"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, July 31, 2012

The Longest Day

We look significantly fresher in this photo, taken last December, than
we did in the wee hours of this morning when Monday's council
meeting finally came to an end.

What a council meeting yesterday. I started at 10 a.m., driving to several locations to see first-hand some of the properties that we were considering for rezoning. Well worth the effort. Then some informal meetings at City Hall from 11:15 am til noon, then:
Noon: In-camera meeting;
2 pm: Council in Committee;
4 pm-ish: Back to in-camera;
7 pm: Public hearing;
11 pm-ish: Regular council;
1 am-ish: Adjournment.

One of the biggest issues on a very full agenda was Polygon's proposal to amend the development agreement, between it and the city, for the western part of the Windsor Gate development.

The company's first iteration of the amended plan, which called for more units and more high rises than originally agreed, had generated a lot of opposition from existing residents. Polygon then unveiled a series of downscaled plans, ending with one that called for the same number of units (albeit slightly larger) as originally agreed, but transforming two eight-storey mid-rises into a pair of high-rise condo towers.

Throughout the process, my colleagues and I were in constant touch with Polygon's Hugh Ker and with residents in Windsor Gate, and, by the end, I was very pleased to support the final iteration of the plan, even though I know some residents are still opposed.

I think all my colleagues and I, not to mention Mr. Ker (who spent several hours at the council committee meeting, and then sat through the long, long evening's affair), were expecting the issue to generate some discussion when it finally arose on our agenda after midnight. But none of us spoke and, in an instant, we voted unaniously to approve it.

I put it down to the effects of the long day and the fact the air conditioning appears to have cut out earlier in the evening! I want to explain this because it's important for all residents to know that the lack of public discussion early this morning does not mean we made an ill-considered decision. Quite the contrary. I know, by talking to my colleagues before the meeting, that they've all been quite involved in the issue, and have carefully thought out their positions.

In the end, the months-long exercise spoke to all that makes municipal governance click: a responsible developer, an engaged electorate, lots of discussion and compromise, and a final decision that is good for the entire community. (Here's a link to the NOW's story about the decision.  One correction, though: the two new high-rises replace the two mid-rises, and are not in addition to them, as the story suggests.)

And on the issue of council's long meeting, my motion, regarding the encouragement of voter participation,  came up at the very end of the meeting. We were all very tired, and I wanted an informed and vigorous discussion, so I moved that the motion be deferred until our next meeting in September. My colleagues were most thankful, and backed the deferral unanimously.

As for some of the other business, here's our communications department summary of the day, followed by some of my comments.

Medical Marijuana

Following a lengthy Public Hearing, Council unanimously approved new bylaws with the authority to regulate the production and distribution of medical marijuana grown in licensed operations. Council's decision followed lengthy discussions where all sides of the sensitive issue were presented by citizens representing various positions.

My two bits worth: We took action to shut down clearly-illegal dispensaries, and we limited the home-based, federally-allowed growing of marijuana, for medical purposes, to personal use only. Commercial operations must local in commercial zones.

What's in a Name?

Apparently quite a lot when you are naming one of the stations destined for the Coquitlam portion of the Evergreen Line. Officials from TransLink advised Coquitlam City Council about a number of regulations and rules associated with naming the stations. Preventing confusion for riders and establishing names with a long shelf life are at the centre of the TransLink mandate. Council members provided some reaction and guidance to TransLink officials who unveiled several concepts and are still in the working stages of the project.

My two bits worth: I like Coquitlam Central Station as the name for the station that's going to be in the big transit exchange-bus loop/WestCoast Express area. I favour Lincoln Station for the stop that's in the northeast corner of the Coquitlam Centre parking lot. And I like Lafarge Lake Station for the final stop.
A bigger issue, which Transit couldn't answer, is: What's the new line going to be called? Since the Evergreen will be merged, and will be one continuous line, with the Millennium, it can't very well be called one thing for half the length and then magically get another name for the second half. My suggestion is to call the whole line the Evergreen Millennium.

Still with Evergreen-related Issues

The Transit-Oriented Development Strategy (TDS) is a "go." Aimed directly at issues surrounding ongoing development adjacent to stations along the new Evergreen Line in Coquitlam, the new strategy will give clear and defined direction around a number of planning and community issues facing residents and the City of Coquitlam. Coquitlam City Council has been part of the process and provided critical input as the concept moved forward to reality. Several major issues surrounding parking and rental housing in the Burquitlam area will be the focus of the ongoing work of the City's TDS team.

My two bits' worth: The big issue with me was what policy we adopt to deal with the potential loss of rental units in Burquitlam. I lean towards market solutions, but the interim policy sees the city being quite interventionist. Nevertheless, I supported the interim policy after very strongly stating that the promised in-depth discussion on this issue in the fall must not assume that the interim policy sets some sort of benchmark. I am particularly opposed to using money, originally designated for social housing, to prop up market rental, and I supported Councillor Nicholson's amendment making that clear.

Another Piece of the Tourism Puzzle

Looking for a hotel room in Coquitlam will become much easier in the years ahead. Coquitlam City Council has approved the construction of a new hotel in the United Boulevard area. A Great Canadian Hotel and Conference facility will rise adjacent to the existing casino . As well as 176 more hotel rooms, the 10-storey facility will also feature a new café, banquet and conference centre adjacent to the Highway 1 corridor.

My two bits' worth: Yes! I supported this initiative.

