"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

Monday, April 30, 2012

How our eco-embrace hurts workers

A briliant column in today's Vancouver Sun prompted me to write the following to the piece's author, Fazil Mihlar:

Brilliant op-ed on poverty today! Very good way of presenting the information. Interestingly, I've read many left-wing pieces in the US, questioning why low-income Americans "vote against their interests" by voting for Republicans (answer: tricky Republicans dupe them by waving the flag).

But your piece today has me asking: how is it that so many Canadians, of all economic levels, "vote against their interests" by supporting what I call "green tape" (environmental red tape). Furthermore, I also wonder how the NDP is allowed to get away with self-describing itself as the party of the working person while, at the same time, also being the chief supporter of job-killing green tape.

One more thing: since the two by-election results earlier this month, I've been thinking that the Number One peril posed by an NDP government isn't higher taxes, ballooning deficits, or trade-union protectionism; it's the spectre of more green tape (which, of course, will soon lead to higher unemployment, lower wages, ballooning deficits and higher taxes). Just look at what's happened/happening to California.

I'll no doubt be speaking about this general topic during deliberations of Coquitlam Council (of which I am now a member) in the coming months and years. I've already been quite outspoken about some other enviro-related issues. See http://www.terryoneill.ca/.

Once again: congratulations.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sorry to miss Town Hall Meeting

I'm sorry that a long-planned trip to northern B.C., involving personal business, will prevent me from attending this Saturday's Town Hall Meeting at the Centennial Pavilion, 620 Poirier Street, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. It's a short trip, but the earliest flight back will get me to YVR at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, making it impossible for me to catch even the tail-end of the Town Hall meeting. I'm always reachable by email, toneill@coquitlam.ca, or phone, 604.362.3251, so please contact me directly if you'd like to discuss a matter that you were hoping to talk to me about at Saturday's meeting.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Remembering my days at The Review

The Richmond Review, where I worked for four years early in my career, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Reporter Matt Hoekstra is preparing a story about the anniversary, and asked me for my memories. Here's my response:

Congratulations on the Review’s 80th birthday. I worked at The Review from 1979 to 1983, the first two years as assistant editor (under the late Ms. Jean Baker), the final two years as Editor in Chief.

After graduating from SFU (BA) and Carleton (Journalism) in 1975, I worked for two years with The Canadian Press in Vancouver, and then two additional years as Legislative Correspondent for CP in Victoria. But my new wife and I became homesick for Greater Vancouver, and so we moved back to the mainland. My timing wasn’t the best, however, because the Sun and Province went on what turned out to be a half-year-long strike almost immediately upon my return, and my job opportunities were limited.

I was most grateful to land the job at The Review, and it proved to be an invaluable experience. As a matter of fact, the first two years at the paper exposed me to City Hall on a regular basis, as I was the council reporter. I actually loved the close-to-home, close-to-the-people responsibilities that council had, and I learned much about local government. Fast forward to the present, and I’m now a city councillor myself, in Coquitlam, and I can say that my experience in Richmond helped contribute to my decision to run here in Coquitlam.

Perhaps my favourite memory from my time at The Review was in preparing the 50th anniversary edition. At the time, it was widely thought that a certain woman had founded the paper in 1932. But my research led me to discover that the actual founder was a man who was still living in Cloverdale. I tracked him down, and he told me he had founded the paper in the depths of the depression as, essentially, a make-work project. Little did he know that the paper would end up “making work” for hundreds if not thousands of people that would follow! We all owe him a debt of gratitude.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pesticide ban is law, but not without a fight

After three years of study and discussion, City Council finally passed a bylaw banning the use of cosmetic pesticides in Coquitlam. I knew passage was inevitable, but it didn't stop me from making one last attempt to dissuade my colleagues from taking the action. Here is the text of that speech.

In my earlier dissertation against this bylaw, I essentially spoke about how it represented the “precautionary principle run amok.” Tonight, I want to focus on other aspects of its shortcomings.

Specifically, let’s look at Page 2 in the report to council: the boilerplate about how the initiatives described in this bylaw are said to reflect the corporate strategic goals of:

1. Achieving excellence in City governance;

2. Strengthening Neighbourhoods.

3. And Enhancing Sustainability of City Services and Infrastructure.

Let’s go through these one by one.

