"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The late Justice Proudfoot was more than just a trailblazer

The following is the text of a story I wrote for the B.C. Catholic newspaper. The story will be published in the Feb. 17 edition of the weekly publication.

When the nice old lady in the little red sports car pulled up to their school, students at St. Augustine’s Elementary in Vancouver knew they were in for a special day.

Proudfoot: An Order of B.C. recipient.
Whether the short-haired, soft-spoken woman would drop in on classrooms, spend time with kindergarteners, or have serious chats with Grade 7 students about their responsibilities, she always left everyone feeling a little better about themselves. Their affection for her was made clear after Mass on Sundays, when children would inevitably flock to her. The warm-hearted widow was especially close to her two Grade 7 “prayer buddies.”

That woman, Patricia Mathilda Proudfoot, passed away last fall at the age of 91, her death generating not only sadness in the St. Augustine’s community, but also laudatory news stories and published memorials about her trailblazing legacy as British Columbia’s first female judge at three levels of the courts.

On Nov. 25, 2019, a special joint sitting of B.C.’s Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, and Provincial Court took place at the Vancouver Law Courts in honour of Proudfoot, with members of the judiciary gathering to remember her and her contributions to the legal profession.

Accounts of her life largely omitted what she meant not only to St. Augustine’s school and parish, but also to the Archdiocese of Vancouver. These contributions were formally recognized in 2013 when Archbishop J. Michael Miller conferred on her the cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (for Church and Pope), the highest Catholic award given to lay people.

Observers and acquaintances agree that the mark she left on society can be found not only in the example she set by quietly living out the principles of her Catholic faith, but also in the enduring nature of her principle- and common-sense-based jurisprudence.

Nowhere is this more evident than in her 1993 ruling in Rodriguez v. The Attorney General of B.C., when, sitting as a Justice of the B.C. Court of Appeal, Proudfoot and another judge upheld a lower-court ruling that denied euthanasia-advocate Sue Rodriguez the right to an assisted suicide – a ruling that was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada later that year. (In 2015, however, that same court reversed itself and legalized assisted suicide.)

Today, as the federal government looks at expanding the circumstances in which Canadians can obtain “medical assistance in dying,” and with increasing international evidence that liberal euthanasia laws are leading to people being killed without their consent, Proudfoot’s warning about potential abuses of assisted suicide looks prophetic. “There is reason to fear that homicide of the terminally ill for ignoble motives may readily be disguised as aiding suicide,” she wrote.

“I think she called it right on,” said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. “What you have with this legislation in Canada [is] the perfect cover-up for murder.”

Proudfoot was the youngest of 10 children (nine girls and a boy) born into the German-speaking, wheat-farming Fahlam family of Kronau, Sask. Proudfoot told an interviewer for the Oral History Project at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law that when the double-whammy of Depression and Dust Bowl drought led to the farm’s ruin, her parents and seven of the children, including Patricia, drove in a McLaughlin-Buick – their belongings towed behind in a homemade trailer – to Rutland, in B.C.’s Okanagan, to begin anew as fruit farmers. “Dad arrived, literally, with empty pockets,” she recalled.

Her only surviving sibling, Helen Schaeffer, 92, of Summerland, continued the story in an interview with The B.C. Catholic. “We were all raised Catholic. We went to church regularly at St. Theresa’s [parish in Kelowna],” she said. “We even had to go on Saturdays. We had a wonderful upbringing. Mother never preached to us, just set a good example.” She recalls her famous sister as being somewhat of a tomboy, extremely sports-minded, very bright in school, and wanting to be a lawyer from a very young age.

Proudfoot worked at up to three jobs to pay university tuition, graduated from UBC law school in 1952, and was called to the bar the following year, practising until she was appointed to the B.C. Provincial Court in 1971 – the first woman judge to sit in its criminal court. She was also the first woman judge appointed to the County Court of B.C., and to the B.C. Supreme Court. She was elevated to B.C.’s highest court, the Court of Appeal, in 1989 and retired in 2002.

Proudfoot (r) with sister: Strength of character.
“Patricia was a wonderful judge,” said her eulogist, retired Provincial Court Judge Bryan Davis. “She did have high expectations of everyone. She was kind, fair, reasonable, compassionate, and never intellectually dishonest or without integrity.”

His assessment is widely shared. “She treated her colleagues with respect and expected people to treat her the way she treated them,” said Lauri-Ann Fenlon, a current Justice of the B.C. Court of Appeal. “She was certainly a person of principle and good character.”

Although she and Proudfoot never served together, Fenlon said she knew Proudfoot by reputation as someone who approached the law in a very practical, common-sense way. Importantly, “she had courage – a strength of character.”

Other colleagues support the assessment. Mary Margaret MacKinnon, who serves as general counsel to both the Archdiocese of Vancouver and the Catholic Independent Schools of Vancouver Archdiocese, sat with Proudfoot on several boards. She said Proudfoot continually raised new ideas and looked for fair solutions.

“She gave of her time and talent to the archdiocese, and we are all in a better place because of that,” MacKinnon says. “She was filled with wisdom and kindness and good judgment. More importantly, she had a fantastic sense of humour and capacity for fun.”

Evidence of both wisdom and humour can be found in an anecdote that an online commentator, Kerry Kozak, shared following Proudfoot’s passing on Oct. 9. “I was a ‘rookie’ Supreme Court clerk,” Kozak wrote, “[…] when Madam Justice Patricia Proudfoot came into the courtroom. At the same time, so did 16 naked men and woman – Doukhobors who were protesting criminal charges brought against them in Grand Forks. Proudfoot had all the windows opened in that courtroom on a very chilly, cold day in the old New Westminster courthouse. […] They were all dressed the next day.”

On other professional fronts, Proudfoot led the B.C. Royal Commission on the Incarceration of Female Offenders and was a member of the Committee on Sexual Offences against Children and Youths, the Canada Pension Appeals Board, and the Canadian Panel on Extraordinary Challenges for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

As a volunteer, she worked with Vancouver Foundation projects involving children and youth, and the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews. Additionally, she was an honorary director of Big Sisters of B.C., a long-time supporter of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and sponsored at least five children in various countries through World Vision. Her many honours include three honorary degrees and membership in the Order of B.C.

Justice Patricia Proudfoot received the Order of British Columbia in 2007.
Proudfoot served the archdiocese as a member of the Advisory Committee on Clerical Sexual Misconduct from 2000 until 2015. Msgr. Gregory Smith, who was a fellow member of the committee until he left for studies in Rome in 2004, recalls well her solid counsel.

“I still marvel that for so many years we had someone of her stature serving, helping the Church deal with these critical issues – a tough-minded judge who had headed a Royal Commission looking into sexual abuse of female prisoners,” he said.

“It shows not only the depth of Pat Proudfoot’s commitment to the archdiocese, but also the depth of the archdiocese’s commitment to rooting out the destructive problem of sexual abuse by clergy.”

Proudfoot married travel writer Arthur Proudfoot in 1959, the marriage lasting 37 years until his death; they had no children. Schaeffer recalled that her sister drifted away from the Church for many years but returned with renewed faith later in life.

It was at St. Augustine’s Parish in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood where Proudfoot’s commitment to community and church took root most profoundly. “It’s pretty clear that in her life she was very passionate about many things,” said parishioner Lawrence Pillon, “but about young adults and children in particular. There are many examples where she extended her expertise and her support in so many ways. And we certainly felt it at the school.”

Pillon said Proudfoot’s contribution to the steering committee (now called Faith and Foundation), struck to build a new St. Augustine’s school, was exceptional. “I think her participation was one of the reasons it was so successful,” he said. Today, two of the three phases of the new school have been completed.

“Here was a person who didn’t have children in the school but felt [the call] to be part of this whole great effort,” said Pillon. Along the way, “she became very close to the teachers, and I just can’t say enough about how close she became to so many people in the community during those years.”

