"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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Canada Post delivers some spin

I continue to be disappointed that something for which our Eagle Ridge neighbourhood fought with so much vigour three decades ago--door-to-door mail delivery--is being abandoned without any apparent effort to find a middle-ground solution, such as limiting door-to-door delivery to Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays only (and Tuesdays and Thursdays the following week).
Municipalities throughout Canada also continue to be upset, and have used the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to bring their concerns to Canada Post President and CEO Deepak Chopra. Mr. Chopra has now sent a letter to the FCM explaining Canada Post’s five-year phasing out of home delivery, starting in late 2014. Here is the text of that letter:

January 29, 2014
Dear Municipal Leader
Last month we announced a five-point plan to protect the postal service in a world in which digital communication is rapidly replacing traditional mail. In a key initiative, Canada Post will convert the remaining five million addresses that have door-to-door delivery to community mailbox delivery. This will occur over the next five years. I would like to assure you that the transition of delivery service in your community will be handled responsibly and with respect.
While the majority of Canadians will not see any change to how their mail is delivered, a fair number will be impacted. As we carefully plan our next steps, I would like to share with you the guiding principles that will govern our approach in the communities that are affected:
• We recognize that dense urban cores in our larger cities, with their older neighbourhoods and smaller lots, present different challenges for locating community mailboxes than suburban areas. With this in mind, we will leave the majority of these areas until the final stage of this multi-year project. We will take the necessary time to understand their unique needs and find solutions that work for these neighbourhoods.
• We will be sensitive to the needs of seniors and of disabled Canadians. We are developing alternative approaches for people with significant mobility challenges, who lack viable alternatives and upon whom delivery to a community mailbox would impose an unacceptable hardship.
• There will be no change in delivery to people living in apartment buildings, seniors’ buildings and condominiums who already have mail delivered in the building lobby. In addition, customers who have mail delivered to a rural mailbox (a customer-owned mailbox at the end of a driveway) will not be affected by this change.
• We will work with community leaders and municipal planning officials to choose safe and appropriate sites.
• We will seek the views of affected citizens directly, through multiple channels including surveys and online feedback tools.
• We will be as innovative and flexible as possible, while being responsible towards our goal to protect the financial sustainability of postal service for all Canadians. We will look at various solutions and different equipment, taking the necessary time to address any significant challenges in a given community.
• We will respect the needs of businesses to have mail delivered to their door. The vast majority of business addresses will continue to have mail and parcels delivered to their door and will experience no change.
The businesses that will continue to have delivery to the door are located in well-established business areas, such as main streets or “business corridors”; or receive a relatively large volume of mail or parcels.
This initiative is a crucial aspect of our plan to protect and sustain postal service for Canadians, both today and for tomorrow. As we execute it, I intend to see that we live up to our special responsibility to serve every Canadian and every community. We are committed to doing this in a thoughtful way, and to keeping you informed as this initiative unfolds.
Yours sincerely,
Deepak Chopra
President and CEO
Canada Post Corporation

Monday, January 27, 2014

Just say no to campaign-spending limits

The provincial government is asking for public feedback on proposals to limit campaign spending, and has set the end of this month as a deadline for receiving such feedback. The issue has been generating some headlines of late.
Being a civic-minded fellow, I decided to take up the invitation and offer my two-cents worth. Below, you'll find the text of a press release I've just issued on my submission, followed by the text of the submission itself.

