This weeks column for 24Hours Vancouver: BC keeps Richmond in the dark on Massey

With all the pet projects, contentious developments and questionable spending happening in cities across Metro Vancouver, it’s a rare day I find myself feeling sympathetic for local mayors and councils.

However, when it comes to how the provincial and federal governments seemingly steamroll local governments with their own projects and, at times, leave them out of the loop on critical issues that impact their communities — they have my full sympathy.

One case in point is the George Massey Tunnel Replacement project. Anyone who has driven that stretch of Highway 99 during morning or afternoon rush hour can attest the congestion is a nightmare and it’s not limited to the highway. Steveston Highway and all feeder routes are clogged as well, as drivers try to save a few minutes and dodge the bulk of the congestion.

It’s a critical issue not only for the city of Richmond and its residents, but for the region as well. So it only makes sense for the province to get it right and work closely with city officials to ensure the best result is achieved. That, however, doesn’t seem to be happening.

Recently, Richmond asked the province, once again, for more details on the project that have yet to be divulged to them, or the public.

City hall is still in the dark when it comes to how the bridge will be funded — whether there will be tolls or not — nor have they received the project definition report.

Why is the city most impacted by the province’s decision to build this bridge being left in the dark? In particular, since Richmond council would like to keep the tunnel — which has many more years of life left — to utilize for another purpose.

Between the Surrey Fraser Docks plan to ship U.S. coal directly from their facility, and the Tilbury Island LNG plant expansion, this project is more about accommodating tankers up the Fraser River than it is alleviating congestion in Richmond and Delta…

READ the rest of this weeks column, and vote on the poll, at this link:

“The only way to change it, is to vote. People are responsible.” ~ Paul Wellstone


Settled deep into the halcyon days of summer, mid-August triggers a sense of urgency for many Canadians regardless of where you live. Every day is a tick of the clock counting down the coveted days of  a northern summer that for many, is all too short.

And while most of us will use every free second of this month to simply relax with friends and family,others are already preparing for winter – cutting and stacking wood,harvesting gardens to freeze,pickle and can everything they can. Even a look into my deep freezer would show you bags of IQF local berries and fruits, and the blackberry harvest is ongoing. When you plan for 6 months of fall and winter, it takes a significant amount of your time and energy.

But in offices and certain homes all across Canada, there is a different sense of urgency developing as political parties move into high gear in the wake of  Prime Minister Harper’s early election call on August 2nd. And while most of my followers will already know this, I also know that there are thousands more Canadians who truly are not aware yet that an election is even happening this year,sad as it is.

This will be one of the longest and most expensive election campaigns in the history of Canadian politics,and every political party would be wise to pace themselves to avoid over-bombarding Canadians, which is likely to increase voter apathy. Indeed voter apathy is perhaps an even bigger threat to the future of this country than Harper when you look at the turnout in recent federal elections.

In 2011, the population of Canada was 31,612,897 million people. Only 24,257,592 were registered to vote and on the electors list.

And of those electors, only 14,823,408 people actually took the time to vote- it works out to 61.1%. A look back at the chart from Elections Canada shows the low voter turnout still is a really big issue.


Now don’t get me wrong – I am firmly in the ‘Harper needs to go’ camp – from the treatment of veterans to silencing of scientists, from his turnabout on the Chinese government to ‘quiet’ meetings with propaganda ministers and now Bill C51 -there is ample reason for pragmatic if not partisan objection to his governments actions and policies.

But when only 60% of people who are registered to vote actually do, it brings a perspective to the campaigns I think is often overlooked in the quest to win. Let me tell you why I feel that way.

I recently posted a link to to my Facebook page and asked: “If the goal of this election is to defeat the Harper government, would you vote for the candidate in your riding that is most likely to defeat a Conservative, if that candidate was not of the party you are a member of, or support? ”

Surprisingly, for the very few willing to even answer that question, even fewer were honest enough to admit that they would not. So is this about getting rid of Harper, or is this about power?

The premise of the VoteTogether initiative is to vote strategically to oust the Conservatives, and they promote voting for whichever candidate has the best chance of doing so in your riding,regardless of the party they represent.

Now, if all the rhetoric we have heard about Stop Harper were true and meaningful, one would think the federal Liberals and NDP must come to some sort of an agreement to ensure that happens. But no, that’s not happening.

Why? Because while both parties will ultimately resort to some kind of gobbledygook about not being able to support the policies of the other and how they alone are the only viable option to undo the mess the Conservatives have created, it’s really about power.  The intense yearning for power not only at the top but in the backrooms behind the top. Trudeau has nixed an alliance outright while Mulcair says while they are aiming to replace the Conservatives,when the votes go down he will not support a Tory minority.

