulate, and—someone close to his campaign told me—“very, very funny.” Not that there’s anything funny about the sewage issue: The Plan to Nowhere had cost regional taxpayers $85 million before it was suspended in September.

By Gene Miller, November 2014

Who the hell thought up Ida Chong? And other insider tips...

I had to tear myself away from the online Daily Beast’s hilarious header: “Christian Right-Wingers Love Porn!” to address the sobering topic of local politics, as we dodder toward the mid-November municipal election. For our sins, the Province has lengthened the municipal term of office by 33 percent—from 3 years to 4. Shame they didn’t make it 40 years for mayors (as it is now in Saanich), to see if we even noticed or cared.

By Aaren Madden, November 2014

Artist Blythe Scott makes the familiar new again with personal impressions of place.

The visual communication of place is something anyone interested in the recording of the rural or urban landscape grapples with. Technical precision and verisimilitude are oft-sought goals, but conveying a personal perception of place has different criteria. Not just the trees or the fields or the street scenes, but the way the singular quality of light, the physical surroundings, and the particular energy inherent in any place makes the pulse either quicken to match its pace, or slow in contemplation. 

By Monica Prendergast, November 2014

Three productions in November illustrate how theatre helps us grow.

Paul Woodruff, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, published a book called The Necessity of Theater: The Art of Watching and Being Watched in 2008. There are very few philosophy books about theatre, so this was a must-read for me.

Theatre has felt necessary to me for most of my life, and I consider theatregoing to be one of the most valuable activities I do. My graduate studies thesis and dissertation were both on aspects of theatre audience education and spectatorship. So I get that there is something of worth in watching, and from the actor’s perspective, in being watched. 

Woodruff agrees, saying: “There is an art to watching and being watched, and that is one of the few arts on which all human beings depend.” 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, November 2014

The surest ways to safeguard our neighbourhoods.

Two things have happened since I pondered the attributes of real neighbourhoods and genuine community in my column last month. First, I read In the Garden of Beasts, an exceptional and gripping work of non-fiction by historian Erik Larson. Set in Berlin in 1933, it details almost stitch by stitch how a civilized and moderate German society was systematically unravelled and then re-knit into such a horrid aberration of itself that it willingly helped launch one of the most evil and ill-conceived wars of all time.

It’s nice to think that we could never be manipulated that way.

October 2014

Winner of letter writing contest.

In the July edition of Focus, a concerned citizen ran an advertisement calling on the CRD to perform a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis that would compare the CRD’s proposed plan for McLoughlin Point, the current screened sewage discharge system, as well as one of the variations of expanded treatment being proposed by region citizens.

To encourage the public to write to their political representatives and request such an analysis, a prize of $1000 was offered for the letter “judged to present the best case,” with all letters received eligible for a draw for a $300 prize.

The winner of the draw is David Ferguson. The following letter, written by Brian Belton, was chosen for the $1000 prize. Belton also sent his letter to the federal and provincial Ministers of Environment and the Chair of the CRD Board.


Waste not, want not

By Brian Belton

Focus Readers, October 2014

The high cost of conducting the public’s business in private

More open decision making is not going to improve things if the structure in which those decisions are made is flawed. As some members of the CRD are saying, the Regional District model is not suitable for large metropolises dealing with complex infrastructure projects and services and they have called for a provincial review of this arrangement. 

Amalgamation Yes has also called for the Province to look at options for better local government. It’s the job of the senior government to see that local government works well. Evidence of failure here is manifold. Calls are being made but no one is answering the phone.

John Olson


Victoria taxes and the election

By David Broadland, October 2014

An FOI request for the record of how environmental assessments for gas plants were axed last spring catches government and industry in flagrante.

Perhaps you already know that fossil fuel corporations get the satisfaction they desire in BC when it comes to regulations affecting their industry. But have you ever wondered how, precisely, that business takes place? Is it done behind closed doors? Over the telephone? In a back alley behind the convention centre?

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, October 2014

A recent scientific report implies we are close to a point of no return on climate change. UVic’s Dr Tom Pedersen weighs in.

Last August, a draft report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), leaked to the news media, set out some cold, hard facts about global warming.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 280 parts per million in pre-industrial times to 400 now. The rate at which emissions are rising has never been higher. In 2013 alone, the concentration of carbon dioxide increased by nearly 3 parts per million.

By Leslie Campbell, October 2014

With civic elections coming, we need to demand bold, visionary action on climate change.

At the Climate Change Summit in New York City, our prime minister was conspicuously absent, and Minister of Environment Leona Aglukkaq committed to only modest reductions in transportation emissions, something the US is forcing on us with its car manufacturing standards anyways.

The People’s Climate March, however, offered more hope—that a movement of the people might be powerful enough to force the political and corporate foot draggers to get on with an appropriate response to the threat to all species posed by climate change.

By Gene Miller, October 2014

Why do some find God a certainty but man-made climate change implausible?

Of course I was dying to read “Kim Kardashian—Way Tighter Butt Than Mother Teresa” in Huffington Post online, but got distracted by this timely bit of current affairs, even though it reads like something hot off the press in, say, 622 AD: “Sunni militants earlier captured Iraq’s biggest Christian town, Qaraqosh, prompting many residents to flee, fearing they would be subjected to the same demands the Sunni militants made in other captured areas—leave, convert to Islam, or face death. The Islamic State, considered more extreme than al-Qaeda, sees Iraq’s majority Shi’ites and minorities such as Christians and Yazidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious community, as infidels.”

Which answers two burning questions: Where’s a good infidel when you need one, and “...then Ali Baba escapes from the Sultan’s palace on a magic carpet, right, Dad?” 

By David Broadland, October 2014

A de facto referendum on the issue is gaining momentum.

Where did the sewage treatment issue go? With the apparent collapse of the CRD’s $782-million centralized sewage treatment plan, the issue seems to have disappeared. Problem solved? Hardly.

Faced with being unable to use Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Point, the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee (sewage committee) instructed CRD staff last summer to prepare terms of reference for an “options study.” The proposed terms of reference for that study were delivered by CRD staff at a meeting of the CRD’s sewage committee on September 10.

Oddly, the staff report argued to keep a central treatment plant at McLoughlin as one of the options to be considered by the study. Tellingly, the report’s recommendations were developed without any non-CRD input, and that brought a rain of criticism down on the CRD at the September 10 meeting.