News Release
For Immediate Release
January 27, 2014

Coquitlam Councillor says campaign-spending limits would be unfair and harmful to new and independent candidates

COQUITLAM – City of Coquitlam Councillor Terry O’Neill says the Province should not impose campaign spending limits on civic politicians because such limits would not only constitute an attack on free speech, but could also hurt the electoral chances of new and/or non-affiliated candidates.
In a submission to the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, which is seeking feedback on Local Government Elections Reform, O’Neill says candidates’ fundamental Charter right to freedom of expression would be jeopardized by spending limits, which would have the effect of  limiting the number of advertisements, flyers and other forms of promotion that candidates might use during a campaign.
“I do not believe that something as important as an election campaign, which involves two fundamental aspects of our democracy – free elections and free speech, should face the sort of restrictions being considered,” O’Neill says.
O’Neill also fears that new candidates, who face an uphill battle to get their names known, would have one hand tied behind their back if spending limits were imposed.
As well, O’Neill suggests that independent and non-affiliated candidates would be similarly handicapped, because they might lose one of the only options they have— sizeable advertising budgets—to try to level the playing field with slates, parties and other electoral machines that can draw on large numbers of campaign volunteers.
“It’s important that the provincial government give careful consideration to this important area of our democracy,” O’Neill concludes. “Victoria should be wary of any new campaign-spending rules that not only undermine our fundamental rights but also stack the cards in favour of big electoral machines at the expense of new and-or independent candidates.”
CONTACT: Terry O’Neill, 604.362.3251. toneill@coquitlam.ca
(Coquitlam Council is meeting Monday Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. and will have only limited breaks until about 9 p.m.)


To: Local Government Elections Reform
Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development
PO Box 9847 Stn PROV GOVT
Victoria, B.C. V8W 9T2
From: Terry O’Neill
Councillor, City of Coquitlam
Home: 1331 Steeple Drive,
Coquitlam, BC, V3E 1K3

Re: Feedback on Expense Limits in Local Elections
If there are to be new campaign-expense rules, I believe that the Task Force’s suggestions are headed in the right direction. However, my submission today will, in fact, oppose the concept of setting campaign-expense ceilings.
Thoughts on some of the Task Force’s major findings:
1.       The Province would set expense limits. I agree. If there is to be a mechanism in place, then the Province is the natural place where these should be set.
2.       Elections BC would enforce the limits. Again, I agree.  This body is already involved in election monitoring, and enforcing campaign-expenditure rules would be a natural extension of its current work.
3.       Expense limits would apply in school-board elections. Yes, if there are to be limits, it’s only fair to have them applied to the election of trustees as well as mayors and councillors.
4.       Population size would be taken into account in setting expense limits. I agree, but would take it even further. If there are to be limits, they must take into account not only the population of the jurisdiction, but also the physical size. A candidate running for office in a town of 10,000 that is concentrated into one square kilometre would likely have an easier time reaching voters during a campaign that a candidate in a town of 10,000 that is spread over a 100-square-kilometre area. The former might be able to easily hand-deliver flyers, for example, while the latter might have to employ a more expensive delivery method, such as Canada Post.
5.       Expense limits would apply not only to candidates, but also elector organizations and third-party advertisers.  Again, I am in general agreement with this; if there is to be a new regulatory system, then it seems fair to have it applied to all aforementioned groups.
Philosophical objection to spending limits
Let us now turn our attention to the actual concept of campaign-expense limits. In fact, I oppose any limits. I believe such restrictions would infringe on fundamental freedoms as found in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 2. I quote:
 “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
  1. freedom of conscience and religion;
  2. freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
  3. freedom of peaceful assembly; and
  4. freedom of association.”