Achieving “excellence in city governance”. Is this what you call it when a city council commissions a costly expert study, then ignores its principal recommendation, to establish a permitting process? And then attempts to implement a near-complete ban? Excellence? And exactly how is “Excellence achieved” by implementing a bylaw of such magnitude without coming to grips with the massive financial implications it carries: According to page seven of the report, it could cost the city up to ONE MILLION DOLLARS over 10 years in extra labour costs to manually tend to “weed-impacted planting beds.” One million dollars? That’s not “Excellence” in city governance. That’s “extravagance”, pure and simple.

Strengthening neighbourhoods. If one believes the conjecture, that the ban will make our residents healthier, then you might be able to say that this is the case. But, of course, when viewing the hard evidence from Health Canada, which suggests that properly used pesticides aren’t dangerous in the first place, it’s hard to see how banning them can improve residents’ health. On the other hand, as I previously noted, neighbourhoods might actually be weakened, because --insofar as a ban would lead to more weeds growing in the city, adverse health risks associated with respiratory afflictions will increase, as per evidence I provided previously, associated with the City of Toronto. Moreover, as I also noted previously, feelings of general wellbeing may decrease, as per Dr. James Lu, medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health Unit, who wrote in a Feb. 19 2009 letter to Richmond council. “The aesthetics of urban landscapes has public health value.” Flowers, not weeds, make people happy, and this has a beneficial health effect. Because of this, he said, “a comprehensive integrated pest management approach offers a better alternative to cosmetic pesticide ban bylaws. An I.P.M. strikes a balance between prudence, public policy and private choice.” And, then, there’s the POSSIBLE $1 million price tag. What services will be lost/ or how much will taxes be raised to pay for this? Either way, it’s hard to see how neighbourhoods will be strengthened by overtaxing property owners or slashing services to cover the costs.

Enhancing sustainability of city services and infrastructure. Well, insofar as the bylaw essentially exempts the city from having to stop using weed killers on the city’s playing fields and medians – and now includes an exemption on the Pacific Rose Garden, too-- one wonders how this is to be interpreted.

Let’s take a closer look. Taken at face value, we are led to believe that a bylaw that allows the use of cosmetic pesticides on city property somehow enhances the sustainability of city services and infrastructure. Logically, though, if this is so, it must also be true that the bylaw (which has an opposite effect on private property), must also have an opposite outcome on private property when measuring sustainability. Bizarrely, this would lead us to conclude that the ban would have an UNSUSTAINABLE impact on that private property.

You can’t have it both ways! Allowing usage on city property and disallowing use on private property can’t both be sustainable at the same time. Oh the irony!

Reviewing the impact of the bylaw on the corporate strategic goals, then, it’s highly questionable whether “excellence in city governance” has been achieved, it’s doubtful that “neighbourhoods have been strengthened,” and it’s impossible to determine whether city services and infrastructure will enjoy “enhanced sustainability”.

In conclusion and sticking with the subject of irony I mentioned a moment ago, I must also draw attention to a letter dated Feb. 24, 2012 and signed by Verne Kucy, acting manager of environmental services, in which he responds to questions from the BC Cancer Society about the aforementioned city-fields exemption.

In defense of the exemption, Mr. Kucy declared, and I quote, “You should be aware that our Parks Department only uses products [that] have been authorized by the relevant Federal health agencies responsible for researching and approving their use and only as permitted under Provincial regulations.”

Ironic? Of course it is, because, absent any city-bylaw banning the use of cosmetic pesticides on private lawns, every citizen of Coquitlam could make exactly the same statement – that they use only “products [that] have been authorized by the relevant Federal health agencies responsible for researching and approving their use and only as permitted under Provincial regulations.” So it seems that the city deems itself responsible enough to make this argument, but has concluded that average citizens and property owners are, as a whole, completely IR-responsible.

