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By Mollie Kaye, June 2015

Ensemble Laude presents two concerts in June, displaying the power of choral music.

It is a palpable experience, being in a choir of human voices. For the singers and their audience, the harmonies and overtones zinging around the room create a kind of echo chamber of “good vibrations.” Apparently choral singing is better for your heart and lungs than yoga, if the medical researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden have it right.

Elizabeth MacIsaac, founder and artistic director of the 40-voice Ensemble Laude women’s choir, says they definitely do. “You’d think being in a choir would be yet another fatigue, but it’s not. It’s something that rejuvenates and reenergizes people.” The immersion in the sound, she says, brings health and healing. “Tons of oxygen is going into your body, abdominal muscles are being stimulated, endorphins released, so many good things.”

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, June 2015

Despite federal neglect of environmental issues like climate change, local youth are taking meaningful action.

Perhaps the biggest revelation in the recent federal budget was what it once again didn’t offer for the environment and for young people. No surprise about the environment—that porch light went off when the current group and their lobbyists moved into the big house several years ago. 

As for our youth, well, they were alluded to only once on Budget Day, not in the document but in a careless comment made afterwards by the finance minister in response to concerns that increased tax-free savings opportunities (for those who can afford them) would dent the public coffers for years to come. 

Focus Readers, May 2015

Petrostate clampdown

Activist Ruth Miller is not too far off the mark when, in Judith Lavoie’s April article, she compares Harper and the Conservative government’s behaviour to Hitler’s and his Nazis.

Bill C-51, combined with C-13, C-44 and C-639, will allow the Conservatives, and successive governments, to ignore the Canadian Constitution and Charter rights, and they will have the right to bypass the courts on all surveillance decisions. The passage of these bills effectively legalizes a totalitarian dictatorship not unlike that found in East Germany before reunification and in Germany under Hitler.

If Harper is allowed to continue with his plan to disrupt and criminalize dissent, democracy in Canada will cease to exist. Voting will become more of a sham than it already is.

By Leslie Campbell, May 2015

It’s political will—not ideas—that we’ve been missing in reducing homelessness.

In 2007 a documentary film came out that portrays a highly effective way to help homeless addicts recover and become productive citizens. I was able to view this film, called Finding Normal, at Our Place on April 21, compliments of Movie Monday and the filmmaker Brian Lindstrom. (The previous night they screened his newer film Alien Boy, about a man who was beaten to death by members of the Portland Police.) 

City of Victoria officials should see both films, but Finding Normal may be especially inspirational as they work to carry out their strategic plan commitment to “bold and innovative” leadership.

By David Broadland, May 2015

Did Saanich staff conspire to spy on the newly-elected mayor?

Following release of BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s report on the controversial installation of employee monitoring software on 13 District of Saanich computers—including incoming Mayor Richard Atwell’s—many Saanich citizens expressed frustration that Denham had left fundamental questions unanswered: Did Saanich managers conspire to spy on Atwell? If so, who ordered the spying? And who, they asked, will now determine what actually happened?

Saanich Council’s decision on April 13 to turn further investigation of the matter over to Interim CAO Andy Laidlaw did nothing to allay concern that these questions would be left unanswered. 

By Judith Lavoie, May 2015

With legal costs already over $1 million, the traumatized community continues its fight against a contaminated soil dump.

As Shawnigan Lake residents prepare to fight yet another battle over provincially-approved plans to dump and treat contaminated soil in a quarry above the lake that provides the area’s drinking water, there’s a community-wide sense of disillusionment and systemic betrayal. “I feel that what went wrong are the government processes and rules and regulations,” said Victoria Robson, Shawnigan Residents Association director.

By Briony Penn, May 2015

A scientific communicator takes on big oil and its so-called regulator.

When the Burrard oil spill started seeping onto English Bay beaches in April, the backstory of the oil industry’s corresponding rising share prices was already in the blogosphere. Kinder Morgan (Trans Mountain) owns half of Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), a company that has a monopoly on cleaning up spills on the coast. Lori Waters, a scientific communicator in rural Saanich, was connecting the dots for her blog followers in graphic detail. 

By Derry McDonell, May 2015

Former BC Premier Mike Harcourt tells a pro-amalgamation crowd that citizens will have to lead the way.

If the 75 percent of Greater Victoria residents who voted in favour of making changes to the governance structure of the region last November actually want it to happen, they had better get involved and be prepared to drive the process forward themselves. That was the frank advice of former BC Premier Mike Harcourt, speaking to a meeting organized by Amalgamation Yes on April 21. About 75 people attended.

“Don’t wait for the politicians to do something,” said Harcourt. “If you do, nothing will happen.”

The politicians are too invested in the status quo, he explained. “They are worried about their mayor’s perks and planning director’s salaries.” 

By Elizabeth May, MP

How we can make up for nine years of lost time?

Having worked on the climate issue from 1986, back when it was a future threat, to present times, where it is the stuff of daily headlines, I have to admit that it would be easy to feel discouraged. We have squandered decades that would have allowed humanity to avoid the climate crisis altogether.

Still, I am more optimistic now than I have been in the last nine years. Nine years ago—2006—was also a year that changed everything. 

It was the 2006 election which allowed Stephen Harper to form a minority government—even though cooperation between the Liberals and the NDP would have prevented this. (Conservatives had only 124 seats, the Liberals had 103 and the NDP had 29. Imagine what our country would have been spared had the opposition parties been willing to work together.)

By Gene Miller, May 2015

Nothing works like a crisis—even if it’s someone else’s—to remind us that the true meaning of life is survival itself.

BARBIE SALES ARE PLUMMETING. According to news reports, Bryan Stockton has resigned as CEO of “reeling” toymaker Mattel Corporation. 

