Goodbye 2020

It’s the time to do year-in-review stuff, but I honestly have been struggling to get this written.

2020 was a year when many of us realized we are lucky, and/or privileged in ways we never considered. I got through 2020 with a secure job (well, two, and one more secure than the other), and a partner whose job was similarly transferrable to the dining room table. We also have a secure dining room in which to put that table. Our family and friends are for the most part well, though we do miss time with them. This year, the most basic seems too much to ask for.

Here in our community, there are many families impacted directly by the COVID crisis and the poisoned drug supply crisis. The pernicious effects of inequality and homelessness were made worse this year as the ability for already-strained supports to do their work met breaking points. It was a year punctuated by loss: some personal, some community-wide and far-reaching like the Timber Wharf at Pier Park. Businesses and not-for-profits are struggling, and many will not be here after this has passed. For good reason, I am sensitive to griping about my own not being able to do a year-end trip or celebrate my Dad’s Birthday-ending-in-zero with my family. In the big scheme, I am really lucky.

This was a difficult year to be on City Council, for reasons both obvious and obscure. The thing I love most about the Council job is the big vision work: the long-term planning and policy stuff that is so important to how the City is shaped over years and decades. This was the first work put aside this year when everything changed. So much of this year we were flying blind – doing things that we had to make up as we were going along. New West being a well-organized City, we had a Pandemic Response Plan that had been put together presumably after the SARS situation almost 20 years ago. It had accumulated some dust, but it at least gave staff a framework to hang new response plans on, and we were fortunate to have it. But from that part forward, it was all new.

Some of our larger visions / strategic plans / campaign promises had to take a back seat in the all-important second year of the term. Not forever, but just while staff had a chance to understand the impacts of the emerging Pandemic and its impact on City operations. Perhaps the most obvious example of this was Council’s decision to pause for a few months the procurement process on the replacement for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre. Caution shown earlier in the year and the foresight of the Federal and Provincial governments to provide critical financial support directly to local governments facing revenue holes (to the tune of $6 Million for New Westminster) meant that we got out of 2020 in decent financial condition. We are not out of the woods yet, and our revenue is likely to continue to be down through to the end of 2021, but we are OK for now.

That said, I think Council was pretty unified in recognizing our priorities before the Pandemic were still priorities through the Pandemic: addressing as best we can the homelessness, childcare, and engagement gaps in the City, and integrating Climate Action into everything we do as a City so we can hit 2030 and 2050 greenhouse gas reduction targets. There was no time to take our foot off the gas on these pressing issues, and we managed to keep them moving. Still I fear limited desire in senior governments to help us on these ongoing issues in the year ahead. Crisis breeds austerity in the upside-down economics of neoliberalism, and that will, I think, be the real test for us as a society in 2021.

On the positive side, I am incredibly proud of the work that staff did this year. Thrown into unfamiliar territory and re-writing work plans while managing their own anxieties about health, their family, their finances, or the state of the freaking world, they found ways to get the work of the City done. The water flowed, the sewer worked, the trash went away, trees were planted, fires were put out and people in need were supported by first responders. Staff also found creative new ways to support those made vulnerable in our community, and to help businesses navigate their biggest challenges. Staff shone especially in managing the most uncertain of all budgets, in finding better ways to conduct public engagement, and in reporting out on that engagement. These efforts made it easier for Council to ground our decisions in a time of so much uncertainty. Staff have a lot of good work to look back on and be proud of in this difficult year, so if you have a chance this holiday, thank a muni worker in your life, they rarely get acknowledgement, and this year more than ever, deserve it.

So the City came through the first half of the Pandemic well, but the route was never easy. For Council, the change in how we made decisions, the uncertainty of an unfamiliar path, and even the shift to remote meetings made it a more difficult year to find consensus. In one sense, I missed spending unstructured time with my Council colleagues this year, the meeting at events or at committee meetings or just over City Hall lunches. It was in those times we found our common goals or were able to sense how others were feeling, push ideas or address push back. Instead, I found I was irritated by Council more this year than I remember previously (I suspect a few of them feel the same way about me, but that’s their story to tell), and at times frustrated by the process. I was too fast in finding the fault and too slow to see the progress. All to say, it was not fun year. But that’s not the goal, I guess.

Now I have a real week off, no travel planned, and time to kill. I have a few projects, and @MsNWimby has a few more she would love to see me get done. I have a few books to read that I hope will give me some inspiration. Looking back, even without the Pandemic it was an eventful and challenging year. Loss seemed to be the theme. It doesn’t help that I’m 50+ now and can no longer fake the side of the hill I am on. So I am trying to think more about 2021 and the work we have ahead. I’m going to take some strength from the resilience this amazing City showed in the shitty year behind us, and look to the brighter days ahead. I hope your 2021 shines bright.

on Skepticism

I think of myself as a Skeptic. I capitalize that word, because it probably doesn’t mean what you think when I describe myself that way. Some may think it synonymous with cynic or freethinker, which creates this tautology where capital-S Skeptics feel the need to define the term. I think Tim Farley summed it up as well as anyone has: ““Skepticism is the intersection of science education and consumer protection.”

