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Focus readers, December 2014

Vote for Mayor Squishy

My oh my, Gene, what was that which you must have dumped into your yuppie porridge this morning? Too many sour left-wing grapes? It must have given you the bends! Please, a little more civility would be nice.

First off, full disclosure: I am an unpaid volunteer, a door-to-door “leafleteer,” campaigning for Victoria mayoral candidate Ida Chong.

Why? Because I believe she has the experience to assume this office and, I hope, to work with fellow Victorians (not exclusively councillors and City Hall desk-pilots) to help get our fair city “back.”

The drift from that collection of councillors and bureaucrats over the past three years has been dreadful. Victorians have not been served at all, especially on the blue bridge, sewage and local taxation.

Why? History will figure it out, but I believe between council and staff, no one was bright enough to “do the jobs.”

By Roszan Holmen, December 2014

Records recently obtained by FOI show that after explicit warnings about the condition of the E&N Railway tracks in 2009, the BC Safety Authority allowed 22 months of further deterioration before passenger service was finally terminated in 2011. Now, with $20 million in public money allocated to upgrade tracks and restart service, critics say the plan is under-funded, won’t provide long-term safety, and therefore isn’t worth pursuing. At the same time, impassioned advocates see rail as a low-carbon solution to the increasingly congested and accident-prone Island Highway—and a potential boon for tourism.

"Look out!” That was the warning from the train conductor to his companions as he approached a tree lying across the railroad tracks, some five miles from Courtenay.

By Judith Lavoie, December 2014

Critics complain the National Energy Board hearings are a farce; Kinder Morgan plays hardball.

The spectacle of energy giant Kinder Morgan wading into pipeline protests swinging legal clubs, while company lawyers claim their survey crews were assaulted by facial expressions, is shaking public confidence in a process that could triple the amount of diluted bitumen flowing through an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to BC’s West Coast.

The hardball tactics startled many British Columbians who watched Kinder Morgan first seek an injunction (which it won on November 14) and then file suits claiming millions of dollars in damages against a citizen’s group and four individuals, including two Simon Fraser University professors.

By Briony Penn, December 2014

A new documentary and public forum in Victoria in January will shed light on election fraud in Canada.

According to Peter Smoczynski, a 40-year veteran journalist and filmmaker from Ottawa, “Electoral fraud is a well organized crime. Millions of dollars are dedicated to duping various demographics of eligible voters in democratically run countries on election day.” Smoczynski, like many Canadians, believes something terribly wrong took place during the 2011 federal election.

The former CBC producer and documentary filmmaker is now half way through production of his new film Election Day in Canada: When Voter Suppression Comes Calling, due to be released before the 2015 election. Victorians will have a chance to preview clips and lend their voice and support to Smoczynski’s film at a forum sponsored by Focus Magazine and Open Cinema at the end of January. 

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 David Broadland, December 2014

Theories on why the region’s two most powerful mayors lost their jobs on November 15.

November’s campaigns in the two most populous municipalities on southern Vancouver Island brought 15,000 new voters to the polls and the derailment of two long political careers. One-term councillor Lisa Helps defeated incumbent Mayor Dean Fortin in Victoria and political newcomer Richard Atwell took out long-time Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard. 

By Amy Reiswig, December, 2014

A poet explores the tar sands through the eyes of its workers.

The Alberta tar sands trigger a lot of emotion in the public consciousness, mostly around environmental, economic and political concerns. No one I know would associate the bitumen boom with things like music, beauty or poetry. But in his Governor-General’s-nominated collection Prologue for the Age of Consequence (Anansi, April 2014), Victoria poet Garth Martens gives the rarer view: of the often unseen tradespeople employed in heavy construction, which he has been, on and off, for almost 10 years. It’s not a romanticized vision, but it is revelatory—of crude and complex people who in their strengths, vulnerabilities and particular voices are a source of gritty and even mythic mystery.  

By Gene Miller, December 2014

Belief in a Seven-Days-of-Creation God or any other fabulation about beginnings is simply post-Paleolithic ooga-booga.

Aged six or seven, I came home one Saturday morning from Hebrew school (read: jail) with some tiny seed of atheist insurrection sprouting in me (a seed that would grow to a mighty oak over time). Our teacher was a fevered religious fabulist who seemed happiest telling Old Testament stories that featured the word “begat,” as if to prove the fecundity of the biblical generations, and rooting out, with a patented victory shriek, our pocketed, lint-edged slabs of pink bubble gum salvaged from the packets of baseball cards we addictively purchased at the candy store, thus installing early the idea that sin was in our pants.

“How tall is God?” I asked my parents, both engaged at home in policing the pages of the New York Times for anti-worker sentiment.

“How tall is God?”

By Briony Penn, December 2014

Who knew? There are 42 provincial parks, from the southern Gulf Islands to Port Renfrew, that need your help.

Colin Campbell arrives off the ferry for his interview sporting his new sky blue golfing shirt from Elgin, Scotland where he grew up and where he recently returned to play a few rounds and experience the Scottish referendum. This long time public servant looks like a great many of the boomers around Victoria, someone who is ready to spend the rest of his days pursuing a small white ball around golf links. But he is quick to dispel that notion.

By Aaren Madden, December 2014

A new book provides a glimpse into Godfrey Stephens’ remarkable life and art.

