Hey Guys! Stay on your ass (and fill out this survey)!

HEY! Got a bit of free time this weekend? Surfing the web, looking for something more interesting? Admit it, if you are reading my blog, you must be pretty stinking bored… so here is a good way to slake that boredom for 5-10 minutes, and provide useful data for someone doing interesting research here in New Westminster.

If you are at all like me, your typical healthy-ish 40-ish male, you haven’t seen a doctor in quite some time. If you have kids, you likely interacted with the healthcare system, but for those of us without, we try to think about the last time we had stitches. Or maybe that’s just me, but this is kind of the point of this survey.

Fraser Health has been doing a “My Health, My Community” survey over the last couple of months, and they need a few more people to provide data before the end of the month (yes- in the next three days!). They especially need info from my cohort- healthy-ish males who may hardly ever interact with the healthcare system. Of course, the rest of you should also take part, it’s just (typically) the middle age males you need to kick in the ass to take any kind of health self-assessment at all.

The purpose of the survey is not to sell you services, but to gather better information about the health needs of the community. They need data from a bunch of locals about your life, as it relates to your risk for health conditions, and their need to provide services. They aren’t getting too personal, but they want to understand a bit about how New Westminster folks live their life and access health care, so they can do some longer-term strategic planning.

Typically for any health care situation – young (and youngish) males are lacking in their participation. They really need a few more male people to provide data. I filled out the survey a couple of weeks ago: it was easy, it took no more than 10 minutes, and it was a little fun (remembering the good old days when I used to smoke…). This from a guy who has not seen an actual doctor in about 15 years. Yeah, I should probably go get a check-up, but the survey didn’t guilt me into feeling that. Really, who has a family doctor anymore?

Back when I was whinging about how Democracy is what you do between elections – this is a chance to help your elected officials and bureaucrats make better decisions to save you money while providing the services you need. So I’m going to say it: If you don’t fill out this survey, you are not allowed to complain about the healthcare system!

But Hurry, survey ends on the 30th, and if you fill it out, you can win a new iPad. And hey, who doesn’t need a new iPad?

You are surfing the net right now, you clearly have time. Follow this link right now and help out a bit.

On Enbridge, and editorial failures.

I haven’t said much about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline semi-announcement. Frankly, there have been too many column inches wasted on this story already, as the project is a non-starter. After all is said and done, the millions of dollars wasted by Enbridge and our Federal Government to promote an ecologically and economically indefensible project will be just one of the sad legacies of the Harper years.

So this post isn’t about Enbridge, it is about another monumental failure: this “Editorial” in one of the local Post Media Serious Newspapers of Note (which itself has become the AM Sport Radio of Print Journalism). There is so much wrong in this very short 250 words that it needs to be addressed line-by-line:

“Setting aside, for the moment, the tremendous economic opportunities and wealth creation that resource extraction has always meant to B.C. and this country…”

Point 1: We cannot simply set aside the economic opportunities of the Northern Gateway, or other resource extraction activities in BC, because that is what this entire issue is about. From the start, the people up and down the coast of BC have been critical of this project specifically because of the risk it poses to their economic reality and the threat it poses to the very resources that their economy relies on, while providing almost no offsetting economic benefits to the communities most at risk.

Point 2: By lumping in an oil pipeline in with “resource extraction” is to be disingenuous to the real concerns here. Yes, BC and Canada were built on resource extraction: furs, mines, forests, fish, and energy. But not all resources are the same, and they do not contribute equally. Some are renewable, some are not. Some we extract high value with value-added industries, some we don’t. Some we balance against significant environmental harm, some we do not. By any measure, an oil pipeline transporting diluted bitumen for immediate export through our parks, watersheds, forests, shorelines and seas provides the least extracted value from a non-renewable resource with virtually no value added, few jobs, and a potentially huge environmental impact. When compared to Canada’s largest-value of exports (automobiles and machinery) Oil and all hydrocarbons pale in comparison, both in the GDP contribution to our economy, to the amount of trade dollars, and in the amount of employment income derived by the industries.

Canada’s exports by sector, a proportion of GDP. Click to enlarge.

“Resource Extraction” built Canada, but manufacturing and services are our future.

“…when it comes to the Northern Gateway pipeline Canadians had better start asking themselves a very fundamental question: Are we going to be a nation of citizens who respect the rule of law, due process and democratic governance or are we going to descend into anarchy and mob rule?”

