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By David Broadland, July 28, 2014

At a July 24 City of Victoria Council meeting, the bridge project's new director said all that's needed to get the project back on track is better leadership, better communication, and more money. In that spirit, Focus invites Jonathan Huggett to provide answers to 15 questions about the bridge's design, project schedule, federal funding and cost.

Dear Mr Huggett,

By David Broadland, July 19, 2014

I'll rearrange the deck chairs while you get out your wallet.

A semi-scathing report by engineer Jonathan Huggett on the state of the $93-million-and-rising Johnson Street Bridge Replacement Project was released by the City of Victoria on July 19. The report was prepared for the City following disclosure in April that the company contracted to build the bridge, PCL Constructors Westcoast, had filed a “Request for Change Order” for an additional $7.9 million and a 5.5 month extension of the completion date for the project. Huggett, an independent consultant considered to be an expert on municipal engineering projects, paints a troubled picture of the project.

Focus readers, July/August 2014

Statins in the real world

In his recent article, Alan Cassels, quoting Dr Batrice Golomb, was being kind when he said, “…when physicians misunderstand the evidence of harm of statins ‘many patients remain on the drugs and die.’” My choice of words would have been something more like “when physicians are inexcusably ignorant of the evidence of the harm of statins…” In this world of Google, typing in “statins + side effects” brings up a whole raft of links that, for any thinking person, would at least raise some kind of cautionary flag—enough so that a few pointed inquiries before prescribing these drugs would be in order.

Richard Weatherill


What would Gandhi do? 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, July/August 2014

There’s little evidence to support the Joint Review Panel’s critical conclusion that diluted bitumen is “unlikely to sink.”

Whether diluted bitumen will float on the surface or sink in the ocean, says chemical scientist Thomas King wryly, “is a simple question, but it trails a raft of complex issues.”

King, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is leading Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s research into the behaviour of diluted bitumen under various environmental conditions. “The trouble is,” he says, “that we have very limited information about dilbit’s properties in water. Very little research has been done so far.” 

Yet, despite the lack of research, the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel (JRP) recommended approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline project (subject to 209 conditions). And on June 17, the federal government did just that.

By David Broadland, July/August 2014

Are City of Victoria taxpayers getting ripped off by seismic sleight-of-hand on the new Johnson Street Bridge project?

By July 7, the City of Victoria should have released details on the 6-month schedule delay and $7.9 million change order claimed in February by PCL, the company building the new Johnson Street Bridge. Focus filed an FOI for that change order in April. The City refused to release the record to us, invoking a section of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that allows them to withhold a record that they intend to release to the public within 60 working days. The City must now release the change order by July 7. So watch for it.

By Leslie Campbell, July/August 2014

Using the anti-apartheid playbook to reduce carbon emissions.

New reports on the dire consequences of climate change seem to be coming out every week. One of the latest, on June 23, was delivered by the Risky Business Project, a US bipartisan organization led by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr, former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, and billionaire former hedge fund executive Thomas Steyer. Paulson described the economic risks from climate change as “more perverse and cruel than we saw with the financial crisis.” Their report found that two of the most severe impacts—sea level rise and extreme heat—will likely cost billions of dollars in annual property loss, threaten human health, lower labour productivity, and endanger the nation’s electricity grids. The numbers are staggering—and too much of a downer for summer reading.

So where’s the hope, you ask?

By David Broadland, July/August 2014

Let’s apply the climate-change lens to a comparative cost-benefit analysis of sewage treatment options.

Environment Minister Mary Polak’s refusal to invoke an untested provision of the Environmental Management Act may have saved Capital Region taxpayers the additional cost—on top of the $65 million the CRD has already spent—of a long and costly court battle with no certain outcome. In a May 27 letter Polak told the CRD, “Even if the Province were willing to intervene, the facts at this time do not provide a strong basis for intervention using the provisions of the Environmental Management Act.”

What seems clear now is that a completely new plan for sewage treatment in the core municipalities needs to be developed. Where will it come from?

By Judith Lavoie, July/August 2014

An experiment in fish farming may point the way to keeping our wild fish healthier.

Salmon at the first commercial land-based Atlantic salmon farm in North America are certainly fat and, as far as anyone can tell, they seem happy as they swim around their 500-cubic-metre tanks.

That’s a bonus not only for the fish, but also for Kuterra, the ‘Namgis First Nation company raising the fish. Contented fish also seem to be tasty fish—following the initial April harvest, the product is flying off grocery store shelves.

It has been a good commercial start for Kuterra, which is raising the fish on ‘Namgis land near Port McNeill. But there is more than commercial success at stake as proponents of closed containment fish farming aim to show land-based pens can help save BC’s runs of wild salmon by getting open net pen fish farms out of the ocean.

By Briony Penn, July/August 2014

This is just one of many projects being pushed forward without adequate consideration of costs and benefits.

In 1972, Justice Thomas Berger was appointed to conduct a federal government inquiry into a proposed oil and gas pipeline in the Mackenzie Valley. The Berger Inquiry set a new international standard for energy hearings that considered: the global energy context; the local impacts to aboriginal subsistence; and the impact of not just a pipeline but the expanded concept of an energy corridor, complete with roads, platforms and infrastructure. The ability to secure funding for First Nations and environmental groups captured the interest of the international community and was copied around the world. 