But why not unite now, to get the job done before the election?

This is something touched on in a column by none other than Martyn Brown, who was lauded and elevated to near celebrity status by those on the left recently,for his columns bashing Christy Clark and her LNG dreams.

But today- not surprisingly -those same people are silent as his recent post heralding Green Party Elizabeth Mays performance in the Macleans debate, strikes a nerve for some and appeals to others.

For me, this is where he gets to the heart of the matter, because I too found May’s debate performance compelling:

May has also proved that her participation stands to change the entire tenor and content of any debate that might take place—and decidedly for the better.

Set aside that, as the only woman in the field, she alone stands to temper her competitors’ macho tussle of ideas and insults with some much-needed gender balance and a unique perspective.

Why the Globe is prepared to discount that imperative is as mystifying as it is glaringly inexcusable.

The larger benefit of May’s involvement is the option for change and democratic representation that her party stands to offer Canadians. It is an option that will be aided by her participation in the debates and that will be unconscionably suppressed if she is excluded.

Whatever the practical challenges may be in translating the Green party’s ideas into action and its often-lofty positions into workable policies, May’s views are important for another less obvious reason.

They remind us all that idealism still matters in politics.

Her positions are grounded in unyielding beliefs and values of what is right and what is wrong. They are often anything but “political” in the typical partisan sense, insofar as they tend to marginalize her own voter support base, as they also transcend party lines and their associated ideologies.

The trouble with being on the cusp of power—as the NDP now is, in lockstep with the Liberals and Conservatives—is that the power game becomes the only thing that really matters.

Ideals get thrown out the window when push comes to shove in the battle to play it safe with positions that always have the polls as their main object of focus.

The last place you want to be, if you want to be the last person left standing, is out on a ledge like May, defending your ideals with an uncompromising commitment to stand fast for right over wrong, come what may.

The parties and their leaders all tend to speak in code to their prospective supporters by saying enough to win them over and by saying nothing that is not open to constructive interpretation in wooing any target audience.

This is the real value of May’s involvement. She is inclined to say exactly what she means, as if it really matters.

And some of what she says speaks directly to voters like me, who long to hear politicians stake their claim in ideals that are more concerned with right and wrong than with the narrow confines of their orthodox ideologies….”

“The power game becomes the only thing that matters…” 

And sadly, this is what I see in the comments of some friends and acquaintances who speak to me now as if I too were the ‘enemy’ simply because I believe Canadians not only have a right to choose who to vote for, but that they deserve to hear what May has to say.

And I voice that. I’m not naïve, but nor am I a party member. I’m a concerned Canadian with no political affiliation,just like hundreds of thousands of other voters. So this matters to me.

I’ve been told that because the Green candidates aren’t ‘whipped’, they have to represent their constituents views regardless of what that is( like that’s a bad thing?)  – from a Liberal supporter.

That Green’s are actually Conservatives and vote Right – from an NDP supporter.

And all the while, the NDP and the Liberals keep telling people why they shouldn’t vote for the other parties, instead of telling people what they can do differently. And supporters of both are mocking the decisions and opinions of those who are undecided but maybe leaning towards their Green candidate?

Gee, do you think that after 3 months of this going on, we have the potential to see more voter apathy than ever? That the undecided, non-party member voters who don’t spend every moment following politics or even the news for that matter, will just say: “Forget it!” yet again and lead us to another Harper government? Perhaps – only time will tell.

Call me crazy, but telling someone their vote is wrong, that their opinion is stupid or doesn’t matter, might not be the best way to get people to vote. Something for those ‘influencers’ out there on social media to think about, if not the party brass.

I very much enjoy the diversity of opinions and thoughts of all my partisan friends whether I agree or not, but partisanship alone isn’t the problem. It’s the inability or the unwillingness to look beyond the confines of that partisan view to a bigger picture.  Please, when engaging potential voters, think about what your goal is for Canada- and not just your party. An increase in voter turnout is good for all of us.

Indeed,apathy is the biggest threat to democracy  and the Conservatives know this well…Don’t unwittingly feed the beast that allows them to get re-elected, in your zeal to unseat them.

“The job facing voters… in the days and years to come is to determine which hearts, minds and souls command those qualities best suited to unify a country rather than further divide it, to heal the wounds of a nation as opposed to aggravate its injuries, and to secure for the next generation a legacy of choices based on informed awareness rather than one of reactions based on unknowing fear.” ~ Abherjhani


The Mount Polley tailings pond disaster. What a difference a year makes…

August 12th,2014

“B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett says the Mount Polley tailings dam collapse is not an environmental disaster, equating it to the “thousands” of avalanches that happen annually in B.C. Bennett, pointing to initial positive water readings, asserted his contention will be proven in the next several weeks.”

