"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, October 30, 2012

In praise of the Coquitlam Foundation

I've just finished writing, editing and laying out a four-page pamphlet promoting one of my favourite charities, the Coquitlam Foundation, on whose board I've sat for five years now. Page one of the pamphlet is shown, to the right. And the entire publication can be seen by clicking here.

If everything goes according to plan, the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce will be putting the little publication into its November mail-out to its 850 members. We'll also be distributing it at the foundation's 20th anniversary party on Nov. 15 at the Red Robinson Show Theatre.

The main reason I'm mentioning all this now because only a bit more than two weeks remain before that birthday party, and tickets are still available. Clicking here will take you to the page on the foundation's website where you can order tickets. I hope to see you there!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Popular fundraising device is illegal

I am involved with a few non-profit charities such as The Coquitlam Foundation and regularly attend their and other non-profits' fundraising events. These often include silent- and/or live-auction items of one or more bottles of wine or liquor. The Hospice Society's annual Treasurers of Christmas gala features a live auction of a "wall of wine," as I recall. And last week's PoCoMo Youth Services anniversary event featured a silent auction of an expensive bottle of Scotch Whiskey. But according to a new B.C. government press release (below), this popular fundraising device is currently illegal. I hope the government acts quickly to change the law.

(photo by Terry O'Neill)

For Immediate Release
Oct. 26, 2012

Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas
and Minister Responsible for Liquor

Liquor laws clarified to help non-profit organizations

VICTORIA - Minister of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas Rich Coleman today confirmed the Province will take a "common sense" approach that will allow non-profit organizations to conduct fundraising using gift
baskets or similar items that have liquor as one of its components.
The law will be permanently clarified by legislative changes at a
later date.
The approach enables charities and non-profits to conduct certain
types of fundraising, such as auctions, using liquor provided it is a
part of a gift basket or an equivalent basket of goods. The liquor
must have been commercially produced and must not be consumed at the
Presently, B.C. law requires anyone who sells liquor to be licensed
and for the liquor sold under that licence to be purchased from the
Liquor Distribution Branch or another approved outlet, such as a B.C.
Charities that wish to fundraise using only liquor, without other
items as a primary component of a basket, will have to wait until new
legislation is in place. For those organizations, a special occasion
licence will continue to be required and the liquor will have to be
purchased through the Liquor Distribution Branch.

Rich Coleman, Minister of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas and Minister
Responsible for Liquor -
"From time to time, we find outdated liquor policies that may have
been relevant at a particular time in history but don't work today.
Our goal is to get rid of these outdated liquor laws that
unnecessarily restrict British Columbians and to regulate alcohol
responsibly in the process."

Quick Facts:
The B.C. government is modernizing liquor laws in B.C. because many
federal and provincial liquor laws have been around since
Prohibition. Changes made since February include:
* Liquor in Theatres
- Provides flexibility to live-event venues and revises liquor laws
for movie theatres.
* Corkage - Bring Your Own Bottle
- Provides opportunities for restaurant customers that want to bring
their own wine into a licensed dining establishment.
* Penalties for Bootlegging
- Police and liquor inspectors now have the ability to issue $575
tickets to people found giving or serving liquor to anyone under the
age of 19.
* Personal Importation of Liquor into B.C.
- Allows B.C. residents to bring back an unlimited amount of 100 per
cent Canadian wine if it is for personal consumption and purchased
from a recognized winery in another province, or choose to have it
shipped from the winery directly to their home.
- Allows B.C. residents returning from another Canadian province to
bring back on-their-person up to nine litres of wine, three litres of
spirits, and a combined total of 25.6 litres of beer, cider or
coolers for personal consumption.

Learn More:
To learn more about the rules for liquor licensing in the British
Columbia, visit: http://www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/lclb/LLinBC/index.htm

Media contacts:
Cindy Stephenson
Liquor Control and Licensing
250 952-5761

Sandra Steilo
Energy, Mines and Natural Gas
250 952-0617

Connect with the government of B.C. at: www.gov.bc.ca/connect

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

City should stay out of pet-cemetery business

Photo of pet cemetery from cbc.ca.

