Game changer, but not a game winner

Game changer, but not a game winner

Game changer, but not a game winner

If voters pass electoral reform, the work just gets started

By PAT CARL

I’m a big-time college basketball fan. Men’s or women’s basketball, it doesn’t matter. If a college game’s on, I’m glued to ESPN. Other big-time fans know that a basket at the buzzer won Notre Dame the 2018 NCAA Women’s National Championship on April 1. What a way to win the game!

Unlike Notre Dame’s game-winning Hail Mary basket, if the majority of voters support electoral reform in BC’s November referendum, we will have only a game changer, not a game winner. In fact, the game would not be over at all because the hard work would just be beginning.

Why?

If electoral reform passes, British Columbians must learn to trust those who have worked hard to maintain the first-past-the-post status quo. Supporters of the status quo must, in turn, learn to trust those who supported proportional representation. Beyond that, legislators must learn to collaborate, to find common ground, in order to complete government business.

That won’t be easy.

Let’s try to understand how difficult that might be by using a personal example: my family.

Like some of yours, I’m sure, my family is split down the political middle. For years, my parents were confirmed Democrats (most like Liberals in Canada) because they loved Franklin D. Roosevelt and his necessary social reforms. Later, they became Republicans (most like Conservatives in Canada) because they couldn’t morally support a woman’s right to choose.

They raised four children. Two of us strongly believe in social justice, economic safety nets and environmental stewardship, while the other two believe just as strongly in individualism, growing the economy and small government.

I don’t know how to have a conversation with two of my brothers.  They don’t know how to have a conversation with me.

Sound familiar?

Now take that family dynamic and apply it to BC. How can we avoid creating an unbridgeable divide between first-past-the-post supporters and proportional representation supporters?

For one thing, during the lead-up to the referendum vote, both sides could refrain from exaggerating how wonderful its position is and how terrible the other one is. There’s enough of a difference between first-past-the-post and proportional representation to simply state the unembellished facts and let the voters decide.

Why not embrace nuance rather than exaggerated claims that sound like first-past-the-post and proportional representation are characters in a Shakespearean tragedy?  

We need to ask: What portion of the first-past-the-post arguments and what portion of the proportional representation arguments are true; what portion is exaggerated to the point of being untruthful or divisive?

Finally, the general electorate must take seriously the gift we enjoy and the responsibility we have living in a democracy. We must challenge ourselves to become politically literate by investigating the issues, by understanding that issues are seldom black or white, and by voting thoughtfully and wisely.

We and our legislative representatives will be far more likely to work collaboratively post-referendum if, during the lead-up to the referendum, we honestly and civilly discuss the issues. The less baggage we accumulate as we debate electoral reform, the easier it will be to accomplish good governance after the referendum.

Remember: Unlike a game-winning basket, if electoral reform happens, the game changes, but it’s not over.

Pat Carl is a member of Fair Vote Comox Valley. She wrote this for Decafnation’s Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at pat.carl0808@gmail.com.

Requiem for a Garry Oak prairie

Requiem for a Garry Oak prairie

Requiem for a Garry Oak prairie

DND tried to save it, Town of Comox allowed it to be destroyed

By LOYS MAINGON

Comox has just lost the last remains of the 6,000+ year-old Cape Lazo Garry oak prairie.

Until last year when the Department of National Defense took an active interest in this site, it was a poorly- stewarded one- to two-acre corner of land at the bottom of the Comox Valley airfield fronting Knight and Kye Bay Roads. This original part of what must have been Dr. Walter Gage’s father’s farmland, was converted on the eve of WWII into the airfield that we know today as CFB Comox.

Before 1860, most of that was a rich traditional Pentlatch Garry oak meadow. It was together with the lower Tsolum Valley “Comox Prairie” the original wealth of the valley in which British pioneers settled. These last two acres was all that remained of 65 square kilometres (25 square miles) of a northern Californian flora and fauna, that we know today as “Garry oak ecosystem,” and it even had some stunted wind-blown Garry oaks.

From a floristic point of view, this site was a charm. It was a site I regularly took visiting botanists to. They came from the USA and Victoria, to view the native flowers and grasses amidst the Comox garbage and vandalism.

