What now?

Yep, like pretty much everyone else in the province (with the notable exception of Rafe Mair), I guessed wrong.

In the end, it appears I was not cynical enough.

After this election we can be sure we will never see another campaign that doesn’t rely on the double-fisted combination of fear mongering and outright lies; at least not a successful one. The targets were there for Adrian Dix:  Christy Clark was lofting soft underhand pitches to him all campaign – she showed a pathological ignorance of the truth, she was wrapped in scandals, she made baffling unrealistic promises, and demonstrated a serial lack of judgement- from letting an 11-year-old goad her into running a red light for sport to illegally using taxpayer’s money for “quick wins” then re-hiring the soldier who fell on the sword.

Alas, Dix stayed on the high road, where he said he would. He relied on the voters to see through the sham, without actually pointing at the sham. However, even Dorothy needed Toto to pull the curtain back a bit. When Dix did start to point out the factual errors in the Liberal “Fact Free Campaign”, he did it by talking about the facts, not the liars telling them, and it just didn’t stick. This will be lesson #1 coming out of this election for all future campaigns: Positive does not work.

Voter turnout was low, and that no doubt hurt the NDP. Some suggest strategies to fix this: mandatory voting, on-line voting, a “none of the above” on the ballot. Of course, actual proportional representation might help a bit with the general disenfranchisement of the voting populace, but as low voter turnout almost always helps the incumbent, the impetus to change does not exist. The NDP did not support the STV referendum in 2009, and if they had, we would probably now be looking at an NDP /Green coalition government and Andrew Weaver would be Minister of Environment.

I argue against on-line voting because it won’t help, and the lack of a paper trail makes fraud a certainty. There is no lack of access now to the ballots, and at the polling station I worked, 95% of people were in and out in under 5 minutes. Not bad considering you get 4 hours in which to vote.

I also argue against mandatory voting for various reasons, mostly because it perpetuates the dangerous idea that Democracy = Voting. We hear people riling about how voting is our “duty” and “the only way to express your voice” or saying if you don’t vote you are not taking part in democracy and are not, therefore, allowed to complain. To all of that I say: Bullshit. Voting is one of the least important acts in a properly functioning Democracy, and your duty is not just to spend 5 minutes every 4 years going to a voting booth to mark a circle. Allow me to explain.

I was a scrutineer at the Armoury this election and a few booths over I saw a youngish woman drop off her voting card and ID, pick up a ballot, and pull out her SmartPhone to operate her browser. She spent about 5 minutes scrolling through pages, occasionally looking at her ballot and entering a few words (presumably the Candidate’s names). At first I thought she was photographing (illegal in a voting space), but it became apparent she was doing her research to see whom she wanted to vote for. A few moments in the voting station looking at candidate’s photos and maybe a few short phrases (“I Support Families!”, “I Hate Taxes”, “My Opponent Eats Puppies”), and she felt prepared to vote for one of them.

She wasn’t doing her Democratic Duty, she was shirking it.

Casting a ballot based on alphabetical order, or the haircut of the candidate, or pithy statements on a webpage is not doing a duty, or part of any functioning democracy. Learning about issues, understanding what you are voting for and why, then voting is your duty. This is not something one can do in 5 minutes once every 4 years, even with a SmartPhone.

I’m not saying people should not vote, I am saying that your duty doesn’t stop there. If Democracy was just about voting, then we have separated ourselves too much from the process (“Don’t blame me! I voted for Kodos!”) Democracy is much more about what you do the other 10 Million minutes between casting ballots. It includes learning about issues, understanding how the process works, and understanding who you are voting for. It includes getting involved to make the process happen, whether that means joining a Party, helping out with a campaign, or supporting an independent candidate with your time and your money.

I attended two sparsely-attended all-candidates events in New Westminster during this election. Every press article in the local media was a puff-piece, a thinly veiled press release. No-one asked the local candidates any difficult questions or tested them (myself included!)

I also attended an Open House this spring with two sitting MPs in the building. Prominent members of the Official Opposition were there to hear directly from the 120,000 citizens they represent. There they were, standing in a room, with an open invitation for any of those 120,000 people to ask them questions, give them credit, complain to them, give advice, throw pies – whatever – for two hours. Less than 3 dozen people bothered to show up. Do you know who your MP is? Do you know where his/her office is? When is the last time you asked them a question? Surely you would like them to do something!