A report on the issue of pet cemeteries came to council eight days ago, but was deferred for consideration until last night to allow councillor Mae Reid, council's most ardent animal lover, to take part in the discussion, because she was sick eight days ago.

The staff report basically surveyed the landscape surrounding the issue and made no recommendations. Apparently, the report was sparked by a request from a councillor last year, but even the apparent requester--Ms. Reid suggested that it might have been her--seemed to have a difficult time recollecting the exact reason for the request.

Anyway, there was some discussion by Ms. Reid and others about such things as memorial walls or columbaria for deceased pets in or around existing or new city cemeteries, but I helped bring the discussion to an end by informing my colleagues that many cultures and religions would find such a set-up to be very offensive. Lou Sekora also evinced little sympathy for any such project, and suggested that one rather major obstacle would be the definition of "pet." He wondered whether a civic facility be open to a snake, for example.

If such objections hadn't had the desired effect of ending discussion on the subject (a subject that, I am aware, can be very emotional), I would have debated against taking any action on the grounds that this properly should be a private matter, left to private individuals and/or companies to work out. In short, I believe the city has no rightful place in providing this sort of service.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Honouring a North American aboriginal saint

I thought I'd do something different for the blog today, and pass along this heartening news release from the office of the Prime Minister:

Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada recognizing the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha

October 21, 2012
From Archdiocese of Ottawa
Ottawa, Ontario
Prime Minister Stephen Harper today issued the following statement recognizing the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha:
“Today in Vatican City, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was declared a Saint by Pope Benedict XVI, making her North America’s first Aboriginal Saint.
“Saint Kateri – also known as ‘Lily of the Mohawks’ – was bestowed the highest honour of the Catholic Church in recognition of her remarkable virtue and determination, and her unwavering devotion to God.
“Born in 1656 in what is now New York State, Saint Kateri was persecuted for the faith she held so tenaciously and relocated to a Christian Mohawk village in what is now Kahnawake, Quebec, where she perished at the tender age of 24.
“Throughout her short life, Saint Kateri never abandoned her faith. She taught prayers to children, cared for the sick and the elderly, and often attended mass both at sunrise and sunset.
“Today, a number of shrines in both Canada and the U.S. are dedicated to Saint Kateri, including the site of her burial at the St. Francis Xavier Mission in Kahnawake, Quebec.
“The canonization of Saint Kateri is a great honour and joyous occasion for the many North Americans and Aboriginal peoples who cherish her witness of faith and strength of character. The Government of Canada stands with those who are celebrating her life on this day in Canada, the United States and throughout the world.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Aiming for clarity in the Riverview discussion

We had a long and somewhat convoluted discussion about the Riverview lands at last night’s council meeting—and I have to admit that I was chief reason for the discussion. It all centred on a three-part recommendation from staff that we: 1) affirm council’s 2005 position on Riverview; 2) support the new Heritage Conservation Plan recently released by the Province; and 3) reiterate that council should have a role in future planning.

The major part of the debate was on whether we wanted to re-affirm the 2005 position. To my mind, that position was badly in need of revision. In the end, it became apparent that the summary of that position, in the report before us, did not really capture the fullness of the position, and so we deferred any decision until we could get clarification. We passed recommendations two and three with minor amendments.

The following represents my speaking notes on the issue, prepared before the meeting. If you read them, I hope you’ll understand where I was coming from in my opposition to the first recommendation.
Riverview heritage building. (Photo by Terry O'Neill)

Council has been asked to affirm the city’s key priorities for the Riverview lands and to indicate support for the provincial government’s Heritage Conservation Plan’s proposed strategies to preserve the heritage-defining elements of the site, and to declare once again that the city should have an integral role in in the forthcoming land-use plan for the site.

