"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, March 30, 2010

City spending needs to be responsible

The disturbing news that foreclosures are rising in parts of B.C. comes at the same time as banks are planning to hike mortgage rates. This is not good news for homeowners barely making their payments.

Frankly, it's surprising that so many hardworking Metro Vancouver residents are actually able to afford buying their own homes in the first place, what with our region's very expensive prices. How expensive? This recent survey ranked Metro Vancouver as the most unaffordable metropolitan area in the world.

Many reasons explain why housing prices are so astronomic here, most involving the scarcity of land due to natural and artificial influences. But regardless of the causes, the prices are very high and there's no sign of a decline.

That's why city governments have to be so careful with their budgets--careful not to burden homeowners with the sort of property tax and utility bill hikes we've been seeing in Coquitlam in recent years.

Up with people!

I see that the problem of too many Canada geese interferring with human enjoyment of human-made parks has cropped up again, this time in Coquitlam. See this Coquitlam Now story about the situation at Como Lake Park. It sounds like City Hall has come up with a good action plan.
I've long been a supporter of a quick-response approach to dealing with problem geese. I'm not talking about geese in their natural habitat. I'm talking about geese that despoil places which were purpose-built for human enjoyment.
I recently discussed this issue with a biologist friend who is very environmentally aware and a strong advocate of protecting wildlife. I was pleasantly surprised when she told me she was completely on my side on this particular issue because the sort of big, aggressive geese that are plaguing our parks are actually an "invasive species" which should not be here in the first place.
Common sense prevails!
Meantime, here's the text of a column I wrote on the subject last year.

Face to Face for July 24 2009

By Terry O’Neill

This newspaper recently asked its online readers whether “officials [should] act more quickly to destroy problem coyotes.” About 70 percent of respondents answered in the affirmative, a finding that reaffirms my faith in the common sense of local residents.

But common sense seems to be lacking in the management of what I consider to be another “problem” animal, Canadian geese—specifically, the geese that have ruined the lawns at White Pine Beach on Sasamat Lake.

I recently had first-hand experience, not only with the noxious results of the goose infestation at White Pine, but also with the insultingly inept official response to that problem.

It came when I arrived at the beach at the half-way point of a bicycle ride. Looking for a place to rest my tired body, I naturally enough thought about resting on a vacant grassy area. But, thanks to the gangs of Canadian geese that are being allowed both to graze on the grass and defecate on what’s left of the lawns, there’s nowhere I would dare sit without a blanket (which, having biked into the park, I did not possess).

I parked myself on a bench, and when a group of park rangers strolled by, I asked them what was being done about the goose problem. Two of them shrugged their shoulders. A third uttered, not once but twice, “Well, it’s their park, you know.”

What an insulting answer. White Pine Beach is definitely not the geese’s park. The park was created by humans for human enjoyment, not by geese for goose enjoyment. Of course, the ranger’s answer reflects the accepted green wisdom of the day that humans are interlopers in and despoilers of the “natural world.” This intellectual nostrum rests on the questionable belief that humans are unnatural and geese are natural, so we shouldn’t complain when they poop in the park.

What a load. We wouldn’t let geese do their dirty business in a hotel lobby, on a theatre stage or atop a church altar. And we also shouldn’t tolerate their despoiling another important place where we humans gather, our parks.

Therefore, I believe that aggressive action should be taken to rid the parks of the geese. To borrow from Shakespeare, Cry havoc and let slip the dogs—or, if needs be, coyotes—of war!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dark coincidence

The voluntary plunge into darkness that is "Earth Hour" came and went with little impact in our neighbourhood last night. But several hours later, a wide swath of our region suffered a power blackout, which most of us learned only this morning when our alarm clocks didn't go off.

All of which got someone close to me to wonder if the blackout wasn't actually an intentional power stoppage orchestrated by an overeager, environmentally-conscious minion at B.C. Hydro. Surely not! Surely, not even the most zealous Defender of the Planet would do such a thing.

Curious, though, as to the official reason for the blackout, I scooted over the Hydro's website, only to learn that the Crown corporation had attributed the two-hour power interruption (which affected more than 8,000 users) to that catch-all reason of "other."

Nevertheless, there's probably an entirely reasonable technical explanation for the power failure. I'll send an email to the corp. now, and will let you know what the answer is.

