"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

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.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Lafarge tour underlines scope of work, reveals surprises

Looking south across lower part of reclamation site.
The four-wheel-drive pickup truck works its way slowly up a steep, rocky road, as a group of Lafarge Canada executives and I tour the company's huge pit area off Pipeline Road in Coquitlam.

It's clear the landscape has been considerably altered by the decades-long extraction of gravel from the site, and that Lafarge's current reclamation project is a massive undertaking.

How massive? Costs for security alone, including a 24-hour-a-day, two-person crew, are $1.5-million a year. Overall costs are a company secret.

As we trundle up the rough road, Nick Leuzinger, Operations Manager, GVA Aggregates; Chen Mei, VP Aggregates, Greater Vancouver Aggregates Division; and Patrick Dobbyn, Land & Resource Manager (and the man who arranged this early-December tour), point to areas where work needs to be done: hillsides have to be stabilized to the extent that, ironically for a site from which thousands upon thousands of truckloads of aggregate were extracted, structural fill has to be trucked into the site.

Coincidental to my tour (which was sparked by the wrapping up of the Coquitlam River Aggregate Advisory Committee, which I had chaired), the company's request for a Conservation Permit, to facilitate its reclamation work, will be before Council on Monday, Dec. 5. Please click here to read the report.

Operating as Coquitlam Sand and Gravel, Lafarge Canada Inc. was, for many years, one of the major aggregate-industry operators along the Coquitlam River. However, after costs to operate the company's 37-hectare pit on Pipeline Road became too high due to the high level of fine sediments in the gravel deposits, the company decided to cease operations on the site.

Lafarge is now in the midst of a major reclamation project at the site, one whose goal is to stabilize the site and return it to a safe, natural state, removing all general structures and roads, disposing of fuels and other toxic materials, delineating the watershed and improving drainage, and instituting a re-vegetation plan.
Entrace to "hidden valley" of reclaimed main pit.
The company's plan is to complete the reclamation by 2018 and, after monitoring to ensure that the reclamation is successful, return the 87-hectare site to the Crown in 2021. After that, it may well become an attractive destination for hikers and mountain bikers. Views from the site to Burke Mountain (to the east) are spectacular, and the terrain -- natural and man-made alike -- is most interesting.*
Hillside of reclaimed main pit: Look closely to see four deer.

Of special note are two features. First is the new Mantle Creek watercourse that Lafarge is constructing. Designed to mimic natural flowing patterns, the new watercourse will be built to handle the most extreme rainfalls. Especially impressive are the extensive rock-works (aka rip-rap) and holding pond at the base of the new course.

Second is the Main Dig Site in the upper (southwest) corner of the site. Lafarge's extraction of millions of tonnes of material has created a massive, crater-shaped, amphitheatre-like valley which, now that it has been re-vegetated, is already home to a herd of rambunctious black-tailed deer.
At base of new Mantle Creek.
The only easy way to get into the valley is via a single roadway through a gap in the valley, which gives the visitor a rather dramatic and sudden view of this otherwise hidden gem.

One can imagine that, decades in the future, the valley will be a favourite destination for picnickers or maybe even the site of al-fresco concerts, with thousands of spectators lining the valley slopes.

For now, though, the entire site is off-limits to the public. Movie-goers will, however, have a chance to see some of the site's spectacular, steep and forested lands next summer when the latest Planet of the Apes instalment, War for the Planet of the Apes, is released; the production spent several months shooting on location this past summer, going so far as to build a fort at the top of a steep ravine that forms part of the future Mantle Creek watercourse.

*Long-term plans for the site are uncertain, as the property is outside Metro Vancouver's urban-containment boundary and, as such, is also not part of Coquitlam's Northwest Burke Visioning process.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Looking forward to new assignments

At the end of each year on Council, we decide among ourselves which Council members will sit on which committees and boards for the following year. Two of my long-time duties -- chair of the Coquitlam River Aggregate Advisory Committee and chair of the Evergreen Line Public Art Task Force -- have now ended because both bodies have completed their work, so I am looking forward to some new duties in 2017. Here's what I will be up to:
Metro Vancouver: New for 2017, I will be Mayor Richard Stewart's alternate on the Metro Board. I will also be a member of Metro's Performance and Audit Committee.
Culture Services Advisory Committee: I will continue to sit on the committee for the sixth consecutive year, but will be moving to the vice-chair position, with Councillor Towner taking over the chair.
Multiculturalism Advisory Committee: Continuing for third consecutive year as vice-chair, with Councillor Brent Asmundson continuing as chair.
Sustainability and Environmental Advisory Committee: A new responsibility for me, as I will be chairing the committee, with Councillor Chris Wilson as vice-chair.
Thanks to my Council colleagues for supporting me on the above!
As well, I will be continuing as the Mayor's Designate (City Rep) on the board of the Coquitlam Foundation.
Please click here to see the full list of committee, board, panel, partnership, roundtable, and task-group appointments.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Budget plan, pen in hand

Every autumn, Council sits through several days of meetings dealing with the city budget for the next year. I must admit that my mind occasionally wanders, which this past month led, not to doodles, but to a poem. Enjoy! ("P&D" = "Planning and Development"; "PRC" = "Parks, Recreation and Culture").