There is no question that this is a major issue. The Riverview precinct is a treasure-house of not only invaluable natural wonders and historical riches, but also of much social-utility and economic potential. After all, it comprises 244 acres of land in the heart of the Tri-Cities, one of the most vibrant and fastest-growing areas not only in the Lower Mainland but in the entire country. Getting its future use right could be key to the future of the whole region.

With this in mind, it is important that we examine carefully the three actions we have been asked to take. Let’s deal with them one by one.

Regarding the first question, of reaffirming our three “key priorities” for the site, we must first look at what those priorities are, which were identified in early 2005:

According to the report before us, those three priorities are: “A) Riverview should provide a place for mental health and wellness; support research, education and innovation; preserve the botanical heritage and ecology of the lands; and promote heritage, arts and culture.” These are all laudable aspirations, of course, but I am wondering whether, with seven years having now passed since that declaration was made, we might now want to refine it.

The way it now reads, the city is on the record saying that Riverview must include a huge variety of future uses, everything from serving as a research centre to an art-and-culture hub. Do we really mean this? Are we really asking for the provincial government to do ALL of this on the site? I don’t think so. I think council and the public is actually saying that future uses should be limited to one or more of the stated uses, not necessarily ALL of them.

Next, we have, “B) Riverview’s heritage buildings, landscapes and arboretum should be protected and preserved.” What exactly do we mean by this? Do we really expect any future user of Riverview to “protect and preserve” all the buildings, without changing one little thing? Any anyway, do we really want all those buildings to be protected and preserved? Do we really expect any or all of the potential future users, as identified in “a”, to move into buildings that have been perfectly protected and preserved?
A magnificent tree on the Riverview grounds. (Photo by Terry O'Neill)

Remember, just last year, the previous council unanimously passed a motion calling for Royal Columbian Hospital to be rebuilt on the Riverview lands, instead of undergoing a costly renovation at its present site in New Westminster. I can imagine how this massive construction project could take place without impacting the world-famous arboretum, but I cannot fathom how it would transpire without, at the very least, changing Riverview’s landscape. And do we really expect the provincial government to construct a billion-dollar hospital at Riverview while also spending how many untold tens or hundreds of millions, “protecting and preserving” every single one of the heritage buildings on the site – a demand that , as it reads now, is so severe as to preclude even-small scale interior alterations of the buildings?

Remember what momma said: You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Difficult decisions have to be made, and I believe that if we simply re-affirm this, we would be failing to show the leadership that is demanded of us.

Public tour during Treefest. (Photo by Terry O'Neill)
And one last thing on the subject of preserving and protecting, one need only look to pages 83-85 of the heritage report to see that there are actually 15 – FIFTEEN – types of conservation approaches one can take to the Riverview site, not just the two, protecting and preserving, called for in this statement. Without further refinement of what buildings should be conserved, and how far that conservation should go – that is, everything ranging from preserving and restoring the buildings in their entirety to simply preserving an historic fa├žade and integrating it into a new building – statement ‘b’ is virtually meaningless.

On the whole then, I would say that council should NOT re-affirm its commitment to statement “b” without significant refinement.

And then we come to statement C, which says the Riverview lands should remain publicly owned and not developed for market housing. Is council still in agreement with this? Personally, I view this statement as aspirational and not practical. That is, in a perfect world, it would be nice to have it as public land, but I’m wondering if this is a practical goal, given economic realities. Nevertheless, I am prepared to re-support “c” as an aspiration statement at this time.

And so, that deals with the first of the three recommended actions we take. Number two asks us to support the HCP’s strategies to preserve the heritage defining elements of the site. This would appear to be a no-brainer, but I would be shirking my duties if I didn’t point out that the HCP contains one rather large weakness, and that is that it does not prioritize the heritage values that have been identified. That is, it considers strategies for protecting everything from the invaluable trees to the mundane and confusing road network on the site – and appears to make no attempt to judge which is more important to protect.

