"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

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Saving a precious piece of history

The City of Coquitlam announced this afternoon that it had purchased one of the most historic homes and properties in the city-- the Booth house and farm. It's great news.
Jill Cook of the Coquitlam Heritage Society. (Terry O'Neill photo)
In making the announcement, Mayor Richard Stewart took time to thank Councillor Craig Hodge, who chairs the Maillardville Commerical and Cultural Revitalization Committee, for all the good work he and the group has accomplished. Hodge also used to be on the board of the Coquitlam Heritage Society, which also urged the property's preservation. (One of the happiest people at today's announcement was Jill Cook, executive director of the society. See photo above.)
The Mayor also kidded Hodge for the over-eagerness he displayed on the Booth issue when he first arrived on council. Stewart quipped that my council colleague now understands the proper way to get things accomplished.
From my perspective, that "proper way" involved having the draft Maillardville Neighbhour Plan completed. The plan identified the Booth property as an important piece of our historic-property and park-land inventory.
With that clear identification in place, I was ultimately quite happy to vote in favour of the purchase of this precious piece of Coquitlam's history--a property that will provide much enjoyment for all our residents.
Here is the official press release about today's announcement:

 Coquitlam acquires historic Maillardville property

COQUITLAM, BC, Wednesday, October 30, 2013   – Booth Farm, an historic property in Maillardville, will be preserved thanks to the City of Coquitlam’s recent acquisition of the land.
Located at 1746 Brunette Ave., the 112-year-old home was originally owned by Ralph Booth, a pioneer of the Maillardville community. It was identified in the Maillardville Heritage Inventory as a “Primary Building” having architectural, historical and contextual heritage significance to the community.
“Our city enjoys a rich and unique past, which is especially evident throughout Maillardville – Coquitlam’s most historic neighbourhood,” said Mayor Richard Stewart. “It is our responsibility as a Council to ensure that we preserve and celebrate that history.  I’m very pleased that the most recent owners shared that sentiment, and have worked with us.”
The acquisition and preservation of Booth Farm aligns with the City’s Heritage Strategic Plan, and was specifically identified as a priority in the recently-drafted Maillardville Neighbourhood Plan.
 “Our goal is to continue to grow and revitalize Maillardville’s vibrancy and diversity as a neighbourhood,” said Councillor Craig Hodge, Chair of the Maillardville Commercial and Cultural Revitalization Committee. “Preserving Maillardville’s cultural identity through the safeguarding of heritage buildings and properties is an important component to our strategy for future growth of the neighbourhood.”
Purchasing Booth Farm provides the City with certainty in preserving the heritage elements of the land, and allows for the completion of a more detailed analysis to determine the optimal use of the building and site over the long-term.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Metro Vancouver wants us to eat local

One of the undeniable benefits of the (relatively) free-market system which our society has embraced is that it provides us fresh food from all parts at the world, year-round at affordable prices.
On the other hand, history has shown us repeatedly (hello, North Korea, etc.!) that centrally planned economies, especially centrally planned agriculture, don't work.
That's the big picture.
The small picture takes us to the Metro Vancouver regional government (officially known as the Greater Vancouver Regional District). Its basic job is to coordinate land-use planning, and water, sewer and garbage-disposal services, which it does fairly well.
(from Metrovancouver.org)
But it also has shown a propensity to grow. And one of the areas into which it appears to want to grow fairly large is the coordination of food-production in the Metro area. It's all part of Metro's "sustainability" agenda.
The region has been nosing into the food-production area for several years now; evidence can be found all over Metro's website, including reports on annual grants to encourage non-profits to educate the public about farming. There's also this draft report from three years ago. 
And now, Metro is planning to stage a "Regional Food System Roundtable" discussion (Nov. 20, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m., at the Executive Plaza Hotel in Coquitlam). According to Metro, the roundtable is the "first step" in developing an "Action Plan" (the capitalization is Metro's) for implementing a "Regional Food System Strategy."
Really? Do we really think that central planners at Metro can devise a better food system than the marketplace can? Is this what we want Metro to be spending our taxes on?
I have no idea what the initiative will cost, but every time a committee or board meets, the politicians involved get extra pay. More expensive, though, are the bills associated with staff time, material production, room rentals and the like.
And, of course, there's also the cost of feeding attendees. I suggest that organizers take advantage of our excellent food-production and -supply system, and look for the best-quality food at the least-expensive cost.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An opportunity delayed--or lost?