Top photo: The prairie before it was destroyed. This photo: What it looked like after clearing for development

New plants, often not found anymore in and around the rest of Comox and Courtenay, such as red maids (Calandrinia ciliate) which are otherwise only found locally on Hornby, would be spotted about every second year. So we are still uncertain as to what lay hidden in the site’s soil seed bank.

A one day count in April 2017 identified 28 species of native flowers ( camas, harvest brodeia, Hooker’s onion, Chocolate lily, Scouler’s popcorn flower, and the list goes on) a carpet of purple and gold. Nobody had time to study the pollinator populations, and the Western bluebirds have been long-gone, probably with insects unknown.

Again, we will possibly never know the full extent of our children’s losses.

For years, everybody, including DND who put signs up to limit trespassing, thought that this was DND land. For conservationists, this was a boon, although it limited access, DND has an excellent record of responsible stewardship. Indeed, last year when it was pointed out that the site was being vandalized by ATV’s and was becoming an unmanageable and illegal dumping site overgrown by broom, DND mobilized soldiers to remove broom and garbage, and the erected a gate to limit illegal access.

FURTHER READING: Town of Comox fines resident $10,000 for pruning Garry Oak trees

We had every reason to hope that with responsible stewardship, this site would one day be an important regional conservation legacy.

As it turns out, the land is private. And it is within the administrative boundary of the Town of Comox, whose uncontrolled development policies have laid waste the Lazo Sand Dunes ecosystem area over the past two years.

Garry oaks on private land have been extirpated and native flora replaced by Kentucky turf. That is largely because Comox mayor, Town Council and staff either don’t care, or are ignorant of Comox’s natural heritage, or are hell-bent on development vandalism, which they seem to have a well-honed reputation for. Sadly, they are the town’s “representatives.”

In either case, DND learnt indirectly that it was not the owner of this piece of land, and was unable to buy it from the new owner, who it seems had no problems obtaining building and development permits from the Town of Comox on what any other town would have classed “ecologically sensitive habitat.”

Comox, after all, has no real tree by-laws or special environmental permitting requirements that would encourage landowners to manage land responsibly, for the benefit of other Canadians. If the political leadership is lacking and only exhibits a tendency to systemic ignorance, reckless vandalism, and disregard to the public interest, one should not dare expect private landowners to meet a higher standard.

So the new landowner did what every almost every other landowner in the Comox Valley before him has done: he hired an excavator to strip the topsoil and “improve” the building site, undoubtedly assuming it was a valueless field, and never having been told otherwise. He is not to blame. We all do it, and he sought permits and guidance from the Town of Comox.

We have lost the last remnant of our native grass prairie. At a time when this planet is experiencing a species collapse unmatched since the Cretaceous (65 million years ago), this is more significant than it seems. This prairie survived all the insults we threw at it since white settlers arrived, and stole it. It is proof that we have been the worst stewards imaginable.

Even those of us who claimed to care, myself included, did not care enough to check the title, we took for granted DND ‘s claims, and what local environmental organizations told us. So we failed all those other species whose DNA we share, and handed our trust and future over to Comox Council and staff.

It is exactly that ill-placed trust that drives mass extinction, and climate change, every day.

Loys Maingon is the Conservation Chair of Comox Valley Nature

 

FURTHER READING: What is a Garry Oak?; 

 

An alternate reality: Clark pumps PR

An alternate reality: Clark pumps PR

An alternate reality: Clark pumps PR

Christy Clark supported PR in 2009 CKNW broadcast

By PAT CARL AND MEL McLACHLAN 

Upon winning the BC Liberal leadership, Andrew Wilkinson, a long-time party fixture, lost little time in reminding his people that the party’s most important goal is the defeat of proportional representation in the upcoming provincial referendum.

While Liberal opposition to proportional representation is no secret, there is a BC Liberal insider whose thoughts regarding proportional representation they probably wish didn’t exist in the public domain. But they do exist, and the words are from none other than Christy Clark.

Yes, you read that right. Clark articulates a thoughtful, informed case for changing our voting system and, at the same time, levels a powerful indictment against the politicians who are fighting tooth and nail to keep first past the post.

