By Leslie Campbell, July 2016
BC’s Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie makes the case for more government intervention on behalf of seniors.
I MEET WITH BC SENIORS ADVOCATE Isobel Mackenzie weighed down by personal experience of aging parents and relations, and complaints about “the system” from friends and fed-up professionals in the health and homecare fields. Much of my baggage points to at least some systemic dysfunction and an apparent disconnect between what is claimed about the government’s respect for seniors and what’s happening on the ground.
By Leslie Campbell, July 2016
Here’s to a summer of books, reason and love.
AS AN ANTIDOTE to the bombardment of modern life, I’ve turned to reading more books. Even when their message is unsettling, wallowing in a good book is somehow calming. And they certainly quench my thirst for deeper understanding more than the sound bites offered up by the news media.
So I’ve been reading more books in general, and—returning to my roots—more philosophy books in particular.
In so doing, I’ve been reminded that philosophers revere a good argument. As Socrates advocated, “follow the argument wherever it leads.”
By Leslie Campbell, May 2016
BC’s defamation laws are downgrading our democracy.
THIS EDITION BRINGS YOU an update on the Shawnigan Lake situation by Judith Lavoie. When we learned of threats of legal action against citizens and media outlets for alleged defamation from the company operating the controversial mine and reclamation site in the area, we decided to investigate. There’s little doubt people have been surprised and upset by the letters from South Island Resource Management’s lawyer. Besides the fears and outrage expressed by those willing to be interviewed by Lavoie, one fellow asked “What about free speech?”
By Leslie Campbell, March 1, 2016
Mayor Helps’ forceful push to a billion-dollar sewage facility at Rock Bay takes some twists and turns—and ain’t done yet.
LATELY A NUMBER OF PEOPLE, from seniors to sewage activists, have wondered aloud if Mayor Lisa Helps is moving too fast. Her penchant for “getting things done” is one she readily admits to, from planting potatoes in February to “stampeding” her fellow CRD colleagues towards a decision on a sewage treatment plan.
I met with Mayor Helps on Sunday, February 21, at City Hall. I had requested an hour for an interview but was given 30 minutes with the assurance by her executive secretary that, “The Mayor is extremely good at covering a lot of information within 30 minutes.” She was right.
By Leslie Campbell, March 1, 2016
A tent city on provincial land has pushed the Province a little closer toward a solution to homelessness in Victoria.
AS I WRITE, there are still campers on the provincial law courts grounds, despite the recent passing of the February 25 eviction deadline and the establishment by the Province of two transitional facilities. Injunctions and counter measures are being readied, so the drama may soon move to the law courts’ interior spaces, as well as some other Province-owned land.
By Leslie Campbell, February 2016
After 28 years as a monthly print magazine, we’re going to begin to decarbonize.
IN 1988 I STARTED the pre-cursor to Focus, a monthly magazine called Focus on Women. Those were the days when a person with no money, a friend’s Mac Plus, a waxer, a bit of moxie, and a lot of help from friends, could start a magazine. And survive. Although when I think of producing page layouts on that six-inch screen, I am not sure how we did it.
By Leslie Campbell, January 2016
The encampment at the law courts grounds provides evidence of our collective failure to meet the need for housing.
The homeless camp at the Provincial law courts grounds might be getting most of the attention these days, but the whole latter half of 2015 experienced gusts of action on the homeless front, starting with Mayor Helps’ and Councillor Ben Isitt’s proposal last summer to devote a corner of Topaz Park to a regulated tenting area for the homeless—something angrily rejected by local residents.
By Leslie Campbell, December 2015
It’s time for Christy Clark to wake up from her LNG dream before it becomes a nightmare for the rest of us.
After 20 years of climate negotiations, most nations now seem determined to take serious steps towards a stabilized climate. However, as delegates from 196 nations meet at the Paris climate summit, there are still huge hurdles to leap before any agreement is made, especially one with the teeth needed to force nations to live up to it. One look at the 51-page draft agreement (available online), with it’s multitude of pivotal options sitting undecided between over 1500 square brackets, and you’ll get a glimpse of the challenge. Getting to yes ain’t easy.
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 Leslie Campbell, October 2015
The provincial LNG fiction-writing exercise has some lessons towards October 19.
Here’s a cautionary tale, gleaned from a recently received Freedom of Information request, one you might want to keep in mind as we head to the polls this month.
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 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 Leslie Campbell, June 2015
Whistle blowers, citizen activists and persistent journalists are the antidote.
On May 15 I attended a stimulating talk by David Barsamian, the award-winning founder of Alternative Radio, now in its 29th year. Barsamian has also co-written a number of books with Noam Chomsky.
