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By Aaren Madden, January 2012

With a vision of environmental and social justice informed by travel and history, Ben Isitt is keen to shake things up at City Hall and the CRD.

As we sit in the warm, wood-panelled glow of Ben Isitt’s partially renovated kitchen, it becomes clear he has wasted no time embracing his new positions as Victoria city councillor and CRD board member. Six days after the civic election, he has already pored over the 2008 orientation manual for new councillors, last year’s finances, and this year’s operating budgets for both the City of Victoria and the CRD. He’s met with numerous community and business groups, colleagues and the mayor. He is, he says, “trying to get my head around the numbers, seeing the whole range of projects and policies that are being undertaken right now.” 

By Leslie Campbell, January 2012

Good medicine from local poets and artists.

If there’s a theme to this edition (indeed of Focus in general), one that provides a good direction for the New Year, it is to “go local”—to contemplate and celebrate the bounty we have in our environs, to nurture its health, to protect it fiercely.

Briony Penn’s piece, aptly entitled “Re-enchanting ourselves with the local,” argues that this localizing project is the “the most powerful antidote to globalization, inequity, corporatization, degradation, poverty and despair.” She is speaking about it largely in relation to the natural world, but it applies  to virtually every aspect of out lives, from art through business, food and travel. Rob Wipond’s contribution in this edition also turns our attention to the power of local in its discussion about re-directing some of the dollars that go into RRSPs into local ventures through “community investment funds.”

By Briony Penn, January 2012

The story of bees could possibly be the great allegory for our times.

It is a gorgeous Friday morning just outside of Bellingham. A flock of trumpeter swans are grazing in the fields, and I am with a large human flock hanging on every word of a hip young bee dude with a wicked sense of humour and two props—a collection of native bees and a bunch of sticks drilled with nest holes. The event is called Protecting Native Pollinators and there are farmers, students, scientists, teachers, grannies and young men jostling to learn the difference between a sweat bee and leafcutter bee; which native plants are best for bumblebees; and how to encourage mason bees (which mostly consists of doing nothing and being messy). 

By Gene Miller, January 2012

It all starts with ooids. Next thing you know, there’s a parkade.

What’s underfoot? The question holds professional interest for geologists and mineral explorers and, I suppose, for folks who think hell is down instead of Calgary in winter; though Jon Stewart recently quipped on the Daily Show, “hell is watching eight straight hours of Fox News.”

Think about it: we do a lot of digging and a lot of extracting—everywhere we can find riches to pluck. Adam, you’ll remember, was himself made from dust—earth itself; and Lilith, Eve’s precursor, from filth and sediment, as told in that collection of extra-biblical myths, the Midrashim. And as the Book of Common Prayer has it: “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” 

We’re deeply connected to the material beneath our feet. Literally, it’s in our bones. 

By Amy Reiswig, January 2012

Phyllis Serota often tells stories in her paintings. Now she tells the stories behind the paintings.

In chilly midwinter, golden monarch butterflies approach and even settle on Victoria artist Phyllis Serota’s father. This frozen imaginary moment lives in a large canvas in Serota’s sitting room and tells a very private story of reconciliation and forgiveness—a long-sought breakthrough regarding the man who, years ago, beat his daughter so regularly that the family joked about Daddy breaking her glasses every Tuesday night. 

By Christine Clark, January 2012

Megan Dickie’s sculptures critique the status quo.

In the short video called Ready to Rumble you will see a slim young woman wearing a form-fitting black dress, tied at the waist, with black leggings and tall black boots. Her high heels clatter against the cement floor of a white room as she wrestles with a free-standing and uncooperative wall of bricks. She is wearing a flesh-coloured leather Lucha mask, a decorative full-face covering traditionally used in Mexican wrestling. After hauling the wall up from its prone position on the floor and struggling to keep it vertical and straight for a few uncertain moments, the young woman falls beneath the unwieldy weight of the bricks, only to extricate herself almost immediately. Freed, she crouches beside the fallen wall, smoothing down its tousled bricks and returning it to its benign original position. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, January 2012

Confessions from an introvert enroute to a more social 2012.

