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By Jay Cullen, Chris Garrett, Jack Littlepage, Rob Macdonald, Tim Parsons, Tom Pedersen, Vera Pospelova, Rick Thomson, Diana Varela, Michael Whiticar, December 2015

Marine scientists plead for an evidence-based approach to developing sewage treatment for Victoria.

We thank Focus reader Rick Weatherill for joining the discussion of the marine impacts of Victoria’s wastewater discharges, particularly for raising the important issues of “non-biodegradable plastics, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals such as sunblock.” [See Weatherill’s letter in Focus, November 2015.]

Before discussing these specific wastewater components, we would like to stress that, as marine scientists who also enjoy local waters for recreation and appreciate their value to local commerce, we certainly would not wish society to continue on with practices that can harm the marine environment.

By David Broadland, December 2015

As the cost for a new bridge marches towards $150 million, explanations from City Hall seem designed to distract rather than inform.

In a recent Times Colonist op-ed about the new Johnson Street Bridge project, ironworkers union spokesperson Eric Bohne stated, “Deficient steel fabricated in China helped lead to a $63-million project estimate in 2009 ballooning to $100 million today and counting.”

Bohne’s message is compelling: Building the steel part of the new bridge in China has taken jobs away from Canadians. Defective steel has caused the cost to swell. He’s partly right. A union-friendly NDP-led council didn’t prevent a few bridge jobs from being shipped to China. On the second count, though—that deficient steel has caused project costs to balloon—Bohne is slicing pure baloney.

By Judith Lavoie, December 2015

Scientists and policy experts on the Harper government’s well-loathed practice of replacing scientific evidence with PR spin.

Stephen Harper finally gaggedDetails of the Harper government’s freakish control of information, with mundane requests often having to wend their way to the Privy Council or Prime Minister’s Office level, are becoming clear as scientists speak out following the new Liberal government’s lifting of restrictions.

The new freedom-to-speak is sparking calls for a national conversation on the role of science, along with warnings to the BC government to heed the public anger that developed over the secrecy and information control exerted by the federal Conservatives.

By Briony Penn, December 2015

BC Hydro accused of divide-and-conquer tactics among Peace River Valley First Nations.

BC Hydro’s press release, announcing the Site C dam startup, called it One Hundred Days of Construction. Opponents from First Nations, local landowners, and groups ranging from BC Union of Municipalities to Amnesty International have characterized it as “one hundred days of destruction.” And it is a level of destruction that opponents are arguing should never have taken place, especially before all the judicial reviews and appeals were finished. 

The site where the clearing has started, at the southern confluence of the Peace and Moberly Rivers, was a mature forest which, like the rest of the 5340 hectares of valley to be flooded, has countless archaeological, sacred and historic sites, eagle nests, and wildlife corridors for moose, elk, bear and deer. 

By Rob Wipond, December 2015

A surprise government announcement could lead to the resolution of long-standing controversies about police secrecy.

The British Columbia provincial government has pledged to pass legislation to make the BC Association of Chiefs of Police and BC Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police “public bodies.” The announcement came from Bette-Jo Hughes, Chief Information Officer and Associate Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, speaking in mid-November to MLAs reviewing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The amendment to FOIPPA could resolve many concerns about how the associations operate—concerns that Focus has been reporting since 2012. 

By Liz McArthur, December 2015

Victoria prepares to help Syrian refugees make a new home.

As if there were a link between refugees and terrorists, fears have been expressed by some about the new Canadian government’s commitment to soon welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees. Yet there is no evidence for such a link. According to experts like Ottawa University law professor Errol Mendes, the refugees Canada will resettle will have been thoroughly pre-screened by UN officials—and then undergo extensive additional screening by Canadian officials.

While 25,000 refugees may seem like a lot, back in 2005 Canada accepted close to 36,000 refugees. As a result of rule-tightening by the Harper government in 2012, refugee claims dropped from 20,223 in 2012 to approximately 10,000 and 12,000 in the two subsequent years.