Wow. I mean f***ing wow (sorry Mom). The false dichotomy and broad-brush idiocy of this statement is one thing, but it’s the inherent hubris that makes me want to swear. To be lectured by cheerleaders of this project about “due process” and the “rule of law” when the proponents had many of the laws that would have provided said due process stripped away, when the persons employed by the Government to provide the scientific basis for that process have been fired or silenced, when the scientific community comes out with a comprehensive list of the ways the process was not based on scientific review of its own criteria, is, I think, a little offensive to those who believe in democratic governance and science-based policy to be accused of being an anarchist mob.

To suggest that people in a democracy, standing up for injustice, speaking their minds, providing opinion, ideas, and (yes) criticism of the government is akin to “mob rule” or “anarchy” sounds like the hyperbole of a totalitarian state – or just the regular missives of a Petro-State, I suppose.

“The decision by the Harper government Tuesday to approve the pipeline — critical to unleashing vast wealth for Canada by allowing Alberta oil to be delivered safely to world markets — has been met by predictable opposition.”

The parts on the outside of the dashes read like a reasonable comment, and are about the only truthful part of this entire editorial. The part in the middle is just more Petro-State approved gibberish. Because it paints over the reasons the opposition exists. Some suggest this pipeline is not “critical” to the ongoing development of the Bitumen Sands, it only serves to accelerate their development and make the entire operation less sustainable. Some further suggest too much of the “vast wealth” is currently going to multi-national corporations and state-owned oil companies from Norway to Malaysia, and not to the people of Canada who own the resource being rapidly depleted and exported. Mostly, people are concerned that this project will not in fact get the product “safely to markets”, but will spread a little too much of it around valuable natural resource territories, and on lands never ceded by the aboriginal inhabitants.

“In a democracy, this is healthy. But the too-common rhetoric from some quarters of taking direct action against the decision of a democratically elected government is appalling, especially after years of public process into the merits of the project and the imposition of 209 conditions to ensure the environment is as protected as is possible.”

Read that again. A major newspaper is suggesting that the Majority of Canadians who didn’t vote for the Conservatives, or even those who are part of the plurality who voted for someone other than them, you should just shut the hell up and take whatever you are given. You may say the process never demonstrated the merits, and are not assured the conditions are sufficient or will be met, but it is “appalling” that you would question a duly elected government.

“Critics talk of the need for “social licence” for projects like the pipeline, a new term created by people who can’t win elections, but think they have some right to run the country. They don’t.”

Since I am one of the majority who did not Vote for Harper’s band of thieves, perhaps I should defer to their greatest shadow-organizers, the Fraser Institute on the topic of “Social License”. You see, according to the oft-quoted free-market “dink-tank”, that term was not a term “created by people who can’t win elections”, it was invented by a successful Canadian Mining Executive, and it is described very well in this Fraser Institute article under their ”MiningFacts.org.” astroturf organization:

Allow me to quote extensively: “[social license to operate (SLO)]…is an essential part of operating within democratic jurisdictions, as without sufficient popular support it is unlikely that agencies from elected governments will willingly grant operational permits or licenses. The SLO can be revoked and it should never be taken for granted. The Social License to Operate refers to the acceptance within local communities of both mining companies and their projects. Social acceptance is granted by all stakeholders that are or can be affected by mining projects (e.g. local communities, indigenous people) and other groups of interests (e.g. local governments, NGOs). The SLO does not refer to a formal agreement or document but to the real or current credibility, reliability, and acceptance of mining companies and projects. The SLO is granted by stakeholders based on the credibility of a mining company and the type of relationship that companies develop with the communities. Stakeholders tend to grant an SLO when they feel that their values and those of the company are aligned.”

Typical Fraser Institute radical lefties. I wonder how Enbridge is doing on that Social Licence thing?

“Opponents will take heart from the demonstration in Vancouver that occurred Tuesday or from petitions with several thousand names criticizing the pipeline’s approval. But they need to remember that most British Columbians who support projects like the pipeline aren’t generally available mid-afternoon to express it. They’re working, but they do vote.”

What a load of bullshit. The Province was there, and should know that protest was held, and reached it peak, on a Friday evening – the largest numbers appeared well after the close of business Friday – and I know several people who went down there AFTER WORK to assure their voices were heard. And these people vote. And the unemployed and underemployed vote.

The best part of about that protest was the numbers that showed up after work on a Friday of a sunny weekend on very short notice – there were more people at that protest than there are jobs promised the people of BC for the entire Northern Gateway Project. To me, that is a sign of a healthy democracy, and the Province’s Editorial board is a demonstration of a failure of journalism in that democracy. Not because I disagree with them, and not just because of the specific problems above, but because of what their approach is to the entire topic, in light of the role of journalism in a functioning democracy.