Remember: When everything is a priority, NOTHING is a priority. Without a prioritization exercise, it may be that the province will be overwhelmed at the huge conservation task at hand. I would suggest, then, that the CITY not blindly follow in the footsteps of the report, but, as I suggested earlier, show some leadership, and make some decisions about what we feel are the most important components of Riverview to protect. To not do so would be to invite inaction.

Finally, three: To reiterate council’s interest in having an integral role in the forthcoming land use plan for the site. I do not have a single quibble with this.

Trying a new type of Townhall Meeting

My previous attempt to gain council support to engage more citizen involvement in the democratic process didn't get any traction. So, last night, I tried again and introduced a Notice of Motion calling for Electronic Town Hall Meetings. The idea seems to have widespread support, and we'll formally discuss the motion at the next council meeting. I'm hoping it will receive unanimous backing. Here's the text of my motion, which was seconded by Councillor Selina Robinson:

Motion to Encourage Citizen Engagement in Town Hall Meetings

Whereas the Council of the City of Coquitlam holds at least two public Town Hall Meetings a year with the intention of engaging citizen input into a variety of important local issues, and

Whereas, the number of people attending those meetings, such as the one held Oct. 3, 2012 at the Centennial Pavilion, is sometimes so low as to be matched by the number of City staff and Councillors in attendance, and,

Whereas, communications technologies, including but not limited to webcasts, Twitter feeds, and email and telephone linkages exist that have the potential to broaden the engagement process of Town Hall Meetings,

Be it resolved that Council direct staff to examine the possibility of, and to report back on, the staging of future Town Hall Meetings which are webcasted and, for the benefit of those citizens who are watching the webcast, that such meetings also employ communications technologies allowing, but not limited to, the receipt and display of emailed and Twittered comments and questions, and also allows citizens to communicate their questions and comments by phone in a way that their calls can be broadcast within the meeting site.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Justin Trudeau, Liberal leader?

With Justin Trudeau set to announce that he intends to seek the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, I thought the time was right for me to reproduce the Cover Story I wrote on him for the Western Standard's March 26, 2007 issue. (NB: The following is the unedited version of the article that I submitted to the editor; I do not have e-access to the published version. Finally, I did not write the coverlines and headlines.)

He's 35 going on 25: Justin Trudeau has the name and the buzz.

But is he an empty suit?

By Terry O'Neill

Justin Trudeau strolls through the front entrance of the posh clubhouse at the Nicklaus North golf course in Whistler, B.C. just before dusk on February 23. There’s no fanfare, no entourage, and no paparazzi in tow, which is surprising, considering that Trudeau’s dreamy mug is all over the front pages of the morning’s newspapers in recognition of the fact he announced his official entry into federal politics the day previous in Montreal, just before he jetted off to Vancouver. Yes, Trudeau had finally ended months of speculation by declaring his intention to represent the Liberal Party of Canada in the Montreal riding of Papineau. This meant, of course, that Pierre Trudeau’s eldest son had at long last made the big decision to try follow in his late father’s famous and controversial footsteps.

Justin Trudeau was at the upscale ski resort to raise money for the Canadian Avalanche Foundation, with which he became involved as a director shortly after the death of his brother Michel in an avalanche in 1998. The dress code was advertised as “mountain evening,” which the invitation explained should reflect something alpine. Many guests arrived in ski sweaters and crisply-pressed slacks, but Trudeau didn’t follow the script. Instead, he showed up in blue jeans with a designer rip in the left knee, a sports coat and a striped shirt—its wide-open neck revealing an almost-hairless chest.

Revellers at the $175-a-plate event wouldn’t necessarily have known it, but his get-up was virtually the same outfit Trudeau wore to many of his numerous public outings over the last several months, whether it was to announce his candidacy or to address members of a Chamber of Commerce, like he did in February in London. Trudeau even embraced the tie-free, two-buttons-open look at a more-formal avalanche-fundraising gig in Calgary on Feb. 24, although he did ditch the jeans and jacket for a natty sand-brown suit.