“Bennett acknowledged the dam collapse may be a mining industry, a geotechnical and a political disaster.

But he said that has to be separated from the environmental effects.

“Get up in a helicopter and go and look at the avalanches that happen in this province — there are probably 10,000 or 15,000 avalanches that happen every single year. Get up in a helicopter and go and look at what happened last spring with the events in the Rockies with water coming down and doing exactly what happened in Hazeltine Creek. The difference is that snow melts, (but) you are left with exactly the same (result) — it looks exactly the same as what happened in Hazeltine Creek,” said Bennett.

“It’s a mess. It’s a total mess, there’s no question about that … What’s going to happen here, is we are going to be left with this opportunity to learn from this huge, profound mistake that’s been made here,” he said.

August 4th, 2015

“British Columbia’s mines minister says the mining industry remains horrified a year after a tailings pond collapsed at the Mount Polley mine northeast of Williams Lake.

Bill Bennett said no one thought a crisis on such a scale was possible but that even now he can’t guarantee that another breach of a tailings pond won’t happen because only some of the risk factors can be eliminated.

“We didn’t eliminate enough of the risk and we have to figure out, and we are figuring out, how to eliminate the rest of that risk,” he said of the Aug. 4, 2014 accident.

About 24 millions cubic metres of waste spilled into area waterways, causing an environmental disaster.”

“The provincial government has spent $6 million on the cleanup, and Imperial Metals was granted conditional approval to reopen last month, although it still needs further permits before it can operate fully.

Bennett said water and sediment testing will have to continue for decades.”

Yes… you read that right… decades. And why? Because maybe profit was more important than safety,than heeding the warnings,than doing the right thing?

What a difference a year makes to the comments of those with the power to make change. But where will Bill Bennett,Christy Clark and Mary Polak  be decades from now,when all this testing is still going on?

Will they even remember Mount Polley?

Now watch this. One year later. Mount Polley. Because this matters to all of us.


Summer catch-up: Last two columns for 24Hrs Vancouver.

Yes, I know…. but there is only so much summer and not enough time to get it all done. And considering I generally dedicate about 10 months of the year to politics, summer is a welcome reprieve.

So, as this weeks column comes out later today, here are the links to the last two!

Last week:

A headline caught my eye, but not because of the heated language used by a civic politician — it was the resurrection the mega-homes issue in Richmond.

By no means is this a new issue, nor is it limited to one city. As has happened in other communities, when the issue is left ignored or unresolved, emotions and resentment fester. The resulting rift doesn’t build communities, it builds walls.

At the heart of the matter are complaints from many residents that the massive homes are not in keeping with the character of the neighbourhood, and they are built so close and so large to property lines the sun is often blocked in neighbouring yards.

Richmond is a city surrounded by dikes and because basements aren’t possible, mega-homes are built up in addition to out — often to three-storeys high.

In an attempt to resolve growing discontent and complaints from the homeowners who feel increasingly hemmed in, council was to vote on an amendment to the residential zoning bylaws in June.

Citing the need for more public consultation, the majority of councillors opted to postpone the vote and separate public forums were scheduled — one for the general public, and one intended for builders and developers.

In light of my recent column on how residents across Metro Vancouver feel developers have too much influence on city governments, that developers were given their own forum is interesting in itself.

After considering public input, all but two council members voted in favour of a new set of bylaws on Monday, intended to reduce the size of mega-homes but ultimately giving builders the concessions they wanted.

It was then that Coun. Carol Day called the process and bylaw “half-assed,” partly because council ignored the advice and recommendations of their own city planners on how best to amend the bylaws…. READ the rest at the above link.


And the week prior:

In last week’s column, I called again for a ban on corporate and union donations after readers across the region shared that they felt big campaign contributions have too much influence at city hall.

Following that column, I was advised that Carr already had a motion on notice that would significantly reform financing and spending in Vancouver elections.

In response to the inadequate changes recommended by the provincial report on spending limits for municipal campaigns, Carr’s motion called not only for limits on spending, but a ban on corporate, union and out-of province or country contributions as well.

In addition, her motion asked that elector organizations be required to release annual income and expense disclosure forms, including donor lists in the years between elections. This could shed some light on the aptly named “dark money” that comes into civic parties in between reporting periods.

These are all great changes and in a TV interview prior to the council vote, Carr expressed hope that the motion would pass.

Council has expressed that they are in favour of such reform, but they clearly don’t agree enough to make it happen.

