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By David Broadland, May 2013

Was Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin accurately briefed on the financial state of the City’s largest-ever infrastructure project before the last election? If he wasn't, as he claims, why isn't he concerned?

Shortly after Focus went to press last month with my “The smoking gun & accountability” story, a group of 12 Victoria citizens sent letters to Victoria City councillors and City Manager Gail Stephens.

The letter to Stephens included a copy of an August 12, 2011 memo produced by the City’s Assistant Acting Director of Finance Troy Restell in which he reported that the Johnson Street Bridge project had accumulated $5.2 million in unbudgeted costs.

By Briony Penn, May 2013

The Liberals have fumbled the biodiversity ball; so what are the alternatives offering, and what are they hedging on?

As mentioned in last month’s article, the BC Liberals have left a perfect vacuum for other political parties to fill on the biodiversity file. It’s been five years since government scientists warned that immediate action was necessary to avoid rapid deterioration of BC’s flora and fauna, especially in light of climate change.

During the last provincial election, the NDP’s axe-the-carbon tax policy cost them seats in tightly-contested ridings as environmentally-concerned voters migrated to the Greens. This time round, the wedge issue could be around the very stuff that sucks the carbon out of the atmosphere: BC’s biologically rich flora—and the fauna that digest it. 

By Leslie Campbell, May 2013

History lessons do make a difference.

Back in the 1970s, during the second wave of the women’s movement, I often felt angry as the blinders came off, exposing the injustices of the patriarchal culture I lived in. But I also recall sweet pleasure in discovering my foremothers. I devoured books and articles about women in history, both Canadian and otherwise. I went to see Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Table.” I even bought and restored Nellie McClung’s house in Winnipeg. Those inspiring history lessons had a profound influence on me: I ended up teaching women’s studies, then starting a women’s magazine. And, as you’ve likely noticed, they ignited in me a keen interest in politics and democracy. In other words, they made me, if I can be so bold, a good citizen.

By Rob Wipond, May 2013

An update on Mia following her narrow escape from involuntary electroshock therapy

Eight months after an independent tribunal ordered her released from hospital, the Vancouver Island Health Authority is still pursuing a Saanich woman. Focus previously reported on 82-year-old Mia (“The Case for Electroshocking Mia,” November 2012), whom VIHA senior geriatric psychiatrist Dr Michael Cooper had slotted for electro-convulsive shock therapy against the wishes of her and her family. Last July, an official inquiry determined Mia needn’t be forcibly treated for depression nor even hospitalized; however, almost immediately VIHA representatives began calling, coming by the family home, and demanding that Mia check in with them. Mia, her granddaughter Michelle and grandson-in-law Russel and their children fled the city.

By David Broadland, May 2013

Queen's medals awarded by mysterious means; you might as well take one too.

THE OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE from the City of Victoria’s Communications Director Katie Josephson noted that three City employees had been awarded Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medals. Josephson’s media advisory stated, “The distinction highlights the exemplary efforts of those who strive to make communities great places to live.” One of the Victoria staffers was apparently given the award for developing a City program as a part of his $106,000-a-year job. Josephson’s press release noted that Josephson herself had been awarded the medal.

By Gene Miller, May 2013

White and curvaceous, Shutters flaunts Victoria’s unwritten cultural code.

Shutters, the improbably-white and unexpectedly-sinuous condominium building in Songhees, is not so much a building as a sculpture people live in. Proper buildings, after all, are squared up and have right angles. Everyone knows that. And they’re brick-y red, not wedding-cake white. So, let’s study this one-off that flaunts all of Victoria’s unwritten cultural code regarding colour and shape of buildings, and that seems not so much to have been built as to have landed.

I was led to consider Shutters after I sat in one of the city’s coffee shops frequented by the double latte crowd, and overheard an artist/philosopher-in-residence explaining to the tattooed bunny at his table that white was not a colour but a concept, an idea.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, May 2013

Keeping the bullies out of your garden helps protect local parks too.

After a few years of procrastination we’ve finally tackled a dreaded job in the garden, that of digging a deep trench and installing a root barrier between our vegetable patch and a neighbour’s cedar hedge. We knew the hedge was siphoning food and water away from anaemic vegetable plants and stunted strawberries—we just didn’t know to what extent. What a creepy surprise to find the invading roots everywhere, a vast and tenacious network of tentacles lurking just below the food crop.

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, May 2013

Why funding the arts makes sense.

There is a half-way decent case against arts funding. It goes something like this: We taxpayers should not have to pay for activities that are elitist. Art is commodity production like anything else. Put it in the marketplace. If it sells, that means people like it and therefore, it must be good. And if it is good, it will sell. So no need to subsidize it.

If you look at public funding through a limited lens, this argument seems to make sense. Well, sort of. The problem with the “if it is good, it will survive in the marketplace” argument is that we, as a society, fund many human activities that cannot survive in the so-called free market. Or put another way, if they did survive, necessarily by making a profit, our whole understanding of what they are would change drastically.

By Amy Reiswig, May 2013

Long-slumbering memories are awakened and explored in George Szanto’s new book.

Gabriola Island writer George Szanto opens his new memoir with a quote from Thoreau’s Walden: “Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps.” 