Mattel Corporation? Pick your jaw off the floor. You thought Barbie was made from spun love by little angels in a pink chiffon workshop in Cloudland, not factories in Bangladesh. And Barbie sales plummeting? Can you think of a crueler reminder of how fate, like a thunderstorm at a summer wedding, is indifferent to human expectation? And this anxious thought: if Barbie sales are collapsing, can Little Tykes be far behind? And what do we do when the last domino falls?

By Amy Reiswig, May 2015

The complexities of our relations with other animals are explored in a new anthology.

The recent Oak Bay deer cull, as Focus readers will know, provoked intense and conflicting reactions—reactions from both head and heart. In the recent anthology In the Company of Animals (Nimbus, September 2014), editor Pam Chamberlain writes in her introduction about the distinction between feeling and thinking about animals, and the need to do both. She decided to bring together 37 voices from across Canada, including 6 Vancouver Islanders, to recount remarkable animal encounters from various perspectives—environmentalist, hunter, farmer, artist, veterinarian, game warden and more. 

By Aaren Madden, May 2015

Anne Hansen paints joyful natural images as antidote to social injustices.

Anne Hansen was at the beach off Dallas Road in November 2007 when she first spotted an oystercatcher. “It was late afternoon,” she relates. “The sun was behind them, going right through their orangey-red bills.” She watched as they obliviously foraged and bobbed their heads, splashing water illuminated in an effusion of low-lying sunlight. “It was a magical instant.” 

It was a gift during a sorrowful and changing time for Hansen, who is now 56 years old. 

By Monica Prendergast, May 2015

Social commentary abounds in the upcoming UNO Fest.

Intrepid Theatre is launching the 18th year of its spring festival of solo performances, UNO Fest, from May 8 to 24. Conceived in 1997 as an offshoot of Intrepid’s annual Victoria Fringe Festival, UNO has taken on a healthy life of its own. Artistic Director Janet Munsil travels widely each year to theatre and performance festivals to search out solo shows for UNO. Unlike the Fringe that selects shows via a lottery system, UNO is curated by Munsil based on submissions or by invitation. This ensures a high level of quality in the festival, as opposed to the more mixed bag of amateur and professional offerings that make up the Fringe experience. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, May 2015

They love the City of Gardens too.

It’s great to live in the City of Gardens, especially in spring when the landscape is effortlessly lush and bursting with colour. Living in Canada’s Rat Capital, however, is not nearly as enamouring. Over the years I’ve seen more rats in my Victoria back yard than I ever saw on the farm where I grew up. Rats creep me out, with their giant-worm tails, conniving eyes and pink, humanoid feet. My guy likes them even less, his phobia spawned by an old family story that involved him, his crib, his baby bottle and a rat.

What we have locally is a huge population of rattus norvegicus, a non-native species originally from northern China yet commonly known as the Norway rat (go figure). They like the low life, typically living in burrows or beneath sheds and woodpiles.

Focus readers, April 2015

The deer question

Thank you for the excellent story on Oak Bay’s deer. There has been so much misinformation coming from Oak Bay’s mayor that the majority of Oak Bay and other community residents do not know what to believe. Ms Campbell’s article set most of the facts straight out. There has been little other media coverage of these fabrications and I knew that Focus would not be afraid to investigate and comment. Traps placed on private property, obviously to protect gardens, are not helping the deer/vehicle safety issue which the mayor touted from the onset. These mistruths are going to come back and haunt him.

Ingrid Brown


Thank you Focus for this stirring editorial. It scientifically revealed the futility driving the unconscious lurch to kill yet another animal in the name of safety and beauty. 

By Leslie Campbell, April 2015

Campaign finance reforms are welcome but the Province refuses to restrict donations.

Campaign financing disclosure statements from the November 2014 municipal elections are now available for your viewing pleasure. While they prove that votes don’t exactly mirror money invested in a candidate’s campaign, they are still unsettling and provide a good argument for change.

In the November 2014 Victoria municipal elections, former Mayor Dean Fortin spent roughly $40,000 more than Lisa Helps ($128,636 to $88,564), yet lost. Ida Chong, too, outspent Helps by $20,000 ($108,120). Stephen Andrew spent about $49,000, most of it financed by loans and himself. 

By David Broadland, April 2015

Victoria City Council has been fooled again on the Johnson Street Bridge project.

One of the great paradoxes of the Johnson Street Bridge Replacement Project is that as the costs go up and the benefits to taxpayers go down, the company managing the project for the City of Victoria makes more and more money. In a February 27 letter to the City, MMM Group asked for an additional $1.8 million. Although a precise account of MMM’s likely total take on the project is not yet available, the latest ask appears to push it close to $17 million. Yet in 2010 MMM estimated their services would cost $7.8 million. Since then, while MMM’s bill climbed, the project has undergone a continuous paring away of most of the original objectives of the project.

By Derry McDonell, April 2015

Academics weigh in on the amalgamation question.

In November, voters throughout Greater Victoria said “yes” to studying some form of amalgamation in the Capital Regional District. Even in municipalities where the ballot question was either obtuse (Saanich) or clearly biased (Oak Bay), the overall result endorsed considering, at the very least, how greater service integration and cooperation among the 13 municipalities could benefit the region as a whole. North and Central Saanich, Sidney and Victoria went even further, endorsing a cost/benefit study of amalgamation itself. 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, April 2015

At a March longhouse ceremony, a cabinet minister promises change, but First Nations are still wary.

In mid-January, under heavy pressure from First Nations and their allies, the provincial government finally took action to halt the building of a house on Grace Islet, a tiny First Nations burial island in Saltspring Island’s Ganges Harbour. The hard-fought battle to protect the 18 graves on the island was at last won, although not without casualties.