By Gene Miller, December 2015

Let’s make Victoria a model for the new economy.

Season’s best to you. Seatbelts, please. “Socialist twaddle,” one commenter responded. “Poppycock and vapour,” wrote another. You wonder if outraged readers got past the title of Paul Mason’s remarkable Guardian piece, “The End of Capitalism Has Begun.” 

Maybe “socialist twaddle” is code for “terrifying.” It is terrifying! 

Mason’s provocative 5000-word essay (now also published book-length as Postcapitalism) claims “the left’s project has collapsed; the market destroyed the plan; and [networked] individualism replaced collectivism.” 

If you’re in the habit of humming “My Union Makes Me Strong” under your breath, you will want to grind your teeth and chalk all of this up to the savage genius of cornucopian capitalism or, more conspiratorially, to the evil capitalist oligarchy within the corporations, the banks, and Wall Street. 

By Maleea Acker, December 2015

Nurturing herring would allow other species to rebound in the Salish Sea area.

By December, rain and the darkness of winter blankets the Capital Region. Berries hang like rubies from the darkening limbs of the arbutus. Storms shawl the coast with salt spray. Songbirds have migrated to their southern homes. But as the days shrink to their shortest and the Salish Sea takes on its jade-green clarity, a dark pulse of fish are gathering in the deeper waters of our coast, waiting for spring. 

Biologist Jacques Sirois would like to see these fish—Pacific herring—return to their pre-1960s population, a restoration he argues that would have cascading effects not just on marine life, but on how we live in and think of this region. 

By Amy Reiswig, December 2015

45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana: a book and an exhibit.

The recent federal election refocused our attention on the mighty concept of democracy. At its root, the word doesn’t just mean rule by the people but also strength or power of the people. While we often associate that power with politics, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s new book Anna Banana: 45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana shows us the surprising and mighty effects of the democratic principle at play in art. 

By Aaren Madden, December 2015

Joanne Thomson’s new paintings, inspired by her grandparents’ life, transform the pain of family secrets.

A recent watercolour on paper painting by Joanne Thomson depicts two stems of Indian Paintbrush resting in a few inches of water in a humble mason jar. Inspired by it, she wrote a poem with the same deceptively simple clarity, which is printed on the back of an art card of the image: “Spilling out the edges/ form and colour/ refuse to comply/ with the expected.” 

By Monica Prendergast, December 2015

Jack Hodgins’ novel has been reworked into a new play by Charles Tidler.

Local author Jack Hodgins needs no introduction to Victoria readers. Winner of a Governor General’s Award (Resurrection of Joseph Bourne, 1979), a Commonwealth Writers Prize (The Honorary Patron, 1987), and an Ethel Wilson Prize (Broken Ground, 2000), Hodgins is also the recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence and is invested as a Member of the Order of Canada. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, December 2015

This Christmas season, let’s envision our city as an inn that truly has room for everyone.

One of the most enduring symbols of Christmas is that of a vulnerable young family taking refuge from the desert night in a lowly stable. According to the narration in the ancient holy scrolls, the family found itself relegated to the bleak outbuilding because, “There was no room at the inn.” 

We’ll never know whether the lack of vacancy was based on a genuine shortage of space. Maybe the family was turned away for lack of means to pay, or perhaps it fell short of the innkeeper’s entrenched standards for his guests. What we do know is that the iconic image of a poor young couple and their newborn baby nestled among a menagerie of farm animals still resonates with so many of us, more than 20 centuries later. 

Focus readers, November 2015

An absence of evidence

Great article by David Broadland on the sewage plant and evidence-based decision making. Unlike many opinion pieces, you actually name names, particularly Murray Rankin’s. Good for you!

