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By Aaren Madden, May 2012

Jack Etkin is intent on presenting alternative voices to those we hear in corporate-controlled media.

"Let me ask you a question,” says Jack Etkin, as we sit over steaming plates of beef teriyaki in a bustling Japanese restaurant. He has been patiently connecting the dots for me in what he considers the deeply problematic power structure that is constantly eroding our rights, environment, and quality of life as citizens. We’ll get to that, but first, his question. “What’s the definition of the word democracy?” he asks.

I mumble something about by the people, for the people. “Not bad,” he nods, before offering his preferred analysis. “Democracy comes from two Greek words: deimos, meaning the people, and kratos, power. So it means the people rule.” 

By Amy Reiswig, May 2012

A salute to the guys that ride the trucks and heave the cans.

I looooooove trash! Many of you will remember Oscar the Grouch’s impassioned ode to anything dirty or dingy or dusty, but the main reason he as a character was funny is that, let’s face it, nobody loves trash. In fact, a good deal of civic infrastructure goes into separating society from what we find distasteful, dangerous or just plain disposable. That means hiring people to do the dirty work, and some people—like Saanich garbage collector Randy Smith—do love that. 

The Victoria-born Smith started emptying household garbage cans for the District of Saanich about 18 years ago. And while he’s had other jobs for Saanich during that time, he says: “I’ve always come back to garbage.” Which might have many of you—and me—asking: Why?

By Christine Clark, May 2012

Creating perfect moments comes naturally to Linny D. Vine.

In Linnyland everything is golden. The skies are blue, the clouds are puffy, white and pretty, existing only as a metaphor. The cherry blossoms float, if cotton candy can float, in mounds above the gentle streets. The maple trees are always dressed in autumnal reds, casting soft, rich shadows across quaint corners. The houses and little store fronts curve radically inwards and outwards, welcoming and friendly. The few people around are pleasantly preoccupied, strolling alone or with a friend, looking into shop windows, or riding bikes fast and furious, kid-like. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, May 2012

Power failures bring out the design flaws in our technology.

We’ve had our share of power failures these past few months, given that the island winds seem to relish throttling the tree tops and playing skip rope with the hydro wires every time the clouds loom low and sullen. You might as well haul out the candles and boil a last kettle when the strait turns into a herd of frothing, bucking waves all stampeding for shore. Soon the radio announces that the ferries have stopped running, and then the radio stops running too, unless you have one that can be cranked, which we did until the crank itself was inadvertently cranked off.

By Marilyn McCrimmon, May 2012

For 84-year-old Connie Shaw, slowing down means skipping the race and just doing it for fun.

"I wonder if I can do that,” says Connie Shaw when she encounters a new opportunity. The answer is usually “yes.” Yes, she could start running marathons in her 40s. Yes, she could start doing triathlons in her late 50s, and continue competing in them well into her late 70s.

By David Broadland, May 2012

The City low-balled the price tag and is concealing that fact. With so much being hidden and costs likely to top $100 million, is it time for a change of course?

The whiff of scandal around the Johnson Street Bridge project grows stronger. One wonders what it will take for one of the die-hard City of Victoria councillors—the ones who have clung steadfastly to what appears to be a sinking ship—to jump before they’re sucked down with the wreckage.

By Leslie Campbell, May 2012

If citizens’ voices count, Enbridge’s pipeline will not be built.

Comox, March 31. Outside it’s chilly, but a boisterous crowd keeps warm with speeches and songs and cheers of “no tankers.” Some are wearing costumes, and most sport at least a blue scarf or hat to symbolize the ocean they see as endangered by oil tankers plying BC’s rugged coast.

Inside the nearby community centre, the hearings of the Joint Review Panel for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project are being conducted with utmost decorum. Any sign of boisterousness—even a smattering of applause—is politely but firmly quashed by Chairperson Sheila Leggett.

