My Nominee for the Worst Road in BC


Every year, BC’s Car Nobbling Council the BC Automobile Association has a little campaign to shame municipalities into giving more money to the BC Road Builders. This “news” is dutifully lapped up by the popular media, and many fingers are wagged at Cities for not maintaining their infrastructure.

It is good media, good advertising for the BCAA, and after the rush of the contest cools down, AM radio goes back to complaining about high taxes and the evils of socialism. No-one ever mentions that roads are, de facto, a socialist enterprise. Government pooling money from taxpayers and spending it building something for the common good – roads are the very model of socialism. But I digress.

This year, I want to nominate a candidate. There is one route that I have been lamenting for a few years, and it never seems to get the attention it needs. It is 9 kilometres of undulating, root-cracked, potholed, uneven, poorly marked, inconsistent, horribly maintained, and (IMHO) unsafe pavement connecting the New Westminster Quayside boardwalk to Burnaby’s Central Park. It sees a lot of traffic, provides an important arterial corridor connecting numerous other routes, and it has seen little more than a few asphalt patches in 27 years.

Yes, I am talking about the BC Parkway, or to give credit to sponsors from 27 years ago, the combined “John Molson Way” walking path and “7-Eleven Bike Route”.

Let me take you back to the heady days of Expo86. The theme was “World in Motion” and transportation was central to most exhibits. When the SkyTrain was built out to New Westminster to bring Vancouver into the 70’s, transportation-wise, the entire line was paralleled by the BC Parkway. I’m not sure why Molson decided to sponsor a walking path, but for a decade around that time 7-Eleven sponsored a major international cycling team. In fact, the only Canadians to ever wear the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France did it for Team 7-Eleven: Alex Stieda in 1986 and Steve Bauer in 1990. (Bauer also wore yellow in 1988, riding for Weinmann – La Suisse the year Greg Lemond was busy being shot, but I’m geeking out now). At the time, they also provided me countless post-ride Slurpees. No-one has to convince me of 7-Eleven’s credibility when it comes to support for cycling.

The BC Parkway represented Greater Vancouver’s first multi-community-connecting active transport route – our first “Greenway” that didn’t wrap around Stanley Park – but time has not been good to it.

In the intervening 27 years, the BC Parkway through Burnaby and New Westminster has seen a lot of development. Metrotown, Edmonds, Downtown New Westminster and the Quayside have all blown up since 1986. With all the change, some connections on the BC Parkway have been improved, some have been severed. The pavement has degraded, the crossings have become hazardous, the sight lines destroyed and the route chopped up. The asphalt in place is so bad that tree roots have pushed right through- and are being eroded by bike tires! What other road in the province features tree roots being held back by tires? This is a shameful state for our region’s first real integrated municipality-spanning Greenway!

So, please, I implore you – go to the BCAA website and vote for “BC Parkway, Vancouver ” for being “Unsafe for Cyclists and Pedestrians“. You cannot select it with the map, but enter “BC Parkway” in the search, and if it doesn’t find it, choose the highlighted “following form” text to the left. It takes 30 seconds to use the pull-down menus, and if we enter it enough, they may need to acknowledge us. They have acknowledged us! We are now in the top 10 list of worst roads, so you can enter “BC Parkway” in the search and vote with one push of the button! Tell your friends, tell your neighbours, tell your mom, tell cyclists you see rattling their teeth or getting lost on the BC Parkway, tell pedestrians tired of being treated like pylons on the BC Parkway! If you only vote once this month, do it at the BCAA website!

May 22 UPDATE: You can now Choose “BC Parkway Burnaby” or “BC Parkway Vancouver” – and at this point, I don’t care which you choose, as they are both in the Top 10! All the pictures below are form the Burnaby and New Westminster portion, but applies as well to much of the Vancouver portion. Oh, and the BCAA has subtley changed their marketing around this, to make it apparent that they are OK with a bikeway winning! So get one more vote in – only 3 days to go!

In case you need more convincing, here are some highlights of my tour yesterday from Central Park to New Westminster along the Parkway:

The new parts through Central Park are actually quite pleasant!
First problem at Patterson Station. No traffic controls. Do I dodge pedestrians
on the narrow sidewalk / bus stop / newspaper kiosk, or do I go against
 the Do Not Enter sign through the bus lane? 
Sometimes I’m separated from the sidewalk, sometimes not. What is
a pedestrian to think? 
I guess I could go through the bollards onto the narrow sidewalk to avoid
the pedestrians, but there are signs and bus stops. 
Completely nonsensical intersection, no bicycle controls at all,
high pedestrian traffic, blind approaches. Alas, I dismount.
Hard to get contrast, but this root lump is better than a foot high. 
Yes, tree roots. Yes, they are exposed, and the bark rubbed
off of them by wheels and feet. They have been exposed that long.
Suspension at work. 
Bad pavement, blind intersections, forced to go to the sidewalk,
and unclear way-finding. This picture is the full BC Parkway experience.  
I hope it is legal to ride a bike on the sidewalk in Burnaby, because the
Parkway has completely disappeared.  
Oh! There it is, a few hundred feet down the road. 
I like surfing as much as the next guy, but prefer my waves more watery.
Regular way-finding signs remind you where now-destroyed portions
of the BC Parkway used to be. Memories of EXPO86. 
Interesting fact: much of the Parkway follows the old BC Inter-Urban
electric rail bed. No point removing the tracks, I guess.  
More crumbling pavement…
…and another terrible blind crossing with no accommodation
for bicycles, high traffic, and few options!
Speaking of options, the way-making sign to the right has no
relation whatsoever to the multiple junctions within view. 
There is a sign, there must a Parkway around here somewhere. 
There are my bollards! All I have to do is cross 20th street
with no traffic light, no crosswalk, and terrible visibility. 
This is where the trail takes me in New West – to a narrow sidewalk on the wrong side
of 6th Ave., with no access to the rest of the parkway for several kilometres. 
Insider tip – the Parkway continues on the south side of Stewardson, you just
need to cross the Queensborough Bridge. Please dismount. 
See? Queensborough bridge makes the obvious connection!
(I ranted two years ago about this little way-making fiasco
Unfortunately, the trail over here does not have better pavement…
…or safer crossings.
Our journey ends at Stewardson and Third Ave- where you can choose two roads
with no cycling infrastructure, or an overpass to some unknown place,
there being no way- finding around here. Thanks for joining me! Now go vote! 

