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Focus readers, May 2016

The billion-dollar sewage debacle

To date, nobody has died from Victoria’s existing sewage treatment system. It has caused no outbreaks of cholera, no mass extinctions of sea-life, not even a documented case of upset stomach. The good news (as has been frequently reported by a variety of scientists and public health officers) is that powerful offshore ocean currents provide Victoria with an environmentally and economically sustainable form of sewage treatment.

Inexplicably, the federal and provincial governments have decided to ignore this good news and decree a superfluous sewage plant be built. Rather than question the absurdity of this order, Victoria city council quietly complied, eagerly welcoming the chance to flush a billion dollars down the drain.

By David Broadland, May 2016

Puget Sound is a mess of sewage and toxic chemical discharges. Should Victoria taxpayers have to pay for Seattle’s sins?

Washington Representative Jeff MorrisWASHINGTON STATE'S OPPORTUNISTIC WAR OF WORDS against Victoria’s science-endorsed form of sewage treatment reopened on a new front in February. With the cost of placating Washington’s claims of environmental damage to international waters now hovering near $1 billion, Victoria could have lobbed some scientific evidence across the border. As usual, however, Victoria taxpayers were deserted by their own elected representatives, who backed down without uttering a contrary word.

By Leslie Campbell, May 2016

BC’s defamation laws are downgrading our democracy.

Shawnigan Lake protestTHIS 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 Judith Lavoie, May 2016

People who have publicly expressed concern about a contaminated soil dump are being threatened with defamation suits.

Lawyer Christopher SiverIN SHAWNIGAN LAKE there’s a macabre twist to old knock-knock jokes as residents face a flurry of visits from process servers who hand over envelopes containing legal letters demanding apologies, retractions and compensation for statements made about South Island Resource Management Ltd (SIRM)—the company that operates a contaminated soil landfill above Shawnigan Lake.

While some letters have gone to media outlets that reported on the battle between residents and the company—and the provincial government that issued the permit—others have gone to bloggers and those posting on social media.

By Roszan Holmen, May 2016

Island politicians support rail—but not rail management.

Canadian Pacific locomotive at NanaimoWITH ITS ICONIC ROUNDED NOSE, the vintage Canadian Pacific F-unit locomotive cut a striking figure, parked outside the Nanaimo train station on Selby Street. 

For the volunteers who poured years of energy and millions of dollars into rebuilding the historic station, the sights and sounds of a working train were cause for celebration. 

By Briony Penn, May 2016

With 18 large port expansion projects around the Salish Sea, how’s an ecosystem to survive the influx of tanker traffic?

Stephanie BuffamSALT SPRING ISLAND is smack dab in the centre of the Salish Sea. On the clearest spring day, from our highest peaks, I can see the tip of Mount Waddington at the northernmost edge and Mount Rainier at the southernmost edge of the watershed. In between these two monarchs of mountains is a drainage basin of 110,000 square kilometres. 

If I could swim among the hundreds of islands and the 18,000 square kilometres of water, I could catch a glimpse of over 100 different species of bird and 200 species of fish, 20 species of marine mammal and 3000 invertebrates—orcas to nudibranchs. 

By David Broadland, May 2016

On the sewage treatment issue, Mayor Helps and the CRD seem to have lost sight of whom they are serving.

Save Clover PointI WROTE HERE LAST EDITION about my two-year battle with the CRD to get two sentences of a 2009 staff report released to the public. I believed the sentences would show that CRD staff greatly underestimated, either intentionally or by honest mistake, a significant cost related to the development and construction of a secondary sewage treatment system for Victoria.

By Gene Miller, May 2016

Maintaining Victoria’s soft edges may be worth a hard fight.

Queen Victoria, 1882OUR CITY IS NAMED AFTER a woman and, trusting historical images, a well-cushioned and matriarchal one (eight kids and an empire). Sure, “Vic” is a bit mannish, “Vicky” is all saddle shoes, but “toria” has a nice purling sound, soft as smoke. Shame, now that I think about it, that our city isn’t more legendarily ess-y—Storia: City of Stories, maybe (oh, but not storeys, sign of the cross!). 

Wikipedia states that Queen Victoria was “physically unprepossessing—stout, dowdy and no more than five feet tall—but she succeeded in projecting a grand image.” And as with the Crown, so with her namesake town. 

A torrent of Capital cultural richness playing out in galleries, theatres, performance halls, auditoriums, church basements...

By Aaren Madden, May 2016

Robin Hopper’s legacy in ceramics encompasses production, education, publications, institutions—and a beautiful garden.

Robin Hopper, photo by Tony BounsallTHIS IS ONE OF MY greatest artworks,” says Robin Hopper, the ceramic artist. He’s referring not to one of his many functional or decorative ceramic pieces or his two-dimensional glaze paintings, but to his garden. “The reason I have a garden is I don’t have to go looking for inspiration; I can just walk out the door and it’s there. It feeds me all the time,” he says. If you see one of his pieces embellished with a clematis design, it is one of the 50 varieties that grow in his garden.