Paradise Cost

From P and D to PRC
And all things in between,
Our GMs point to future work--
The planned and not foreseen.

Coquitlam looks to jobs ahead,
The projects pushed to max.
As always, though, the big concern
Is final hit on tax.

To balance wants with actu'l needs--
Which voters' have to pay--
'Tis thus a job of great import
On which we work this day.

So talk away and please don't stop
Til figures do display.
Then decide, we must, on budget plan
That won't cause much dismay!

    Dedicated to Sheena MacLeod, retiring GM of Finance

And, yes, we finally wrapped up our budget deliberations this past Tuesday. I am hopeful the result "won't cause much dismay."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

'Our protection is in our fraternity'

With the worrisome turn of events in the U.S., it was great to see a recent newspaper story describing Prime Minister Trudeau's defence of open, cross-border trading between nations.
If only the president-elect of our neighbour to the south had the same sentiments as does Trudeau -- and, for that matter, as did the 29th President of the U.S., Warren G. Harding, whose words in celebration of the unique relationship between Canada and the U.S. are engraved on a monument in Stanley Park (near Malkin Bowl).
I stumbled upon the monument this past weekend and transcribed Harding's words, which were among his last public pronouncements, as he died the following week in San Francisco. Here is what he told an estimated 50,000 of Vancouverites in 1923:
"What an object lesson of peace is shown today by our two countries to all the world. No grim-faced fortifications mark our frontiers, no huge battleships patrol our dividing waters, no steal-thy spies lurk in our tranquil border hamlets. Only a scrap of paper, recording hardly more than a simple understanding, safeguards lives and properties on the Great Lakes, and only humble mileposts mark the inviolable boundary line for thousands of miles through farm and forest.
"Our protection is in our fraternity, our armour is our faith. The tie that binds more firmly year by year is ever-increasing acquaintance and comradeship through interchange of citizens and the compact, not of perishable parchment, but of fair and honorable dealing which, God grant, shall continue for all time."

To learn more about Harding's visit to Vancouver and his speech, please see:http://www.vancouverhistory.ca/archives_harding.htm. And here's a link to the story about Trudeau's defence of open trade:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/…/trudeau-ap…/article32947380

Our curling decision made for wider benefit of the community

This past Monday, I was part of a solid majority* of Coquitlam Council members who voted in favour of a series of recommendations from our Parks, Recreation and Culture Department that, foremost among many measures, will see the amalgamation of Coquitlam curling with the Port Moody club. Here is part of the speech I made in explanation of my decision:

A large audience that attended Council on Monday.
I want to thank the scores of curlers and hockey families who contacted me, both in person and by email, to let me know about their opinions on the plan before us tonight. Thank you. Thank you because those contacts certainly demonstrated to me that there are many people in Coquitlam who are passionate about sport, and want – as I do --  to see it grow and thrive.
As well, the volume of communication certainly underlines the importance of the decision we will make tonight – a decision that must be made not just for the benefit of curlers and skaters but also for the benefit of the wider community to whom council is ultimately responsible.
Also noteworthy is the fact that the curling-amalgamation plan has developed into the Number-One issue of the year. This certainly speaks to the high level of well-being we have in this community. We are extremely fortunate to live in a place where the sort of problems that ravage so many other parts of the world simply don’t exist. This gives us the luxury to spend time and effort on things like our sport and recreation policies.
This is not to diminish the passion and interest that the curling community has shown over the past several weeks, but I mention this in order to more properly frame the issue—an issue which is ultimately about how best and how fairly to allocate resources among a prosperous populace.
It was the great Irish statesman and orator Edmund Burke (after whom Burke Mountain is named) who said, “All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.” I think he’s correct. And, in the final analysis, the decision, on how to allocate ice-rink resources by facilitating the merger of Coquitlam curling with Port Moody curling, centres on this concept of compromise.
It’s important to note that this concept carries within its meaning the idea of cooperation, and of give-and-take. Of course, we don’t compromise our principles. They are resolute. But we should always be prepared to re-evaluate our policies and practices in the light of new information and changing circumstances.
And, as I’m confident that those of us who have been involved in successful negotiations have learned, a spirit of generosity or even magnanimity can be key to success.
And so, with all this in mind, I will cast my vote tonight for what I think will be best for curling and hockey, to ensure that they remain strong and vital activities in our community -- and that curling, especially, has the critical mass needed to propel it well into the future. I will also cast my vote for what I think is best for all our city’s residents, to whom we on council are responsible, and from whom we receive the charge to make the best use of their hard-earned tax dollars.
My vote will also show that I support co-operation between communities, economical use of scarce resources, and fiscal prudence, while at the same time setting a path that, I am confident, will help build a better Coquitlam.

*Council considered four motions; votes on some were 7-2 in favour, and on others were 8-1 in favour.