Actually, this is beyond ironic. It’s insulting. And it’s discriminatory too, because it prejudges citizens, and finds them all guilty of reckless and unhealthy pesticide use.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I will vote against this bylaw on the grounds that it is expensive, illogical, unscientific, and unfair.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Removing trees improves Glen Park

The following is an expanded version of a speech I delivered at Council on Monday night in relation to the controversy over the removal of about 200 trees, most of them unstable or rotten, from Glen Park. The opportunity arose to address the controversy because of the presentation by staff of an update on the park improvements (see graphic).

I’m so glad this update has come to council at this time, because it provides us with an opportunity not only to showcase the excellent plan that the city has for Glen Park, but also to respond to criticisms surrounding the removal of some trees in the northwest corner of the park.
As the Approved Concept Plan shows, the area in question will, in the near future, be home to an Urban Skills Skate Park, Sports Courts and a Picnic area – none of which would be possible if all the trees were retained.
What we will see are modern, well-planned recreational facilities appealing to all age groups – facilities that are of high priority as the surrounding area becomes increasingly diversified. Indeed, at a recent open house staged to showcase a high-rise proposed for just south of the park, a Coquitlam couple expressed to me their fears that increased densification of this area would lead to overcrowding around Lafarge Lake.
They were especially concerned about conflicts between bicycle riders and pedestrians. I was able to explain to them that development of Glen Park was proceeding in response to just such concerns – that it would alleviate overuse at existing parks. The couple was most gratified to hear this.
I would imagine that most Coquitlam residents would also support development of the park, given that it is another manifestation of a consistent approach that the city has taken to providing such facilities – an approach that, it must be noted, has led 99% of citizens to rate the quality of life in the city as either very good or good.
This is according to the most recent Ipsos Reid survey done for the city. Tellingly, 31% of those polled said that the quality of life had improved over the past five years. And, at 20%, the leading reason cited for that improvement was improved recreation facilities. Following not too far behind, at 15%, was more recreational facilities - that is, parks.
And so, a great many Coquitlam residents are not only very pleased with the quality of life in the city, but also cite the recreational opportunities being provided them as a top reason for the continued improvement of the quality of life.
But, as my colleagues and I have been hearing in recent weeks, not everyone is happy with the specifics of the tree removal at Glen Park. We’ve received numerous letters; we’ve been stopped in the street; we’ve been cornered at public gatherings – all by concerned citizens asking us about what’s going on at the park. Personally, I answer them by outlining some of the facts, as I’ve explained earlier. And that’s usually good enough.
But for the most extreme critics, there’s no good answer. These are the people who describe the selective tree removal as a clear-cut, or, more outrageously, as a “slaughter” or a “massacre.” I am not making this up. We’ve got the letters and emails to prove it.
I can only wonder how such people can sleep at night, knowing that, every day, throughout the world, not only are hundreds of thousands of trees being “slaughtered,” but so are billions of blades of grass!
Their nightmares must be horrific.
One correspondent urged us to watch a video by David Suzuki so we could, “reacquaint ourselves with Mother Nature.” Well, let me say that I’m already quite acquainted with Mother Nature. In fact, I’ve seen her in action on numerous occasions:
*I’ve seen the tsunamis that have killed tens of thousands of people in Japan,
*the droughts that have wiped out entire regions of Africa,
*the plagues of locusts that have destroyed hundreds of square miles of crops,
*the volcanic eruptions that have buried towns,
*the hurricanes that have devastated coastal communities,
*and the tornadoes that have sent babies hurtling through the air to their deaths.
Yes, I’ve seen all those, and I’ve concluded that I, personally at least, have no great need to reacquaint myself with Mother Nature. In fact, if anyone needs reacquainting, it’s those critics who need to be reacquainted with the amazing power of human ingenuity.
Humanity’s great progress over the past five hundred years rests in large part on our ability to, for example: 1) control the ravages of Nature – by inventing amazing medicines to beat back deadly diseases, by designing buildings to withstand earthquakes, by building dikes to hold off floods; and 2) to harness Nature for our benefit – by building hydroelectric dams, and by turning fossilized or liquefied organic material into fuels, for example.
I know that the critics mean well, and that they think they are the voice of reason, while evil city planners and councillors conspire with big bad developers to pave paradise and put up parking lots. But I believe these extreme critics have been green-washed by the likes of the aforementioned David Suzuki into believing, at best, that there’s a moral equivalency between human life and the nature world, and, at worst, that humanity is like a virus or a cancer to the natural world.
But this is palpably foolish. Does the deadly Dutch Elm disease, which is a natural occurrence, “slaughter” or “massacre” trees when it kills millions of them indiscriminately? If not, then why is our judicious removal of a few hundred trees, many of them rotting from the inside anyway, so horrible that it must be described as a slaughter or a massacre?
Are humans doing something evil by cutting down trees? Of course not. Unless, of course, you also believe that a beaver that cuts down a tree to block a stream and make his little, mid-pond hut, is evil incarnate as well.
And so, my message to the folks who have been horrified, mortified, scandalized, bewitched, bothered or bewildered by the removal of 200 trees (representing only 20% of the total) at Glen Park is this: Get a grip. Or better yet, go hug a tree at nearby Walton Park. There are plenty to go around.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Facebook is friendlier, for now