Specifically, I believe that any restriction on campaign spending would be a direct attack on Section 2.2, “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media communication.” Allow me to explain: Since the major part on one’s campaign involves communicating with the electorate, and since such communication involves the transmission of thoughts, beliefs, opinions and expressions through the press and other forms of communication such as flyers and posters, a restriction on campaign spending would have the effect of restricting the “fundamental right” of an individual to engage in that communication.
I understand that “reasonable restrictions” to Charter rights have been enacted, but I do not believe that something (an election campaign) that involves two such fundamental aspects of our democracy – free elections and free speech – should face the sort of restrictions being considered in the current exercise.
If a citizen decides to spend her life savings on an advertising campaign to support a civic cause or oppose a candidate, then let it be. If a candidate feels that being elected is so vital that he must take out a second mortgage to pay for a massive advertising campaign, then so be it. What’s important in both cases is that these people have the full and unfettered right to participate in democracy.
Practical objection to spending limits
Here, my objection to campaign-spending limits comprises related issues: unfair obstacles that such limits put in the way of new candidates; unfair obstacles that such limits put in the way of lone or unaffiliated candidates.
First, the new candidate. It’s a given that name recognition plays a large role in all politics, but it is an especially significant factor at the municipal level. For the new candidate, the biggest challenge is not only getting his or her platform in front of voters; it’s also—and, arguably, more importantly—getting his or her name known.  Either way, one sure-fire way of presenting oneself to voters is to spend money on advertising, signage and other promotional devices. It’s less important for incumbents to “put their name out there” because they are already relatively well-known. But campaign-spending limits would fetter a new candidate’s ability to spend freely to have his or her name become as well-known as an incumbent’s. Therefore, I submit that campaign-spending limits would have the unintended consequence of diminishing the opportunity for electoral success for newcomers, while favouring incumbents.
Second, the lone or non-affiliated candidate. Consider the situation facing the lone, non-affiliated candidate who is running against a candidate or candidates from a well-organized campaign slate, party or endorsement mechanism such as that regularly employed by labour/union, for example. In all likelihood, that lone candidate does not have an “election machine” supporting his or her candidacy—no supporter lists to work from, and no election-day teams to “get out the vote,” for example. What such a lone candidate would have the ability to do, however, is to match or even exceed the campaign spending of his or her rivals. But if that spending were limited by force of law, that lone candidate would face an unfair restriction on one of the only ways by which he or she might be able to achieve a level playing field.
We need to look deeper into the mechanics of a well-organized party, slate or endorsement body to truly appreciate the advantage they would be given over independent candidates should campaign-spending limits be put in place. Such bodies can attract many volunteers and often have extensive lists of possible supporters for those volunteers to call by phone, contact by email, or send letters to. With voter turnout for municipal elections being relatively low, these well-organized campaigns give their candidates a very tangible edge over any independent candidate.
This situation is both legal and fair under the current system because non-affiliated candidates always have the option to counter the “election machine” they are facing by spending more money on advertisements. That leveler disappears in a universe of campaign-spending limits, however. Such limits would not likely place any limit on the number of volunteers working for parties, slates or endorsement bodies, nor would they place any limit on the amount of hours those volunteers could work.  But they would limit the opportunities for non-affiliated candidates to level the field by spending extra funds to buy advertising and otherwise promote their candidacy.
In conclusion, I would argue that a campaign-expense limit would have the unintended consequence of handicapping both new and lone, independent or non-affiliated candidates, while inadvertently giving incumbents and slate- or party-backed candidates an advantage.  
Therefore, practically speaking, campaign-expense limitations would be unfair.
The need for timely disclosures
That said, I believe it is also important that the source of the funds being spent during an election campaign be disclosed in a full and timely way.  Although the issue of campaign donations is not the subject of this exercise, I believe that there would be less concern over campaign spending if voters were given full and timely information about the source of campaign donations.
On this subject, at present, campaign-expense documents need not be filed until several months after the campaign has ended. I believe that the Provincial Government should examine the feasibility of establishing a real-time, campaign-donation-reporting mechanism to enable voters have access to information on the source of a candidate’s funds before they cast their ballots, not after.
In Conclusion
Thank you for the opportunity to present this advice. These are important issues and deserve careful consideration.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Lacing up for Walk for Memories