What does it mean when the “Fourth Estate”- they who are meant to hold Government and Corporate feet to the fire and assure that oversight was provided outside of government in the service of the people – read too much from the government play sheet? Read this opinion piece above, and ask yourself who is being protected, and from whom? Here we have the media telling people who do not agree with the current federal government and the few corporate interests that are proposing this project not that they are wrong; not that they are factually incorrect; not that their concerns are misplaced; but to SHUT UP, YOU LOSERS!

Of course, we can’t be sure it is their editorial position at all. Considering the history of PostMedia newspapers selling advertising space to Enbridge proponents while making them look like editorials.

I used to think the dead-tree large corporate media were no longer relevant to our democracy, now I am starting to suspect they are actively trying to undermine it.

Off to the Races…

This is a good thing.

Suggestions that Jonathan Cote may (and should) run for Mayor have been bandied around for many months now, so the surprise is a little… unsurprising.

It seems like a natural progression. He has served three terms on council, and led the polls during the last two elections. His profile has been increasing, taking the lead on some of the higher-profile issues in town, and he has become the go-to Councillor when the regional press comes to New Westminster to talk about this “New New Westminster” phenomenon, and terms like (shudder) the “next Brooklyn” arise in talk about how our City is developing.

Meanwhile, not resting on his electoral popularity or media exposure, Cote has spent the last couple of years learning more about Cities while earning a Masters Degree in Urban Studies at SFU. This is the kind of thing a person might would typically do if they want to move up the ladder to a senior planning position in a City – not the standard route for a part-time City Councillor with a full time job and a young family who is thinking about politics.

That tells me a lot about what kind of guy Cote is, and one of the reasons I love that he has decided to run. He has a demonstrated work ethic, and he doesn’t come to the table assuming he knows all the answers. He instead wants to learn and find out about solutions already tested and true. I have seen him operate in committees, and he knows how to get the best out of a team and move the agenda forward. He also loves cities and the process of making them work better for the people living in them. As a Mayor, he will be able to bring a deeper understanding, and challenge staff to do better, explain better, and move the City forward.

I also like the symbolism of his run: The oldest city in the Province may have the youngest Mayor in the Province. As a bonus, that “youth” comes with significant professionalism and experience.

We don’t know what this means for Mayor Wright (at least I don’t). By all accounts, the current Mayor and Councillor Cote have worked very effectively together and have a lot of respect for each other, but there is no indication from His Worship what he intends to do in November.

I need to say, I like Mayor Wright. I have grown to appreciate his ability to move this City forward over the last decade. He has been the cheerleader this City has needed during its recent re-emergence, and has taken a few political risks that have (mostly) paid off tremendously. He’s not generally thought of as a “labour guy”, but has worked effectively with the labour-endorsed Councils he has been provided by the voters. His support in town is such that last election, when the opposition decided to run *against* him instead of *for* something else, they got beat badly. There is also something to say for the fact I am just as happy calling the Mayor “His Worship” as I am calling him “Wayne”: he is both worthy of respect, and popularly familiar.

There is an idea that the best time to pass the torch is when it is burning bright, and Mayor Wright could do much worse than passing it to Cote, but that is really the current Mayor’s decision to make. Regardless of what Wright decides to do, we can be confident the “silly season” has begun, and this will be an interesting election season!

The Mayors have a Plan

The Mayors of the region have done what no-one (and I include the Minister of Transportation in this group) thought they could: they came to a consensus around a 10+ year transportation plan. For a moment in time Thursday morning, people around the region started to dream about a rational transportation future… then the Minister reminded us that he wasn’t interested in solving the transportation problem, he wanted to perpetuate the contrived impasse. Alas…

First the good news: the plan looks good. The major components show a significant amount of compromise by many of the Mayors, as a few big dreams have been scaled back somewhat. However the route charted is clear: Rapid transit in the form of underground Skytrain on the Broadway corridor and two light rail lines in Surrey. A whole swack of B-line routes for everyone else. Investment in the SeaBus, a few shekels tossed to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, and yes- a tolled 4-lane Pattullo Bridge.

Surrey LRT: Three lines total, 104 Ave and King George Boulevard running within 7 years, and the Fraser Highway line in service by year 12.

Broadway Corridor: Continuation of the Millennium Line to Arbutus within 10 years.

Skytrain: improvements to the system to increase frequency of Skytrain by 2016.

Burnaby Mountain Gondola: They are calling it a “connection” to avoid discussing technology, but the business case for the gondola is solid: it can move many more people for much less money with much more reliability than buses. There is no timeline provided for this investment.

SeaBus: An increase in SeaBus service by 50% will bring it close to a “Frequent Transit Service” standard, meaning waits for the next SeaBus will be reduced to the point where “Over Town” commuters don’t have the schedule your life around catching the next boat.