The look is definitely a youthful one. But then, even at the age of 35, if Justin Trudeau is known for anything, it’s for his youth and the promise he holds for a Liberal Party of Canada desperately seeking some vitality. A press agent couldn’t have put it any better than did Glen Pearson last November, when Trudeau attended a rally to support Pearson’s ultimately successful bid to win the London-North Centre by-election. “We have someone in our midst who some day may be prime minister,” Pearson gushed about the Trudeau prince. “We are in the presence of royalty.”

But while much is being expected of the nearly middle-aged Trudeau, he seems to be the very embodiment of someone 10 years his junior. And it’s not just the way he dresses. Consider this: while many other men of his age and privileged background are married with kids, well established in their careers, and settling into their lives, Justin Trudeau is childless, has flitted from job to avocation to cause to acting gig with little apparent impact in any area in which he has alighted, and has only now settled on attempting to find a place for himself in the House of Commons. And even then, politics is a profession for which, despite the many figurehead positions he has held, he actually has few legitimate qualifications—other than his famous last name, of course, and the celebrity that accompanies it.

Yes, he’s been a teacher, but so have hundreds of thousands of other Canadians. And yes, he’s sat in the board of Katimavik, the youth-volunteer organization, but he clearly got the job through family and political connections. Yes, he’s working on a master’s degree in environmental geography at McGill University, but being a 35-year-old grad student isn’t exactly an accomplishment to write home about. And, yes, he hosted last year’s televised Giller Prize to honor the country’s literary set, but he’s never written a book, let alone a major policy paper.

In other words, he’s a lightweight, but at least a well-known and apparently youthful one. “He’s not taken very seriously,” political commentator and recently retired Liberal MP Jean Lapierre said upon learning of Trudeau’s decision to try to run for office. “So he will have to show that he has something in his belly. We don’t know that yet.” Lapierre also revealed that Trudeau hadn’t even been a member of the Liberal party until last fall. “I sold him his first membership card about four months ago,” Lapierre said, “so he never really cared about the party before.” Ouch.

Nevertheless, the fact that Justin Trudeau is a Peter Pan-ish 35 going on 25 may explain why the Liberal Party of Canada chose him to head its youth task force last year, even though he was nine years older than the official age limit of 25 for membership in the Young Liberals of Canada. In fact, that youth task force is as good a place as any to begin a consideration of the young Mr. Trudeau’s record, which in recent years seems to have been designed to give him maximum possible publicity with the minimum of actual accomplishment.

The “task force on youth and civil engagement” was one of several such study groups the Liberals established in an attempt to “renew” itself following its defeat at the hands of the Conservatives in January 2006. Two things are immediately evident about the youth task force’s interim report, which was made public late last year. The first is that, despite his name being on its cover page, Trudeau was not actually its primary author; a reader has to turn to the inside to discover the report’s “lead writers” were actually two other individuals, Chris Holcroft and Danielle Kotras. Exactly how much work Trudeau did on the report is not clear.

The second notable aspect of the report is its vacuous but still ominous findings: vacuous in that the paper’s most important specific recommendation seems to be that Elections Canada “work with school boards across the country to hold comprehensive mock elections in high schools” to help young people understand the electoral process; ominous in that the paper declares that the young Canadians with whom the task force met “want a return to activist government.”

The paper doesn’t spell it out, but to anyone who lived through the governments of Pierre Trudeau, “activist” clearly means a high-spending, high-debt, interventionist government. It’s nothing to worry about if you’re a left-winger, but it’s cause for great concern if you’re on the right or even a main-street centrist. Moreover, this type of government is anathema to the West, especially Alberta, which bore the full brunt of the elder Trudeau’s “activist” government in 1980 when the Grits imposed the National Energy Program, which is estimated to have sucked $100 billion out of the province’s economy.

