Monday, March 18, 2024

A Tale Of Two Cities/Pools


Between the slowly deteriorating Vancouver Aquatic Centre and the rapidly deteriorating Kits Pool, residents of the Westside might be wondering where they are going to be able to go for a swim in the near future. The Aquatic Centre was recently partially closed for roof repairs after a power washing of the moss (that appears to be holding the facility together) caused pieces to fall off inside. This was only a year or so after the front of the building fell off thanks to a rusted out frame. Meanwhile over at Kits Pool the cumulative damage of winter storms and high tides have destroyed the seawall around the pool and cracked the deck to the extent that it is leaking 30,000 litres per hour.

In spite of an architectual firm being hired to design a new Aquatic Centre and money raised to pay for its construction there is still no information as to where or when it will be constructed, never mind if it will get built before the old facility collapses. As far as Kits Pool goes there is no plan or budget whatsoever for its repair or replacement. Is it any wonder the public is fed up with the Parks Board?

Hopefully by selecting the same firm UBC used to redesign their swimming facility we might end up with something that takes advantage of the stunning oceanside location and makes use of glass and light instead of the brutalist bunker style design we've had to put up with for the past 50 years.

While there is hope the new Aquatic Centre may be built in the next 5-10 years, sadly there is no timeline for Kits Pool. For anyone wanting an outdoor, next to the ocean, swimming experience the only other pool is at 2nd Beach. Built in 1996 the public is still waiting 28 years later for the changing facilities, washrooms, and showers that have been promised and not built. Yet another example of Parks Board incompetence.

There is however another possible solution for combining an indoor and outdoor experience and for that we could look at what Paris has done in time for the 2024 Olympics. Here they have taken a 100 year old facility (built for the 1924 Olympics) and completely renovated it with a retractable roof. Swimmers have the best of both worlds (indoor and outdoor) and 90% of the construction waste will be reused or recycled.

A little wit and imagination can go a long way in solving problems if there is a will to look at options and take a lead in addressing issues instead of ignoring them until everything falls apart. Swimming pools are a vital component of city life and we need to demand more from our elected officials in how they are designed and maintained. Getting rid of the Parks Board is a start.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

In The Long Run


Like most other homeowners in B.C. I recently received my 2024 Property Assessment Notice and the first thing I noticed about the taxable value (which is 4.5 times what I originally paid for the property) is that the land value makes up 85% of the total and the building itself is only 15% of the total. My apartment is in Vancouver's west end, where older buildings are selling for $1,000.00 per square foot and newer ones anywhere from $1,500.00 - $3,000.00 per square foot. However, according to various sources, the actual construction cost is only between $100-$300 per square foot and the rest is all land cost.

Clearly it isn't the cost of construction that is driving the insane prices that have plagued the Greater Vancouver area over the past 20 years, it's the land values. And when you consider that buildings only depreciate in value as they age, the numbers are even more disturbing. But, rather than point fingers at what may or may not be the forces behind this rise in property values, perhaps this is an opportunity to look at things a little differently in order to solve a problem that is vexing anyone who lives here.

Instead of trying to own the land, why not just lease it instead? It's the new model for any land the First Nations own and are developing. It's also the way the kings, queens, and assorted nobility in the U.K. do it. Go ahead and try to buy land in Mayfair or Knightsbridge, you can only lease. You can own your apartment or townhouse but not the land it sits on. For that you have options, like paying a monthly lease payment or having the lease payment built into the cost of the apartment. The lease can be 100 years or more and it can also be renewed when it expires. 

The trouble with leased land in Vancouver is there isn't much of it. Most of the land around the south side of False Creek is city owned land on lease to the various tenants but the vast majority of land is freehold. So how can we free up more land for leasing?

The proposed Jericho development is one place. Here the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, who have bought the land, have formed a company called MST Developments and their plan is to develop the site with a mix of 13,000 rentals and leasehold condos. In keeping with their philosophy that nobody can really own the land, the First Nations are taking a long term rental/lease approach that will provide them with an income stream that lasts forever.

Perhaps another contributing factor to Vancouver's high land prices is the exceptionally low property tax rates. Raising the rates would not only provide the city with more revenue to support parks, recreation, and transit services, it would make the land less attractive to investors and lower the price. But with Vancouver property owners mostly land rich and cash poor perhaps a program, whereby the government buys back the land from individuals and then leases it to them on a monthly basis, would be a way to add more leasehold property to the available inventory and build up an income stream that would last into perpetuity.