He said Proudfoot wanted to inspire people to do the best they could. “And sometimes in the church, you really have to have that inspiration, that courage, that dedication, and she certainly exemplified that.”

The funeral Mass for Patricia Proudfoot was held Nov. 2 of last year at St. Augustine’s Church. A great crowd of parishioners – young and old, friends and acquaintances, and co-workers and admirers – attended, filling parking lots and neighbourhood streets with their vehicles.

One car was missing, though: a little red BMW Z3 sports car that over the years had become so familiar to the St. Augustine’s community. Needless to say, that car – and the extraordinary woman who drove it – will not soon be forgotten.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

When pro-environment means anti-human

I am happy to report that the following piece has just been published in the BC Catholic newspaper.

By Terry O'Neill

It was less than a quarter of a century ago that then-Pope John Paul II first warned about the multiplicity of societal trends in human attitudes and practices that were producing a “culture of death.” One can only wonder what he would make of today’s even more terminal view of humanity.

Writing in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, now-Saint Pope John Paul II shone a harsh and revealing light on the “veritable structure of sin” that has led to modern society’s embrace of such destructive, behaviours as artificial contraception, abortion and euthanasia.

Today, however, that’s not even the half of it. Indeed, in an increasingly alarmed and virtually pro-suicidal response to mankind’s impact on the natural environment, some thought leaders are disseminating profoundly anti-human, anti-human-life sentiments.

Take Samantha Kelly, a professor of history at Rutgers University. When asked this month by The Atlantic (a pre-eminent American publication) what “one thing” she would change if she could go back in time, she answered, “The invention of agriculture. Imagine: far less environmental degradation and income inequality…”

That may be, but researchers have found that the Earth could support only about 100 million people living the sort of hunter-gatherer lifestyle that immediately preceded mankind’s invention of agriculture. They also found that only 57 percent those 100 million would reach the age of 15 and that the life expectancy of all hunter-gatherers would be between 21 and 37 years.

In other words, Professor Kelly’s ideal, pre-agriculture world would not only see the elimination of 7.5 billion men, women and children from the Earth, but also the consignment of the “lucky” survivors to short, nasty and brutish lives.

And, oh yes, there would also be no more Professor Kellys to pontificate about the problems of world, for it was the adoption of the very invention that she decries that gave birth to modern civilization and, with it, the sort of educational institutions from which she has the leisure to conjure her opinions. Or maybe she would rather be a gatherer of berries and a bearer of multiple babies, most of whom die in infancy.

But one should not be too harsh with Prof. Kelly. After all, she is an out-and-out moderate when it comes to this sort of stuff. For example, in recent months, media outlets have published stories on the “Conceivable Future” movement which encourages participants to consider whether, given the “realties” of the “climate crisis,” they should forego having children.

More extreme are the “voluntary human extinction” and “anti-natalist” movements, the latter of which argues that all human life causes nothing but harm. “Their notion, that having children may be a bad idea, seems to be gaining mainstream popularity,” observes The Guardian.

Such profoundly misanthropic views used to be held only by radical environmentalists such as Stewart Brand, of the Whole Earth Catalogue, who penned these immortal words: “We have wished, we eco-freaks, for a disaster to come and bomb us into the stone age.'

 Not to be outdone, B.C.’s own Paul Watson, he of the Sea Shepherd Society, once declared, “Humans are the AIDS of the earth.”

More appalling yet is this from David Graber, a research biologist with the American National Parks Service: “We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the earth...until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.”

A notorious 1992 Time magazine cover story signalled how such anti-human ideas could be conceived. Entitled, “The Last Eden,” the story described a remote part of an African jungle that was untouched by humanity. This “Eden,” the magazine wrote, would be destroyed by any sort of human activity.

But, surely, this concept turns the Christian ideal of Eden on its head. Where the Bible paints a pre-fall picture of Eden as a paradise where humans and the natural world lived in perfect harmony, Time sees Eden as devoid of men and women. No Adam, no Eve, no anybody.

Most of us hold to some sort of middle-ground, an approach that neither supports an irresponsible exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources nor an irresponsible attack on humanity. Good Christians, after all, know that humans were created in the image of God, and that we are charged to be wise stewards of the Earth.

Nevertheless, one senses that, as concern over climate change grows, the anti-human view is gaining ground, infecting especially the worldview of our young people, and, in so doing encouraging a profoundly pessimistic even nihilistic personal philosophy.

As a life-long pro-life advocate, I see this as a new and threatening front in an ongoing war – a war whose shape Saint Pope John Paul II first described with ominous precision in Evangelium Vitae.

“This situation, with its lights and shadows,” he wrote, “ought to make us all fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life.’ We find ourselves not only ‘faced with’ but necessarily ‘in the midst of’ this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.”

Monday, July 8, 2019

Nelly Shin's 'vocation' to serve

A few days ago, I wrote on this blog about why I've chosen to support Nelly Shin, the Conservative Party of Canada candidate for Port Moody-Coquitlam in the October general election. From our first meeting, Ms. Shin struck me as an intelligent, sincere, and compassionate person who is motivated by a genuine desire to do good through public service.

Calgary MP Michelle Rempel (l) and Shin
Nelly delivered a similar positive message when she was campaigning for a Conservative nomination in Richmond Hill last year*, according to a blog post about her that was published in June, 2018 by Ontarian Emily Wright.

Headlined, "Vocation as a Career," the post opens with a quote from Leo Tolstoy which reads, "The vocation of every man and woman is to serve other people.”

The post then continues, "Where Nelly is today is the outcome of a series of small yet pivotal journeys that shaped the direction of her life's work. Her career spans several different job spheres, all connected by the common thread that is her hunger for purpose, and her aspiration to better society."

The next section of the article describes her journey as an educator, skips her stint as a composer and recording artist, and then picks up with her work as a counselor with Christian missions. The piece closes with the following summation:

"For Nelly, running for office is about trying to do the life work she's been doing in terms of restoring peoples' lives and bettering society from a position where she has the authority to make the changes that would most benefit those that need it."

That's certainly the conclusion I have reached and I hope others will too.

*Nelly stepped aside to allow a former Conservative MP, Costa Menegakis, to have an unimpeded path to the nomination.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Nelly Shin's resolute road to the Conservative Party's Port Moody-Coquitlam nomination

Canadians have a big decision to make on October 21 -- electing a new federal government. Residents of the Port Moody-Coquitlam riding have an important role to play in that historic moment, as their longtime MP is retiring, a move that opens the door to the election of a a brand-new person to represent them in Ottawa.
Shin and St. Germain: Endorsement
One of the leading contenders must certainly be Nelly Shin, a bright, engaging and compassionate educator, artist and community worker who is representing the Conservative Party of Canada. Here is a link to her website.
Nelly's backstory is a compelling one. She had originally intended to seek a nomination in the Ontario riding of Richmond Hill but graciously and without complaint stepped aside to clear the way for a former Conservative MP to seek the nomination.
Still wanting to serve the country, and reflecting on a rewarding stage in her life when she had lived in B.C., she--like so many other thousands of people every year-- decided to move to the province to start fresh.
A talented singer, pianist and composer, Nelly says she chose Port Moody because it's the self-proclaimed "City of the Arts." Contrary to some allegations made by political opponents, Nelly does not fit the definition of a "parachute candidate": she decided on her own to move to B.C.; the Conservative party paid none of her expenses; the party made no official decisions or decrees to support her nomination. Importantly, she has now made a home for herself in Port Moody.
This is in clear contrast to the path taken by the NDP leader, for example, who ran (successfully, as it turned out) in a recent Burnaby by-election, even though he doesn't live in the province. Interestingly, the party's support is plummeting in B.C. 
Another unfair charge emerged when the Conservative party disqualified the only other candidate seeking the nomination, a young man who worked for the better part of a year attempting to secure that nomination.
It was said that the disqualified candidate, Matthew Sebastiani, was "blocked," a word that connotes unfairness. It's understandable that the disqualification upset some people, but it's always difficult to explain the justification for disqualifications because the party never makes public its reasons for such decisions. Nevertheless, I have a good understanding of the process, and I trust that the decision was not taken lightly, and was reached only after a fair and just review of the facts.
And so, here we are, less than four months to go until the general election. I, like several others (including former candidate Tim Laidler, leading Tri-Cities Conservative Dave Bassett, and legendary former Conservative senator, MP and party president Gerry St. Germain), have decided to publicly endorse Nelly. Moreover, I have decided to take a role on her campaign team.
I didn't do this lightly, but only after getting to know Nelly Shin; she is intelligent, compassionate, talented and, most of all, committed to public service. I think she will make an exceptional Member of Parliament.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Judicial activism is still an issue

