Syndicate content

Recent stories...

Focus readers, September 2014

The truth about dilbit

In your July/August issue, Katherine Palmer Gordon comprehensively addressed the question whether a dilbit (diluted bitumen) spill will or will not float. But there is a simple solution to the problem: Don’t send any dilbit down a pipeline, and don’t ship it by tanker. Instead, construct an Alberta refinery near the oil sands, or if you prefer, at the BC/AB border, and transport only refined westbound petroleum products by pipeline and then by tanker. The refined products float, are far easier to clean up than dilbit, and land or sea spills are appreciably less damaging to the environment than dilbit spills. 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, September 2014

Is the Supreme Court of Canada’s declaration of Aboriginal title the death knell for proposed resource projects in BC?

Tribal chairman of the Tsilqhot’in National Government Chief Joe Alphonse, 46, was sitting in the Supreme Court of Canada on June 26 this year when it declared that the Tsilqhot’in Nation holds Aboriginal title to more than 1750 square kilometres of what is now former provincial Crown lands. “This decision will be remembered as a turning point in the history of Canada and its relationship with First Nations,” reflected Alphonse.

By David Broadland, September 2014

Decisive moments in the bridge and sewage projects illustrate the need for more politicians willing to work in broad daylight.

The Victoria region’s two largest public infrastructure projects are in deep trouble. The proposed $800 million sewage treatment program had already cost $90 million by the end of June even though the project didn’t have a site on which a central treatment plant could be built. Of that $90 million, $45 million appears to have gone up in smoke, and three month’s after Environment Minister Mary Polak backed Esquimalt’s right to decline hosting a central treatment plant, there’s no political agreement on how to proceed. 

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 Briony Penn, September 2014

Evidence of destruction of old-growth forest on Sonora Island appears set to shake up BC’s South Central Coast forest policy.

Over my years of reporting on TimberWest, there has been virtually nothing that could bring the company’s inexorable liquidation of their forestlands to heel. Being named in a case before the Inter-America Commission for Human Rights, for example, hasn’t slowed the company down; nor has being the focus of a wide-spread media campaign by Greenpeace in 2011. Nor has being challenged by shareholders. Nothing seemed able to slow TimberWest’s relentless pace. 

That is until two pairs of siblings, all born and raised in the shadow of the last of the old growth on the Discovery Islands, took to the woods of TFL 47 to investigate if TimberWest’s logging had transgressed rules protecting endangered old-growth ecosystems.

By Judith Lavoie, September 2014

Will Woodwynn Farm become an election issue in Central Saanich?

Parked in a meadow at Woodwynn Farm in Central Saanich are a dozen recreational vehicles donated by individuals who want to help ease Greater Victoria’s homelessness problem. Each RV could house at least two people, but, in an effort to conform to Central Saanich bylaws, only six of 30 available beds at the picturesque West Saanich Road farm are occupied.

Plans for a therapeutic community, housing 96 former street people, seem as distant today as when the Creating Homefulness Society bought the property five years ago. Executive Director Richard Leblanc, who wants to model Woodwynn on a successful rehabilitation centre at San Patrignano, Italy, says, “It’s a far cry from capacity. It was designed for a slow build-up and we should have been at about 48 by now. A lot of people on the street are not getting help.” 

By Gene Miller, September 2014

What can local citizens do that will truly make a difference on a local scale?

The Last Iceberg—An Eco-Tale for Kids.

 Iggy the Iceberg sat in a darkened bar, nursing his third Maker’s Mark, idly watching a rerun of The Big Chill on the silent, wall-mounted tv. Actually, the Maker’s Mark was almost nursing Iggy, who was now approaching tumbler-size. He slumped there, dripping, remembering the glory days when, massive and towering, he first calved from the Ross Shelf in…“Cut!” [Sounds of paper being ripped from typewriter and crumpled.]

Climate Wars: A Cautionary Tale for Eco-Hysterics. 

The Capital Regional District’s latest communiqué from the Global Warming Front: “We’re throwing our entire policy framework at them, plus the grass clippings bylaw, Captain, and it’s not even slowing them down.” “Cut!” [Ditto. Cursing.]

By Amy Reiswig, September 2014

Pat Bovey’s new book on the life of Pat Martin Bates, and the transformative power of her art.

The term “local luminary” usually means someone who shines in the community, but in the case of Victoria artist Pat Martin Bates and art historian Pat Bovey, it can also mean people who illuminate. These two women are both stars in their respective fields who also shine light on the importance of art in society through dedicated community involvement and a deep desire to share their sense of wonder and possibility.  

Bovey is currently shining a light on PMB (as Bates is often referred to) in the new book Pat Martin Bates: Balancing on a Thread (Frontenac House, April 2014). Born in New Brunswick and a Victoria resident since 1963, PMB is an internationally-celebrated printmaker, sculptor, painter and, as Bovey shows us, overall boundary-pusher. 

By Aaren Madden, September 2014

Painter Ken Campbell finds a journey by canoe can lead to a multitude of destinations.