Under this plan people could still buy and sell their home but without ownership of the land the price would be easily affordable to just about anyone. A brand new 2,000 square foot home would be no more than $600,000.00 and an older home would be considerably cheaper as it would be depreciating every year. Instead of thinking of a home as an investment it should be viewed as an affordable place to live and raise a family. Let the government and First Nations own the land it's the most cost effective solution in the long run.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Life & Death In Stanley Park


There have been a couple of sights in and around Stanley Park that have really caught the eye of the locals lately. One of them is the collection of sea lions, seals, and seagulls that have suddenly congregated around the end of Coal Harbour. They have all come for the herring which have mysteriously appeared and are providing a surprise Xmas feast. 

Herring used to be the most plentiful fish in B.C. until the commercial fishery nearly wiped them out in the 1960's. This had a profound impact on First Nations culture and the coastal ecosystem. Herring are one of the most important fish in B.C. as they are the principle diet of other fish, seabirds, and sea mammals and are critical to the diet of Chinook salmon which in turn are the primary food source of the Southern Resident Orcas. 

Herring spawn by the millions with each female laying 10,000 eggs or more, and when the males release their milt to fertilize the eggs they turn the ocean into a milky aquamarine colour that can stretch for miles along the coastline. Unlike salmon, herring are repeat spawners and once they have matured they can live for up to 10 years. However, just like salmon they have a homing instinct that allows them to return to where they were originally born.

A group called the Squamish Streamkeepers has been successful in re-introducing herring to False Creek using artificial spawning substrate panels for the eggs to lie on instead of eel grass, the native spawning substrate. In 2021 they expanded the program to Coal Harbour. But another key factor are dock pilings, which in the past used to be creosote which is basically toxic to herring. New docks, like the ones at the end of Coal Harbour, made out of concrete and steel provide a habitat that is more conducive to spawning herring. It takes 3 years for the eggs to hatch and mature at sea but it seems the program is a success as evidenced by the feeding frenzy going on. Hopefully they won't eat everything and the fish will have a chance to spawn.

Meanwhile over in the Park itself another type of harvest is underway, and one not nearly as positive, as workers try to cull all of the infected hemlock trees. Over the past 5 years an ongoing infestation of the Western hemlock looper moth has devastated the Stanley Park forest as well as many trees in North and West Vancouver. While it's a native insect that normally attacks trees in 20 year cycles, conditions have allowed the moths to persist way beyond their normal time frame and now a staggering 166,000 trees have to be cut down in order to prevent injuries from dead and dying trees.

According to the Forest Service the Western hemlock looper is one of the most destructive forest defoliators in B.C. They overwinter as eggs laid on the bark and then hatch in late spring. The larvae then feed heavily on the foliage of mature stands throughout the summer. The larvae are wasteful feeders gobbling up both new and old foliage and leaving behind partially consumed needles. In late summer the larvae pupate and are in flight until early fall.

Severe defoliation leads to top kill and tree mortality and if you walk through the Park you can see that almost every hemlock tree is nothing but black branches and the trees are all dying. It's a sad and depressing forest and a huge mess to clean up. Fortunately the Red Cedar and Douglas Fir trees seem to be spared. Most of the wood is being left behind as nursery logs but the branches and brush have to be cleared away in order to not become fuel for a forest fire which is increasingly becoming a real possibility.

So on one side of the Park we have what looks like a successful return of the herring while inside the Park the trees are dying at a furious rate. It's Life and Death in Stanley Park but it sure provides a lot of photo opportunities.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad


As 2023 comes to an end and we take a breather on all the horrific events of the year it's nice to reflect on some of the things that went well in our own backyard. With the voters having kicked out the grossly incompetent and ideologically deranged park board commissioners at the end of 2022, the new ABC commissioners got busy cleaning up the mess that had been left behind. By summer the Parks Board and City engineering crews had removed the mix of concrete barriers and cones that had created a separate bike lane and a traffic nightmare for all other forms of transportation, not to mention nearly bankrupting all the restaurants in the Park. It was an incredible waste of money to set up the barriers and almost as much to remove them, but common sense finally prevailed and the Park is once again open to everyone.

The beloved Stanley Park train had also been out of commission for the past two years thanks to Parks Board neglect. Qualified mechanics are hard to find, as are the parts yet, in spite of the train being a revenue generator and year round public favourite, with specially decorated trains at Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. But the Parks Board just let the whole operation grind to a halt. Thankfully once again the new Parks Board took stock of things and managed to get the train back up and running in time for the Christmas season.

