Readers: Comox fines too low for Garry Oak damages

Readers: Comox fines too low for Garry Oak damages

From time to time, we get letters from our readers. Here are two we received questioning how the Town of Comox dealt with a homeowner who damaged a number of protected Garry Oak trees.

Comox: The lowest tree vandalism fine on record in North America

Not a week goes by that Comox residents rightly express their outrage at Comox Council. They may also want to consider whether council’s fining of Dr. Bill Toews’ tree pruning was fair to the community. The issue is not if Toews is a nice person, but whether Comox Council’s decision met North American municipal standards.

Judge for yourselves. A short survey of similar recorded cases tells us otherwise:

2003 (Seattle, 3 trees) $30,000 (US) = $40,000 CDN
2006 ( Ajax Ontario, 100 trees) $50,000. (Mayor and Council wanted $535,000)
2007 (Glendale, California, 13 trees) $347,600 (US) = $417,120 (CDN)
2012 (Surrey BC, 39 trees) $175,000
2015 (Atlanta, 2 oaks) $11,400 (US) = $14,250.(CDN)
2016 – October – (Toronto, 40 trees) $155,000 plus charges pending under the Municipal Code and Provincial Offences Act seeking $100,000 per tree. (replant 200 trees).

The average fine per tree is $9,389.76. The median is $4,487.18 Comox Council’s $10,000 fine for illegal “pruning” of 22 trees, is actually only $3,800. The balance of $6,200 is tax-deductible development expenses. So, that’s either $426 or $172 per tree depending on whether the real fine is taken to be $10,000 or $3,800.

Either way, this makes it the lowest recorded fine in North America.

These rates are not driven by extreme environmentalism. Toronto’s aptly named Mayor John Tory, is a well-known Progressive Conservative, who supports responsible community standards. Toronto protects its greenways and heritage at $3,875 per tree. Laws and standards are not written to favour special interests and friends, but enforced to protect community interests.

As pointed out in the Comox Valley Echo, Toews received “a sympathetic hearing from council.” Indeed, he should have from councillors and a mayor who recently willfully destroyed national heritage at Baybrook, to favour an exclusive group, in spite of pleas from Heritage BC and The National Trust. Institutional vandalism can only passively encourage more vandalism. This same council now persists in seeking to evade its responsibilities as community trustees, and has seemingly set the lowest community environmental tree standards in North America.

I should add: Garry oaks have a 75 percent mortality rate. Someone who damages one tree should replant four. Toews should have planted 88 trees, not the recommended eight.

And, that’s why at least 800 Comox voters long to turn over this council. This council’s acts and words only bring disrespect to the institution.

Loys Maingon

Protected Garry Oaks?

Bill Toews is fortunate to live in Comox. The rest of us are not. Toews destroyed Garry Oaks in a ‘Special Development Permit Area’ without permission. In Comox, if you are part of “the set,” it is much easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Toews was issued what amounts to a ‘back dated development permit’ and has to replace some of the trees he destroyed and have some others monitored, as determined by the Town’s favourite “fix-it consultants.” Hardly worth the time it took council to decide the matter. Toews looked contrite as he came to the ‘sympathetic’ council meeting and received the proverbial ‘tap’ on the wrist.

What else could I expect from a council that in July of this year included additional properties containing Garry Oaks into a Special Development Permit area and, at the very same meeting, granted permission to Councillor Maureen Swift to cut down a mature Maple tree on her property because it impeded the view on her lot. At the same time the national press was reporting that Duncan residents were vigorously protesting the destruction of a similar tree.

The Town of Comox pays lip service to the environment but they don’t really know the meaning of the word. In their assessment of the Toews’ property, let’s hope that they at least signed of’ for possible future sluffing of the hillside into the estuary, now that more ‘vital landscaping’ has been removed. By then they hope that people will have forgotten, and they will dismiss reality with their familiar (as used with the Mack Laing monies) mantra: “that was then, this is now.”

Judy Morrison

Will Comox ignore Heritage B.C. plea to save Shakesides?

Will Comox ignore Heritage B.C. plea to save Shakesides?

Let’s see if we understand this accurately:

  • An independent and nationally recognized heritage consulting firm issued a Statement of Significance regarding the former home of naturalist Mack Laing — known as “Shakesides.” They said the building is of national importance and that it should be saved for its historic value and for the enjoyment of future generations.
  • The chairman of Heritage B.C., (page 77, last page) a provincial agency committed to “conservation and tourism, economic and environmental sustainability, community pride and an appreciation of our common history,” believes the heritage value of Shakesides demands that Laing’s former home should be “conserved for … future generations” and that the Town of Comox  should “use the building in ways that will conserve its heritage value.”
  • Heritage B.C. has offered its assistance, at no charge, to the Town of Comox, for the duration of the process to repurpose Shakesides, and pretty much guaranteed the town a provincial grant through the Heritage Legacy Fund Heritage Conservation program.
  • But council members of the Town of Comox have unanimously ignored this independent and professional advice. Instead, they have decided to reduce the building down to a pile of forgettable rubble.

What’s going on here?

