“…the contractor who built the wall — Peter Kiewit and Sons — used parts in the retaining wall that do not meet ministry standards….”

A wise man once told me that the best thing for any organization to do when facing a potentially explosive public relations issue was to “tell the truth, tell it all, and tell it damn quick.”

First the issues were cosmetic in nature only.

Then, a ministry employee said ” no significant structural issues were identified.”

And when it was discovered major structural repairs were about to start on a 4th wall, repairs that include building a new reinforced wall and inserting soil anchors, the minister said they were routine maintenance and attacked the NDP for not building anything when they were in government…

Today we get a little closer to the truth with a story from Jane Seyd of the North Shore News:

Ashok Bhatti, district manager for the Ministry of Transportation and Highways south coast region, said repairs are needed because a review of the project showed the contractor who built the wall — Peter Kiewit and Sons — used parts in the retaining wall that do not meet ministry standards. Bhatti said the wall has been tested by engineers, and there are no safety concerns. But over the lifespan of the highway, problems could develop….”

– See more at: http://www.nsnews.com/news/faulty-wall-forces-road-closure-1.1848735#sthash.LBNrZeCK.dpuf

This just brings another level of questions for the young minister of transportation, Todd Stone, because this manager just opened a huge can of worms.

What parts are faulty?

Does the MOT manager mean parts below engineered level or parts of faulty material?

What about faulty installation?

Over compacted, drainage under engineered or wrongly changed?  And on, and on…. you get the picture.Is it is a matter of Kiewit cutting costs by using materials that were less than what was called for? Were they aware of the faulty parts?

 Where is the due diligence of the government?  What about the INDEPENDENT Quality Control guy who was on Kiewit’s payroll? Who signed off on all these materials?

 And since it’s often the case that many of the same materials and components used on a major infrastructure project are sourced from the same supplier, the ministry now needs to come clean on every single detail. It doesn’t matter if Kiewit is paying for this. It matters that this even happened in the first place.

Somebody has some explaining to do, and this time the people deserve to hear an actual answer, not more denial,deflection and discrediting.

 ** If you have any information or tips relating to this story, please contact me confidentially via the contact page above.

Posted in BC Liberals, BC NDP, BC Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 22 Comments

Denial, deflect, discredit.

When I published the photos of the conditions of just three of the 219 retaining walls on the Sea to Sky Highway last year, the Ministry of Transportation said the issue was merely cosmetic, and that the walls are inspected annually. 

Then the news that in fact a fourth retaining wall needed significant  structural repairs such as soil anchors installed, along with a new reinforced wall face. Work would take 6 months. Residents below the wall were rightfully angry at the inconvenience,and distrustful of the contradiction between the need for repairs… and the word that everything was fine.

NDP transportation critic Claire Trevena had some questions for Transportation Minister Todd Stone in the legislature earlier this week, and I promised a transcript for you. Better yet,Ms.Trevena has posted a video so that you may see for yourself the questions Ms. Trevena asked… and the answers Mr. Stone gave.

I’m not sure whose questions he was answering,but they certainly weren’t the ones she was asking.

This is your government in action. He denied, deflected and then tried to discredit because he did not want to answer these questions. Nor was he ordered to answer the question despite his foray into the Netherlands of his mapped route of deflection.

It wasn’t until much later that Minister Stone advised media Kiewit and the S2S Transportation Group  would be covering all the costs for the repairs,and that ” making repairs like this to a project just five years after its completion is normal.

Actually, according to project documents, the design lifespan for these retaining walls is 75 years:

Pg 6 herehttp://www.partnershipsbc.ca/pdf/sts-construction-drawings-16-nov-06.pdf

Pg 4 here: http://conf.tac-atc.ca/english/resourcecentre/readingroom/conference/conf2009/pdf/Holmes.pdf

Installing soil anchors that help hold the wall in place, and building an entirely new reinforced wall face, are not normal, routine repairs. It would be comparable to buying a brand new home only to move in and a year later, find out the foundation needs to be re-done.

Would you consider that normal? No.

And lets not forget those Ministry of Transportation emails I have contradicting the first public claim that walls are inspected annually – made last year – and Stones new statement that staff are inspecting things daily around the province.

Or that according to that same Ministry employee, Kiewit found no changes or anything of concern with the walls in question.

Which is more than likely the reason why Kiewit and the S2S Transportation Group is on the hook now which for what is clearly a defective wall.

Some of you might be wondering why this matters, or why this really pisses me off so much, so let me tell you. If you don’t care, move along.

I’ve always been a bit of a policy wonk who endlessly thinks of ways to make a better province. So, back in 2008 when I was really more than a bit peeved that the Golden Ears and the Port Mann was to be tolled, while the Sea to Sky highway was not, I started doing some research to find out why those decisions were made.

In my view then, it was ridiculous that the Golden Ears was tolled while the Sea to Sky was not. A responsible government would take advantage of the traffic out to one of our most scenic drives and tourist destinations, make it resident/business exempt and charge tolls: you want to play, you have to pay. I feel the same way now,but sadly the last Liberal government signed away the right to toll that highway on the P3 contract.

By October 2009, still developing my contacts and sources, I had yet to find out why that highway wasn’t tolled. And again, I called for tolls on that highway as a source of revenue for this province.   ( of course no one listened to me back then, I was just a blogger… : )
It wasn’t until 2010 that sources in the industry revealed to me the reason why it was never tolled… and never would be until the contract with the P3 partner was up.