The other major item of neglect of course is the heavily used Vancouver Aquatic Centre, which has been decaying right before the eyes of the Parks Board for a number of years. The budget for a replacement facility was also approved in the last election but unfortunately it takes a lot of time to design and build a facility of this magnitude. The obvious solution would be to keep the existing Aquatic Centre operating while the new one is built alongside it in the vacant Sunset Beach parking lot, but the Parks Board haven't been very forthcoming on the timeline or location of the new facility. At least the Parks Board has selected an architect to start the process but there's clearly a lot more to be done.

In the meantime Stanley Park has been completely taken over by an epidemic of the nasty Looper Moth which has consumed 25% of the Park's trees (hemlock in particular) and a massive logging operation is now underway to remove the hazard of 160,000 dead trees. It's a natural occurence, like bark beetles, but that's small comfort to a Parks Board trying to do their best in dealing with something that for once isn't of their own making. At the end of 2023 fixing two out of three problems isn't bad and I wish them good luck with cleaning up the mess in the forest.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Orange Shirt Day/Orange Is The New Black


National Truth & Reconciliation Day or, Orange Shirt Day, as it is more commonly referred to, is slowly starting to become a part of the national consciousness and that has to be a good thing on many levels. Sadly, it took the discovery of children's graves on the grounds of residential schools to finally give us a collective wake-up call but it worked. Through the story of a little 6 year old girl, who had her new orange shirt stripped off and taken away on her first day at the Mission school, we now have a recognizable symbol for the movement that is now engaged in a wide range of initiatives seeking redress for past wrongs.

And it's about time, because ignoring the abusive and discriminatory treatment of First Nations people is turning out to be a very expensive head-in-the-sand approach. The horrific, well documented, and ongoing saga of the residential school abuses has at long last wound its way through the legal system and survivors have been collectively awarded $3 billion in compensation. A further $23 billion was later awarded to First Nations for the discriminatory underfunding of Child and Family Services programs and to implement the Jordon's Principle, a child-first, needs-based policy to provide access to all government funded services to all First Nations children whether they live on or off a reserve.

Even before First Nations groups were tricked into surrendering title to their lands on the prairies, so that railways could be built and farming homesteads could be established, they signed away title in 1850 to land around Lake Superior and Lake Huron in a pair of agreements called the Robinson Treaties. Negotiated by William Robinson, the treaties provided the Province of Canada access to the north shores of Lakes Huron and Superior for settlement and mineral extraction. In exchange, the Indigenous people of the region got hunting and fishing rights that lasted until the lands were settled, a one time payment, and an annual annuity $1.60 per person with an "escalator clause" that would increase as the revenues from the lands increased. In 1874 the annuity was increased to $4.00 per person but never increased afterwards, in spite of the hundreds of billions of profits generated by industry since. In 2019 this led to a retroactive court claim that was settled in 2023 for $10 billion for the Robinson-Huron treaty. The Robinson-Superior treaty case is still ongoing but First Nations are asking for $100 billion.

In the 1870's, when the so-called numbered treaties 1-7 were being signed to provide land for settlers on the prairies, reserves were also set up for the First Nations people, along with the provision for seeds, some tools, and supplies in the event of crop failure. The reserves were to enable them to make the transfer to an agricultural way of life now that the bison had been wiped out and, in the beginning, many of the First Nation farmers were quite successful. However, their success soon led to settler animosity and, in 1889, the government introduced the Peasant Farm Policy which restricted the types of tools First Nations could use, how much they could grow, and what they were allowed to sell. Farms were reduced to 40 acres, machinery was forbidden, and all planting and harvesting had to be done by hand. These policies soon put most of the First Nations farmers out of business and their reserve farmlands were then sold by the government to new settlers because the government claimed they weren't using the land properly. 

As much as 20% of First Nations reserves were illegally sold off by the government between 1896-1911 and this continued up until the 1930's. To make matters worse the money collected by the government on the land sales wasn't always turned over to the band it belonged to. However, in recent years lawsuits were filed against the government to contest the illegal surrender of reserve land and, more than $3.5 billion has since been awarded to 56 claimants. This past August the Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation alone was awarded $150 million, the maximum allowable. 

