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, 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.