UPDATE (March 30): I've just received a phone call from BC Hydro. The customer-service rep says the widespread outage was caused by a "blown cable" at the corp's substation in the area. No connection to Earth Hour, he assures me.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The homeowner gets hit again

There's a top-notch letter into today's Tri-City News about the fact the city of Coquitlam's utility charges to homeowners have soared out of sight over the past six years. The charges for water, sewage and garbage-disposal jumped 17% to $661 this year alone. More worrisome yet, the letter-writer, Henry Pritchard, calculated that his utility bill has risen an astronomical 84% since 2004.

This wouldn't be so bad if our overall property tax bills hadn't risen steeply throughout the last decade, but they too have jumped sharply. Throughout B.C., municipal expenditures have risen at an average of twice the rate one would expect because of inflation and population growth, and Coquitlam is right in there with the high-spending pack. Check out this grim CFIB report for all the details.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bugged about the flu bug

It's nothing to celebrate, but almost exactly a year has now passed since the world was first gripped by the H1N1 pandemic pandemonium. What lessons have we learned since emerging from this past flu season? I've been giving it some thought lately, which led to a column in today's National Post. You can read it here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Translink has lost its way

I'll be at the Coquitlam Central station of the Westcoast Express on Thursday (March 25) morning, letting transit riders know that I share their concern about the whopping 11% increase in the cost of monthly passes that Translink is applying on April 1st. My flyer, above, says it all.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wise words from Gerry Furney

One of B.C.'s truly great guys, Gerry Furney, the long-time mayor of Port McNeill, is the subject of an interesting profile in this month's Celtic Connection magazine. Gerry is a first-generation Irish immigrant to Canada, who started work as a logger on Northern Vancouver Island in the mid-1950s, and has basically been there ever since.

As mayor of Port McNeill for the past 35 years, Gerry has learned a thing or two about finances, and I'd be wise to take his advice on how to handle civic books. "My accounting principles for the town are pretty basic," he told reporter Catholine Butler. "We have money coming in and money going out and we have to make sure that there is a bit more coming in than goes out. It's pretty much the same principle as running a household."

Words to live--and govern--by.

Monday, March 22, 2010

On line and ready for action

It's been a busy past few days. One of the highlights is that Daryl Fernquist of Fern Web Designs has, in just a few days, successfully put together a website for me, www.terryoneill.ca, and it's now online. Great work, Daryl!

The site will be the central point through which web visitors can have access to my Facebook page and my blog. If you're a supporter, please spread the word about all the ways voters can stay in touch and keep informed about the campaign.

Meantime, I'll be blogging more about some issues and ideas in the coming days.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Now on Facebook

Be the first to join my Facebook fan page. Click here to check it out! Meantime, you'll see that the Facebook page also refers to the existence of a website, www.terryoneill.ca, but the site is still under construction, so please don't bother trying to view it now. Thanks.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Off the starting line and into second gear

We're starting to really gear up now that the by-election has been officially called and the date, May 15, set by council. Newspaper ads are being booked, pamphlets are being printed, telephone lists are being compiled, and some pledges for donations are already being received. It's starting to feel like the real thing!

Meantime, the Tri-City News has now published a short story about my candidacy. And speaking of the Tri-City News, I miss writing the weekly Face to Face column for the paper, but I certainly understand how it would be an unfair advantage for me to continue writing (and enjoying all that exposure) while also running for council. My long-time F2F partner, Mary Woo Sims, stepped aside twice in past years while she ran for office.

By the way, yesterday's Coquitlam Now story listed declared candidates, including me, Neal Nicholson, Ralph Banni and Owen Coomer. The Now also reported that Maxine Wilson, the former mayor, told its reporter that she is still weighing her options and hasn't decided whether to run or not. However, at Monday's council meeting, Mrs. Wilson told me that she has definitely decided to run. Her candidacy shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, and it will make the campaign even that much more interesting.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Publicity for the candidacy

The Tri-City News and the Coquitlam Now have both published stories today about the May 15 by-election.

The Now's story contains the first mention of my candidacy. No complaints there, but it feels strange to be referred to as a native of Winnipeg. It's technically correct (well, close enough, because I was born in St. Boniface), but it's odd to think of myself as a Winnipeg native because my family and I moved from the Prairie capital to Vancouver when I was in Grade 3, and my wife and I moved to Coquitlam 30 years (or more than half my lifetime) ago!