Green leader MP Elizabeth May introduced Barsamian to the crowd of about 80 people at UVic’s SUB lounge.
He was speaking on “Media and Democracy”—and had lots to say on both subjects, mostly from a US perspective. From my perch as the editor of a local magazine, I tried to apply his analysis to the local scene.
Both Barsamian and Elizabeth May highlighted the continuing growing concentration of media ownership as a key to understanding everything else that’s wrong with media today.
By Leslie Campbell, June 2015
Do articulated tug barges, each carrying millions of gallons of hydrocarbon fuels, pose a threat to our coast?
Ingmar Lee has a mission born of serious worry. The long-time environmental activist has been trying to raise awareness about the “articulated tug barges” that transport various fossil fuels through the Inside Passage to Alaska.
From his home on Denny Island, near Bella Bella, Lee maintains a facebook page (10,000 Ton Tanker) where he posts regularly. It started a few years ago, he says, when he began noticing and then tracking (via www.marinetraffic.com) the tugboat Nathan E. Stewart and its two 300-ft 10,000-ton capacity petroleum-tanker barges which run directly past Bella Bella, and on through BC’s protected Inside Passage and Great Bear Rainforest.
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 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 Leslie Campbell, April 2015
And you wonder why it all takes so much time…
The Westside Wastewater Treatment and Resource Recovery Select Committee (aka “Westside Solutions”) recently issued the results of an online survey done during December and January.
The committee, with representation from Esquimalt, View Royal, Colwood, Langford, and the Songhees Nation, is attempting to evaluate options and recommend sites for potential sewage treatment and resource recovery for those communities. The survey, with 345 respondents, was conducted in conjunction with six open houses. It found that most people place greatest priority on environmental concerns. Treatment costs were chosen by the second highest number of respondents as top priority.
By Leslie Campbell, April 2015
Questions around costs and justification remain
Despite Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen’s attempts to put a positive spin on his municipality’s recent deer cull, to most—opponents and proponents alike—there is little to cheer about in 11 dead deer, especially given the community angst left in its wake.
One of the “lessons learned” according to a CRD press release is that “Our mild coastal climate and the onset of an early spring resulted in an abundance of food sources for the deer, which deterred some from entering the baited traps.” Speaking with local wildlife biologists would likely have saved the CRD having to learn that lesson the hard way.
Perhaps less predictable was that the traps were more attractive to rats and raccoons than deer: “Raccoons and rats triggered the traps on a regular basis. They also challenged the process by chewing the nets, resulting in damage that required repairs.”
By Leslie Campbell, March 2015
Living with wildlife can be a community-building project. Oak Bay chose a different path.
Reading Oak Bay’s Request for Proposal for the contractor that will kill up to 25 deer, one gets a glimpse of the difficulties envisioned. Besides the required covered truck, steel-toed boots, smart phone, and data plan, the RFP warns applicants in bold: “Experience dealing with angry, aggressive or hostile people an asset.”
By Leslie Campbell, February 2015
Green candidate Jo-Ann Roberts reflects on why a strong public broadcaster is important to democracy.
On the evening of January 28, a couple of hundred Victoria-area citizens were given a sneak preview of Peter Smoczynski’s film-in-progress about voter suppression tactics used in the 2011 federal elections—something which journalist Michael Harris calls “the biggest unsolved crime in Canadian electoral history.”
By Leslie Campbell, January 2015
The use of robocalls and other “voter suppression” tactics suggests we can’t.
One of my greatest joys as editor of Focus is talking to people who call to request a subscription or talk about an issue near and dear to their hearts. It’s encouraging in all sorts of ways. I am always impressed by their intelligence, their concern for our community, and of course their heartwarming support for Focus’ work.
One reader who called this past month was Dave Morgan, a retired lawyer who now runs a sheep farm on Galiano Island. He called after reading Briony Penn’s story on voter suppression techniques used in the 2008 and 2011 federal elections and the new film on the subject that’s being previewed on January 28 in Victoria (see below). Mr Morgan wanted to share his own story from the 2008 election.
By Leslie Campbell, December 2014
Why do we spend more than twice as much on prisons as we spend on young children?
Good question. Many may not have thought child poverty relevant to Victoria’s recent civic elections, but mayoral candidate Changes the Clown did. He showed up dutifully at all-candidates meetings wearing his glorious outfit and making sad pronouncements about how we treat children in this province.
He certainly stayed on message: “One in five children and one in two children of single mothers live in poverty in Victoria” must now be firmly embedded in the minds of all candidates and attendees at the forums.