I received an interesting email today from a professor of law who reminded me of an article, about judicial activism, that I had written for The Western Standard in 2006, and asked if he could place the article's text on one of his professional pages. The article, he said, is no less relevant and important today than it was 13 years ago.
I assented, of course, because I completely agree with him about the importance of the issue. Indeed, it's worth noting that, as part of the current SNC scandal that has so roiled the Liberal Party of Canada, it was charged that PM Justin Trudeau rejected a recommendation, from then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, for an appointee to the Supreme Court of Canada on the grounds that the judge expressed some concern about the high court's judicial activism. Trudeau was said to be aghast at the suggestion of his appointment, exclaiming that it would have been highly unsuitable because the Liberal Party of Canada was, after all, the "Charter party." Here's a link to that story.
And here is the complete text (as submitted to my editor at that time) of my March 2006 article:

The right to create new rights

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin defends the Supreme Court’s ultimate power to make law


Parliament made history this past Feb. 27 [2006] when a special ad-hoc, all-party committee of the House of Commons gathered in front of reporters and television cameras to query Supreme Court of Canada nominee Marshall Rothstein. It turned out to be a rather gentle affair: more a friendly meet-and-greet with Rothstein, a 65-year-old Manitoba legal scholar and federal court judge, than a rough-and-tumble American-style grilling. But it was precedent-setting, nevertheless.

Never before had a nominee to the country’s highest court been compelled to face politicians in a public forum as a requirement to obtain his appointment. In fact, it was the first time a nominee’s name had even been made public before his appointment. Equally precedent-setting was the fact Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who led his Conservative Party to victory in the general election only a month before, had selected Rothstein from a list of three candidates nominated, again publicly, by a committee established by the former Liberal government.

Still, it was a cautious and eminently polite step towards the sort of judicial accountability practiced in most other modern democracies. The MPs did not have the power to stop Rothstein’s appointment, which Harper made official the following day. Nor did they have the authority to ask questions relating to specific legal matters. Nevertheless, Justice Minister Vic Toews, who once studied under Rothstein, had ample justification in describing his former professor’s three-hour conversation with politicians as “historic proceedings in the life of our country.”

Of course, Toews was referring to the novel public hearing itself, not to its content, which was quickly forgotten. But Rothstein’s answers to MPs’ questions, about the role of the judiciary in general and about the live-wire issue of judicial activism and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically, were significant in any regard. “The important thing,” he said at one point, “is that judges, when applying the Charter, have to have recognition that the statute that they’re dealing with was passed by a democratically elected legislature…and therefore, they have to approach the matter with some restraint.”

Rothstein’s invocation of “restraint” might strike some Canadians as nothing more than an expression of good, old common sense. But at a time when the Supreme Court of Canada is under steady fire from traditionalists for its lack of said restraint, his avowed adherence to prudence is noteworthy. Especially so when compared to the recent public utterances of the woman under whom he is now directly working, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. Indeed, in several speeches and interviews of late, McLachlin has not only defended the court’s liberal interpretations of the Charter, but has also arguably imagined new ways in which the court’s de facto law-making powers might expand.

This certainly appeared to be the case in an eyebrow-raising address she delivered to a legal conference in New Zealand on Dec. 1 of last year. And it would seem to be equally true for the unapologetic position she took in an exclusive interview with the Western Standard on March 25 in Ottawa. An edited transcript of the interview can be seen on page xx. Her message, in a nutshell, is this: that, when necessary, the Court has every right—nay, every responsibility—to invoke “unwritten values” when ruling on matters not explicitly enunciated in either the Charter or the country’s laws.

Critics such as Rory Leishman, author of the upcoming book Against Judicial Activism, believe that, when the Court finds itself in uncharted Charter waters, it is far more appropriate for the judges simply to turn the matter back to Parliament. He says it’s what the judges should have done in Parliament’s 1998 request that the Supreme Court rule on the constitutionality of Quebec separation; no law existed in this area, Leishman points out, so the court should simply have thrown the matter back to the government. Instead, Leishman says the court concocted new law and regulations covering the secession of provinces from Confederation. Parliament is, after all, supposed to be the one that makes the law; the courts, on the other hand, are supposed only to interpret the law.

But Leishman, a columnist for the London, Ontario Free Press, and a host of other critics believe the Supreme Court has muddied the distinction. “They’re violating, essentially, the separation of powers,” he said in an interview. “And it will have disastrous consequences for respect of the independence of the judiciary, which is vital to democratic, constitutional government.”

That remains to be seen, but Leishman’s book, selected chapters of which were made available to the Western Standard in March in advance of its publication, reaches much the same conclusion as did the book, The Charter Revolution and the Court Party, published in 2000 by University of Calgary academics F.L. (Ted) Morton (now an Conservative MLA in Alberta) and Rainer Knoff. And that is that, in myriad ways, the Supreme Court has used the Charter to change government policy on, according to the Calgarians, “an ever-expanding list of controversial issues—abortion, aboriginal rights, gay rights, bilingualism, criminal law enforcement and prisoner-voting.”

To many traditionalists, especially social conservatives, the most notorious of the Court’s infringements on Parliament’s territory took place with its 1995 Egan decision, in which it added homosexual rights to the list of protected persons named in section 15 of the Charter. It did this in spite of the fact Parliament had explicitly omitted homosexuals from the section prior to the Charter’s adoption in 1982.

It was in her New Zealand speech last year that McLachlin delivered perhaps the clearest and most complete enunciation of the reasoning behind such judicial activism. And she also opened the door to yet further court adventures into what, for all intents and purposes, can be seen by most Canadians only as law-making.

To McLachlin, “there exists fundamental norms of justice so basic that they form part of the legal structure of governance and must be upheld by the courts, whether or not they find expression in constitutional texts.” She recognized that critics contend that “the invocation of unwritten norms cloaks unelected and unaccountable judges with illegitimate power and runs afoul of the theory of parliamentary supremacy.” Yet, she countered that “the idea of unwritten constitutional principles is not new and should not be seen as a rejection of the constitutional heritage” shared by countries such as Canada and New Zealand.

She pointed to the idea of natural law, which is the age-old understanding that unchanging moral principles exist which are common to all human beings, and explained that the unwritten norms or laws to which she was now referring are like a “new natural law,” one “which goes by the name human rights.” Whether explicitly expressed in a written form or not, McLachlin contended these laws are of paramount importance to a civilized country: “…the legitimacy of the modern democratic state arguably depends on its adhesion to fundamental norms that transcend the law and executive action.”

McLachlin recognized that the identification of such transcendent unwritten constitutional principles—principles so powerful that a judge has the duty to ensure that they prevail over “laws and executive action”—cannot be achieved without difficulty. But she argued that “three sources of unwritten constitutional principles can be identified: customary usage; inferences from written constitutional principles; and the norms set out or implied in international” treaties. It is a court’s duty to recognize these unwritten fundamental principles or norms, she argued. “This is not law-making in the legislative sense,” she declared, “but legitimate judicial work.”