What’s with abandoned Gas Stations? Part 1

One of the things I do in my professional life is deal with contaminated sites.

In the same way that whenever I tell anyone I am geologist they ask me about when the next earthquake is going to happen (short answer: I have no idea), when people find out I work with contamination, they always ask about old gas stations. Why are there all these old gas station lots with nothing on them but weeds and white pipes? Or more commonly: what is going on with the old gas station at the corner of XXX and YYY?

All of the images in this post are straight screen captures from GoogleMaps.
I spent 5 minutes scrolling around local communities looking for examples of
White Pipe Farms. I presume they are all former gas stations, but I do not actually
 know the history of most of the sites I found just by surfing. Nothing I say below
should be specifically related to the sites I took images of – every site has it’s
own history, and every owner has their own motivations.

It is a long story, and regular readers know how much I love long stories.

In British Columbia, there are two pieces of related legislation – the Environmental Management Act and the Contaminated Sites Regulation – that control how contaminated land in the Province is managed. Municipalities have very limited powers over contaminated lands, unless of course they own the lands. It is the form of the EMA and CSR that cause these valuable urban commercial lots to sit empty for years.

A contaminated site becomes a capital-letter Contaminated Site when the owner of the property applies to the City for one of 5 specific permits named in Section 40 of the EMA: Subdivison, Rezoning, Development, Demolition or Soil Removal. The City is required by the EMA to collect certain information from the owner and send that off to the Ministry of Environment prior to issuing a permit. This makes sense, when you think about it. Those 5 permit types will change the character of the site – evidence of past property uses disappear when one of those 5 permits are issued. The Province wants to take that opportunity to document whether there is any contamination before evidence of that contamination disappears. If the site is contaminated, then the Ministry will most often prevent those permits from being issued until someone deals with the contamination.

So if you have a gas station, and you want to tear it down and put in condos or a In-and-Out Burger, you need to demonstrate to the Ministry that the land is not contaminated before you change the use. If it is contaminated, you need to either clean that contamination up or demonstrate through a rigorous science-based “Risk Assessment” that the contamination is contained, isn’t impacting your neighbours, and will not cause harm to human health or the environment at any time in the future. If the contamination is not stable, or if it could possibly cause harm, then you are not getting your permit, and your condo-building or burger-schlepping dreams will have to wait.

Cleaning it up can mean a lot of things. Sometimes, you just go in there with an excavator and dig out all of the contaminated soil and throw some ORC in the hole to cause hydrocarbon-eating bacteria to bloom in the groundwater. Bob’s yer uncle.

However, if the contamination is a long way down, it can be really expensive to dig it out, especially on an urban lot. Sometimes the contamination has migrated to include the neighbouring property, and the neighbour doesn’t want their building to be excavated. Disposing of this contaminated soil can be expensive. The cost of a complicated excavation can easily exceed the value of the land.

Alternately, in most cases the contamination will not last forever. Gasoline spilled in the ground will migrate downwards until it hits groundwater, then sit on top of the groundwater like Cointreau on top of a B-52. Some of it evaporates and moves back up through the soil, some is dissolved in the groundwater and flows away- diluting with distance. Some simply breaks down chemically in to less harmful compounds, while some gets eaten up by natural hydrocarbon-metabolizing bacteria. All of these degradation processes can be helped along from the surface.

You can stick wells in the ground and blow air down into the hydrocarbons and groundwater (“air sparging”). This breaks up the hydrocarbons so they dissipate, increases the evaporation, and provides fresh oxygen that encourages bacterial decomposition of the gas. You can also stick tubes higher in the ground and suck out the vapours, accelerating the dissipation. You can stick chemicals down the wells that will accelerate the degradation (but this is tightly controlled by the Water Act – you cannot stick the kind of dispersants they used in the Deepwater Horizon spill into a well in BC- things like Milk of Magnesia are typically used to boost oxygen levels).

Regardless, this type of in-situ remediation can take years or even decades, and in the meantime we can end up with a vacant lot, surrounded by a rental fence, with white pipes sticking out of the ground everywhere. Those white pipes are monitoring wells, which are used to keep track of the groundwater conditions, or the air sparging or vapour extraction wells for in-situremediation systems.

Or, of course, the owner can do absolutely nothing. (In reporting, this is what they call “burying the lead”). You see, nothing in the Environmental Management Act or the Contaminated Sites Regulation actually forces the owner of a contaminated site to clean it up.

That’s right. The owner is limited by what (s)he can do with the contaminated land (because they can’t get those municipal permits), but unless they have a compelling business reason to do something about the contamination, there is no law or other requirement saying they need to take any action towards cleaning it up. So the weed-covered empty lot can sit there literally forever.