But Justin Trudeau’s expression of this sort of interventionist sentiment, especially in relation to the need for government to take action to “save” the environment, shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who has been listening to what he has been talking about in his many public appearances and interviews over the past half year. In fact, Trudeau has become something of rich man’s David Suzuki, the environmental Jeremiah who preaches global-warming doom, and big-government salvation.

Consider this collection of his musings of late:

*“Canada actually isn’t doing so well environmentally. We’re falling behind. Were not taking care of things and a large part of the responsibility is on its citizens.” (Owen Sound Sun Times, Oct. 2, 2006)

*“We are completely misunderstanding the fundamental relationship we have with this planet that sustains us. Our relationship with the natural world needs to fundamentally inform, shape and guide our lifestyles from the simplest element to the biggest.” (Victoria Times Colonist, Oct. 19)

*“All of our advances in science and everything have led us to this point, and now we’re going to have to do something that no civilization has ever been able to do, which is to have certain behaviours, to reach the top, and then suddenly change direction, change our habits, and change our ways away from the very things that brought us here.” (National Post, Nov. 8)

*“We have achieved tremendous success with this civilization, but it has come at a cost. We’re at a point where the behaviour and habits that got us here are the very same ones that will ruin us. They will cause total collapse.” (Montreal Gazette, Feb. 15, 2007)

Sound like something Suzuki would espouse? It’s not a coincidence: Trudeau has said he admires the Vancouver geneticist and broadcaster, and was even seen assiduously taking notes at one of the environmentalists’ recent lectures.
As evidenced by Lapierre’s less-than-laudatory comments about Trudeau’s decision to seek the Liberal nomination, his entry into politics hasn’t exactly been cheered, even by fellow Liberals. In fact, he was criticized within the party for making his headline-grabbing announcement on the same day as leader Stephane Dion was delivering a major speech about Afghanistan. Nevertheless, criticisms from both within and outside the party have centred more on his lack of experience than on his public pronouncements. Clearly, though, his calamitous predictions bear scrutiny too. The Western Standard sent a selection of his quotations, including the ones above, to two expert observers. Their reactions were less than positive.

Jason Clemens, director of fiscal studies at the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, says Trudeau is just plain wrong when he says the environment in Canada is getting worse. Measurements consistently show that water and air quality are actually improving in this country, Clemens says. Moreover, he argues that Trudeau shows a basic misunderstanding of the free-market economy when he argues that big government should intervene, through such mechanisms as subsidies and taxes, to improve the environment.

“So I guess my challenge to him would be, name me the situation where that approach has actually solved the problem. I mean, historically, I just can’t think of any major problem where the government took that activist approach and actually made things better.” On the other hand, Clemens says that one thing going in Trudeau’s favour is that, unlike Dion, he actually seems to recognize that there will be hefty price tag attached to green initiatives.

Environmental consultant Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, believes Trudeau “is certainly apocalyptic” in his worldview. “I had many of the same sentiments at that age,” Moore says, “now I believe it is wise to remain calm at all times, especially if a sink is sinking.” Moore has hope that new energy technologies will reduce fossil-fuel consumption and that the Earth’s population will stabilize. “[Trudeau] sounds like a bit of a dreamer and is too pessimistic for me,” Moore concludes, “but like so many people today, probably just buys into Suzuki, [former U.S. vice-president Al] Gore, and [environmentalist James] Lovelock.”

There are always two sides to politics, of course: style and substance. Moore and Clemens don’t think much of the substance. What about the style? Political scientist Faron Ellis of Lethbridge College thinks Trudeau’s celebrity may actually backfire on him. “People who are looking for the second coming of the old man,” he says, “are probably going to be sorely disappointed.” Once one looks past all the hype surrounding Justin Trudeau, it’s evident, “This is just a rich kid who has done nothing,” Ellis continues. “He was supposed to be a teacher, but didn’t stick with that. He’s got the celebrity. You know, the most important thing that brought him celebrity was the deaths of family members, right? His dad and his brother. You know, you’ve only got so many family members to keep that going.” Double ouch.

