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Island interview

By Aaren Madden, December 2012

Sandra Richardson believes knowing our vital signs makes us stronger.

There’s a young woman in Victoria who used to have a great fashion job in New York City. She was living the life. But then she started abusing drugs and developed a serious addiction. She ended up back in Victoria, her hometown—homeless. Eventually, with some support from her family, a counsellor and a program at the Victoria Cool Aid Society, she was able to turn things around: she started walking, then running—and now she’s in medical school. 

By Aaren Madden, November 2012

MLA Rob Fleming thinks LRT would tame sprawl in the West Shore and attract business investment.

The late 1980s were volatile times politically, here in BC, on the world stage, and particularly in the Fleming household. Rob Fleming’s older sister had strong, left-leaning opinions that she impressed upon him. Their father stood decidedly to the right; Mom was a “Trudeau Liberal.” (Pierre, that is. He’s not sure where she stands on Justin yet.) Imagine the lively dinner conversation on the day when, in “grade nine or ten,” young Fleming announced he had joined the NDP. 

“MLAs come from all walks of life; there is no one path. It’s not like everybody in the legislature was on the debating club in high school—I just happened to be,” quips Fleming, now the Environment Critic and NDP MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake.

By Aaren Madden, October 2012

Even after losing his job measuring marine contaminants, Peter Ross is more concerned about the country’s future than his own.

Peter Ross is Canada’s only marine mammal toxicologist. At the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, he studies the levels of toxic chemicals found in a wide range of creatures, including sea otters, seals and whales. This determines effects on their health, the health of their food sources, the oceans, and aboriginal food sources. “This is knowledge that informs policies, regulations, and practices that enable us to protect the ocean and its resources for today’s users and for future generations,” he explains. 

By Aaren Madden, September 2012

Tara Ehrcke on why education in general, and class size in particular, needs to become an election issue next spring.

It’s September, and another school year is about to begin. Usually this season puts people in mind of fresh starts and the exciting potential represented by all those sharpened pencils and crisp sheets of loose-leaf. For teachers in BC, though, it will mean a return to the same issues they have faced for years and fought for in tumultuous contract negotiations and job action through most of the last school year. The implementation of Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, in June forced a temporary settlement, effective until June 2013, at which time the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation may or may not be a different government’s problem. 

By Aaren Madden, July/August 2012

CBC’s Gregor Craigie sees Victoria as a city of activists.

The Big Apple; Motor City; City of Lights; Cowtown. A place can be conjured in a phrase, but it’s never as simple as all that. We all have our own spheres of reference that feed our perceptions of home—or any place for that matter—so there are as many ways of engaging with a place as there are people who live there, who visit, or who contemplate it from afar. 

By Aaren Madden, June 2012

BC and Canada are at a dangerous crossroads with the Enbridge pipeline plan, says Victoria MP Denise Savoie.

As an avid kayaker, NDP MP for Victoria Denise Savoie has glided over many of the scenic waters of the West Coast. But never before or since has she encountered the scene awaiting her in Prince William Sound, Alaska: “You’re paddling along the coast and it looks pristine from the water, but as you take your kayak to the beach, you begin to see rock faces that are still completely covered in gummed-up substance,” she says of her experience there in 1999.

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 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 Aaren Madden, March 2012

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard weighs the pros and cons of the “big bang” approach to municipal politics.

Frank Leonard is an incrementalist. The mayor of Saanich since 1996 and councillor for ten years previous illustrates what that means by way of reminiscence. “I was appointed chairman of the environment committee of the CRD in 1988. A day later, the recycling depot burned down. I was off to a great start,” he chuckles. At first, volunteers were handing out white pails. “Incrementally,” he says, “we added recycling programs, including the blue box.” 

By Aaren Madden, February 2012

To win the battle for envionmental health, mass mobilization will be necessary.

"Hello, I am Tria Donaldson, and I am calling to register my opposition to the government’s position on…” That was the gist of the very first phone call Tria Donaldson made to a politician. It was Environment Minister-of-the moment Jim Prentice, just before they both attended the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009. Aside from having been a tad nervous, she barely remembers it now. “They all kind of blend together after a while,” she smiles.

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 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 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 Aaren Madden, October 2011

Coast Salish social activist Rose Henry believes homelessness in Victoria is getting worse and she wants to do something about it.

Rose Henry, a 27-year resident of Victoria, is a founder of the Victoria Committee to End Homelessness. She blogs at rosehenry.blogspot.com and homelessnation.org. At universities, churches and rallies, she speaks about poverty and human rights. She writes for and sells Victoria Street Newz. 

The Together Against Poverty Society lists her on their board of directors, as does the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre. BC PIAC is a nonprofit law office fighting for social justice issues ranging from foster care to poverty to human rights. Right now she’s pondering an invitation to return to the board of the Vancouver Island Human Rights Coalition. You could say she’s a little busy. She laughingly calls it “my ADHD.”

By Aaren Madden, September 2011

Metchosin Mayor John Ranns believes the approval process for a development next to Juan de Fuca Marine Trail has become an affront to democracy.

Juan de Fuca Provincial Park is a sweep of lush forest, rugged, rocky coast and rolling shoreline stretching from China Beach to Botanical Beach on Vancouver Island’s west coast. Whales breach offshore, seals play, waterfalls rush to meet the tide, bears roam, and mist rolls onto the beach on even the hottest summer days. The magical atmosphere assures any visitor they stand somewhere that is not only wild, but also unique in the world.

By Aaren Madden, July 2011

George Monbiot says environmentalists don’t have a clear vision of how to stop wrecking the planet. Elizabeth May says she does.

It just so happened that the day Elizabeth May became the first Green elected to parliament in Canada, the prominent UK environmentalist and writer George Monbiot wrote a column in which he argued that, as a movement, environmentalism is, well, lost. “None of us yet has a convincing account of how humanity can get out of this mess,” he laments in The Guardian piece titled, “The Lost World.” Calling for clarity and realistic discourse, he asked, “Where is the clear vision that can resist the planet-wrecking project?”