"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

Friday, September 30, 2011

Snapping to attention

I wrote, below, about the afternoon event I attended yesterday. The evening was enjoyably taken up with a celebration at the John B Pub marking the First Year Anniversary of Snap Coquitlam.
In just 12 months, Snap's Lisa and Dylan have become an important part of Coquitlam's social fabric, giving us in-depth photo coverage of an amazing variety of events that transpire in our community. From bottle drives to annual festivals, someone from the Snap team always seems to be there.
The celebration was a memorable one, and aside from the "you could hear a pin drop" moment when Lisa announced she was running for council -- followed by a quick admission that she was just joking -- the evening was marked by much good cheer and great conversation.
Snap's motto is "capturing life and entertainment." The party did a good job of doing that too!
Pictures show Lisa, Dylan and me, and also some of the many celebrants.
Once again: Congratulations to Snap Coquitlam for a job well done!

Celebrating Tri-Cities literacy

One of the better things about campaigning for council is the opportunity it affords a candidate to meet many people, not only on the doorstep, but also at the varied events to which one suddenly finds oneself invited.
Yesterday afternoon and evening, I had the pleasure of participating in two, the first of which was the Tri-Cities Literacy Celebration, at the Poirier branch of the Coquiltam Public Library.
The gathering not only gave library Director Rhian Piprell the opportunity to show off the library's book bus (pictured with Ms. Piprell, above), but also to thank the school district and many other individuals and organizatiions involved in the important project. In 2005, the Tri-Cities Literacy Committee was formed to explore ways to enhance literacy in our community, and in 2008, the commiteee began to implement a three-year Community Literacy Plan.
Now, there's a variety of effective programs, inluding: Adult Literacy Book Club, the Big Books program, Books for BC Babies, Adult Literacy Tutoring Buddies, Health Literacy Kits for ESL Learners, the Imagination Library, English Practice Groups, and a Volunteer Language Bank. Congratulations to everyone involved!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Campaign flyer takes flight

In the early stages of the campaign, and before my full, four-page campaign brochure is ready for distribution, I've been handing out little one-page flyers. Here's the latest version of the flyer I'm giving to folks as I go door to door throughout Coquitlam.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In defence of the plan for an auditor-general

I've met Port Moody mayoral candidate Robert Simons at several community events over the years, and he seems like an well-intentioned and intelligent fellow. But I took issue with a letter he recently wrote to the editor of The Coquitlam Now, and so I fired off a response, which I am happy to report has been published in today's paper. Here's the full text of what I submitted:

Re: “Municipal auditor a great idea, but who will pick up the tab?”, letter to the editor, Friday, Sept. 23.
Port Moody mayoral candidate Robert Simons writes that he believes “there is merit” in the provincial government’s plan to establish an auditor-general for municipalities. However, he then equivocates by wondering not only about who will pay for what he calls the “substantial cost” of the office but also about whether the expenditure is even justifiable in a “time of fiscal restraint and economic challenge.”
It seems clear, however, that he has it exactly backwards. Rather than precluding consideration of the establishment of a new level of oversight on our municipalities’ finances, the parlous state of the current economy actually demands it. In other words, precisely because money is tight, we need an auditor-general’s office to ensure that every dollar is spent wisely.
This might not be the case if municipalities had responded to the ongoing economic downturn with the same prudence that non-governmental sectors did. But the fact is they did not.
Whereas families and small businesses had to trim their sails by cutting spending and reducing overall budgets, cities failed to do so. One of the lamentably predictable results of this in Coquitlam, for example, is the (before-grant) increase of 22% we’ve seen on our personal property-tax bill from 2008 to the present. And that’s not counting an even steeper rise in the utility fee.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business reported in 2010 that operational expenditures “in the vast majority of B.C.’s municipalities” were expanding at an “unsustainable rate.” There is no evidence the trend has been reversed.
Surely, a new office of the municipal auditor-general, which would conduct a limited number of value-for-money performance audits every year, can only help municipal governments ensure they are spending their money wisely and, by so doing, point the way to cost savings and, ultimately, lower property-tax bills.
Can we afford to establish a municipal auditor-general? The better question is, Can afford NOT to establish a municipal auditor-general?
Terry O’Neill
Candidate for City Council, Coquitlam

Taking the plunge. Signing the Pledge

We'll I've done it. This morning I joined several other politicians and candidates (including Andy Shen and Linda Reimer of Coquitlam) in signing the Canadian Federation of Independent Business's new Taxpayer Pledge.
Several TV news crews were on hand, as well as a reporter for the Province, so I expect a fair bit of coverage tonight and tomorrow.
The photos show Shachi Kurl of the CFIB and me at the event, a solo shot of me, and a close-up of the pledge form.
Here's the text of the press release I just distributed:

Sept. 28, 2011

Coquitlam candidate O’Neill signs CFIB pledge

COQUITLAM – City Council candidate Terry O’Neill joined several prominent B.C. civic politicians today in Vancouver at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s launch of its new Taxpayer Pledge campaign.

