Climate keeps on changing

There have been a couple of intersecting stories recently relating to how our Federal Government is dealing with the science of Anthropogenic Global Warming.

Cynics say they are doing nothing about it, but I counter they are taking a strong, nuanced, and multi-faceted approach to the issue; one common to theocratic Petro-States the world round.

They are lying to the public, and then making sure no-one on their payroll can call them on the lie.

First the lie part.

You might remember last month when that most Orwellian of federal officials, Minister of “Environment” Peter Kent, suggested that Canada is making real progress, and is already half way to meeting our 2020 Greenhouse Gas targets as set out in Copenhagen Accord in 2009.

The Copenhagen target was based on emissions we put out in 2005. Here is the Government’s own data on GHG emissions (in Million tonnes of CO2 equivalents):

2005 (the date upon which targets are hung): 740 Mt
2010 (the most recent data provided by the government): 692 Mt
2020 (the target): 607 Mt

Now, I’m a geologist, which basically means I’m not so good at math, but I’m pretty sure 692 is NOT half-way between 740 and 607. But it gets worse.

Reading through the Ministry of Environment report, you can see that much of the reduction up to 2010 is a result of the recession that hit in 2008 (which I don’t see the Harper Government taking credit for…). Much of the rest is a result of this little nugget:

“ For the first time, the contribution of the land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector to achieving Canada’s target is included in our projections.”

So, they have fudged the numbers going forward to include landuse changes. That may be a valid way to count net GHG impacts, but introducing it halfway through makes it look like something has changed when, in reality, nothing has!

Even with this fudging and the fortunate (in hindsight) global recession, the report does not project that Canada will meet its target of 607 Mt by 2020. See Table ES-1 where it shows emissions since 2010 have been creeping back up after the recession, and we will be putting out 720 Mt per year in 2020. This is a 2.7% decrease from 2005 numbers, but not half-way to 607 Mt. Not even close.

Of course, the problem with telling lies is that someone might call you on it. It is one thing if this is a political opponent (you can dismiss it as partisan bickering, who in Politics “owns” the truth?). It would be something different if those people work for the Government, especially if they are the people who collect this data. So in true theocratic Petro-State style, the Harper government has a three-prong attack against science:

First you stop new science from happening:
Then you stop existing scientists from talking.
Then you limit access to historic science.

Eventually, the facts hit the memory hole, and there is nothing to stop the buddies who funded your unlikely rise to power from re-writing the laws of the land for a singular, psychotic, self-destructive purpose.

How long can this go on?


UPDATE: I was just informed there will be a brief memorial at 2:00pm on Tuesday at the Queens Park bandshell, moving to the Rose Garden. My work commitments keep me from attending, but I do hope some New Westminster folks who care babout pedestrian safety will show up. It’s not about politics, or blame, it is about showing Gemma’s family that we as a community recognize the tragedy and want to do better…

This sucks.

I hate reading about this kind of thing. It makes me sad, it makes me angry, it frustrates me.

Putting a face to the name, recognizing Gemma Snowball as a young Australian woman who worked for a couple of local businesses makes it a little more personal. It’s not like I knew her name or shared any relationship more than being two people living in the same community, but just having interacted with her, recognizing her as a human being, and not just another nameless accident victim, it hits you a little harder.

It shouldn’t, though. Every person killed in what Newz Radio euphemistically calls an “incident involving a pedestrian” is a person, they were humans with families and jobs and futures and stories. Even if we didn’t have a chance to know them. Instincts deeply rooted in our evolution as tribal animals make deaths in our community more important than ones farther away, deaths of people we share a language and skin colour with more important than those whose cultures we don’t understand, people we have met more important than those we haven’t. One of those vestigial bits of human nature we would be best to get past.

My connection to this also comes from another direction, though. Serving on the City’s Advisory Committee on Transit, Bicycles and Pedestrians and the Master Transportation Committee, and being an outspoken advocate for improving pedestrian safety in New Westminster, I spend a lot of time talking with other (better informed and more effective) advocates for safe pedestrian environments, like Mary Wilson and Marion Orser and Bruce Warren. When we discuss the need for better traffic control, reduced speed limits, better lighting and pedestrian protection, better crosswalks, we often feel we are in our little bubble speaking to the wall.

We aren’t speaking to the wall, though. The City is making positive changes. We have a Pedestrian Charter, although fulfilling its vision seems a glacially slow process at times. Small changes are happening all the time: improved lighting or signals here, a new crosswalk there. Planning at every level in the City is doing a better job acknowledging the needs of pedestrians instead of just suffering their existence. The movement is slow, but those of us who spend our free time working on this stuff can see that we moving in the right direction, otherwise, why would we bother?.

Then something like this happens, and you shake your head and wonder if we are moving fast enough. In the priorities of “needs” a City strapped for resources has: firefighters and keeping the sewers running, plugging potholes and aiding the homeless, maintaining a vibrant community spirit and protecting people from crime, where do we stick “Pedestrian Safety” on the list?