I had a good friend in high school who could connect with anyone. She had kind eyes, a beautiful smile and, as she would say about herself, the gift of the gab. She could speak about anything—within reason of course, this being high school—and unfailingly sprinkled her stories with the kind of self-deprecating humour that solicits the endearment of others. She cared about people and was comfortable socializing outside of her age and peer group.

By David Broadland, December 2011

Is the political accounting for the bridge fiasco over? Or just starting?

The biggest loser in the City of Victoria’s civic election last month was Lynn “no-referendum” Hunter who saw her share of the vote drop 23 percent below her 2008 showing, pushing her into the ranks of the unemployed. Hunter, you may recall, opposed holding a referendum on whether to replace the Blue Bridge, calling referenda “an affront” to democracy. She was joined in unplanned retirement by the new bridge’s most fervent salesman on City council, John Luton. Philippe Lucas, elected as a Green but who then switched allegiance to the NDP and seemed to have forgotten his 3 Rs in the process—particularly “reuse”—was also dumped by voters.

By Briony Penn, December 2011

A massive increase in the winter herring fishery threatens recovering stocks and resident orca.

In what many are calling a dangerous and reckless move, the Honourable James Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, has just opened a massively scaled-up winter herring fishery in the Salish Sea that could knock back all the recent small recoveries of local resident herring populations from Saanich Inlet and the Gorge to Ganges Harbour and Howe Sound. 

By Leslie Campbell, December 2011

A boomer wonders if health care will be there for her at 85.

Mom, aka Jade, fell (again), breaking a hip (again). For over two-and-a-half months now, she’s been up on the 6th floor of the new patient tower at the Royal Jubilee. She says it’s been a “wonderful experience.” She loves the nurses and physiotherapists and enjoys the food. And regularly marvels that it’s all “free.”

I’ve seen my mom pretty much every day for the past two months. Fortunately, the Royal Jubilee is only a few blocks away. It has become very familiar territory. I can tell you about the new café that just opened (giving Tim Horton’s some well-deserved competition). Or the Art by Nurses gallery that runs down a hallway on the main floor; Mom and I watched it being hung one day as I wheeled her about. Or the First Nations healing room and the landscaping. I know the place well and am impressed by its design, functioning and people.

By Aaren Madden, December 2011

In teaching the history of this place and its people, Anne Tenning hopes to transform prejudice into understanding and the potential for healing.

In day one of the First Nations Studies 12 course that Anne Tenning teaches at Victoria High School, the first thing she does is draw a line all the way across the blackboard. Next, she divides it into ten segments. “First Nations people are estimated to have been here for 10,000 years,” she explains as we sit in her office amongst abundant bookshelves, a table bearing a large bowl of granola bars for the students she advises, and comfortable chairs meant for heart-to-heart talks.

By Gene Miller, December 2011

Tis the season for reflection on the moral obligations imposed by climate change and ecological destruction.

Hectored by my friend Denton to add a more Canadian sensibility to this column, I asked “So, what do you think are the compelling Canadian narratives?” He suggested two: how Tim Horton’s manages to keep the glaze sticking to their French crullers, and Harper’s anticrime bill.

The first of these is one of life’s great mysteries, akin to getting the ketchup to start flowing from the bottle; the second is easier to decode. Most Canadians respond to the proposed anticrime bill by looking rearward and pointing out that crime stats have been falling. That’s their mistake. 

By Amy Reiswig, December 2011

In his new book, Daniel Griffin offers up disturbing and fascinating stories about impulse and control.

At the end of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, with one ear still ringing from setting off fireworks of dubious quality, Victoria writer Daniel Griffin somewhat magically appears, conjured out of the ether from India via the grainy screen of Skype. As I laugh nervously over the foreignness of a headset with volume I can’t manage to adjust—it’s my first time—the relaxed and expressive Griffin is patient and mercifully unmocking. Compassion, I learned even before asking him a question, is a big part of his anchoring stance in the world.

By Christine Clark, December 2011

Rich and evocative, Brad Pasutti’s paintings glow with a mysterious life of their own.

