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Judith Lavoie

By Judith Lavoie, September 2016

The salmon farming battle heats up with the Sea Shepherd’s voyage and eviction notices served by First Nations on fish farms.

Young salmon swim close to fish farm net pens. Photo by Tavish Campbell.AS THE FULL EXTENT of this summer’s catastrophic Fraser River sockeye salmon returns unfolded, sending shock waves through fishing, First Nations and scientific communities, the dismal numbers did not surprise independent biologist Alexandra Morton. For more than 25 years she has warned of the dangers of allowing fish farms along salmon migration routes.

By Judith Lavoie, July 2016

On the heels of the NEB’s approval of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline proposal, a raft of research points in the other direction.

Katarzyna TokarskaTHERE IS A STRANGE IRONY to the timing of the National Energy Board’s recommendation that the controversial $6.8-billion Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion should get a green light from the federal cabinet.

Almost simultaneously with the May release of the NEB report, which concluded that, subject to 157 conditions, the Trans-Mountain pipeline would be in the national interest, a flurry of reports and scientific studies appeared documenting the risks of continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels. These were followed by a number of court challenges to the NEB recommendation.

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 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 Judith Lavoie, February 2016

Shawnigan Lake residents dig in for a long fight to protect their water from a controversial contaminated soil landfill.

John HorganUNDER ROCKS COVERED WITH SNOW, between a barbed wire fence and a sign warning of potential contamination, water is running underground and emerging in a small stream. The sound of flowing water, combined with an eerily empty settling pond behind the fence at a controversial contaminated soil landfill, reinforces the absolute conviction of Shawnigan Lake residents such as Cliff Evans that untreated contaminated water is flowing from the landfill into Shawnigan Creek and, ultimately, into Shawnigan Lake, the community’s source of drinking water.

By Judith Lavoie, January 2016

Is the new government open to hearing scientists’ arguments that DFO cannot protect both industry and fish?

For years Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been responsible for two often oppositional interests: the conservation of fish and the economic health of the fishing industry. It’s an uncomfortable marriage at the best of times and now there is a growing push to dissolve it. 

The two interests rarely dovetail and in the past decade under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, the seesaw tipped alarmingly to the economic development side. Cuts were made to scientific and habitat protection positions at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, while troubling questions about the marine environment, climate change, and aquaculture development were largely ignored.

By Judith Lavoie, December 2015

Scientists and policy experts on the Harper government’s well-loathed practice of replacing scientific evidence with PR spin.

Stephen Harper finally gaggedDetails of the Harper government’s freakish control of information, with mundane requests often having to wend their way to the Privy Council or Prime Minister’s Office level, are becoming clear as scientists speak out following the new Liberal government’s lifting of restrictions.

The new freedom-to-speak is sparking calls for a national conversation on the role of science, along with warnings to the BC government to heed the public anger that developed over the secrecy and information control exerted by the federal Conservatives.

By Judith Lavoie, November 2015

“Housing First” is easier in theory than in practice, especially given multiple municipalities and lack of senior government support.

Solving chronic homelessness is pretty simple—give people homes, says Sam Tsemberis, the psychologist-turned-outreach-worker credited with eliminating persistent homelessness in cities across North America, from New York City to Phoenix, Arizona.

It seems self-evident. A nice, neat solution, requiring only large cash injections, that will allow everyone to live happily ever after, with the streets cleared of the evidence of human misery now seen every day in the parks, doorways and alcoves of Greater Victoria.

By Judith Lavoie, October 2015

Rankin acted on behalf of an American mining corporation in its successful bid to sue Canada using NAFTA.

A startling ruling by a North American Free Trade Agreement tribunal last March could force the Canadian government to pay Delaware-based Bilcon more than $300 million because an environmental assessment review panel rejected a massive basalt quarry and ship-loading facility on the Bay of Fundy that scientists believed would threaten endangered right whales.

By Judith Lavoie, September 2015

Where do the parties stand on allowing another 890,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen to be shipped past Victoria each day?

An intricate pipeline-politics dance is being performed in the run-up to October’s election as BC voters question federal candidates about their stand on Kinder Morgan’s plans to triple the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline running from Alberta’s oil sands to the west coast. The 1000 kilometres of new pipe would allow 890,000 barrels a day of bitumen (diluted with other hydrocarbons) to flow across BC to an expanded Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby.

By Judith Lavoie, June 2015

While Mike Hicks fears the Regional Sustainability Strategy’s teeth will bite his community, others say those teeth aren’t sharp enough.

There’s an unabashedly optimistic vision for 2038 stated in the draft Regional Sustainability Strategy of the Capital Regional District. It states: “We contribute to a healthier planet and create a thriving, sustainable economy that optimizes individual and community wellbeing. Direct, innovative action by the CRD and cooperation with others achieves transformational change by boldly: shifting to affordable, low carbon, energy-efficient lifestyles; expanding the local food supply; stewarding renewable resources; and achieving greater social equity.”

The devil is in the details, of course, but the draft RSS is described as the “road map for how we will work together to reach a shared vision for the region”—a statement begging for a smiley-face emoticon.

By Judith Lavoie, May 2015

With legal costs already over $1 million, the traumatized community continues its fight against a contaminated soil dump.

As Shawnigan Lake residents prepare to fight yet another battle over provincially-approved plans to dump and treat contaminated soil in a quarry above the lake that provides the area’s drinking water, there’s a community-wide sense of disillusionment and systemic betrayal. “I feel that what went wrong are the government processes and rules and regulations,” said Victoria Robson, Shawnigan Residents Association director.