Skepticism is a less a philosophy than a thought process, but it is also a culture and some go so far as to call it a “movement”. Skepticism has its media, it has celebrities, it has conferences, and it had its messiah. It even has, as all burgeoning great movements must, a Great Schism. As traditional Skepticism was organized mostly by white guys, the schism was inevitably about misogyny and representation in the movement, and for the record, I’m on Rebecca’s side on this one.

Since I seem to be going on about definitions, there is no such thing as a “Climate Change Skeptic” or a “Holocaust Skeptic”. One can apply Skeptical principles to determine whether (for example) a carbon tax is an effective policy tool to address consumer-driven emissions of greenhouse gasses, sure. But calling into question whether anthropogenic climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels is happening, and whether it has the potential for catastrophic impacts on global ecosystems that support human society is not “skepticism”, it is denial. Until proven otherwise, and it hasn’t been, it is the scientific consensus. Though seeking to challenge the scientific consensus at every opportunity is the heart of skepticism, understanding the roots of that consensus until a valid challenge is found to it  is the blood running through that heart.

I have been around Skepticism for a long time now, listening to the Skeptics Guide in pre-Rebecca days, I am old enough to remember before Brian Dunning was a convict. I was probably (probably – because memory is fallible) was guided by my Thesis supervisor back when I was an undergrad. But I don’t think back then we could have imagined the role that conspiracy theories and anti-science thought could be playing in larger society – especially American society – now. Well, Carl knew, but he was always a few decades ahead of us.

I’m not sure if it is me, or if it is Joe Rogan, but I feel we are seeing an overall media and politics shift away from the principles of scientific skepticism, and towards faith-based and conspiracy-based cynicism about the world. It would be easy (and lazy) to blame social media, but then Twitter brought this into my life:

Credit: Abbie Richards

This chart is a classification system of conspiracy put together by social media Phenom and alternative golf commentator Abbie Richards (@abbieasr), and I think it is a valuable tool for talking about conspiracy, fanciful though, skepticism, and answering the hardest question of all: “What’s the harm?

I do have some quibbles. UFOs are probably in the right spot, as there are a variety of poorly explained visual phenomenon in the atmosphere, but when one links this to extraterrestrial life, it moves up a category to leaving reality. There may actually be more thinking in here than I read (as Abbie herself adds context in her on-point and hilarious way in her Tik Tok videos), so I’m happy to hear and learn more.

Aside from laughing and enjoying taking a dig here, I think a powerful way to use a tool like this is to keep it in mind when having those slightly-uncomfortable conversations Skeptics are always having. To avoid going off on a Storm-like Mincinian tirade whenever someone uses the term “sheeple” in a conversation, you can instead think about where the thing you just heard fits in the spectrum. Is it worth asking for more details about this idea that is new or strange to you? Go a step up or down the spectrum, see where the common ground is.

So Abbie’s great diagram entered my world when I’ve been thinking a lot about Skepticism. It may be because we just lost James Randi, who really was the spiritual leader of a movement, if there is a movement, and we accept that “spirit” is a collective drive towards something as opposed to a supernatural force.

Or maybe the fact-free US election may be part of it. It’s not just that the discussion down south isn’t around substantive things, it’s that the very idea that facts exists, that there is an objective reality that is somehow verifiable, seems to have fallen by the wayside for a large number of people. In its on way, our own BC election was almost completely bereft of policy conversation, instead discussion of who do you “like”, who do you “trust”, and who is “connecting” with whatever “voter demographic.” So we end up with very popular, but completely nonsensical, ideas like fixing traffic by removing road tolls and selling hydrocarbon fuels as the key to Climate Action.

So, as someone who was almost certainly not Carl Sagan once said, ““Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out”

Magic Bus

Here’s my get out and vote blog post, which often turns into a do more than vote blog post.

I heard from a few different sources this year a metaphor of democracy being like a bus, not a limo service. A bus doesn’t pick you up at your door, take the fastest route, and drop you at your destination. It can’t, because everyone else in your community needs the bus as well. The way public transit works is you find the bus that does the best job of getting you from where you are to near where you want to be, and take that ride. So it is with politics. It would be very rare for any party to promise 100% of what you want this or any election. It can’t, because government is a complicated thing with countless competing priorities, and governance is managing the balance between those priorities. Promising you everything means they will fail to deliver anything. You need to find the party (or candidate) that is going as close to the direction you want to go, and get on that bus. Because democracy is a collective action, even while voting is a solitary one.

I like that metaphor simile. But I want to expand on it, as is my wont.