It is at least theoretically possible for the Director of Waste Management (the senior bureaucrat in the Land Remediation Section of the Ministry) to order an owner to clean up contamination, but that power is very, very rarely exercised. In practice, the Ministry only does this if there is an imminent risk to persons or property caused by the contamination. Not unprecedented, but very unusual. There is no sign the Ministry is interested in increasing this power. And there is nothing a City or neighbouring properties can do to compel the Ministry to take this action.

So why is it (apparently) always abandoned gas stations? Near as I can tell, there are three reasons for this:

First, pretty much every gas station built before 1980 is a contamination nightmare. The old technology of buried single-walled steel tanks almost invariably leaked after a few years in the ground. Since gas was so damn cheap before the 1970’s oil crises, it was of little concern to most station owners if they lost a few gallons a day to leaks, presuming they even noticed. It was cheaper to let it happen than to dig the tanks up and replace them. A few gallons a day can, however, add up to a hell of a lot of hydrocarbon in the ground over several years. Then there was the waste oil and solvent disposal methods from the 60s. At a time when PCBs were used to clean carburettors, let’s just say housekeeping to protect the environment was not standard practice at Cooter’s Garage. This is no longer the case, I hasten to note. Modern gas stations use double-walled vacuum-sealed plastic underground tanks with automatic leak detection systems, and are very careful to recycle their valuable waste oils and solvents, mostly due to tougher laws. The legacy of old practices still haunts us.

A second factor is that there are far fewer gas stations today than there were 40 years ago. The smaller two-pump Mom’n’Pop operations have been replaced with larger multi-bay major company franchises. This means many of the former stations from the Century of the Car have been closed in the last couple of decades, and they all probably have contamination issues.

The third factor is that the closed stations usually belong to large multi-national oil companies. These companies have a lot of assets, and are in no big rush to divest themselves of fiddly little assets like a block of City land. The minuscule cost of paying property tax on an empty lot in New Westminster disappears when these companies are making multi-billion-dollar revenues. Commonly, the cost and hassle of cleaning up the land isn’t offset by the selling price they could get for it. They can sit on it for years, maybe the contamination will get better with gradual degradation and dissipation. Or not.

One thing they do not want to do is sell it without cleaning it up first, and that is, again, because the CSR does not allow for the “persons responsible” for the contamination to sell that liability. Nothing (except for your bank’s loan officer) prevents you from buying a contaminated site, but you cannot legally “buy the contamination”.

This actually makes sense. The last thing we want is for every owner of a contaminated site to sell that liability to some numbered company registered in Belize. That company could buy up 10 contaminated sites then go insolvent and disappear, abandoning the land for the Province to clean up. No-body wants that.

So the person who caused the contamination will always own it, as long as they exist. The big oil companies plan to exist for a long time. If they sell you their contaminated land, they no longer control what you do on that land. You could go back and clean the contamination up, and send the bill to the Oil Company, but if they wanted to spend that money themselves without you being the unaccountable middle-man. You could even conceivably do something that harms yourself or others with that contamination that belongs to the oil company, and the oil company will be responsible for some of that harm. Oil companies hate risk, so they would rather just own the land, put a fence around it, say “no trespassing” and do whatever due diligence is required to keep anyone from messing with their contamination. Just to be on the safe side.

So too often, the most rational business case is to just let that white pipe farm sit there, contributing nothing to the community for perpetuity. And there is nothing the City can do about it.

Some time in the next week or two, I will write Part 2 – about what the Province, Cities and neighbourhoods can do about these sites.

What a difference a year makes

It was only a year ago, just a couple of days before Earth Day, that the Harper Government(tm) announced their progress at tearing the heart out of Canada’s strongest habitat protection legislation.

Their re-writing of major portions of the Fisheries Act (a part of the Mother of All Omnibus Bills) sent shock-waves across the community of biologists, ecologists, and environmental scientists whose job it was to assure the protections afforded by legislation were followed by industry and the general public. This was partly because they recognized the combined neutering of the Fisheries Act and the Environmental Assessment Act would result in less protection of ecological areas, but mostly because the people whose job it was to advise their clients in industry about how to follow the laws now had very little idea what the law was!

It is like Victoria announcing (as part of their budget, none the less) that they would remove all references to speed limits from the Motor Vehicle Act, without telling the Police ahead of time, giving the police a chance to comment on the changes, assessing the potential impacts of the changes, or developing any mechanism to permit safe driving with no speed limits.

In typical Harper Government(r) style, they put a lot more thought into the photo op and announcement than they did into the actual legislation. Here we see a photo of Minister of Fishy Stuff Ashfield standing beside James Brennan of Ducks Unlimited, to demonstrate how conservation groups support the changes, so therefore it must all be good.


I am going to put aside for now my own reservations about Ducks Unlimited. They are not so much an ecological protection group as a group interested in preserving areas where they can take their dogs for a walk while filling ducks with steel shot. However, they have been effective at preserving large tracts of vitally important wetlands, so I will judge them by results, not by motivations.

There they were, amongst Canada’s (well, America’s, but I guess DU is exempt Joe Oliver’s list of suspiciously-foreign-funded shit-list of environmental protection groups) most renown conservation groups lining up with the Minister of Fishiness talking about how this was going to be great, a bold step forward in fish protection rationalization and conservation management mumble mumble mumble…

At the time, it made more sense than appeared on the surface. Although the changes in the Fisheries Act were specifically requested by and delivered to large oil companies, at the time of the announcement all the talk was about how these amendments would help the poor suffering rural farmer who was tired of having to jump through regulatory hoops every time he wanted to maintain his drainage ditch.