Pattullo Replacement: A tolled, 4-lane Pattullo is now the plan – although no date is provided for completion. The bridge will be “expandable” to 6 lanes, so the devil will clearly be in the details (for those who remember the Alex Fraser was built with two “spare” lanes that were opened about a year after opening). The language sounds to me like they are NOT trying to sneak in a 6-lane bridge:

“This possible expansion may be considered if need arises, if demand increases beyond forecasts and/or the surrounding network changes. Future consideration of expansion would require all-party agreement and Mayors’ Council approval.”

I read from that that New Westminster, being one of the parties, would need to agree, and with the toll in place, the odds of demand requiring more lanes any time soon are pretty small. I call this a win for the “Reasonable Approach” work that New Westminster Council has been doing for the last year. This was the part of the Mayor’s Plan I was most concerned about before it was unveiled, and I’m glad to see it is something I can vote for as part of the greater plan.

Roads: “…having benefited from many decades of high and consistent investment… no major road capacity increases are needed” -BOOM!

Pedestrians and Cycling: The Mayors support and call upon TransLink to strengthen the regional cycling network, and to invest in making the pedestrian connections to transit stronger. There are few specifics here, but the next time you hear about the great Bicycle Conspiracy/Agenda, note that only 3% of TransLink’s current budget will go to all of the cycling, pedestrian , road and bridge maintenance (yes, even truck and car roads), and the plan will bring that proportion up to… 3% (which is an increase, as it will be the same percentage of a slightly larger budget).

B-lines: 11 New B-line bus routes. These almost-express buses bridge the gap between light rail and old-style buses, by being frequent enough with limited stops to get a lot of people across medium-distances fairly efficiently. The advantages are that 200km of these lines can be installed with very little capital investment on the part of TransLink, but their effectiveness is tied to their being as fast as, or faster than, a car on the same route, which requires the individual Cities investing in supporting infrastructure (priority lanes, queue-jumper lights, etc.). More devil-in-detail stuff here.

Buses: More and newer buses will mean a better quality of service, and lower operating costs. The plan includes more than half a million more service hours per year, between the B-lines, peak load service, and off-peak service. This would support getting more people to the “core services” of rapid transit which will increase revenue. The plan proposes that by 2030, more than 60% of front doors in Greater Vancouver will be within walking distance of the Frequent Transit Network (the service that is frequent and reliable enough that you don’t need a schedule to depend on it, you can just walk to the stop and a bus will arrive within a few minutes). That gives pretty much the entire region a level of service approaching Burnaby levels, if not quite New Westminster levels. This is good, and will provide huge revenue increases through tickets.

There is a bunch of other stuff in there about transportation demand management, better integrated information and payment systems, upgrading the Goods Movement system, etc. This is a 45-page document full of good details; a well-referenced and integrated Regional Transportation Plan. It is simply amazing that TransLink and the Mayors were able to put it together so quickly, and find enough consensus on it to get it (almost) unanimously passed.

Reading it through, you can see how this happened. Overall, there are signs of compromise – a little of everything, not too much of any one thing – note the SkyTrain to UBC is not included, and the LRT access for Surrey is coming online slower than ideal. Make no mistake: this is actually a very modest plan compared to what our region should build if we want to be “world class”… but at least we are, for the first time in almost a decade, moving forward instead of backwards.

Well, we were, until Minister Stone killed it shortly after birth. This, once again, confuses exactly what his goal is. The Minister told the mayors to make a plan, they did it. He told them to set up a payment plan, and that (this is the important part) the populace would be able to vote on whether that plan was acceptable. No money unless the people agree. That was the deal.

Of course, he didn’t really want the people to vote, he wanted the Mayors to be forced to supplicate themselves in front of the public asking for more money…ideally during local elections. The tax plan the Mayor’s have proposed has suggested a re-jig of the Carbon Tax, which puts a load on general revenue , which the people are apparently not allowed to vote on.

This type of cynical politicking is why we can’t have nice things.

The hanging question, after a year of this discussion, is this: What is the BC Liberal Plan? So far they have offered nothing- no vision, no funding, no ideas, not even any creative criticism – they just say “No”. Leadership is not asking other people to come to you with proposals, then responding by saying “I think not, try again”. It is instead about finding the way to say “yes” to a better future – something the herd-of-cats Mayors’ Council have been able to do, but Todd Stone simply cannot abide.

Put this lack of leadership in contrast with Kathleen Wynne’s bold leadership on sustainable transportation in Ontario. Both of these unexpectedly-re-elected premiers call themselves “Liberals”, but they clearly have very different visions of what liberalism is, and different views of leadership.

