"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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Nativity Facade: Genius and Spirituality

The highlight of the week that Mary and I spent in Barcelona a few summers ago was undoubtedly our tour of Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia temple. You can read all about the history of this magnificent and extraordinary temple on Wikipedia.
Two facades are currently complete--the passion facade, which is simple, stark and compelling, and the nativity facade, an extravagant explosion of artistic genius which reflects the depth of Gaudi's spiritual convictions.
On this day, Christmas Eve, I thought it fitting to post two photos of the nativity facade. The one at the top shows the complete facade. The one above is a closeup of the nativity scene. Truly stunning.
Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Remembering my father-in-law

(Photo of Doug and Betty taken at their 65th anniversary celebration)

McKINNON, Joseph Douglas (Doug)
September 13, 1926 – December 22, 2011

Doug died peacefully at Eagle Ridge Hospital in Port Moody, the result of a decline beginning a decade ago with a debilitating stroke. Ever-cheerful with his friends and justifiably proud of the loving and large family that he headed, Doug went to meet his Lord with his steadfast wife of 67 years, Betty, and other loved ones at his bedside.

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Doug worked diligently throughout his fruitful life, and often told the story of how he steered towboats on the Fraser River and across a stormy Strait of Georgia while in his early teens. Tall and slim, he cut a dashing figure whether playing a fiddle or riding his motorcycle, and soon caught the eye of a certain petite young school teacher.

Marriage to Mary Elizabeth (Betty) James soon followed, and Doug threw himself into work to support his fast-growing family, often holding down two or three jobs—stocking grocery store shelves by day, for example, and slinging beer by night. Doug settled into a career in sales, travelling throughout B.C. to market goods ranging from beauty supplies to biscuits. Wherever he went, the charming and good-natured salesman greeted his customers with a warm smile and invariably left behind new friends.

Whether living on Kitchener in east Vancouver, Midlawn in Burnaby, the old house in Port Mann or the renovated family cabin at Lake Errock, Doug made sure that home was a welcoming place for friends, family and neighbours alike. After retirement, Doug and Betty spent many happy summers travelling through the U.S. in their RV. Back home, they handcrafted doll houses and doll-house furniture, becoming familiar and well-loved regulars at Christmas craft fairs throughout the Lower Mainland in the 1990s.

Doug was predeceased by his daughter Susan Pummell (1993). He is survived by Betty and their seven other children, daughters Katherine Bylin (widow of Dick), Mary O’Neill (and husband Terry) and Elizabeth Keobke (Brian), and sons Bill, Tim (and wife Ruth), Chris (Val) and Dave (Doreen). He also leaves behind 26 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren—a remarkable number that Doug, with a twinkle in his eye, would have said added up to “eleventy-seven.”

A Mass of Christian Burial will take place at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 140 Moody Street, Port Moody at 11 a.m., Wednesday, December 28. A reception will follow. The family extends its thanks to Fr. Joseph Nguyen for his pastoral support. As well, much gratitude is extended to the teams of nurses and aides from Fraser Health, to local emergency-services personnel, and to the medical staff at Eagle Ridge Hospital for their care over these past several years.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Council's Christmas Photo

I thought I'd share this formal photo of Coquitlam Council, taken just before our inauguration earlier this month.

Utility rates explained

Yesterday's Tri-City News carried a story about increases in Coquitlam's utility rates, which were compared unfavourably to Port Moody and Port Coquitlam's.

Given that every community is subject to the same increases from Metro Vancouver, the fact our increases were higher than those of our neighbours may surprise many voters.

But there's a good reason for it: Council agreed to set the utility rates based on the five-year average Metro Vancouver increase. This smooths out the impact of the larger water and solid waste increases, levied by Metro, that are going to hit Coquitlam residents in future years.

In fact, it is quite likely that in 2013 our increases will be lower than our neighbours for the simple fact that we took a little more of the impact this year.

Meantime, Vancouver's utility rate hikes this year are even greater than Coquitlam's, according to this story.

Photo from the TriCityNews website.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Committees, boards & panels

Over the course of deliberations and decisions on Monday and today, Council settled on who gets to sit on what committees in the new year. Here are my responsibilities:

Advisory Committees
Vice-Chair, Arts & Culture Advisory Committee
Chair, Coquitlam River Aggregate Committee

Statutory Committees
Vice-Chair, Parcel Tax Review Panel

External Appointments
Chair, City/School Board Liaison Committee

Metro Vancouver
Council Representative, Regional Culture Committee (This is merely a recommendation; final appointments to such committees are at the pleasure of Metro Vancouver).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wheels fall off bike-bylaw logic

Should Coquitlam Council pass a bylaw allowing it to force developers and builders to provide secure bike-storage spaces in all new multi-family residential and commercial buildings? That’s the question that council was faced with last night when considering a proposed amendment a zoning bylaw (Bylaw No. 4269, 2011).

Most council members viewed the bylaw quite favourably. But not me. And here is how I, in my first detailed speech in council chambers as a Councillor, explained my opposition:

Security. Coquitlam staff’s survey found several other local municipalities with similar laws. Vancouver has had such a law since 1999. But what staff didn’t report is that Vancouver’s more recent review of that law found that, while the commercial bike-storage facilities were being well used, those in residential buildings were going empty. Security is a big concern. People want to keep their $1,000-bikes close, and don’t trust the less-secure public facilities.

