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By John Threlfall, October 2015

Geographic and cultural history combine in a bold new play about one of Victoria’s most infamous locations.

For those who love the past, Victoria can be a living archive. You can still land a boat at Clover Point, just as James Douglas did in 1842, and walk through Beacon Hill’s camas fields. And it doesn’t take much imagination to hear a Songhees drum song at the Inner Harbour and feel it reverberating down through the ages to nearly 10,000 pre-contact peoples.     

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, October 2015

Low voter turnout in 2011 allowed a small minority of Canadians to elect a majority government.

Did you know that right now you own something so coveted by certain prominent Canadians that they and their varied confreres are spending an arm and a leg to convince you to give it to them? You guessed it; I’m talking about your vote. 

But let’s start over, because that first sentence is not entirely accurate. It’s true that millions of partisan dollars have been bringing election buses and podium rhetoric to almost every whistle-stop in the country—such excitement!—but not everyone necessarily wants you to vote.

Focus readers, September 2015

Saanich investigations

The continuing saga about the trials and tribulations of Saanich and its bureaucrats makes me wonder just how much of that sort of thing is going on in other districts, things that are escaping the public eye and ear. As an example, how many in camera meetings are used for things they were not intended for? How much is being hidden from the taxpayers? How much erroneous information is spread? And how many council members are afraid to speak up to the mayor or CAO? I am certain Saanich is not alone with its problems and would like to see Focus investigate other community councils and staff to see what’s going on.

P. D. Davidson


By David Broadland, September 2015

The Johnson Street Bridge project director says the new bridge will be “somewhat less robust” than the existing bridge. Why?

City of Victoria taxpayers are now facing a price tag of $130 million for the new Johnson Street bridge project (see breakdown of costs below). That’s a tripling of the $35-40 million cost put on the project in 2009 when councillors first voted to build a new bridge instead of repairing the one city residents already owned. It’s more than double the $63 million that citizens were told a new bridge would cost when the City forced them, in the middle of winter, to counter-petition for a referendum on the project. It’s also $53 million above the price former City Manager Gail Stephens had in mind when she claimed the project was “on time and within budget” shortly before the 2011 civic election. And it’s almost $40 million above what “Fixed-Price” Fortin campaigned on just last November.

By Leslie Campbell, September 2015

Animals, vegetables, and a thought-provoking book.

Four years ago David and I decided to combine Focus’ July and August editions. This has allowed us to spend a good part of recent summers at our property on Quadra Island from which we watch the rhythms of nature unfold.

This summer I grew vegetables, David dug a new well and worked on a renovation project, and we both did a lot of birdwatching, reading and swimming. It was idyllic, a natural high. 

One of the great books I read this summer was Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a book that makes you think about what humans have done to themselves—as well as other creatures. He takes readers on a swashbuckling ride from the birth of our species 200,000 years ago, through the rise of agriculture, industry, science, empires, trade, capitalism, and monotheistic religions. 

By Judith Lavoie, September 2015

Where do the parties stand on allowing another 890,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen to be shipped past Victoria each day?

An intricate pipeline-politics dance is being performed in the run-up to October’s election as BC voters question federal candidates about their stand on Kinder Morgan’s plans to triple the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline running from Alberta’s oil sands to the west coast. The 1000 kilometres of new pipe would allow 890,000 barrels a day of bitumen (diluted with other hydrocarbons) to flow across BC to an expanded Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby.

By Brioney Penn, September 2015

Owned by government pension plans, TimberWest appears set to ignore a Forest Practices Board finding about its logging on the island.

It’s taken six years, but just about everything with the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) Agreement has been innovative. That includes new models for financing forest conservation; new ways of managing forests where the well-being of ecosystems and First Nations are the twin goals; new ways of resolving conflict where once-battling industry and environmental groups sit down committed to solutions; and finally, new ways to draft regulations through real BC-government-to-First-Nation-governments decision-making. 