My apologies for not being very active on this blog in recent weeks. There's definitely more action at my Facebook page, which I invite you to visit regularly. I promise I'll get back to some longer-form writing here in the near future. Thanks!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Another inconvenient truth for the alarmists

Posted yesterday on the Globe and Mail's website, a most fascinating story, headlined: Healthy polar bear count confounds doomsayers

Its main points are in this paragraph:
"The number of bears along the western shore of Hudson Bay, believed to be among the most threatened bear subpopulations, stands at 1,013 and could be even higher, according to the results of an aerial survey released Wednesday by the Government of Nunavut. That’s 66 per cent higher than estimates by other researchers who forecasted the numbers would fall to as low as 610 because of warming temperatures that melt ice faster and ruin bears’ ability to hunt. The Hudson Bay region, which straddles Nunavut and Manitoba, is critical because it’s considered a bellwether for how polar bears are doing elsewhere in the Arctic."

So let's think this through:
1) At one time, all bears were land animals.
2) When weather got colder, one adventurous type of bear adapted and then evolved to live on the ice for part of the year.
3) Now that the weather is warming, and the ice is less plentiful, the same bear is adapting to living back on the land, where
4) Because of warmer weather, more plants are growing for longer periods,
5) Thus providing more food for smaller animals,
6) Which in turn provides more food for carnivores like polar bears.
7) As a result, polar bears are thriving.
8) Common sense (the opposite of which is Suzuki Sense).

Photo of polar bears from Reuters, via TheGlobeandMail.com

Monday, April 2, 2012

James Gordon Stewart Fund to aid medical research, patients and students

We've done a lot of work at the Coquitlam Foundation over the past several weeks on a major new initiative, so I thought I'd use my blog to help spread the good news. Read away!

COQUITLAM – The Coquitlam Foundation is proud to announce the establishment of a major new fund benefitting medical-research, health and educational initiatives.

The new foundation-directed fund has been seeded with $355,588 from the estate of the late James Gordon Stewart (pictured), a longtime resident of Coquitlam who passed away in December 2009 at the age of 83. The fund is named in his honour.

As called for in Mr. Stewart’s will, the fund is designed to aid several charitable causes, specifically: research and support of persons with Alzheimer’s Disease; research and support of persons with kidney disease; and scholarships for students from Coquitlam, Port Moody and Port Coquitlam who are attending Simon Fraser University.

“This is a remarkable bequest from a remarkable man,” says Colleen Talbot, chair of the Coquitlam Foundation. “The generosity and community spirit Mr. Stewart demonstrated are truly exceptional.” The foundation’s executive director, Dale Clarke, adds, “We are honoured to have been given the responsibility to steward this exceptional gift, and have committed ourselves to maximizing the good that it will achieve.”

Coquitlam lawyer Donald A. Drysdale, a co-executor of Mr. Stewart’s estate, says Mr. Stewart wanted to leave a perpetual legacy, and originally thought of establishing a standalone foundation in his name. However, upon further research, Mr. Stewart determined it would be far more efficient to make use of an existing foundation.