O’Neill joined the likes of Vancouver mayoral candidate Susan Anton and incumbent Councillors Linda Reimer of Coquitlam and Diana Dilworth of Port Moody in signing a pledge committing themselves to the principles of property-tax fairness, spending restraint, and openness, transparency and accountability.

“The CFIB is to be commended for launching a campaign which has taxpayers’ best interests at its heart,” O’Neill commented. “I’m proud to be in the first wave of what I predict will be an important and impactful campaign.”

O’Neill says his commitment to the principles contained in the pledge reflect concerns expressed to him in recent months by residents and business leaders alike.

The City of Coquitlam’s recently released citizen-satisfaction survey found that, for the first time in the survey's history, more residents were in favour of cutting services (46%) than increasing taxes (45%). As recently as 2007, 58% of respondents were saying they favoured increasing taxes, compared with only 31% who supported cutting services.

“I think it’s clear we’ve reached a tipping point,” O’Neill said. “It’s time to take action to ease the burden on business while also making home ownership more affordable.”

Taking the CFIB pledge

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is having a news conference at 10:15 a.m. this morning in downtown Vancouver to unveil their first wave of civic politicians taking the CFIB's fiscal-responsibility pledge.
The event will feature sitting politicians, and is timed to coincide with the UBCM convention taking place in Vancouver this week.
I'm been in constant contact with the CFIB on this important issue, and will be attending the event, although I won't be part of the official first batch of pledge-takers. My turn comes later.
As designed by the CFIB, the Pledge enshrines three principles for the term ahead:
1) Property Tax Fairness – by committing to reduce the gap between what commercial property and residential property owners pay, you would be committing to help create conditions that enable small businesses in your community to thrive.
2) Reasonable Spending – by committing to keep operating spending increases reasonable, ie, at or below the level of population growth and inflation or the rate of growth in disposable income, you are giving yourself the fiscal room to reduce taxes and fees, not increase them.
3) Transparency, Openness and Accountability – by supporting in principle, the creation of a Municipal Auditor General for BC, you are building on and enhancing your already existing systems of financial reporting, and standing to benefit from the best practices identified through performance audits.
Great stuff, and exactly what the times are calling for. More evidence of the timeliness can certainly be found in Jon Ferry's column in this morning's Province.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Case for a Municipal Auditor-General

This is from the "music to my ears" file: an opinion piece that has just been circulated by Ida Chong, the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, in which she explains why a Municipal Auditor-General is needed. I especially like Minister Chong's declaration about "value-for-money performance audits" being performed. Like I said, music to my ears.

Here's the entire news release/opinion piece from Victoria:


Municipal Auditor General will support B.C. communities

By Ida Chong, FCGA
Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development

Sept. 23, 2011

VICTORIA - Premier Christy Clark has made a commitment to set up and fully fund an Office of the Municipal Auditor General for British Columbia. We are working toward that commitment - listening to the views of Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) Executive, local governments, the business community and the general public.

As the global economy has shifted, we have all had to look at how to be innovative with our resources and stretch taxpayer dollars at every level of government. Provincial and federal expenditures are currently reviewed by an auditor general to ensure that taxpayers are getting value for money. Citizens deserve to have that assurance about local government spending.

While the details are still being developed, we know that the Municipal Auditor General will conduct a limited number of value-for-money performance audits every year. The purpose of performance audits is to help local governments in their stewardship of community assets, to identify best practices, and to provide another measure of transparency and accountability for taxpayers.

For example, did funding a new water conservation campaign achieve its objectives of reducing water consumption during peak summer usage? Can a municipality optimize its fire services by delivering the services itself or through a contract with a larger adjoining municipality?

The Municipal Auditor General will not make or overrule policy decisions of elected officials (such as tax rates or land use); call into question the merits of local government program policies or objectives; make binding recommendations or impose requirements; or duplicate or displace current accountability requirements (such as local governments hiring independent auditors for annual financial audits).