When you rely on Transit, you don’t just jump on the first bus that comes along, or the bus your dad used to ride. If you don’t know what direction you want to go, it is tempting to hop on the shiniest bus. Without knowing the routes, however, you may be getting on a bus that suddenly turns down a strange road and leaves you lost in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Spend a few minutes looking at platforms (they are all available on line), look at a few candidates, see what hey have to say and what their resumes tell you about their priorities. Ask your friends who they support and why. Doing your research beforehand is a really important part of the voting process, and increases the chances you will be satisfied with your choice, win or lose.

That said, voting is only the first part. Public Transportation is public, because it belongs to us. So does our democracy. We have the ability, and I would argue the responsibility, to assure the routes available meet our needs. We need to engage in our democracy even when the election is not on to assure the direction the parties go reflect where we want to go.

That means holding elected officials to account and staying informed on their progress. It also means providing positive and critical feedback to the elected officials you support and their parties, be they in Government or Opposition. If you have time, get involved in that party you supported, plop down your $10 to join the party and help them make decisions about their policy direction. Help them select candidates. If you like Party X but don’t like their position on Y, you need to let them know. The best way to change their policy on Y – the best way to get the bus route moved closer to your destination – is to be an engaged member outside of the election cycle.

Finally, one of the unique things visitors note about Vancouver is our tendency to thank the bus driver as we disembark. I think it is important that we thank the people who make our democracy work. The candidates who put their ideas to the public test, and put themselves into the public light. I know it is not an easy thing to do, the praise is fleeting and the criticism is internalized. It is a sacrifice that needs to be acknowledged and appreciated. There are also teams of volunteers who make the campaigns run, from lawn sign installers to phone callers to pamphlet stuffers to financial agents. Our democracy wouldn’t run without them, but we rarely note their efforts. Thanks, everyone.

So get out and vote, but also do the rest of the work to be a good transit rider, and a good citizen. We are all on the bus together, so mask up, be informed, be engaged, and be thankful.

Kev

I don’t really remember when I first met Kevin, it was long enough ago. His brother and I were thrown together on a curling team at the Burnaby Winter Club back in the mid-90s, and have been curling together (off and on and the geography of our lives allowed) since. I suspect Kev joined us some time in the late 1990s, but I surely must have met him before that. I guess that doesn’t matter.

Kev and I were the same age, about the same skill level at curling, and I liked being his teammate. Both on the ice where our kinda-serious-but-not-good-enough-to-take-ourselves-too-seriously attitudes were aligned, and in the club after games. I may have been more serious back then, but he was probably more realistic. Through various men’s and mixed set-ups and in random bonspiels, Kevin and I played together a lot for a few years, almost always with his brother. When his time became more precious with family and stuff, he concentrated on mixed and we didn’t play together for a few years, but a couple of years ago, he joined us again playing men’s at the Royal City Club. Honestly, he was throwing better than ever.

Well, maybe not ever. There was that season at the Coquitlam Curling Club back in 2004 when we all seemed to come together in March. A team firing on all cylinders, we managed to win the Club Championship (a just-ok team in a just-ok club), and qualified through the regional club championship tournament to represent at the Pacific International Cup. At the time, this was about the biggest competition a club curler without dreams of Brier glory could qualify for. We played the national teams of Pacific Rim nations, and even won a few games. We weren’t just good, we were just good enough. Our hungover come-from-behind upset of Team Korea will probably be the highlight of my curling career. But that’s a story for over beers, shared often. We got the patch.

The thing is, the reason Kev was such a great teammate wasn’t the wins (they were too few and far between to sustain us), it was the celebration/ lamentation time of post-game beers. We always laughed, at ourselves, at each other. We debated the state of the world, and the obvious solutions. It is worth noting that Kev and I both had a lot of political opinions, free to share, louder as the night went on, but *never*agreed on politics. We had fun finding the flaws in each other’s ideas, sometimes sulked in our beers when it was us who got called out. Always we laughed.

For a while, we were members of what I sometimes called our Winter Triathlon Team: curling, hockey and poker. We played them all with varying skill, mostly as excuses to drink beer and scotch and bust balls. Kev was easily the best poker player of our group, just a solid, smart player of the cards without the aggressive bluster of his brother or my over-optimistic dumb luck. He was always just there with a surprising number of chips at the end.

This was offset by him being – and I apply no undeserved hyperbole here – the worst hockey player I have ever seen. He only seemed to be able to glide with one skate, pushing himself along with the other in a curler-type gait. He stopped when he got to the boards, the stick was really only there to provide a third point for balance. His zone play was similar to the tykes who play during the first period break at Canucks games, but he wasn’t as fast. Kev was bad at hockey, but he showed up every week and played, and we were lucky to have him on our team. We laughed.