British Columbia has the distinction of being the only Canadian Province to not have signed any treaties with the First Nations to get them to surrender their lands. B.C. First Nations, having learned from the mistakes of others, will never surrender title to their land now but this omission has led to countless court battles over their rights to control what happens to their territories. (Delgamuukw, Tsilhqot'in, Nisga'a etc.) This past week the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that First Nations must be consulted before any mineral claims are made in their territories. This ruling promises to have a profound impact on the current system for awarding mineral claims and other resource development.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides a framework for reconciliation, healing and peace, as well as harmonious and cooperative relations based on the principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, non-discrimination and good faith, and this has been affirmed by both the Federal and Provincial governments. After all the court cases and residential school discoveries, surely it's time for all of us to realize the injustice needs to stop and we need to work harder and faster on reconciliation. Orange shirt day has been with us for three years now and every year more and more orange shirts can be spotted on the streets. The more orange the better because orange is the new black in this country and it's about time.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Flying The Unfriendly Skies Of Air Canada

The latest complaint to surface about Air Canada has really taken first prize for customer abuse and it almost seems like the airline is running an internal contest to shock and awe its passengers. To try and force people to sit on a seat covered in vomit, throw them off the plane when they refused, and then make them pay for another ticket to fly home after threatening to put them on a no-fly list is like hitting a grand slam. Sadly this complaint is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to customer service with Air Canada, already at the bottom of the pile for North American airlines when it comes to reliability.

The tales of lost luggage, missed connections, lousy food, unsympathetic staff, and other horror stories plague all the airlines but the arrogance of Air Canada is in a league of its own and everyone has a favourite one they like to share. The fact that it's basically a monopoly is part of the problem but it's also the toothless/non-existent Passenger Rights in this country that allow Air Canada to flout its arrogance with such impunity. But it wasn't always this way.

In the good old days flying was an exciting pleasure, not something you fretted over and dreaded. Friends and family could join you for a farewell drink at the airport bar before you boarded your flight and there were often standby passengers at the boarding gate hoping to get a cut-rate seat on the airplane if the flight wasn't sold out. If you had a change of plans you could sell your ticket to anyone and the airline didn't care as it was yours to do with what you wanted. 

Nobody had to show any ID and you certainly didn't have to have your luggage torn open, your belt and shoes removed, and all your liquid toiletries stuffed into a separate plastic bag. Your baggage would always arrive at its proper destination and there wasn't a charge for bringing it with you. Overhead bins were for small carry on bags and briefcases, and there was even a closet to hang suits and coats. 

Once everyone was comfortably seated, with a decent amount of leg room, a pleasant looking stewardess with a friendly disposition would come around after take-off and ask if you would like a cocktail. On overseas flights drinks of course were free and, after a couple of hours, a tasty dinner would be served, complete with real cutlery, cloth napkins and your choice of wine. Then, when the dishes had all been cleared away, coffee and liqueurs would be served.

People used to get dressed up when they went on a flight, just like they used to when they went to work, most people were reasonably slim and trim so they fit into their seats, and flying was considered a step up from riding a bus. Not anymore. The cabin of a typical airplane now resembles a third world bus full of overweight passengers wearing beach wear and gym clothes and carrying bundles, baskets, and cages of half-dead chickens.

The trouble with airline travel is that, on top of the ridiculous security precautions everyone has to endure, it has become a race to the bottom. Everyone is looking for the cheapest ticket rather than the best service and, as a result, the whole experience has deteriorated into a glorified bus ride (unless of course you can afford to travel first class) with airlines doing everything they can to cut costs. Add to that a lack of competition and you have a perfect storm for guaranteeing a miserable experience.

There's an old saying that it's the journey not the destination that counts and with airline travel such a frustration it's no wonder train travel is making a comeback and cruising is more popular than ever. Yes airline travel is quicker but it's certainly not as pleasant and, with airline travel contributing to 10% of global emissions, it's not very environmentally friendly either. Sadly there's no going back to the glory days of air travel but the skies can be a lot more friendly if we simply avoid having anything to do with Air Canada. 

Friday, June 2, 2023

Time To Abolish The RCMP


150 years ago in 1873, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) were established to maintain peace and order in the Canadian North-West territories following the handover of Ruperts Land to Canada from the Hudson's Bay Company. Spurred on by the recent Cypress Hills massacre where a group of American bison hunters/whiskey traders had slaughtered 30 Assiniboine warriors, women and children and, fearful of U.S. Army intervention if the Assiniboine retaliated, the NWMP combined military, police, and judiciary functions in a highly mobile, group of mounted riflemen. Although they got off to a rough start establishing their base of operations the NWMP quickly stopped the whiskey trade and earned the support of various First Nations in the process. However with the passage of the Indian Act in 1876, relations with First Nations quickly deteriorated.