By Judith Lavoie, April 2015

Critics of proposed “anti-terrorism” legislation see it as part of the Conservative’s push to quell opposition to petroleum-related projects.

Activism has been part of Ruth Miller’s life for decades, but, for the first time in her 82 years, the Victoria grandmother fears she could end up in jail.

The Conservative government’s proposed anti-terror legislation (Bill C-51), which beefs up Canadian Security Intelligence Service  (CSIS) powers, hands the RCMP increased new powers of preventive arrest, and makes fundamental changes to human rights, has been loudly denounced by groups and individuals across Canada. Critics include four former prime ministers and five former Supreme Court Justices.

By Judith Lavoie, March 2015

Divestment on its own won’t keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground—but it might help.

The divestment movement estimates it has encouraged over $50 billion to be moved out of fossil fuel stocks worldwide in the last two years. From the industry’s viewpoint, however, in the context of trillions invested in fossil fuels worldwide, such divestments from university foundations and endowment funds amount to peanuts.

But that is not the point, say divestment advocates, who want to persuade universities and other institutions to ditch carbon-related stocks. They point to recent slightly testy responses from the energy industry as proof the divestment movement is being taken seriously.

By Judith Lavoie, February 2015

The low price of oil is raising big questions around pipeline proposals, BC’s carbon tax, emissions, and consumer behavior.

Lineups materialized at the Costco gas bar as soon as the price of regular gasoline dropped below one dollar a litre. The prospect of a deal brought Greater Victoria’s avid bargain hunters rushing to Langford to fill their tanks—with some then returning later to fill the second family car. 

In the short term, BC consumers are revelling in the pocketbook bonuses provided by dropping oil prices. British Columbians are largely unaffected by the major concerns plaguing their Albertan neighbours who are looking at oil patch job losses, oil sands projects on hold and the prospect, according to Premier Jim Prentice, of this year’s projected $1.5-billion surplus turning into a $500-million deficit.

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 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 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 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.

By Judith Lavoie, October 2014

It all depends on who you include, and there’s an affordability crisis that could lead to more.

Pale morning faces emerge from the shadows and chilly hands reach for a coffee, doughnut or first cigarette of the day. Many, with hoodies pulled tight or blankets wrapped around their shoulders, have spent the night under a bush or in a doorway while others have scored a shelter bed or crashed on a friend’s couch.

Some are too twitchy to hold a cup, others are ready to face another day on their own terms, and some need a hug even more than a smoke.

It’s 5:15 am and Reverend Al Tysick, founder of the Dandelion Society, is on his morning rounds of Victoria’s streets, handing out coffee, checking on those needing medical care and, as ever, pondering the homelessness conundrum.

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 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.

By Judith Lavoie, June 2014

The Salish Sea’s inhabitants are facing unprecedented threats.

From a float plane high above the Salish Sea, it’s an idyllic picture: Small islands dotting the ocean, sail boats, freighters, surf breaking on rocks, deserted beaches framed by massive Douglas firs, and two beautiful big cities—Seattle and Vancouver—and dozens of smaller towns, including our own, scattered around its shores.

At sea level, however, a troubling picture is emerging and scientists, documenting unmistakable signs of a struggling ecosystem, are calling for a concerted effort to save the Salish Sea.

By Judith Lavoie, May 2014

The farmers don’t want changes to the ALR—so who does?

Ingrained dirt outlines Nathalie Chamber’s fingernails and her hands are marked with calluses—inevitable by-products of the planting, pruning and soil preparation underway at Madrona Farm in Saanich.

Spring should be an exhilarating season on the 27-acre organic farm. Instead, Chambers is as mad as hell. “I am enraged about Bill 24. Ninety-five percent of British Columbians don’t want anything to change with the Agricultural Land Reserve. They want the land protected for future generations,” said Chambers, who, like many farmland activists, is angry about the provincial government’s introduction of a bill changing the 40-year-old ALR.

By Judith Lavoie, April 2014

By the end of this century, local marine ecosystems are likely to have shifted beyond recognition due to ocean acidification and temperature rise.

For those who did not have ocean acidification on their radar, news last month of a massive die-off of scallops at Nanaimo-based Island Scallops came as a surprise. But the shellfish industry has been aware of the problem for almost a decade.

In 2005 billions of baby oysters died along the Washington coast and low pH, a measure of acidity, was suspected as the culprit. It wasn’t  until 2012 that scientists believed they had proof that was the case.

By Judith Lavoie, March 2014

Studies call into question BC Liberals’ plans to expand bear hunting.

The magic of watching black bears overturning rocks and scooping up crabs on a Tofino beach, the once-in-a-lifetime excitement of seeing a Spirit Bear near Klemtu or witnessing the awe-inspiring power of grizzlies feeding on salmon in the Great Bear Rainforest are vignettes of BC that both tourists and residents carry close to their hearts.

So it is not surprising that a study by the Center for Responsible Travel at Stanford University in Washington concludes that live bears are worth more in cold, hard cash than dead bears. Not surprising, that is, to anyone except BC’s provincial government.

By Judith Lavoie, November 2013

Musings on the difficulty of turning a looming catastrophe into a compelling story, and where hope for change lies.

"The warming of the Earth is unequivocal and it’s most likely due to humans releasing greenhouse gases,” Dennis Hartmann of the University of Washington’s department of atmospheric science told journalists at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting seminars I attended in Seattle in September.

Hurricane YawnThe Institute, based at the University of Rhode Island, tries to ease the often-difficult conversation between reporters, who want clear, cause-and-effect answers, and scientists, who prefer to talk about climate models and probabilities.