Turns out now, the poor rural farmer got screwed, at least in BC. You see, until these changes, the farmer would simply ask his local Fisheries Officer to approve the works he needed done. The Fisheries Officer, being a local Fisheries and Oceans Canada employee with training in fish ecology would tell the farmer to follow standard fish protection practice (keep sediment out of the open stream, don’t work in the stream during windows of time critical to salmon lifecycles, don’t block the stream completely, etc.) and go for it. It was a simple straight-forward process that just paralleled good farming practice, it was completely free to the farmer (except for a week or two planning ahead), and there was lots of guidance available from the DFO. You know, government services you pay taxes for, that kind of stuff.

Now, that Fisheries Officer is no longer going to provide that approval, or that guidance. Mostly because she is likely one of the 30% of Fisheries and Oceans staff that got fired. The approval process will be centralized, so the person granting approvals will not necessarily know your local conditions, or even be a biologist. since the approvals are science-based, the poor farmer is likely going to need to hire a Qualified Professional (biologist, geoscientist or engineer) to assess whether the works constitute a threat to fish, then get that professional to help navigate through the approval process. Trust me, those professionals don’t come cheap.

Well, they are cheap in context of a multi-billion dollar pipeline project (as Big Oil Corp Inc. will already have Qualified Professionals on staff), but for a potato farmer in Chilliwack, that $200/hr consulting fee he will be paying to someone who recently got laid off from a job at DFO to complete an Aquatic Effects Assessment will not be small potatoes. These guys should be thinking about rounding up the calves and heading back downtown, because they just got royally screwed by Minister Ashfield and the Harper Government(tm).

Back to Ducks Unlimited. With the changes to the Fisheries Act being marketed last year as a big boon to long suffering farmers, it was little surprise that Ducks Unlimited, with its deep rural and agricultural support base, especially in the Prairies, were ready to line up in support of the changes. One year on, it seems they might have caught wind that the bag of ducks they were sold might contain more than one cat. Just this week, Ducks Unlimited Canada were signatories to a Joint Policy Statement with other conservation groups, which expresses significant concerns with the changes including:

“Without explicit policy support it will be unclear where the Act applies on the landscape making it difficult to implement and enforce”;

“If some forms of harm are not prohibited under the Act it is unclear how a long term trend of declining quality of recreational fisheries will be avoided due to incremental impacts”; and

“Recent reductions in staff and research facilities make it unclear how DFO intends to support implementation of the amended Act and the new fisheries protection policy”.

Makes me wonder how long until Ducks Unlimited are added to the list of foreign-funded radicals trying to destroy Canada through environmental protection.

sunday! Sunday! SUNDAY!

I wrote a bit about this Surrey Fraser Docks coal issue a couple of months ago, but the issue (mostly, I think, due to the badger-like political ferocity of one James Crosty) keeps on rolling.

Several Municipalities up and down the Fraser have now taken, or are exploring, positions on this project, and even the Metro Vancouver Parks and Environment Committee discussed the issue at their last meeting. Coal terminals seem to be in the spotlight right now, with Port Metro Vancouver once again serving as whipping boy in the political discussion.

The Port might be getting concerned, as I was one of those randomly selected folk to take part in a phone survey “to determine local opinions about transportation issues in your community”. The survey was a short one, but had a couple of themes (with a short version of my answers):

What is the most important issue in your community? (Transportation)

Do you know much about Port Metro Vancouver? (yes, more than any healthy person should)

Do you believe international trade is important to your community? (a question so ambiguous, it is hard to answer)

Do you trust communications you receive from the Port? (This was an interesting one. I had to answer “yes”, as I don’t think the Port management are dishonest or secretive – I think they are misguided and irresponsible. They have not made it a secret that they want to turn ALR land into industrial land, or that they will continue to profit from an expanding hydrocarbon export business and will consider Climate Change impacts as somebody else’s problem)

Do you know about the Surrey Fraser Docks plan to move coal? (yes, see above)

Do you agree with moving commodities like coal and oil through our ports? (problem here’s is the use of the phrase “commodities like”. I support the moving of grain through our ports, grain is a commodity, is moved in bulk, and comprises mostly hydrocarbons – is that “like” Coal? I do not support the moving of coal for the reasons I outlined in my February post, and I determined this is really a question about coal, and answered no)

Be sure to look out for the results of this survey, as I have heard through Twitter that many people who have strong opinions on this project were asked to respond.

And if you were NOT called, but want to voice your opinion about the Coal Terminal proposal in Surrey, or even about the ethics of British Columbia ramping up coal production and export at the same time that atmospheric carbon dioxide is approaching 400ppm, you have an opportunity this Sunday.

I encourage you to drop by and learn where the conversation is going on this topic:

The Wal-Mart enigma.

I work for a City, and I serve on some civic committees and volunteer for a few not-for-profits, so I go to a lot of meetings.

Yes, some of those meetings can be crushingly dull, but most are interesting and informative and productive (otherwise, I don’t stick with the organization too long – I bore easily). Occasionally, there are great moments that could not be repeated in any other setting.

An example happened a few days ago, and I will spare the who-what-where details to protect the innocent. There was a consultant talking on some arcane (but pertinent to the meeting) operation of the free market to a (in her perception) less-informed member of the committee. Everything below is paraphrased from my memory:

Consultant: “Let me give you an example- you shop at Wal-Mart, right?”