The good news is that the pedestrian space in New Westminster is relatively safe. For a City with 400,000+ cars and trucks a day driving through, pedestrian deaths are uncommon: one in each of 2009 and 2010, none at all in 2011 or 2012. Maybe we have been lucky, dodging bullets, as MetroVancouver averages just under 20 pedestrian deaths a year. Even more depressing, the majority of automobile-related deaths in Vancouver are pedestrians – not cyclists, not drivers or passengers, certainly not Transit users, but people on foot.

The reality is that accidents happen. We don’t yet know the details of this incident. We know it was dark and rainy and the media reported the driver was making a left turn, which is clearly illegal at that intersection. Maybe it was an honest mistake by the driver; maybe it was intentional… a “victimless crime” if there was no cross traffic. But this time there was cross traffic. Maybe Gemma wasn’t as cautious as she could have been crossing the street at night, rushing to catch the bus on a rainy night after a long shift at work.

We may never know the combination of bad decisions made in a split second that resulted in one dead woman, and a driver whose life has now been tragically altered.

We don’t know the details, and I don’t know the solution. Maybe the built infrastructure had nothing to do with it – a freak combination of events that could not be avoided. But like many others, I can’t see an event like this and ignore it. Gemma was too close to my tribe and died in my back yard, I can’t let it pass unnoticed. Some have set up a vigil at 6th and 6th, and that is good for a time. Some others are holding an event on this upcoming Tuesday at the Dublin Castle to remember Gemma and raise a little support for her family. I am going to plan to go and help out in that little way.

More important, I am going to continue to advocate for pedestrian safety, to make our streets safe to cross. Gemma (and Christian Mesa) will stick in my mind, even if they were not friends. They are the reason we are working to make our urban areas better by making our streets safer for humans; so a momentary lack of attention doesn’t result in the tragically premature end of a life full of promise and hope.

If you are an advocate for pedestrians, a person who has felt that more needs to be done to make our crosswalks and sidewalks safe for the people of our City, maybe you might want to show up on Tuesday at the Dublin Castle and show some support. This isn’t a political issue (I don’t know any politician who wants streets to be less safe!), just a reminder of why we should be listening to advocates like Mary Wilson and keep fighting the good fight.

Environmental Forum – debrief

In the end, it all went remarkably well!

It started as an idea in the mind of NWEP member and consciousness-raiser Virginia Ayers, and after much hand-wringing, many meetings, and an alignment of stars, last weekend’s Environmental Policy Forum turned out very well, in spite of some last-minute organizational spackle application!

 The opening phase of the event, where people were asked to present ideas, concerns, issues and post them on out tack boards went well. In hindsight we could have stretched this time out, as the interactions in front of the board were happening well ahead of our more formal discussions. It was the meeting of minds and people during this early phase that made the rest of the day successful and, “primed the pump” for greater in-depth discussion.

Although not every topic on the bard made it to the table discussions, NWEP data-cruncher Peter McMartin has already entered all of the post-it note comments into a database, and is working out how best to make a searchable or otherwise suitable display of the data. So the ideas are not lost, and may form the nucleus of future discussions. Be sure the NWEP will refer back to them when looking at future events.

Once all the ideas were up on the boards, a furious voting period ensued, when all participants were asked to vote for their “top pick topics”. The facilitators high-graded the highest-vote topics (and categories of topics) and made up 5 roundtables for discussions. The topics that rose to the top were and interesting combination of the usual New Westminster issues, and hot topics of the day:

Transportation (and dealing with traffic pressures on New West)

Food Security (GMO crops, pesticides, local and organic food)

Solid Waste (details around, and alternatives to, waste incinerators)

Green infrastructure (building codes, reducing the impact of our built environment, carbon tax)

Air Quality (especially impacts from all truck through-traffic, and the expansion of coal ports).

I was, unfortunately, running around doing other things (see below) and was not privy to all of the discussions that ensued. Word-of-mouth has some relatively benign and positive discussions where it was easy to forge a common position (i.e. food security) where other topics (I’m looking at you, Transportation) resulted in a more complex discussion, and many counter-points raised.

There were a few common themes that tied many of the topics together. Many touched on climate change, the “transportation” theme clearly interacted with “air quality” when talking about truck traffic, and “air quality” concerns were obviously related to the trash incinerator topic. This (I hope) clearly demonstrated than sustainability is a complex topic, and easy answers are hard to find, as every change in one are impacts other areas in sometime unforeseen ways. Hence the need for “systems thinking” when we approach these complex problems.

However, the one overarching theme, the one that each of the groups included in some way in their report-out, was the need for more education on every issue. This included us, as citizens, needed more education on the impacts of the various waste-to-energy technologies, and it meant more education of the general public on the hows and whys of Port approval for projects that impact the greater community, and on the impacts of vehicle exhaust on our health. As an NWEP member, this was one of my take-aways from the event- people want to be better informed on issues, and the NWEP can help with that role.

And, last but not least, the four candidates vying for our Votes in May seemed to be pleased with the event. They had ample opportunity to hear from a wide breadth of the electorate. We had a good turn-out considering it was a warm, sunny weekend day in March, and maybe they would have liked to have spent those couple of hours door-knocking, but they were all game to a rather free-form discussion. They were all provided an opportunity to interact with the discussion groups and to provide a short speech afterwards.