Toronto lawyer Gwendolyn Landolt, national vice-president of REAL Women of Canada (a conservative research and lobby group), concludes McLachlin’s speech was an announcement of a not-so-veiled grab for more power. “The Chief Justice is of the belief that judges, upon their appointment to the bench, acquire such wisdom and knowledge that they are able to determine with certainty what is best of all Canadians,” Landolt wrote in a January analysis. In a more recent interview, Landolt elaborates, “What she’s trying to do, I think, is say, ‘We judges are impeccable. We have the authority. We the judges know best. We are qualified. We can make these decisions, because we swear an oath to be impartial,’ which is bunk.” The truth, Landolt asserts, is that judges are political appointees, and they often act it. In her speeches and interviews, “All McLachlin is really doing is being a propaganda machine, saying ‘how noble we are and that we’re not activists,’” Landolt says. “But every time she opens her mouth she just shows exactly what she’s doing.”

And, anyway, McLachlin is far from consistent in applying her logic. For example, in the judge’s interview with this magazine (a transcript of which was shared with Landolt), McLachlin defends the extension of same-sex rights to homosexuals as “a proper legal interpretation” based on the “open ended” language of section 15 of the Charter. However, the REAL Women spokesman notes that McLachlin could just as easily have applied to the same logic to property rights, which were also left out of the Charter. Instead, the Chief Justice told this magazine that such an issue would be best left to government. “That would be a decision for the provinces and federal government to make if and when they want to make it,” she said. Concludes Landolt: “She’s not being consistent.” It is difficult to escape the conclusion that such inconsistency may be due to a political bias: the advancement of homosexual rights is a liberal cause; property rights are generally championed by conservatives (see story, page xx).

Morton sees the same inconsistency. “It just shows her underlying ideological bias in favour of the sort of left-wing socialist causes,” he says. The academic-turned-politician does not see an easy fix to the problem of one-sided judicial activism. Even if Prime Minister Harper were to institute a more rigorous parliamentary review of Supreme Court candidates, nothing would change for many years because no new appointments are foreseen until about 2013; that’s because Supreme Court judges serve until they are 75 years old. McLachlin, for example, has served on the court since 1988 and has been Chief Justice since January 2000, but she is only 62. He points out that, in most European countries, judges typically serve for just nine years, and their appointments are staggered. On the other hand, as in stands in Canada now, “Harper could govern for the next two years, get re-elected to a majority government and govern from 2008 to 2012 and never make and appointment.”

Parliament does have the power to reconstitute the Supreme Court; after all, the court was created by an act of Parliament in 1875. Parliament might also establish a special committee to examine Supreme Court rulings that overturn laws and report to Parliament on possible remedies; former Reform Party leader Preston Manning once suggested the establishment of such a committee. Regardless, nothing this far-reaching currently on the agenda of any major party.

Moreover, making major changes to the Court, specifically as it relates to the Court’s power to interpret the Charter, would be a dicey move, politically. An Environics Research Group poll, conducted to mark the Charter’s 20th anniversary in 2002, found that seven of 10 Canadians believed that the Supreme Court of Canada, and not Parliament, “should have the final say when the Court declares a law unconstitutional on the grounds that it conflicts with the Charter.”

Significantly, however, the poll did not ask about the Court’s expanding power to create new law. And at a time when social activists are publicly musing about enshrining the right to state-funded medicare or the right to welfare, these are significant issues indeed. The ultimate question, then, is this: who do Canadians trust to decide what’s best for the country: 308 elected parliamentarians or nine unelected judges?

Monday, March 25, 2019

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Unconventional glamour, conventional excellence

It is, of course, a terrible shame that Squamish resident Mike Racicot died last summer after jumping off a mountain in Switzerland. Terrible that either his wingsuit or parachute failed him. Terrible that the calamity occurred when Racicot, at age 37, was still in the prime of his life. Terrible that he left so many saddened friends and relatives.
As we learn from a feature story, which comprised three-quarters of a page in a recent edition of the Vancouver Sun, Racicot was something of a thrill-seeking non-conformist who, while growing up, helped form a “graffiti collective” that “left their marks” on (i.e., vandalized) buildings throughout Ottawa.
Later, after riding a scooter across Canada, he settled (or, more precisely, squatted) in Whistler. Finding rents too high, he built a rudimentary treehouse with materials he stole from construction sites. He then lived at this secret, off-the-grid hideout, reportedly surviving on food he could obtain from local hotels, again by theft.
Despite his illicit eccentricities, he became something of a “legend” within the thrill-seeking “community” because of the enthusiasm with which he embraced the sport of jumping off natural and man-made structures.
The lengthy Sun story also makes much of the unconventional way in which the ashes of Racicot’s cremated body were dispersed. It seems that his fellow thrill-seekers scattered them from atop peaks and cliffs throughout the world. It’s what Mike
wanted, they said.
At which point I must now pause and disclose that I am writing this during the late afternoon of January 3, a day which began with my reading of the story described above and then continued with my driving, along with my wife, to a cemetery where we met other family members and a priest.
We assembled under a dark-blue tarp, which did little to protect us from the day’s unmerciful wind and icy rain. And then we prayerfully interred the remains of my brother Steve, who also died last summer and who also left behind many grieving friends and family, including his wife, four children and one grandchild (with one more soon to be born).
Steve, who succumbed to cancer at age 61, left a legacy of excellence and integrity. A gifted construction engineer and project manager, Steve was widely respected and admired in his industry. He was equally accomplished and renowned as a volunteer, one who donated his time and talent to everything from the administrations of track-and-field meets to the construction of a parish school in North Vancouver.
He was what we used to call “a solid sort of a guy,” “a good family man,” and “a good provider.” Steve was justifiably proud of what he accomplished, and his family is justifiably proud of him. 
But, as we stood around Steve’s grave, saying our final farewells, I could not help but reflect on the nature of this particular age in which we live – an age that celebrates the renegade, even the felonious one, while paying scant attention to those, like Steve, who lived a life of quiet, conventional excellence.
Is a good and outstanding person just too mundane for the news media to care about? Is a charming and unconventional miscreant just too thrilling to ignore?
What I do know is that a 1,200-word story about the death of an adrenaline junkie is, essentially, a celebration and glamorization of a lifestyle and, as such, it is also an encouragement of it. And I think we should aim higher.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Supporting a very worthy cause

Please support this great event on March 3 . Click here for more details and ticket info.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Opening the door to more commemorative crosswalks

The most famous of all crosswalks.
After I delivered the following speech at Council in Committee yesterday, most councillors indicated that, while they did not want to start a process to create a new policy for allowing commemorative crosswalks and other forms of public messaging, they would be open to considering one-off applications, just as they did for the rainbow crosswalk last fall. I take this as progress, because last fall most councillors seemed to suggest that they considered the rainbow crosswalk to be the one and only such installation that they would support, and, anyway, some predicted that the approval of the rainbow crosswalk would not generate any new requests for other crosswalks. A presentation just a few weeks later, by Brad Chase, Indicated otherwise. It will now be interesting to see what sort of proposals for commemorative or celebratory crosswalks emerge. Here is the text of my speech:

Last fall  -- after the majority of council directed staff to install a rainbow crosswalk in the city, and, later, further directed staff to use the unique, six-colour motif, first developed as a sign of support for the  gay-pride movement, for that crosswalk -- a gentleman named Brad Chase made a presentation to Council in Committee
He asked that we consider installing more crosswalks to show our support for other causes – specifically to signal our opposition to hate crimes against victims of discrimination – everyone from Jews and Catholics to First Nations and the homeless.
He also presented some design options for various groups (including one depicting poppies, to celebrate the service of our Veterans. I think it’s important to say now that, while I understand Mr. Chase’s intention, I am quite certain that veterans would not want to see images of poppies being trodden upon and driven across.).
At the time, I made some generally supportive comments in reply to Mr. Chase’s presentation, but Council in committee did not formally reply and no direction was given to staff. Since then, Mr. Chase has communicated with council, asking about what action would be taken in response to his presentation.
I believe, that to be fair, council should now give Mr. Chase an answer. And I believe that this answer should be that council will instruct staff to begin a process to install other memorial or celebratory crosswalks – a process that, unlike that which led to the decision on the first cross walk, will include full and meaningful consultation with the people of Coquitlam.
Now, some on council may argue this is not necessary, because they have already adopted a one-size-fits-all crosswalk. To support this argument, they may point to the original contention, made by the crosswalk proponents, that the rainbow crosswalk has become a universal symbol of acceptance.
However, the logic buttressing this argument crumbled when one of the proponents herself told committee that a second crosswalk was needed to support transgender individuals, and then later told the press that a specific gay-pride motif was needed for the rainbow crosswalk – and not just one depicting a general rainbow.
I believe council was aware of the resulting messaging problem, which is why it unanimously supported the installation – adjacent to the crosswalk -- of signage reading, “Diversity Lives Here.”   
But clearly, as Mr. Chase has demonstrated, that didn’t do the trick. Some of us warned that the adoption of one, issue-specific crosswalk would open the very door that we saw Mr. Chase walk through, but the majority rejected this argument.
It’s worth noting here that last summer, Chilliwack city hall received a request to install a rainbow crosswalk somewhere in that city’s downtown. Within a week, the city received a request from a Chilliwack Pro-Life group to install a “pro-life crosswalk” depicting “painted crosses or infant feet.” No doubt seeing where all this was heading, Chilliwack council responded by creating a new policy directive to deny all requests to decorate any crosswalks.
Also noteworthy is the fact that Coquitlam council’s longstanding no-proclamations policy used to be seen by council as a de facto no-decorated-crosswalk policy, as well. But that understanding was turned on its head last fall, and now council is at – not a crosswalk – but a crossroads, facing a choice:
Does it refuse Mr. Chase’s request and all similar future requests, and by so doing attempt to cling to the fragile rationale in support of its initial decision?
Or does council recognize that, to be reasonable, fair, equitable and democratic, it should entertain new requests. And, to support this, that it should employ an open, reasonable, fair, equitable and democratic consultation process – just as it did two years ago when it developed a new Cultural Displays Policy.
I believe it should adopt the latter course and embark on a meaningful public-consultation process to develop a more inclusive crosswalk and issue-messaging policy. This consultation should involve community groups, the general public, and council’s own advisory committees, including but not limited to the Multiculturalism Advisory Committee and the Universal Access-ability Advisory Committee.
Who knows what great ideas they will come up with, not only for crosswalk themes but also messaging themes? After all, the celebratory message “Diversity Lives Here” captures only a small part of what makes Coquitlam great. In fact, in and of itself, diversity is actually a rather hollow thing. To fill it out –to bring it to life – one surely needs  charity and kindness, love and respect, and courage, wisdom, and justice – all of which are certainly worthy of celebration!
So, I ask my fellow council members: what road do we take?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Nuttiest professors redux

The news that University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson is planning to launch a website that would help students keep track of (the many) left-wing academics on campus has, predictably enough, elicited shrieks of condemnation from the snowflake culture-warrior class.
But Peterson is surely onto something. And the very fact, that some of his fellow professors are attempting to censor him, only proves his point.
And, oh yes, also serves to buttress the argument that I made a decade ago when I wrote a cover story, for the Western Standard, which shone a harsh light on Canada’s “nuttiest professors.”

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

We grow in Metro but shrink at Metro board

At Metro board meeting last week.
Here’s an interesting quirk, of the Metro Vancouver Regional District’s board composition and voting strength, that came to light with Metro’s recent adoption of a new board composition schedule based on 2016 census data:

Under the allocations associated with the 2011 census, the board comprised 38 directors holding among them 129 votes. With the population increases over the ensuing five years, several communities (but not Coquitlam, however) hit thresholds that entitled them to more voting strength, with all votes now totalling 134; two communities (Surrey and Delta) became entitled to a new director, the number of which will now total 40 sitting at the Metro board.

But here’s the thing: even though Coquitlam’s per-capita growth was very high, and overall population grew by almost 13,000 to 139,338, it didn’t reach a new threshold, so it gained neither voting strength to add to its seven votes (divided four and three between its two directors) nor a new director.

The bottom line is this: in 2011, Coquitlam had 5.4% of the region’s population and enjoyed 5.4% of Metro’s vote allocation and 5.3% of its directors. Today, our population represents 5.65% of the region’s total, but our voting strength has dropped to 5.2% of all votes and our percentage of directors has dropped to 5%. Doesn't seem fair, does it? But, as I said at the outset, it's just a quirk.

That's why I didn’t raise this at the recent board meeting I attended as the mayor’s alternate, but I did raise the issue of the open-ended nature of the system, which sets no ceiling on the number of directors sitting on the board; instead, directors keep being added as population thresholds are met.  This struck me as rather inadequate, given the expected 1-million-person growth the region will see by 2040.

In response to my questions on the matter, I was told that the system is under review internally, which is very good news. Any new proposal for a ceiling or other amendments will have to go to the province for approval.

For the full Metro report on this issue, please click here and navigate to page 274 of the document.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Rainbow logic supports rainbow crosswalk

Pride Flag: Strikingly similar to "diversity" crosswalk.
And so, Coquitlam will now have its very own “rainbow” crosswalk, lovingly applied along a strip of pedestrian pavement directly south of city hall at the western side of the intersection of Pinetree Way and Burlington Avenue. The multi-hued fixture will surely enliven the city hall precinct, even as it stands as a testament to some dubious decision-making and the power of virtue signalling.
Exactly what the rainbow crosswalk will officially stand for is still not quite settled. Reasonable folks, who are relatively familiar with recent history, might conclude that it is a sign of support for the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transexual-Questioning (LGBTQ) “community.” But the majority of council say this is not actually the case.
Rather, they say it is a sign of the city’s acceptance and even celebration of diversity. But, surely, such an assertion contradicts the rainbow crosswalk’s colourful history.
The idea to create rainbow crosswalks appears to have first emerged in West Hollywood as part of the 2012 Gay Pride Month celebrations. Why a rainbow? As Wikipedia says, “The rainbow flag or gay pride flag, is associated with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and LGBT activities around the world.”
The direct connection between the rainbow crosswalk and LGBT(Q) was just as clear when, in 2013, Vancouver unveiled Canada's first permanent rainbow crosswalk in the West End to help mark the city’s Pride Week. Councillor. Tim Stevenson explained that the crosswalk helped reflect the area's significance as the city’s “gay village”. He is quoted by the Georgia Straight as saying, “This really does mark the strongest support the city has ever shown towards the GLBTQ community.”
Now, given that council has a longstanding policy not to issue proclamations in support of any specific group or cause, and given that the installation of a rainbow crosswalk would surely constitute a de facto proclamation in support of the aforementioned “community,” one might conclude that Council would not, could not, and would never support the installation of said crosswalk.
But this is where it gets cute. When making her presentation to Council in Committee last month, Nicola Spurling argued that the rainbow crosswalk was not actually a symbol of support only for those identifying as LGBTQ, but was a “a universal symbol of acceptance…”
Rainbow Crosswalk: Pro-LGBTQ or pro-diversity?
The majority of Council bought the argument but, even as they did, seemed to realize that many citizens might not view it so broadly, so they called for the crosswalk to be accompanied by an explanatory sign, that would say something like “diversity lives here.”
Hmmmm. I sincerely doubt that Council would have a similar reaction to, let’s say, a Christian group that came to council asking for crosswalk depicting Christ and his apostles –even though they might argue with great fervor and compelling rhetoric that Christ is a universal symbol of the power of love and peace, and what the world needs now is, certainly, more love and peace.
Neither would Council support the environmental-action Blue Dot group asking for images of the blue earth to fill crosswalks, even if it might argue with great passion and reason that the earth's environment is endangered, and that everyone loves the earth and we must protect it.
In both cases, it is true that the groups are invoking universally accepted or supported themes, but they are also using very particular images associated with their particular group in an attempt to advance those themes. Council would rightly adhere to the logic of its long-standing no-proclamation policy, and reject the overtures on the grounds that they constitute de facto proclamations in support of a particular group.
And that is the reason I voted last night against the installation of the crosswalk. It was not because of any opposition to the high ideals of inclusivity, just as I do not oppose the flowering of love and peace in the world, or the protection of Earth from pollution.
Rather, it is because, in supporting this crosswalk, Council is actually singling out for support one particular cause among the many scores of worthy causes that exist in the world. And that is simply unfair, unequal and inequitable.
Having lost that vote, however, I did support a second motion to have staff present a report back to Council in Committee on the options for explanatory signage designed to try to persuade the populace of our fine city that the Pride Crosswalk isn’t really a Pride Crosswalk. I look forward to the discussion that will surely follow.