There are New Westminster City Council meetings where there isn’t a single person in the audience – yet everyone is ready to complain about the decisions made there. I have found every single MP, MLA and Councillor in New Westminster is approachable and reasonable and will listen to ideas from constituents. I have agreed with some, disagreed with more, but they all had time for me. Some even reach out to me asking my opinion. Is this because I am special or “connected”? No. It is because I have reached out to them in the past to ask questions. Apparently this is so rare, so unusual even in a proactive community like New Westminster, that it stands out as remarkable.

Above that, democracy is not just about elected officials. It is about the Citizenry running the country. There is hardly a week that goes by that you can’t take part in a consultation or outreach meeting – directly helping your government make decisions. As I write, the City is seeking feedback on their Master Transportation Plan, on their Sustainability Framework, there are Residents Associations Meetings coming up this month. Many Council Advisory Committees struggle to get enough volunteers to assure quorum at meetings – where is everyone? Translink and Metro Vancouver are holding public meetings right now where the future of our region will be decided. Care about Coal? There are meetings coming up over that. Care about Tankers? The Process to approve that project is starting up right now. Want to find a group to discuss and learn about these issues and more? How about the NWEP? Think the voting system sucks? There have been people beating that drum for years – instead of wringing your hands at home or commenting on your favourite Social Media site, why not get in touch with them and help make the change you want to see?

Democracy is about those who show up: not on voting day, but every day. So if you don’t like what happened yesterday, what are you doing about it?

I walked home last night disappointed and disenchanted. Today was a glum day, but I had to think deep about how to turn it positive. So far, the best way I have thought to react is this: I’m not going to get discouraged. I am going to keep fighting for what is important to me and my community. Today I joined a Party (for the first time in a decade), and I will start taking more of a role in how that party operates. Instead of just helping out during the election, I am going to help build the Party into something that can win, and deserves to win.

When I don’t like something, I try to change it – that is my Democratic duty.

What are you going to do?

Time to Vote!

I am someone who follows politics, gets involved in the process, likes to encourage others to get involved, is free with his opinions, yadda yadda. So you would think that I would be all excited with a tightening electoral race heading towards the polls next week. You would be wrong.

Sorry to all involved, everyone trying to get me to be more excited, but this election has been kind of a snoozer.

I was chatting to a few folks about this very topic on the weekend, and there were various excuses. Most seem to suggest we are fatigued – the election has been running for 2 years, the last 21 days have seen nothing more than an increase in volume and road signage compared to the last year. The Liberal’s (mostly through proxy) systematic application of fear and suspicion are turning people off, while the NDP have taken such a passive approach that they are not generating enough interest to offset the resultant cynicism.

Meanwhile the Greens are making serious inroads on Vancouver Island (but are silent elsewhere) and the Conservatives appear to be completely lost in the woods. The strongest cases I have heard this election are for electing independents in the hope we can fix the entire broken system.

I dutifully attended two of the three traditional all-candidates events, and I helped organize another one. Turnout for most was lower than in previous elections, which immediately calls me to question my earlier prediction that turnout would be up this year (people are more likely to line up to vote against something than they spend a lot of effort voting for something). I also have met all of the candidates in the local election. I have contributed to the process by donating my own money to the campaign. In the last 6 months, I have had lengthy sit-down discussions with three of the candidates, where we discussed a variety of issues.

From this, I have ascertained we have several truly dedicated, determined, and eager candidates, each who would serve out community well in Victoria, if given the chance.

But I only get to vote for one.

I mentioned earlier that my sincerest hope is that the local campaign is an open, honest, and positive one. From what I have seen, it has been. The only truly distasteful moment I experienced in this election was when I had a chance encounter with a person who claimed to be peripherally associated with one of the candidates and immediately gave me a bunch of “background juice” about the candidate that was highly personal. I don’t think this person knew I was a local blogger, and it was not in the context of any political event, so I’m not sure why I was chosen for a confessional. I had no reason to believe or not believe the person, and I don’t think that person’s gripes were valuable fodder for anyone. It was just weird, and hasn’t changed my opinion of the candidate or the campaign. I shared it only with a few people close to me and/or the candidate to see if I was missing something. Consensus opinion was that it was silly. So I didn’t let it bother me, and I won’t write about it here.