And that was the beginning of the now infamous Shadow Toll series that ended up receiving national coverage courtesy of Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail. 

I had received confidential documents from insiders to the deal that had  signed confidentiality agreements not to speak about the project details until it was done. And when it was done, they revealed all, in conferences, in bulletins and much more. Financiers bragged of the lucrative nature of the shadow tolls… something our government affectionately refers to as ” vehicle usage payments”.  The private partner makes so much money on this highway, that the financer sold their share to a private fund a couple of years ago.

Now, every time you or I drive that highway, we inadvertently help make a reliable and strong rate of return on other people’s retirement investments. In a wobbly world economy, P3 projects like this highway are considered a very safe investment.

But I digress.

In the face of all this documented, now public evidence,  our government when confronted, lied to the press, taking advantage of the lack of specific industry and contract terminology knowledge they had. They said it wasn’t true.

I couldn’t believe it. (If you care to spend a bit of time rehashing all of it, head over to the Best Of page where  it is still listed. http://lailayuile.com/best-of/)

There were more stories uncovered that again, were denied, deflected and the effort to discredit was intense. And it still is whenever a column or blog post hits home. Reporters often like to say when the fire is incoming over your shoulder you know you are close to your target: there is trash talk, there are rumours,anything to deflect the attention from the story at hand.

Just like Todd Stones response to Claire Trevena. He won’t simply say the contractor screwed up and we are likely going to have some serious repairs coming all over this highway but we don’t want to talk about that…..because it opens a massive barrel of worms no government anywhere would want to talk about.

Ask Quebec. http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/montreal-is-falling-down/

He starts talking about how the NDP had issues or opposed projects while the Liberals built them. And on. And then some more.

And he never does answer how it is that a highway that cost so much damn money, is needing serious structural repairs after only 5 years.

Nor does he take the chance to negate all of this by providing the inspection reports that Kiewit conducted or agreeing to an independent agency review of those walls.

Why does this matter?

Because the funny thing about retaining walls is that it can be pretty hard to predict what going on behind them. Kiewit already did substandard work on one retaining wall on the Port Mann Project that had to be rebuilt. And court cases resulted following the collapse of of a highway widening project retaining wall that collapsed during construction in California. And while the walls on the sea to sky may not be in danger of collapsing,the province refuses to be straightforward about any of this.

So,yes, those inspection reports of Kiewits on these retaining walls do matter. Because like the shadow toll story, this one is becoming rife with contradictions,spin and deflections.

But what do I know? I’m just a writer, not a transportation minister.

Posted in BC Liberals, BC NDP, BC Politics, P3 projects in BC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Extensive repair work planned for Sea to Sky retaining wall – one year after problems on 3 others first reported here.

Breaking news by Dave White of News 1130 yesterday, after receiving a tip on a work order given to West Vancouver residents of work on a retaining wall:

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Roughly five years after a major rebuild was completed, News1130 has learned the Sea to Sky Highway already needs significant repairs.

A retaining wall in West Vancouver is causing problems.

It’s just north of the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, above Pasco Road, a small, residential road with remote access.

A construction bulletin was sent by the province to people living on that road on April 8th, telling them soil anchors need to be installed, and a new-reinforced wall face needs to be constructed.

For people living in the area, this means no access to their homes for eight hours a day from this time next week until the end of September.

The Sea to Sky Highway was largely rebuilt by contractors Peter Kiewit and Sons for the Olympics, completed in 2009.

This is not the first retaining wall built by Kiewit on the South Coast that has needed repair. Back in 2011, a retaining wall in Coquitlam as part of the Highway One expansion had to be rebuilt.

It was April 30th, 2014 when I first broke the story of how troubling photos of 3 other retaining walls on the Sea to Sky highway,had prompted the Ministry of Transportation to re-inspect all of the walls: http://lailayuile.com/2014/04/30/troubling-photos-spark-ministry-of-transportation-inspections-of-sea-to-sky-retaining-walls-creating-new-concerns-over-kiewit-construction/

The Ministry of Transportation is investigating the condition of at least three MSE (Mechanically Stabilized Earth) retaining walls along the Sea to Sky Highway, according to sources close to the project.

This action finally comes after specific Ministry employee’s received the photos shown below – in February of this year – that show clear flaws, deficiencies and structural concerns that sources indicate out-of-spec walls. Major defects show large open gaps in the concrete panels, water seepage behind walls, walls that are “out of batter” ( leaning the wrong way) and possible vertical movement of the walls. *terminology link found here for reference.

In some areas, the gaps are so wide that the tongue and groove elements are no longer meshed and it is possible to reach in and feel the geotextile cloth behind. While the photos were taken earlier this year in a cold snap, follow-up visits during rainy weather have shown very little water coming out of installed drainage pipes installed for such purpose, and a build up of water behind the wall with seepage from under the wall in other areas.

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The response from the Ministry at that time was that they had investigated all the walls, and that it was merely a cosmetic issue. The BCNDP did not comment at that time, although they were fully apprised of the situation.

In November of 2014, I followed up that post with another, with excerpts from emails indicating that Kiewit – the builder of the highway- had inspected their own work:

http://lailayuile.com/2014/11/27/sea-to-sky-retaining-wall-questions-continue-as-internal-emails-indicate-kiewit-inspected-their-own-work/

In May of this year ministry officials stated that they had inspected the walls following receipt of the photos.