Participants in the 2011 walk.  Good weather is also predicted for 2014!
We're hoping to see a big turnout on Sunday afternoon at the Hyde Creek Rec Centre in Port Coquitlam, as we launch the 2014 Investors Group Walk for Memories, in aid of the Alzheimer Society of B.C.
The walk, which I will MC, is one of a score of regional walks. Ours takes in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Burnaby, New Westminster, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.
Our honoree this year is Dr. Faisal Beg, a medical engineer at SFU, who is developing ways to detect the onset of Alzheimer Disease, even before the patient shows any symptoms.
Congratulations to all the organizers and volunteers, especially the society's Lori and volunteer extraordinaire Dawn, with whom I have had to pleasure of working for all the years (five now?) that I've MC'd the event.
Registration begins at noon. Opening ceremonies at 1 p.m. Walk from 1:30 p.m. til 3 or 4 p.m. You can get more information about the walk by clicking here.
Meantime, here is a press release on the subject that has just been distributed by the provincial government:

For Immediate Release
Jan. 24, 2014

Ministry of Health
Alzheimer Society of B.C.

Lace up and Walk for Memories

VICTORIA - Help support families living with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, by joining thousands of British Columbians for one of the Investors Group Walk for Memories taking place on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014.

Health Minister Terry Lake and MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson Todd Stone will be taking part in the Kamloops walk and Parliamentary Secretary for Seniors Linda Larson will lace up in Vancouver.

"Government is committed to ensuring that those with Alzheimer's and dementia have access to early diagnosis, treatment and support," said Lake. "We value the work that the Alzheimer Society of B.C. is doing to improve the lives of diagnosed individuals and I look forward to joining British Columbians of all ages this weekend to show support and raise awareness."

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive and degenerative neurological disease and is the most common form of dementia. At this time, the cause of Alzheimer's disease is unknown and there is no cure.
"We know the impact that Alzheimer's disease can have on diagnosed individuals and their families," said Larson. "The Investors Group Walk for Memories is an opportunity to bring families together to raise awareness and show support to those currently facing this heart-breaking disease." 

Fundraising through the Investors Group Walk for Memories helps people in British Columbia who are living with Alzheimer's disease or other dementias connect to a provincewide network of information, services and support. 

"Much of what we now know about Alzheimer disease has been learned within the last 15 years," said Maria Howard, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of B.C. "The Investors Group Walk for Memories literally brings us a step closer in the search for the cause of and the cure for dementia." 

The Investors Group Walk for Memories is an annual provincewide fundraising event for the Alzheimer Society of B.C. 
This year, the event will take place in 23 communities throughout British Columbia: Aldergrove, Barriere, Campbell River, Chetwynd, Chilliwack, Dawson Creek, Duncan, Fort Nelson, Fort St. John, Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, Nelson, Penticton, Port Alberni, Port Coquitlam, Prince George, Richmond, Smithers, Surrey, Vancouver,
Vernon and Victoria. 

"We are proud of our partnership with the Alzheimer Society of B.C.," said Murray Taylor, CEO of the Investors Group. "An event like this is just one way we can help to improve the lives of those living with Alzheimer's and dementia." 

There are currently up to 70,000 British Columbians living with Alzheimer's disease or related dementia. Government's Provincial Dementia Action Plan and dementia guidelines outline collaborative actions that can be taken by health-care professionals and caregivers to support diagnosed individuals through person-centred care.
"Supporting Alzheimer Awareness Month and the Walk for Memories is 
very important to me," said Stone. "I encourage all British 
Columbians who have had Alzheimer's or dementia touch them in their 
lives to join the conversation and help raise awareness." 

Learn More:

To find out about the Investors Group Walk for Memories in your community, please visit: www.walkformemories.com/

For more information about Alzheimer's disease and dementia, please visit the Alzheimer Society of B.C.'s website at: www.alzheimerbc.org

To read the provincial Dementia Action Plan, please visit: 

Media Contact:

Kristy Anderson
Media Relations Manager
Ministry of Health
250 952-1887 (media line)

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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mundy Forest must be for the people