Shortly before the entire Gong Show Hockey Club enterprise fell apart, he appeared not in the dressing room, but in the stands – and I still remember the game. His girlfriend wearing an engagement ring.

Kev, in those early years I knew him, didn’t have great luck in love. Girlfriends, but nothing that stuck. Then he met Jen, and it was over. They were married in a year, he traded his sports car (“more show than go”) for a minivan and the kids started arriving. I saw him less, but it was clear he was never so happy as when he was spending time with Jen and the kids. He grew up in a close family, they all worked the family business and his brother and his parents seemed like his best friends. Maybe its the Mennonite roots, but I think having his own family was the part of his life that mattered most to him. Being a dad was what he most wanted to spent time doing. You ask him about the kids, and you got that Kev smile. Contentment might be the right word.

When Kev got sick a couple of years ago, it looked really bad right away. Every cancer journey is different, and his was a fucking roller coaster. Bad diagnosis, great response to therapy, sudden setback, excellent response to a new drug, bad side effects, the whole shitty range. Through it all, he was forever pragmatic. It seemed he was the most positive guy in the room, and at times it looked like he may pull it off. In the end, best of science had no more help to give. He died at home this week in relative comfort with his family he loved so much by his side. There is some mercy in that.

Fifty-one years isn’t enough time.

Projections

I want to talk about this picture.

Because it triggered for me something that has been banging around in the back of my head for a few years, and I have not really known how to relate it. When it arrived a few years ago thoughts like this were too catastrophic to fit into our world view. Maybe our world view is changing, but I’m not sure about it.

At the time, I was on the Metro Vancouver Utility Committee, which is a committee of local elected officials that get together to discuss the operations of the water and sewer infrastructure of the region and review capital plans for the Metro Vancouver Board. (This has been replaced after the 2018 election with separate Liquid Waste and Water committees). As was our mandate, we were doing long-term planning for the region’s water supply. Really long-term, like 50 – 100 years.

This is important, because major water infrastructure like our three big reservoirs, the dams that support them, and the pipes and pumps and stuff that move a billion litres of water around every day is really expensive stuff. Once installed, it may be in the ground for a century or longer. In a rapidly-growing region with land constraints like Greater Vancouver, big decisions about how, where, and when we invest in this infrastructure are important.

To inform that planning, we needed to include projections about climate change. Beyond just being hotter in the summer, and the potential for less snowpack, we need to consider impacts on ENSO and other global climate systems that may drastically shift when and how much rain falls in our watersheds so we are capable of storing the right amount. We had science types who study this stuff in universities for a living providing models for us.

The subject matter experts were able to, I think, provide a pretty good summary of what we know, what we don’t know, and what we don’t know we don’t know about the climate are we project to 2100, about 80 years in the future. There were several chuckles around the table from comfortable elected people “I’ll be dead then! Har Har!” which is its own telling moment, but I digress.

Scientists being science types, they spent a lot of time talking about uncertainty. There are a variety of models, none of them perfect, and subtle adjustments of what we put into the model can have big impacts over decades. Will the world meet the Paris Agreement goals? Will the economic growth of the last decades continue? Will Elon Musk invent the Mr. Fusion? All of these are external things climate scientists cannot predict, but they can make projections based on different amounts of greenhouse gasses going into the atmosphere. From those they can infer the impact on temperatures, sea and air circulation patterns, feedbacks positive and negative. They have several different models, and into each they can add several emissions scenarios, and they end up with scores or hundreds of different results.

These projected results are not random, though. They cluster. They reinforce each other as often as they differ. In the report we were given, there were three distinct clusters in projecting the temperature impacts of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Greater Vancouver. As is the wont of planners and engineers, they hope for the “best case”, plan around the “middle case”, and have contingencies for the “worst case”.

Looking at a “middle case” for 2100, they made some iterations around our watersheds, how the hydrology of them will be impacted, how spring rains vs. summer rains impact storage need. All to figure how we will assure we can supply water to a City of (I can’t remember the number now, but for the sake of moving the discussion along let’s say it was) 4 Million people. Great, we put our stake in the ground, and have something to plan around. If things change, we will adjust, but this is the point we adjust from.

I put my hand up. “If the annual temperature increases by that much, what does that mean for the trees we are protecting in the watersheds? Can they tolerate that change?”

The answer was “outside of our current scope”. Not the topic of this discussion. We moved on to reservoir design options.

But it doesn’t take much research to discover that, even in the “middle scenario” provided, we are looking at temperatures that are outside of the habitat range of the Douglas fir, the western hemlock, the sitka spruce, the red cedar. The trees will likely die.

Sitting in Metro Vancouver’s offices, you could look over at the North Shore Mountains. It was hard to imagine what Vancouver will look like in 2100 with those trees dead or dying. To most of us, those green mountainsides reaching to rocky peaks define Vancouver. So much so that the City has expensive and complicated “view cone” programs to assure that people’s view of that green expanse is protected by policy. I’m not sure anyone is really thinking about what it means if they are gone.