So in the spirit of open, honest and constructive discussion, I am going to give my impressions of the local candidates, and try my hardest to accentuate the positive. If you want to know who I am voting for, you might parse it from this, or you might drive by my house and see the sign on my lawn. Alphabetically (by first name, since we are all friends here!):

Hector Bremner: Hector has hit the City with a force. He is simply the best candidate the Liberals could have offered us this election. He is young, articulate, dedicated, and has one hell of a ground game going. His volunteer army has been ubiquitous (if somewhat anonymous), his twitter and other social media presence daunting (if not always topical), and his message strongly pointed (if not always clear). Overall, I think he is running a great campaign.

The one big thing Hector and I disagree about is the team he is representing. I have made it no secret I don’t like the Premier, and I do not have faith in her abilities as leader. Hector clearly respects her skills, and is proud to represent her. However, his campaign has been an interesting walk along a thin line: he has spoken about representing New West in Victoria, not the other way around, and has coined the phrase “this election isn’t about Change- it is about the Future”, while still saying his team is the best one to lead the Province. Not quite running as an independent, but not quite toeing the party line. It has been an interesting balancing act and he has been very effective at it.

After chatting with him recently, he is also convinced he is going to win, against the odds, the polls, and the assumed wisdom about New Westminster as an NDP stronghold. He also made it clear he was putting all his energy into this one shot – at the QPRA meeting he mentioned he was “not going to run in another jurisdiction or level of office”– this is the job he wants, and he is working hard to get it. I’m not sure he is going to be able to pull it off.

James Crosty: I was really happy to hear James was running, only because I hoped he would add some “spark” to the campaign in general. I’ve said it before: I don’t always agree with James, but I know for certain James always agrees with James. By that, I mean he is painfully honest about what is on his mind, his heart is in the right place, and he is always willing to stick his neck out and roll up his sleeves to see his vision realized. He brought a fresh perspective to the all-candidates events, full of his usual bluster, yet somewhat more positive and contemplative than he was during his Mayoral Run of 2011 (and therefore more likable). I also liked his honesty at the QPRA meeting (and I paraphrase): “[If I don’t win] You bet I am going to run again, for another level of government- because when you want to contribute to the community as much as I do, you can’t help but step up at every opportunity!”

This was in reply to Hector’s earlier discussion of his single-minded determination to get this specific job, but it told us what we all needed to know- James is healthy, happy, and as determined as ever to make change in this City. And I love him for it. I’m just afraid he ran an Independent campaign in a year when two other candidates were leaning more on their independent side than their Parties – that is a hard niche for three to fit into.

Judy Darcy: Despite my best efforts to remain jaded about the NDP nomination process, after two years of interacting with Judy Darcy, I really like her. She has an authentic spirit about her that makes you want to chat with her, and shows a keen ear when you bring her ideas. She is the first to admit when she doesn’t have an answer, but can draw on a lifetime of experience dealing with government and legislative issues. She also puts out a genuine sense that she is empathetic for others. In this campaign she was the one saying government can (and must be) an effective and positive force in our society if we are to have a fair and just society.

I think she could have done a better job taking her one perceived weakness – the feeling that she’s not “from here” (of course neither are Hector, or Terry, or James… or me for that matter) – and turned it around. She might have said that despite her only being out west for a decade, she has spent her entire life fighting for the issues that are important to people in New Westminster- We have RCH, and she has been fighting for hospital workers; we have an aging population, and she has been an advocate for seniors; we are a town with a large labour-class and she has been fighting labour issues her entire life; we have a huge population of immigrants and people in lower-cost rental housing, and she is a first-generation Canadian who has been fighting to improve conditions for low-income people. But maybe that would have been giving too much credence to the criticism in a town full of immigrants from other parts of Canada, and other parts of the world.

Her campaign was instead like that of Adrian Dix, the campaign you run as someone safely in the lead: relatively low key and positive, with a strong personal connection. She has worked hard since gaining the nomination to reach out to people across the community, and it is a good thing, because she is a candidate who is way better in person than she is on paper.

Lewis Dahlby: I have not seen or heard a peep out of Lewis this election. I did not attend the one all-candidates event he chose to attend (and where he apparently decided it was OK to commit a Godwin in polite discussion).

I have, however, once met Lewis Dahlby. I recognized him as the guy who accosted me at Sapperton day a couple of years ago. I was manning the NWEP booth having great conversations with people about transportation issues, and he spent an hour bending my ear about what was wrong with “you people” and how Government had to get out of the job of building roads and bridges. In the end, we agreed to disagree shortly after I suggested to him that if really wanted to live in a country with no interference from Government, he might want to give Somalia a try.