Mundy Park (Photo: City of Coquitlam)
You’d be forgiven for thinking that there was little potential for controversy in relation to a forest-management plan for Mundy Forest, which is the subject of a press release issued today by the City of Coquitlam.
However, the plan was actually the subject of some rather intense discussion, initiated by yours truly, at Council-in-Committee's meeting on Monday afternoon.
My concern was centred squarely on the vision for the forest, specifically on whether the management plan would see actions taken to protect and enhance the forest primarily in
the name of “ecological integrity” or rather--and, more properly, I feel--for the enjoyment of the people of Coquitlam, for whom the forest, and the park itself, is a fabulous amenity..
I spoke to the issue at some length on Monday afternoon because my examination of staff documents involving the plan did, in fact, reveal a shift in the focus towards a Nature-first approach, something with which I most heartily disagreed because I believed it could lead to increasing exclusion of people from the park. We needed a balance, I said, in which a healthy park existed so that the people of Coquitlam could enjoy it to its fullest.
Mundy Park (Photo: City of Coquitlam)
In the end, I received a firm declaration from the acting GM of Parks, Recreation and Culture that the plan would reflect a more balanced approach than what was indicated in a key document that had sparked my investigation and ultimate presentation to committee. And that’s good.
So, if you’ll bear with me, I’ll walk you through the research I did and the conclusions I reached. First, from a report to committee dated March 4, 2013 (but actually presented to council in committee on March 11, 2013), comes this important vision statement:
‘The forest in Mundy Park provides tremendous benefits to the community, which are directly linked to the health and aesthetic qualities of the forest. Without a comprehensive Forest Management Plan (the "FMP") there is the risk that the pressures the Park faces such as insect and fungal pest infestations, wildfire, windstorms, invasive plant infestations, and unsanctioned uses may erode or eliminate the benefits residents currently enjoy.
Note, the emphasis here is on keeping the forest healthy so the citizens of Coquitlam can continue to enjoy the ‘tremendous benefits’ to the community that are linked to the health and aesthetic quality of the forest.  This, I believe, is the correct and proper vision.
But now, let’s look to Attachment 2 of Monday’s report, dated Aug 22, 2013, where we read about the mandate of the community focus group. I quote bullet three:
“To provide input on and support recommendations for the preservation and enhancement of the forest in Mundy Park and the benefits it provides for the community.”
Note the “and.” It’s important, and it represents a slight shift in focus. Let me explain. If this sort of statement were to adhere to the vision laid out last March, this “and” should have been the phrase “in order to” – as in “To provide input on and support recommendations for the preservation and enhancement of the forest in Mundy Park in order to provide benefits for the community.” But, with this new “and,” we see the focus shifting away from the original vision – that a healthy forest is needed to provide benefits to the citizens, to one in which the health of the forest (moreover, the “preservation and enhancement” of the forest) is a goal unto itself, and is merely a complementary goal to that of the benefits a healthy forest can provide to the community. This shift isn't particularly worrisome by itself, but took on new significance when read in relation to a more recent report.
Indeed, the whole vision thing gets particularly troubling with the staff report we considered on January 20. Look to page 3 of the main body of Monday's report, and we find the original vision sliding even further out of sight. Here, we read:
The key objective of the Forest Management Plan is to maintain the ecological integrity of the Park by allowing natural process to occur, with the intention of accommodating sensitive recreational uses while allowing the forest to reach the climax stage of maturity.”
Mundy Park (Photo: City of Coquitlam)
Get that? Where we started out by describing a vision that clearly stated the main reason for having a healthy forest was for the benefits to be derived by the citizens of Coquitlam, we now have a vision that declares the main reason that we intend to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to better manage this forest is – not to better serve the public – but, rather, to protect the forest’s “ecological integrity” [something, by the way, that I consider an impossibility in an urban setting] while merely "accommodating" use by the citizens – and only “sensitive” recreational uses at that.
I must note here that the Diamond Head Consulting report, which summarizes ideas coming from a workshop with the Community Focus Group, contains different wording yet again – including a Draft Vision Statement that is more in line with council’s original intent. This report is appended to the January 20 staff report.
But, regardless of that Draft Vision Statement wording, what’s important is how staff interprets and puts into action the wording. And, given the interpretation on page three of Monday’s report– where “sensitive recreational uses” are merely to be accommodated -- I feared that staff may be headed in a direction that is not in line with either council’s or the advisory committee’s intentions.
With all this explanation complete, I then told committee that, if we are going to spend all this time, effort and money, our primarily vision should be to maximize the benefit that this expenditure will deliver to our citizens. This is the view of Mundy Park that is held by the vast majority of Coquitlam residents, I'm sure.
Indeed, it would be a regrettable waste of taxpayers’ money if we proceed with a Forest Management Plan whose primary goal is to enhance impossible-to-achieve “ecological integrity” at the expense of protecting and improving the park so that the benefits to the residents of Coquitlam can be maximized.
I argued that we should return to the original vision, the one that received clear support from council and is reflected in the Community Focus Group’s Draft Vision Statement. I said that we needed to spell out very clearly that the goal of spending this money is not to foster a healthy urban forest primarily for its own sake, but rather so that it may continue to provide the tremendous benefits that it currently provides to the Citizens of Coquitlam.
And, in the end, I received very firm assurances that public use and forest protection/enhancement would go hand-in-hand, and that the forest would not be treated as some sort of pristine ecological preserve from which people would be excluded. And thank goodness for that!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A distorted view of history