Maybe it’s too hard to imagine. Just another bummer on the pile, and I’ll be dead by then. Or maybe our current sepia-toned sky should prompt us to imagine why we have made this choice.


Thanks to Mr. Mathew Bond for permission to lament over your photo.

Break

Hey folks,

It is a strange time, and the energy in the air is strange. There seems to be a cumulative pile of stressors hitting people. Many are directly related to COVID, like concern for the health of loved ones, economic uncertainty, anxiety around public spaces, around work places and planning the return to school. Some are more abstractly connected, like the shift in work-life balance, a lack of festivals and events to pull us out of routine, the re-adjusting of social norms. People have been home to much, isolated too much, concerned too much. Fretting as our neighbor to the south appears to be burning itself down in strange and frightening ways, the reality of climate change hitting hard as the turning point in Arctic climate can no longer be ignored, we seem frustratingly unable, or unwilling, to address a growing pile of local crises: housing, poisoned drug supply, systemic racism…

In many ways, it feels like we are in a time when the status quo is shifting, and no-one is immune from the fear around that. Some like the status quo, or at least prefer it to the uncertainty that change brings. Others are doing the hard emotional and intellectual labour to try to assure that change goes in a good direction, to serve others, to serve themselves, to build a stronger community. Others just spend their time shit posting. We all adapt in the way we know how.

I have felt it. I recognize I am extremely fortunate through this. My family (knock on wood) is safe and healthy, I’m still (knock on wood) able to work, have healthy relationships that provide me support, can enjoy the long bike rides that keep my emotional chemistry in check. But with all that, I am more acutely aware these days of my mental health, of behaviours and thought patterns that are probably not productive, not making me happy or adding to my quality of life. I miss my friends, even if I am still kinda connected to them through social media and occasional walk-bys. I miss community events, group bike rides, chatting with folks at a pub, random social stuff that makes my community buzz for me. But aside from missing things, there is something else. Decisions are hard to get to. Concentration on a task is hard. Sleeping is weird. It is low-level anxiety creeping in on the edges. Not debilitating, but bothersome, so I guess even there I am luckier than some.

All this to say, I’m going to take a bit of a breather in August, and try to do some things a bit different. Mostly, that means I’m going to turn off my Social Media for the month. I haven’t done this since long before I was elected, so it will be a little strange. FOMO is a real part of my mental matrix, and I need to work on that.

We have a couple of Council meetings in August, and I will endeavor to blog those out soon after they happen, as I have for more than 5 years. But other than that, I won’t be responding to Twitter or Facebook, because I won’t be looking at Twitter or Facebook. You can always e-mail me at pjohnstoneATnewwestcityDOTca for City stuff, or at infoATpatrickdjohnstoneDOTca for regular-life stuff. I read them all, respond when I can. Have a good summer.

Be Safe, Be Calm, Be Kind. See you in September.

on Phase 2

There is a lot of stuff going on right now. There are stories local and international that are causing people alarm, confusion, and anxiety. I cannot tell if things are spinning faster now, or if we are all so apprehensive about our imminent release from social quarantine that the tension is making us hyper aware. There will be a reams of sociology research coming out of the time we are in, and the times to come over the next 6 months. Or 8 months. Or 12. Who knows, and maybe that we don’t know timelines is part of this. Or maybe its just me.

I get a lot of correspondence as an elected type, and like many of you have been spending a lot of time looking out through social media at the conversation in my community. I have been stepping out to shop, to exercise, to smell the flowers in a park. Talking to friends from 7 feet apart and stepping sideways to yield some sidewalk space. Wondering if I send the wrong signal when I tried to hold the door for someone, not at first recognizing that they didn’t want to walk past me. There is a common thread through all of this – anxiety. Or maybe nervousness is a better word, and anxiety best reserved for when it becomes disproportionate and disabling, Even then how are we to know what level of discomfort is “disproportionate” right now?

Last year, the City of New West was reviewing applications for cannabis retail stores. These were, nominally, just regular rezoning applications to add another legal use to existing retail locations. We had many people write to us and come to the Public Hearing expressing fear and concern about the impact of these stores on their neighbourhood, their community, and their children. With cannabis made legal and its use already ubiquitous in our community, it was hard to understand where this seemingly disproportionate anxiety was coming from.

A wise colleague put this into context for me. Government at every level, police, schools, churches, and the media, had spent most of the last century telling the public that cannabis was a terrible threat. Reefer Madness, gateway drug, a surefire way for your child to throw their life away. We invested millions in scaring the population about this menace, and incarcerating people for using or trading in it. Then one day, government declared it legal and all fine now, with very little fanfare, and (most importantly) limited education about the reality of its health impacts. They frankly never said “we were wrong”, or if they weren’t wrong, why those fears they transmitted are now not important. What right do we have now to act surprised that everyone didn’t just say OK when that shift happened? We need to recognize that the anxiety came from a place not of the anxious person’s making. We must be compassionate about the impact it is having on them while working on re-doing the public education about this issue.