After Mayor Lisa Helps wrestles that new bridge into place, perhaps she’ll tackle child poverty. As Changes suggested, there are things that cities can do to better the lives of young families. Affordable child care and a living wage policy top his list.
By Leslie Campbell, November 2014
In seeking a fairer election process, for starters, follow the money.
At the first all-candidates meeting for the City of Victoria, one advantage of incumbents over newcomers was clearly on display: They are much more practiced at giving relatively intelligent-sounding one-minute answers to highly complex questions. With 24 candidates on the stage, many only got to speak for one-minute during the whole evening.
But not the incumbents. With the majority of questions directed their way—they do, after all, have more to answer for—they got to shine more often, Mayor Dean Fortin in particular. This is how the advantage of incumbency tilts elections to re-elections.
By Leslie Campbell, November 2014
Oak Bay mayoral challenger would bring a different approach to solving the sewage impasse.
In conversation with Cairine Green, her significant skills in communication and diplomacy are apparent. While she’s confident that she can provide better leadership than incumbent Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen, she says it in the nicest way possible. Since Jensen won by only 428 votes in 2011, it’s likely he’s taking her challenge seriously.
A council member for Oak Bay for the past three years, Green earlier served on North Saanich council for six years. “Politics was always part of my life,” explains Green. Her parents met through politics, and her father served as both a Liberal MLA and, later, reeve of Saanich (1952-58).
By Leslie Campbell, October 2014
With civic elections coming, we need to demand bold, visionary action on climate change.
At the Climate Change Summit in New York City, our prime minister was conspicuously absent, and Minister of Environment Leona Aglukkaq committed to only modest reductions in transportation emissions, something the US is forcing on us with its car manufacturing standards anyways.
The People’s Climate March, however, offered more hope—that a movement of the people might be powerful enough to force the political and corporate foot draggers to get on with an appropriate response to the threat to all species posed by climate change.
By Leslie Campbell, September 2014
We can invest profitably in this community.
In Focus’ July/August edition I wrote about the divestment movement—the push to shift investments out of oil, gas and coal stocks into something less harmful to the human project on this finite planet. Given the effects of climate change, why nurture the development of resources whose emissions could make it impossible for future generations to live comfortably on Earth?
By Leslie Campbell, July/August 2014
Using the anti-apartheid playbook to reduce carbon emissions.
New reports on the dire consequences of climate change seem to be coming out every week. One of the latest, on June 23, was delivered by the Risky Business Project, a US bipartisan organization led by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr, former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, and billionaire former hedge fund executive Thomas Steyer. Paulson described the economic risks from climate change as “more perverse and cruel than we saw with the financial crisis.” Their report found that two of the most severe impacts—sea level rise and extreme heat—will likely cost billions of dollars in annual property loss, threaten human health, lower labour productivity, and endanger the nation’s electricity grids. The numbers are staggering—and too much of a downer for summer reading.
So where’s the hope, you ask?
By Leslie Campbell, June 2014
What would Gandhi do if the politically powerful ignored reality?
Lately, for me, every issue that comes up seems like a distant second to the climate change challenge. If we don’t have a habitable planet, if we can’t feed ourselves, well, that’s it. End of the human story.
By Leslie Campbell, May 2014
April provided some inspiring examples of effective citizen engagement.
I’ve been privileged over the years to witness how ordinary citizens, working in varied and splendoured ways to set things on a better course, become more empowered and hopeful. Sometimes they even beat the odds, becoming effective change-makers in the process.
Faced with billion-dollar infrastructure projects everywhere we turn, not to mention hearing dire warnings about climate change, it’s a time when we could use some good news. April has proved helpful in that regard—serving up some positive stories of how citizen oversight and engagement led to a more democratic outcome.
This being a municipal election year, paying attention to the lessons such stories offer could result in a sea change in our region, washing away those politicians clinging to old ideas like barnacles on a rock, instead of representing the will of the people.
By Leslie Campbell, April 2014
Another way the personal is political.
Call me retro but I’ve never been inside a Walmart or ordered from Amazon.com. I also avoid chain-filled malls, preferring the uniqueness of locally-owned shops and services—not just for their more individual character, but because I know shopping in them is a smart investment in my community.
I recognize we live in shifting times, where many see it as cool and contemporary to buy online from Amazon. And that some among us, earning a low wage, might need to seek out the “best deal” and that may occasionally lead them to Walmart, Target or Amazon.
By Leslie Campbell, March 2014
Moves by Esquimalt and Colwood around the sewage treatment plan will make March a great month for political theatre.
Last month I told you about a forum at which Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Andrew Weaver and others urged the CRD to at least ask for an extension of the time frame demanded by upper levels of government to finalize the region’s sewage treatment plans. Unfortunately, while a motion to that effect had been made by Victoria City councillor and CRD director Marianne Alto, it was voted down by the majority of the CRD board in mid February.