This is likely the only Vancouver Island hearing into the massive project that would see 525,000 barrels a day of oilsands-derived liquified bitumen moved 1200 kilometres to Kitimat. There it will be loaded onto supertankers—hundreds of them each year.

By Briony Penn, May 2012

The logging happens on private land, but the damage and costs are borne downstream.

In the last 10 years alone, Vancouver Island has had more severe flooding problems damaging homes, infrastructure and fish habitat than in the last 50. In the last five years, we’ve seen disaster-level flooding in central and southern Island (Dec 2007), Sooke and Langford (Jan 2009), Duncan (Nov 2009), central and north Island (Sept 2010, Dec 2010), and southeast Island (Nov 2011). Every year, sometimes twice a year, severe events are causing damages. The once exceptional has become the norm.

By Gene Miller, May 2012

Even with burger joints popping up on every corner, you still can’t find medium-rare in the nanny state.

I can hardly wait for the 2012 US presidential election in November, when millions of American voters throughout that great land will march to the polls to repudiate Obama’s socialist, regulation-crazy, freedom-hating, say-no-to-enterprise, big government vision and put Mitt Romney in the White House, so we can starve the Washington beast and have a second Morning in America.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, April 2012

Government and business interests are selling our country and its resources to the Chinese.

NORMALLY I'M QUITE AN OPTIMISTIC PERSON but this year it seems harder than usual to come out from under the winter. I can’t blame it on the weather, though the marathons of dreary days did add a certain weight. No, the bigger bleakness comes from what feels like a steady stream of news that points to a country and society—namely ours—on the downswing.

By Simon Nattrass, April 2012

Why are there hundreds of young people living on the streets of the CRD?

SINCE LEAVING HOME AT 13, Dianne* has divided her life between shelters, care homes, and the street. She’s 20 now, and has just left Holly House—a girl’s home run by Threshold Housing Society—for a detox facility. Dianne’s life will be unstable while her case worker looks for another supportive living space, but she says things have been worse—for a long time, her life revolved around her addiction. “I spent most of my time trying to score, most of my time using. Everything revolved around using and getting dope, using dope, being dopesick and trying to get un-dopesick and getting clean, relapsing and getting clean again. That was my life for a long time.” (*The young people in this story are real but we've changed their names to respect their privacy.) 

By Aaren Madden, April 2012

Shellie Gudgeon’s first concern is how we shift from “us and them” to “we”—and why we have to.

EVER SINCE SHE WAS A YOUNGSTER, Shellie Gudgeon’s 15-year-old daughter Isabella has got a kick out of Foul Bay Road. Whenever they drive or walk across it, she says, “Oh! I’m in Oak Bay! Hey! I’m in Victoria! Oak Bay now! Oh! Victoria again!” 

From a child’s point of view, it does seem absurd that a mere street separates two different cities. But by Victoria city councillor Gudgeon’s observation, the 13 solitudes that make up our region signify a dysfunction incised deeper than layers of asphalt and fill.

By Leslie Campbell, April 2012

The right of public access to the waterfront has been a hallmark of Peter Pollen’s long service to the community.

PETER POLLEN HAS BEEN OFFICIALLY RETIRED from business and politics for many years now, but he still likes to talk about them. During our wide-ranging conversation in his gracious Uplands home, I had to work hard to keep the focus on his life—he often seemed to be trying to interview me. 

The den we meet in looks out onto a Garry oak meadow, with feeders attracting many chattering birds. The room is full of art—including a large Herbert Siebner—and family photos and books. Pollen is an avid reader, especially of Shakespeare and history. Today he has The Collected Essays of George Orwell open.

His wife MaryAnn brings us tea, then joins the conversation and is especially good at recalling specific dates and names as we drill down through the decades. 

 

By Gene Miller, April 2012

Even with storm clouds on the horizon, Victoria continues to avoid direct action.