Pres. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act, 1964. (Wikimedia Commons)
It's a relatively small thing, it's an American thing, and it's about something that happened 50 years ago.
But it still took only a few minutes for PBS's newest American Experience episode, about the year 1964, to get under my skin, to provoke me to mutter at the screen, and finally to inspire me to turn the program off in protest.
What so bothered me was the section of the show dealing with the U.S. Senate's passage of the historic Civil Rights Act. The episode made the unmistakable assertion that the bill risked defeat at the hands of filibustering Republicans and that it was only when some Republicans ended up being persuaded by Lyndon Johnson to change their minds that the bill became law.
But this assertion set off some alarm bells in my noggin. I know enough about American history of that era to know that Southern Democrats, not Republicans, were the main force against integration and equal rights for African-Americans.
Yes, there must have been some Republicans who opposed the bill and, yes, there must have been some Republicans who changed their minds and ended up supporting it. And those GOP senators may have even been the deciding factor. But surely, I thought, the major opposition to the bill must have come from Southern Democrats--and the PBS show didn't utter a peep about them.
And so I started a bit of online research and it took all of one minute to find this voting record in the Senate on the Civil Rights Act:
Democrats in favour, 46; opposed, 21. Republicans in favour, 27; opposed, 6. Far more Democratic Senators by number (21) and percentage (31%) opposed the civil rights bill than Republicans (6, 18%).
One would have thought that PBS would have found this worth noting. But one would have been wrong.
Perhaps if I had read the online description of the episode, offered on the PBS website, I would have been better prepared to accept the historical distortion it contained. Here's a slice of the "Introduction" the network provided for the show:
"In myriad ways, 1964 was the year when Americans faced choices: between the liberalism of Lyndon Johnson or Barry Goldwater's grassroots conservatism, between support or opposition to the civil rights movement, between an embrace of the emerging counterculture or a defense of traditional values."
Notice how neatly the sentence aligns "liberalism" and a Democratic president with support for civil rights, while at the same time aligning the Republican Party (Goldwater's) with opposition to civil rights? Yes, Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act but remember: 82% of Republican senators supported it.
And so, what's the bottom line? Is it more evidence to support the oft-made assertion (by US commentators like Rush Limbaugh and the like) that PBS has a left-wing or liberal bias? Does the big omission tell us something about the sorry state of American culture? Or does it simply make us aware that TV documentary-film makers can make mistakes? I have my suspicions. What are yours?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Still thinking of the Philippines

After Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines last November, I learned that the City of Coquitlam had a special relationship with a one of the hardest-hit cities, Ormoc, and I immediately started wondering whether we here could do anything, on a city-to-city basis, to assist in Ormoc's recovery. I am pleased to report that I have now received word from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) that discussion has started at the national level that may see some relief being offered.
Photo from: storify.com/ZackStieber/
First, some background. Coquitlam's relationship with Ormoc was not a "sister city" type one, but is better characterized as an "adopted little sister" type. Specifically, under a program funded by the FCM, Coquitlam shared some of its administrative expertise with Ormoc to assist it in modernizing city management. It's my understanding that some Coquitlam officials travelled to Ormoc several years ago to give first-hand instruction. And that's where the relationship ended.
Regardless of whether Ormoc is our "sister city" or merely an "adopted little sister," I still thought it was worthwhile exploring whether Coquitlam could do anything to help the city of 191,000 in its time of crisis. I learned that, under B.C.'s Community Charter, we are not allowed to provide any direct financial assistance, even a token amount.
However, I was pleased when Mayor Richard Stewart ended a council meeting late last year with a fine speech outlining our relationship with Ormoc and urging everyone to consider donating to a relief organization, such as the Red Cross.
Following all that, I contacted the FCM before the Christmas holidays to enquire about the possibility of it restarting the program that allowed Coquitlam to help Ormoc several years ago. I didn't hear back, so I sent another email this month, this time to a different address at the FCM, repeating my earlier question.
This week, I finally heard back. Here is the partial text of the response I received from Pascal Lavoie, Program Manager for Asia with FCM International:

First of all, I’d like to thank you for contacting us. The devastating event that occurred in the Philippines last October [sic] drew a lot of attention from our members. We appreciate your interest and support in seeking ways to provide assistance to the reconstruction effort that affected communities are facing.

At the moment, we don’t have programming in the Philippines anymore hence our capacity to get involved has been limited. We’ve expressed our support to national politicians and met with staff at DFATD (formerly CIDA) to offer our assistance and discuss opportunities to get involved in the reconstruction effort.

FCM is considering a program to help with the reconstruction phase. However it is unclear if will consider funding such an initiative. Our experience (with similar natural catastrophes in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Haiti) is that it takes some time to put such a program in place (12-18 months). At the moment, we are still at the stage of preliminary discussions.

And there you have it. It's certainly something to keep our eyes on throughout the year.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Factoring in assessed values for 2014

Our home in Eagle Ridge: The assessed value decreased this year.
If you're a homeowner, you probably received your 2014 Property Assessment Notice in the mail last week. And, if you're like many homeowners (especially the thousands of new homeowners in Coquitlam), you might be somewhat confused about the relationship between your property's assessed value and the property taxes you pay to the City every year. So, here's a basic explanation.
First, City Council decided last fall that it needed to raise revenue from residential property taxes by 2.8% in 2014 in order to cover the costs of inflation and increased services, such as the new fire hall on Burke Mountain and two new RCMP officers. This means that, if you own a typical residential property in Coquitlam, your property tax, for city purposes, will increase 2.8% this year.
Second, we must factor in the property assessment issued by the BC Assessment Authority. This year, the authority found that the average Coquitlam home decreased in value by 1.8% increase over last year. (By the way, the average single family home in Coquitlam is valued at $701,000.)
What this means is that, if your property value decreased by the average 1.8% this year, you'll be facing the above-mentioned 2.8% tax increase. But, if your property value decreased by less than that -- or increased --- you'll be paying an incrementally larger increase. If the value of your property declined even more than 1.8%, your tax increase will be less than 2.8%.
For the record, our 33-year-old home in Eagle Ridge was assessed at $624,000 this year, a decrease of $8,000 (or about 1.3%) compared to 2013.
Here's a link to a Tri-City News story about assessments in the province. Here's a link to the BC Assessment Authority website, where you can find pages that explain the process and let you know how you can appeal or complain about your assessed value; deadline for all complaints is January 31, 2014.
I hope this helps. Please feel free to contact me directly at toneill@coquitlam.ca if you have any questions or comments about any of this.
Note: This blog has now been updated with new figures regarding assessed values in Coquitlam.