Citizen: “No. I don’t”

Consultant (after brief pause to re-group, addresses crowd of ~20): “How many people here shop at Wal-Mart?”

Crowd:      [crickets]
       [one hand goes up]

Consultant (long pregnant pause): “Ok, people shop at Wal-Mart, right, and…”

It was funny because the consultant clearly didn’t know the crowd.

This was a group of hyper-engaged citizens, most of them (like the person who said “No, I don’t”) were taking time out of their busy day to take part in a public consultation for no reward, just to take a small role in making the City a better place. Some actually had to book time off work and (in my case) re-schedule some deferred time off to take part. We were not there because we were paid, or even for the free cookies. We were there because we give a shit about our community.

Now I recognize that many people shop at Wal-Mart, and this is not about judging them. The majority of the population may, I really don’t care to know the statistics. But in that room full of people who value their community enough that they invest their “free” time and their income into making it a better place? Wal-Mart is for the most part not part of that equation. Frankly, we would rather pay a few pennies more for (or buy a few fewer) socks or bags of nails or lawn furniture knowing that the marginal difference is more likely to be re-invested in our local community, through better wages, local sourcing, or non-predatory pricing policies.

Of course, if she said “Costco”, she might have got a different result. I don’t shop there, but it seems that Costco unfairly avoids the local-retail-crushing non-sustainable-consumption community-killing reputation that Wal-Mart carries. And apparently Target will also avoid that fate, based on the conversations I have heard in reference to potential Uptown tenants. I wonder why that is.

Even a dull meeting can bring moments of insight, and new questions to ask.

Off to the Races

Today the writ has dropped. We are off to the races.

This event has much less meaning than it used to. Back when elections could be called on any day convenient to the Majority, this represented the true start of a civilised and tolerable 28-day election period.

We no longer live in those more-civilized times.

Our elections are now drawn-out American-style affairs where everyone can see them coming years in advance and every decision made by government is based on their fixed timing. This campaign has been the longest in BC history, really starting 25 months ago when Christy Clark won the leadership of the BC Liberals, or maybe 2½ months later when she won her By-election. Hard to pick a specific start date, but we have been bombarded with campaigning and advertising for more than a year. The lawn signs and campaign finance disclosures starting tomorrow are really just a new phase.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.
              – Premier Clark

The worst part is that we have had to endure a year of a government who is campaigning instead of governing, and the next damn government is going to do the same thing. The fact the Liberals have spend the last 6 months asking the opposition to disclose their election platform shows that they have failed to understand the role of government vs. opposition outside of the 28-day campaign period…

…wait, I’m going off on a rant here, and that was not the point of this post.

The point of this post is to talk about how elections impact community. New Westminster is in many ways a small town, and this is even more apparent at election time. Our concerns are often local, the same familiar voices pop up – you will likely see Dave Brett helping at the Queen’s Park All-Candidate event, and me helping out at the NWEP one, and people will flood to Tenth to the Fraser to get the best local on-line coverage. We know Bill Zander will have something to say at a Public Meeting, and Ted Eddy will write a letter to the Paper before this is done. Often, the same issues come to the surface, and we know where many people stand on those issues, and we know the grudges people have. Grudges are easy to hold, hard to move past.

However, 29 days from now, we are all going to have to keep living here in the same small community, the “winners” and the “losers” together. How we conduct ourselves in the next 28 days is going to frame how we work together to keep building this community that we all care enough about to go through this.

Going into this election, we have a great field of local candidates. I have had the opportunity over the last few months to have lengthy sit-down conversations with three of the four declared candidates. I feel confident that any of them would represent New Westminster well in Victoria. They are all approachable, honest, and good listeners. Their ideas vary somewhat, but I get the sense they all have the best interests of New Westminster and BC in mind, and that they want to serve this community for the right reasons. A “bad” result for New Westminster on May 14th is pretty unlikely. It doesn’t have to be divisive – elections can be about bringing people together.

The only “bad” result will be if we spend the next 4 weeks talking about what divides us (“Socialists” vs. “Free Enterprise”), instead of talking about what we all aspire towards, and how our plans to get there differ. The political system, representative democracy itself, is just a tool that allows us to set collective priorities and pool our resources towards achieving popular goals. We know we disagree on the pathway (that’s why we have elections) but we all share the same goal – a safe, prosperous, livable community.

The politics itself should never be the goal. If it is, you are doing it wrong. Argument for argument sake is part of the reason people become cynical about the process.

I know who is getting my vote this time. As someone at a recent political event (and self-confessed “Angry Young Tweeter”) reminded me, no-one is 100% sure until they write on the ballot; so with that in mind I will declare myself 95% certain. I plan to attend events and hear all of the candidates speak, and I hope I can have meaningful dialogues with each candidate to see where our ideas merge or diverge. I am even helping organize an All-Candidates event, one that will hopefully attract a diverse crowd to meet the Candidates. But I don’t think I am going to “declare” who I am voting for right now. I might blog about it before the end of it all, but for now, we’ll hold onto the secret ballot. That said, my regular readers probably know who I am supporting, and you might see a bag sign in my front yard before its all over (if Ms.NWimby will let me).

More important, I want to keep the lines of conversation to all candidates open. For good reason: In a “small town” like New Westminster, politics can be personal, but campaigning shouldn’t be. Political disagreement for me has always represented the start of the discussion, not the end.