Reflective Clothing and Infrastructure

Twitter is a pretty cool communications tool. One person can link many others to common information, ideas can be debated 140 characters at a time, and you can immediately link to a larger “community” based not on your geographic location, but your common interests.

The format also allows you to take quick jabs at cultural norms – some of them that need constant jabbing.

One example is the ongoing discussion about how the RCMP and other Law Enforcement message active transportation in the world of motordom. I could list endless examples, from “crackdowns” on helmetless cyclists on protected bike paths, the use of euphemisms like “accident involving a pedestrian”, or the constant messaging that everyone needs to be vigilant around traffic, because one of these cars (never “drivers”) could kill you. Somehow, surrounding pedestrians and cyclists are held more responsible for the operation of the 3,000-lb steel box than the person inside the steel box. The pervasive message is that the safest place to be is inside a car (despite a huge body of evidence that inside a car is the most dangerous place most people in North America ever spend time!)

There have been a couple of “incidents involving cyclists” in Burnaby of late, including one that did not involve a car, but rather infrastructure installed to reduce car traffic. Clearly, this is a sad, unfortunate event, and we don’t really know all the causative factors. This did not prevent the Burnaby RCMP from repeating the “helmet and reflective clothing” meme. We don’t know if a helmet would have helped this person (likely it would have, depending on whether the presumed head injury was to the area typically covered by foam), but there is no doubt reflective clothing would have done nothing to help this person.

What the RCMP did not suggest was that the City should assure infrastructure is safe for cyclists, be they helmet-wearing and lit up like a Christmas tree or not. One thing we know for certain is that the quality of cycling infrastructure is the best correlate to cyclist safety (much better than helmet use does).

Upon reading this story, I immediately went to Google Street View and saw the intersection where the accident took place. It is pretty ugly:

Google Street View – Click to zoom in.

A tattered old set of curb-standard concrete barriers, yellow paint faded and tattered, a single sign in the middle of the lane (the main part of which is offset 90 degrees from the direction of travel on Esmond Ave). The barriers go right to the curb, where the offset sidewalk ramps are incomplete. Simply put, there is no safe route through this intersection for a cyclist. Could this crappy piece of infrastructure be at least part of the problem?

So I took a screen capture from Google, and tweeted away that perhaps bad infrastructure was more a part of this than a lack of reflective clothing. And as sometimes happens with Twitter: the message got out. (note, the first hint I got that the reporter wrote a story around my tweet was when I read it in my twitter feed – full circle!)

For a better, and safer, solution to the intersection in question, you don’t have to look any farther than south Burnaby where we have barriers like this…

…which serve the same purpose, but with better visibility, better sightlines, logical through-paths, and are also more attractive in the streetscape.

The City of Burnaby response in the story above is familiar for anyone involved in transportation planning (allow me to paraphrase): it’s been like this for a long time; we think it is probably OK; we don’t think anyone has had an accident here before; we will look at it again.” That last part is satisfying, but the rest sounds like the excuses often heard when a bad piece of infrastructure is pointed out. To many active transportation advocates, tragedy too often sounds like something used to elicit change, instead of something we should be actively trying to prevent through change.

This is why active transportation advocates have to keep beating the drum whenever we see a potentially-unsafe piece of infrastructure.

Green Drinks and Food Security!

I’ve mentioned the Southwest BC Bio-Regional Food System Design Project (SWBCBRFSDP – my acronym, not theirs!) on this blog before, but it was tied in with a bunch of bummer complaining about lack of government support for protecting the ALR, so the good news might have been buried in all that whining. So this is the “good news” follow-up post. Folks in the know are coming to New West on Tuesday to tell us about this really cool project.

Recognizing the need to support more robust local food systems, the researchers at Kwantlen’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems are applying their significant expertise, and partnering with a diverse community of business, governance, and agricultural experts, to bring about change in how we source our food.

There are a lot of words in SWBCBRFSDP, but I like the idea of showing why every word is relevant:

SWBC: Southwest BC is defined by the project as the area from Hope to Powell River, and from Delta to Lillooet: an extensive area that ties the lower stretch of the Fraser River to the Sunshine Coast, and essentially comprises the mainland Canadian portions of the traditional lands of the Coast Salish People.

BR: A Bio-Region is and area defined by a common topography, climate, plant and animal life, and human cultural influence. In this sense, the watersheds of the Salish Sea from the desert of Lillooet to Howe Sound has a diversity of eco-zones, but are tied together by bio-cultural heritage and geography.