Paul Forseth: Paul’s campaign here in New West was symptomatic of the entire provincial Conservative campaign. It was rather lack-lustre and held more promise at the start than real punch in the end. I appreciate the service Paul has provided in the community, from his time working in the corrections, family law and parole systems, to his dozen years serving the community as an MP. However, it is clear to anyone reading my blog that I don’t share his Conservative opinions, so he probably wasn’t trying to appeal to me and my ilk.

Still, I don’t think his campaign lit any fires, and I didn’t hear him offering the electorate much. He spoke of “Conservative Values” having a history of providing better governance, but never really clarified what he meant by those words, nor did he cite examples from the modern world where “conservative” countries were outperforming “non-conservative” countries. When he shone, it was when speaking of his personal experiences growing up in New Westminster and providing services to constituents as an MP. He also rarely mentioned his Party, while at the same time he never differentiated himself from the other “Independents” running in this election in New West.

Terry Teather: To me, Terry’s finest moment was the “Stump Speech” he gave, while standing on an actual stump, during the All Candidate’s Jane’s Walk. He got very impassioned about what Green Principles are, and why they are the best direction forward for the Province, and indeed the world. He came into this election a virtual unknown in New West, but explained his motivation being to encourage the youth that he teaches in his day job to take an active role in politics- to learn and care about how Government works.

Being a virtual unknown prior to this election, I doubt he will reach the level of support that the Greens received in New Westminster during the last Provincial election, as those numbers saw a “bump” due to well-known local activist Matt Laird being on the ballot. However, Terry’s presence on the campaign was a positive one, and I hope he has the time and energy to stay involved in the local environmental scene after May. I was really happy to have met Terry during the campaign, he seems like a straight-up nice guy with a passion for improving community. We need him on the NWEP.

Now go vote. Advanced polls are open May 8-11, every day, and May 14th is the big day. I voted this evening at the Lawn Bowling Club, and it took less than 5 minutes. Go!

Jane’s Walk Weekend comes to New West!

Hopefully, after a couple of news stories in the local papers and Mary Wilson’s dynamic talk at the recent New Westminster Pecha Kucha event, you are aware that there will be a series of Jane’s Walks in New Westminster this weekend.

(parts below cribbed from a press release I helped pen – so sorry for the quasi-self-plagiarizing!)

Jane’s Walks are becoming a global event, held in hundreds of cities around the world on the first weekend in May. Around the world, neighbourhood groups organize free community walks to honour the memory of Jane Jacobs.

Jane Jacobs is considered by many to be the Mother of modern Urbanism, in that she brought it to life, loved and supported it, and worked tirelessly to give it all the tools it needed to prosper. She rose to prominence for her activism to protect Greenwich Village from the Lower Manhattan Expressway proposal, and her ground-breaking book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. She moved to Toronto during the Vietnam War, and brought her Urban Activism with her, such that she received first Citizenship, then the Order of Canada. To put a local angle on her story, Jacobs is sometimes referred to as “the mother of Vancouverism” for the influence her writings and research had on the development of post-freeway Vancouver, and the belief that density can be done without compromising liveability.

Jane’s Walks are meant to honour Jane, but also to honour her desire: that cities and urban areas become safe, diverse, and interesting places for people to live, work, and play. We honour this by drawing urban neighbours together to take a walk through their own city, not to get from A to B, but to have a “walking conversation”, meet neighbours, learn something new about their own backyard, and ultimately increase citizens’ connection to their urban home.

It just so happens that this year, Jane’s Walk came on the perfect weekend for a burgeoning New Westminster election tradition: Tenth to the Fraser, NEXT NewWest, and the New Westminster Environmental Partners working together to organize a unique event to bring voters and candidates together. Instead of another boring debate or staged Q&A, the “All Candidate’s Jane’s Walk” will be an inviting, social, and fun event. The goal is to give everyone a chance to meet, greet and get to know the candidates seeking your vote on May 14th.

All New Westminster residents are invited to gather at Sapperton Park (at the corner of East Columbia Street and Sherbrooke Street) at 5:30pm (sharp!). The five candidates will be introduced, and the group will walk along Columbia Street and the Central Valley Greenway to Downtown New Westminster and the River Market (a distance of about 3.5 km, so about an hour walking at a leisurely pace).

