Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Still summer?

We haven't really had a fall yet. Maybe one wind storm, one mighty Squamish, hardly any rain or snow and a high pressure system out in the Gulf of Alaska that continues to keep things warm and dry. Perhaps the calmest fall of the 12 I have lived through on Bowen.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

An ironic and sardonic solution to the ferry problem

I was thinking about Jordan Sturdy's idea that communities that contribute more to the GDP get more provincial "investment" in infrastructure.  I was thinking about what we could do to generate more GDP and as I was walking to the ferry in the pre-dawn darkness this morning, it occurred to me that we probably wouldn't be facing these ferry service reductions if we had a National Park on Bowen Island.  Two years ago we missed our best chance to develop a unique, vibrant and world class island-based economy.  It would have brought visitors over on the ferries that ran against the commuter runs, including early and late weekend sailings and it would have provided an opportunity for on-island businesses to diversify their offerings to a transient population of short term visitors.  Our utilization numbers would have skyrocketed, as anything running against the flow of commuter traffic pushes the numbers above our current 50.7% overall car utilization rate.

Ironically, one of the arguments against a National Park at that time was that the ferry would be overloaded.  That argument seems strangely wistful today.  Instead of generating MORE ferry activity thereby guaranteeing better service over time including probably a better terminal, we chose to limit our ferry usage, and now BC Ferries is proposing to cut the runs that we don't use.

But at least we have our nice quiet island, stable property values and lots of space on the ferries.

Monday, December 2, 2013

My MLA gets back to me and I realize that citizenship is finally dead.

This is long and involved.  Settle in.

Jordan Sturdy, my MLA and the legislative secretary to the Minister of Transportation, and I finally got a chance to talk today.  After trading some emails and phone messages, he spent about 30 minutes on the phone with me discussing the BC Ferries service reductions, public policy and his worldview about what governing is all about.  I appreciated the time to talk with him.  Not every elected official will give 30 minutes of spirited conversation with someone he shares so little common ground with.  Not since John Reynolds has that happened.  So thanks to Mr. Sturdy for that.  It was a good talk.

It was an illuminating conversation because it gave me some real insight into what the BC Liberals are thinking as a government.  And it made it clear to me why we probably have no chance of a public conversation on the future state of the ferry system for a long time.

But first let me start with the good news.  I was really interested to hear from him about why BC Ferries was being ordered to find $270,000 a year in savings on our route through service reductions.  He confirmed that this was really about operations, and especially avoiding paying overtime salaries.  When I brought up the ideas that were shared at the public meeting on Bowen about berthing the ferry here and achieving the same savings, he seemed inspired by that level of thinking and he didn't dismiss that idea out of hand.  I don't know what that means, but at least it was confirmation from the secretary to the Transportation Minister that there may be other ways to achieve those savings than through service reductions.  So those of you working on that angle, keep it up.  If we can show that there are savings to be made there, it might save the sailings.  Mr. Sturdy also indicated support for maybe looking at different evening reductions like Monday nights for example which actually has a lower utilization rate that the Saturday night sailing.

But that's where the good news stopped.  The rest of our conversation was interesting because it showed me a deep look at the view that the Liberals have to governing.  It wasn't hopeful.

Mr. Sturdy made the point that the ferry corporation reductions were being made in the context of a government that was trying to lower it's debt to GDP ratio in order to preserve its credit rating.  To do that it was taking a very coporatist approach to governing, looking at the BC Government as a company and trying to manage the finances first of all.  This meant giving everything possible a simple number, including ferry usage.  This simple and reductionist approach to governing a province makes it easy to show that the government is doing something with the numbers.  It avoids accounting for the true costs of decisions and it has absolutely no socio-economic integrity.  But many votes, especially conservative voters and the Liberal base love to see the numbers moving.  Taxes down, expenditures down. Nice and tidy.

Problem is that this approach to governance results in methods like the one being used to reduce the sailings: just counting utilization numbers and deciding based on "heat charts."  Mr. Sturdy said that any conversation about the fundamental nature of the ferry system - is a service? is it part of the highway system? - would be too expensive and onerous to undertake.  In other words we will never have that conversation.  Socio-economic analysis of ferry service reductions?  Forget it.  The numbers on the charts are the ones being used to make decisions.

We talked about this for a while and I made the point that in 2012 thousands of people in coastal communities said they wanted this conversation and that we need to fundamentally rethink the BC Ferries system.  The response to last year's "engagement" was that the Provincial government, BC Ferries and Kirk and Co., the Liberal-friendly firm that is running the process, ignored the public and went ahead with a discussion on service reductions.  Mr. Sturdy pointed out that the ferry system and the road system are two different beasts and if you really want to compare the numbers, the per capita cost of ferries is a magnitude higher than the road system.