Just look at James Crosty. We spar quite a bit on twitter, call each other names and ridicule the hell out of each other’s opinions or ideas. He is usually wrong, of course, but so am I. Neither of us have very good grammar. Yet we always seem to laugh at ourselves as much as at each other, and none of this disagreement has prevented us from shaking hands, sharing a conversation or a beer. I consider James a friend, and even when I disagree with him, I perceive that his only interest is in making his community a better place. We have the same goal, we just see different pathways towards it, and that is what makes our conversations fun. I learn from James, and I hope he learns from me, even if only by cautionary example!

In contrast, I was at an event recently where one of the campaign workers (not, I hasten to add, the Candidate) asked me if I would sign the Candidate’s nominations papers. I said “sure”, and she confirmed I was an eligible voter and lived in New Westminster (-all good-) or if I had signed anyone else’s papers (-uh oh…). You see, a few weeks previous, I had signed the nomination papers for another candidate running locally. The campaign worker’s reaction was like I had spit in her face: a mix of incredulity and disgust. I tried to explain that the person whose forms I signed was good person, running for the right reasons, honest, etc. etc. The campaign worker left in a huff and sent me dagger-eyes for the rest of the event.

It occurred to me afterwards that she should have immediately identified me as a “soft supporter” (I was at her candidate’s event, after all) and turned the charm on to make me feel welcome and important, and try to convince me the merits of her candidate. Instead, she made me feel like an outsider who should be treated with suspicion. Clearly, she did not feel the same about community and politics as I do. Or maybe she just cared more abut the path than the destination. I don’t think she lived in New Westminster.

So I am calling on Candidates, Pundits, Twitterers and Trolls to try to keep it above the belt, try to hold on to your sense of humour. You can take the issues seriously without taking yourself too seriously. The more voters we can get to polls from all sides, the more included people will be, and the stronger a community we build.

I hope to see many of you on May 4th for a real community-building all-candidates event.Then i hope you all vote.

Misogyny and Christy Clark

Twitter is a world of strange interactions and misplaced meanings, often a result of over-ambitious editing to hit the 140-character limit. Inevitably, meanings and feelings are sometimes misconstrued. So I let the occasional personal insult slide off my back- the price you pay for being in the fray. I get called everything from a fascist / nazi to a commie / pinko, and have been counted among the “New West undesirables”. I get called an idiot (which is not far from the truth) and a know-it-all (which underestimates my brilliance, IMHO). Often, like in that last bracketed clause, it is the result of my lame attempt at sarcastic humour.

Very occasionally (and I only remember doing this twice in 7000+ Twitter exchanges) I have to react and call the person out for launching a personal attack. Interesting that both occasions were people calling me a misogynist for suggesting Christy Clark is not very smart, and may not be fit for the job of Premier of the Province.

“Misogynist” is one of those poorly defined insults that is really hard to react to. Partly because misogyny is common in our society in various forms, but except for a few obvious examples (I’m looking at you, Vatican) it is often subtle and difficult to define. I also recognize that, like racism, misogyny can be personal or can be so culturally/institutionally entrenched in a society that it is almost invisible while being omnipresent. (Kids in the Hall skit: Cop 1 “You ever hear anything about sexism on the force?” Cop 2: “No. I haven’t heard any of the guys mention it.”)

As a bonus, a middle-class white male like me trying to defend against the charge runs the risk of sounding like that person who says “I’m not racist! I know lots of black people!” If you are looking for a better informed and surprisingly nuanced discussion of misogyny, I suggest you spend some time hanging around over on Jarrah Hodge’s Blog. She is a New Westminster- based writer and academic, and provides accessible insight for those of us who don’t commonly think about these things in our everyday lives.

That said, a working definition of misogyny is the dislike, distrust or hatred of women. This can often be expanded into the objectification of women, but I sense that objectification is a result of one of the first three- it is just one recognizable symptom of the attitude, not an attitude in itself. What is not misogyny is dislike, distrust, or hatred of any single woman (unless, of course, you have these feelings because she is a woman, but again, this is more a manifestation of the bigger attitude).

There are people in this world I dislike and distrust. When struggling to think of an example of someone I “hate”, I get stuck on Dick Cheney, but really, I don’t have a lot of time for hate in my life. There is no-one, I can confidently say, that I dislike, distrust, or hate, because of their gender or ethnicity. I try very hard to judge people on their character and ideas, even when (especially when?) I disagree with their ideas. Through trying to understand opposing viewpoints, though thoughtful debate of ideas, is how I learn about the world. Dishonesty in thought or action usually earns my distrust, intellectual laziness usually earns my dislike. Overseeing the wholesale slaughter of 200,000+ innocent people for political ideology and greed and feeling no compunction about it after, as Mr. Cheney did, earns him a little of my scarce hatred.

My dislike (not hatred) of Christy Clark is not about her gender, it is about her lack of thoughtful ideas, her failure to lead, and what appears to be a stunning lack of self-awareness. She may not be a bad person, but she is a bad Premier. In some sense, she is indistinguishable from Bill Vander Zalm – a shilling salesman of simple ideologies with no cogent ideas, nuance in thought, or understanding of complex systems.

A couple of years ago, when she was nominated, I was uncertain what it meant, because I was uncertain who Christy Clark was (relative to, for example, Kevin Falcon or Darth Coleman). I didn’t listen to her Radio Show, and was not dazzled by her leadership run. I really disliked some of the decisions made by Kevin Falcon, so I admit to having some early hope that she would come out of the gate and put her stamp on the Province and differentiate herself from the person she defeated for the Leadership of the Liberals. Maybe she would arrive with a few good ideas to set a practical course for the Province, even stem the tide of shitty news arriving from Ottawa. Alas, over time, she has repeatedly failed to fulfill that early hope.