Do Comox councillors lack any appreciation for history and the town’s heritage? Do they dislike pushy people — for example, the members of the Mack Laing Heritage Society — and want to tear down the building for spite?

Or both?

Either way, it’s a shame. And it’s another example of how out-of-step the Town of Comox is with the rest of the Comox Valley … and why, in the next municipal election, voters should toss the majority of them out of office.

The Town of Comox has been misusing Mack Laing’s financial gift of land and property, and cash, to maintain his home as some form of a natural history museum. The town has spent Laing’s gifted money on walkways, stairs and bridges for Brooklyn Creek — outside of the Mack Laing Park property — but hardly a cent to fulfill the last wishes of this community’s most widely admired naturalist.

Hamilton Mack Laing was a naturalist, photographer, writer and noted ornithologist, whose work from the Comox waterfront from 1922 through 1982 earned him worldwide recognition.

Laing gave his waterfront property, his home, substantial cash and personal papers from his estate to the Town of Comox “for the improvement and development of my home as a natural history museum.” The town accepted the money and, therefore, the terms of the trust.

But 34 years later, the Town of Comox has done little to satisfy his last wishes and mishandled the money Laing left, raising serious ethical and legal questions, which a provincial court may ultimate answer.

In the meantime, it’s unfathomable that seven council members and the mayor would support the demolition of a building that the provincial heritage agency and professional heritage advisors have declared has national significance.

Perhaps, the pleadings of Heritage B.C. will change the perspective of some council members. Let’s hope so.

A public and formal apology on behalf of the town for misusing Mack Laing’s financial trust for more than three decades would also be nice. But probably too much to hope for out of this council.

The Christmas fudge arrived with a resounding thud

The Christmas fudge arrived with a resounding thud

It landed on our doorstep with a resounding thud. It measured about the size of a thick hardcover novel. It weighed more than 100 copies of “War and Peace” bound together. But all there was to read was a simple card, which said, predictably, “To my brother. Love, your sister, Lynne.”

It comes every year. It is fudge … the traditional Le Masurier Christmas Fudge.

At some point during my childhood my mother went on a fudge-making binge. I have no idea why she did this. Maybe for a small-town housewife in the 1950s it was a more acceptable means of relieving stress than, for example,12 straight days of hard drinking.

Or, maybe someone just gave her a recipe and told her how easy it was to make. In any case, she made so much fudge every holiday season that we all got sick from it.

That just goes to prove how truly amazing the human body really is. You can feed your body a five-pound block of cocoa solidified by a railroad car of sugar and eggs, and the stomach cramps you get will make it seem like your body is rejecting it.

But in reality, your body is magically turning all that fudge into something really useful like fingernails and eyebrows. At least, that’s what mom told me.

After she dealt with her baking neurosis and addicting me to chocolate, she made fudge just once a year, for my birthday, which is a week before Christmas (still time to send large cash gifts!).

When I moved away from home, my mother continued to make fudge and sent me a box or two every year for my birthday. It had all the attributes of a great gift: hand-made, conjured wonderful childhood memories, edible and, most importantly, made of chocolate.

My parents have both passed on now, bless their souls, but the Christmas Fudge tradition lived on in the embodiment of my sister. She insisted on making fudge every year and sending me a birthday box the size and weight of a cement block. It must cost her a small fortune in postage stamps.

Of course, over the years, we’ve added a few new Christmas baking traditions of our own. So, by the time we get through my mother’s daughter’s fudge, a Gingerbread House, the annual nuts and bolts party mix and my son’s Ritz Bits smothered in a rich ranch flavoring that will give us all instant heartburn, we should almost be ready for Christmas dinner. And the Day After Christmas dinner and New Years Eve dinner and New Years Day Watching Football dinner, with a few lunches and breakfasts and late-night ice cream snacks thrown in.

When Jan. 2 finally rolls around, none of us will be capable of anything more than crawling from chair to couch and back to bed. And none of us will have any idea who ate all the fudge or what kind of body parts it turned into.

The good news is that modern medicine has developed new surgical methods, such as the kind performed on Al Roper, to look around inside your body and find the fudge that got stuck behind some fat cells instead of making new fingernails like it was supposed to.

Fortunately, my mother’s daughter no longer considers birthday fudgeness an appropriate expression of her sibling affections. We now exchange nice, low-fat emails instead.

Pipeline approval shows Trudeau is no visionary

Pipeline approval shows Trudeau is no visionary

When Prime Minister Trudeau stepped in front of the media yesterday to announce the decision to approve the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, he personally owned it. Trudeau didn’t send out some sacrificial cabinet minister. Give him credit for that.

But Trudeau also now owns the consequences of this decision, and that doesn’t bode well for his political future. He’s created derision among members of his own party, broken his promises on climate and environmental leadership, and undercut his pledge to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples.

By rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline through the Great Bear Rainforest to Kitimat, and approving the Kinder Morgan proposal, Trudeau said he tried to balance economic benefits for Alberta — a province suffering from the collapse of world oil prices — with the potential for an environmental disaster in British Columbia.

In other words, in order to prop up the struggling Alberta oil industry, Trudeau is willing to throw out Canada’s commitment at the Paris Climate Agreement and risk a catastrophic oil spill that could devastate the B.C. and Washington state coastlines.