Near the top of a painfully steep hill, with a long, endless view past rooftops and treetops and vague patches of greenery, all the way to the soft blue ocean, sits a formidable old grey mansion, towering over a wildly fecund garden filled with camellias and rhododendrons and soft grass. The house, composed of curved lines and towers and crushed curtains pressed against the window glass would inspire a Tim Burton movie; there’s a darkness there, foreboding and exciting. On a grey November day, with the clouds flying past overhead and the oak trees in sinuous silhouette, it looks like a witch’s lair, or a vampire castle in New Orleans. But no, it’s nothing so sinister. This is the home of a painter, a small and gentle man named Brad Pasutti. 

By Linda Rogers, December 2011

By blending international and local jazz artists in just the right mix, Darryl Mar keeps Victoria’s Jazz scene healthy and interesting.

Where does his passion come from? What made Darryl Mar dedicate his life to jazz, specifically the Victoria Jazz Festival and its musical offspring, the Blues Bash? This is my first question to the executive and artistic director of the Victoria Jazz Society.

Mar spreads his hands over his busy (polite word) office desktop, as if apologizing to his mother for a messy room full of music projects, and explains his provenance.

“My parents loved Big Band music and they danced with one another.” Those were the foot-tapping sounds of his early childhood, memories he transposed to his discovery of jazz in his teenage years under the tutelage of an uncle who introduced him to the sounds of Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, December 2011

Meaningful gift-giving doesn’t have to be costly.

This year I want nothing for Christmas. On second thought, a gift certificate for the teamed-up services of Mr Clean and the clutter buster would be most welcoming. But no presents, please—I have everything I could possibly need and I spend more hours than I care to admit trying to keep it all organized.

By David Broadland, November 2011

City of Victoria managers create misinformation that makes them look good and lulls the rest of us into a delusional stupor.

Let’s start un-juking the stats in Saanich. Compared to Victoria, Saanich is five times larger in physical size and has 30,000 more residents. The average income of a Saanich resident is almost 50 percent higher than the average Victorian. So you would think that a bigger, richer, more populous municipality would also have a proportionately larger, more expensive civic government. But Saanich and Victoria’s budgets are virtually identical.

By Aaren Madden, November 2011

In his pursuit of sound civic policy, Geoff Young defies labels and shuns spin.

When Geoff Young is not at any number of meetings in his roles as chair of the CRD board of directors, City of Victoria councillor, and member of multiple committees and boards, he spends his working days at Discovery Economics. He founded the company in 1984. His light-filled office sits on the second floor of a heritage building tucked quietly into downtown’s Langley Street. Diplomas in Economics from UBC, the London School of Economics and Harvard (PhD) are the main adornments, save a winter landscape painting that says more about clarity and presence than it does about chill temperature. 

By Leslie Campbell, November 2011

Homelessness hasn’t gone away; affordable housing is still scarce. But infrastructure now has our full attention. Why?

At the last civic election in the City of Victoria, just three short years ago, the number one issue was homelessness. That issue has now moved off centre stage. As with other important issues, it seems to have been sacrificed on the altar of infrastructure. The Johnson Street Bridge, and to a lesser degree the sewage system, sewers, and LRT proposal have occupied Victoria politicians, media, and residents. And now we’re being told we need to replace the Crystal Pool and Fire Hall #1.

But the shortage of housing has not gone away, and neither have the homeless—though the new shelter on Ellice Street means they are less visible downtown. 

By Gene Miller, November 2011

What will it take for mayor and council to realize it’s war and that job number one is to save Downtown?

After three short years it’s again time for us troglodytes to put down the remote, get our food dye-stained fingers out of the family size bag of Hawkins Cheezies, and go to the polls. Saturday the 19th—Municipal Election Day in Victoria! 

As soon as the Labour Day weekend was over and summer-ized voluptuaries were magically turned back into citizens, the civic election will-be’s and wannabe’s started their chivvying and I began to hear the grumbles: some of you were threatening a killing spree if you had to go to all-candidates meetings or read campaign brochures filled with platitudes and pledges about public safety, strong and vibrant communities, heritage protection, affordable housing, prudent tax spending, more green space, protecting our seniors, and so on.