Not a good sign. That vote will just add to the growing cynicism and distrust of local residents. The CRD seems intent on damaging its own credibility. Some sort of demonstration by the board that it is hearing the dismay and discord it has generated is needed—a sign that it is open to modifying its plans in light of new information, reason, and community concern.
By Leslie Campbell, February 2014
By Leslie Campbell, January 2014
By Leslie Campbell, December 2013
By Leslie Campbell, November 2013
Two initiatives aim to give a more values-based direction to our economy.
As I watched the news the other night, wildfires raged in Australia. In Alberta, a derailed train full of propane and crude oil was also burning out of control. Later I listened to a report about Hurricane Sandy, and learned that its damages have been pegged at close to $70 billion.
Fossil fuels, climate change and costly disasters go hand in hand. Yet we, as a society, seem largely inert—stuck in tarsands and pipedreams.
By Leslie Campbell, October 2013
Empathy, facts and logic are needed to protect the public square.
As I write I am having one of those days filled with miscommunication. Even the email I sent asking a friend “A or B?” came back saying “sure.” It seems many of us are too busy these days to listen carefully to each other—myself included, I realize, as I repeat a question to David, having forgotten to listen the first time he answered. Time to slow down and hear each other!
This was one of the themes I heard at The Walrus Talks event at the Belfry Theatre in mid September. The topic under discussion was “The Art of Conversation.” On the bill were six speakers, who each offered up pearls of wisdom around what doesn’t work and what could—in communicating with each other, reinvigorating the public square, finding common ground, and reconciliation.
By Leslie Campbell, September 2013
A case of the cure being worse than the disease.
Many of my peers are helping their elders cope with the trials of aging these days. We understand that there’s only so much we can do—decline just keeps coming. So we strive to make the best of the changing scene and pray for support and comfort along the way. Peace, love and understanding too!
Over the summer, my family had some experiences that brought this home. It started in July when my mom Jade landed in Royal Jubilee Hospital with an infection that exaggerated all her other issues. Hospitalized for the ensuing six weeks, Jade, as well as my sisters and I, were all thoroughly impressed by the diligent, kind care she received.
By Leslie Campbell, July/August 2013
Healthy democracy is more critical than secondary sewage treatment.
The CRD has spent $50 million towards planning the area’s liquid waste treatment facilities, and the most obvious thing they have to show for it so far is a distrustful, angry public. Perhaps it’s time for an intervention—in the form of direct democracy.
I attended a couple of the recent open houses the CRD hosted about the Biosolids Energy Centre component of the plan. CRD bureaucrats were out in force, explaining the pros and cons of the Hartland vs Viewfield sites. So were citizens from Esquimalt and Victoria West who feel victimized by the possibility of a large sewage plant in the midst of their family-friendly neighbourhood. Councillor Shellie Gudgeon described the situation as “an issue of social justice.”
By Leslie Campbell, June 2013
Will the break-through win of a green politician reshape BC’s politics?
The historic election of a Green Party candidate to the BC Legislature should be encouraging to that party and to the rest of us too. Let’s forget the complaints about “splitting the votes,” which can be used against any candidate—or voter—and embrace the possibilities inherent in a Green win. It’s a party that foregoes the old right vs left dichotomy, and for now at least, endorses free votes in the legislature and proportional representation, and is opposed to corporate and union donations. These are some of the measures I believe are needed to re-energize our democracy.
By Leslie Campbell, May 2013
History lessons do make a difference.
Back in the 1970s, during the second wave of the women’s movement, I often felt angry as the blinders came off, exposing the injustices of the patriarchal culture I lived in. But I also recall sweet pleasure in discovering my foremothers. I devoured books and articles about women in history, both Canadian and otherwise. I went to see Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Table.” I even bought and restored Nellie McClung’s house in Winnipeg. Those inspiring history lessons had a profound influence on me: I ended up teaching women’s studies, then starting a women’s magazine. And, as you’ve likely noticed, they ignited in me a keen interest in politics and democracy. In other words, they made me, if I can be so bold, a good citizen.
By Leslie Campbell, April 2013
Democracy is a sham when donations rule.
As you read through this edition, you’ll likely note an underlying theme—a yearning for our institutions to be more democratic, to provide “the people” with greater power. We want to know what goes on behind the scenes so we can judge for ourselves whether those running the show are acting wisely and responsibly, unbiased by money and friends.