FURTHER READING: Listen to Clark’s 2009 broadcast

In this rather confessional 2009 CKNW radio broadcast, Clark, who at the time was not in politics, admits, that while in the Gordon Campbell government, she avidly supported first past the post because it worked for her, was in her own interest. She confides, though, that since she has “left politics my views have changed,” mainly because she hears from her CKNW listeners who are “sick to death of the way our political system works.”

She agrees with listeners’ grievances, which include having their votes “thrown in the garbage,” politicians who “ignore what their constituents want” and an “relentless vitriolic” war of words during question period that “poisons us all against our democratic process.”

Clark’s indictment of those who fight against proportional representation is stark:

“When I look at the people who are actively campaigning against [proportional representation]” I see “people whose interests and, in many cases, whose income is dependent on keeping our system the way it is. People who … relish the ugly realities of the first past the post system.”

Clark believes that electoral reform actually frightens them.

Clark continues by saying that in proportional representation, all politicians will need “to compete for all of your votes,” they’ll need “to listen to their communities first and their leaders and their parties second,” and that voters can choose a representative they “think is the smartest, the one you think is most ethical.”

Further, according to Clark, “all politicians will have an incentive to get along,” which means a return to “civility in politics.”

Listening to this broadcast for the first time is like stumbling into an alternate universe. Certainly, not the same old, same old Liberal position.

We never thought we would say this: Listen to Clark, and vote for proportional representation.

Pat Carl and Mel McLachlan are members of Fair Vote Comox Valley

FURTHER READING: Fair vote BC; 

 

 

Is Site C a Done Deal?

Is Site C a Done Deal?

Is Site C a Done Deal?

Dam opponents share concerns at a Comox Valley town hall meeting

PHOTO: Arlene Boon,on the Boon’s farm in the family for three generations, points out the proposed flood line if Site C dam goes ahead. Note the yellow stakes, raising funds for the First Nations’ court challenge. Photo by Sally Gellard

 

BY SALLY GELLARD

Last Friday evening 150 people gathered at the K’omox First Nation Band Hall for a powerful inspiring evening of speakers who proved that the fight to save the Peace River Valley is far from over.

The attentive audience heard from Ken Boon, farmer and member of the Peace Valley Landowners Association; Steve Gray, Site C Summit co-chair; and Wendy Holm, agronomist.

All three speakers explained why Site C is a boondoggle.

Boondoogle, a word rarely used before Site C, is defined as “unnecessary, wasteful and often counterproductive.” It is also a leather cord worn by Boy Scouts. There is no mistaking which definition Rafe Mair refered to in his latest book, “Politically Incorrect,” published shortly after his death in 2017.

“Site C, perhaps the most monstrous of them all, because we have the opportunity with a new provincial government to rid ourselves of this massive destruction of farmland and desecration of First Nations heritage in order to build a dam to provide power we don’t need, to customers we don’t have, just to satisfy the Gordon Campbell/Christy Clark/Fraser Institute-inspired mad energy philosophy. The cost of this giant boondoggle to date has been massive, the environmental damage gross,” he wrote.

That about sums up all the significant arguments against Site C, with the exception of the geotechnical issues, the soaring cost over-runs, the massive debt and land destruction we are leaving for future generations and the exciting new advances in alternative energy sources emerging globally which we, in BC, are not investing in.

Without a change of heart by our provincial government, we look for hope to the Moberly Lake and Prophet River First Nations as they go to the courts to defend their homeland, their way of life, their historical and sacred sites and the recognition of Treaty 8 and the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples.

As well, two new books emerge this month in the fight to save the Peace.

“Breaching The Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand Against Big Hydro,” written by Sarah Cox, award-winning journalist; and, “Damming The Peace: The Hidden Costs of Site C Dam,” edited by Wendy Holm.

Both these books will be “a powerful resource for the resistance to the travesty called Site C,” says Maude Barlow.

There’s lots we can do to stop this boondoggle.

Donate funds for the First Nations court challenge at www.stakeforthepeace.

Locally we are holding monthly Stand For the Peace vigils in front of our MLAs office on Fifth Street in Courtenay, on the 11th of each month, the anniversary of the announcement by a sour-faced premier on Dec. 11, 2017.