The first issue was the illegal "pass system" brought in by the federal government that forced First Nations people to obtain a travel document from an Indian agent that would authorize them to leave and return to their reserves. It was another way of controlling the movement of Indigenous people and to prevent them from having large gatherings which the white settlers viewed as a threat. In conjunction with the "permit system" which regulated what types of produce Indigenous people could sell and where, and other discriminatory policies, the economic opportunities for First Nations farmers were severely limited. Both the pass and permit systems were enforced by the NWMP in spite of not being legal and this fact was kept from Indigenous people until the 1930s-40s when it was finally abolished.

But all of this pales in comparison to the RCMP's complicity or role as truant officers for the Canadian Indian residential School system from 1920 - 1996 (in 1920 the NWMP became the RCMP). Using force to assist Indian agents in taking children away from their parents and placing them in the various now notorious schools, the RCMP were direct participants in the cultural genocide of four or more generations of Indigenous people. Enforcing the pass system also prevented parents from visiting their children and stopped the children from returning home.

In modern times there have been no shortage of heavy handed RCMP tactics when confronted with Indigenous protests with the Wet'suwet'en blockade being the latest in a series that included the 1995 Gustafsen Lake stand-off in 1995, the Oka Crisis in 1990, and the 1993 Clayquot Sound & 2020 Fairy Creek old growth logging protests. Despite the unarmed and mostly peaceful nature of the occupations the RCMP continue to send in heavily armed tactical teams, police dogs, and helicopters at great expense to uphold court injunctions for corporations operating in unceded territory and ends up enflaming both sides.

But by far the greatest modern stain on the RCMP track record is the inaction and cavalier approach to dealing with the shocking number of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Although Indigenous women make up only 4% of Canada's female population, they make up 24% of all the murdered women. While activists claim there are thousands of improperly investigated cases of missing and murdered women owing to police bias and racism, the RCMP themselves have acknowledged over 1,000 murdered Indigenous women over the past 30 years while the National Women's Association claims over 4,000. The RCMP claim they have solved 80% - 90% of all cases which still leaves over 100 unsolved including the 20+ along the infamous Highway of Tears in northern B.C.

Brenda Lucki

Then of course there is the violence and sexual assaults against female RCMP officers by their male counterparts that has now resulted in a class-action lawsuit against the RCMP by the over 500 women who came forward to represent over 3,500 claimants. All this while the RCMP is headed by a woman, Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who is helpless in dealing with the systemic racism, homophobia, and sexism that make up the force's culture. And while women make up over 21% of the RCMP, only 7% of the force are Indigenous people.

And to cap things off there is now the ongoing investigations into multiple members of the Prince George RCMP for the killing of an Indigenous man while in police custody and, even more disturbing, the sexual abuse and harassment of at least 10 Indigenous girls that involved a now deceased judge and a number of police officers. The worse thing about the case is the cover ups, obstruction of justice, and destruction of evidence that has been going on for 20 years since it was first reported and the lack of any charges being filed against the officers involved in spite of repeated promises to look into the matter. It took a retired RCMP officer to file a complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission to finally get a 33 page report produced that eviscerates the RCMP and then sat on Commissioner Brenda Lucki's desk for three years before the sordid story went public and was then handed over the BC First Nations Justice Council to decide next steps. But the Prince George debacle with Indigenous people is only the tip of the iceberg, with similar cover-ups and obfustications being played out at detachments across the country, most notably in Saskatoon, Winnipeg, and Thunder Bay to name a few.

Clearly after 150 years the RCMP have outlived their usefulness as a force to deal with Indigenous people and it's time to look for an alternative model. Whether or not we even need a federal police force or one that more closely resembles the FBI is another question. With First Nations people overrepresented in the criminal justice system as both victims and offenders something needs to change. Despite making up less than 5% of Canada's total population, they make up 32% of the country's prison population. Perhaps a local police force made up of Indigenous people would be more in touch with the people it seeks to protect and could help bring down the crime and incarceration rate. If nothing else it would address the systemic racism that has permeated the RCMP since its inception. The RCMP are never going to change their culture so instead of waiting for that to happen the time has come to simply abolish the institution.