However,email correspondence from a Ministry of Transportation operations manager in September of this year,indicated it was actually highway builder Kiewit, that had inspected and reviewed the walls:

“I am out of town at the moment but wanted to give you a quick update.  We just received some information from Peter Keiwett regarding the walls in Horseshoe Bay.

Their investigation and review did not note any changes or concerns with the walls.

We are reviewing what was submitted.” 

I contacted the operations manager in question, “to confirm whether or not MOTH( ministry of transportation and highways) had reviewed the Kiewit inspections of the MSE( mechanically stabilized earth) retaining walls on the Sea to Sky, and what the findings were.
Has the ministry done their own inspection since the photos were taken?”

His response:

Thank you for getting in touch with me on the status of the retaining walls built as part of the Sea to Sky project.  To answer your question, Yes our team have reviewed the correspondence/documentation and walls along the Upper Levels.

 I’ll also note that the walls underwent an inspection in 2013 and another routine inspection is planned for 2018, as per the Ministry’s standard frequency of every five years for this type of structure.  There were no significant structural issues identified during the inspections.”

No ‘significant’ structural issues…. just minor ones.  On a highway that is only 5 years old.

I asked then:

The ministry representative and operation manager have not responded further to the following questions:

1) What structural issues-minor or not- have been discovered and what is the plan for remediation?

2) Are any costs involved covered by warranty  or does the province absorb the cost?

3) Who has signed off on the integrity of the wall?

To this day, and this new story, there are no answers to those questions.

Today NDP transportation critic Claire Trevena brought up the most recent repair in the legislature,asking why repairs are needed on what is essentially a brand new highway and asked the Minister of Transportation Todd Stone to submit the safety reports/audit of the retaining walls.

Minister Stone replied that at times mitigating work is done on all corridors in the province( making this sound like routine maintenance), and completely and quite shamefully evaded her questions on the safety/inspection reports by talking about how the NDP opposed many projects in the province! ( As one reader asked online: Is the new Liberal version of Stone-walling? Clever!)

And that was it. ( I’ll post a transcript as it becomes available)

The work that the ministry is conducting on the Pasco Road retaining wall  are not minor repairs. This is 5 months of work to not only install soil anchors, but to construct a new reinforced facing.

Soil anchors installed in retaining walls after they are built, are done so to reinforce and repair retaining walls damaged by lateral loads, or those showing signs of stress or failure.

Here’s an example of what they look like, installed in a retaining wall on a Hwy 1 overpass years after construction

soilanchors

The anchors are drilled into the wall, typically at an angle to provide support and prevent further movement.

One would not expect these kinds of repairs typically in a highway only 5 years old, which leads me back to my original posts ,and questions linked to above.

There are 216 retaining walls built into this highway, and the three I detail in photos at the above links show alarming changes- for the amount of money this highway cost, somebody has some explaining to do.

Was this shoddy construction? Was it rushed? Sources in my prior posts gave a few ideas- I invite you to go back and read both posts.

Minister of  Transportation Todd Stone needs to immediately release the safety inspection reports of all 219 retaining walls along the sea to sky highway, along with a full explanation as to why, on a project billed as a marvel of engineering, after only 5 years, structural repairs are needed at all.

Kiewit, the builder of this highway, has come under examination in the past for a failed retaining wall on the Lougheed highway not built to standards  – something that the minister might want to take into consideration: http://journalofcommerce.com/Home/News/2011/8/Highway-retaining-wall-being-rebuilt-in-Coquitlam-British-Columbia-JOC046056W/

They’ve also come under fire for safety violations on various projects: http://lailayuile.com/2014/12/19/kiewit-general-comitted-willful-and-serious-safety-violations-in-washington-state-accident-fined-150000/

I’ll keep updating this story as it develops, but tune back in tomorrow, as I bring yet another update, on yet another Kiewit built project.

Posted in BC Liberals, BC NDP, BC Politics, Laila Yuile, P3 projects in BC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

This weeks Duel for 24Hrs Vancouver: Bill 20 too intrusive.

This week, Brent and I take on one particular change to the Election Amendment act that all political parties in BC support:

Should a list of all people who voted in B.C. elections be provided to political parties?

When I read about the proposed amendments to the Election Act in a Facebook post by pro-democracy government watchdog IntegrityBC, I was stunned. Why? Because in the famous Apollo 13 message: “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

This famous line sums up the state of politics in British Columbia precisely. When it comes to voting in provincial elections, we’ve had a big problem for decades.

On average, only around half of registered voters actually do so, and looking back at statistics, it’s a sorry tale of declining turnouts that speaks to voter apathy and growing cynicism with politics in general. Somehow political parties in B.C. now think that being provided with a list of who actually voted in the last election is going to help them engage voters and get the vote out – I strongly suspect it will have the opposite effect.

That voters were left out of this process tells me how out of touch political parties really are in addressing this voter apathy. Party members have defended this amendment to me in conversations by saying party scrutineers already keep track of who voted at the polls – a fact many readers I’ve spoken with were unaware of.

Read Brent Stafford’s column here.

While how you voted would still be protected, the list of people who actually turned up at the polls would be available to any registered political party in the province. As IntegrityBC pointed out recently, there are 23 registered parties here and it only takes two people to form one. Anyone can see the potential hotbed of issues that could arise from having access to a list of who voted – or didn’t.