Sally Gellard, a Comox Valley resident, wrote this article for Decafnation. For more information about how to get involved, she may be contacted at sallygel@gmail.com.

The buck (doesn’t) stop here

The buck (doesn’t) stop here

The buck (doesn’t) stop here

Island Health fails public accountability scorecard

By Stephen D. Shepherdson

The key to maintaining the public’s confidence in its government departments and agencies, is the concept of public accountability. Nothing touches Canadians like the delivery of healthcare services. Island Health’s board of directors met people in the Comox Valley last week and heard from five different groups making formal presentations.

The gap between the serious nature of the issues presented by community representatives and the response provided by Island Health is staggering. Island Health acknowledges its accountability but does it, in fact, hold itself accountable?

They did well in coming to the community. The public forum itself is important in terms of demonstrating accountability to taxpayers and the community being served. There are a number of positive initiatives underway such as the neighbourhood care model for homecare.

As measured against the high-level expectations embodied in the BC Taxpayer Accountability Principles (June 2014), Island
Health might give itself a passing grade. From the viewpoint of this taxpayer, there is much opportunity for improvement.

For example, how did the board and its presenters perform against the principle of ‘respect’? Did they engage in “equitable, compassionate, respectful and effective communications that ensure all parties are properly informed or consulted on actions, decisions and public communications in a timely manner”?

Did they “proactively collaborate in a spirit of partnership that respects the use of taxpayers’ monies” (BC Taxpayer Accountability Principles, June 2014)? In my view, they substantively missed this mark.

Island Health staged the forum in a manner that avoided any need to directly address the specific concerns of the community members assembled. Despite advance knowledge of the points of view for the five presentations they selected, no attempt was made to meaningfully address the concerns presented. By comparison, considerable hard work was put into the community’s presentations. 

Advance questions from the public were answered in a written handout that, in most cases, provided unclear and confusing responses. 

Communications specialists would call the room set-up ’confrontational’ in that it made the presenters accountable to the public in attendance while the board sat on the side as the public’s observers. The meeting was adjourned early omitting the Question
Period for questions from the floor as referenced in the published agenda.

It is disrespectful to ask people to do something and then ignore their efforts and point of view. The board lost an opportunity
to address the questions raised or even give the community one positive take-away.

What does good public accountability look like? First, leaders are clear in acknowledging the situation or issue being addressed. Second, leaders use facts and stories that deal with people to frame the issues. They employ facts and analyses that reflect current results, describe activities underway and identify root causes of the issue or problem. Third, leaders acknowledge limitations and constraints and are careful to address constituent expectations.

FURTHER READING: B.C. Taxpayer Accountability Principles

What did we hear or not hear on March 29? We did not hear that the board holds itself accountable, there was no “the buck stops here” moment.

There was no acknowledgment of issues like the need for more home care support services (except an oblique reference to working on it), the inequity of the current residential care bed allocation, and the immediate need for more residential care beds than planned. Even if solutions are not readily available, acknowledgment of issues is key to public accountability.

It was not clear that stories about people’s experience at the new Comox Valley Hospital and its state of cleanliness were heard by the board and management. The reaction was defensive, failing to differentiate between ‘unusual and critical’ vs. ‘normal’ issues with a new hospital start-up.

That reaction does not make me feel that the Board and management are in control. I would have expected to hear an acknowledgment that we are experiencing problems and this is what we are doing to resolve them. 

Finally, in terms of public accountability, we must be careful not to attribute responsibilities to Island Health that are the responsibility of the BC Ministry of Health. Financial resources are not infinite, they are limited. But Island Health is accountable for its allocation of entrusted resources, the quality of healthcare service delivery, operational improvements, employee engagement and morale, and community relationships.

The community wants and needs Island Health to be successful on all of these dimensions; after all, these are the services we need in our community. Words on a website and declarations that “we do all those things” are well intended. But, if the board and management do not acknowledge the need for direct action when issues are raised with them, then public accountability claims ring hollow.

Stephen D. Shepherdson, Comox, is a retired management consultant and operations management specialist. He wrote this commentary for Decafnation, and may be contacted at: sshepherdson@shaw.ca