FS: This project is not just about farming and protecting the ALR. Yes, preserving farmland when we can will be an important part of the food security equation, but we also have to consider the other major food inputs, such as the salmon we catch from the river, and the traditional food-gathering that many of us are separated from, but are still an important part of the region’s culture. However, there is much more to food than having profitable local Agri-business farms (how many cranberries do you eat in the average year?). A Food System would support the regional economy by connecting together food sources with processors, warehousing and retail, delivery systems from Farmers’ Markets to restaurants and standard retail. A true system would even connect our disjointed organic waste stream, to bring the nutrients in our food waste back to the farms and better manage in the industrial-scale waste sometimes produced in Agri-business. Ultimately, every step in the food cycle should not just just feed British Columbians, but employ, include, and benefit British Columbians. That is how local economic resiliency is built.

Design Project: This project will start by performing an actual, science-based evaluation of what the food potential of the region is – can this region actually meet its own food needs? And if so, how? They will also be evaluating the critical needs and opportunities for our local food systems to get the food we produce to our local plates. The eventual plan is to create a series of science-based policy papers and best practices reviews that decision-makers in municipal, regional and provincial government can use to help bring a more sustainable local food system into existence.

This project hopes to realize that building a local food economy is about more than just Food Sovereignty (our ability to feed ourselves domestically and not being overly reliant on volatile global markets), but also supports economic development for the region. Every bit of food we import is a bleed on the local economy – it is a flow of our wealth to other places that we could instead use to fuel our local economy. If food is grown in BC, processed in BC, sold in BC, and the waste recycled in BC, we are creating jobs at every step, we are having a smaller environmental impact on the planet. It also brings our communities together by bringing us closer to the people who provide us our nourishment.

At a time when many of us feel bombarded by bad news and general malaise about the future of sustainability planning in our communities / province / country, this is a good news story – a positive look forward towards a better future.

At this point, the project is still being set up, and the proponents are trying to tie stakeholders together. The proponents are putting on a bit of a travelling discussion about the project and food security, which is why I am talking about this here and now – because Dr. Kent Mullinix and Sofia Fortin from the SW BC Bio-Regional Food System Design Project are coming to Green Drinks in New West!

The NWEP is moving it’s every-second-month-or-so Green Drinks to the Terminal Pub (where there is a new menu, many excellent choices at the taps, and a cool new room) on June 10. Green Drinks is always fun, casual, and no-stress. You get to chat with a wide diversity of New Westies and people from a little further afield. The formal program is kept short to give you lots of chat time, and there is no need to drink if that isn’t your thing. It’s mostly just a social gathering of folks concerned about sustainability issues, socializing, talking, and having some fun.

This time, you get a chance to talk to the folks from the above-raved-about project (and ask Kent about pruning your trees- I took a pruning course from him a few years ago and learned more than anyone should ever need to know- the guy is a font of knowledge on all things growing!)

Join us! It’s Free!

Hyack : the more things change…

Last post, I suggested some hopes for (dreams of?), a better Hyack Festival in New Westminster. In doing so, I was cognizant of stepping on eggshells, because I don’t want to downplay the efforts of the hard-working volunteers who bring a bit of fun to New Westminster while holding up long-standing traditions.

This got me reading about the history of Hyack*, and I learned that questioning the organization of these major events and challenging the meaning of them has actually been one of those long-standing traditions!

The May Day Celebrations started in 1870, with the ceremony developing around securing a common identity as an agricultural town with “royal” origins – perhaps as a bit of the thumb-to-the-nose at the upstart Capital across the water. It is important to note that May Day was, in those early days, an internal celebration for the residents of New Westminster, not a regional event intended to promote the City externally to a larger regional trading region. At the turn of the Century, the City had the Pacific Exhibition and the Farmers Market to do those things.

Through the first half of the 20th century, the May Day Celebrations expanded to act both for internal cohesion and external boosterism. It was primarily an event for children, becoming an all-day fete with folk dances, the Maypole, and sporting events, with attendance by all New Westminster school children at one point made compulsory. Originally this fest was highlighted by the Anvil Battery Salute, but by the early 1950s, May Day had moved to the Friday before Victoria Day, to foster attendance by elementary students.

By the late 50’s to early 60’s, some of those institutions that held the City together and put it on the map regionally – the Miracle Mile of shops, the Exhibition, and the Farmers Market – were disappearing. During this time, there was pressure to “protect” the May Day Festival and keep it safe from “contemporary tendencies” to expand or transform the event. The Chamber of Commerce, recognizing the mercantile opportunities, suggested moving the May Day to Saturday in 1961 to allow more visitors to be drawn to town. They were thoroughly rebuked by the May Day Committee for suggesting a children’s festival should suffer the ugly encroachment of commercialism.