Instead of voting in favour of her motion as is, Coun. Andrea Reimer presented a motion to refer the issue back to committee, which was supported by council with only three votes opposed.

This move has city watchdogs alarmed…. READ the rest at the above link.


“The art of being happy,lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things…” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

It was the kind of summer day dreams are made of… no schedules,no destination in mind,just loading up a picnic and taking off with no expectations.

The highway led us towards Squamish, a natural and instinctual response to the calling of the mountains and the sea, the road not too crowded but still full of people looking far more stressed out than they should be for a long weekend in summer.

Until we came up behind a large head of a beast being towed on a trailer…

2015-08-02 001Debate ensued… was it a bear? Or a cougar? And who made this and what was it for?

As we passed by, the driver who had obviously seen the camera out the window  yelled: “Hope you got a good shot!”,smiled,waved and everyone laughed. (Passenger taken photo)

How often do you see something like that going down the road?

We ended up seeing this parked outside the grounds of the Loggers Sport Show in Squamish, but the driver was no where in sight so the mystery remains- unless someone out there can share some insight!

Finding every inch of Porteau Cove covered in people soaking in the sun, we simply moved onto finding something else fun to do – although, I did have a really great conversation with a charming senior who was re-visiting the area after a long absence. I won’t forget the look on her face as she looked out over the water and mountains, arms open to embrace the sun and sea air, as she exclaimed: “There just aren’t words good enough to describe how beautiful this really is.”

Heading into town, we discovered plenty of fun at this challenging, 18 hole mini-golf we discovered at an RV park ! (I thought I knew everything about Squamish since we hang out there enough, but we missed this!)

Shaded for the most part, and with that lovely wind coming in off Howe Sound, old time music playing over the speakers sometimes lead to dancing between the holes. Pink balls and purple clubs? All the more fun!

Rolling with it and being open to whatever happens or doesn’t happen, makes life so much more enjoyable. And it was later on the way home that the best part of the day arrived.

Stopping to stretch our legs and enjoy the breathtaking view, we saw a car parked in the bus zone with its doors open,the driver sitting on a blanket in front with a variety of glitter, paints and glue in front of him. He was just sitting and humming, with a bag of Mcdonalds beside him,chilling out at the viewpoint.

But like a siren calls to sailors on the sea, the car was calling too…. loudly… to all visitors walking by, although none stopped despite being clearly curious.

Walking over,my jaw dropped in reaction to the sight before my eyes – I can honestly say I’ve never seen a car like this before! Click on the first photo to scroll through in full screen,so you can really get the essence of this rolling artwork

Every single space inside this car, including the truck and engine, is covered and lovingly adorned. Meticulously covered in paint designs and dots, glitter, glued on toys, photos of the owner, photos of his heroes.

Small toys, beads and Swarovski crystals  adorn the steering wheel and the sun sparkled off the surfaces not unlike a sun-catcher hanging in your kitchen window, leaving prisms of colour dappling everything in sight.

2015-08-02 014

And we talked.

Buddy Theodore Bear aka Buddy Bear aka Buddy ‘Teddy’ Bear  is clearly a man living his life on his own terms and quite happy to continue doing so. His skin is burnished golden brown like leather, no shoes covered the worn and dirty soles of his feet and the deep smile lines and wrinkles at the corner of his eyes revealed he likely smiles heartily more often than not.

Buddy shared a lot of stories as he shared his love for his car with us,turning on the interior LED track lights. Stories of eating nothing but McDonalds for the last six years and trying to get approved to raise money for Ronald Mcdonalds house and charity. Of being a groomsman at one of his three ex-wives re-marriage and of being married three times. Of taking time and hanging out and just talking to people,which he clearly loves to do.

Now I don’t know anything about Buddy other than what came up in these moments – he’s just a fellow and his car  we saw sitting at a rest stop on the side of the Sea to Sky highway – nor do I even know if all his stories are real….but I do know this.

He loves his car.

And while many would call this labour of love crazy or nuts or downright stupid…it makes him happy. And it makes other people happy too because it’s impossible not to smile when you see this thing. It made me smile. Talking to him, having him share a bit of his life with us was a gift. And that’s all that matters.

They say that happiness is something so little understood, that it’s often mistaken for insanity. And there is more than a little truth in that I think. I think Buddy has a lot more stories waiting for people to listen to. And I hope to run into him again sometime to hear some more.

Oh and the stuffy he is holding?  Her name is Emily. Emily… Car(r). She’s kind of like his artistic mascot for the car… She goes everywhere with him.