By Amy Reiswig, September 2015

From Madrona Farm in the Blenkinsop Valley, a new book by Nathalie Chambers, Robin Alys Roberts and Sophie Wooding explores a global vision rooted in the earth.

Chambers and RobertsIN A 20-MINUTE bike ride—the same time it takes to walk to three chain grocery stores—the Lochside Trail delivers me into the bucolic Blenkinsop Valley and to the humble little farmstand fronting the community-building powerhouse that is Madrona Farm. The stand is piled with just-picked produce. Stacks of carrots, like heaps of orange treasure, are deliciously new and sweet, even still a little dirty. But as Madrona farmer Nathalie Chambers will tell you, that dirt is the real gold.

By Gene Miller, September 2015

A city’s urban character and authenticity are never to be taken for granted.

If you need further evidence purposeful forces govern the universe, there was Victoria City Councillor Pam Madoff at a June meeting hosted by the Fairfield-Gonzales Community Association in its space just uphill from Sir James Douglas School, near the corner of Fairfield Road and Moss Street.

Fix that intersection in your mind: the school on one corner, Fairfield United Church on another, and a bit of retail/commercial fungus on the other two.

The flyer attracting Fairfield people to the meeting was portentously captioned: What is happening to our Village? The village in question, however, was not the crossroads described above, but nearby Cook Street Village, whose welcome banner reads: “Cappuccino and a ricotta-quince brioche while we finish blessing your yoga mat?”

By Jo-Ann Roberts, September 2015

Victorians who want to stop Harper might also want to elect an MP who is free to speak the truth.

Reject fear. This was the battle cry during the frequent protests against Bill C-51 last spring. The slogan cleverly called Stephen Harper on using fear to sell his unconstitutional bill. Fear is central to his electoral strategy. He spreads fear that Justin Trudeau’s inexperience will lead us to ruin; he spreads fear that NDP social policies or Green Party energy policies will destroy the economy and take away your livelihood.

Opposition parties respond by trumpeting hope and change. Yet, the fear of Harper himself is used to put wind in their electoral sails. The most common comment I hear on the doorstep is “I want to stop Harper.” So, if not afraid of terrorism, voters are afraid of Stephen Harper. In this environment, it becomes difficult to squeeze hope, unfettered by fear, in amongst all the doom.

By Aaren Madden, September 2015

By re-presenting landscapes with views both intimate and monumental, Brent Lynch invokes the sanctity of the everyday.

The oil on canvas landscape painting by Brent Lynch called “Raven on Glass” is so named for the sleek bird that glides inches above the wet sand along a West Coast beach on Vancouver Island. “A raven is throwing shells down on a beach—but it’s not about that,” Lynch says. From this viewer’s perspective, it’s about the way the mountains in the background push against and even through the top edge of the picture plane; about how thin layers of pigment add up to a wide sheen of sand that wants to sweep under the viewer’s feet. And the way the horizon line seems thrust back into space. Traditional expectations of foreground, middle ground and background are messed with in a way that says, “Look at this.”

By Monica Prendergast, September 2015

A recent report suggests not enough has changed for women in theatre.

Earlier this year, the Playwrights Guild of Canada, in partnership with many other professional theatre organizations, released a report called “Achieving Equity in Canadian Theatre.” This report was preceded by one in 2006  called “Adding it Up: The Status of Women in Canadian Theatre.” Both reports make for some infuriating reading for anyone concerned with gender equity issues in general, and how these inequities are evident in Canadian theatre practices in particular. 

By Maleea Acker, September 2015

Malcolm Rodin volunteers his time to nurture native (mosquito-eating) songbirds.

Esquimalt resident Malcolm Rodin has a passion for native songbirds. It began with summers on his grandfather’s farm in southern Saskatchewan. Each summer, he tells me, “Barn swallows would nest in all the outbuildings. I just got this love of them. You could climb up and look in the nests and really enjoy them.” 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, September 2015

Provide a home and the rest follows.