As someone who has travelled thousands of kilometres the world over, first by thumb and later in sailboats of his own creation, who has hung with the Beat poets, lived on beaches on Vancouver Island, Jamaica, Greece, Hawaii, and Mexico and a houseboat in Paris (owned by Picasso’s dentist, no less), you would think it might take something spectacular to impress Godfrey Stephens. Rather, it takes something quietly poetic, deeply and personally profound. It’s that the pad of his thumb—the one that took him first to New Orleans, across the USA and through Europe and India—fits perfectly into the upward curve on the wooden handle of the d-adze he holds in his hand. “I never cease to be amazed by it,” he marvels, grasping the tool from which he has sculpted carvings out of massive logs and chunks of driftwood. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, December 2014

Tailoring Christmas celebrations to your own sense of meaning.

All over town the holiday lights are beginning to twinkle and once again I find my soul stirring in anticipation of Christmas. I can’t help it: I’m a dreamer and an optimist and every year I’m confident that this will be the best Christmas ever. This will be the year I have everything ready well in advance so I can put up my feet (or kick up my heels) with the rest of the gang. This will be the year I stumble upon some real understanding of life and its purpose, perhaps while on a night-time walk under a cold starry sky, or in the pages of a book stumbled upon, or in my childhood church revisited, where the story celebrated in hymns and ritual still thrums in a yearning place deep in my heart.

By Amy Reiswig, November 2014

Elizabeth May’s new book is a call to take back Canada.

Our November 15 municipal elections can be seen as a test of the candidates: their platforms, priorities, even personalities. But equally important, elections also test the electorate. How informed are we? How determined to help shape our collective future? Elections are not just an opportunity to participate in democracy but are a way for us to reveal our values as individuals and determine the direction of our communities. They allow us to both express and define who we are. 

Focus readers, November 2014

Sleeping with the fossils

David Broadland’s “Sleeping with the Fossils” is excellent reporting. Evidence of the comfortable relationships between government and industry are everywhere we choose to look, and you are certainly looking in the right places with the Environmental Assessment Office, a few ministries, and especially the Oil and Gas Commission. At the OGC, it sometimes looks like they’ve all been to a key party with the gas industry, and on Monday everyone looks forward to seeing who they’ll be working with that week.

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 Andrew Weaver, November 2014

BC's shift from a policy of absolute emission reductions to reducing emission intensity is an illusion of action. What’s needed is a shift in direction to develop clean tech industries.

In the 2007 speech from the throne the BC government launched a climate action plan which included the first ever in North America revenue neutral carbon tax, a program to participate in a regional carbon cap and trade system, and public sector carbon neutrality. At the centre of the policy was a legally binding obligation to reduce provincial greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 30 percent from 2007 levels by 2020 and a reduction target of 80 percent by 2050.

That leadership on climate policy is still heralded as visionary by environmentalists and economists, and in the ensuing years has been cited in other jurisdictions as they format legislation and regulations to deal with the current and future effects of climate change. 

By David Broadland, November 2014

Key votes at City Hall raise questions about the judgment of some councillors seeking re-election.

The primary role of media in a democratic society is to provide citizens with information and analysis on important issues that allow those citizens to hold their government accountable for the decisions it makes and the actions it takes. This is particularly important in the period just before an election. If a politician has played a significant role in enabling an unfolding fiscal disaster, for instance, the period just before an election is the time to make that clear. For that politician, though, just before an election is a really inconvenient time for truth-telling. It’s an excellent time to say things like, “It’s with the lawyers, so I can’t talk about it.”

By Judith Lavoie, November 2014

Journalist Stephen Andrew’s candidacy was catalyzed by Mayor Fortin’s lack of answers about the Johnson Street Bridge.

There’s middle ground, somewhere between a pit bull and a teddy bear, where Stephen Andrew believes he belongs. Andrew, a journalist who has worked for Victoria radio and television stations since he moved from Toronto in 1994, is known as an in-your-face reporter with tough questions. Now he is hoping for a new job as mayor of Victoria and he wants voters to know that his pit bull teeth emerge only when someone evades questions or when he sees an injustice.

Collaboration, transparency, and non-partisan inclusiveness are key words in his campaign.

“On my report cards it would say ‘Stephen works well with others’—and I do,” he says during an interview at his Gorge-area home.

By Katherine Palmer Gordon

Helps wants the public more directly and meaningfully consulted before decisions are made by City Hall.

Why should Lisa Helps be the next mayor of Victoria? “There’s a very high talk-to-action ratio in this city and that needs to change,” Helps responds bluntly. “Victoria’s next mayor needs to know how to bring together diverse people and perspectives and make things happen. For the last 17 years in this city that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.”

By Judith Lavoie, November 2014

An energetic downtown and fiscal restraint are among Ida Chong’s priorities.

There’s no doubt that Ida Chong has friends in high places and those relationships could be beneficial to Victoria if she is elected as the City of Victoria’s mayor.

But Chong, who during her 17 years as Liberal MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head held 10 cabinet posts, insists that she will not ask for special favours from her former cabinet colleagues; she will simply advocate strongly for BC’s capital city.

“My job, if I am elected, will be to go after the provincial government for Victoria’s fair share,” says Chong, who believes current Mayor Dean Fortin has failed the City, both in his leadership and dealings with senior levels of government.

Chong maintains that she would be a strong, budget-conscious leader and, as a bonus, can offer the benefit of cabinet experience.