Rather, I see the Office of the Municipal Auditor General as a tremendous opportunity to build on the existing accountability and strength of our local government system. And I am pleased that several locally elected officials have expressed their community's support for a Municipal Auditor General.

I look forward to further discussion about how best to structure the Office of the Municipal Auditor General at the upcoming UBCM Convention in Vancouver.

Unions and the political process

Writing in the Financial section of today's National Post, Neils Veldhuis and Amela Karabegovic say, "It is high time the government forced [labour unions] to open their books" to reveal how much they spend on political campaigns.
The writers, who are economists with the Fraser Institute, argue that it is unfortunate that, in the Ontario provincial election, "unionized workers footing the bill through forced union dues will be left in the dark about the millions of dollars unions spend on political attack ads and donations to advocacy groups and political parties."
It's a big issue, and one which also captured headlines in today's Vancouver Sun, which reports that the federal Conservatives are accusing the NDP of an illegal cash grab totalling at least $85,000 at the party's June convention in Vancouver. Allegedly, six union spent at least that much, and possibly as much as $160,000, to promote themselves at the convention.
But while there may be fog enshrouding Big Labour's financial backing of candidates and parties at the federal and provincial levels, there's no obscuring unions' influence in civic politics here in B.C.
In Coquitlam, for example, readily available financial-disclosure documents spell out exactly who has received how much and from whom. In the case of the by-election in which I ran a year-and-a-half ago, one candidate--the winning one, Neal Nicholson--received the majority of his funds from Big Labour, specifically the Canadian Union of Public Employees. COPE, the BCGEU, the Firefighters, the local Labour Council, and even the Canadian Labour Congress also pitched in. You can see all the details for yourself by clicking here.
My disclosure statement shows donations from private companies doing business in Coquitlam, family members, friends and neighbours.
One should not think that there's something fundamentally wrong about receiving funds from unions or corporations. It's all part of the political process. Ultimately, it's up to voters to educate themselves on such matters; by doing so, they can certainly better understand where candidates' sympathies might rest.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Celebrating the Spirit of our Community

The Spirit of Community Awards, presented by the Society for Community Development, were handed out last night in conjunction with the Taste of Tri-Cities event. You'll likely read about the awards in local newspapers over the next few days, but I'd like to use this space to give the deserving winners some more-immediate recognition.
In the Arts and Culture category, Helen Daniels was the winner (Theatrix was also nominated).
Community Action: the Soroptomists (Vickie-Marie Ayers, Claudette Friesen and Barb Hobson were other nominees).
Community Volunteerism: Ron Curties (Terry Towner, Anne Lodge, Michael Simms, Jonathan Ho, Jennifer Lee).
Environment: Vanessa LeBourdais (no other finalists).
Neighbour to Neighbour: Chrissy Duncan (no other finalists).
Youth: Best Buddies, the youth leadership group from Dr. Charles Best High School, pictured above (other nominees were My Lynn Quan and Jade Wong).
Douglas College Lifetime Leadership Award in honour of Myrna Popove: Diane Thorne (John Wolff was the other nominee).
Congratulations to all, and a special tip of the hat to singer-songwriter Joyelle Brandt, judges Johanne Dumas, Lisa Landry and Brad West, Master of Ceremonies Wim Vander Zalm and SCD chair Cathy Burpee.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Happy for now, but taxes are too high

Coquitlam City Council has just made public the results of its latest citizen-satisfaction survey and, on the surface, it appears city residents are a pretty satisfied lot. Scratch a bit deeper, however, and there are several areas where it's apparent that there's growing discontent, especially about high property taxes.
First, though, a little anecdote from tonight's council meeting. After Jennifer Renny, senior research manager of Ipsos Reid (which conducted the survey), finished presenting the report to the meeting, Councillor Lou Sekora complained that the report had just been dropped on his desk, and that he hadn't had enough time to digest its contents.
A city staffer calmly responded that, in fact, the report had been mailed to all members of council in July. Seemingly unfazed by this answer--an answer that suggested that Sekora had failed to read a report that was sent to him two months prior--Sekora grumbled something about his having wanted today's report delivered earlier to him so he could have compared its findings to those of the July report. Clearly, however, there was only one report--a fact confirmed to me later by staff. Classic Lou.
Back to the report. The big finding is that "Virtually all (99%) citizens rate the quality of life in the City of Coquitlam positively." That's two points higher than the regional norm, and it's a figure that's three points higher than last year. In fact, over the past nine years, the lowest score was 95% (in 2008).
Significantly, of this year's 99%, 47% of respondents rated the quality of life as "Very Good"--a six-point gain over last year, which had, in turn, been the highest to date.