But, as they say, any publicity is good as long as they spell your name correctly. And the reporter succeeded admirably on that point!

Monday, March 15, 2010

A two-month campaign begins

It's been decided. Coquitlam Council voted tonight to appoint a returning officer and to hold a by-election on May 15. Accordingly, I have now decided that I will, indeed, run in that by-election. Here is the press release I distributed to the reporters at tonight's council meeting:

Local writer-activist seeks seat on Coquitlam Council

COQUITLAM –Journalist and community activist Terry O’Neill has announced his decision to run in this spring’s Coquitlam council by-election.

O’Neill brings three decades’ worth of experience in journalism and community volunteering to his candidacy. A founding member and past president of The Eagle Ridge Residents Association, the award-winning writer currently sits on the board of the Coquitlam Foundation and chairs the finance committee of St. Joseph’s Parish.

“I am seeking elected office for the simple reason that I want to help make Coquitlam a better place in which to live,” says O’Neill, who has resided in the city with his wife and children for the past 30 years. “My neighbours and friends say they love our beautiful city, but they are also concerned that not enough is being done to solve problems involving transportation, crime and financial accountability.”

He continues, “With my record of community involvement and professional accomplishment, I believe I can be trusted to listen to the voters, make the tough decisions, and be held accountable for my actions. The bottom line is that we can work together to find pragmatic, commonsense solutions to our problems.”

O’Neill’s career has seen him win national news awards while editing and writing for such publications as B.C. Report and the Western Standard and, more recently, the National Post and the Tri-City News, for which he wrote half of the weekly Face to Face column for more than four years. His commitment to the community includes volunteering as master-of-ceremonies for this year’s Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s Walk for Memories and, in the past, as MC for the Crossroads Hospice Society’s Treasures of Christmas gala. He also served as vice-chair of the Education Committee of Archbishop Carney Regional Secondary School.

As well, he has been honoured by the Red Cross Society of Canada for humanitarianism, and by Canada Blood Services for distinguished citizenship.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Plateau pandemonium

It was democracy in action. Or, depending on how you look at it, inaction. I'm talking about the March 3 meeting of the Westwood Plateau Community Association, called to get answers about a revision in regional land designation affecting the Westwood Plateau golf course.
There's obviously much concern and, noteably, some misinformation about City Council's recent request to Metro Vancouver to change the designation from "conservation/recreation" to "general urban."
A vast majority of the 200-300 concerned citizens in attendance (see photo) fear that the change, which the majority of council and city bureaucrats say is necessitated by the development of more precise mapping designations under the revised Draft Regional Growth Strategy, opens the door to possible rezoning and, ultimately, residential development.
I'd be mad as hell, too, if I thought development was a real possibility and if I owned a home near the course--a home for which I most likely paid a premium because of its proximity to all that lovely greenspace.
But while a revised regional designation might make it slightly easier to, one day, develop the land, the fact is that Coquitlam's Official Community Plan and its zoning bylaws already provide quite a bulwark against development. And practical considerations, such as the limited size of water and sewage pipes, also argue against any expansion of the residential footprint.
Moreover, the principle of bringing decisions closer to home--of having Coquitlam Council being in the position of making important decisions affecting Coquitlam, not an unrepresentative Metro Vancouver board holding the most powerful hand--dictates that our residents and their directly elected officials should have most of the decision-making power.
That being said, however, it's clear that the City really dropped the ball on this one. Not only did the redesignation issue blindside Plateau residents, but subsequent efforts to communicate the City's position have obviously failed miserably. And the fact that only one council member, the voluble Lou Sekora, attended the March 3 meeting was clearly a public-relations mistake. I can't recall the last time I heard so much hissing and booing directed absent politicians.
Some of the anger is misplaced, and some of the anti-council, anti-development opinions expressed were ill-informed. Nevertheless, it's abundantly clear that, as the warden in Cool Hand Luke famously said, "What we have here is a failure to communicate."
UPDATE: It now appears that, because of the brouhaha, council will, at its March 15 meeting, consider a motion to revisit the issue. It'll be interesting to see the outcome of the discussion. Read the story here.