This epigraph stands as a good introduction not just to the book’s nature-writing aspect or to the bog Szanto lives and writes beside. It also introduces one of the fundamental elements of Bog Tender: Coming Home to Nature and Memory (Brindle & Glass, March 2013): attending respectfully to what many find unremarkable or even slightly fearful. Like a bog. 

By Aaren Madden, May 2013

This year’s Fired Up! exhibition celebrates history, process, and function in ceramics.

When you describe someone as “the salt of the earth,” you are valuing their inherent goodness, their awareness of and commitment to something greater than themselves. The phrase takes on broader meaning as the compelling theme of this year’s Fired Up! Contemporary Works in Clay exhibition at the Metchosin Hall, May 24-26 (with a preview show at Eclectic Gallery). 

By David Broadland, April 2013

Did Victoria City Manager Gail Stephens misrepresent the financial state of the Johnson Street Bridge project before the 2011 civic election?

By Gene Miller, April 2013

The City of Victoria is robbing the future to pay for today.

I want to enlist your help in fleshing out an idea for the City of Victoria and in designing a strategy for its implementation. I’m proposing that together we generate some innovative thinking directed at our downtown and, by extension, the city’s problematic economy. In doing this we’ll not only open new ground in citizen innovation and city/citizen collaboration, but assist the city we love—a place that has clearly found itself overwhelmed and temporarily out of ideas. We can do this on the pages of Focus (send in your thoughts as letters or emails); or around a table in a coffee shop (call or write me); maybe it wants to be a small conference or workshop. Possibly all. 

By Leslie Campbell, April 2013

Democracy is a sham when donations rule.

As you read through this edition, you’ll likely note an underlying theme—a yearning for our institutions to be more democratic, to provide “the people” with greater power. We want to know what goes on behind the scenes so we can judge for ourselves whether those running the show are acting wisely and responsibly, unbiased by money and friends.

Rob Wipond’s article addresses this theme very directly with some candidates in the upcoming provincial election, asking them how they will “re-democratize” governance. Among many other recommendations, some mentioned the need to reform campaign financing. Right now in BC—unlike in most other provinces or at the federal level—there are no limits on donations to political parties. 

By Briony Penn, April 2013

What the auditor general and the scientists are saying.

Nature rarely makes it onto political platforms, but this election it could become a wedge issue amongst the progressive parties—especially in the capital. Here, if there is one thing that we rally around it’s the natural world. We gather in large crowds to save the salmon, the old growth or other iconic symbols of nature.

Yet the political parties are, as ever, reluctant to lead with the words “nature” or “biodiversity” in their platforms. 

By Rob Wipond, April 2013

Greater Victoria candidates in the BC provincial election speak out on how to correct growing democratic deficits.

For years we at Focus have been observing an erosion of democratic processes and participatory public engagement at all levels of government. In our opinion, this is worsening government decision-making with respect to many of the challenges we’re facing as a society. And we know we’re not alone.

By Rob Wipond, Derry McDonnell and Alan Cassels, April 2013

• Trend to “oral government” undermining accountability

• Faux consultation on City budget?

• Another fired drug researcher files suit


Trend to “oral government” undermining accountability

Last September, the non-profit Freedom of Information and Privacy Association complained to BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham about a growing trend for public information requests to the provincial government to come up empty. Denham investigated, and in March issued her report. 

The Commissioner verified that “no responsive records” replies to Freedom of Information requests have dramatically increased across the BC government from 13 percent in 2008/09 to 25 percent of all requests in 2011/12.

By Gerry Bliss and Brad Densmore, April 2013

In BC, two decades post-FIPPA, it’s harder to get government information than it was before the legislation came into force.

When the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) was introduced in 1993, BC was at the leading edge of citizen access to government information. Architects of transparency and accountability legislation around the world had a vision of better educated citizens, the press holding government accountable for its policies and actions, and legislators bringing the light of day into the public service.

In fact, there hasn’t been a major political party in Canada in the last 30 years without a formally stated commitment to transparency and strengthening public access to government information. People today have every reason to expect to be able to get any information they need to be informed citizens and stakeholders of government services. 

By Amy Reiswig, April 2013

A new book tells the story of how the public is denied information about the public’s business.

When a journalist sought two-months’ worth of records around the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s handling of the listeriosis outbreak in 2008, he was told the Agency would take a time extension of 555 days to complete the request. Unfortunately, as a recent book edited by UVic assistant professor of sociology Kevin Walby makes clear, such end-runs around Canada’s information access laws are far from unusual.

By Simon Nattrass, April 2013

Heavy-handed policing of homeless and poor people is the focus of a new affadavit campaign.

Marianne was visiting a friend the first time it happened. Like a scene from a TV crime drama, officers with the Victoria Police Department entered the home and, after a brief search, began accusing her of using illegal drugs based on her proximity to paraphernalia belonging to the house’s occupant. Marianne told the officers that she had stopped using. Finding no evidence to support their assumption, police left without pursuing charges. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, April 2013

Tell us how society—not business and government—will benefit from smart meters.

One of these days, I suppose, the BC Hydro folks will send someone to our door to inquire why we’ve been so contrary with respect to the “smart meter.” They might be surprised to see that we don’t wear the metaphorical tinfoil hats that some critics, both local and away, have used to berate anyone who’s been hesitant about Hydro’s behemoth meter replacement project.