A Good Quality of Life
Bottom line: more Coquitlam residents rate the quality of life as "Good" than ever before, and more of them are also rating it as "Very Good" than ever before.
It certainly makes sense to me that so many people have the good sense to realize what a fine community we live in, compared not only to less-prosperous and more-poorly managed areas of the province and country, but also to most other parts of the world. We have a wonderful balance of public facilities, recreational amenities, infrastructure, and access to the outdoors.
However, it's not Utopia. "On an unprompted basis, citizens point to transportation as the most important local issue facing the City of Coquitlam (40%)," the report states. Traffic congestion, the Never-Green Line, and lack of rapid and public transit were mentioned.
As well, high taxes and government spending, especially as it relates to property taxes, figured highly as areas of concern.
In fact, it's clear to me that Coquitlam residents are starting to grow quite concerned about the high level of our property taxes. This is evident from a question regarding citizens' choices on the issue of balancing taxation and delivery of services.

Cut Services, Don't Raise Taxes
The report disclosed that, for the first time in the survey's history, more people were in favour of cutting services (46%) than increasing taxes (45%). As recently as 2007, 58% of respondents were saying they favoured increasing taxes, compared with only 31% who supported cutting services.
I believe that the fact the balance has now tipped reflects the fact that property taxes have risen at far too high of a rate, especially for many local businesses.
It's a message that Councillors and candidates will ignore at their peril.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Three months and counting

It's now been three months since the Stanley Cup riot of Wednesday, June 15. Three months--91 days, to be exact--and still not a single charge against any of the rioters.
This isn't a civic issue, and it's not a subject that's likely to arise during the campaign, but it's still something that, understandably, a great many people care about very deeply.
The riot was a disgrace. And our glacial justice system is also a disgrace.
At least, the Vancouver Police Department's new website, which was launched in order to give the public the opportunity to help police identify the miscreants, is proving to be a success.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A personal memory of 9/11

As the world marks the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the U.S., and honours the innocent (and, in many cases, heroic) men and women who lost their lives that day, most of us will also remember exactly where we were and what we were doing on that unforgettable morning. Please allow me to share my memories:
I was headed to YVR, scheduled to fly on a 7 a.m. flight to Calgary for a meeting with my colleagues at The Report magazine, that morning. It was only when I pulled into the YVR parking lot at about 5:50 a.m. (8:50 a.m. Eastern) that I heard the first brief radio report of a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Centre buildings. I thought it was an unfortunate accident, probably involving a small aircraft.
By the time I got to the departure lounge, I learned that another plane had flown into the WTC. And it was apparently no accident. Nevertheless, my fellow passengers and I actually boarded the WestJet plane that was supposed to fly us to Calgary. However, several minutes later, amid rising confusion and uncertainly, the attendants instructed us to de-board and wait in the departures lounge until we could get clearance to fly. Many people were on their cell phones. And a few were sobbing.
After waiting for perhaps 30 minutes, I realized that even if planes were to fly later in the day, I would miss my meeting in Calgary, so I headed back to the parking lot and home to my office. I don't know how much longer the folks in the departure lounge stayed until they finally left.
Later, I realized that my scheduled flight was surely among the first (if not the first) grounded flight in Vancouver, and that if I had been on an Air Canada flight to Calgary that left just a few minutes before my WestJet plane was scheduled to leave, I would have ended up stuck in Calgary for several days because, of course, air traffic ground to a halt because of 9/11.
I have saved my flight documents from that morning -- a souvenir of a dramatic, sorrowful and unforgettable day.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Beam me up, Scotty