There were a lot of people at that rest-stop, gawking at his car, clearly wanting to see it better but holding back for whatever reason. And if one of them was you,I’m really sorry you missed a chance to have a little conversation with someone outside your box who had so much happiness to share.

If you ever end up reading this Buddy, thanks for spending some time talking and sharing your passion. It was, without a doubt, a highlight of our day. :)

The worlds an amazing place, full of interesting people and I can’t help but be reminded of a quote I saw plastered on someones facebook wall once from Greys Anatomy:

” So stop for a second.

Enjoy the beauty. Feel the magic.
Drink it in. Cause it won’t last forever.
The romance will fade. Things will happen.
People will change. Love will die.

But, maybe not today. “

2015-08-02 005

“It’s not what you look at that matters…it’s what you see.” ~ Henry David Thoreau.

Driving along the gravel road to a pristine mountain lake last weekend, the sound of the white water rushing in the river that ran alongside, was as welcome as any cold cocktail on a hot summer afternoon.

The clear water ran fast and frothy,tumbling over rocks and between giant boulders that looked like they were perfectly placed by some ancient giant hand until reaching deeper pools and eddies. These deeper pools took on an emerald hue, crystal clear and so inviting for fishers and weary hot hikers alike. If you knew the way of fish, you would also know that those dark pools were the preferred spot for salmon and trout to rest in between travelling the light rapids upstream and where, with a deft flick of wrist,an experienced fly-fisher could land dinner.

Opening the door of the truck, I was welcomed by ripe huckleberries growing right beside the gravel lot. Similar to a blueberry but much more intense in taste,I popped them into my mouth, savouring the pop and sudden rush of flavour on my tongue. The air was fresh and smelled… green, alive, unadulterated. Closing my eyes momentarily as we walked the path to the lake, I held my hand out to run fingertips across the ends of hemlock boughs, connecting with all that was around me. And with every step the stress, the baggage, the weight of my modern world left me in bits and pieces, evaporating into the forest around me, leaving me feeling free and new again…

I‘ve written often over the years about the connection I feel with the land around me and nearly just as much about all the things that threaten it.

Even on this trip the shock of seeing a new clear-cut and a rough logging road cut into the steep slopes was a jarring sight not only because the extreme terrain makes logging there costly, but also that it banked right up next to a provincial park. I’m not opposed to logging-my family has all worked in the forest industry-but forest practices and timber management have come under criticism often enough that it’s a concern for the future.

We enjoy the places less traveled to re-connect with the inner core of ourselves that is inherently called to nature, but on our way, we see many others leaving the cities in droves to find what connection they can.Even in Squamish and Whistler  you can see many dressed to the nines, snapping selfies in front of mountains,lakes and yes… bears… just so they can go home and tell their friends they did.

Well, perhaps that’s better than nothing. I’ve always believed that the only way to get people to understand and value what we have, is to build that connection to it. For those who have never lived outside of Metro Vancouver- or outside of most larger cities for that matter- it’s an undiscovered world. Places like the Peace River, where generations of land owners and First Nations have lived, farmed, hunted and gathered. I ask you to visit the area to be flooded, to stand and simply behold how incredible it really is… and then tell me you think it doesn’t matter.

More people than ever are paying companies to take them out camping,hiking hunting for food… on wild expeditions to experience what so many British Columbians simply call life. They are seeking not just adventure,but a feeling I think,of belonging. Of being a part of something bigger, of feeling how it is to know that nature can make you, or break you.

I know that feeling and it’s what calls me back to the forests and mountains when I’ve had enough of the galling joke we call politics in this province. Nature is the greatest equalizer, it grounds me, humbles me and leaves me in awe of her power and beauty. And in British Columbia, we have so much to be thankful for- YES, we really do- and we have to ensure those entrusted with the management of our natural areas, and our resources, are doing the best they can.

As I log off to enjoy my BC day weekend, and wish you the best for yours, I leave you with an excerpt from an older post. Consider and reflect, wherever you are in this province we  now celebrate.

 “Now that I have lived on the coast for so many years, the sea and the soil here is my heart as well. We can’t turn our back on our agricultural needs any more than we can our roots. The soil here in the Fraser River delta is so rich in silt, in sediment carried down from our mountains, from decaying wild salmon that just laid eggs in a stream not adulterated by Independent power Projects blocking their way…

This circle of life both urban and rural British Columbians rely on, is who we are as a people. It connects north and south like blood when we enjoy our baby greens in  fancy restaurants in the West End…  and when we harvest our moose in the north to fill our freezer.

Herein lies the challenge.