Rob Wipond’s article addresses this theme very directly with some candidates in the upcoming provincial election, asking them how they will “re-democratize” governance. Among many other recommendations, some mentioned the need to reform campaign financing. Right now in BC—unlike in most other provinces or at the federal level—there are no limits on donations to political parties.
By Leslie Campbell, March 2013
Who does Victoria’s harbour authority answer to?
I wasn’t alone in deciding to spend my Valentines’ evening in a windowless hotel conference room. About 100 other people showed up for the 5:30 pm public meeting of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. The woman signing us in ran out of agenda materials just as I arrived; she said she had only prepared for the usual 30 guests.
What had stirred so much interest was the GVHA’s refusal to accept the City of Victoria’s nominee for a board position. But beneath that concern lay Victorians’ passion for their harbour and for democratic governance.
By Leslie Campbell, February 2013
Is the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel shirking its responsibility to include tanker safety in their analysis?
Shortly after the Victoria visit of the Joint Review Panel into Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, Beverley Mitchell, a retired Sister of St Ann, called me. This was not the first time I’d heard from Bev. She had contacted me shortly after reading my Editor’s Letter in Focus’ May edition, describing my experience at the Comox hearings into the pipeline. During that earlier conversation, I encouraged her to write about her own thoughts on the matter.
By Leslie Campbell, January 2013
The annual cost to taxpayers of an average City worker is $91,000.
Because Victoria City council has resolved to limit tax increases for each of the next three years to 3.25 percent, City staff have been busy trying to figure out how to keep that resolution. But they themselves may be the elephant in the room. At a presentation to media on December 13, Brenda Warner, director of finance for the City of Victoria, compared the challenge to turning a huge ship around. She expressed confidence in being able to make enough adjustments for 2013, but admitted it would be more difficult in the following two years.
By Leslie Campbell, December 2012
Rob Wipond wins a Jack Webster Award.
In the past couple of editions we’ve mentioned—okay, we’ve beat the drum loudly—that Focus writer Rob Wipond was one of three finalists for three different Jack Webster Awards for excellence in British Columbia journalism. Well, on November 1 he won one. No one is more deserving of this award than Rob, whose commitment to digging for the truth is unwavering. He’s also very talented at bringing his stories to life, which makes it easier for all of us to digest some of the complex information he dishes up. (Times Colonist reporters Rob Shaw and Cindy Harnett, and CBC Radio reporters Sara Darling, Sterling Eyford, and Peter Hutchinson were the only other Island-based reporters shortlisted for the 14 awards.)
By Leslie Campbell, November 2012
In BC, pipelines have become a moral and spiritual issue.
The line-up of speakers for the October 22 “Defend our Coast” protest at the BC Legislature against pipelines was impressive. It included environmental leaders like Tzeporah Berman, Maude Barlow, Greenpeace executive director Bruce Cox, cofounder of Greenpeace International Rex Wyler (now heading Tanker Free BC), and Green Party leader MP Elizabeth May. Labour unions and the NDP were also well represented.
But all of them followed, and most gave credit to, the real stars of the day and these times: the First Nation leaders who have been in the forefront of the fight against pipelines and tankers for seven years now. About 15 First Nations were represented and their chiefs spoke to the 3500-strong crowd with eloquence—about their connection to the land and their absolute clarity that no pipelines will cross it. For any amount of money.
By Leslie Campbell, October 2012
Victoria City Hall wants to limit your access to information.
How ironic was it that during “Right to Know Week” (Sept 24-28) we learned how our own right to know—and thereby keep readers informed—was being severely curtailed?
In August, the City applied to the BC Office of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) under Section 43 to put restrictions on Focus publisher/writer David Broadland and myself (as well as Ross Crockford of JohnsonStreetBridge.org). Section 43 appears to be a little-used clause reserved for extreme cases of abuse of the provisions under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act. As far as we can tell, it has never before been used against journalists. And until adjudicated by the OIPC, our Freedom of Information requests with the City of Victoria have been “frozen.”
By Leslie Campbell, October 2012
Longtime Focus journalist is a finalist for 3 Jack Webster Awards.
Each year, the Jack Webster Foundation sends out notification by email to the three finalists in each of the 12 categories of Jack Webster Awards. When I saw the first one announcing Rob Wipond was a finalist in the Community Reporting category for two pieces he wrote on the RCMP’s and VicPD’s Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR) programs, I wasn’t surprised. The stories, written earlier this year, garnered tremendous attention on our website from all over the planet. And after Rob, Christopher Parsons and Kevin McArthur took the research done for the story and presented it as a brief to Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, she launched an investigation into the way the program is operating here in Victoria. It was great that the Websters had noticed.
By Leslie Campbell, September 2012
The news is both heartening—and surprising.