One bonus was that our local community web-based TV volunteer group NewWest Dot TV was there to film and live-stream the event. This provided the opportunity during the relatively dead-air time of roundtable discussion for each of the candidates to be interviewed by some clown in a cheap suit. Clearly the clown was out of his element doing interviews, having both a face and a voice more suited for newspapers, but the candidates were great, providing concise and clear answers to his rather simplistic and idiotic questioning (starting about 45 minutes into the live stream now visible on the website).

Interviewing Clown, Patient Candidate

Thanks to the folks, the reporting out of the tables discussions, and the short speeches by the candidate are also view-able, for them that couldn’t show up. The NWEP will also be “reporting out” over the next month or two on their website. I have no idea what it will look like, but stay tuned!

Personally, I had a great time at the event, and thought it went really well. Because I have a loud voice, I was asked to emcee the proceedings, which with a successful event like this, allows me to receive lots of kudos from the happy participants. Appreciated, but I really only helped a little with a few tasks them yapped loudly at the crowd. This event was the brain child of Ginny Ayers, and between her incredible idea-generation and problem solving, and Karla Olson’s boundless energy and ability to get things done, about 90% of the entire project was managed. I’d also like to thank Andrew Feltham, Reena Meijer Drees, Kathleen Somerville, Antigone Dixon-Warren, Virginia Bremner and Mary Wilson for being conversation-facilitators at the individual tables, and to Alex, Peter, Anna, and probably a few people I am forgetting, for helping with the set-up & tear down and all the other tasks that made it happen.

And especially thanks to the 40+ random New West folks from all walks of life who showed up on a sunny Saturday to make for a fun conversation.

NWEP Environmental Policy Forum

Tomorrow, the New Westminster Environmental Partners are trying a bold experiment in grassroots environmental policy development. I have been privy to some of the organizing, and have been asked to act as an MC and facilitator at the event. However, I have been amazed to watch other NWEP members put this thing together, and come up with, what I think, is a remarkable plan. 
The genesis of the idea is the upcoming (not yet officially begun!) election (even though it has not yet been called), and we already know who our local Candidates will be. The NWEP could get together in our group and come up with some policy ideas, raise holy hell about a specific issue or two, but how do we know we are representing how the Community really feels about an issue?
Was there some way we could poll the “environmentally engaged” populace and get ideas? Since our budget is too small to get Ipsos on the phone, one of our members had the idea for this forum.
The event is envisioned as an exercise in grassroots policy development, with the aim to encouraging lots of lively discussion and sharing of ideas. Fitting with the NWEP’s mission, the main theme will be “environmental sustainability”. However, the topics will be generated by the citizens who show up, not by the NWEP board.
Of course, we can anticipate what some if them will be (transportation, coal terminals, climate change?) but who knows what will come up in the early part of the event when we ask people to post their ideas and concerns?
After a short period or idea collection and a voting mechanism to choose the “hottest” topics, we will break the room up into several smaller groups. Each of the smaller groups will flesh out the idea at that station. Again, NWEP people will be there to help the conversation along, but it will be the participants doing the talking, and the NWEP will be doing the record keeping and note taking.
This will be the fun, dynamic part. I frankly have no idea where these conversations are going to go. I anticipate some topics (LNG comes to mind) will draw a wide breadth of opinions, and the goal will not be to argue and debate the merits of opposing positions, but to find the common ground – the essential underlying ideas or philosophies where agreement can be found (even if the details differ), or even where the real friction rests- the point where people cannot agree.
Either way, the discussion will no doubt create an interesting record of the community’s concerns, documentation of where the community conversation and the level of education that the community has on some of these (obviously controversial) topics.
The Candidates who have agreed to attend (listed in politically-neutral alphabetical order here: Hector Bremner, Judy Darcy, Paul Forseth and Terry Teather) will NOT be taking part in these discussions, but will instead be circulating around the room, eavesdropping, hearing the conversations, and no doubt taking notes. Because only after we do this community conversation and each group gives a very brief report out of the results of their conversation, will the Candidates be asked to comment on what they heard, what they know about the issue, what their feelings or their position is on that topic.
The hope here is that the candidates get to hear what the people are saying, then report back that they have heard the concerns of the citizens. In a perfect world, we would like to think that the candidate who is successful in May will take those ideas to Victoria, and be they in Government or Opposition, they can speak clearly with their community’s voice.
I was explaining this to a politico I ran into in town today, and he asked “why would candidates agree to show up just to listen? Can’t you give them more time to talk? ”
So to counter the cynicism of that mindset, I am glad to report we at the NWEP told the candidates what the format was, that their speaking part of the event was going to be relatively short and late in the event, but for the first hour, they were going to be listening, and all of the candidates agreed to attend. I think this speaks to the quality of local candidates we have.
So I am excited, if a little nervous. I honestly have no idea how this will turn out. If it goes great, we may have a new model that can be adopted for other policy areas (economic development? Education? Health Care?). If it goes less than great, we will at least create a written record of the conversation and have a better understanding of where the community stands on various environment and sustainability topics. As we all spend so much time in our own policy/political bubbles, staring inwards at our own ideas, we can all benefit from sharing ideas with the broader community, even if it means we have to hear ideas we don’t agree with. Actually, specifically because may hear ideas we don’t agree with.
Also, the event will be recorded by the good folks at NewWestTV, there may even be a webcast on the day of, (I have no idea if this is technically possible!). Also, the NWEP will collect the conversations and condense them into a document that will be published on our website before the election writ is dropped.
So , I hope to see you there! I’m a scientist by training, and some the funnest parts are when you don’t know what the results will be, but you just throw the switch and collect the data, and let the numbers fall where they will.What could possibly go wrong? 
Sapperton Pensioners Hall- 318 Kearey Street- Saturday, March 9, 1:00pm to 3:30 pm.