Do the people down here in the lower mainland consider what the impact is of salmon never reaching their spawning grounds? Do they know what it means to find moose and deer riddled with tumours, inedible, because the ticks now over winter due to higher winter temperatures?That the sickness of those moose and deer has an impact on the food chain that trickles down to levels we might not even understand yet?

Do they know that smell in spring that tells you to start harvesting fiddleheads? Do they know the feeling of being such a small part of the universe that seeing the northern lights every night, and hearing coyote packs killing their dinner at dusk gives you?

That was, and is, my British Columbia.

Even now, in my urban, suburban home, I can smell the rain coming and where it comes from. I eat lettuce, now,grown and harvested mere miles from my home that tastes worlds  apart from the imports. We embrace the rain, pick berries on the dykes, and know how precious it all is to us.We love the Canucks, even when they lose. I spent 6 hours on BC ferries to see The Tragically Hip sing Bobcaygeon ahead of schedule courtesy of a crew member on Vancouver Island.

I’ve  been broke. I’ve been flush. I’ve seen BC from top to bottom and there isn’t much I  wouldn’t endorse to anyone else looking to visit.

I think fighting for B.C is worth it. The greater good is bigger than any political agenda.

I’m not saying it is going to be easy… but I am saying it is going to be worth it.

The future is yours if you rise to the challenge. The only question is… will you?”

This is my BC. I’d love for you to share with all of us, photos of yours.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

Last weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver City Hall: Take big money out of civic campaigns

Forgive me for the lack of recent posts other than my columns; summer is here and there are many other things to do in the warm summer evening than sit and blog on a hot sweaty desk chair….I’ll post soon and there are several things I want to write about.

For now, this was Thursday’s column in 24Hrs Vancouver, which you may find relevant even in your hometown.

Since taking on the City Hall column and paying greater attention to municipal affairs across the region, there is one concern readers have shared with me that is common to every city in Metro Vancouver.

From Vancouver and Surrey to North Vancouver and White Rock, there is a growing concern that developers are wielding too much influence in city halls.

In Vancouver, real estate developers and marketers have been under scrutiny for their role and contribution to the city’s affordable housing issue.

In Surrey, both developers and the city have frequently been under fire for not only the city’s illegal suite problem, but for rapidly building high-density housing without thought to the impact on local infrastructure like schools, health care and parking.

Even the tiny city of White Rock isn’t exempt — a contentious proposal currently in the works to build two highrises requires an amendment to the Official Community Plan in order to build it. Now under scrutiny by the locals are the past campaign contributions the development group has made to the mayor and several councillors.

But if you were to ask your local city council if campaign contributions have any influence on proposals before council, I guarantee you will get a resounding — and likely offended — “No!” as an answer.

To voters, it’s a perception of conflict of interest and it’s easy to see why it’s an ongoing concern for residents.

Developers who’ve given hefty donations to municipal campaigns and then bring matters before council for approval raise serious questions to the validity of the entire process. That’s why so many advocates in favour of electoral reform were disappointed to see the final committee report on Local Elections Expense Limits recently presented to provincial MLAs in the legislature.

While the report makes recommendations limiting the amount candidates and slates can spend in local elections, it does nothing to address the bigger issue of limiting the dollar amount of contributions in the first place, or banning corporate and union donations.

With civic election turnouts appallingly low and cynicism towards both politicians and political process at an all-time high, these changes are critical.

The integrity of both civic elections, and city hall process and planning, must be protected to restore faith with voters. And the best way to do that is to take big corporations, big unions and their big money out of it.

Last weeks City Hall column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Surrey LRT plans scary expensive!

In the iconic movie Field of Dreams, farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice whispering every time he walks through his corn field: “If you build it, he will come.”

But only in the movies could a farmer plow a cash crop, build a baseball field for ghosts and have everything turn out OK. In reality, while a vision mocked by others can result in great achievements, just as often that vision results in hardship — often financial.

With voters in the region smacking down an increase in the sales tax to fund the Mayors’ Council transportation vision, it’s clear now that there really was no plan B.

Why the Mayors’ Council had no credible back-up plans for funding in a vote that was doomed to fail remains unanswered. In the corporate world, any CEO without a plan B, C and, last resort, D, would be shown the door.

Enter Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, who finds herself in the awkward position of having promised to have LRT running in the city by 2018, but has yet to find an economically viable way to do that.

With the city carrying a debt load of approximately $245 million, borrowing to finance a $2-billion-plus project isn’t an option. That has the city grasping at straws to locate funds, and Hepner making headlines again for suggesting she might “take back” the city’s share of gas tax that currently goes directly to TransLink.

Hepner’s lastest suggestion has critics once again raising questions as to whether LRT is really even the best economic or logistical option for rapid transit in Surrey.