Watching a video produced by Enbridge the other day, my first reaction was: This is not a fair fight. Enbridge has a lot of money to throw at deceptive marketing and PR. And they also seem to have a pretty powerful member on their team: Our resource-extraction-obsessed prime minister, with his determination to limit environmental assessment periods and dig up and export Canada’s resources—quickly.
But in recent days there’s been news on a variety of fronts that makes me realize that, despite its significant resources, Enbridge may well lose this fight.
By Leslie Campbell, July/August 2012
Holiday wishes: buy local, keep it simple, practice gratitude.
Last year, David and I decided to publish just one edition for the summer—and now we don’t know how we managed to go for so many years without a real holiday.
So I am feeling particularly blessed as my July vacation nears, and want to say a big thank you to our readers and advertisers who have supported Focus over the years—it definitely takes a village to raise a magazine.
Our advertisers are virtually all small, locally-owned and operated businesses, often family-run and, in this new economic paradigm, they’ve had to be very adaptable and resourceful, very good to their customers, and just plain determined (or crazy, some would say). They have certainly embraced the buy-local movement as crucial to their own well-being and that of the community at large. And that, in part, explains why they buy ads in Focus.
By Leslie Campbell, June 2012
This organization can take a small amount of your money and turn it into a stronger local economy.
Small business has always taken guts (if I do say so myself). But in recent decades, with the rise of the global economy and consumers turning to huge corporations and chains for everything from books to food and clothing, it’s even trickier for entrepreneurs to make a living—or to simply get into the game. Coming up with the cash for rent, equipment, marketing, and wages before revenues start flowing, derails many a potential business in its infancy.
Certainly not everyone has family that can afford to help. And banks, while they may grovel for other corporate business, seem to have developed ironclad formulas that rule out loans of any size for any new business. Struggling single parents or those with student loans or, heaven forbid, a prison record, know enough to not even ask their banks for help.
By Leslie Campbell, May 2012
If citizens’ voices count, Enbridge’s pipeline will not be built.
Comox, March 31. Outside it’s chilly, but a boisterous crowd keeps warm with speeches and songs and cheers of “no tankers.” Some are wearing costumes, and most sport at least a blue scarf or hat to symbolize the ocean they see as endangered by oil tankers plying BC’s rugged coast.
Inside the nearby community centre, the hearings of the Joint Review Panel for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project are being conducted with utmost decorum. Any sign of boisterousness—even a smattering of applause—is politely but firmly quashed by Chairperson Sheila Leggett.
This is likely the only Vancouver Island hearing into the massive project that would see 525,000 barrels a day of oilsands-derived liquified bitumen moved 1200 kilometres to Kitimat. There it will be loaded onto supertankers—hundreds of them each year.
By Leslie Campbell, April 2012
The dream of a therapeutic community at Woodwynn Farm still burns bright.
I DOUBT I'VE EVER MET anyone more persistent and committed than Richard LeBlanc, founder of the Creating Homefulness Society and Woodwynn Farm, the therapeutic community for homeless people. When I think of all the roadblocks the Woodwynn project has faced, it’s hard to believe that he just keeps on chugging and that he’s so good-natured and philosophical about it.
Right now, two big things are happening in his life. First, Woodwynn’s application to the Agricultural Land Commission to house more homeless people on the property is under active consideration. And second, Richard has been living on the streets for over a month.
By Leslie Campbell, March 2012
The A-word and other tales of participatory democracy.
There’s a global movement afoot—participatory democracy—which empowers people to play a more central role in directly shaping their communities. You can see it erupting in everything from communities that engage in participatory budgeting and “conversation cafés” to the occupy movement. It generally involves large assemblies of ordinary citizens coming together to learn about and discuss issues, and eventually decide on action.
While participatory democracy might be a bit cumbersome and slow, its benefits are numerous and deep: inclusivity and engagement, higher quality of life, greater transparency, accountability and trust.
By Leslie Campbell, March 2012
Ninety-two and still working, she credits genes, work, family and faith for her longevity and health.
Connie (Holmes) Isherwood greets me graciously from behind her large desk in her legal office in a heritage building on Fort Street. Framed by a big bay window behind her, she seems but much the same as when I first met her—which hails back to the heyday of the Women’s Business Network over 20 years ago. Her hair is still strawberry blonde; her nails carefully polished.
By Leslie Campbell, February 2012
Tapping into the wisdom of the elders, with your help.
As I’ve written in my editorials from time to time, I have three elders with whom I am intimately connected: my mom, and husband/publisher David’s parents. They range in age from 83 to 88, and all live here in Victoria.