(Trudeau’s first big media splash came when he delivered a eulogy at his father’s funeral in 2000. He won wide praise for the speech, but it’s a little known fact that his long-time buddy Gerald Butts, currently an assistant to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, helped write the eulogy. Moreover, in retrospect, the speech seems sophomoric, especially in its use of an inappropriate quotation from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar—“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”—as an opening line. As any literate English-speaker knows, the line following that, which Trudeau didn’t cite, is “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” Had Justin come only to bury his father, and not to praise him? Of course not, but that is what one might have been led to believe by the strange opening citation.)

B.C. political analyst and broadcaster Bill Tieleman uses the “D” word to describe Trudeau: “dilettante.” “I think that he has not distinguished himself with actually having done anything,” Tieleman says. “You can’t even say he’s written some interesting papers on politics, has been involved as a door knocker or organizer. He’s a media creation at the moment.” This doesn’t mean he won’t get elected though, even though “Justin Trudeau’s political weight seems to come more from his mother’s side than his father’s.” Triple ouch. (That’s a reference to Justin’s mother, Margaret, whose bizarre and scandalous behaviour while still married to Pierre Trudeau was to the Canada of the 1970s what Britney Spears’ current shenanigans are to the world today.)

Of course, Justin Trudeau need not be disqualified from politics simply because he is the son of a famous politician. U.S. president George W. Bush is the son of a former U.S. president, of course. And in Canada, former prime minister Paul Martin’s father was a prominent Liberal cabinet minister. Former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis’s father, David, was a national NDP leader.

Justin Trudeau refused to be interviewed by the Western Standard for this piece, although he did give a brief comment about his candidacy when approached at the Whistler event. “For me, being involved with communities, like the mountain community, like the avalanche community, has allowed me to connect with Canadians, and understand some of the real priorities they have,” he said. “My life has been, over the past decade or so, being involved with a number or organizations, and this is one of the organizations that I have learned and grown an awful lot though, and understood a lot of the way that society needs to take on its responsibilities, involving education, involving funding of particular organizations and programs, and that is all sort of an amount of experience that I will bring with me to Parliament.”

Asked how important it would be for him to carve out his own reputation, distinct from his father’s, Trudeau was straightforward: “Well, listen, everyone already has their minds largely made up about me from the outset. My challenge is going to be to have them discover who I really am and what I really stand for at the base. And no amount of me telling them what I am and what I stand for is enough. I need to get to work and show them that. And the first way to do that is what I do very well, and is to connect with people and listen to people and learn how to present, particularly the constituents in Papineau.”

Not exactly stirring stuff, except, that is, if you’re a member of “the avalanche community.” Trudeau had nothing to say about everyday concerns involving employment, taxes, education, the economy and childcare; in fact, he didn’t even offer any concrete ideas about how he’d implement his environmental agenda.

It was the same the day before when he announced his attempt to win the Grit nomination in Papineau, a riding currently held by the Bloc Quebecois. True to form, Trudeau talked style, not substance, saying he wants “to change the way the game is played, to a certain extent, try to bring back a certain amount of nobility and reduce some of the cynicism there is around politics these days…Canadians need to hear a different message. Canadians need to start believing in something noble about politics and I’d like to be a part of that.”

Trudeau’s evocation of nobility implies, of course, that he believes he, himself, is noble. Maybe he actually thinks he is. After all, the first definition of the word, in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, is “belonging by rank, title, or birth to the aristocracy.” But that’s the easy part for a fellow with such a famous and successful father. It’s the second definition—“of excellent character; having lofty ideals; free from pettiness and meanness, magnanimous”—which is the real challenge.