Metro Vancouver, the regional government formerly known as the Greater Vancouver Regional District, is an restless beast. It has increasing aspirations to region-wide power but its decision-making body is composed of directors who are not directly elected by voters, but appointed from area councils.
And now they want us to dematerialize.
Say what?
According to a report brought to Coquitlam Council on Tuesday, Metro Vancouver reported this summer on the results of its 2011 Sustainability Congress, held in late June in Vancouver. The Congress reportedly confirmed that five issues, previously identified in conferences and through public engagement, are important to the people of the region. These five are food, climate change, energy, security and...wait for it...dematerialization.
Really? Dematerialization? I'd bet that fewer than 1,000 Metro Vancouver residents have even heard of the term, let alone have made it a priority issue for the good folks at Metro to tackle.
So what exactly does it mean? One's thoughts turn immediately to the Star Trek transporter, or to a blast from a laser beam. Or maybe that's disintegration. Whatever.
Metro explains that "dematerialization" is built upon the concept (belief? philosophy? wish?) that "there are finite limits to the amount of resources we can extract from our planet, and that a system built upon the premise of unlimited consumption of natural resources is unsustainable." Here's Metro's definition.And because of this, we have to embrace zero-waste programs and something called "cradle-to-cradle" manufacturing.
Reality check here folks: I'm a waste-not, want-not kind of guy, but I smell a big, stinking bureacracy at the heart of this thing whose ultimate aim is a command economy that's the opposite of free enterprise, consumer choice, and general freedom.
How many times have we seen handwringing do-gooders over the past four decades warn about the "limits to growth", the collapse of agriculture, the population bomb, etc, ad naseum? And how many times have they been wrong? Every time, that's how many.
The handwringers are the small thinkers who see everything as a zero-sum game. They don't understand human ingenuity. They don't understand wealth creation. And they fail to see how their policies can wreck our economy.
At least Metro Vancouver's not going to be doing all that much about the five priorities, including dematerialization, that they've identified. They've positioned themselves as a "convenor of key regional contributors, and a catalyst for the development of collaborative strategies that will ultimately help secure a more sustainable future for the region." Gotta love that bureaucratese.
The board of Metro Vancouver has voted to forward the results of the Congress to Premier Clark and area MLAs and MPs, business associations and NGOs, and has also directed staff to consider the implications of the Congress's outcomes in 2012 program planning and budgetting.
I have a suggestion. Dematerialize the whole program, and you'll save time, energy and money.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Yup, I'll be running in the November election

Loyal readers of the Tri-City News will notice that I'm not in my usual Friday spot in today's edition. Instead, there's a new Face to Face columnist, Andy Radia, and a note from the editor explaining that I've stepped aside to concentrate on running for Coquitlam Council in the November election. And so, today marks the "official" launch of the campaign.
Besides the announcement in the News, I've also issued a press release, which I've pasted below. Updates to our website are coming soon, as well. Please check back here often for more news and for my thoughts on the campaign as it develops.
And, oh yes, the photo above shows my two sons and me, on election night in May 2010, when, with the help of scores of volunteers such as them, we were proud to finish in a very strong second place--our share of the vote, 31%, totalling more than the third- to eighth-place finishers combined.

O’Neill sets sights on Coquitlam Council seat
COQUITLAM –Journalist and community activist Terry O’Neill has announced his decision to run in the November 19 general election for a seat on Coquitlam City Council.

O’Neill first ran for council in the May 2010 by-election, collecting 31 percent of the vote to finish a solid second among eight candidates.

“Coquitlam residents told me they want a strong voice and firm hand at City Hall to keep property taxes down, push for construction of the Evergreen Line and ensure that council’s focus stays squarely on local affairs,” O’Neill says. “They’ve spoken loud and clear, and now it’s time for the work to be done.”

O’Neill brings a record of more than three decades’ worth of community volunteering to his candidacy. He was a founding member and past president of The Eagle Ridge Residents Association; currently sits on the board of the Coquitlam Foundation, a leading charitable organization; is a member of the organizing committee (and Master of Ceremonies) for the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s annual Walk for Memories in the Tri-Cities; and chairs the finance committee of St. Joseph’s Parish.

O’Neill is a past MC of the Crossroads Hospice Society’s Treasures of Christmas gala and also sits on the board of Signal Hill, a provincial educational society. As well, he has been honoured by the Red Cross Society of Canada for humanitarianism and by Canada Blood Services for distinguished citizenship—both in recognition his lifelong commitment to their blood-donor programs.

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. More recently, he was worked with the National Post and Coquitlam’s Tri-City News, for which he wrote half of the weekly Face to Face column for more than five years. He was the inaugural winner of the Christian Coalition of B.C.’s award for Journalistic Integrity.

“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,” O’Neill says. “The bottom line is that we can work together to find realistic, commonsense solutions to our problems.”

A graduate of Simon Fraser and Carleton universities, O’Neill and his wife, Mary O’Neill, principal of Dr. Charles Best Secondary, are the parents of two grown sons.