In a post yesterday, Daryl Dela Cruz of Better Surrey Rapid Transit, claims that even a public-private partnership deal for LRT would not recover operating costs and require the city to subsidize the line to the tune of $100 million a year.

While Dela Cruz is pushing for SkyTrain, another group called Rail for the Valley has been advocating for years to upgrade the existing interurban rail line that runs from Chilliwack into Surrey — at a fraction of the cost of Hepner’s plan.

Their release of the highly regarded Leewood report in 2010 presented a compelling argument to support the idea, yet remains largely ignored by politicians in favour of plans with more cachet.

The no vote should give Surrey council pause to reflect and re-assess what the city’s actual transit needs are, versus what sounds nice to build — otherwise it’s just another field of dreams with the taxpayers on the hook.

Forest fire prevention and mitigation in BC: At what point does inaction become negligence?

“There were at least 21 fires that started in British Columbia on Sunday. There were 36 Saturday. There were 32 Friday. There are 178 burning right now.

A haze blankets the majority of people in B.C., as winds bring smoke from fires in Pemberton to people in Vancouver and Victoria. The Metro Vancouver Air Quality Health Index went to 10+, or “Very High Risk” on Sunday night.

READ MORE: Air quality advisory issued for Metro Vancouver and Sunshine Coast

And undoubtedly, there will be more fires to come in the days and weeks ahead…”


Our forests, our lives

2013-09-01 022

The vast and varied forests of British Columbia, are without question one of our greatest resources. In its heyday, the forest industry in our province provided a revenue source that sustained entire communities through logging, sawmills and pulpmills. In fact most of my family and friends up north have worked in the forestry industry via one or another of these sectors.


The impact of the massive pine beetle kill was sizable,but once most of the salvaged ( and marketable) wood was harvested, sawmills began to close in many areas. It was also discovered back in 2012 that our forests had been badly mismanaged – the Forest Practices Board concurred with forester Anthony Britneff’s assessment that cut forests had not been satisfactorily restocked via tree-planting. What do these two things have in connection?

It takes a long time to re-grow a logged area to a size that can be harvested again -and this didn’t take into account the often unchecked logging that takes place on privately owned land. Between the vast amounts of beetle kill in BC and the failure to replant trees to a level and standard we needed to, every single remaining forest in our province becomes that much more valuable/

The need for protection of our forests for either wood harvest or simply as a wild habitat for our animals, becomes clear.

The amazing stands of douglas fir  and majestic ceders or redwoods are magnets for those who call nature their church,who find solace and reverence in forests thick and tall. Those trees provide much needed stability along lakes and streams, preventing run-off that makes clear water silty, clogging gills of fish and aquatic wildlife.The need for conservation, is clear.

2015-05-02 019

Wildfire prevention and mitigation

Every time a forest fire is ignited, at best we lose valuable forest, at worst, we lose homes, and at times, lives. The costs to both communities and the province, is often staggering. So it makes sense that in a province with vast tracts of forest that in many areas merge with homes and communities, prevention efforts and mitigation is absolutely essential.

For more than a decade, the location and methods used to build forest communities was a massive concern- ” How BC was built to burn” ran in the Tyee in 2004, identifying major issues and safety concerns of many BC communities like Barriere and Whistler.

Of great interest in this article, is the Filmon Firestorm Report of 2003. I’ve linked to it separately here, because the link in the Tyee article is no longer working.“>

Pages 69 through 76 contain 41 recommendations based on his findings -some the province was advised to implement immediately, some would take time, but all were to be treated with urgency. While I can determine fire departments acted on the recommendations under their jurisdictions, I cannot determine if the province has completed their response.

His final thoughts included the following:

We believe that governments have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to implement risk reduction policies and legislation while the devastation of Firestorm 2003 is fresh in the public’s mind and the costs and consequences of various choices are well understood.

Another area of clear consensus was that concentration of resources and effort on issues that anticipate, prevent and prepare for disasters is a better investment than on expenditures made in coping with disasters. Consequently, we have made many recommendations to invest in preparedness, education and training.

There was also a firm recognition that many subdivisions in the interface were not designed to mitigate wildfire risks, nor were the dwellings constructed to reduce wildfire hazards.

We believe that local governments and individual homeowners have recognized the risks and are now prepared to follow the best information available to correct for past inaction. We believe they will accept strong direction and leadership on this issue.

The topic of fuel load reduction through prescribed burns is perhaps the best example of a strong consensus on what formerly had been a very controversial and divisive debate. Simply put, almost everyone who gave advice to the Review Team agreed that it was better to accept short-term inconvenience and irritation in favour of long-term reduction in hazard and cost.