That’s why I’m watching closely to see how provincial MLAs react to privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s letter to Attorney General and Justice Minster Suzanne Anton. The Ministry of Justice has already issued a statement saying it doesn’t intend to withdraw the amendment, leaving any opposition to this up to individual MLAs. And while Anton has stated she is open to the chief electoral officer potentially drafting regulations on the use of this info, it’s my view the amendment allowing this list to be released should be dropped completely.

If political parties really wanted to address voter apathy and cynicism, putting the interests of the people before their own would be a good place to start.

Vote and read the comments HERE: http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2015/04/19/the-duel-bill-20-too-intrusive

Posted in 24 hours Vancouver The Duel, BC Liberals, BC NDP, BC Politics | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Where does the buck stop?

There is a quiet,angry sadness growing over Surrey this morning and the silence speaks volumes as a family grieves and a community is left reeling.

The young man murdered early Sunday was the nephew of MLA Harry Bains. And while death on the street is not new to a city that has been home to many infamous examples of how it ends for those connected to gangs and drugs,it’s hit home hard for many today that this can and does happen in anyone’s family because of the connection.

I felt sick when I first heard Sunday evening before media had confirmed it.Local residents already knew. Harry and I had just spoken via twitter early yesterday morning as I reached out asking for his help in setting up a meeting between all three levels of government and the community that was agreed to, but never arranged by the city.

He agreed,saying he will keep trying because the issue was too important to give up. And sadly now for Harry, it’s become a personal issue as well. My thoughts are with him this morning ,and his family as they go through the very difficult and public process of having this played out in the press as well.

RCMP have stated Arun Bains had associations with those involved in the current disputes going on in Surrey and Delta, and are asking for anyone who knows something, for the families of these men, to speak up.The family will undoubtedly be going through much reflection as they grieve. But I fear that this will not end here. I hope the families of the young men involved think hard about this murder,and that it could be their son next.

During the 2008/2009 gang wars, I lived in the heart of Newton and it was an experience much like one many Surrey residents have been dealing with in the last 6 weeks. Having lived in Steveston for some time, it was an education to say the least.

It’s one thing to hear about gun violence in the news like many do- it’s horrifying enough to read or see – but it’s another thing entirely when you’ve seen the blood on the sidewalk that was spilled as a direct result of one persons attempt to kill another.I won’t forget it,nor will any other person who’s seen it either. And it does change you – it’s not like the blood involved in childbirth, or injuries from non violent means. Seeing the blood from gun violence was different because there was intent behind it.

It was a miracle then that no one innocent was caught in the crossfire and it’s equally  a miracle now,considering the number of times occupants in vehicles have been shooting at each other in traffic in family neighbourhoods during the day and early evening. During the 08-09 gang wars, bullets found their way into innocent families homes, lodged in bedroom walls. They were found in the side of school. They hit cars on the street.

But people forget.

Largely not commented on is the fact that RCMP state only 11 of the 20-something shootings between vehicles and into homes are connected to an alleged drug turf war between Somali and South Asian drug traffickers.   What about all the other incidents? Are those just regular run of the mill targeted shootings connected to other kinds of disputes or crimes? Does this make anyone feel better? No.

While I applaud the RCMP’s decision to release the photos of the young men involved that are not cooperating with police, I don’t applaud the complete disagreement RCMP media reps have taken in the media when it comes to gun violence and ‘targeted’ hits.

Today IHIT rep Sgt. Stephanie Ashton issued this statement:

“This is not magic, we can’t solve crime unless the public works with us to do so. Someone out there knows something about what happened, those people need to come forward and tell us what they know.”

She adds the public is not at risk because this was a targeted hit.”

This is where I must refer to two things.

1) a post written in 2013 where  I call out Chief Supt. Bill Fordy for his public relations driven position in the media: http://lailayuile.com/2013/04/25/but-i-thought-we-are-all-safe-chief-supt-bill-fordy/

2) The public hesitates to come forward because they worry about things like this- a comment made when I urged anyone with info – including families- to share info with the police:

cropsitches

Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith has come to the conclusion that if ” progressives put more effort into discussing solutions, it could change the tenor of the conversation and yield some positive results.”

Progressives have been talking about solutions for years, often to no avail.

There have been several community forums hosted by residents, and even a series of Town Hall meetings hosted by the city where excellent suggestions were brought forth by residents and community leaders. Some have been implemented,many were not.

Ironically some community associations who have brought forth progressive ideas born from knowledge of their own communities needs, were ignored or negated by the city, who have said publicly it is a perception of crime, not reality.

It brings us back to the meeting called for by Darlene Bowyer at the last Newton forum hosted by residents, one that would bring every level of government together at the table to deal with all these issues. The city was to arranged it,some emails went back and forth and the meeting never happened. These politicians have their heads in the sand.

And here we are again. It’s time for every politician in this city, at every level, to put aside the politics and come to the table with the community. Every single MLA from both sides of the legislature. It’s time to discuss funding. It’s time to discuss accountability in policing. It’s time to deal with all of it.

And that’s where you come in.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for everyone, whether you live in an area impacted by this gun violence or not, to step up here.

This violence knows no boundaries and bullets don’t care. If you have kids in school here, this is your problem.If you have neighbours who call dial-a dope dealers, this is your problem. If you care about a liveable community, this is your problem. 

Please attend Tuesday nights meeting being held by the city in conjunction with the RCMP, Surrey schools and other agencies at Tamanawis Secondary school at 12600-66 Avenue, in Newton. You need to be part of the solution.

Because it is no longer good enough to shake your head and make concerned grimaces at the news. 