UPDATE: As Alice said, this whole thing is becoming curiouser and curiouser. On Oct. 18, Ms. Spurling complained that the crosswalk design brought forward by city staff was not the exact "Pride" design, but was one that merely depicted the colours of an ordinary rainbow. She said this constituted a "slap in the face" for the "queer community." It will be most interesting to see where all this leads. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Foreign-funded interest group seeks to sway next civic election

An organization called the Dogwood Initiative (also known as Dogwood BC|) has announced it intends to get involved in next year’s municipal election in Coquitlam. The environmental and government-reform group has every right to do so, of course, but the potential consequences of its involvement further bolster my ongoing argument that the provincial government should deliberate very carefully before enacting any municipal-level campaign-donation “reforms.”

Such reforms are top of mind this week because, with news that the NDP government’s first throne speech is to be delivered on Friday, Sept. 8, speculation has turned to what the contents of that speech may be. Many observers predict the Horgan government will have to address its longstanding commitment to introduce provincial campaign-donation reforms. 

This, in turn, leads me to wonder if the NDP will decide to act on municipal-level campaign-donation and -spending restrictions, as has been called for by some local politicians but which has been opposed repeatedly by me; moreover, such possible restrictions were the subject of a cautionary letter sent by Coquitlam Council to the three provincial party leaders last spring.

Faithful readers of this blog will recall that I have long argued that restrictions on corporate and/or union donations will severely handicap independent and unaffiliated candidates, unfairly helping candidates who are members of slates or parties, or who have the backing (and access to membership lists) of labour unions.

What is also evident is that, if severe donation restrictions are put in place, outside special-interest groups will likely end up playing a bigger role, not only in pre-campaign marketing, organizing and lobbying efforts, but also during campaigns themselves. It is easy to imagine a variety of issue-oriented groups moving into the vacuum created by hamstrung candidates who, because of donation and spending restrictions, will be unable to produce the flyers, pamphlets, and advertising they could produce in past election campaigns.

And here’s where Dogwood comes into the picture. The organization boasts on its website that it had a successful (but, in my eyes, largely unrecognized) impact on the last provincial election. “We had 71 election related events over the last two months across B.C.,” the group reported in early June. “We made 36,564 phone calls to get out the vote. We had 13,576 live conversations with our supporters. We texted 63,000 people. That is powerful.

“We made sure our supporters, those who want to stop Kinder Morgan, ban big money, and end thermal coal exports, showed up at their voting polls. We talked to people who weren’t sure who they were voting for or if they were voting. We helped British Columbians find their polling place and bring the right ID. And we know by how tight this election was that every vote counted — especially in those important ridings where anti-Kinder Morgan politicians were elected like Burnaby North, Coquitlam-Maillardville and Courtenay-Comox.“ 

Coquitlam residents should take special note of the fact that DI is, essentially, claiming credit for helping elect NDP MLA Selina Robinson and defeat BC Liberal candidate Steve Kim.

As suggested above, it is worth underlining that the DI is an enthusiastic supporter of banning “big money” from elections   and has even called a “corruption inquiry”into BC politics. Of course, the way I see it, a ban on so-called big money would undoubtedly strengthen the DI’s hand, giving it less competition in the marketplace of political ideas.

Moreover, the DI’s call to eliminate “big money” from politics can easily be seen as rather rich coming from an organization whose $2.2-million-dollar budget (for the year ended March 31, 2016) has its own share of “big money” revenue, to the tune of $922,447 in grants.

All this wouldn’t necessarily be of much interest to Coquitlam civic voters were it not for the fact that, on June 13, Alex McGowan, who identified himself as “the Dogwood BC Provincial Organizer in the area including Coquitlam,” told me in an email that his organization “recently made the decision to invest in building teams in the area from Burnaby to Maple Ridge in advanced [sic] of the 2018 municipal election.” He continued, “I know you are an incredible advocate in your community and I think we can find space to work together.”

I responded to his invitation to meet me by posing a series of questions, including these:
*From which organizations, and of what total, did you receive grants in 2016? 
*What were the services you provided, and to whom, that accounted for the reported $350,427 in "fee for service" revenue in 2016?
*Your organization's website celebrates the "behind the scenes" impact the DI had on the last provincial election. The site also states that the DI is a "registered sponsor" under the "Election Act." ... [W]hich candidates or parties did you sponsor, and how much did you spend in support of that sponsorship? (Please itemize).
*Is it the DI's intent to formally or informally support candidates, based on their support of your policies and or campaigns, in next year's municipal elections? If so, can those candidates expect to receive indirect or direct financial support from the DI? If so, how much?

Mr. McGowan’s responses were revealing for what he said and what he did not say. Most importantly, he revealed that the group receives an unspecified amount of funding from sources in the United States. Here is his complete answer on this subject:

“On fundraising: - 60% of Dogwood's funding comes from non-grant sources: individuals and earned revenue; none comes from government or corporations; among the foundations that support Dogwood several are based in Seattle, a city that shares the Salish Sea with British Columbia. Dogwood’s campaign decisions are independent from any financial influence since no single source provides more than 5% of total revenue. We receive donations from over 10,000 individual Canadians.”

He did not provide the names of any of those foreign funders. But a little Internet sleuthing turned up the fact that the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation, which has been the subject of several exposes by National Post contributor Vivian Krause,  has been one of the DI’s major funders, pouring $187,425 into its coffers in2015 alone. 

One suspects that those BC voters, who are concerned about corporate and union donations to local politicians, would also be concerned about foreign advocacy groups’ support of a local special-interest group.

I am also wondering why Mr. McGowan did not answer my question about the nature of the “fee for service” revenue it received in 2016. He did say that, “We have registered as intervenors in the past three elections. We have never endorsed or financially supported any candidate or party as per our non-partisan status. We remain committed to that policy. Our election work continues to be about increasing turnout and engagement. In regards to election spending, all registered intervenors are required by law to submit detailed reports to all applicable election oversight bodies.”

That’s good information, but the non-partisanship implied by Mr. McGowan’s statement seems to be at odds with the declaration, quoted above, that, “We made sure our supporters, those who want to stop Kinder Morgan, ban big money, and end thermal coal exports, showed up at their voting polls.”

I had a brief phone chat this week with Mr. McGowan about some of the gaps in the information he supplied. We hope to have a fuller talk in the near future; if we do – and if any more details are forthcoming – I will update this article.

SEPT. 8.  I have now had a good discussion with Mr. McGowan about some of the issues I raised, above.
*On the fee-for-service issue, he stated firmly that DI does not sell its services to any political organization. Rather, its does training and consulting-type work for other non-profits.
*On the question of foreign donations, he stated that the amount the DI receives is "relatively small" and the money has been primarily used to support the DI's campaign to stop coal-port expansion.
*On the apparent conflict in values -- the DI is opposed to corporate and union funding of parties and candidates, but in favour of its receipt of foreign grants -- Mr. McGowan says the distinction is that the DI is not responsible for making decisions.
*On the possibility that, if successful, DI's opposition to union and corporate funding would create a more open playing field for DI and other organizations to influence public policy, he say Dogwood does not have the funds to run ads in every municipality.
*And, finally, on the apparent, de-facto partisanship, he said that, yes, the DI "definitely" wants to influence elections, but it does so by identifying party and candidate stances on crucial issues, and then communicating (to people they have identified who support the DI's goals) those stances. The DI does not specifically endorse or support any party or candidate, though.