Their journey through their 80s has been bumpy, to say the least: widowhood and two broken hips, plus uterine cancer for my mom Jade (and breast cancer in her late 70s); lymphoma and vascular dementia for my mother-in-law Pat—which has meant her husband Bob Broadland has become a full-time caregiver at age 88. It’s been, he admits, “a steep learning curve,” not the least of which was accepting he needed a little help. To any question whose answer depends on the vagaries of the future, he sagely admits the futility of prediction and answers, “Time Will Tell” (yes, the caps are purposeful).
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 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 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 Leslie Campbell, October 2011
Five million dollars from the province wouldn’t compensate for 2.5 years of conflict around the Juan de Fuca lands—but it’s a start.
Congratulations are in order: To the men and women of all persuasions and ages who made it crystal clear that they didn’t want any development near the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. It involved a lot of work, conflict and anxiety since 2008, but the public got what they wanted.
It wasn’t easy, though. As Gordon O’Connor of the Dogwood Initiative writes: “When Ender Ilkay first presented his proposal for the Juan de Fuca trail we were staring down some blindingly complicated and self-contradictory legislation, a biased voting structure, well-resourced opponents and a political system that discourages public involvement.”
By Leslie Campbell, September 2011
A fast-track to Langford…or to bankruptcy?
It’s ironic that the politicians who jumped on the light rail transit bandwagon in August labelled as “premature” a suggestion that we hold a referendum on the subject. If anything is premature it was their endorsement of the billion-dollar proposal.
Ever since BC Transit came out with its report recommending LRT from Downtown to Langford, many have been scratching their heads at the idea of making Greater Victoria the smallest metropolitan area in North America to be served by LRT.
By Leslie Campbell, July 2011
Who’s next in line at the food bank?
Somehow it feels a little ridiculous stocking up on food at an overflowing Market on Yates on my way home from an interview at the Mustard Seed Food Bank. Not an hour earlier, on this glorious summer day, Brent Palmer, director of the Mustard Seed Food Bank, informed me there are thousands of people in Victoria who cannot afford any food, let alone the pricey, nutritious items I am buying with barely a blink.
Palmer, who began his adventures at Mustard Seed as a volunteer in 1984, says the central Victoria food bank is now servicing 7000-plus a month. In 2008 it was more like 5000 per month. He says, “I am expecting the months of July and August to be even higher. One of the reasons is children don’t have access to breakfast and lunch programs in the summer, so that always puts more of a strain on our food bank resources.”
By Leslie Campbell, June 2011
Is our drug-based paradigm for treating mental illness working?
On the first really nice spring evening this year, 300 people sat in St John the Divine Church Hall listening with rapt attention to a presentation by Robert Whitaker.
In April of this year, Whitaker received the prestigious Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for his book Anatomy of an Epidemic, and he came to Victoria to talk about what’s in that book. In a nutshell, Whitaker says long term studies show that outcomes among aggregates of people with various mental illnesses—depression, bipolar, schizophrenia—are significantly better when they avoid the very drugs we are told are their salvation.
By Leslie Campbell, May 2011
BC should start clinical trials for venoplasty for MS patients.
My old friend Ernie Stigant has jumped off the fence and decided to have “liberation therapy” for his MS. He wanted to have it in Canada for both practical and political reasons, but with his granddaughter Marley reaching toddlerhood, he decided he couldn’t wait any longer, so will soon head to Seattle. “I want to be able to interact with her more, not just sit and watch,” explained Ernie.
Ernie is not a rich man. So he is lucky his daughters, along with pals at his Rotary Club, are raising money for the surgery and follow-up therapy.
Ernie’s MS was diagnosed in 1998 after eight months of tests, preceded by close to three years of wondering what the heck was wrong.
By Leslie Campbell, April 2011
What doesn’t the CRD understand about its own regional growth strategy?
If there was ever any doubt in my mind that a resort involving 257 housing units, a spa, recreation centre, and store on land alongside the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail—a provincial park—should be denied, a gathering of 300 people in late March ended it.
We were sitting in the pews of the First Metropolitan Church. The event, hosted by half a dozen environmental and community groups, was facilitated by former federal environment minister David Anderson, who noted “Everyone in the province has an interest in protecting the park, so it isn’t entirely a [Juan de Fuca electoral area] issue.”
by Leslie Campbell, March 2011
Political cartoonist, singer, mandolin player and...social butterfly?
I’ve always found it gratifying that Victoria’s most famous person is an artist—a female artist whose passion for this place and the natural world lit her art aglow. But like many present-day artists, Emily Carr had to struggle to practice her art—and be patient for recognition. She was 56 when she “emerged” on the national arts scene. Perhaps that helps explain the common perception of Carr as a rather lonely old eccentric who preferred pets to people.