Change

meeting

Posted in Laila Yuile | 17 Comments

Translink FOI release of untendered contract extension begs the question: Which is the easier ride: Skytrain or gravy train ?

A Freedom of Information request released yesterday by Translink after an extended delay, finally shows the details behind one of the contractors involved in providing services relating to the Mayors Council strategic plan and Transit tax plebiscite.

Where to start ?

How about with how long it took for this FOI to be released.

The initial  FOI request was filed on January 9th, 2015. On February 23rd Translink advised they were using a 30 day extension to further consult with a third party and that a response would be given no later than April 8th, 2015. ( the interoffice memo between Translink staff about this release, indicating any highlighted areas are to be redacted is dated January 20th, 2015- which seems to imply that at that point, it was ready for release)

On April 8th a reminder was sent to the Information Access manager at Translink of their prior commitment to respond on that date. Yesterday – April 15th- the information requested was finally released with an apology for the delay,a week post-deadline

Earlier this year, Bob Mackin wrote a post on Translink rolling out the contracts:

Counterpoint scores

On Jan. 2, Counterpoint Communications got a new year’s gift. Its “Business and Stakeholder Outreach” consulting contract was extended indefinitely by TransLink without a bid, because of tight timelines and Counterpoint’s “unique expertise.”

Said the notice of intent: “The Supplier has provided focused stakeholder engagement services to raise awareness of the Mayors’ Council vision, developed a strong understanding of the Mayors’ Plan and provided an important liaison between TransLink/Mayors’ Council and stakeholders.”

Mayors’ Council chair Richard Walton, who is also Mayor of North Vancouver District, was unable to answer about the budget for the contract when I contacted him.

The FOI on this contract is rather open-ended,with few concrete deliverable in place other than what is dictated in the  Schedule A ( pg 8) and a proposal letter sent from Counterpoint to Translink VP Bob Paddon in June of 2014 ( Pg 9)

services (2)

The timeframe for the original contract was June 2014 – December 2014 for $70,000 fees and &4,000 expenses.

An amendment to that contract was signed December 31st,2015 ( pg 15) extending the contract to July 31st 2015, for an additional $100,000 dollars.

No further changes to services were amended.

Also of note is section 17 which notes the following:

nopromotion (2)

While not unusual, it brings to mind the many tweets of Counterpoint principal  Bruce Rozenhart and Counterpoint senior consultant Bob Ransford, both of whom have been very involved in tweeting Yes side links and material on Twitter during the campaign period. I wondered if those tweets are part of the services provided in this contract, and sent an email asking for clarification and comment on this  to Rozenhart.

As of the time of this posting, I have not received a reply, but I’ll post one if he does respond.

If this is any indicator of the kind of contracts being handed out by Translink, it’s alarming on many levels.

What exactly does it mean to ” stimulate/facilitate discussion and information exchange” on the Mayors Council strategic plan and referendum development?

How is this objective measured? What are the deliverables? Where is the concrete plan written into the contract to ensure the best value for money paid is achieved? Are promotional materials involved? Where is the list of stakeholders to be met?

What exactly is Translink paying for? Conversations? Meetings? Tweets? I really don’t know.

A look at Schedule B (pg10) gives us this:

Fees (2)

“…Fees will be paid by Translink in the fixed amount of $74,000 regardless of the amount of time actually expended by the contractor to perform the services.”

Keep in mind, this was extended until July 2015 and for an additional $100,000.00.It’s all very open-ended and frankly, alarmingly vague – it makes me wonder if there are more contracts out there like this!

This is the kind of thing that drives taxpayers batty. We get fixed price contracts and we get the need for public relations and communications strategies. But $174,000.00 for a contract that has no measurable goal-posts in the contract and pays out regardless of how much time was actually spent on “stimulating and facilitating ” discussion and information exchange on the mayors transportation plan and goals?

Which begs the question: Which is the easier ride: Skytrain, or the gravy train?

Posted in BC Liberals, BC NDP, BC Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

“It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news…”

“Because it’s no longer enough to be a decent person. It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news. True enlightened activism is the only thing that can save humanity from itself.”
― Joss Whedon

I worry. A lot sometimes.

I worry about the price of produce at the veggie market every week. It’s getting more and more expensive and I worry that the drought in California will drive that price up even more.

Then I worry that California will figure out how little B.C. values it’s water supply,show up here like it’s a modern gold rush and tap into some trade agreement that leaves British Columbian’s paying through the nose for a resource we own…while entitled Hollywood types are lavishing in their pools,drinking BC water as California shrivels under crippling  drought.

I worry about the safety of my community right now, while young men with too much testosterone and not enough wisdom are putting the public at risk every time they shoot at each other. In busy family neighbourhoods, while people are out and about.

I worry about the lack of resources in our schools and I worry about how many good kids who need help are falling through the cracks, sure to cost society more in the long run than if we took care of the issues now. I wonder if the young men shooting at each other now, were once those kids themselves.

I worry about how a brand new ship could suffer a ‘malfunction’ that many mariners suspect was human error, releasing toxic bunker fuel into one of our most beautiful harbours.

I worry that our governments continue to make short-sighted decisions and policies that have implications so serious that people’s lives and livelihoods are lost. Veterans left behind, front line workers suffering from PTSD abandoned. Mt.Polley, sawmill explosions – the list is long and sadly, often preventable.

But most of all, I worry that so many good,decent people have become so de-sensitized to the never-ending onslaught of news that even this latest outrageous response to the Vancouver fuel spill will soon be forgotten with a few sunny days and the next scandal sure to come.