Incongruous double whammy. The stated reason for this bylaw is to complement council’s commitment to encourage bike riding. But, consider this: the bylaw does not touch car-park requirements. So, not only will builders have to provide a full complement of car-parking stalls, but they would now also have to build a full complement of bike-storage spaces.

Logically, one would expect to see some give and take here. If we really do foresee a future of fewer cars and more bicycles, then why not reduce the requirement for car stalls while we’re introducing requirements for bike-storage? But what the bylaw ends up saying is, on one hand, that it’s full-speed-ahead with car usage, and on the other, that it’s all-systems-go for bicycles. Something doesn’t add up.

And speaking of adding up: Affordability. This is a big one. Surely, this bylaw requirement would have the inevitable consequence of adding to the cost of construction, to be passed onto the consumer. Buying that one-bedroom apartment in Coquitlam would become just that much more expensive.

Overly prescriptive. This bylaw is said to put into action council’s goal of supporting neighbourhoods and enhancing the transportation system. But, if that’s what council wants to do, why not go all the way and compel builders of new buildings to provide a free bike with every condo purchase?

And while we’re in the realm of the ridiculous, I know that the city also has a goal to foster sustainability. This being so – and using the same logic that would force builders to provide secure bike-storage spaces — not compel every condo builder to put a community garden on their building's rooftop? Or, better yet, to set aside 50 square feet in every new apartment for a greenhouse to grow carrots and radishes? My point here is that just because Council favours some sort of positive outcome doesn’t mean it should or must compel it.

The solution. Instead, let market forces shape the outcome. Let apartment and condo builders have the freedom to offer these sorts of secure storage facilities, and see if buyers actually want them. If they’re popular, then other builders will follow. If they’re not, then so be it. Buyers and builders alike have made their choices. The people will have spoken. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be in a democracy.

Photo from satoridesigns.net

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Red Hand of O'Neill

As a newly elected Councillor in the City of Coquitlam, I was looking forward to my inauguration ceremony, to which I had invited several relatives and friends. The event promised to be a memorable one and, in the end, it was certainly all that, but not completely for the reasons I had anticipated.

My newly elected and re-elected council colleagues and I assembled at City Hall in the late afternoon for formal individual and group portraits. That done, we sat down for a meal, during which we chatted and exchanged campaign anecdotes.

The talk turned to family. Thinking of my father and three of my brothers who would be at the inauguration, I trotted out one of my favourites: the story of how the Red Hand came to be the family crest for O’Neills around the world.

It’s a bloody tale from ancient Irish times, featuring rival kings and some quick but ruthless thinking by an O’Neill ancestor that saw him chopping off his own hand and throwing it across a body of water to win a race and claim a crown. And thus, the Red Hand of O’Neill became a part of Irish folklore, if not history.

After dinner, we pinned on our white-rose corsages or boutonnieres – or, in my case, asked a staffer for help in doing it—and assembled for a formal procession into council chambers. The bagpiper-led march went off without a hitch, as did all other aspects of the ceremony, including our oath-taking, the mayor’s speech, and the short addresses from individual council members, during which I made note of my 83-year-old father’s importance as my own personal safety net.

After all this was done, and as we were rising from our seats to process out of council chambers, I picked up the pen given to me after I signed my oath and, with my right hand, put it into the inside pocket of my suit jacket, brushing my boutonniere in the process. With the bagpiper once again in the lead, we then made our way out of the chamber and into the lobby for a reception.

And then it happened. I noticed that my right hand was feeling a little wet. Thinking someone had spilled some water or I had stood too close to a just-watered plant, I thought nothing of it and, without looking down, simply brushed my hand against my jacket to dry it off. This happened a second time, and I had the same response.

But when the hand felt wet a third time, I lifted it up to see what was going on and, to my shock, discovered that it was covered with blood flowing from an inch-long gash across the top of my right pinkie finger. The blood was all over my hand, the cuff of my shirt and the side of my (thankfully dark-blue) suit jacket.

Ever at the ready, my father took only seconds to produce a bandage from his pocket and patch me up. But then came a mystery: how had I cut myself? I retraced the steps of our final procession to see if I could spot a place where I might have brushed my hand against a sharp object of some sort, but found nothing.

Finally, a friend suggested I examine my boutonniere. Sure enough, I discovered that the sharp end of the pin, affixing it to my jacket, was pointing to the exact place that my right hand had been when I put the keepsake pen in my pocket.

The mystery solved, I could only smile at the coincidence—or was it a jest of the gods?—that saw an event, that had begun with my telling a tale about a bloody hand becoming integral to an ancestor’s becoming a king of Ireland, ending with a real-life story of how my own bloody hand had become a memorable part of my becoming a City Councillor many centuries later and half a world away.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Inauguration Night in Coquitlam

Well, it's official. I'm now a Councillor in the City of Coquitlam. I'll write about the evening some more tomorrow. But, for starters, I wanted to share these photos on our website/blog (and not on Facebook), because a Web.1 site is easier for my parents and parents-in-law to visit.
The photos show me at the oath-taking ceremony with Judge Wood, and then some candid shots at the reception, including photos of Mary, my brothers and dad, my in-laws, and friends. A great night!