When I expressed an interest in “The Other Emily,” an exhibit starting in March at the Royal BC Museum, I was invited to the museum’s “vaults” where I was treated to a fascinating show-and-tell—a modest preview of what is being billed as “the first-ever exploration of the artist’s life before she became famous.”
By Leslie Campbell, February 2011
The rising tide of dementia demands more solutions.
David and I did the Colwood crawl this past month as David’s mom Patricia was in the Victoria General Hospital for three weeks. She had landed there after a sudden decline in her mobility and vitality. Many tests and good care later, it’s still not precisely clear what’s wrong—besides the lymphoma and dementia which we already knew about—but a new problem with her kidney means she will have to wear a catheter from now on.
Pat is taking the indignities that come with aging and disease with grace and good humour. While much of her memory is gone, she still recognizes us and can still recite Shakespeare on cue: All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players/They have their exits and their entrances…Indeed. Dementia’s course is known, and it’s largely a grim journey.
by Leslie Campbell, January 2011
How the City turns off the very citizens it needs.
Do you have the sense that we are on some sort of cusp? People are demanding greater transparency from institutions as well as more involvement in decision-making the world over. “The public is feeling abused,” said a friend of mine. Yet, the powers-that-be are resistant—both on the macro, international levels, and the local ones—to sharing information and power. They have to be dragged into it via forced referenda, whistleblowers and auditor generals.
By Leslie Campbell, December 2010
Language is the vehicle by which the soul of a culture comes into the world.
This month’s feature on First Nations languages by Katherine Gordon brought to mind an interview I conducted back in 2005 with cultural anthropologist Wade Davis.
He told me that when I was born, 6,000 languages were spoken in the world, but since half of those aren’t being taught anymore, they are effectively dying. “Within a generation or two,” said Davis, “half of humanity’s intellectual, spiritual and social legacy will be lost.”
That’s because, as Davis so eloquently explained: “language is not just vocabulary and grammar. It’s the flash of human spirit, it’s the vehicle by which the soul of a culture comes into the world. Every language is an old growth forest of the mind, a sort of watershed of thought, an ecosystem of possibilities.”
by Leslie Campbell, November 2010
Scary stories in the last dash to the bridge referendum.
In my wanderings around town, I have been pleasantly surprised by the people who congratulate me on Focus’ coverage on the Johnson Street Bridge and tell me they plan to vote “No” in the November 20 referendum to replace it.
by Leslie Campbell, October 2010
Why did the City delete the original Delcan report?
Last month, Focus writer Sam Williams noted that the same consulting engineer who is now telling the City that a refurbished Johnson Street Bridge would cost $80 to $103 million, recommended—less than two years ago—a complete retrofit that would cost only $8.6 million.
Admittedly the scope of the project has increased, but even allowing for meeting a higher seismic standard, the leap in cost is huge and needs to be explained in order for many of us to feel comfortable about how we vote in the upcoming borrowing referendum on a new bridge.
by Leslie Campbell, September 2010
How corporate media killed quality journalism.
It’s not every month that Focus gets threatening letters from a big corporation. But this month the Times Colonist took issue with one of our web commentaries by Sam Williams. We were confronted with the possibility of being sued by an outfit with deep pockets—or making a small change. We chose the latter.
by Leslie Campbell, August 2010
A new community co-operative provides a model for primary health care, one emphasizing local control, accessibility, collaboration, and prevention.
From my perspective as a child of elderly parents making frequent use of the health care system, it’s easy to imagine the system being totally swamped when I and my fellow boomers hit 75 or so. We obviously have to take a different tack, but few—and especially those in power—seem willing to ignite the serious conversation we need to have, let alone propose creative solutions.
A 2009 study, jointly-funded by the BC Medical Association and the BC Ministry of Health, showed that if five percent of those with chronic disease had access to a primary care physician or nurse practitioner, BC would save $85 million per year.
by Leslie Campbell, July 2010
A few weeks ago David and I found ourselves in Alert Bay, a community of about 1200 people on Cormorant Island, a 40-minute ferry ride from Port McNeill. The Kwakwaka’wakw culture flourishes in Alert Bay, despite many insults, past and present, to their way of life.
I plan to write about our visit at greater length in the future. But I think I am meant to share one of the stories I heard sooner rather than later.
Under a carving shed on the beach, we met master carver Beau Dick who was working on a memorial pole in honour of Patrick Alfred, a ‘Namgis chief who had died a few years ago in a herring boat accident. Though only roughed in, the pole was impressive already. We could see frog and raven, thunderbird and killer whale.