Strike while the iron is hot. You've all heard this expression and appreciate its worth. In the context of Coquitlam, the hot iron can been seen as the coming of the Evergreen Line, a rapid-transit link that is in the process of transforming our city.
For the most part, City Council has been moving quickly to take advantage of the Evergreen--striking while the iron is hot. Council and staff are doing this by moving ahead with development in the areas around the Evergreen line stations. This has many beneficial effects, not the least of which is to supply of more market housing, which helps moderate price pressure.
Things are moving especially fast in the Burquitlam area, which is seeing an explosion of medium-density construction, and in the core City Centre area, which is seeing major high-density (high-rises!) construction.
So, you'd think that a developer that was planning a medium-density mixed commercial-residential development in the shoulder area of a rapid-transit station, and also within the City's transit-development-friendly "Transit-oriented Development Strategy" (TDS) growth area (see the adjacent map), would be welcomed with open arms by Coquitlam.
But that was not the case on Monday night. The staff report on the proposal by Epix Developments strongly recommended that Council not approve the project because the "City Centre Area Plan Update" has not been completed, and because moving the proposal forward would strain the planning department's resources.
In the end, the majority of Council agreed and voted 4-3 to reject the plan. And that's a shame.
I voted on the losing side to move it forward because I believe the public has the right to have their say on this proposed development, which appears to be a fine fit for the area: it's close to Port Moody's Inlet Centre Station and will be even closer to a Falcon station, should one ever be built. It's on a piece of land that has been empty for decades. It's close to existing townhouses and commercial areas. And it's in the City Centre TDS Area (it is on the left side of the red City Centre TDS in the above map).
The developers have been told they now have to wait a few years--a delay that is sure to cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in carrying costs.
In a way, Epix is a victim of Coquitlam's success in attracting Evergreen-related development. I have no doubt that the planning department is up to its eyeballs in work. But it's still a pity that we couldn't find the time and resources to allow this project to move ahead.
Here's a link to the Tri-City News' story on the issue.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Time to exercise your franchise

And so, we are now just a week and a half away from the October 26 by-election to elect two new members to Coquitlam Council. Today is marked by two firsts: the first of four advance polls. And the first of two all-candidates meetings.
The advance poll is at the Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex, and runs from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. The next one is Oct. 19 at the Pinetree Community Centre, followed by one on Oct. 23 back at Poirier, and then the final one on Oct. 25 at Pinetree once again. Click here to see all the times and addresses.
On election day proper, you'll be able to cast your vote at any one of 11 polling stations. Click here to see the complete list.
Tonight's all-candidates meeting is at 7 p.m. at the David Lam campus of Douglas College. The second and final all-candidates meeting is tomorrow night at Banting Middle School. Click here for the details.
A healthy voter-turnout is important for many reasons, not the least of which is because it has the positive effect of diluting the impact of the left-wing CUPE electoral machine, which has shown it can deliver a sufficient number of voters to take control of a by-election in which there is a low overall voter turnout. On the other hand, CUPE's impact in a general election is diluted because of the greater voter turnout.
Doug Macdonell and MLA Linda Reimer
And why is keeping the CUPE machine in check important? Simply because I believe that voters should be concerned that an organization with a direct and ongoing financial link to the city (which CUPE has, because it represents more than a thousand workers who are paid by the city) also fields a slate of carefully selected candidates.
Can you imagine the uproar if any other organization with a direct financial link to the city (such as Smithrite, which has a contract to deliver garbage-collection and recycling services to the city) were to field a similar slate of candidates?
For the record, the two CUPE-backed candidates in this election are Chris Wilson and Bonita Zarrillo. Both appear to be strong candidates on their own right, but when Zarrillo asked me if I would endorse her, I said that, on principle, I could not.
On the other hand, I have made public the fact that I have endorsed Doug Macdonell, whose website you can visit by clicking here. I believe that his record of accomplishment during his previous time on council warrants his return.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Some thoughts on modern morality

The Tri-Cities Now is asking its readers why they think there are so many hit-and-run crimes these days. The choices that readers can select range from "I don't know, but it's scary," to "Drivers don't want to face the consequences." I chose the latter.
The poll appears to have been sparked by the recent hit-and-run death of Annie Leung and the current trial into the hit-and-run deaths on Lougheed Highway two years ago of Lorraine Cruz and Charlene Reaveley, in which Cory Slater is facing 10 charges.
I wrote an essay at the time of the Cruz and Reaveley deaths in which I explored some of the issues surrounding the tragedy. I can't remember where the essay was published, but I do recall I read it for an Internet webcast public-affairs program, Roadkill Radio, with which I was then associated. And, so, here's the text of that essay. I'd be interested in reading what you think of it.