Digging Deeper

I love it when I agree with the people I am disagreeing with.

Chris Bryan, the Editor of the New West News Leader, is building a reputation for some compelling opinion pieces. This week, he definitely hit that mark with his column entitled “New Westminster’s traffic discussion must dig deeper” .  It is compelling because I can agree and disagree with almost every idea in the column.

The essential question (if Bryan will afford me the benefit of paraphrasing) is: “How long can New Westminster resist the paving over of our neighbourhoods to service the cities on our borders?”

My simple answer is as long as we are here. Because what is the alternative?

Yes, Surrey (pop 468,000) and Coquitlam (pop 126,000) would love it if New Westminster (pop 68,000) would get the hell out of the way and allow their residents to get from house to work or shops quicker. I would argue that is firmly in the category of “not our problem”.

Douglas Adams, in my second favorite piece of absurdist writing, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy discussed the idea of building freeways through people’s homes:

“Bypasses are devices that allow some people to dash from point A to point B very fast while other people dash from point B to point A very fast. People living at point C, being a point directly in between, are often given to wonder what’s so great about point A that so many people from point B are so keen to get there, and what’s so great about point B that so many people from point A are so keen to get there. They often wish that people would just once and for all work out where the hell they wanted to be.”

This was just as relevant to Arthur Dent’s house and his planet, which were (spoiler alert) both destroyed to make way for bypasses, as it was to Jane Jacobs in Washington Square Park (spoiler alert) which she helped save along with the soul of Greenwich Village and New Westminster in 2013.

I’m not sure why we, in New Westminster, the first City in British Columbia, the former Capital of the Colony, and the original heart of the region, should give a rat’s ass what upstart suburbs like Coquitlam and Surrey need, now that they have built huge communities of sprawling auto-oriented neighbourhoods whose very economic survival relies on their expanding populace having an unfettered ability to drive through the New Westminster community – through our very neighbourhoods.

It isn’t our intractable resistance to plowing over our City that got them into this mess, it is their continued choice to develop on the assumption that we would eventually plow our City down to accommodate their needs.

Yes, The Strange Case of the Bailey Bridge is a great example of how New Westminster concerns itself with preserving its character and historic neighbourhoods instead of sacrificing everything we are to allow Coquitlam to build (to quote Chris Bryan) “a rapidly growing big-box retail area, and… the redevelopment of Fraser Mills into a residential community housing thousands of new drivers poorly served by transit.”

Perhaps a better example is the history of Braid Skytrain Station. Coquitlam was given the opportunity, back in the 1990s to have SkyTrain service to Maillardville. Fears of the “CrimeTrain” and density caused Coquitlam to resist rapid transit in their most historic neighbourhood, and the line and station were moved to more forward-thinking (and more historic) New Westminster.

By their own preference, Coquitlam instead got 8 lanes of Highway 1, and 6 horribly congested lanes of Lougheed Highway in Maillardville. They are now afraid that 7,500 people living in Fraser Mills will be the gigantic strawpile that breaks the back of their community. It may dump too many cars across their shiny new overpass into the traffic quagmire of their own (terrible) planning. A 4-lane Bailey Bridge and overpass looming over Sapperton will surely afford them some temporary relief, but only by pushing the traffic pinch point, idling pissed-off drivers and livability impacts a few hundred metres into New Westminster neighbourhoods.

These bad planning decisions were not made by New Westminster- in fact we were not even consulted on them. Why should we suddenly acquiesce to their unanticipated “needs”?

So Coquitlam is willing to finance the slow destruction of our 150-year-old City? Thanks, but no thanks. Their generous offer only makes us enablers.

Instead, New Westminster is taking the principled, responsible stand. We are leading the region in building a compact, transit-friendly, sustainable community. We are developing a Master Transportation Plan that builds on our current strength as the Municipality with the second-highest alternative transportation mode share in the Province (excuse the emphasis, but this is a pretty big point!). We are making it easier for people to live, work and shop in the same community. We are building mixed commercial-residential developments on SkyTrain lines. We are increasing density, and are taking risks building office space and investing in community amenities.