In the late 60’s, this transformation began regardless, partly due to ongoing pressure from different parts of the community, partly because of the coincidence with larger celebrations of the Centennials of 1958 (of New Westminster), 1966 (of the Colony), and 1967 (of Confederation). The changes were also coincident with some of the “Old Guard” of the May Day Committee starting to retire or die off. By 1966, it was a three-day festival, and in 1967, a 5-day event, including the “largest Parade in the Province’s History”, a carnival in Queens Park, sporting events, an agricultural show, and more. With more than 100,000 people showing up for the Parade (remember, this was a City with less than 40,000 residents), this was clearly a regional event to promote New Westminster, and a significant tourist draw for the local commercial interests at a time when Columbia Street was beginning to see decline. Ugly commercialism had, eventually, encroached.

This growth was not without concern. The loss of traditions and increasing cost of the larger event caused apprehension among many of the traditionalists. When conflict ensued at City Council about spiraling costs, and a concurrent push by some to build a more “professional type, money making event”, a new organizing committee for all festivals was created: one comprised of upstart younger businessmen. This group was less encumbered by old traditionalist and parochial ideas about the fete, but wanted to inject new ideas, energy, and blood into the City’s Festivals. One of their first acts of this so-called “Royal City Society” was to change the name of the May Day celebration into The “Hyack Festival”.

Funded by a 1% tax on businesses, and unfettered by the City’s bureaucracy, Hyack grew to a 10-day celebration. It didn’t replace traditions like the May Day celebrations or the Anvil Salute, but surrounded them with other events to improve the overall attractiveness. In 1972 there was reportedly “a carnival, high-wire acts, roving western singers throughout the City”. In 1973, the festival was just as big with a week of sporting events to build the excitement towards the upcoming Canada Summer Games. In 1974, the Parade moved from Columbia Street to the current Uptown route, reflecting the shifting economic fortunes of the City’s two main commercial centres. By then, visitor numbers had dropped back to the more-typical 25,000 or so people, but Hyack as an entity, and as a festival, continued to thrive. Through ups and downs, as events came and went (canoe race anyone?), this is the same Hyack festival we have today.

But where are we today? The number of events surrounding the mainstay traditions is definitely reduced, and there were clearly not 25,000 people on 6th Street last month. The traditions hold strong, and the Hyack Festivals Association has to be thanked for keeping the flame burning for 40+ years. However, the root of all of the conflict in and around Hyack for the last year seems eerily familiar: how much change is too much change? What is the most responsible way to spend Taxpayer’s Money? Do we want to have a large commercial event (dare I say “professional” or “not amateurish”) to attract people to our City, or a smaller community-building event that represents our traditions and desires? Are these two ideas incompatible?

The 2014 Hyack Festival is over, there is some new leadership of the Festival Association, and the battle for Letter-to-the-Editor dominance has apparently fizzled out. However, the conversation cannot stop now. Sustainable funding is still an uncertainty. The prominence of Hyack is being challenged by the many new neighbourhood and community groups setting up festivals and other events around town. Some of the structural concerns and visioning issues about Hyack that led to last year’s conflict have not been resolved. The worst thing that can happen right now is for the conversation about the role of the Hyack festival Association in our community to go silent.

The bitter fight was silly and distracting; we need a calm discussion. Maybe Hyack should start it. The people of New Westminster want to be engaged in the conversation, because most of us don’t want to volunteer for Hyack or wear a Green Jacket, but we all love a Parade.

*I read many sources for this Post, not the least being Earl Noah’s 1992 MA Thesis (Geography) from UBC, from which anything in quotes above was drawn. My not being a historian means I can hang any errors above on my unprofessional misinterpretation of records, and not a flaw of the records themselves!

Hyack Festival – the fete goes on

Well, we survived another Hyack Festival. By that, I mean Hyack survived to put on another week+ long schedule of events, culminating in the Hyack Parade.

After a year of questionable decisions, accusations, battles (petty and otherwise), victories (pyrrhic and otherwise), and Editorial Page exchanges that only increased the questions and doubts, it was good to see the Show that Must, did indeed Go On. Everyone loves a parade.

Clearly, a successful, if slightly scaled-back, Hyack Festival does not mark the end of the ongoing battle for Hyack relevancy and funding. However, it was a positive step, both for Hyack and the City, and one that did not look a certainty only a few months ago.

I attended various Hyack events this year, chatted with quite a few people at these events, and have talked to many people since. At times, these conversations led to deeper discussions about what these “traditions” we celebrate are for, and who they are for.