The direct approach to affordable housing

The top item in the City-produced Coquitlam News in Brief this week is entitled “On the Street Where You Live.” The item reads as follows: “Coquitlam’s Affordable Housing strategy will soon have a new direction. It will replace a five year old document that was prepared long before the new realities of growth and the impact of the Evergreen line on overall development. One of the critical components of the new strategy will be to clearly define the City’s role in affordable housing. The process will begin immediately and be a two phase strategy with several opportunities for public input with Council making the final decision on what the future holds in the months ahead.”

City Centre condo developments. (Photo by Terry O'Neill)

You may read or hear in the coming days that I voted against updating the above-mentioned Affordable Housing Strategy (AHS). But it’s not that I’m against affordable housing. Rather, I’m for a more-immediate discussion of a crucial aspect of affordable housing: rental accommodation.

The rental discussion was supposed to take place this fall but, as I learned on Monday, it has now been cancelled in lieu of the AHS review. For now, the “interim” rental strategy, which council approved in late July and which was supposed to be in place for only a few months, will stretch at least until the end of next spring. And I’m simply not ready to support that. It’s more than just “the principle of the thing.” Rather, the rental strategy we are now stuck with embraces a quasi-prescriptive approach which has the potential to force the buyers of market housing to support folks who choose to live in market rental. And that’s simply not fair.

The forced subsidy would not be a direct tax. Rather, under the now-semi-permanent rental housing strategy, developers can be offered “incentives” to persuade them to build rental accommodation. One incentive would be to waive any Community Amenity Contribution related to new rental floor space.

But, given the fact that community amenity contributions will still be collected from the sale of condos, this means that the cost of new community amenities will fall onto the backs of the developers of for-sale condos, who will then pass those costs onto the buyers of the new condos. Another scenario might see all existing property owners, including the buyers of new condos, paying higher property taxes to cover the costs of the amenities that are needed by, but not funded by, the renters or the developers of rental properties.*

I am not opposed to very-well-targetted programs that would help the very poorest members of our society find a decent place to live, but I certainly do not support more far-reaching programs that benefit market rental. After all, it’s supposed to be “market” rental, and “market” forces should prevail.

On Monday, I had something to say about the general AHS update, as well. I noted that the AHS’s current vision statement is, “All residents of Coquitlam will be able to live in safe, appropriate housing that is affordable for their income level.” I believe this is pipedream – a utopian vision that, if acted upon in earnest, would bankrupt the City.

I simply do not believe that everyone who decides they want to live in Coquitlam automatically has the right to an “appropriate” and “affordable” home. This is dreaming in Technicolor. This is the nanny state saying that it will look after all its helpless little citizens. This is fostering an environment of entitlement. This is simply unworkable.

I pointed out that, rather than mire itself in a complex mishmash of programs and policies surrounding affordable housing, the City might simply recognize that it already has a rather good approach in place—its densification and housing-choices policies, the latter of which frees the way for the rezoning of older single-family lots to classifications allowing second homes, duplexes, triplexes the like. Insofar as the City can improve and refine such policies and continue cutting red tape, it will be accomplishing plenty.

Upon further reflection, I can add that I believe the city should strive to do what it is supposed to do, and that is manage land use and make decisions efficiently as part of that prudent management function.

Part of the problem with affordability is the length of time it takes the free market to respond to housing demand because of the drawn-out approval process. I hear that, in Coquitlam, it takes just under three years from the time a developer acquires a piece of land (that is not zoned for multi-family housing) to see it through the rezoning process, the development permit process, the building permit approval process, the actual construction, and the final inspection. Builders might schedule half of a project’s time for actual construction and the other half for municipal approvals. No wonder costs are so high.

My colleagues and I will, I hope, talk at length about this sometime in the middle of next year, when the AHS update comes back to Council.

*Yet another party may end up bearing the cost of the amenity contributions not be paid by renters or developers of rental properties, and that is the original land owners of property developed into for-sale condos. Their sale prices might be driven down by developers who know that they’re going to have to pay through the nose to cover the costs of community amenities.