Actually, I have the same concerns about Justin Trudeau right now. Much like Christy Clark, he is telegenic, and sure seems to speak well to a room of supporters. People who like Justin Trudeau seem to really like him. They say “he is an inspiring speaker- and makes you want to follow him”. I just can’t shake the impression, reinforced whenever I hear him discuss any substantive issue, that he is a lightweight. He has neither the intelligence of Mark Garneau nor Martha Hall Findlay. I suspect Trudeau possesses neither the gravitas to lead our nation on the world stage, nor the intelligence to effectively manage a complicated multi-billion dollar enterprise like our Government. Stephen Harper (as much as I dislike the guy) clearly has both, as does Elizabeth May (not that she will ever have the opportunity) – and it has nothing to do with their gender.

The accusation of my misogyny came after I made a joke on Twitter about the Premier’s education history. But first we need to set up the context. The Premier was making one of those inspirational speeches to the already-converted when she kind-of compared herself to Margaret Thatcher, then turned that inspiration into an apropos-of-nothing and ridiculous criticism ofthe NDP in a demonstration of contrast. I quote (you can hear it yourself by going to the April 9 Episode here and starting at 1:33:00):

[on the topic of Margaret Thatcher] “She was a woman who endured the most withering kinds of criticism any woman – anyone in politics in the last 50 years – has endured, but she never, ever wavered. She stuck to her guns every single day. She pulled that country back from the brink, I would argue, by sheer force of will. 

Everyone around the world knew what Margaret Thatcher stood for. 

Contrast that with the guys were runnin’ against in this election. My opponent was in Prince George, Thursday last week. He was speaking to the Forest Industry, and in his speech he said ‘ya know, forest industry, I think you guys are entitled to reasonable profits’. (chuckle) And I thought to myself when I heard that: ‘what does that mean exactly?’ What’s a ‘reasonable profit’? And who decides what a reasonable profit is? Is it the Government who gets to decide what profit is reasonable for you? And if the Government is deciding what’s a reasonable profit for you, how long until they are deciding what a reasonable paycheque is for you to take home to your family?”

I’ll skip whether there is an implied self-comparison to Margaret Thatcher for now, the point was how the Premier parlayed that into a woefully unintelligent attack on the “guys [she’s] runnin’ against”.

You see, in British Columbia, the forests are Crown land. They are a public resource that belongs to the citizens of BC, just like water, natural gas, and minerals in the ground. When a company makes its profit by extracting and selling a resource that belongs to the citizens of BC, it is specifically the job of Government to determine how much of the profit made from that extraction and sale goes to the Company, and how much goes into public coffers to compensate the citizens of BC for the use of that finite publicly-owned resource. If the company profit is too low, we will not have enough companies deciding to come extract resources here, and the industry (and revenues and jobs, etc.) will suffer. If the profit is too high, then the citizens of BC are not receiving adequate compensation for their finite resource, (revenues suffer without a consummate increase in jobs, future supply is unnecessarily eroded). Where to find that middle ground? “Reasonable Profit” sounds about right to me.

As for the Government deciding what a “reasonable paycheque” is- does the Premier remember that it was she who raised minimum wage in the Province. Yes, the Premier herself, representing the Government, decided what a “reasonable paycheque” is for the lowest wage earners. Don’t get me started on Net-zero mandates for civil service paycheques.

Now, the joke string on Twitter began when someone other than me suggested that perhaps the Premier had to go back to civics class to understand the role of government, or at least first year Political Science. I then suggested that maybe this was taught in third year university, because we all know she didn’t get that far.

Har dee har har. It’s 140 characters, what do you want? A Heller novel?

It may not have been that funny a joke, but it sure as hell was NOT a misogynist joke. If she was somehow prevented access to University due to her gender, you might have a case; but she apparently had no trouble getting into three Universities, two of them of the expensive European variety, she just couldn’t pass enough courses to earn a degree.

Now, I’m not saying misogyny doesn’t exist, or that Premier Clark is not the recipient of some criticism that is clearly rooted in misogyny. Just go over to Alex Tsakumis’ blog (but turn off your speakers before you go there- yes- he has auto-start music on his homepage!) and see the language he uses to describe the Premier (and worse, that in the comments strings). I don’t think he hates her because she is a woman – so in his defense the out-of-scale hatred may not be rooted in misogyny- but the language and attitude he uses to criticize her is dripping with a twisted, sexist, misogynistic attitude that turns most thinking people off (and, based on his presence in the media, turns many others on!). This is that fuzzy grey zone of entrenched misogyny that makes self-assessment so difficult- it may not be intentional, and Tsakumis may be blissfully unaware of it, being a white guy like me who never had to deal with misogyny in his own life. Like the old saw about pornography- you might not be able to strictly define misogyny, but you know it when you see it.

When I go back through all of my writings on this blog that reference the Premier (easy to do, go up to the top left corner and enter “Premier” or Clark” into the search engine), I cannot find anything that my middle-class white dude brain would characterize as misogynist. Admittedly, I may be blind to it, but I would love if someone pointed it out to me.