By Gene Miller, July/August 2014

Nature is demanding a new appreciation of limits—and that seems to be driving some of us mad.

Likely you’re reading this on a brain-addling sunny July day, not able to frame a thought more complicated than “Pizza.” Maybe you’ve taken one too many positivity workshops and have selective (air quotes) recall that immediately sloughs the bad stuff: “I can’t hear you, bummer-free zone, lalalalalala!” Or maybe you just have a porous memory. Whatever the reason, you’re excused if, when you read “Saturday, June 14th,” you think “Huh?”

By Amy Reiswig, July/August 2014

Robert Budd and Roy Henry Vickers collaborate on a story about the people of the Skeena.

Some say humanity’s uniqueness is our capacity to create; others, that it’s our capacity to destroy. In fact, various terms have tried to identify our distinctiveness: homo sapiens for knowledge or wisdom, homo faber for creation, homo ludens for love of play. But a descriptor that captures one of the most elemental and uniting human drives is Yann Martel’s observation that “We are story animals.” 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, July/August 2014

When life at home is overwhelming, find relief in all those global disasters.

Living in the global village means that your life ebbs and flows with the currents of the world, what with issues and developments everywhere continually unfolding and demanding tweaks in your own perspective, priorities and—inevitably—lifestyle. Last year’s tragic collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh, for example, highlighted the need to reconsider the real cost of throw-away-cheap clothing. The smog over China—fuelled by our own natural resources—is now drifting back to mock our short-sighted greed and doltishness. Petition requests for every cause from dying bees to dying democracies fly out of our electronic devices whenever we dare to open them. It never ends.

By Aaren Madden, July/August 2014

IceBear creates visual harmonies from a technical foundation and a spiritual vision.

In 1953, the International Standards Organization endorsed the vibration frequency of 440 hertz for the tuning of most music, and it has been so ever since. However, according to some music therapists, musicians and conductors like Ivan Kostadinov Yanakiev, there are good reasons to tune music to 432 hertz, as it has been in the past. There are theories that 440 hertz can even elicit subconscious fear or aggression, but listening to music at 432 hertz, Yanakiev says, “opens one’s heart as no other musical vibration does.” 

By Monica Prendergast, July/August 2014

Theatre-going this summer provides it all: fresh air, exercise, laughs, and tears.

Live theatre is shared air. It’s all the more meaningful when the air is fresh. And warm. A midsummer night’s production is a dream just for being outside. When I lived in Toronto, I experienced the enchantment of Canadian Stage’s annual Dream in High Park. The sunsets and the setting make magic. Among enormous trees strung with thousands of fairy lights, the fairies alight; the performance a reunification with nature and all spirits in it.

Not that the absence of four walls is always a wilderness adventure. I saw a wonderful production of Twelfth Night on an outdoor stage in San Diego a few years back. It was delightful for its Watteau-like 18th century-style garden design, lovely pathways and bridges draped with flowers. 

By Chris Creighton Kelly, July/August 2014

Making Victoria a centre for developing contemporary dance.

It is a gentle gesture, a fluttering. It appears just long enough to be a known presence. And with a delicate but sustained whoosh, it becomes a continuous, curious flapping. Then, quietly, this movement is gone. But its ironic arc of subtlety stays with me.

What accounts for the staying power of that subtlety? I have been wanting to write about contemporary dance for awhile. It is the arts discipline furthest from my own practice (me, a dancer, you are kidding, right?) but I am enchanted, sometimes mesmerized, by it just the same. So the fluttering has arrived a couple of times lately but then, quietly, it is gone. Yet, I feel constantly reminded of its presence. I remember.

I make a mental note to call Stephen White, producer of Dance Victoria. He’ll be able to help me make sense of my inchoate insights.

Focus readers, June 2014

A wonderful read

What a wonderful read, back to front, the May issue of Focus is.

Starting with Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic’s “Composting Conundrum,” surprise, surprise; Victoria’s composting program is not working as planned and now all kitchen scraps will be shipped to Richmond for 20 months at a cost of $4.7 million. Of course, Victoria did not have a Plan B in place. Gracious, the only Plan A Victoria has is a Fortin photo-op. Forget about rewarding ratepayers for composting, they will have a green bin and pay for it used or not. Mind you, for $4.7 million, Victoria could hire four people at $50,000-a-year to go around and build and turn everyone’s compost heap for the next 23 years.

By Leslie Campbell, June 2014

What would Gandhi do if the politically powerful ignored reality?

Lately, for me, every issue that comes up seems like a distant second to the climate change challenge. If we don’t have a habitable planet, if we can’t feed ourselves, well, that’s it. End of the human story.

By David Broadland, June 2014

Esquimalt shoots CRD in foot. Now what?

Following the CRD’s appeal to Environment Minister Mary Polak to intervene in the “impasse” between Esquimalt and the CRD on amending zoning to allow for a larger sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins wrote her own letter. Desjardins asked Polak to “decline the CRD’s request.” Her 12-page letter, supported by an 11-page legal submission, had the unmistakable heft of a well-considered battle plan.

The CRD’s appeal to Polak had argued that section 37 of the Environmental Management Act (EMA) provided the minister with authority to override Esquimalt’s refusal to amend its zoning of McLoughlin Point that allows for sewage treatment but limits site coverage and building height. It would appear the CRD made the mistake of bringing a knife to a gunfight.