AT A RECENT Urban Development Institute luncheon, guest speaker Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin, invited to profile the City’s new economic development strategy, told this story:

“I was giving a speech in James Bay and mentioned Victoria as a world-class city...and someone in the audience said “What if we don’t want to be a world-class city?”

Now, this raises some interesting questions: What does it mean to be a world-class city? What does it mean if your city isn’t? And last, who cares what some shrubby, unemployed, dope-smoking loser in James Bay thinks? Or, why would the mayor throw that goad at a James Bay audience, any more than he would say: “Ya know, James Bay could really use a bunch of 30-storey condo towers, four active traffic lanes on Simcoe Street, and a nuclear reactor at Ogden Point?” 

By Amy Reiswig, April 2012

Yasuko Thanh writes stories about normal people in extreme situations.

"I KNOW HOW TO MAKE a poultice from the powdered marrow of tiger bones or the roughest part of a bear paw, how to pound it smooth until the sinews are supple.” These Vietnamese healer-woman’s words remarkably represent the powers and process executed by good writers: making potent compounds from unexpected elements. In that regard, it stands as an apt artist’s statement for the person who put them to paper: Victoria writer Yasuko Thanh.

By Christine Clarke, April 2012

Samuel Jan says it’s all about moving people with beauty.

Samuel Jan says he’s basically a loner, and that helps explain the comfort he gets from art. “[It relieves] the distance I have from my friends and my family. I moved a lot as a child. Art is something I can always rely on. My drawings and my imagination will never leave me, no matter where I move to. My mother raised me by herself. She had so many jobs. We lived inside a hair salon. We lived with two nuns at one point. People were constantly taking us in. Wherever she worked, we lived. I didn’t have too many childhood friends.” 

By David Broadland, April 2012

Massive design changes to the new Johnson Street Bridge were withheld from City councillors prior to a critical vote.

AT A CRITICAL MOMENT in the special council meeting held March 15 to consider whether to keep digging the Johnson Street Bridge money hole, City of Victoria councillor Marianne Alto said, in effect, “Let’s keep digging.”

Along with other councillors, Alto had just watched a PowerPoint presentation by the City’s prime consultant, Joost Meyboom, the bridge’s architect, Sebastien Ricard, and the City’s Mike Lai.

Considered to be a swing vote on the question of whether to keep digging or get out and look around for what else might be possible, Alto declared she could now “understand” why the price had risen to $92 million. She told her fellow councillors she felt “grief” when she first heard the new price and earlier that day had decided “$77 million and not a penny more.”

By Briony Penn, April 2012

Links between election fraud and oil interests are so thick, it appears bitumen itself is lubricating the connections.

OVER TWO DAYS in January, 2010, the Manning Centre for Building Democracy held a campaign school at Delta Ocean Pointe Resort in Victoria in preparation for the 2011 election. Revelations of what went on during those two days has yielded intriguing insight into what might lie behind the current robocall scandal. The Manning Centre is a Conservative think-tank operating out of Calgary, headed by Preston Manning, and board members include Gwyn Morgan, ex-CEO of EnCana Corp and other luminaries of the oil and gas industry.

By Leslie Campbell, April 2012

The dream of a therapeutic community at Woodwynn Farm still burns bright.

I DOUBT I'VE EVER MET anyone more persistent and committed than Richard LeBlanc, founder of the Creating Homefulness Society and Woodwynn Farm, the therapeutic community for homeless people. When I think of all the roadblocks the Woodwynn project has faced, it’s hard to believe that he just keeps on chugging and that he’s so good-natured and philosophical about it.

Right now, two big things are happening in his life. First, Woodwynn’s application to the Agricultural Land Commission to house more homeless people on the property is under active consideration. And second, Richard has been living on the streets for over a month. 

By Sam Williams, March 2012

The City of Victoria's latest estimate for the new Johnson Street Bridge has risen by $16 million to $93 million. This shocking news comes just two weeks after demolition of the railway portion of the heritage bridge, making the less expensive option of rehabilitation impossible.