For my part, I told him that it was my opinion that I am concerned about the impact of foreign money on local politics, that I believe its work constitutes de facto endorsement of candidates, and that the DI's anti-corporate and -union donations stance would, if implemented, unfairly favour candidates aligned with organized parties or slates, particularly if those parties and slates are affiliated with unions, which have access to volunteers and membership lists.

We agreed to disagree.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Green leader agrees to Coquitlam's call for 'careful deliberation' of campaign-spending reforms

The New Democrat-Green government in Victoria has pledged to ban corporate and union donations and to impose strict maximum-donation limits at the provincial level. Upon the announcement of the two-party pact (and, moreover, after the BC Liberals’ last-gasp Throne Speech, which delivered a flip-flop promise of campaign-financing reform), I feared that the new government would “double down” and automatically impose the same restrictions at the municipal level – something that I think would have a catastrophic impact on local-level politics.

I am pleased to report, however, that the leader of one of the two parties in the new political compact, Green leader Andrew Weaver, has, in response to a letter from Coquitlam Council urging caution in proceeding with such changes at the local level (a letter that was sent at my request and supported by all but one of my Council colleagues), issued a statement promising there will be “careful deliberation” before action is taken.

And thank goodness for that. As I have declared several times over the past few years and, moreover, have written in formal submissions to the provincial government on the matter, stringent donation regulations would have several unintended, negative consequences, the most worrisome of which is that they would severely handicap unaffiliated (i.e., independent) and new candidates, while at the same time giving an unfair advantage to political machines, parties, and those candidates who are affiliated with organizations that have a large membership base, such as labour unions. Please read one of my earlier blogs on the issue for a more complete analysis.

In Coquitlam’s letter to the leaders of the three political parties in the legislature, our mayor, Richard Stewart, pointed out that donors to municipal campaigns do not receive a tax credit for any portion of their donation, making the financing of said campaigns more difficult than those at the Provincial or Federal level.
Mayor Stewart continued that, In light of this, many candidates rely upon business or other organizational donations to support their campaigns to make up for the gap in individual contributions.

He also said that Coquitlam Council fears that removing this mechanism of support could lead to a dearth of candidates seeking local elected office, thereby increasing the power of incumbency and limiting voices from across the political spectrum. As well, he worried that such changes may also encourage an increase in slate politics and affiliated councils as candidates seek to bolster their support through a variety of labour and other organizations.

As far as I am aware, Dr. Weaver is the only one of the three leaders to respond to our letter. Here is the complete text of that response:

“Thank you for your correspondence of June 9 regarding municipal campaign finance reform. I apologize for the delay in responding. 

“I appreciate the concerns you raised regarding the effects of campaign finance reform at the Municipal level. I share your view that our democratic systems should be structured to support a wide range of candidates stepping forward to run for office, from a diversity of backgrounds and representing a diversity of views.  

“In my view, campaign finance reform at both the Provincial and Municipal levels is an essential way to strengthen our democracy and reduce the influence of special interests on our elections and on government decision-making. I believe that this reform can be undertaken in such a way that ensures that a wide range of independent candidates feel able to run for political office. 

“I agree that there must be careful deliberation by government on the impacts of any legislative change, and ensuring that government undertakes this reform in a comprehensive and deliberative way is a top priority of my caucus colleagues and myself.   

“Thank you again for writing on this crucial issue. If you have specific thoughts about how reforms might be best undertaken to address your concerns, my office would be delighted to hear from you.”  

I appreciate Dr. Weaver's thoughtfulness in dealing with this important issue, and look forward to future communication with him and his party on the subject.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Two decades and going strong!

The following is an edited version of a 'story' I wrote this morning for my parish bulletin and the BC Catholic.

Picking up 500 flowering plants.
Members of St. Joseph's Parish in Port Moody launched the "Easter Flowers" project more than 20 years ago, delivering 80 flowering plants, donated by Wim Vander Zalm of Art Knapp’s in Port Coquitlam, and an equal number hand-made greeting cards, made by parish students, to patients at Eagle Ridge Manor.

This year, the parish’s example inspired three other parishes to join the project on Holy Saturday (April 15), resulting in cards and flowering plants being delivered to 500 seniors and patients in four facilities from Maple Ridge to Port Moody.

“We launched ‘Easter Flowers’ as a way of bringing to life our commitment to respect life until its natural end,” says parish organizer and project coordinator Terry O’Neill. “We wanted to show the sick and elderly that they are loved and valued. We also wanted to demonstrate to our fellow parishioners and to the community at large that we put our beliefs into action.

“The project has been a great success, allowing individuals and families to volunteer, bringing good cheer to the elderly, supporting care-home staff, and generally giving our Easter weekend even greater significance.”

Last year, reflecting on the 20-year run on the project, Vander Zalm urged O’Neill to expand the project. “In these troubled times, people need to see that there is still love and caring in the world,” Vander Zalm said. O’Neill promised he would do so.

Working through contacts he made at the new north-of-Fraser life-action group, Life Compass, O’Neill was able to deliver on the promise, with the result that, on Holy Saturday, dozens of volunteers from four parishes delivered flowering plants and hand-made greeting cards to about 500 people at four seniors’ residences or care facilities from Maple Ridge to Port Moody.
Volunteers from St. Joseph's Parish.

Sandra Dulong coordinated at St. Clare of Assisi, in Coquitlam, delivering about 80 plants to residents of Dufferin Care Centre in Coquitlam. “It’s all about giving back to our seniors, who have given us so much – to give them a little more comfort at Easter,” she said. “We need to tell them that we value their lives as much as we value our own.”

Britt Bright coordinated at St. Luke’s Parish, Maple Ridge, delivering about 150 plants to residents of Baillie House in Maple Ridge: “We did this in order to show that elderly people, at the end of life, are as important as our young people,” she explained.

Elizabeth Loch coordinated at St. Patrick’s of Maple Ridge, delivering upwards of 200 plants to residents of Maple Ridge Seniors Village. Volunteer Anna Tillotson said that she and her husband, Mark, had a personal reason for participating. “Mark’s father was in a care home last year before he passed away, and we could see what a positive effect a visit had on the residents,” she stated. “It just brought them so much joy.”

Besides coordinating the four-parish project, Terry O’Neill once again organized the St. Joseph’s team as well, as they visited Eagle Ridge Manor, delivering plants to about 80 residents: “In truth, we end up getting more than we give,” he said. “It’s very fulfilling to see what a positive effect we can have, not only on the residents, but also on the staff. All in all, it’s a very rewarding exercise, bringing to life our commitment to respect life from conception to its natural end.

“Wim Vander Zalm has been my partner in this project from Year One. He supplied the flowering plants; we supplied the feet on the ground! His generosity, his support and his commitment have been absolutely vital in making our Easter Flowers program the success that it has become. Thanks, Wim!”