The Kinder Morgan pipeline triples the capacity to move dirty Alberta oil to the B.C. coast, and increases oil tanker traffic from five ships per month to 34. That increases the inevitability of an oil spill sevenfold.

But the disastrous effects of an oil tanker accident on the B.C. and Puget Sound is only the short-term negatives of Trudeau’s decision.

Climate scientists have concluded that most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. If we have any chance of limiting global warming, the study says 80 percent of the world’s coal reserves, 50 percent of gas and at least 33 percent of oil must not be touched through 2050.

The tar sands — let’s not sanitize the name — produce especially dirty oil. Extracting the tar-like bitumen from Alberta soil burns more energy than it produces. It’s an energy-intensive process that pollutes rivers and turns large swaths of the province into wasteland. The tar sands generate the largest portion of Canada’s carbon emissions.

Canada cannot fulfill its commitments to the Paris climate accord while fueling ramped up production in the tar sands.

One of the most critical insights of the Paris agreement was to nudge societies toward accepting the concept of a warming planet and adapting to that reality. Trudeau’s Liberal Party had an opportunity to embrace that idea, however painful it might be to Alberta, and find alternate means of supporting their economy.

Instead, the prime minister has revealed that he’s not the visionary leader that many Canadians expected.

Trump fact-less claims cause problems for journalists

Trump fact-less claims cause problems for journalists

In the era of modern journalism, reporters have operated on a few professional standards — like detachment and objectivity — and some ethical values — like fairness and balance.

But what’s a reporter to do when she’s assigned to cover a potentially dangerous narcissistic provocateur whose rhetoric goes beyond the pale of truth and decency? A person who might, when asked fact-based tough questions, ban the reporter from press conference or eliminate access to the entire staff of a major newspaper.

This is the dilemma confronting journalists covering Donald Drumpf. The most unusual U.S. presidential campaign in history has caused journalists to question their standards and ethical values, and to change the way they traditionally cover the news.

And that, in turn, has rankled Drumpf’s defenders. Right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh says, “The media is trying to take Donald Drumpf out.”

In a weekend column, Ottawa Citizen journalist Robert Sibley argues the media unfairly covered Donald Drumpf’s speech accepting the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. He compares the headlines after Drumpf’s speech to those after Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech and concludes there is a liberal bias in mainstream media.

Sibley stops short of suggesting a left-wing media conspiracy to defeat Drumpf, though he considers it. Instead, he says: “What we’re getting here is the complacent, monolithic mind of progressivist ideology.”

In other words, Sibley says there was no organized effort against Drumpf. It’s just that mainstream media are controlled by progressive minds. And only by “removing their blinkers” could they have reported Drumpf’s speech fairly.

Sibley draws his conclusions from the fact that Clinton’s speech got more favourable headline treatment. This is because, he says, liberal bias dictates that the only legitimate message is a positive message, and he specifically notes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “sunny ways.”

But despite the conservative blinders that shade the premise of Sibley’s column, he has exposed the heart of a problem facing journalists assigned to the Drumpf campaign.

How should journalists cover a presidential candidate who espouses racist and misogynist views, who praises dictators and urges anti-American countries to hack into his opponent’s computer? How does a reporter cover a nominee who ridicules a disabled reporter or the family of a U.S. soldier killed in action, disparages Mexicans as rapists and all Muslims as terrorists, and exhibits a fascination about the use of nuclear weapons?

When the source is irrational, does the coverage have to be balanced?

Sometimes there is only one side to a story. If a candidate says rape is bad, for example, there is no moral or professional obligation to find someone who believes rape is good.

Drumpf’s views on multiple issues have deviated so far beyond what is considered legitimate controversy, much less consensus, that journalists have changed their approach toward the concept of balance. The growing number of Republicans who have openly criticized or completely abandoned Drumpf gives this change legitimacy.

No reporter would seek out a balancing quote from someone who claims, as Drumpf did after the killing spree at an Orlando nightclub, that President Barack Obama was responsible. No reporter writing about veterans would quote someone who believes that POWs are losers because they were captured.

Since Drumpf’s nomination became official, his views have been taken seriously and analyzed in the context of the possibility that his finger could hover over the button that starts a nuclear war. That might seem unfair to Drumpf supporters, but responsible journalists must report how Drumpf is likely to behave in the Oval Office.

The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) calls this journalistic dilemma “A Murrow Moment,” referring to the landmark report in 1954 by CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow that condemned the bullying tactics of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy used the fear of communism during the height of the Cold War to cast insinuations on people he didn’t like, and ruin their lives.

Murrow departed from traditional journalism when he concluded his McCarthy report this way: “He didn’t create this situation of fear, he merely exploited it, and rather successfully … This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”

Murrow decided that McCarthy’s views had become dangerous, the CJR said, and that not speaking out against them made him complicit.

Critical and analytical reporting of the Drumpf campaign does not reveal a bias within the news media, or a conspiracy to treat him unfairly, or a means to promote his opponent. It represents the burden of journalists to tell readers the truth with facts that can withstand current and historical scrutiny.

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