Maybe it was the hammer on the logo that first drew me in. There’s something invigorating about swinging a hammer to sink a nail to fasten two boards into new beginnings. The end result is almost always greater than the sum of its parts.

I discovered the magic of the hammer the summer I was eight and my dad decided to replace our barn, an old wood-boned structure that seemed to accept the news by leaning ever more noticeably towards its own tipping point. I have no memory of it coming down but I certainly remember the new one going up. With my oversized hammer I drove nail after nail into scraps of wood, timidly at first—because the thing you quickly learn is that a hammer works either for you or painfully against you—but then with enough fervour to prompt the foreman to put the nails out of my reach. 

By David Broadland, July 6, 2015

Did a group of five Saanich councillors hold an illegal council meeting on December 4 last year?

That question has arisen as the result of documents obtained in an FOI request to the District of Saanich for communications between Councillor Judy Brownoff and other council members during the turbulent period at the District following November’s election. You may recall that Saanich councillors strenuously objected to the approach newly-elected Mayor Richard Atwell had taken when he proposed to replace CAO Paul Murray.

A December 3 email from Councillor Susan Brice to Brownoff and three other councillors (Leif Wergeland, Dean Murdock, Vicki Sanders) under the subject “Thursday meeting” stated, “Our appropriate [redacted] will be available for Thursday night so go ahead and let Donna know you are available to attend. Will keep you posted.”

Focus Readers, July/August 2015

The Whistle Blower’s Tale: Part 2 

I appreciated David Broadland’s article, “The Whistle Blower’s Tale: Part 2.” If the facts are accurate as reported I fail to understand: (1) why employees of the District of Saanich continue to be employed in light of their incompetence regarding the procurement and implementation of the software; (2) how these employees are allowed to disregard and violate their own regulations/ethics; and (3) why the IT employee is the only one showing moral courage by stating the obvious (rather than saying “I don’t know”) and is subsequently disciplined for telling the truth.

When will we as citizens insist on professional behaviour, ethical behaviour and moral comportment from those we put in office and those who are hired to do their bidding?

By David Broadland and Daniel Palmer, July/August 2015

News of a secret investigation involving Saanich interim CAO Andy Laidlaw may throw the District into more turmoil.

In the Saanich spyware debate, either you believe that the senior manager who approved the installation of employee monitoring software on newly-elected Mayor Richard Atwell’s computer understood what she was approving, or you believe that a systemic disconnect from BC’s privacy law occurred and no one in particular was to blame.

That latter position was all that could be found in a report to Saanich Council on the issue delivered by the District’s interim CAO Andy Laidlaw and made public on June 24. In his introduction to the report Laidlaw noted, “I am acutely aware that my report will be subject to criticism by those who believe it does not confirm their perceptions.”

By Leslie Campbell, July/August 2015

Will Victoria take responsibility to provide safe consumption services?

Did you know that our fair city has the highest number of street deaths per capita in BC? I didn’t, until a panel discussion in June called Moving Forward: A Public Forum on Supervised Consumption Services in Victoria.

The panel made alarmingly, indisputably clear that a relatively simple measure would prevent those deaths and provide other benefits to individuals and communities. I’m speaking of safe consumption services (SCS), likely integrated into existing services. These have been endorsed by everyone from the Canadian Medical Association, numerous nurses’ associations, the Public Health Physicians of Canada to municipal and provincial governments, academic researchers and so on. Everyone it seems but the federal government.

By Briony Penn, July/August 2015

Eight planned cutblocks in the Walbran are raising the temperature among those concerned about BC’s old-growth forests.

In 1991, Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WC2) campaigner, Torrance Coste, was a three-year-old growing up in Lake Cowichan. Barrelling through his community at the time were logging truck loads of old-growth logs coming out of the Walbran Valley and buses of protestors coming in. “I even remember the hand-painted signs: ‘No raw log exports’ which I could just about read.” Coste adds, “Though I didn’t have a clue what they meant then, I do now.”