I’m here to tell you,that’s just not going to cut it anymore. It’s not enough to just be a good person and tsk-tsk at the morning news. That makes you part of the problem.

No, really, it does. You might not want to hear this but I’m so tired of hearing people say politics bores them, or politics has nothing to do with them. Look around you! Look at what is going on in your city, your town or your own neighbourhood.

Pissed off over potholes? Who’s in charge of that? Whats your local mayor and council doing if it’s an ongoing issue?

Guess what? That’s politics. That is how politics impact you. It doesn’t have to be an oil spill or tailings pond collapse, it can be something as minor as never-ending potholes.

Tired of overcrowded schools? How did that happen? Well, mayor and council have to approve all those developments and if they do without thought to the local schools, your kids are the ones who feel it.

That’s politics.

The  provincial government policy that prevents a new school from being built until the current ones are busting kids at the seams? That’s political.

Sitting in a waiting room in the understaffed hospital in ER for hours on end only to end up on a stretcher in the hallway because there isn’t a room for you? That’s political.

The people who run your city, your province and this country are elected by you.

They direct the policy making, they decide where and how the money is spent and they can either do a very good job at it, or not. And I think they like it when people don’t pay attention because it makes their job even easier.

You might not be into politics, but make no bones about it, politics is very interested in you.

Right now you’re probably saying to yourself: “But I’m busy, I am working two jobs, kids, my parents…” I get that. There are only so many hours in a day and the last thing you want to do is spend it in a room listening to campaign strategy.

That’s not at all what I am asking you to do.

It can be as simple as joining your local community association and just receiving their emails so you can find out whats going on right in your own small area, that directly impacts your life. That’s where it starts for many people. That’s activism. It engages you in how political decisions affect your life.It can directly impact how politicians make future decisions.

Over the last year, I had the pleasure of seeing a new community association form and grow in one area of Surrey and seeing some people who have never paid attention to politics suddenly discover how much impact they had… it makes me smile thinking of it now.

What matters to you? What impacts your life directly? Write a letter to the editor next time you see a story that touches you in some manner. Write a letter to your provincial MLA, or ask to meet them. Let your member of parliament know what you think of their government’s policy. Ask them what they actually do, or have done for your community.

That’s not only your right as a citizen, I’m telling you it is your duty as one too.

Ask questions, hard ones and demand answers. In writing. If you get none, write a letter to the editor about that as well. Start a conversation with your neighbour, your co-worker, the person next to you at the bus stop.

The closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station was a decision made to save money. It was heavily protested by Vancouver residents and mariners alike. The government still defends that decision.

It doesn’t get more political than that.

If you are as angry about that closure and this fuel spill response, you are interested in politics. It’s that simple. But instead of being angry and reactive, get engaged and be proactive.

If you are upset over the demolition of heritage homes in your city, you are interested in politics. It could be trees, it might be development, it could simply be the need for a new sidewalk. It’s all politics and for most of us, that’s how we started.

We simply woke up one day and said: “That’s it. I’m doing something about this.”  And never looked back once we discovered there were thousands of regular people out there just like us looking for the same direction.

And let me tell you – It’s so much nicer walking in awareness, than sitting in the dark.

“It takes guts and integrity of motive to fight the good fight. It takes a passionate interest in life itself. It’s easy to stand on the sidelines, shaking your head and commenting on how tragic things are.

But if you really care, you are going to be in the ring, trying to make the world a better place. And only from that position will your words and your thoughts and your insights have weight.

When you live an engaged life, your sense of self gains depth and power and authority, and your philosophy is no longer abstract. You become a person who can really make a difference, because you are actively participating, you are digging deep, and you are pushing up against the edge of your own potential.

 …And in order to fight the good fight, we have to engage, we have to get into the ring, not just stand outside it and be philosophers.”

~Andrew Cohen

Change

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“If Leaders fail, the people will lead.”

“People want responsible leadership. On big issues, they are not going to sit in their homes. They will act and press for action.”

Kofi Annan

It’s a hard job being a politician.

From the moment you announce you are running until after your career ends, everyone wants a piece of you.

Questions, questions and more questions! All these bloody questions! And accountability- you mean I have to be accountable too? Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Sometimes, it’s enough to make even the most seasoned politician want to duck for cover and there lies the difference between a real leader and someone who just likes the position and title.

The news today brought forth a crisis for Vancouverites  in the form of leaked bunker crude/fuel from a grain tanker in English Bay.  It  reportedly started around 5 pm on Wednesday and with all the pandering of pipelines, LNG and the resulting tanker traffic in coastal waters, one would have expected something close to a world-class response.

In fact, the reality was far from it and should have all British Columbian’s concerned.

Bunker fuel is a nasty substance that is incredibly toxic to animal, human and aquatic life…and it is the lifeblood of commercial shipping.This is a very busy harbour, and at any given time you can see many ships in English Bay waiting to offload or pick up cargo.

How did it leak? No one knows and at last report the company that owns the ship suspected as the source, denies all responsibility for it. ( a good friend who is a long time mariner put forth his theory that it may have been human error, with someone operating the bilge pump incorrectly)

City of Vancouver officials claim they weren’t advised for 12 hours of the spill and despite official statements the spill has been contained, many are left wondering what exactly that means. Photos available online show the slick moving towards Burrard Inlet and the changing tide peaking at around 11 pm this evening is sure to leave its mark as it departs.

Of course, one can’t help but wonder how all of this would have been different had the Kitsilano Coast Guard Base had still been open and could have responded within minutes. Harper defended the closure back in 2013 despite incredible opposition – I’d like to know if he would still defend that decision today.

The fallout from this should and must be severe.

A call into the Simi Sara show today from former Kits Coast Guard Base Commander Fred Moxey, was chilling:

”  …former Kits base commander Fred Moxey, who told us that  a special pollution response boat formerly stationed at the now shuttered Kitsilano Coast Guard base is sitting empty with no crew at Sea Island base in Richmond. According to Moxey, only a rubber boat from the Coast Guard responded to the English Bay oil spill last night. Moxey also told us the Osprey formerly stationed at Kits was dismantled and sold off then when the base was closed. Moxey says if Kits Base was still active today crews would have been on scene at the spill in six minutes with the equipment to deal with the situation.”

Way to go Harper.

I know you don’t live here, but you really do spend a fair bit of time out here looking for votes,so why not just try faking that you’re still into us. After all, we are the Gateway to Asia-Pacific trade!! Oh wait.. darn… that fouled harbour and all..oops.

Even  James Moore, federal Minister of Industry, supported the closure,serving up some attitude directed back at Vancouver city officials objections: 

” The reality is that the City of Vancouver — and all British Columbians, as a matter of fact — have more Coast Guard resources, have better coast guard protection, than any other port on any other coast in all of the country, even with the changes at Kits,” maintains Moore.

His defence comes even as rescue coordination centre staff say the closure could endanger lives.”

Silly us for worrying. It seem like they forgot about all the other vital functions the wonderful men and women serving in our Coast Guard do, least of which is responding to front line spills like this one. As I said, this is a very busy harbour and we need the ability to respond in minutes,not hours.

And so now we have bunker fuel, thick and nasty, fouling some beaches around English Bay, no one accepting responsibility for it and surprise surprise, as of this posting-more than 24 hours post-spill, neither Premier Clark or Prime Minister Harper has spoken.

Mary Polak, BC’s environment minister is deftly pushing all responsibility to the feds as the lead agency on twitter, saying they will co-ordinate the land operations.

And what did the people do?

Despite the city of Vancouver telling people to stay away for now because of the toxicity of this bunker fuel – please heed these warnings-  some Vancouverites not happy to wait for the leadership to arrive took the matter into their own hands.

Armed with buckets and wipes, there are photos on social media of them wiping brown crud off the rocks at the beach yesterday. People have been asking how they can volunteer, what they can do to help. They are on it. There is a veritable army of volunteers ready to go should our leaders bring the call to action.

But where are they? Gregor Robertson is cutting his vacation on the island short to come home. Christy Clarks media reps said she wont be commenting and Harper? I don’t know. captioncontest

Even the young Trudeau with locks so glossy one might have thought he swam through that oily sheen to save a sea lion, had the wits to say something coherent and appropriate- or at least his media handler did:

trudeau

It’s during times like this, when there are more questions than answers, when people are upset,agitated and rightfully concerned, that the test of real leadership arrives.

A real leader doesn’t continue on their day and wait for updates from staff-a true leader initiates communication, assesses the situation and makes themselves visible in some form to the public. Even on vacation. That is what we elected you to do.

British Columbia has a face and for many, it’s Vancouver that makes the first impression. Tourism is a money maker and so is a clean harbour where in recent weeks orca’s have been filmed playing in English Bay.

When things go wrong, people look to their leaders for  their reaction and for their guidance because leadership isn’t just a position, it’s an action.

 If today’s lack of response from our leaders is any indicator of what we can expect in a more serious incident, you are on your own, my friends.

Frankly, I have more faith in you, than I do in them.

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“Home isn’t always where you live,but where they understand you:The passing of Ben Meisner “

The downside of social media is that sometimes you find out bad news on a computer screen, that perhaps should be heard first privately. Such was the case last week in the passing of northern icon, Ben Meisner. 

Sadly,Ben fell ill during an ice-fishing trip in Winnipeg and never made it back home to Prince George,cancer taking the man whose strong word and booming tones earned him the affectionate title of ‘ Voice of the North’.

Despite being born and raised just north of the city,I never knew Ben personally when I actually lived in the city, but I do recall my father having a choice word or two occasionally in reaction to something Ben might have said or written. That’s how Ben was. You might not agree with him, but he would tell it like he saw it and be damned with your reaction.

Several years ago, somehow Ben found my site and started reading some of my work. He contacted me, we had quite a chat and he invited me onto his show for the first time. We talked about how I started blogging and why, and although we disagreed on a lot of things, it was clear he deeply loved my hometown as much as I did.

I also had the pleasure of joining him live in his studio on one visit back home, for a longer on-air conversation about the city of Prince George, and my impressions after being gone for so long.

Ironically this visit coincided with an event that raised the ire of many PG residents – and the wrath of Ben. Former mayor Sherri Green had her media rep send Opinion 250 a note saying she would no longer comment,answer his questions or reply to him,his show or publication. ( not that she did in the first place, but putting it in writing spoke to her inexperience and naiveté as a politician)

The ensuing Free for all Friday- a regular feature on Ben’s radio show- was epic. It was classic Ben, no holds barred and full of thunder.

Ben and his colleague Peter Ewart held Sherri Greens feet to the fire her entire term- she declined to run in the last election and lost the federal Conservative nomination as well.

Many in the city will also recall how Ben was a force to be reckoned with in the north – his vociferous opposition to the Kemano Completion Project stands testament to this . I was pleased to see a write up on this by Charlie Smith over the weekend:

“When I heard that veteran Prince George broadcaster and writer Ben Meisner had died at the age of 76, it brought back memories of the battle against the Kemano Completion Project.

Meisner, along with former CKNW talk-show host Rafe Mair, played pivotal roles in the defeat of Alcan’s plan to divert massive amounts of water from the Nechako River in the early 1990s to produce more aluminum at its smelter in Kitimat.

It was one of the most controversial industrial projects in modern B.C. history, ranking up there with the Northern Gateway pipeline.

The Nechako is a major tributary of the Fraser River fishery. During that time, government and nongovernment scientists issued gloomy forecasts about the impact of Alcan’s plan on the Fraser River salmon runs.

Environmentalists, led by Burnaby resident Mae Burrows and Greenpeace’s Catherine Stewart, worked extremely hard to educate the public about complicated issues such as the effect of lower water levels on river temperatures and the resulting impact on fish mortality. First Nations also became heavily involved in the debate.

Meisner served the province well by wrapping his mind around all of this and passing this information along to his listeners of his radio show and readers of his newspaper columns.

The controversy, which was largely whipped up in the media by Mair and Meisner, led then-Opposition leader Gordon Campbell to condemn the project. Then-premier Mike Harcourt sought a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, which issued a damning report leading to the cancellation of the project.

It can be argued that through his diligent efforts as a journalist, Meisner helped save Fraser River salmon runs for a generation. How many of his peers in the business can make a claim like that?”

I liked and respected Ben, and on the occasions we talked his greeting was always: ” Hey kiddo…”

I’m sad I didn’t get to see him again before he passed. Whether you agreed with his politics or not- and many did not- I know Ben loved Prince George and wanted to do right by the city. And he did.

I’m hoping the city finds another voice as loud as Ben’s- it’s a great city with a lot to offer. But even if they do, no one can replace Ben Meisner as the Voice of the North. He was one of a kind.

My condolences to all who knew Ben; his friends, family and colleagues.

In studio with Ben Meisner, 2012

In studio with Ben Meisner, 2012

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The joy of simple things at Easter.

“A tulip doesn’t strive to impress anyone. It doesn’t struggle to be different than a rose. It doesn’t have to. It is different. And there’s room in the garden for every flower. You didn’t have to struggle to make your face different than anyone else’s on earth. It just is. You are unique because you were created that way. Look at little children in kindergarten. They’re all different without trying to be. As long as they’re unselfconsciously being themselves, they can’t help but shine. It’s only later, when children are taught to compete, to strive to be better than others, that their natural light becomes distorted.”

~Marianne Williamson

As someone who grew up in what most people would still call ‘the bush’, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how strong the connection to nature is when you live in tune with the cycles of the seasons and all they have to offer or take away.

Back in the day when winter routinely brought -40c winter temperatures and snowbanks over 5 feet high north of Prince George, the change of seasons occurred with a consistent abruptness one could count on. Long winter, short spring, even shorter summer, short fall, and another very long winter. We never had tulips in our garden – rhubarb was more coveted because you could eat it!

I learned very early in life that you need to appreciate what nature provides when it happens, because often it is all too fleeting and then… well, you blink and it’s gone. And while my parents concentrated on the essentials,to this day I make time to enjoy the fleeting moments unique to each season.

One fleeting moment happened today, at the Tulip Festival  in Agassiz, hosted by the Seabird Island Band, who I must say have incredible patience for even the most harried, entitled city dweller seeking the ultimate selfie. :)

Tulipsofthevalley.com is  a must for anyone seeking to rejuvenate the spirit after a long winter. It’s not the scent of fresh green grass on the drive there; it isn’t even how the weight of your daily life miraculously lifts off your shoulders on the drive( take the back route, via Maple Ridge on Hwy 7).

It’s how even after waiting in a line for the shuttle bus for nearly an hour-whining kids, irritated tourists,impatient city dwellers sporting Prada purses and 3 inch heels in full force in tow -that the second ones eyes see fields of colour in a way you can’t even imagine…cancels out of the ‘hardships’ you endured to get there.

Seriously, I felt like a young deer getting off the bus, kicking my heels and frolicking towards the fields.Leaping here and there, pink to red to yellow…There is no word for how I felt.

Yes, I did get in trouble once for venturing too far down one row…but in my defense I felt the need to bond with the flowers..lol.

The festival goes until the 12th of April- if you can,I highly recommend it and in my opinion, it is worth the drive and wait in line for the shuttle. I don’t often recommend things like this, but moments of sheer beauty so powerful, so all encompassing that even the most burly men can be found standing awe-struck, are an essential balance to busy lives.

I’ll post some tips in the comments, but I will leave you with this passage :

“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when awareness begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb. (Don’t Hesitate)”
~Mary Oliver

Happy Easter my friends. For this moment, let us celebrate the small moments that soothe our tired or overworked souls. See the beauty right there before you,whether in your yard, a park, a jaunty dandelion in the sidewalk or in the scent of  the newly thrust, sappy leaves.And think about this.

We of many colours  rejoice as one, in the many colours of these flowers. There is so much joy to be shared in the smiles of every face. from many countries.

There is more that joins us, than separates us,and this is what makes these ordinary tulips, so extraordinary.

Go visit.

You won’t regret it.

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