Just as I was not being misandrous when I called Stephen Harper a “Dick” for the way he threw Helena Guergis under the bus at the most politically opportune time (I was instead being profanely critical of a single person’s personality faults). When I call Christy Clark “Premier McSparklestm” I am poking fun at what I perceive to be a carefully cultured but cardboard persona that combines “folksy” charm with the sheen of a well-oiled used car salesperson.

That may be an affect, and effective when shuckin’ to a room of the converted, or when makin’ deals with them folks over in Asia that need our energy and bring us jobs that really, really, you know, support hardworking BC families.

But I want something other than a vicious sales job when I choose a Premier of the Province. I want to see honesty, an ability to understand and relate complex problems, not bullshit simple solutions, an understanding that the entire world actually exists in that big fat grey zone between “Socialists” and “Free Enterprise”, not in some epic battle between them.

I want someone smart. And Christy Clark isn’t that.

R.I.P. Rads

Today is a sad day. Today I will cut my last pair of Rad Pants into rags.

The die was cast a couple of weekends ago. I leaned over to check a culvert for debris, and heard a soft rrrip while my thighs suddenly felt breezy. One of the crotch seams in my last pair of Rad Pants let go. Ms. NWimby laughed out loud; I think I felt a tear on my cheek. I knew immediately that this may be the last blow for my old blue Rads. An era came to an end. There is no repairing this lost seam, the nylon is a decade old, and has been around the world. A few smaller patches and duct-taped tears were OK, manageable, if not fashionable. But this was a fatal wound.

Anyone who has known Mountain Equipment Co-op long enough that they refer to it as “the Co-op” or as “Em-E-See” (as opposed to the new generation that call it “Mek”, a sound that will always cause me to cringe) will remember the original Rad Pant. Most of you probably owned a pair, or at least can pick them out of a crowd.

Originally designed for climbing, the Rad Pant was one of those designs that came together so well that the produce created filled many niches, true multi-purpose field and travel pants. A simple pant, with tapered legs and loose around the hips. Elasticized waist with integrated waistband, elastic cuffs, slash pockets with a few accessory pockets. The material was a light nylon that found the perfect compromise between durability, breathability, and wicking. They weren’t waterproof, but they dried so quickly, they were great for hiking in mixed weather. They were also magic at keeping bugs off.

I did a couple of field seasons doing exploration geology in the Swannell Ranges – a part of north-central BC where mosquitoes, black flies, and deer flies remind you every day just where humans reside on the food chain. Cool mornings, warm afternoons, and almost daily thunderstorms make for wet muggy conditions, and when you are a geologist, you spend a lot of time up above treeline, walking ridges. Your presence scares off the marmots  the grizzlies, the elk, and so you become the only meat available for the voracious little insect bastards. Any illusions one might have about avoiding DEET for heath reasons are forgotten in a day. Your hatline, back of the neck and the back of the hands will be raw flesh without it. We even had to apply it to the shoulders of our long-sleeve shirts, as persistent mosquitoes will puncture through cotton or poly weave (and deer flies will scissor through it) where it is pulled taut. However, the light nylon used for Rad Pants had a tight enough weave that mosquitoes couldn’t puncture it. And the gathered cuff and elastic waist kept the bugs from wiggling around the nylon.

They were so damn versatile: light enough to roll up and stick in the back pocket of your cycling jersey or in the bottom of a day pack, roomy enough to slip them on over shorts. Durable enough to sit on rocks all day, repairable with duct tape if needed, and kept the wind off without being too hot for tropical use. I’m going to miss them, and haven’t found a replacement.

I don’t even remember when I bought my first pair, but I do remember they were tan brown, and it must have been before I finished my undergrad in 1997, because there are pictures of me wearing them at field schools up in the mountains of central Vancouver Island, and travelling thought the Basin and Range of Nevada after my grad. I have pictures of me wearing Rad Pants while sampling volcanic gasses on the edge of the Hale’ma’u’ma’u crater, while kayaking in the Gulf Islands for my thesis work, and while visiting mountaintop temples in Thailand.

Now, my last pair is dead, and there won’t be any more. MEC stopped making them a few years ago. Inevitably, they couldn’t let the greatest product they ever made stand. They messed with the fit, put in a non-elastic waistband, changed the cut and colours. Soon, they didn’t fit so well anymore, people complained, and sales dropped off. Then, instead of going back to the formula that worked, MEC killed the line. They just weren’t fashionable enough for the new MEC, the one people call “Mek”.

So goodbye Rad Pants. What good times we had:

Me and my Rads, somewhere in the Osilinka Range of Central BC. 
A terrible, terrible day for a mountain bike ride, when the Rads came out of the
pack early and helped stave of hypothermia on the Seven Summits Trail in
the Rossland Range. Note Aladar behind, in Rads of a different colour.
Mr. And Ms. Rads, at Thaba Bosiu, the birthplace of the Basotho nation,
and burial place of King Moeshoeshoe I. 
That little speck in the middle is me, with my blue Rads, measuring
sedimentary sections somewhere in the Bowser Basin in NW B.C.
My original tan Rads, (RIP 2010) not at all fireproof, but still adaptable
to sampling liquid lava from Pu’u’O’o on Hawai’i.
My Rads were breezy enough to keep me cool in the cloud forests of
Costa Rica, while wicking off the moisture! Thanks Guys!
Caught in a rainstorm during a hike? Head over to the fire and the Rads will dry off
lickety-split. Here, at the Sani Pass Lodge on the Lesotho/South Africa border. 
Planning a beach attack on the Gulf Islands during my thesis work. 
With Ms.NWimby and her fetching Eggplant Rads, on the way
into the crater of Mt. St. Helens.