I feel that the same applies right now as people start to transition out of lockdown, and into whatever modes come next. Except it is on a compressed timeline, and a threat more imminent. Parents are understandably unsure about sending their kids to school, some are nervous about playgrounds opening while others are chagrined that we are not moving faster to open them up. Some feel inconvenienced by the lineups and physical distancing requirements at the Farmers’ Market, others are comforted to see that they can buy food with crowding managed for safety, still others feel the Farmers’ Market is not doing enough to satisfy their personal comfort.

It’s not necessarily because people don’t trust guidance from government or public health officials. Though some may feel that way, the people of BC have demonstrated over the last 4 months incredible faith in the leadership guiding us through this, and faith in their community. However, as that guidance changes, people need time to interpret and adapt to that change. Very few people alive have been through anything like this before, and we are all (experts and lay people) making this up as we go along, doing the best we can. We are all taking different paths through this crisis, some are more vulnerable, some feel more vulnerable. As this is a crisis that has required collective action, our vulnerability and sense of vulnerability are impacted by the actions of others as much as our own action.

So all this to say what Dr. Henry said eloquently in so few words: “Be calm, be kind, be safe

As we transition to re-opening, try to do so with other people’s anxiety in mind. It may not be rational to you, but that is a sign to listen, not to dismiss. We need to be kind to each other and recognize their path is different than our own. Before we criticize others for attending events, or refusing to attend events, before we judge decisions other parents make about how their children interact or play in the weeks ahead, before we mask-shame someone or question their picnic habits, use kindness to inform your view.

And be kind to yourself. It is okay to feel uncomfortable or unsure. We are all making this up as we go along, we are all doing our best, and we are all wondering if it is enough. BC has done a great job up to now, potentially thousands of lives have been saved, and we did it by working together. Let’s keep that collective spirit, keep thinking of each other.

Disruption

So there is a lot of news right now, and only one news story. I have never seen anything like it, and I lived in the United States during 9/11. That was a sudden shock that changed things, this Pandemic is more like a slow-moving tsunami with bigger waves on the horizon. The news keeps coming, and every day another upending of our assumptions about the place and time in which we live. It can feel overwhelming. But then you go to the store to buy, say, gardening tools (like I did today), and you realize life is going on. Germinating my tomato seeds in mid-march means fresh veggies in July. I don’t know what July looks like, but I am betting we are going to want fresh tomatoes.

I have a few blog posts for this spring break from Council reports. During a bit of downtime this weekend, I worked a bit on them, but I kept coming back to The Only Story, because right now it seems that blogs on Regional Growth Strategies and comparisons of local property taxes seems secondary, and will likely be dated by the time another week of current events unfold.

Like most of you, I am adapting things in my personal life. Nothing I do in my “real” job is life-critical, in the sense that no-one lives or dies depending on my getting things done (well, technically, I reduce the long-term risk of exposure to some cancer-causing agents by the general public, so statistically fewer people will die, but that’s a long way off). However, my employer needs to keep providing some level of service  and supporting business continuity. So I have been provided with a laptop and a cell phone and I spent some time this week getting my virtual desktop to work, I’ll be working from home for the most part except for the few times I absolutely need to get to the office.

As for my other gigs, most committee meetings can be delayed or phoned in. I’m really disappointed that the great program we put together for the Lower Mainland LGA Conference is not likely to see the light of day, as it is starting to look like we will still be under some form of Social Distancing recommendation in May. Of course, this disappointment pales in comparison to what hundreds of events like this being cancelled means to the people who work in events, catering, hotels, entertainment, arts, etc. etc. and you realize we are in deep here as an economy. This is a time to find out how resilient our society really is.

I know we are up to the task of pulling together here locally, as we do have some really strong social service organizations and both formal and informal networks in the community. Watching the New West Twittersphere share and lament and laugh together (especially the #NewWestGoesViral hashtag) gives me hope as I see people separated by space pulling together. But I worry about how we can pull together nationally after so much of the necessary social structure has been dismantled by a couple of decades of austerity. Our health systems are strained on a good day, food and financial security is so uneven across the country and even within communities. How robust a response can we mount to this extra strain? So far, responses at all levels have sounded reasoned and rapid, but the shit is still accelerating towards the fan. The feds are promising a serious spend here, and I hope those funds get to the precariously-employed, precariously-housed, and recently-laid-off first. If we give $25 billion to airlines and Tim Hortons, I’m gonna be pissed.

