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Focus readers, January 2015

When voter suppression comes calling

The Harper Conservatives picked the wrong person to mess with when they rigged the 2008 election against Briony Penn. The fact that she is very articulate and bright has come back to haunt them in the form of her sharp observations of their sleazy undemocratic ways, and this is the silver lining of what went wrong in Saanich-Gulf Islands in 2008. I, for one, hope to attend the Focus/Open Cinema film preview and discussion on this subject on January 28. Thank you Focus for all your dedicated, smart writers. 

Mark Fornataro


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 David Broadland, January 2015

Will Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen and Victoria’s Dwayne Kalynchuk lead the region’s big issue back to a gunfight at McLoughlin Point?

The effort to locate a central sewage treatment plant at Esquimalt’s McLoughlin Point has shifted into a new phase. After being temporarily shut down by Environment Minister Mary Polak’s refusal to force Esquimalt to host the facility, the McLoughlinuts now seem intent on a campaign to eliminate any other possibility.

By “McLoughlinut” I mean a person or organization that has repeatedly expressed the belief that any solution to Victoria’s treatment deficit must include a large secondary treatment plant at McLoughlin Point. The McLoughlinut mantra is that anything else is “too expensive.”

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, January 2015

Failure to protect First Nations graves on Grace Islet may lead to the first aboriginal title claim on private property in BC.

On November 10, Chief William Seymour of the Cowichan Tribes wrote a polite letter to  Premier Christy Clark. Attached to the letter was a formal notice of claim to aboriginal title over Grace Islet, a three-quarter-acre rocky knoll located in Saltspring Island’s Ganges Harbour. 

It’s not unusual these days for the provincial government to receive claims of aboriginal title over Crown lands in British Columbia. But this one is different from all the others: the claimed property, Grace Islet, is privately-owned. 

By Sonia Théroux, January 2015

Bring disengaged citizens back to the polls.

When I was first approached last May to run Lisa Helps’ campaign for mayor of Victoria, I resolved that the motivation for giving up several months of my life needed to be about more than electing Lisa. I saw there was an opportunity to effect a less tangible but longer-term change: inspiring citizens who have been estranged from the political process to become engaged. I happen to believe that in order to ultimately shift governments to be more inclusive and respectful of the governed, this shift needs to be modelled in the campaigns that elect the governors.

By Judith Lavoie, January 2015

The Houston-based pipeline company says it’s a good corporate citizen but its record in Canada doesn’t support that claim.

The complexities of corporate tax law rarely make compelling reading, but Robyn Allan believes British Columbians will be fascinated and outraged if they take a close look at her analysis of how Kinder Morgan is sucking money out of Canada and paying minimal taxes.

Allan is a thorn in the corporate paw of Kinder Morgan, which wants to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline and triple the flow of bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to Burnaby. While opposition to the planned pipeline has been strong, what sets Allan apart is a background that makes it tough for critics to discount her in-depth financial investigations.

By Amy Reiswig, January 2015

Ian McAllister’s latest book immerses readers in the magic of the Great Bear Rainforest, as well as the threats to its health.

As rain drives sideways against my bedroom window, I burrow deeper under the covers and think somewhat enviously of the bruins cozily hibernating in their eponymous Great Bear Rainforest. And I think, not enviously but with awe, of conservationists like Ian McAllister who,  while the bears snooze through the cold, is heading out for another weeks-long research and diving trip to explore the rough, winter-clear waters of the north-central BC coast. If just for that, he’s a hero in my books.

By Briony Penn, January 2015

Will adventure tourism and forest stewardship trump logging, pipelines and hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest?

The Canadian Embassy in Beijing recently opened its doors to the Chinese public to showcase Canada’s natural resources in big glossy photographs. Visitors shouldn’t expect pictures of oil rigs, LNG plants, mountains of coal or stacks of timber. Instead there are pictures of bears from the Great Bear Rainforest, orca in the Salish Sea, and sockeye salmon in the Adams River. The Chinese wildlife photographer Xi Zhinong, commissioned by the Canadian Tourism Association, told the China Daily, “Everyone yearns for magnificent nature and stunning animals. There are endless seas and forests in British Columbia. Various animals, including black bears, grizzly bears, whales, bald eagles and salmon can be found everywhere. In British Columbia, you can see the world as it first appeared.”

By Gene Miller, January 2015

If we’re going to invest in a pricey new McKenzie Avenue intersection, let’s charge commuters for stop-reduced driving.

By Aaren Madden, January 2015

Jeremy Herndl’s landscape paintings push visual representation into a multisensory realm.

When working en plein air, the painter contends with many variables. Among them are wind, weather and the shifting light of the sun. These things inform not only the composition, but the nature of the oil paint which creates it. 

“If it’s plus 30 Celsius, the paint is thinner and more slippery. I put some paint on [the canvas], and if I want to put more paint on top, it sort of drags through and blends with it. But let’s say it’s a cold day, like today. If I put paint on a canvas and I wanted to paint over top of that, because the paint is thicker, and more viscous, I can just paint wet over wet without moving the paint underneath,” explains Victoria painter Jeremy Herndl. It informs the painting process and, to the careful viewer, offers clues as to conditions in the space when painted. 

By Monica Prendergast, January 2015

The “Spotlight Critics Choice Awards.”

In December, local theatre critics shared their picks for best designs, direction, performances and productions from the previous season. The Spotlight Critics Choice Awards have no ceremony or trophies to hand out (we really should try to make a party of it sometime!), but it does give the theatre community a sense of how their work was valued by the reviewers who cover this particular cultural beat. 

Below is the list of nominees and awards as determined mostly by Adrian Chamberlain (Times-Colonist), David Lennam (CBC Radio) and myself (CBC Radio), with some picks also provided by review blog The Marble. I offer brief comments on each category that are, obviously, my opinion alone. Winners are in bold.


Set Design 

A Tender Thing, Christina Poddubiuk, Belfry

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, January 2015

Lucky for us there are folks taking initiative on some ingenious and beneficial ideas.

Last fall the Dutch town of Nuenen unveiled a kilometre-long stretch of bike path that was inspired by the iconic Van Gogh painting “Starry Night.” Bike paths are nothing new to The Netherlands but this particular section, through the town where Van Gogh once lived, takes the cycling experience to a whole new height. 

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.