For those who must move across the region, we are making it easier to do so through transit, through cycling, through car-sharing. We are making genuine efforts to reduce our community’s load on Coquitlam and Surrey roads. The results are demonstrated in our region-leading alternative mode share, and we are aiming to do better!

So do we need to “dig deeper”? Hell yes. We all do. We are facing major growth, climate, and economic challenges. In New Westminster, that means we need to have cojones to say to our neighbours that their car-driving problems are a result of their poor planning, and we are terribly sorry, but you are not going to fill our community with pavement to solve them.

If Coquitlam wants to put 7,500 residents in Fraser Mills, they had better figure out a way to move them around that doesn’t include cars passing through Braid and Brunette.

If Surrey needs a billion dollars to expand rapid transit to serve their growing population, we will be the first to step up and advocate to senior governments on their behalf to get them the transit system of their dreams. But if they want to spend that billion dollars to expand a freeway bridge into the heart of our City, they will have a hell of a fight on their hands.

We are ready, Chris. We are ready to help the region move forward and fulfill its Regional Growth Strategy, its Regional Transportation Plans, its Sustainability Plans.

It may look to them like we are “dug in”, but we in New Westminster are actually leading. Maybe it is they who need to dig deeper.

The return of the Son of the Zombie UBE

Look, the United Boulevard Extension is not coming back, OK? Can we move on?
I know there were some recent rattles in the news related to the closing of the Bailey Bridge, and perhaps the Mayor’s comments on the radio were less clear than ideal, but the UBE, and the NFPR for which it stands, are done.

TransLink has no money to build them, they are not likely to fall into any money soon, and the original UBE overpass design is still not going to pass muster in New Westminster. None of those facts have changed now that a couple of truckers have driven trucks heavier than the Bailey Bridge is rated and cracked the spine of the damn thing.

Still, really nice of Mayor Stewart to offer to pay for a replacement. But does his offer about the bridge make any sense at all?

I’m not sure how the Bailey Bridge supports “the most important industrial area of Greater Vancouver”, as this hyperbole might be a little shocking to the residents of North Vancouver, Port Kells, or – well, any of a half dozen other industrially-developed parts of the Lower Mainland. The strip of big box retail, and limited industry along United Boulevard might be important to Coquitlam’s tax coffers, but it is hardly the centre of the region’s industrial activity. Coquitlam’s plans to put 7,500 residents in multiple towers right in the middle of it suggests the industrial future of Coquitlam’s waterfront is cloudy.

The Mayor then is quoted to say:

“These are goods-movement corridors that are vitally important for commerce. To have a route bottle-necked by a one-lane Bailey bridge that could only handle alternating traffic for the last 18 years is unreasonable and unrealistic. A temporary two-lane bridge, he said, could serve the area until a permanent overpass is developed.”

At the risk of repeating myself, the Bailey Bridge only connects to United Boulevard.

United Boulevard is a narrow 50 km/h 4-lane with nasty visibility issues, several stoplights, numerous driveways, and high retail traffic. It is directly parallel to, and only 200m from, the 8-lane 100km/h limited access Highway 1 with its fresh new 8 lanes of limited-access flow, and another 200m away from Lougheed highway, which a 6-8 lanes, with wide truck-friendly turn bays, synchronized light cycles and 60km/h speed limit.
If United via the Bailey is a severe “bottleneck”, then there are two very nearby “mason jar wide-mouths” available for the free movement of goods. There are even parallel rail tracks, upon which goods have traditionally been moved, and there was even a time when movement of goods along the river was the reason a place like Fraser Mills was founded in the first place.

The problem with providing decent road access to the Brunette Industrial area is not solved by opening up a through-fare for commuters. It is the oldest neighbourhood traffic problem in the world – how to you provide easy access to an area without it becoming a through-fare and actually making access for the locals worse? The UBE as proposed by TransLink was a poor solution to that problem, and it isn’t coming back.

If I was disappointed at all in the outcome of the UBE consultation, it was that once the Sapperton Uberpass design was rejected, TransLink walked away, and showed no interest in re-engaging with the stakeholders to address the actual issues.

Even worse, we have seen no action by the City of New Westminster to address the ongoing need for traffic management to support the area’s business needs, to address safety at the Braid railway crossings, or to bring the stakeholders together and apply a bit of lateral thinking to problem. Maybe it has been happening out of the public eye, but if so, then one presumes when the Bailey got broken the Mayor would be able to discuss progress made since, instead of complaining about an issue that was all over the news two years ago.

Why are we crisis managing this again instead of making plans between the crises? And what will happen between now and the next crisis, which I hope will not be a serious vehicle-train collision on Braid!


One of the news stories I missed while I was recently underwater was the Big Target Announcement.

Amongst the shopping class, there have been ongoing rumours for a few months that New Westminster was going to get one of the announced Canadian locations for the American crap-retailer Target. Some even suggesting that Royal City Centre was the chosen location. Then Royal Square. To me, these rumors had all the irrational hope that I remember from my teenaged years, when every new warehouse on the edge of my hometown was rumored to be “the new Costco”. No-one was sure how the population of 7,000 people with an unemployment rate around 20% was supposed to support a Costco, but the rumors persisted… Irrational hope.