With most events in the City shut down, no Council meeting for two weeks and all other meetings postponed, Council life is simplified. I have no idea when we are going to activate “normal” public Council meetings again with the current restrictions, but we do have a regulatory requirement to (if nothing else) get a Budget Bylaw passed in the next month, so there will be some form of meeting. Right now the Mayor and senior staff have coordinated three ad-hoc working groups within City Hall to coordinate City resources and address three identified priority areas: protecting vulnerable populations, identifying and supporting isolated seniors, and business continuity.

I don’t know what this is going to look like, and Council is currently looking to schedule an emergency meeting so we can clarify changes in work plans and deal with resourcing requests if needed I think staff need a bit more time to get their feet under them and find out what we can and should be doing before bringing those suggestions to Council, and fortunately, the City has a Pandemic Response Plan that is being activated. If you are hankering for updates on what the City is doing, best not come to bloggers like me though, and especially not Facebook posts from randos (there is a *lot* of bad info out there, unfortunately), the City website will have updates on a regular basis.

This is not going to be over soon, folks. For those of us fortunate enough to have never lived through a society-disrupting war, I don’t think we can really imagine what months of shifting our economy and our behavior is going to look like. All we know now is that it is no longer business as usual, not for some time anyway. In the meantime, do the things our Public Health professionals are telling us. Keep some distance, wash your hands. But you don’t need to be within 6 feet to be actively looking out for your neighbours and your friends. Many of them are going to be in tough mental states and/or facing some real economic stress. Be the kindness that helps them get through the day, and receive the kindness others offer. Take care.

This Happened (v.5)

Yikes, too much going on since last time I reported out on my Council-adjacent activities, so I’ll keep this short. One paragraph each (scroll down to see if I keep that promise, kinda curious if I do myself…)

I am on the Lower Mainland LGA executive, and we had an executive meeting to move some business along, which was mostly about making some fundamental program decisions about the 2020 conference we are planning for the beginning of May. It looks like a great program, so if you are a Local Government elected type reading this (and who else would?) make sure you register!

I gave opening greetings as “Acting Mayor” at the 2020 Innovation Expo at Anvil Centre. This annual event is part of the Intelligent New West program, where we bring people working in tech and innovation in the private sector together with people from the public sector to talk about how the two can work together to build capacity and promote investment in science and engineering. One of New West’s innovative businesses – Landcor – was a major sponsor of the event this year, and the event was really well attended.

Last weekend, the City of New West also hosted the semi-annual Council of Councils meeting, where local elected types from accross Metro Vancouver get together to get an update on what Metro Vancouver is up to. I guess I should write a blog post about separately!

On the same day, a few of us from Council attended the annual Royal New Westminster Regiment Mess Dinner, which is an event I have never actually had the honour of attending before. I was lucky to be seated with some members involved in the Cadet programs, and it was great to hear about the work they do, and the role they play in the community.

I am now serving as Chair of two new Council advisory committees: Facilities, Infrastructure, and Public Realm Advisory Committee (“FIPRAC”) and the Sustainable Transportation Advisory Committee (“STAC”), and both had their opening meeting in the last two weeks. It occurs to me now that I need to write another blog post about this, and how we are envisioning our new advisory committees being more effective and efficient.

For reasons too complicated to get into here, I was able to tour the OceanWise laboratory at the Pacific Science Enterprise Centre, which is what we are now calling the old DFO laboratories in West Vancouver. I was there to learn about some of the work OceanWise is doing to better understand microplastic pollution in our marine environment. This is an emerging area of science, as the impacts of residual clothing fibres, tire dust, paint chips, and other microscopic plastic particles are not well understood, even as we are now recognizing they have become ubiquitous in our oceans, air and sediments, and are becoming more common in marine micro- and mega-fauna. We may be some distance from knowing if we have any policy levers to do anything about this, but the foundational science is being done to at least allow us a better understanding of the problem.

I am also the Chair of the Community Energy Association, a not-for-profit agency that helps communities across BC (and increasingly adjacent parts of Yukon and Alberta) set and achieve energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. We had a meeting last week where we approved a 2020 budget and set some priorities for special initiatives for the year ahead (including a new website, so enjoy this one while it lasts!).

I had a brief telephone interview with CKNW’s Jill Bennett on the morning of February 29th to talk about Council’s plans to undertake a master planning exercise for the 22nd Street Station area. It is interesting that a mention of reducing auto-dependency, even as a long-term plan in light of a Climate Emergency, triggers a strong reaction for people. Even as we continue to have a regional vision of less car dependency, the idea that we can create an area attractive to people who choose to not be car-reliant, even in a small underdeveloped area around a 30-year-old SkyTrain station, is treated with the level of incredulity expected if we were planning a moon base.