Filmon was correct. We have had a trend of hotter,longer dryer fire seasons.  And with some predicting the current drought like conditions will continue through the next winter and into 2016, it’s reason for immediate review to see how many of these recommendations were implemented with urgency as Filmon dictated.

What’s happened since the report was issued? 

Despite this report, concerns were raised yet again in 2011 on what it would take to keep BC forest communities safe.

And sadly, just last week Robert Gray revealed a startling fact in this Times Columnist column:

Knowing that wildfires have an even greater economic impact on annual provincial and local government budgets than originally estimated should compel the province to invest more in proactive wildfire-hazard mitigation. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

In 2014, the province didn’t invest any money in wildfire-hazard mitigation through investment in the Union of B.C. Municipalities Strategic Wildfire Prevention Program Initiative. It did, however, invest over $70 million in flood mitigation.

Since 2002, the province has invested over $2 billion in earthquake mitigation. In the 11 years since the 2003 fire season and the release of the Filmon Report, the province has invested only $100 million in wildfire-hazard mitigation, yet the cost of suppression alone over that same period has been $2.2 billion. Investments in hazard mitigation are only a fraction of the total amount being spent on fighting fires plus the damage caused by those fires — a pattern that runs counter to sensible cost-benefit risk-management practices.

It’s true no one can point a finger at any politician for this weather, or the drought we are experiencing. Nor can you lay blame for the rampant stupidity that leads to so many fire starts across the province.

But when reports commissioned by the government, make recommendation to the government to prevent similar situations in the future-a dire warning by any standard of commensense- are not fully implemented or funded, who takes the responsibility?


Who is in charge of legislating forest policy, forest management, removing fuel loads that feed fires?  The province of BC is.

In April of 2014, a full decade after the Filmon report was commissioned, Glen Sanders- a former firefighter and fire chief, took a look at the lessons learned- or not- by government and found the results lacking.

“I am dubious about the lessons learned by government, however, and many of the missteps identified in the Filmon Report will be repeated when the next firestorm strikes.

A wise person once said, “The worst mistake a person can make is to think that those in charge actually know what they are doing.” 

In a recent post, I reflected on how hindsight is only 20/20 if one applies the lessons learned to future actions and decisions. 

And if fire and forestry experts are concerned, I’m also concerned the government did not learn an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Did the government ensure every single one of the recommendations they were responsible for completing in Filmons report were undertaken? I don’t have that answer yet.

I hope we don’t have to wait for yet another firestorm report, to find out.

* For up-to date positions and details of reported wild fires in British Columbia, see this link:

* Air quality reports/advisories can be found here:

In an update to this post that received thousands of views in the last few days, Coulson has reportedly signed a new contract with the province of BC.

The Mars Bombers will be back in service as early as Thursday.

And further to this, the contract will be under and existing helicopter contract with Coulson.

( Some media outlets reporting the ministry is still in talks- check your local news to see what develops)

This weeks City Hall column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Regional politicians deserve more scrutiny

If you’ve ever played roulette, you might have heard the old phrase describing the popular game of chance: “Round and round and round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows.”

It also describes how I feel when I look at the many ways local governments go about spending the hard-earned tax dollars we all contribute. In last week’s column, Chris Campbell wrote about how the never–ending antics of TransLink really take the heat off the activities of other local governments — including the regional body known as Metro Vancouver.

Formerly known as the Greater Vancouver Regional District, Metro Vancouver manages and delivers services for the entire region. Comprised of four separate corporate entities, regional essentials like drinking water, waste-water treatment and air quality monitoring are included in their mandate.

The 2015 budget estimates expenditures of $657 million, and some of this money comes from you. The cost to the average household in the region is estimated at $427 a year, so it only makes sense that you should be paying as much attention to Metro Vancouver as you do TransLink because the two are similar in terms of governance.

In fact, Metro Vancouver is yet another reason you really need to pay attention to candidates and who you vote for in your municipal elections — the board of 38 directors are all elected officials, appointed to their positions by local councils.

It’s anything but democratic, and there is little accountability to the public in terms of oversight. Starting at the top, the pay and expenses are enough to raise eyebrows. Board chair Greg Moore, mayor of Port Coquitlam, makes $71,858 and has $2,412 of expenses reported for 2015 — this is in addition to his mayor’s salary of $91,148.

Vice-chair Raymond Louie — a Vancouver councillor whose city pay is $68,552 — brings in an extra $35,929. It’s only July but he’s already racked up $8,841 on conferences and workshops since November of last year…

Read the rest of this weeks column, HERE:


2014 expenses for the board:

2015 expenses for the board: