Hey Everybody. For those of you not in the know, I am running for City Council in New Westminster in the election on November 15.

Hey! I won! I'm working out what these means for my social media and blogging world. I am going to keep blogging, but I'm not sure what it is going to look like once things settle down a bit. So there will be a few posts going up here in the meantime, but stay tuned...

In the meantime, I should probably point out that everything on this blog is me, not anyone else. Opinions, ideas, and conjecture below is not the opinion of the City of New Westminster, nor of any other members of Council (as far as I can tell).

Sunday, December 14, 2014

My first Council meeting!

Part of my plan for becoming a City Councillor, and one of my promises while campaigning, was that I was going to open up what takes place at Council, and communicate more directly from the Council Table. So this is the first of what I hope will be a 4-year series of blog posts following after Council meetings.

There are a number of things that will complicate this process. There are things we discuss in camera that I cannot report out on according to the Local Government Act, and there are projects that will go to Public Hearing that it would be in inappropriate for me to share opinions about prior to that hearing as per the same Act. However, Council does make decisions every meeting that cause people to wonder where the decision came from, and why we voted the way we do. It is reported out in Council Minutes, but I hope to cast a little light on that, from my personal viewpoint.

I cannot, of course speak on behalf of the other Council members, the Mayor, or the City as a legal entity – everything below are my opinions and observations only. So keep these caveats in mind, as we dive into the agenda of my first meeting. December 8, 2014. Most of these topics relate to reports provided in the Committee of the Whole earlier in the day, and can be read here.

I also apologize that this report took almost a week to get organized. Hopefully as I get more into the groove, I will figure out a more efficient way of writing these things while still making it understandable to people. Hey, I’m new at this!

I’m going to skip past the procedural stuff and delegations and get to the business part of the agenda, starting with recommendations from the Committee of the Whole meeting. You can follow along in video form here (select December 8 Regular Council Meeting)

Appointment of Chairs to Advisory Bodies:

This is the Mayor’s prerogative, but Councillors volunteer by listing our preferences, and he makes the final determination. I’m happy with the assignments I received. ACTBiPed has been a passion of mine for a number of years, Access Ability is a natural addition, as there is a lot of overlap, especially in the “Ped” part of Pedestrian. I am glad to be co-chairing Environment with Councillor McEvoy, who has been running that committee for the last few years, and there are few issues coming up where that committee will be front and centre (Urban Forest Management Plan, Kinder Morgan pipeline, etc.). The Youth Advisory Committee is new to me, but I am look forward to getting more involved in the youth programs in the City. I am also going to be involved in the Energy Management Committee, which should dovetail well with Environment, and will be interesting as the City further develops its CEEP and plans for a District Energy Utility.

Addition of Mayor’s Task Forces:

A new Mayor has a few complete powers, and one is the ability to set up new Committees and Task Forces, and these better than anything else so far demonstrate the Mayor’s priorities for the upcoming term (the difference is subtle: A Committee may sit forever to support policy goals in a specific area, whereas a Task Force is usually a temporary group, assembled to get a specific task done, then disband).

I’m really happy to be named to the Transportation Task Force, and the Public Engagement Committee. Both represent areas I talked extensively about during my campaign, and it looks like I will be talking about both of these at length over the next few years!

Municipal Government Campaign Reform:

We tabled this discussion out of respect for Councillor Harper, who could not attend this evening because of a family emergency. He had done a lot of work on this file, and we did not want to make a decision as a Council on this until he was able to provide some public input. Look for this to be a big topic of discussion in the New Year.

Modernization of Council Reports:

This is a bit of an adjustment of how we are going to structure Council meetings going forward. For those familiar with New Westminster Council, the end of the meetings often included a “Council Reports” section, which included announcements of upcoming events or items of community interests, and talked about events that councillors had attended, but often sounded more like an extended “social calendar report out” for the Council. That may be fine, but if it goes on to 45 minutes at the end of a long meeting, it is of dubious value to the community, and takes up a lot of staff time.

Mayor Coté suggested a better model, and after some discussion, we decided to adopt it. The existing “Council Reports” part of the agenda will be re-termed “announcements”, and will provide each Councillor an opportunity to add topic-specific announcements to the agenda, to be presented at that time (i.e. upcoming events). Councillors will still have the opportunity to provide reports on special topics, such as reporting on their attendance at a UBCM conference or providing details of a special project they are leading, but the detailed review of the Councillor’s social calendar since the previous meeting will (hopefully) become a thing of the past. We’ll see how this goes!

Request that Parks Canada designate Hyack Square a National Historic Site:

This is the start of a rather lengthy process to get the location where Wait for me Daddy (the event) occurred, and where Wait for me Daddy (the sculpture) is currently located, designated an Historic Site. There is more to the site than just that event, as this is a site where First Nations lived, it was the edge of the City’s original “Chinatown”, it was the place where troops assembled to be shipped east for WW1 and WW2. The photo is the most recognized historic event, but there is a long and complex history to the site, that Parks Canada may choose to officially recognize. This is the start of the conversation, not the end.

Queens Park Heritage Study:

This was a report received by Council reviewing the work done to date on this study. We received it for information, but no action was required at this time.

700 Sixth St. DVP for Signage:

There will be an opportunity to be heard on this issue on January 26, 2015.

404 Ash Street Development Permit:

This is the site of the fire last January, and I am glad to see that the redevelopment of the site is moving so quickly. Not much to report here, except that it will be a rental building to replace the rental building that was lost, and it will be built on the same footprint.

336 Agnes Street HRA Preliminary Report:

This is the preliminary report on a plan to renovate and preserve the historic Dontenwill Hall. This is a heritage preservation project that will be going to public consultation before coming back to Council, so I will hold comments for now.

Outstanding ACTBiPed Recommendations:

This came from a committee of which I was a part, so I know more about the history of the situation. The ACTBiPed has for several years raised concerns about the prioritization of pedestrian movements over “traffic flow”, especially in some key pedestrian areas like Uptown and Columbia Street. This isn’t just the whinging of a special interest group, this is supported both by the City’s Pedestrian Charter, and by language in the new Master Transportation Plan. There are two recommendations here: one emphasising the need to educate both pedestrians and other road users on pedestrian safety; the other to look at areas of the City where there needs to be more emphasis on the safe and efficient flow of pedestrians than on the less safe, less efficient flow of cars.

On Recommendation 1 there was no debate, and the City is already working with ICBC to provide improved pedestrian safety education. You have probably seen the recent ICBC ads talking about this issue, and the City is handing out reflective wristbands and danglers to encourage pedestrians to be more visible during the dreary winter days.

Recommendation 2 asked if more intersections in the City could adopt the pedestrian model of 6th and 6th – currently the only intersection in the City where the “walk” signal automatically activates every cycle, instead of requiring activation by a pedestrian. For this to prove more efficient (for foot and vehicle traffic), it requires a higher concentration of pedestrians vs. cars than occur anywhere else in the City other than 6th and 6th. The downside to this model is that the audio signal (the chirping you hear to alert the visually impaired about the signal activation) would cycle every time, 24 hours a day. This creates a bit of a noise nuisance for any residents who live near the intersection.

We discussed whether the audio signal alone could be activated by the push button (as it is now), leaving the lighted signal to turn automatically and letting the audio signal only sound where required. This might actually reduce the noise nuisance for these intersections. Staff will report back on whether this is viable.

In light of this, we also asked that staff again review a few of the intersections in the City that are now seeing increased pedestrian use (I picked out Columbia and 8th Street, 8th Street and Sixth Ave, and Begbie and Columbia; Councillor Puchmayr added Columbia and 6th and Columbia and 4th) to determine if making the intersection “pedestrian emphasised”.

This is rather preliminary. There will be a lot of talk about our pedestrian areas as we start to implement the Master Transportation Plan. We need to start thinking about our transportation space in a different way if we are going to protect the livability of our City while still managing the growth that the Regional Growth Strategy sees coming our way. Which brings us to:

BC on the Move – 10-year Transportation Plan Public Engagement:

This is a strange piece of public engagement by the Province, and strangely timed. That the Provincial Government would initiate a Transportation Plan consultation at the exact same time as the Translink Referendum details are being ironed out is strange. After doubting that the Mayors would be able to come together with a comprehensive plan for regional transportation investment, the Ministry is seemingly wanting to run it’s own process parallel to this. Meanwhile, several major transportation investments of dubious value have just been completed (PMH1, Sea-to-Sky) or have been promised come hell or high water (Massey tunnel replacement) without the approval of the Mayors and in contrast to the stated goals of the existing regional plans that impact transportation in our region – the Livable Region Strategy and Transport2040. Combined with the more integrated projects (such as the long-overdue Evergreen Line), we still don’t know what the effects of these major shifts in our City will be.

Regardless, the City’s response is pretty easy to put together. New Westminster provided comment drawn from its own Master Transportation Plan, and from our position of agreement with the existing regional transportation plans, and added a call for more consultation with the public and regional authorities prior to plan finalization.

The part I added was about starting the discussion on a costing mechanism for these works. Specifically, we need the province (who are the only jurisdiction with this power) to start discussing updated regional tolling policies. And that may take some background.

There is no doubt that the current ad-hoc tolling method is not serving New Westminster, or the region, fairly. The traffic impacts we have seen since the tolling of the Port Mann, and the Province’s insistence that the Pattullo (and New Westminster’s surface streets) are a “toll-free alternative” for regional traffic, are hurting the livability of our City. These problems will spread to other communities as new tolled infrastructure places loads on adjacent un-tolled structures, with predictable results for the region. Further, toll evasion is threatening the financial viability of the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridge projects. They are simply not meeting their targets, and will be an on-going financial burden for Translink and province (respectively).

Many have suggested a more equitable regional tolling policy would be fairer to communities, and would provide more stable funding for infrastructure improvements. I have suggested myself that the oft-cited $1 toll per crossing will not be sufficient to provide the funding we need if we are going to build more roads and bridges, nor do we know how that will impact regional driving patterns.

So I have asked out staff to develop a policy paper (much like the one they did for the Pattullo Bridge replacement discussion) that analyses regional tolling policies, where they work and where they don’t, and the impacts on the region and the City of New Westminster if a strategy like this was implemented by the province as part of the 10-year Plan. As a Council, I want to be able to comment to the province from a point of knowledge, and not just engage in the spit-balling guestimating about what should work, like has marked so much of our regional transportation discussion.

This Policy Paper development will be overseen by the new Transportation Taskforce, so I guess we have already started preparing the Terms of Reference!

Car Sharing Policy:

The Car-sharing co-op Modo already has several well-used cars in New Westminster, and there are two ZipCars at New Westminster SkyTtrain station. Car Sharing provides many potential benefits to residents who don’t necessarily want to own a car, but need one occasionally. I don’t see them as a “traffic reduction” solution so much as a space saving solution. The average car spends more than 90% of its time parked, and Cities need to provide between 2 and 3 parking spots for every car. That is wasted space that doesn’t really earn revenue and makes your city less livable. Shared cars reduce these impacts, and for many people, weekly or semi-monthly access to a reliable car can swing the difference between just giving up and leasing a Hyundai, or relying instead on more sustainable transportation in their everyday life, and only using a car when absolutely needed.

In light of new models of car-sharing coming around (ZipCars runs slightly differently than Modo, but both rely on fixed locations for their fleet, Car2Go is much more fluid, and their fleet can move around quite a bit), and with potential benefits to the City of encouraging Car Share, it is a good time to develop a policy about how the designated parking and other needs of the Car Share industry (yes, it is an industry, although Modo operates as a Co-op) will be managed in the City.

Intelligent City Initiative update:

This was an update report on the progress of the ICI, which is a great direction the City is pursuing, and I will talk more about it in a future blog post.

Temporary Borrowing:

This is a procedural Bylaw under the LGA that allows us to set up a Line of Credit, in case we need to draw from it to pay temporary bills. Staff indicated we have not had to draw from our LoC in many years, but it is good accounting practice to have it there in case you need it due to unforeseen events.

General Election Results:

Already covered in detail! This is just the Chief election Officers official report as per the Act.

Moody Park Playground redevelopment:

The plan for the somewhat-overdue revamp of the heavily-used children’s playground at Moody Park looks good! I don’t have kids, but the public consultation seems to have concentrated on getting out to the park in the summer when the people who use the park are there, and the design was somewhat re-shaped by those consultations. Several options were developed, and two final options were taken to the residents which provided this stunning piece of public consultation feedback:


Best I can tell, we have a 50% chance of getting this decision right, but a 100% chance of getting it wrong. Such is politics!

Preservation of West End Greenspace:

This topic came to council via the Parks and Recreation Committee, and sprung at least in part from the mind of pedestrian advocate, West end resident, and 2014 nominee for Citizen of the Year Mary Wilson. She was concerned by a plan to remove some green space in the City from the public realm to private through a local redevelopment, and more holistically about the erosion of public greenspace across the City.


When I was (coincidentally) at the open house this week for the City’s Urban Forest Management Plan, I noted this diagram that showed how our City’s green space is threatened by the gradual increase of built and paved space. This in spite of New Westminster already having a region-leading percentage of our land covered with roads.

The direction to staff is to plan an inventory of greenspace in the City, and to look for opportunities to protect and preserve it. I think this will end up dovetailing well with the City’s Urban Forest Management Strategy if we get far enough along that we are looking for planting areas to enhance the City’s forest. I am glad Mary brought this forward, and was very happy to support it.

Correspondence:

We have not taken action on these correspondence yet, but read ‘em and weep!

Anvil Centre Easement:

Apparently a small portion of Alexander Street extends under the cladding of the Anvil Centre/Merchant Square by something like 50cm. As the City is the owner of both the Street and the Anvil, we must, to be compliant with the Local Government Act, grant ourselves an easement over that road space. We are moving to give the Engineering department the rights to negotiate that easement with itself.Yes, you read that right.

...and that’s about it for my First Council Meeting (except for the singing).

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Election Results - finally

No sign that I have been too busy to blog is more clear than the fact I have not had a chance to write about the election results yet. Things are settling a bit, and now that I can chew on the poll-by-poll results, I can start to throw some conjecture on top of my pre-conceived notions.

I have my own ideas about what went well during my campaign and what didn't. I also put a lot of effort in during the campaign to get out of my own bubble and talk to people who didn't know who I was and didn't already support me. Yes, the NWDLC endorsement helped, as did the Citizen of the Year legacy. However, even I was surprised at the doorstep how large a percentage of voters cared about environmental concerns – the coal terminal, Kinder Morgan pipeline, and tree protection in the City came up more often than I might have expected. This last one really buoyed my confidence as the campaign went on. I also had an extremely successful fundraising program, which allowed me to buy a lot of ad space on paper and on-line. This definitely showed during the last week of the campaign, as people at the doorstep really started to know my name before I could introduce myself. “Campaigning” is from the Latin for “shameless self-promotion”.

However, identifying “my constituency” was a tough job. I think my support in the social media audience in the City (the “Twitterati”) was as strong as anyone’s, but by its very nature, this is small, distributed, and nearly impossible group to identify in poll data. I felt much more confident in identifying my opponents’ constituencies (e.g.: She’s do well in Sapperton, He’ll do well in Queensborough, etc) than I was able to self-evaluate. So let’s look at the data and see what we can imagine we see:

This table shows (unofficial!)poll-by-poll results. The winner of the poll is marked in dark green; the 2nd to 6th place finishers (i.e. the rest of the imagined caucus for that poll) are shaded light green; the 7th to 12th place fishers (let’s call them the shadow cabinet) are marked in light yellow, and the 13th to 18th place finishers (the also-rans) are shaded pink. The last three place finishers in each poll are not shaded. The next table is better for looking at overall trends, but this is better for looking at anomalies.
you are going to want to click to make visible
It is clear the Puchmayr and Williams dominated this election. They led the total vote count by a handy margin, and won 9 polls between them. Of the 38 polls they were in (19 each), they were in the Top 6 in 37 of them. The anomaly being Williams finishing 7th at Herbert Spencer, apparently the victim of a surge in Kainth and Folka votes from that Queens Park/Glenbrook North catchment.
The other two Incumbents shared 4 poll wins, three for McEvoy and one for Harper. The former won three polls surrounding Queens Park, the latter we may start calling the “Mayor of Queensborough” with his solid win at Queen Elizabeth.

The Queensborough vote is also interesting in that only 3 of the people eventually elected finished in the Top 6 here, with Cartwright, Kainth, and (Queensborough resident) Palmer filling the top part of the poll. The other similar anomaly is F.W.Howay in Massey Heights, where again Cartwright, Kainth, and Donnelly finished toward the top. I can’t help but notice I was not in the top 6 in either of these polls. I read this as saying I got a push from being supported by the Incumbents, as the “protest vote” generally didn’t fall towards me. No surprise there, as I did not run a campaign of protest.
Speaking of protest, it appears the Great Sapperton Revolt promised by some during the lead-up to the campaign simply did not occur. Yes, Cartwright dominated the Pensioners Hall poll, and won the Richard McBride poll as well, but for the most part Incumbents did well in both of these polls, with almost all of them (4 for 4 in one, 3 for 4 in the other) finishing in the Top 6.

I have my own theory about the Cartwright result. She was a well-spoken and easy to like candidate who, in my opinion, sold well to the traditional Betty McIntosh voter. I suspect she drew much of the vote that Scott McIntosh was hoping to receive from the name recognition. This shows in Cartwright’s strong result in the polls where incumbents did less well, and in the two Sapperton polls where Betty usually did well. This may also be reflected in that McIntosh the Younger did not get a similar boost in those polls (his 10th and 11th place in those polls is where he finished in almost every poll).

Finally, I won a single poll – the one at the Shops at New West Station. I have no idea what that means – Who voted there? The residents of Plaza 88? SkyTrain users? People I met at SpudShack? If it was the Twitter/NEXTNewWest crowd, I would have expected Kainth to get a similar boost, but she finished pretty much at her average position in this poll. It’s a mystery to me what that poll means. Probably just another anomaly.

Another way to look at the numbers is to see what rank everyone finished in each poll; in this table, think of golf, as a low score is better:
yeah, click, in a second window, so you can refer back to it. 
At the right side, I added up every poll that the candidate won, and counted the number of polls in which they finished in the top 6. Then I calculated their average finish (which is only interesting in pointing out which polls the candidate finished higher or lower than their average), and the standard deviation (which showed some interesting results. The highlighted yellow squares are just numbers I wanted to draw attention to.

Again, the Puchmayr/Williams dominance is obvious. For us newbies, I won a poll, but Mary finished in the top 6 in one more poll than I did. It seems intuitive, but only those who got elected finished in the top 6 of more than ½ of the polls.

The Queen Elizabeth (Queensborough) poll isn’t as anomalous as one might expect, except that Palmer punched above his weight in his own neighbourhood, and Raj Gupta’s one-shot strategy of covering all of Queensborough with randomly-located signs definitely paid off, as he almost cracked the top 10, and wasn’t even close anywhere else.

Showing how important it is to get out of your “bubble” during the campaign, both Cartwright and Kainth won more polls than Harper, me, or Trentadue, but finished behind us because they had too many polls where they just didn't show. The Standard Deviation column shows the consistency across polls. No surprise Kadioglu was the most consistent, finishing dead last in every single poll, but the consistency of Puchmayr is an example of what you need to do to win the election overall. I’m actually a little disappointed with my SD of 2.5, as I spent a lot of time every neighbourhood in the City. I spread my doorknocking around, especially early when I was purposefully trying to gauge and engage the populace in different parts of the City.

I think an interesting contrast is Kainth’s SD of 3.8 when compared to Brett’s notable 0.8, especially as I saw them as running very similar campaigns. They both had great sign strategies, spend a lot on newspaper and on-line ads, and had great social media presence. They also both have deep community roots and could conceivably draw from established constituencies. Despite these similarities, Kainth saw either very high or very low support where Brett was remarkably consistent, finishing pretty much 10th across the board.

Which proves, as I always expected, I know nothing at all about politics.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Inauguration

OK, we are a little more caught up now: on my sleep, on post-campaign tasks, on re-aligning lifestyles, and with the reality that my reality has now changed. I guess I should blog about what it is like to be a City Councillor, now that I have something like 24 hours of experience.

Yesterday’s inauguration was a good symbolic break from the many times I sat on the pews to the time I get the comfy seat. Without a “real business” agenda, it allowed me to get more comfortable with the new setting. So the strangeness of the experience wasn't overcast by our need to get some work done. That’s next week’s story.

I’m not often one for pomp and ceremony, so some parts of the ritual seemed a little strange for me. The legal requirements for the oaths are understandable, but there are other parts of the tradition that I’m not too sure about. It was nice, however, to see so many faces in the crowd that were supportive during the campaign, and some I had only met during the campaign. I really appreciate people coming out to see us off on this new adventure.

I'm a little disappointed that we didn't have an opportunity to introduce “new business” to the agenda, as I would have called for an emergency motion to strike the word “pecuniary” from all future oaths. Surely “financial or monetary” would suffice, no? (sorry, not an inside joke, but you need to watch the video if you weren't there!)  Funny thing is we had not seen the oath before it was handed to us, but heard it the first time when Mayor Cote said it, and a few of my council colleagues could be heard faintly whispering “peck-EWE-nee-airy"” before their turn came up, it was clearly the word of concern. Once reading, I ran into it so quickly I didn't even see it coming – jokes on me. All said, considering we were reading something unrehearsed into a microphone in front of cameras and a packed house, I guess we got away with it pretty well...

Less said about the Parcel Tax Roll Review Oath the better. Clearly the voters can elect a Council, but they can’t be trusted to elect a Choir.

So, aside from yesterday’s Inauguration Meeting, I have had an opportunity last week to sit down with a few senior staff in the City and start my training. I have had a lot of interaction with Staff and Council in New West in my volunteer life, so I have some basic understanding of how New Westminster operates at the superficial level. I have also worked in a City Hall, so I have some understand of the major day-to-day operational parts of a local government. However, none of that is useful without understanding the cultural and organizational differences between the two workplaces, and seeing how the operation is viewed from inside, which is inevitably different than the view from outside. I have another all-day session planned before Christmas with senior staff from each department to drill down a little deeper into existing operational plans, strategies, and outlooks. I am definitely on the steep part of the learning curve, but that where I love to be.

I also filled out a bunch of HR paperwork. So it wasn't all fun and giggles.

Finally, I have had some discussions with the new Mayor about strategic planning for the upcoming term. As disclosed during his Inaugural Speech, there are no real surprises: his priorities are clear (transportation, economic development, leveraging the RCH expansion, community engagement) and I look forward to working with him and the rest of my Council team to see those visions realized. In the short term, Council has our first “real” meeting next week, then some time over the Christmas break to get our Committees and Task Forces organized. The members of Council have provided the Mayor our “preferred” list of committees, and I think I know where I will be most useful, but ultimately it is one of His Worship’s supreme powers to decide who chairs which committees. As soon as I know for sure where I will be assigned, I’ll let you know.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pipelines and Strawmen - UPDATED!

Sorry to be out of touch, I'm still on the steep part of the learning curve, and have a variety of tasks to get done, while trying to recover from one of the busier months of my life. All good stuff, just time consuming. Also still working on the post-got-elected plan a far as social media, and will have that worked out by the new year. Until then, I will still be writing occasional rants here as things bug me enough that I stay up late writing about them. Like this one.  

In rhetoric, there is an argument technique called “the strawman”. This is a logical fallacy where one reduces one’s opponents’ argument to a single ridiculously simple argument, then beats that argument to death. This is meant to make it appear that you have beaten your opponent’s actual argument, which might not be so weak. Except you are not beating your opponent, you are beating a weak and easily defeated parody of them; hence "strawman".

There are a myriad of examples of this technique; if you at all pay attention to modern media-driven politics, it is hard to go through a day without hearing someone beating down the strawman version of their opposition. Unfortunately, the dumbing down of journalism, driven by the one-two punch of cost reduction (so fewer traditional media can afford to pay highly skilled professional journalists to do a proper job) and social media dominance (where the narrative is often reduced to a compelling photo and 140-character missives) only serve to push strawmen to the front of the argument. It is much easier and cheaper to push forward the extremists and their strawman arguments and feed the conflict that attracts eyeballs than it is to tell the full complex story of conflict that underlies so much of today’s political landscape.

As a consumer of media, and a person interested in politics as a solution to conflict, I find it useful as a first step to determine if the rhetoric you are hearing is an extreme position. All political arguments have extreme positions, and rarely (never?) is the solution found at those extremes. However, it is important to understand where those extremes are, if only so one can work their way between them, and see where in the vast field of grey between the black and white the solutions may be found.


So I went to Burnaby Mountain last week.I talked to people standing at the line, demonstrating their concern about the introduction of a crude oil pipeline to the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area. I talked to one person I know well, who was arrested a few days previously for crossing the arbitrary court-ordered “line”, because (and I am paraphrasing based on previous discussions I have had with him) he feels that it is his moral imperative to protect his children’s future by taking whatever action he can to slow anthropogenic climate change. I also talked to a few other people of varying walks of life who showed up, some to see what was going on, some who were opposed to this project in particular, and some who had wider-ranging opposition to the political direction of the country, with this project being a local manifestation of this. There was a lot of variety of ideas in that crowd.

(disclosure: I actually know the scientists overseeing this drilling investigation on Burnaby Mountain from my time at SFU; we worked together, and I consider them friends, so I effectively knew people on both sides of the police tape!).

I found that visit more informative than reading the silly extreme arguments you might normally be exposed to by “responsible journalists” like those at the Vancouver Sun or Black Press. So I thought, just for fun, I could outline strawmen being deployed in the biggest political story in British Columbia right now, one from each side of the debate, so we can be clear on what the “extreme” position is, and waste less time arguing against those strawmen and instead spend our time more usefully mucking about in the grey in between.

Extreme Position #1: We need to immediately end all use of hydrocarbons, and natural resources extraction in general.

Extreme Position #2: Any act that curtails or slows Canada’s expansion of natural resource extraction and export using the current model will destroy our fragile economy.

These arguments are both, unfortunately, commonly used in “opinions” expressed by such mainstream media as our local PostMedia Newspapers of Note(tm).

The first may be held by a vanishingly small number of environmental activists, but it is implied in every social media (or other) comment that says (I paraphrase) “the protesters use nylon tents made from petroleum – therefore they are hypocrites”, or more subtly when one opines “the world needs oil, therefore we need to build this pipeline”.

The second is the natural counterpoint to the first, and is commonly expressed, sometimes rather indirectly, by varied groups from the Dan Miller to the Fraser Institute. In social media comments, this manifests as something along the lines of “BC’s economy has always relied on resource extraction” (which is not the least bit apropos to this pipeline project, but I digress).

I think (hope?) we can agree that these are the extreme outer points of the argument, and there is a world of grey where solutions will be found, and where the useful politics are. I see the middle ground as including a discussion of national goals are as far as energy and resource extraction, especially considering we only have one chance to take this stuff out of the ground and make money from it. We need to figure out how we are going to catch up to our major trading partners, the United Nations, the World Bank, etc. in our approach to Climate Change policy. We need to figure out what type of growth is sustainable, when the current pace is creating both labour shortages and ginormous profits, while corporate taxation hits an all-time low and basic services of government suffer for funding. I would even love for us to have a discussion about a national energy policy, just to find out if the approach taken by Norway, Iceland, or even the UAE, makes better long-term sense for the citizens of Canada than our current course. I suspect we would be well served to better isolate our economy from volatile hydrocarbon price shocks, and increase, not reduce, or energy sovereignty. I would also like to be confident that the long-term environmental consequences of these large and unprecedented projects are considered, that protections are in place where needed, and that the revenue generated by these project will fund these protections.

These are not “extreme” ideas, but are instead rational approaches that should inform good governance. But it is hard to fit those in a tweet, and short of the very few longer-form examples of journalism still around in Canada (mostly easily dismissed as the ramblings of intellectual elitists), these discussions are hardly occurring in the public realm. God forbid anyone raise them during an election.
Now, go back and read the two “extreme” arguments above, and ask yourself who is making those extreme claims? Note than one is being made by a small fringe of the environmental movement. The other is being made, today, by the government ruling Canada. You should be scared of both, but only one is a clear and imminent threat to good governance in this country.

Or maybe I’m just beating on a strawman.

UPDATE - There is nothing else to say about this long piece by one of our Province's most unimaginative climate-change-denying industry apologists except to say it demonstrates clearly my point about the ubiquity of the silly "you need oil, therefore this pipeline" line of reasoning. Thanks Keith, I knew I could count on you to pull out a strawman and give it a good old fashioned thrashing!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Remembering what I haven't known

I have always had that strangely-Canadian Generation X respectful detachment from Remembrance Day. I proudly wear a poppy, I go to a Cenotaph or Memorial on November 11th, I show respect to the women and men in full uniform, but I recognize I don’t know what is in their head, and I’m cautious to include myself in their personal experience.

What I find most amazing about Canada at Remembrance Day is that these veterans and those we lost, fought and died overseas. Canada didn’t fight a revolution to become a free nation, and in almost 150 years of being a nation, we have never faced a serious threat of invasion (Fenian Raids notwithstanding). However, we have forged strong alliances with other nations across the border and across the oceans, and we have been quick to engage in the fight when we see our allies being attacked, their right to self-determination or the rights of their citizens being undermined. Sometimes because we knew we may be next if we didn’t take the fight to them, but more commonly because it was the right thing to do. Two World Wars, Korea, Cypress, Croatia, Rwanda, Afghanistan... the list is long of places Canadians went to protect people under threat, or simply to stand between belligerents while peaceful resolutions were sought.

I try to understand these conflicts, and the sacrifices made by individuals for the greater cause, but it was never personal for me. I have an uncle who served in Vietnam and some more distant cousins with military careers, and when I lived in the Mid-West, I made friends with a few people who eventually got called up and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thankfully, they all got back alive and well. So I have been, through luck and happenstance, distanced from the real impacts of war.

I never knew my Grandfathers, both died before I was born and I have very little knowledge about them. Writing this, it occurs to me I don’t even know their full names. It’s not that they were not mentioned in my household, but more that when I was growing up, my extended family was stretched all over Canada and the United States, so occasions to spend time together were limited, and talk of my Parent’s childhood was not a common subject around the house. I know both of my parents had difficult relationships with their fathers, but those are their stories to tell, not mine.

I knew my Mom was born just after her sister, at the beginning of WW2, and that their brothers were born well after; the narrative in my family was that gap was the time when my grandfather “went off to war”. I also know he struggled in his later life with things that sound much like what we would currently attribute to PTSD, but I am too far removed from that reality to know what the story really is.

What I never knew until this summer was his father’s fate. My parents spent some time in Europe this summer, their first time touring the continent, and my Mom sent us back this picture.



I now know my Great Grandfather was named Henry James Leavitt, he is one of the 11,285 people commemorated at the Vimy Memorial, and he never met his son who eventually went on to fight in the Artillery for the length of WW2, and came home changed.

This year, on Remembrance Day, I will be thinking about those who served to bring the freedoms we enjoy as Canadians to people they didn’t know. I will think about people who came back changed, those who did not come back, and the families that love them. May they all find peace.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Trees and asphalt

Allow me to start with the obligatory apology for not writing more frequently. I’m busy.

This story in the NewsLeader caught my attention, though, because it demonstrates a failure at many levels. That we would cut down mature trees in our City to make it easier for a few cars to move a few hundred metres to the next traffic constriction is an example of a planning process gone wrong.

Where to begin?

The City has recently outlined its consultations on an Urban Forest Management Strategy. At the open house last month at Century House (about 300m from where these trees are slated to be removed), staff and consultants talked about how important a healthy tree inventory is to our City – providing shade to reduce energy costs, evapotranspiration to reduce utility costs and improve rainwater quality, noise baffling, light pollution reduction, critical habitat for pollinators and songbirds, etc. etc. At the same time, the city’s tree inventory is being reduced at a faster rate than population growth, and although our current inventory (as percentage of land cover) is similar o other cities in the region, it lags far behind the North American average and the level identified as desirable to receive all of the benefits that healthy urban forest can provide.

We don’t yet know where the Urban Forest Management Strategy is going yet, but the goal is pretty clear: lets stop cutting down mature tress for bad reasons, so when we have to cut them down for good reasons, it has less impact, and we don’t have to spend so much replacing them.

The story above is an example of cutting down mature trees for bad reasons.

The first-level reason for removing the trees sounds OK – they want to make a bus stop more accessible and functional. I’m all for it, accessibility at that stop is really important, as it is commonly used by seniors to access the nearby Century House and the Massey Theatre, and by students accessing the High School. Constant improvement of our sustainable transportation network is something I have been calling for in my many years on the Advisory Committee for transit, Bicycles and Pedestrians.

However, improving the accessibility of this stop does not require the removal of any trees. What does require the removal of the trees is protecting two parking spots and creating the illusion of “getting cars moving”.

Allow me to explain.

The current bus stop is at a spot on 8th Avenue where there is only one east-bound lane, the rest of the road width being eaten up by a westbound lane and a south-turning left turn bay.

Looking east on 8th Ave, at where The City wants to remove trees and
grass to add more asphalt. Google Maps image.
 One allegation made by the City’s transportation department is that the bus here “holds cars up” and creates congestion, so they want to remove the greenspace of the boulevard to make a “bus stop lane”. This is absurd for two reasons. That bus stop is currently used by the 128 and the C4. The 128 is normally a 30-minute service, but bumps up to 20 minutes during rush hour. The C4 is a half-hour service. That means up to 5 times an hour, for 20 seconds, a bus blocks the lane. A lane that has a stop light that is red for half of every minute 24 hours a day, all day. Today I dropped by the site and noted th 128 was 300 metres east of the bus stop – stopped by the line of cars waiting to get through the light at 6th. Removing the busses completely on this route will do absolutely nothing to reduce the congestion on 8th in the afternoon rush (the only time it is congested in any meaningful way).

I need to be clear here: they don’t want to remove the trees and green space to accommodate the bus, they want to do it to accommodate the cars allegedly “congested” by the bus - to get the bus out of the cars' way. As a reason to remove healthy mature trees, this argument is silly.

The suggested (and blithely discounted) option is to move the bus stop 100m to the east, where the road expands out to 2 lanes.
100m to the east, where the road expands  to accommodate parking.
This Google Maps thing is pretty cool. 
No-one is saying so, but it is clear that the reason this is being discounted is the need to remove two on-street parking spots. The idea that this spot being 100 m further east will “provide incentive to jaywalk” is ridiculous, as there are bus stops across the City that are located 100m from an intersection, and the City is already resistant to calls from the Students at NWSS for a mid-block crosswalk on 8th Ave to alleviate sidewalk congestion on 8th and stop jaywalking. The loss of parking spots is most likely why they can state “We don’t have consensus in the building”. So to reiterate: we are talking about removing greenspace and trees to accommodate occasional parking needs, not to accommodate a bus.

In summary, the thinking by the City is wrong here, and this is why we need an Urban Forest Management Strategy, and why we need to change our planning of roadspace to reflect the priorities set by the new Master Transportation Plan.

There are often good reasons to remove trees, but none can be found here. Instead, we are given a series of bad planning compromises and post-hoc rationalization that results in the removal of perfectly healthy mature trees. And all the benefits of a healthy tree canopy that were discussed in the Open House? They sound exactly like what Ms. Broad is describing she and her neighbours receive from these trees. The ones the City would not allow them to cut down two years ago.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Trees: a Strategy before a Bylaw

Yeah, I am depressingly unproductive on this blog these days. Such is the nature of the adventure I am currently on. I simply don't have time to write when I am out knocking on doors and doing the thousand other little things one must do to run a decent campaign.

I also don't want to write about election stuff here. There are some subtle changes to the Elections Act this go-around, and Municipal Candidates have to have those "Authorized by Financial Agent" statements on all advertising materials. The definition of advertising materials in this digital age is a little fuzzy, but one interpretation is that Blogs, Facebook, and twitter could be interpreted as such if someone thinks you are using it to plead for votes. Therefore, I have a separate Campaign Website (with a bit of a Blog there), a Campaign-only Facebook page, and a Campaign-only Twitter account, all with appropriate "Authorized by..." statements. I'll do my campaigning over there.

That doesn't stop me from having opinions over here, if I only had time to write about them.

One thing I do have an opinion about is the City's Urban Forest Management Strategy. I have whinged more than once on this Blog about the lack of tree protection in our City. I am glad to see that action is being taken.

I could go on length (again) about the benefits of trees in the urban environment. instead I want to talk about the difference one tree made. A good friend of mine lives in a mid-century three-floor walk-up in Brow of the Hill. She lives in a nice south-facing third floor apartment. In the spring, The property owner decided the very healthy century-old tree on the edge of the property was a hassle, and unceremoniously had it chopped down. This decision had a huge effect on my friend’s life.

The same tree that dropped leaves on the parking lot of the building also provided shade to her small, top floor apartment. Like most buildings of the era, her home has thin insulation and poor air circulation. In the summer, it sometimes got warm, but the tree kept it tolerable. This year, without the tree, it was stifling for much of the summer. She had to make the hard decision to move, buy an air conditioner, or suffer. With her very modest income, the suffer seemed her only real option, although she is resourceful, and is hoping to get her landlord to paint the roof a reflective colour. If she knew ahead of time, she might have been able to make the case for the tree.

This is just one story, but demonstrates that trees are not just nice things to have around, they have a real effect on the livability of our community. New Westminster currently lags behind most Lower Municipalities on tree protection, and this Urban Forest Strategy aims to bring us into more of a leadership position.

Although the number of trees per square kilometre in New Westminster is pretty close to our regional neighbours, we lag behind the North American average, and even further behind the optimum level to receive all of the benefits of a healthy urban tree canopy. Unfortunately, we are still currently losing trees faster than they are replaced, and the rate of loss has not slowed even as growth of density in the City has slowed. Just in the last 10 years, there has been a 15% decline in the urban forest canopy in New Westminster. It is time for action.

What I am most excited about? The City is taking a more comprehensive approach than just slapping a Tree Bylaw in place. A Bylaw may be part of the eventual strategy, but a well-designed Bylaw needs to be supported by a larger strategy if it is going to protect your right to enjoy your residential property, not be costly to implement, and assure that our Urban Forest stops shrinking and starts growing again.

It is early times for the strategy, but there will be an open house this Wednesday at Century house in the (apropos) Arbutus Room. It is early times yet, but if you care about trees and the livability of our City, you should show up for an hour and provide your comments and support.

There are lots of nice trees nearby Century house you can hug on your way in.