Going for Gold

The City of Coquitlam's bid to potentially host the BC Summer Games has been given the green light. The bid package will go forward in the fall of 2012 for review by the provincial governing body. Coquitlam is one of several communities vying to host the event. Coquitlam is requesting consideration for the 2016 or the 2018 summer competition.

My two bits' worth: Again, strong support.

Check Out the New Checkout

The Safeway grocery store on Austin Avenue will be replaced by a building that has several design amenities aimed at improving not only the look, but the function of the market in the neighborhood. Special attention will be made to the facades of the building that face both Austin and Ridgeway Avenues.

My two bits' worth: Some tremendous work by our staff and Canada Safeway to ensure that the ugly rear end of Safeway, that fronts Ridgeway, will be transformed into a series of small shops.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Positive reinforcement to encourage voter turnout

Would publicizing the names of people who vote in elections help increase voter turnout? I think so, and that's why I introduced a notice of motion at last Monday's council meeting asking council to support the idea.

I'll explain more about the idea later. First, some background. Only 17,961 of 82,839 eligible voters cast ballots in last fall's election in Coquitlam. That's a turnout rate of just 21.7% .

No one knows exactly why the turnout is so low. Some optimists think it's because people are generally satisfied with the way civic affairs are being managed -- either that, or they don't think civic affairs are important enough to warrant the effort necessary to inform themselves and then cast a ballot.

Most analysts and experts are concerned about the lack of engagement. Of late, some have suggested that the province allow municipalities to make voting easier by opening up the process to on-line balloting. I don't think this is a good idea, though.

First, it would open the system to abuse. We seem to hear about a new computer virus every week or so these days. I think hackers would have a field day if elections went on-line.

Traditional way of encouraging voter turnout.

Maclean's magazine reported in its April 16 edition    that, after the University of Western Ontario's alma mater's student council set up a on-line voting system, a Western alumnus hacked into the action and briefly changed a candidate's name to "Justin Bieber's Haircut."  And at UBC's Senate election in 2010, 731 votes came from a single IP address.

I also think there should be some effort involved in voting, to better encourage fuller engagement with candidates and issues. Otherwise, you end up with "drive-by voting." Let's not cater to "slack-tivisim."

And that brings me to my motion. The current issue of Atlantic magazine reports on a Michigan study that found that voter turnout increases if people think the names of people who voted will be publicized.

Currently, municipal governments make public a record of all voters who cast ballots for eight weeks after the election. But members of the public are only allowed to view the list in person, and are not allowed to make photocopies.

My motion calls on the provincial government to amend all relevant legislation to allow for the publication, in print or on-line, and distribution of such lists. I can see a municipal government keeping a permanent record on its website, and perhaps even buying a supplement in the local newspaper thanking everyone who voted.

That's positive reinforcement at its best! And, of course, many potential voters would not want to be seen as being off the list, and they'd work to ensure they're on it.

Would people read such a list? Of course. Just think of how often you've scanned the names of the winners of the latest hospital lottery or participants in the Sun Run.

The biggest objection I've heard to my idea is that it would infringe on voter privacy or the secret ballot. I don't agree. The list would not say how the person voted. And, as stated above, there's already no absolute privacy, because the list is made public for eight weeks.

We'll be discussing my motion (seconded by Councillor Linda Reimer) at the month's end council meeting.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The hottest place in Hell

Martin Luther King once said, ""The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict."

One wonders what he would have made of the state of moral confusion found in the Western world in the year 2012. He might opine that the "hottest place in Hell" could become very crowded, indeed.

Hear no evil; see no evil, speak no evil.
I've been thinking of such questions in response to a variety of controverisal stories over the past few months--stories that that have appalled all decent-minded Canadians. One involves a member of the Coquitlam RCMP.

I won't comment on the specifics of the case, but my examination of the RCMP's Code of Conduct prompted me to think about the issue of moral confusion and its twin, moral relativism.

For the record, Section 37 of the RCMP Act states:

"It is incumbent on every member, (a) to respect the rights of all persons; (b) to maintain the integrity of the law, law enforcement and the administration of justice; (c) to perform the member’s duties promptly, impartially and diligently, in accordance with the law and without abusing the member’s authority; (d) to avoid any actual, apparent or potential conflict of interests; (e) to ensure that any improper or unlawful conduct of any member is not concealed or permitted to continue; (f) to be incorruptible, never accepting or seeking special privilege in the performance of the member’s duties or otherwise placing the member under any obligation that may prejudice the proper performance of the member’s duties; (g) to act at all times in a courteous, respectful and honourable manner; and (h) to maintain the honour of the Force and its principles and purposes."

It is noteworthy that the section uses the words "integrity," "improper" conduct, "incorruptible," and "honour."

I have to wonder, however, whether such words have been now become virtually meaningless.

I don't blame the RCMP. I blame the relativistic view of morality that has overtaken modern Western society, a view that does not allow for opposition to some palpable evils.

Indeed, in the name of almighty tolerance, we seem to have painted ourselves into a corner out of which it is impossible to take a stand against certain behaviours. Integrity? It's a personal choice.  Proper or improper? Feeling good is what's important. Incorruptible? You've got to believe in the concept of corruption to begin with. Honour? It's in the eye of the beholder.

Which leads me to conclude with a quote from the American moral philosopher Peter Kreeft: "It is not reason, but the abdication of reason that is the source of moral relativism. Relativism is not rational, it is rationalization."