Does anyone other than a dwindling minority of procrustean traditionalists recognize evil anymore—personal evil, that is? Oh, sure, there’s plenty of the geopolitical variety to go around these days, especially in North Africa. And there’s more than enough being identified on the national stage by perpetually outraged critics within this country too, most notably by those on the political left, who eagerly attach the E word to everything from corporate profits and free trade to the oil sands and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s piano playing.
But we rarely hear about individual Canadians doing “bad” things, exhibiting sinister behavior, acting wickedly, or carrying on immorally, let alone sinning.
Instead, there’s always some sort of exculpating explanation for bad behaviour. Shoplifters suffer from kleptomania; corrupt officials have succumbed to stress or have manifested a previously undiagnosed psychiatric disorder; prostitutes are victims of the patriarchy, poverty or both; juvenile delinquents are the recipients of inadequate parenting; inner-city gangsters are victims of racial discrimination; and thieves are impoverished or addicted, and, if the latter, are surely not responsible for the burden of the illness under which they are labouring. You get the picture.
Look at the website promoting the recent Pink Shirt Day/anti-bullying campaign—a cause that should easily give rise to descriptions of bullies acting wickedly, etc.—and you’ll see therapeutic twaddle aplenty along with much vigorous exhortation to get to the root of the problem, etc., but nothing about the plain and simple fact bullies are acting immorally.
Which brings me to Exhibit A, otherwise known as the spark that gave life to this particular column. You might have heard of a horrible hit-and-run accident in Coquitlam, B.C., two weeks ago which left two young women dead. In covering the aftermath of the crash, which included the laying of several charges against a suspect, including two counts of impaired driving causing death, a local newspaper turned to a clinical psychologist from Simon Fraser University for some “insight” into “what might lead someone to flee the scene” of a serious accident without giving help.
Dr. Joti Samra is quoted thusly: “Assuming that it’s a true accident, the reality is… even from the perspective of the person that caused the accident, it can be quite traumatic and cause an acute stress reaction.” Got that? Acute stress reaction.
The good doctor goes on to explain that the brain could be flooded with information and emotion that would cause a person to act unusually. “The fight or flight response is something we’re exposed to when we are faced with extreme traumatic events,” Dr. Samra concludes. “Our body kind of goes into a shock, it doesn’t know what to do.”
Notice the focus on the culprit’s body and not his mind? I suppose it’s true that this human-as-hormonal-machine answer is what you’d expect from a clinical psychologist, whose business, of course, is to produce exactly this sort of pseudo-scientific analysis. But there’s no excuse for the news media to limit their probing into human behaviour to “experts” such as Dr. Samra. Why not someone with some grasp of the profundity of human existence, someone like a novelist, a moral philosopher or a religious leader-- someone who recognizes we’re more than just pre-programmed biological machines?
To my mind, it would be a welcome relief—and far more enlightening—to hear some real  insights into moral character, the dark origins of personal cowardice, or the nature of evil in circumstances such as these. And so, for example, when asked why a driver might flee the scene of an accident in which he had struck two innocent people, a priest might comment that such a person had become alienated from God, had too easily succumbed to temptation, and had become a sinner in need of redemption.
This would be really useful information as far as I’m concerned, and might also help many readers reflect more deeply on their responsibility—indeed, their duty—to act in a moral fashion.
But, of course, in this secular, humanistic era of ours, we see very little serious discussion about evil in the public square. Perversely, one is more likely to find scintillatingly descriptive words, purring about the concept of evil, in advertisements attempting to induce a consumer to indulge in some sort of deliciously sinful wickedness for an affordable price. Moral inversion to sell chocolate pudding.
A recent full-page newspaper advertisement for Volvo is a perfect example of this lamentable trend. Emblazoned above an image of a shiny red S60 model, the ad copy informs us, “There’s more to life than a Volvo. Like raising a little hell with 300 horses, spanking corners with your all-new sport-tuned chassis. And feeling a little dangerous in a car tricked out with safety technology. That’s why you drive the all-new naughty Volvo S60.” (Emphasis added.)

A 16th-Century proverb holds, “Evil doers are evil dreaders.” Today, however, evil doers are either the next patient for the couch or a target market.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Riverview visioning launched

I placed a note on my Facebook page yesterday about a major announcement re the future of the Riverview lands. Here is the text of the official BC government press release on the issue:

October 7th, 2013
Lace-like leaves at Riverview. (Photo by Terry O'Neill)
VICTORIA- The B.C. Government introduced a visioning process today for consulting the public and stakeholders on the future use of the Riverview lands.

The Province will work with stakeholders to establish a shared vision to guide the broader public consultations that begin in 2014.

The visioning process will be inclusive of all stakeholders and be guided by a number of over-arching principles including:

All costs associated with future use such as heritage building restoration, infrastructure upgrades and improvements, community amenities etc. must come from revenue generated from the property; a commitment to maintain as much open space as exists now; an accommodation of First Nation aspirations.

Riverview is not part of the Province’s Release of Surplus Assets for Economic Generation program. The long-term objective is to develop a master development plan for the land that balances community interests, government requirements and economic sustainability.

Media Contact:
Elaine McKay
BC Housing
778 452-6476