By now we in New Westminster know the real Big Target Announcement was nothing more exciting than a big warehouse on the Queensborough waterfront lot that has been preloaded by a few million cubic meters of dredged Fraser River Sand for the last few months. That big sandscape to the east of the Queensborough bridge will soon feature a warehouse rivaling in size the new one 200m downstream that houses Kruger papergoods.

Apparently, this is Good News, so shame on me for being unenthused.

First off, the couple of dozen warehouse jobs will not replace the hundreds of high-paying jobs in the mills that used to sit on that space. However, the days of manufacturing wood products in Canada seem to be numbered as we become a full-fledged PetroState, and at this point a City like New Westminster cannot be turning its nose up at any increase in local employment. I get the feeling an actual Target retail outlet would employ more people… but I digress.

No, my cynicism gland is all swollen up by the fact that this is, yet again, another piece of prime waterfront land that belongs to Port Metro Vancouver that is not going to be used to take things on and off of the water. You know – the thing that Ports are supposed to do?

Instead, the Port, who keeps crying that it is losing access to waterfront across the region, is leasing a piece of waterfront land for use to move things on and off of trucks. But not to worry, the Port spokesperson says

“…it’s not anticipated that the site will generate any traffic problems”

Perhaps Target in their retail might has access to proprietary flying trucks, because I don’t see how else they and the other tenants service a 300,000 square foot warehouse moving retail goods without putting those trucks on Boyd Street, which already has a volatile mix of local resident, heavy truck and retail traffic straining its two lanes.

There is nothing the City can do about this, of course. It is Port Metro Vancouver land, and they can do whatever they please on it, regardless of whether it is actually Port Business. The Port are not required to build or improve the road infrastructure to support it, nor are they required to go through the same planning and development process that the Municipality uses to allocate resources and manage growth. They pay the City PILT (payment in lieu of taxes), but it is a fraction of what a light industrial business on the same lot within the City would pay. The Port is accountable only to the Port.

As long as they continue to define their business model as real estate development, not moving things on and off of boats, I feel little sympathy when young Port CEO Robin Silvester whinges about the need for an industrial land reserve, or tells us we don’t need farm land, because he can bring us all the food we need on his big boats.


With the Provincial election just around the corner… Oh, no wait, it is still months away despite an unofficial and unaccounted campaign that has been running for almost a year… the local candidates are lining up as expected. The four parties we can all name have New Westminster candidates that fit their party’s brands very well (depending on whether you agree with my rantings below, this is not necessarily a compliment), and then there’s the spectre of an independent candidate running.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am a local candidate voter. I don’t belong to any Party. I have voted for candidates from pretty much every party, from the Reform Party of Canada to the Marijuana Party, but I don’t remember ever voting specifically for a Party in an election.

As a natural critic (some would say whiner), my political opinions have tended to veer to the political left when there is a more conservative government in office, and towards the political right when there are more progressive governments. Taking on-line opinion surveys meant to test “what party fits you best” tends to stick me right in he middle of the Green Party platform, but that is mostly because I think that shitting in our own nest is probably a bad idea.

When it comes to candidates, however, I want to meet the candidate. Call me old-fashioned, but I think the Westminster system of representative democracy is built on the idea that we, the constituents, select someone to represent our community’s interests at the Legislature, not a person to represent a Party in our community.

This is, of course, one of the bigger problems with the current Conservative Party of Canada, who have ramped up the Party-uber-alles philosophy of governance that so irritated Stephen Harper when the Liberals did it that he helped create a new Reform Party specifically to fight it. At this point, the most frustrating part is that Harper is so damn effective at being what he used to hate. Not a single Conservative MP can find even the slightest flaw in any piece of legislation the Party has created. So you end up with situations like local Conservative MPs explaining that closing a local Coast Guard base will make our coast safer instead of challenging their own party to make better choices for their constituents.

This situation has different effects during the election cycle. Last Federal Election, it was the curious case of the missing candidates. Why would a candidate in a riding where one Party has a significant majority bother to show up for all-candidates meetings? To hear the concerns of constituents? (pause for laughter). When the MPs role is to represent the Party to the riding, and the party platitudes platform is on the TeeVee, why bother showing up and risking saying something inappropriate? Why bother meeting your constituents? You might disappoint them!

I suggest the problem with Party Politics is the Party itself, and the power vested in the Party. The fact our current Federal Government refer to themselves (and force the Civil Service to refer to them) as “The Harper Government” more than the hopelessly old-school “Government of Canada”, shows that the Parties understand their Power, and are willing to put themselves, their name and brand, above that of the Country they are trusted to run.

So if the problem is the power of the Party, then maybe we should consider what the Party system gives us, and how we could do without it. Parties make voting “easier” for those not interested in learning who they are voting for. This is because they create a ready-built campaign machinery to keep the entrenched in power. Parties provide a central funding pool with which to purchase advertising to smear their opposition get their message out. They also make the first-past-the-post system so effective at giving a group with 37% of the popular vote an absolute majority to do what they like in Ottawa for 5 years.