Friday, April 7, 2017

Signal Hill's Value Project is a success

One of the charities I volunteer with is Signal Hill, an educational non-profit dedicated to inspiring young people to "Value Every Person" – themselves and others.  One of the ways we try to do this is through The Value Project. This morning, I was honoured to attend a student-led Value Project rally/presentation at a Surrey high school, where I hoped to see the fruits of our commitment to this project. I was not disappointed.
  Here’s how Signal Hill explains the rationale behind The Value Project: “We are living in a value crisis. Our culture treats human beings like commodities and values possessions and status over relationships.  We are constantly being fed the message that we are not beautiful enough, not smart enough, and not strong enough. 
  “Young people see the fallout from this value crisis every day at school and in their own personal lives. Because they experience these problems on an everyday basis, we believe that these young people are in the best position to find a solution and communicate the message of Value Every Person to their peers. That's why we train young people to speak to their own generation about the value of human life.” 
  Enter The Value Project, a three-day symposium where high school students learn that valuing themselves and valuing others has the power to transform their personal lives and their school community.
  Signal Hill explains further: “Led by a team of experts from the fields of communication, media, and marketing, the students are educated about the inherent value of every human being; equipped with the skills to craft a customized media campaign, and given the support to implement it within their schools - spreading Signal Hill's message of ‘Value Every Person’ to everyone they encounter.” 
  Five students – Samantha, Christina, Steve, Rachel and Beatrice – from Holy Cross Regional Secondary in Surrey completed such a three-day symposium a few months ago; they presented their project to the school this week, culminating with this morning’s multi-media event.
  In a series of informative, insightful and moving speeches and presentations, the five challenged their fellow students to look beyond surface appearances – to shatter the mirror – in order to find each person’s intrinsic worth. “Remember, you’re more than your reflection,” one said.
They continued: Too often, people feel they have to measure up to a perfect, non-attainable standard. It’s called a “value prejudice,” and it’s a debilitating way of living, leading to low self-esteem, harmful relationships, and bad decisions in time of crisis.
  The powerful counter-approach is this: we are all deserving of love and respect by the simple fact of our existence. “We all bleed red,” one student leader said. We must get past labels that lead to insecurity, and judgemental, hurtful actions. “The way we see people affects the way we treat people.” Find the diamond at everyone’s core and treat them as the precious, unique, intrinsically beautiful people they are.
I want to thank the Holy Cross community for allowing fellow Signal Hill board member Pat Myers and me to sit among upwards of 800 students this morning to witness this remarkable and inspiring event. So much good will emanate from this project, I'm sure!

For those wanting to learn more about Signal Hill, please visit www.thesignalhill.com.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What Do Higher Property Values Mean for Taxes?

With all the discussion, misinformation, speculation and confusion about the impact of soaring assessment rates on property taxes, the City thought it was a good idea to public this detailed explanation and offer it to local news outlets. I agree and I hope it calms some of the nerves out there!

COQUITLAM, BC, Jan. 10, 2017 - A higher assessed property value is usually good news for property owners – it means the value of their investment is going up.

But does a higher assessed value also necessarily mean higher property taxes? Not exactly.

When a city plans its budget for the year, the amount it needs to collect (revenue) is based solely on the services it plans to provide (expenditures). Let’s say this amount is $100 million. No matter how much property values go up or down, the City still only needs to collect $100 million to do its job for the year.

In a separate process, the BC Assessment Authority, a provincial body, determines the value of all properties across the province, based on factors such as age, location, size, improvements and the value of recent nearby sales.  The City is not responsible for property assessments, however the City is mandated by provincial legislation to tax the homeowners based on the assessed value of their property.

These two processes come together when cities set their tax rate (sometimes referred to as the mill rate): the calculation that determines each property’s share of the cost to run the city that year. If average assessed values go up, the tax rate goes down to compensate. The opposite is true if values decrease. But in the end, working from the example above, only $100 million is collected.

2017 Tax Increase
In Coquitlam, the 2017 tax increase for the average residence is 2.48%, which is in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI).   As the cost of maintaining service levels continues to rise, the City is constantly striving to find efficiencies in the provision of services, as well as other sources of revenue. As such, this is the lowest tax increase in 25 years.

What this means is that if your home’s assessed value went up by the average (33%), your taxes will go up 2.48%. However, if your assessed value increased by more than the average, your taxes will increase by more than 2.48%. However, it still won’t increase at the same percentage as your property assessment increase. Similarly, homes with a below-average increase in their assessment could find themselves paying lower taxes than last year.

Homeowner Grant 
The Homeowner Grant is a provincial grant outside of the City’s control, but the City is responsible for administering the Grant on the province’s behalf. The Homeowner Grant assessment threshold was raised in 2017 to $1.6M at which point the grant is gradually reduced by $5 per $1,000 value.  Therefore depending on your property assessment, you may not lose the entire grant, just a portion of it.

Municipalities share the publics’ concern about the need to ensure the Homeowner Grant remains available as the assessed value of B.C. real estate continues to rise and we will continue to work with the province on this issue.

Any questions related to your property assessment should be directed to BC Assessment Authority (1-866-825-8322).  The deadline to appeal your assessment is Jan. 31.

For information on property taxes in Coquitlam, visit www.coquitlam.ca/propertytaxes.

Media contact:
Rhonda Anderson, Revenue Services Manager

Thursday, December 8, 2016

In my books, the biggest city issue is....

City Council gave unanimous approval to the first readings of the 2017 budget bylaws this past Monday. The Tri-City News' coverage (most of which is not yet online) focused on our policies and usage of reserve funds. My focus, however, was on a more pressing issue. Here is the text of the speech I delivered.

Graphic: City of Coquitlam
The first readings of the budget bylaws are traditionally accompanied by statements from the mayor and councillors about the general state of affairs in the city and the specific level of such things as tax rates and municipal spending. The mayor has very adroitly covered all of this ground and more in his address.

And I want to declare now that I agree with him that the budget before us tonight is well worth supporting. I am especially pleased that, for the eighth consecutive year, the rate of increase has declined; this year it’s 2.17 per cent, the lowest in 25 years.

While there are parts of it with which I don’t agree, on the whole it strikes a commendable balance between, on one hand, provision of needed services and amenities, and, on the other, the sort of fiscal responsibility that our residents expect of council.

I am proud to be part of a council that takes its duty in this latter area seriously. Ours is a council that, unlike so many other political bodies, works hard to avoid political gamesmanship, posturing and pandering; instead, it really does focus on doing the best for the whole community – making decisions based on principle and strong policy, rather than on prejudice and political pressure. And that’s a very good thing.

I must point out, however, that, while having sound budget policies and practices is absolutely central to the work that we do here – and, moreover, that it is, in fact, the foundation upon which is built the entire edifice of services that the city provides – it actually isn’t the single, most pressing issue that concerns me…. and confronts us all.

The issue isn’t the tax rate; it isn’t the level of government services; it isn’t the numbers of workers on city payroll; it isn’t parks, arenas, tennis courts, artificial-turf fields or a museum; it isn’t laying more pipe and filling more potholes; it isn’t water quality, air pollution, or safe streets, either.

Those are all areas of importance. But, surely, the most pressing issue is one that affects us, literally, where we live. It’s housing affordability.

The measures that council has taken over the past few years --- and will, one hopes, continue to take in the years to come – will be a critical part of this council’s legacy.
This council has long stated that the primary responsibility for providing “deep affordability” rests with the two senior levels of government. Nevertheless, through adroit use of the city’s re-energized Housing Affordability Fund, the city is set to do its part in this crucial area. Especially noteworthy is our support of the Talitha Koum housing project.

To be clear, though, housing affordability has always been an issue for lower-income individuals and families. On the other hand, the now fully-emerged crisis that is upon us now is a more contemporary phenomenon – the large gap between what middle-income earners can afford and what the market demands they pay.

Consumers have had to adjust their expectations. Many looking for a single-family home have had to set their sights on a townhouses or condo. Those who might, in a more affordable market, be looking to buy a condo now might, instead, look to rent. And so it goes.

The single most important thing the city can do to assist those in the market is to facilitate the construction of new housing, whether it’s for sale or for rent.
That has certainly been a main focus of mine over the five years I have spent on council, and I am pleased to say that, in most cases, it is a focus that is shared by the majority of council. Whether it’s approving townhouse developments on Burke Mountain, Condo Towers in the city Centre, rental projects in Burquitlam, or subdivision of lands in Maillardville, this is a good thing.

Yes, amelioration of adverse community impacts must always remain a concern, but I believe our paramount responsibility in the face of an unprecedented crisis is – and must continue to be -- to keep a clear focus on making good land-use decisions that lead to the creation of more places that people, young or old, poor or rich, single or married, can call home.