I have been an opponent of the sewage plant pretty much from day one and particularly from the point that I read the SETAC Report which acknowledged there was no science behind the decision. Yes, it did weakly endorse the project, saying we should do it anyway to improve our image, and—really big arm-wave here—because sometime in the future when the population increases the ocean-based system might actually have a real problem with polluting the marine environment.

By Leslie Campbell, November 2015

Let’s make sure that next time we can vote our conscience and know it will count.

As I was working out the details of how I would get my mom, Jade, to the polls on election day, her careworker Cristina asked if there might be trouble. Trouble? What do you mean, I asked. She told me how the Philippines had often had trouble with “flying voters”—referring to electoral fraud where people are paid to get on lists illegally and vote a certain way. Well, there might be some robocalls misdirecting people to the wrong polls, but as far as I know, no “flying voters.”

By David Broadland, November 2015

Was the surveillance software installed on the newly-elected mayor’s computer by Saanich staff a case of tit for tat?

Late last May I received an interesting phone call from Dr Gerald Graham. Graham had made a presentation to an August 14, 2013 CRD Board meeting at which an extraordinary incident had occurred minutes before he spoke. When Graham phoned, he told me he had filed an FOI for whatever investigation of the incident had been undertaken by the CRD. He told me there was no doubt at the CRD about who was responsible for the incident and that the FOI records he obtained showed this. When I asked if he would share those records he was non-committal. In the end he didn’t  share them. I’ll come back to Graham and draw a connection to the infamous installation of surveillance software on Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell’s computer, but first let me tell you about what happened at that 2013 CRD Board meeting.

By Judith Lavoie, November 2015

“Housing First” is easier in theory than in practice, especially given multiple municipalities and lack of senior government support.

Solving chronic homelessness is pretty simple—give people homes, says Sam Tsemberis, the psychologist-turned-outreach-worker credited with eliminating persistent homelessness in cities across North America, from New York City to Phoenix, Arizona.

It seems self-evident. A nice, neat solution, requiring only large cash injections, that will allow everyone to live happily ever after, with the streets cleared of the evidence of human misery now seen every day in the parks, doorways and alcoves of Greater Victoria.

By Briony Penn, November 2015

The rise and fall of fish farming in Ahousaht territory.

Qaamina Hunter starts our telephone conversation by telling me I’ve reached the general store in Ahousat village. I apologize that I have called the wrong number (Is there a general store in Ahousat?). Then I hear him laugh. Judging by the children’s voices in the background, it might as well be a general store I’ve reached. Qaamina’s house is certainly some kind of major hub for this First Nation of 2000 people.

By David Broadland, November 2015

Would the new bridge survive a collision with common sense?

A thicket of 12 rusting steel pipes sprouted in front of the new Johnson Street Bridge’s bascule pier in mid-October. Now a permanent feature of the project, fendering was somehow left out of architectural renderings of the controversial project. The steel pipes are part of a redesigned fendering system. Engineers’ concerns about the ability of the new bridge to withstand the impact of a marine collision have apparently led to much more extensive (and expensive) fendering than originally anticipated. In July the City of Victoria’s Project Director Jonathan Huggett told City councillors the new structure will be “somewhat less robust” than the existing bridge and so the fendering needed to be beefed up.

By Gene Miller, November 2015

The homeless on Victoria’s downtown streets offer a full-colour snapshot of response failure.

A friend reminisces that back around 1970, when we both arrived, there was literally one visible Victoria “street person,” whose image I can conjure to this day, though not his all-in-the-family-era name (Cliff? Ralph? Stanley?): a tall, grizzled, indeterminately-aged, spastic-limbed panhandler who, at various pub entrances—principally, the Churchill on Government Street, near Morris Tobacconists—would make his lurching approach toward passersby and exiting beer hall patrons, never begging but asking in a repetitive singsong: “I work around the house for a dollar.” Given his uncertain control of his limbs, it seemed safer to give him spare change than a job, which may have been the point. Whether he was homeless or just a “business-hours” beggar is unknown to me.