Worse, the system results in too many people holding their noses while they vote for a person or a party they don’t necessarily like, because it is better than the alternative. This, more than anything else, is the reason so few people bother to vote anymore: there is increasingly little to vote for. In our hyper-cynical age, more people will show up to vote against something than will to vote for something. Parties leverage this cynicism and stoke it through negative advertising. (This is why I predict, even without the NDP investing in negative advertising, Premier McSparkles is her own negative ad, and there will be an increased turnout this Provincial election over the previous one).

So what is the alternative? Independents?

I would love to see a system where we only have independents – where the entire Party system and its funding mechanisms are abolished. Follow me for a bit here.

At election, we send 308 independent local representatives to Ottawa to sit in the House of Commons. Yes, many candidates will align on topics and form defacto parties around certain issues, but without the whip system and without the centralized funding mechanism, there will be no reason for an MP to not vote freely on a different issue. In the inevitable horse trading of votes in the House, the representative will only have to answer to their constituents. Not to a party, not to a leader, and certainly not to a mid-level political hack called a “whip”. The only thing that will influence their re-election chances is how well their community feels they were represented.

Many people smarter than me have mentioned how effective Elizabeth May is as an MP. There are several reasons for this: she is a student Parliamentary Democracy; she is damn smart; she works her ass off; and she is a true believer in Democracy as a Principle, and as a way to solve problems. However, much of her power is also a result of her unique position of being effectvely an independent who can still use the mechanisms built up to support the Party System.

So how to we break down the Party systems that separate us from representative democracy? We make Parties and their economic models illegal. At election time, everyone runs as an Independent, with only local funding and organization. When 308 independents are sent to Ottawa, their first job would be to select a Prime Minister, a deputy PM, and a Speaker. Those three then create a caucus, drawn from the MPs in the House and (this is not as shocking as you might think) unelected experts in various fields. Only elected MPs get a vote in the house, but every vote is a free vote, and the majority of the house can lose confidence in the Government Caucus only with a majority vote on a confidence motion.

Oh, there are problems with this idea. Some suggest lobbying and influence peddling would likely be more attractive, so strict controls would need to be introduced. However, with the current system in Ottawa, one needs only to lobby the PMO, and they will bring along 160 votes. A party-less system would make lobbying individual members a more daunting task, and can hardly make the lobbying situation worse than it is is today.

We would also have to do something about the current Parliamentary Retirement Castle and Party Fundraising Department we call the Senate. but that’s another blog post.

So I have a soft spot for independents. I am an engaged local voter, and like the idea that the person we send to Ottawa or Victoria represents our community there. I even agree with the premise that more Independents make for more effective governance.

Would I vote for an Independent for New Westminster in this upcoming Provincial election? Yes. Keeping in mind that that a candidate’s lack of Party affiliation is no more proof of their capability than their affiliation is. If that Independent was to convince me that they could effectively represent New Westminster, and would work their ass off to assure we are represented, them I could vote for them. But it is a tough job to be that effective in our current system – I’m not sure there are too many Elisabeth Mays to go around.

At this point, I am still a local candidate voter, regardless of whether they represent a Party or are independent. Either way, it should be a good election, as we have strongly motivated candidates.
Game on!

February Excuses

Wow. February is really beating up on me. There are just too many things going on.

Work is busy as usual, but outside of those 40 hours, I am helping out organizing an annual one-day workshop for the EMAofBC, and am trying to make some plans for some relatively small but terrible important renovations a the Royal City Curling Club– which have to happen in the summer (for obvious reasons) and will require some creative approaches to funding (because if there is one thing a Curling Club never has, it’s excess money). Along with some other volunteer commitments I have made (including the New West Shadowy Cabal Project that I’m not allowed to talk about), all of this is keeping my writing output these days limited to 140 characters.

Or maybe it’s just because the NHL season has started again.

So if blog posting remains as intermittent as it has been recently, don’t worry too much. If it drops off completely, it is likely because my head exploded, and rest assured my troubles are over. Failing that, I will be back soon enough… as I have a lot of opinions I am just itching to let out right now (on Chris Bryan’s latest column, on the long-awaited Target announcement, on District Energy potential in New West coming out of our City’s CEEP, on the role of Political Parties and the alleged rise of independents… ).

In the meantime, her’s a picture of me Commanding a WW2 Aircraft Carrier. Go Canucks!

CEEPing along in New Westminster

It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him

I felt the same way the first time I read Catch-22.Yossarian is easily my favourite character in fiction. Part of a bomber crew in Europe during the dying days of WW2, he was surrounded by absurdity, and coped with it by trying to out-absurd his surroundings, and always failing. In contrast, his friend Milo Minderbinder fully embraced the absurdity around him, and found creative ways to profit from it. Milo was the mess officer who bought eggs for 7 cents each, sold them for 5 cents each, and made a clean profit of 1.5 cents per. It was quite the scheme.

That is the trick that Norm Connolly, the Community Energy Manager for the New Westminster, might need to pull off. His task, and this is typical of all CEMs in Municipalities across BC, is to find ways to reduce energy use in the community. Not the energy used by the City itself, but by the residents and businesses of the city.