I was able to attend the small vigil/gathering at Hyack Square last weekend to show support for the Wet’suwet’en people and express hopes for respectful dialogue and a peaceful resolution for the current dispute. It was nice to see some local engaged residents come out, and I had some great conversations with people. Although there has been some positive news coming out of Victoria and Smithers as the two sides work towards resolution, the discussion on that day was mostly around how unhealthy and divisive the conversation was in the social and traditional media on this topic. Having a gathering of people support a more respectful model of discourse left me feeling more positive about our community. Thanks to the organizers for this!

There was also a successful fundraiser event thrown last weekend by the Rotary Club of New Westminster that brought a couple of hundred people to the Royal City Centre atrium to have a some snacks and taste craft beer from around the region as an excuse to raise money for two great organizations in the City, I’s on the Street and KidSport.

Finally, the Royal City Curling Club is winding its season down over March, and Team DeGobbi went into the playoffs in 12th seed, and won our first game against the #5 seed but then lost our second game to the 14th seed, so we have the long row to hoe if we plan to go deep in the playoffs. If you are wondering where I am Tuesdays and Thursday evenings…

Community, Jan 24, 2020

OK, so maybe I already missed the mark on my soft promise of weekly updates on my council-related community activities, but let’s call them almost-weekly, and if we can keep ahead of fortnightly (although I love the term), and we can call this a success. It is going to depend on how many things I have going on, and how much time I have to write about them. Whish will result in this strange curve, because eventually I get to busy to write about them at all. And how much time I spend trying to use MSPaint to draw curves of phenomenon in my life:

Since my last of these community updates, we ran into snowpocalypse or snowmageddon or whatever, so a few events were cancelled. Most notably, I made it to the Queensborough Residents’ Association meeting just as the power outage caused a cancellation, and the New West Collective (a peer-to-peer support and networking group for local small businesses) wisely chose to delay their quarterly-or-so gathering until proper spring weather arrives.

Many may not know I am a member of the board of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, which is an area association representing 33 local governments (municipalities and regional districts) from Hope to Vancouver to Pemberton. We had an executive meeting last week which was spent mostly on organizing our AGM and convention in Whistler. It looks like a great program is shaping up, and I look forward to reporting out on it in May.

We held the last meeting of the Intelligent City Advisory Committee last Friday. This committee operated for about a decade, and provided some valuable guidance to Council and staff on the Intelligent New West initiative. As Council re-organized the committee structures in 2019, this was one whose role was re-evaluated, as INW is now operational, the City has a Strategic Plan for INW and there are staff responsible for all three “pillars” of INW. The “council advisory” role under INW will now be part of the Economic Development and Advisory Committee’s mandate, but there are aspect of the INW program that will also fall under Public Realm, Public Engagement / Inclusion, and the Electrical Utility Commission. There were a few members of that Committee not happy with this direction, and Council will be reviewing how to assure that the INW Strategic Plan is measured and reported out. More importantly, the City needs to recognize that there is a real braintrust of people who understand the digital economy and how information technology is evolving regionally (and globally) as the Internet of things and 5G networks become our reality. New West has some unique advantages here, we need to be vigilant to make sure those opportunities are not lost.

Last week, the members of City Council and a few senior staff members attended a special training session as part of our ongoing Truth and Reconciliation work. We had Brad Marsden lead us in a workshop around improving our understanding of the history of Residential Schools and Colonization, and its impact on Indigenous and Urban Indigenous Peoples. This was a powerful and emotionally draining session, and I understand New West is the first “Mayor and Council” to take part.

This week I was also fortunate to be able to attend the first in a three-part public conversation about changing the conversation around social housing. Led by the Douglas College philosophy department, this series seeks to explore how we can have better public conversations about social and supportive housing in our communities:

The first session put the conversation in context with an introduction by Elliot Rossiter (who wrote this great opinion in the Record recently), followed by short presentations that talked about the history of housing in New West and Canada, from the criminalization of “vagrancy” in the City’s early days through the complex social programs that virtually eliminated homelessness as we know it in the decades after WW2, to the neoliberal shift and commodification of shelter that made “unhousing” of people a common occurrence for the first time. This was followed by a panel (including Councillor Nakagawa) talking about how we can improve the community conversation about providing housing, and move past the stigmatization of people who are victims of the complex systemic and societal failure that is poverty in Canada.

Sorry, Phil, but the “neolibralism” count I got from the panel was 7. All on mark, from people who actually understand the meaning of the term.

There will be two more talks in this series that are more about exploring potential solutions than naming the problems. If you care about justice, about local governance, or even about how your neighbourhood can have better conversations about housing, you should come out! It’s free!

Finally, in the last week I had a Canada Games Pool Task Force meeting, an Electrical Commission meeting, and a less formal meeting with one of the guiding lights in the New Westminster Environmental Partners, to talk about how they view our current recycling situation, and some great initiatives they are hoping to lead around raising the profile of the Brunette River as an ecological asset in New West.