“And, as Jim wanted the foundation to have a focus centred on Coquitlam, where Jim had lived all his adult life, it was felt the Coquitlam Foundation would be the best choice,” Mr. Drysdale explains.

The Coquitlam Foundation has already contacted groups that will be sure to benefit from Stewart’s generosity. “The Kidney Foundation of Canada is both honoured and grateful to be named as one of the charities that Mr. Stewart’s foundation-directed fund will help support,” says Lorraine Gerard, Executive Director of the BC Branch. “We look forward to working with the Coquitlam Foundation to actualize Mr. Stewart’s legacy in support of kidney-related research and patient services.”

“Mr. Stewart’s gift to the Alzheimer Society of B.C. is a noble example of compassion for individuals and families impacted by this devastating illness,” says Jean Blake, CEO of the province-wide non-profit organization. “His bequest will help to ensure we can continue to provide support for those already on the dementia journey as well as fund research to find the cure.”

The establishment of the James Gordon Stewart Fund gives the Coquitlam Foundation yet another reason to celebrate this year, the 20th anniversary of its establishment. The foundation now manages about $2.2 million in foundation-directed and donor-advised funds.

Operating as the charitable “Heart of Coquitlam” for the past two decades, the foundation has distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to local non-profit organizations, individuals, and students by way of grants, bursaries and scholarships.

The foundation is planning to distribute upwards of $50,000 within the community at its annual Awards Night, May 29 at the Evergreen Cultural Centre.

The Coquitlam Foundation is always pleased to accept donations, c/o P.O. Box 2, 1207 Pinetree Way, Coquitlam, B.C., Canada, V3B 7Y3, or through the Foundation’s website, www.coquitlamfoundation.com.The Coquitlam Foundation is registered with Canada Revenue as a charitable organization, No. 890762347 RR0001.


‘He made his small corner of the world a better place’

COQUITLAM – James Gordon Stewart was always simply “Jim” to his family. But by the time he passed away on December 30, 2009 at the age of 83, Jim Stewart had outlived all his immediate family and close relatives.

Nevertheless, while Jim might have had few loved ones left in his life during his final years, he still loved the life he had lived in Coquitlam and wanted to give something back.

That is why, when it came time to write his will, he decided to give the bulk of his estate to the city’s leading diversified philanthropic organization, the Coquitlam Foundation. He left clear instructions for the funds to be used for research into Alzheimer’s Disease and kidney disease, and to assist patients afflicted by those diseases. As well, he directed the foundation to use the funds to provide financial assistance to Tri-Cities students attending Simon Fraser University.

Stewart and his family moved to Coquitlam more than 50 years ago, and he made many lasting relationships with fellow Freemasons throughout the area; he once served as Master of the Capilano Lodge in North Vancouver. He enjoyed a successful career in sales, working in the fuel-supply business and then in wine marketing. His business sense carried over into retirement, where he displayed a knack for investing.

Eronne Ward, his longtime Arbury Avenue neighbour, remembers him well. “Jim was not blessed with a big family, but he had one of the most cherished gifts in life—he had true love,” she says.

Stewart’s wife Jean Pauline (nee McLean) passed away in 1997 and their lone child, Marilyn Louise Stewart (who had no spouse or child) died in 2008. Other relatives were either estranged or had also passed away.

“Marilyn’s passing was heartbreaking,” Ward recalls, noting that she died of kidney disease. “I cannot even begin to understand how he managed so well. During that time, Jim felt extreme grief and the realization that he was alone scared him so much, but he carried on.”

The struggle was especially daunting because he had gone blind a few years earlier following complications from cataract surgery. “But Jim took everything life handed him with a truly inspiring resilience,” Ward continues. “Whenever I expressed feelings of remorse for his handicap, he’d say, ‘I’m just blind. Other than that, I’m perfect!’”

That Stewart would bequeath funds to the Coquitlam Foundation is not surprising. “Jim had a truly generous nature, and his compassion will extend far beyond his years,” Ward says, adding that he often gave financial support to troubled young people that she took under her wing.

“The last two years of his life brought me to tears so many times, but never Jim,” she says. “He just put one foot in front of the other, took a deep breath and kept going. He made his small corner of the world a better place.”

Indeed, he did.