The problem in New Westminster being that unlike most cities in BC, we have our own electrical utility. The Electrical Utility buys power from BC Hydro at wholesale rates, and sells it to residents and businesses at retail rates (which are the same as retail rates BC Hydro charges residents and businesses). The difference between the two pays for the hardware that runs the system, and (in recent history) makes a little extra money for City coffers. So if Connolly is successful and reduces the amount of energy used by the community, the Utility will sell less power, and make less money, transferring less to City coffers. So why is the City so interested in reducing energy use at all?

There was a report at Council last week on the City’s Community Energy and Emissions Plan (“CEEP”). The CEEP was passed in 2011, and set out the pathway to New Westminster in 2030: a City with 20,000 more residents, but using no more electricity than we do today, and producing 15% less greenhouse gases. I’m not sure the GHG goal is aggressive enough (see my recent tirade on coal), but it is an achievable goal without significant changes in our lifestyle. So it is an easy sell for those interested in re-election.

Last week’s Council report covered a few of the initiatives that are going to arrive in the City in the next few years, to head us on the path towards that goal:

I will talk about item #3, the development of District Energy Utilities, in a later post (short version: it is a great idea, and others are doing it well, but the there are devils in details!). The other two are subjects that came up in a recent NWEP Energy Group discussion. I am glad to see that the City is taking this approach, and might even sign my house up for the program!

Item #1, the Multi-unit residential retrofits, is challenging. The challenge will be in convincing Strata Councils that the gains over the long-term will be worth the short-term hassle and investment in building improvements. The ability for the City to offer incentives, backed by BC Hydro or Fortis, and finding the right test-bed building will be vital for making this work.

One of the systemic issues that we have in the Lower Mainland of BC is that we live in a mild climate- not too hot in the summer, not to cold in the winter, and we have a (somewhat unfair) reputation for lacking bright sunlight. As a result, we build buildings with less insulation and more windows than in other parts of the world. Then, because electricity is plentiful and cheap, we have lined the walls of these inefficient buildings with electrical baseboard heaters, usually on the outside walls under a bank of windows, where they have to overcome the inefficient wall system before they provide any useful heat to the rest of the unit. Because of this, there are many “quick wins” to be found in these buildings, especially many of our older multi-family building stock. In New Westminster, with more than 75% of our residential units being in low- or high-rise multi-family dwellings, this part of the program will be where most of our CEEP gains can be found.

This doesn’t speak of the future growth in the City, however. If we are going to put 20,000 more people in the City, we are going to be increasing the proportion of multi-family dwellings, so we are going to create a whole new stock of buildings. The full CEEP contains some steps in this direction, talking about LEED standards and such, but I wonder if simply banning electric baseboard heaters would be sufficient to reach efficiency goals? I’m not ever sure the City can ban them…

Item #2 is the one that excites me the most, as a detached-home owner. Providing municipal incentives for energy efficient home re-fits is not yet common (most programs have previously been run by major utilities or by senior governments), but is becoming more so (not coincidently as senior governments become front offices for energy companies and the larger programs dry up). There are several cities in BC that have implemented these type of incentive programs, not coincidently in historic cities like Rossland and Nelson, where there is a large stock of older homes with significant heritage value.

We have done a few energy fixes in our 1940 house (including replacing all of our windows a couple of years ago), but have been slow to introduce some other obvious energy-savers. It appears our roof insulation is good, but that in our walls may be upgradable. We have a relatively efficient (if slightly old) gas furnace and gas-fired water heater. Solar water heaters (we have an expansive south-facing roof) and/or an instant-heater for water (as a friend of mine recently installed) seem like great ideas, but the impetus to install is low, even with the potential savings on my gas bill.

However, for people with electrical heat and water systems, the City is still stuck in that same old bind: If we reduce energy use in the City, does the City really gain? Can BC Hydro provide incentives to the City that will offset the “profit” the City currently makes selling electricity? If we continue to peg our rates to BC Hydro retail rates, incentives from Hydro seem the only way we can still pad the City coffers while reducing overall use.

There are good reasons fro BC Hydro to provide those incentives. Wholesale purchasers in BC pay less for electricity than any other customers. The City pays way less for electricity than BC Hydro pays for IPP power from Darth Coleman’s Run-of-the-River contracts. We also pay less than Alberta and California customers, who need to choose between buying cheap power from us or burning hydrocarbons to make their own. Even in BC, we burn hydrocarbons (at Burrard Thermal) only when we have an “emergency” supply issue, thanks to the 2010 Clean Energy Act.

Reducing electricity energy use in BC reduces the need for BC Hydro and others to burn hydrocarbons for electricity, allows Hydro to sell more power to lucrative export markets, and ultimately reduces the need to major expansion of the Hydroelectric System, saving more valley bottoms for other uses… so BC Hydro has incentive to incentivize the City to incentivize the community to reduce energy. Hence the need for our CEEP, and the need for the community of New Westminster to sign up for these programs – at every step of the way, we will be saving money and reducing our impact. We can profit from making less money, like Milo the Mayor did with eggs.