In his book Path of the Paddle, the filmmaker, artist, conservationist, and legendary canoeist Bill Mason deems the canoe “the simplest, most functional, yet aesthetically pleasing object ever created.” He ranks paddling as among the great art forms of painting, poetry, music, and dance: varying conditions in water and weather lead to endless opportunities for developing skill with “poetry and grace.”

By Monica Prendergast, September 2014

The Belfry’s production of “The Rez Sisters.”

I moved to Saskatchewan from England in 1969 at the age of eight. My knowledge of Canada’s First Nations was close to nil, at best the stereotype of an “Eskimo” in an igloo. Growing up in Regina did not correct this ignorance. My home and school were in the middle to upper-middle class southern end of the city. Everyone in this neighbourhood knew that the northern end was where most Indigenous people lived, not that we ever went there. Nor were Aboriginal culture and history featured in my classroom instruction. In fact, my first significant lesson about Canadian Aboriginal people came from the theatre. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, September 2014

Nurturing the glorious fight against food waste.

Every once in awhile an idea comes along that’s so brilliant in its simplicity it leaves you wondering why no one’s thought of this before. Among the latest is an avant-garde campaign against food waste created and launched by Intermarché, a grocery conglomerate with more than 1800 stores in France. 

By David Broadland, July 28, 2014

At a July 24 City of Victoria Council meeting, the bridge project's new director said all that's needed to get the project back on track is better leadership, better communication, and more money. In that spirit, Focus invites Jonathan Huggett to provide answers to 15 questions about the bridge's design, project schedule, federal funding and cost.

Dear Mr Huggett,

By David Broadland, July 19, 2014

I'll rearrange the deck chairs while you get out your wallet.

A semi-scathing report by engineer Jonathan Huggett on the state of the $93-million-and-rising Johnson Street Bridge Replacement Project was released by the City of Victoria on July 19. The report was prepared for the City following disclosure in April that the company contracted to build the bridge, PCL Constructors Westcoast, had filed a “Request for Change Order” for an additional $7.9 million and a 5.5 month extension of the completion date for the project. Huggett, an independent consultant considered to be an expert on municipal engineering projects, paints a troubled picture of the project.

Focus readers, July/August 2014

Statins in the real world

In his recent article, Alan Cassels, quoting Dr Batrice Golomb, was being kind when he said, “…when physicians misunderstand the evidence of harm of statins ‘many patients remain on the drugs and die.’” My choice of words would have been something more like “when physicians are inexcusably ignorant of the evidence of the harm of statins…” In this world of Google, typing in “statins + side effects” brings up a whole raft of links that, for any thinking person, would at least raise some kind of cautionary flag—enough so that a few pointed inquiries before prescribing these drugs would be in order.

Richard Weatherill


What would Gandhi do? 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, July/August 2014

There’s little evidence to support the Joint Review Panel’s critical conclusion that diluted bitumen is “unlikely to sink.”

Whether diluted bitumen will float on the surface or sink in the ocean, says chemical scientist Thomas King wryly, “is a simple question, but it trails a raft of complex issues.”

King, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is leading Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s research into the behaviour of diluted bitumen under various environmental conditions. “The trouble is,” he says, “that we have very limited information about dilbit’s properties in water. Very little research has been done so far.” 

Yet, despite the lack of research, the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel (JRP) recommended approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline project (subject to 209 conditions). And on June 17, the federal government did just that.

By David Broadland, July/August 2014

Are City of Victoria taxpayers getting ripped off by seismic sleight-of-hand on the new Johnson Street Bridge project?

By July 7, the City of Victoria should have released details on the 6-month schedule delay and $7.9 million change order claimed in February by PCL, the company building the new Johnson Street Bridge. Focus filed an FOI for that change order in April. The City refused to release the record to us, invoking a section of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that allows them to withhold a record that they intend to release to the public within 60 working days. The City must now release the change order by July 7. So watch for it.

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 David Broadland, July/August 2014

Let’s apply the climate-change lens to a comparative cost-benefit analysis of sewage treatment options.

Environment Minister Mary Polak’s refusal to invoke an untested provision of the Environmental Management Act may have saved Capital Region taxpayers the additional cost—on top of the $65 million the CRD has already spent—of a long and costly court battle with no certain outcome. In a May 27 letter Polak told the CRD, “Even if the Province were willing to intervene, the facts at this time do not provide a strong basis for intervention using the provisions of the Environmental Management Act.”

What seems clear now is that a completely new plan for sewage treatment in the core municipalities needs to be developed. Where will it come from?

By Judith Lavoie, July/August 2014

An experiment in fish farming may point the way to keeping our wild fish healthier.

Salmon at the first commercial land-based Atlantic salmon farm in North America are certainly fat and, as far as anyone can tell, they seem happy as they swim around their 500-cubic-metre tanks.

That’s a bonus not only for the fish, but also for Kuterra, the ‘Namgis First Nation company raising the fish. Contented fish also seem to be tasty fish—following the initial April harvest, the product is flying off grocery store shelves.

It has been a good commercial start for Kuterra, which is raising the fish on ‘Namgis land near Port McNeill. But there is more than commercial success at stake as proponents of closed containment fish farming aim to show land-based pens can help save BC’s runs of wild salmon by getting open net pen fish farms out of the ocean.