Along the way, each of the candidates will be given an opportunity for their 3-4 minutes “on the soapbox” to address the crowd. We promise to keep the speeches short, as the emphasis will be on face-to-face and small group conversations during the walk. Participants will be encouraged to chat with the candidates and ask their own questions. At the end of the walk, participants and candidates will be encouraged to gather at the Paddlewheeler Pub to continue the conversation, socialize and network (in the NEXT NewWest tradition). A rough schedule is available on the Jane’s Walk Event page– so if you can only catch part of the walk, you are, of course, welcome to join or leave! Don’t forget to bring Skytrain fare to get from the end back to the beginning- both ends are close to Millennium Line stations!

Now that the self-serving advertizing part of the post is over, I want to encourage you to go to the Jane’s Walk New Westminster page and see what other walks are coming your way this weekend. There are no less than 10 walks planned, most of them an hour or two long. I love looking at the Jane’s Walks GoogleMap plug-in to see that New Westminster is one of the two centres of Jane’s Walks for BC along with some young upstart village to the west…

I like to think this is because we have a beautiful, walkable City, and engaged citizens who are proud of their neighbourhoods and want to create community connections. It may also be because we have Mary Wilson leading the charge to make us a walking city. No matter if you live on the West Side, Queensborough, Downtown or the Brow – there is a walk in your neighbourhood.

The weather forecast is spectacular this weekend– sunscreen and water bottles are about the only thing you will need for any of the walks, and many of them terminate near places where one can buy ice cream or icy cold beer, as per your preference. So get out of your house, drag the kids away from the screen, leave the car in the garage, and meet a few neighbours. We’ll see you on the Streets of New Westminster this weekend!

My Nominee for the Worst Road in BC

MORE UPDATES BELOW (May 22)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sunday! Sunday! SUNDAY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wal-Mart enigma.

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

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

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

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

Citizen: “No. I don’t”

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

Crowd:      [crickets]
       [snickers]        
       [one hand goes up]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off to the Races

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

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

We no longer live in those more-civilized times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Envision 2032 Survey

Some of you may remember the Envision2032 event that took place last November.

It was a two day event where Day 1 included a collection of inspiring and informative talks on the topic of Sustainability, and one random blovator rambling on about Richard Nixon or something.

Day 2 was a more interactive event, where people talked in round-tables about a variety of topic areas, and described how a sustainable community looked to them. This was the first step in a longer process being run by the City’s Planning Department to develop a community sustainability framework.

As described by Mark Allison, Senior Planner for the City, the sustainability framework that will result from this process, “Envision 2032”, will create a “lens” through which future plans, policies, practices and projects will be viewed. This will become a major guiding document that will impact, potentially, every decision made in the City for the decades to come, so it is, uh, kind of important that we get it right.

Coming out of that initial kick-off and early consultations, the City has now developed some draft “Description of Success” (DoS) statements. These are broad, visioning statements the essentially answer the question: what are the characteristics of a sustainable community?

The City is now asking stakeholders (and if you live or work in New Westminster, that means you) to review and comment upon those DoS statements. And to do so, they have set up a Survey Monkey survey, which you can access here:    www.surveymonkey.com/s/envision2032DoS

You only have until March 31st to fill those surveys in, so please go to it soon!

Note the survey is broken up into 11 policy areas, some will no doubt be more interesting and important to you than others, so don’t feel you need to delve too deeply into every single one. If you are a wonk like me, you might want to spend a few hours deliberating over this stuff, but if you just want to be heard, pick and choose the parts where you think you can contribute. As you will see, you could spend hours doing this survey, or be out of there in 10 minutes. It’s up to you.

Rather like people who say “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain about who wins”, I say if you do not take a bit of time early on in a processes like this, you have lost some of your argument when you then whinge about the results of the process. Blanket disagreement with the statements is a valid form of comment, but it might be more useful if you actually take the time to describe better statements, or point out where the statements are flawed. Of course, if you agree with them, then also say so! Remember, democracy is when decisions by people who bother to show up.

Rarely, for me, I am going to reserve my comments until the survey period is over, so as to not poison the well. I suspect if you bother to read my blog (Hi Mom!) you either agree with me, or strongly disagree with me on these topics, so why would I try to change your mind, or give you fuel for the fire (respectively) prior to your going over to the survey and completing it yourself?

In the meantime, I have already done my survey, but will provide a bit of more informed opinion here after the 31st, and after I do a bit more research:

Damn

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 Newwest.tv website).

Interviewing Clown, Patient Candidate

Thanks to the NewWest.tv 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.