By Robin J. Miller, May 2016

Illustrating resilience, generosity and bravery, The Missing Generation opens our hearts.

Sean Dorsey DanceTHE AIDS CRISIS. For those whose lives were forever changed by it in the 1980s and ’90s, it was a searing, terrifying scourge––and it is by no means over. The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that, at the end of 2014, 75,500 Canadians were living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. That’s an increase of nearly 10 percent since 2011. Yet for many, AIDS is a mere public health footnote, something that may have been important once, but today, who cares?

By Monica Prendergast, May 2016

Janet Munsil may be departing, but Intrepid is forging ahead.

Janet MunsilEARLY APRIL BROUGHT NEWS that Intrepid Theatre’s Artistic Director Janet Munsil is stepping down from her position after 25 years. Munsil’s long-term contributions to theatre in Victoria are impressive. Under her leadership, and working alongside other movers and shakers in local arts administration (Gail Manktelow, Stephen White, Ian Case, among others), Munsil has produced the Fringe and UNO Festivals, brought in top touring productions, and developed two performance spaces. 

By Maleea Acker, May 2016

James Clowater’s urban arboreal vision.

James Clowater, photo by Tony BounsallIN THE WORLD OF West Coast restoration ecology, native species usually hold a pinnacle place of importance in the minds of decisions makers, scientists, and the public at large. Trees such as Douglas-fir, big-leaf maple and Garry oak support a host of native birds, insects, mammals and mosses. Restorationists push the importance of wildlife corridors made of native shrubs in urban areas. Botanists cherish lands unmarked by development—where native species can thrive unmolested—and often wave their hands in dismissal at horticultural gardens and urban trees as if they don’t merit attention at all.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, May 2016

Realities like increased GHGs just get processed in the premier’s political mix-master.

April Caverhill illustrationWHEN I WAS A CHILD I dreamed I could fly. It was a recurring dream that took me up over our house and around the world, which for me at that time was the breadth of my town plus a few added kilometres stretching up and down the road. I’d wake to my muscles still twitching with the memory of it all, the easy takeoff and graceful landing, the instinctive choreography of arms and legs for optimal gliding on the winds. The conviction that humans were somehow primordially linked to birds perdured so strongly in my bones that unlocking the ancient code to human flight became my life’s mission. 

By James Rowe, March 8, 2016

Has the race to beat the carbon bubble already begun?

Garth Lenz photoTHE WORLD'S LARGEST PRODUCERS of oil, Saudi Arabia and Russia, agreed to a production freeze in February 2016. This deal holds production at the near-record highs that were reached in January in an effort to stop the plunge in world oil prices. But even if other key producers like Iran and Iraq agree, it won’t address the supply glut that has been driving prices into the ground. 

By David Broadland, March 1, 2016

Scientists recently confirmed an active seismic fault that could generate a large earthquake lies within 5 kilometres of downtown Victoria.

Taiwan 2016 earthquakeLAST JUNE THE Geological Survey of Canada quietly released a report on a previously unexplored deformation in the bedrock below the Strait of Juan de Fuca—the Devil’s Mountain Fault. When I first read the report a few weeks ago, Sir James Douglas’ well-mythologized first impression of this place leaped to mind. On his arrival in 1842 Douglas had pronounced it “a perfect Eden.” It now appears he was profoundly mistaken.

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.

Mayor Lisa HelpsLATELY 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 Lisa Cordasco, March 1, 2016

New laws meant to protect BC consumers who are drowning in debt may not go far enough.

Scott HannahEASY-TO-GET LOANS and low interest rates are enticing Canadians to take on more and more personal debt. According to TransUnion, a credit monitoring firm, the average Canadian owed $27,485 in unsecured debt in 2015—an increase of nearly 7 percent from the previous year. That rise in unsecured debt has led to a rise in consumer insolvency rates every year since 2010. 

By Judith Lavoie, March 1, 2016

The quest of Christy Clark’s government for a BC LNG industry has taken on an increasingly mythical quality.

Andrew WeaverTHE PASSIONATE PROMOTION of liquefied natural gas by the Liberal government and assurances that all is well—despite a worldwide oversupply and the lowest natural gas prices since 1999—brings to mind the classic Monty Python dead parrot skit: “It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies.”

By David Broadland, March 1, 2016

The sewage and bridge projects are wasting millions in public money, including the cost of hiding those costs.

Victoria City HallDID TWO CRD EMPLOYEES—both former employees of the engineering consulting firm Stantec—greatly underestimate the financial implications of a contract between the CRD and Stantec? On the recommendation of the two, Stantec was hired as the CRD’s sewage treatment program consultant. The evidence suggests Stantec’s contract later ballooned in value. Had anything improper taken place? That’s the question Focus was trying to answer when it requested, through provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, a staff report delivered to a 2009 in camera sewage committee meeting.