Before I start to get critical, I need to acknowledge that I did nothing to help organize the events of Hyack Festival. That puts me in the (very crowded) category of people who complain about something that other people – mostly volunteers – bust their ass to do to the benefit of the community, without lifting a finger myself to help them. This is pretty much the definition of a jerk.However, Hyack themselves are quick to remind us that they are an important part of the City of New Westminster and its traditions. They are also asking that the City continue to support (logistically and financially) the events Hyack organizes every year, which opens them up for a certain level of constructive ruminations. So here are my impressions, not meant to disparage the Festival or organizers, but to add to the discussion of what Hyack means to this city.

There are three 4 major events of general public interest that make up the Hyack festival: the Anvil Battery Salute, the May Day Celebrations, the Parade, and the Uptown Street Fair. Some will point out the many other associated events, but I get the sense some fall under the category of normal local events that could occur on any weekend (antique fair, petting farm opening), others seem a little inward-looking (Portland Rosarians Rose Planting, Seymour Artillery Firing), and yet others are not really open events (such as the Formal Banquet) that are more important to Hyack than to the rest of the community.

Of the main events, the Anvil Battery Salute is the one with the greatest historic relevance to New Westminster. The 21-firing salute to Queen Victoria, starting at noon on Victoria Day, is a unique, exciting, and important tradition. I just wish more people were there to see it. I could imagine it as a centrepiece of a great day in the park – the middle of a festival with everything from kid’s games to sports contests to food booths and beer gardens, music, and entertainment. Pick up Sapperton Day, drop it into the middle of the baseball field, and run the Anvil salute then, and you can see what I am getting at. Unfortunately, as a stand-alone event, it can appear to be much ado about nothing to those not aware of the tradition, and the crowd measured in the dozens this year* are a testimony to the failure to make this connection to people.

Being without kids and with a full-time job, I was not able to attend the May Day Celebrations. Wednesday, mid-day just doesn’t work for most of us working stiffs. By all accounts it was well attended, appreciated, and continues to be a highlight of the spring for many kids and parents. That the School Board puts so much effort into the event in these difficult times for that organization shows the desire of the community to protect this tradition that goes back more than 140 years.

This leaves the Hyack Parade and Uptown Street Fest. Everyone (and I have to include myself) loves a parade. It seemed there were many fewer floats this year than last year, and there were definitely more notable gaps in the crowd on the bottom half of the route that I remember from previous years, but the crowd that was there seemed into it. The same goes for the distinctly scaled-back Uptown Street Fest. With a bouncy castle and some food trucks, there was a good hour or so worth of entertainment to be had post-parade. It was well attended for the relatively small space it took up, but to suggest (as some boosters did on Twitter the day of) that it had 3x the attendees of last year’s hugely popular Uptown Festival, is fanciful.

If I was to put out one major criticism (and this is a common theme I have heard voiced), it is that these four events combined would make for a great 2- or 3-day festival. To stretch it out to 8 days over two weekends takes the momentum away from each of the events, and serves all of them a little less. Asking to general public in these busy times to dedicate two weekends to the Hyack festival, when there is only a couple of hours entertainment on each weekend, is not optimal. Given the choice of the Anvil Battery or the Parade, and going camping or to visit grandma on the other weekend, I’ll take the Parade every time (but I wish I didn’t have to choose).

Again, not being an insider, I only have my own suspicions as to why a good 2-day festival is stretched out to 8 days – mostly because the two headliner events can’t be held on the same weekend. Of course, the Anvil Battery Salute is a Victoria Day celebration, so it makes no sense to move that date. However, Victoria Day is a Monday that is not a civic holiday in the United States, and with so many parade floats and marching bands coming up from the Northwest, having the parade on this day would be problematic.

This problem is exacerbated because Hyack is the only Canadian member of the Northwest Festival Hosting Association, and the third weekend in May is already reserved for the Spokane Lilac Festival (put on some sunglasses before clicking that link). I suspect that Spokane is not interested in changing their weekend-before-Memorial-Day tradition, and competition between NFHA members is discouraged. So neither the Parade nor the Anvil Battery Salute can be moved, unless a tradition is broken.

That’s the way of it with traditions. Next post I am going to delve a little deeper into the history of these traditions in New Westminster, and tell a bit of a story about what happens when an upstart group of young business leaders step up to challenge a stale organization to be “bigger and better”, City Hall gets involved, funding gets withheld, and people challenge the parochialism and suspect impropriety of long-held traditions.

*Correction: A member of the Anvil Battery Salute team corrected me today on Twitter, saying an actual crowd count numbered the people at the Anvil Salute at 400. I am surprised, as I felt I had a lot of elbow room” in the stands, and even the photos of the event show pretty sparse crowds, but they had a count and all I have is a vague feeling, so you are better to rust the count!