To me this is simply a given of BC geography.  We are a coastal province with a huge archipelago of islands and tough terrain to build bridges in.  He indicated that transportation infrastructure is considered an "investment" by this government.  He pointed out how much money the Whistler region provides to the provincial economy and used that as an example of a good investment strategy.  You put money into the highway and Whistler produces more.  The problem with Bowen Island, and other islands too apparently, is that we don't produce enough GDP.  If we can't make the argument that island and coastal communities aren't productive, then we shouldn't be surprised when provincial government "investment" is scaled back.  We are not a good return on investment.

This is where our fundamental disagreement lies.  Mr. Sturdy and the government seem to believe that we are customers of the provincial government, or worse still, employees.  It's as if communities are the various business units of the province all set up to produce something.  My take on things is that we are citizens and we live in communities.  That, in fact, we are the OWNERS of the province.  We actually own the place, and what we do is pay taxes into a common pot so our common needs can be looked after - health, education, transportation, clean water, a social safety net, etc.

Mr. Sturdy and I disagree.  He said that the whole province is going to more and more user pay systems and the government is even taking a look at the road tolling policies.  Mr. Sturdy, for better or worse seems to believe that a corporatist mentality is needed to run the province in order to maintain a favourable bond rating.  I, on the other hand, believe that a government's fundamental responsibility is to look after its citizens' shared needs.  If the BC Liberals continue to have their way with the province, we will essentially be customers in our own homes.  Every time we leave to participate in the world, we will have to pay.

We concluded our conversation by sharing our thoughts on what the best possible result of all of this will be.  He said, in essence, that the best result is an efficient ferry system geared for how much a community contributes to the GDP.  I said that the best result would be for BC Ferries and the province to work closer with communities to not only reestablish trust but to create relationships where coastal communities, BC Ferries and the Province could be constantly looking at how to improve services, meet needs and work together to ensure that we have communities that are thriving, and a province we can be proud of.  I'm just not sure I can get behind an outcome that has us marching in the streets celebrating a triple A rating from Standard & Poors.

I thank Jordan Sturdy for the conversation. We ended on amicable terms and I offered to meet with him and chat more about public consultation, which we may yet do over a beer sometime.  But we are as far apart as you could get on the idea of what government is for.

So friends, I don't hold out any hope that this process will change things.  I doubt we'll have an impact by arguing "family values" or "hardships to commuters." We might have a chance by arguing that service reductions will impact our property values, but the Province might come back and say "prove it."  And without a socio-economic analysis, it will be hard to prove it.  They have numbers - stupid, simple, heat mapped numbers - and therefore they have the appeal to simple minded decisions, and the lowest common denominator in public policy making: "more dollars in your pocket!"

We might be able to save a couple of sailings, but the fundamental trend will continue.  Ferries and roads will move more to being private, users will pay individually for common needs and government will continue to make decisions on the basis of simple numbers with no socio-economic analysis.  And you know what?  The reactionary masses will love it until it affects them, just as it has done here on Bowen Island.  And then they will complain until they realize that appeal to reason isn't going to work.  No one peeped for years while our social services system was being dismantled, but now that it comes home to affect Bowen islanders, we're alarmed.  But if you voted Liberal, this is what you voted for, and the bond rating agencies love this, so it will continue.  This is the result of the appeal to "more money in your pocket book, less public expenditures."  It is the triumph of private financing of governments over public policy and fiscal responsibility.

I reckon Jordan Sturdy will have a hard time getting votes from Bowen Islanders again, but he's one of only three government MLAs with ferries in his riding, and anyway, Whistler contributes more to the economy than we do.  So as long as BC taxpayers continue to take a simplistic approach to fiscal decision making, we will continue to have governments that pursue these kinds of policies.  I don't know what the answer is actually,.  It seems that under the world view of our provincial government acting on behalf of a lot of voters and Province blog commenters and call in show angry people, there is nothing but good in reducing the ferry service level to Bowen.  If you want to beat them, you simply have to line up a better business case.

And that is what citizenship has come to.

UPDATE: If you want a glimpse of the kind of agenda that the government is trying to meet, have a look at this recent credit rating report from Standard and Poors.  This is the kind of document that the BC Government plans its program expenditures around.  It would be interesting to ask the premier at which point the needs of citizens are trumped by the credit rating (the needs of the investment market).  We currently have a AAA rating.  Would the premier tolerate a drop to AA or A if it meant citizens and community needs could be met better?  This will give you insight into who sets priorities for BC government programming.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The autumn palette

Warm and calm. Cloud fills the Sound this morning and a little rain is falling. It seems this stretch of warm and dry autumn weather is breaking and we may have some cold and snow soon.

This is a morning for appreciating the winter palette - greys and yellows, pale light and the ever present ever changing clouds.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A letter to my MLA about the BC ferries consultation

Jordan Sturdy
MLA West Vancouver - Sea to Sky

Mr. Sturdy:

I have some grave concerns about the BC Ferries Consultation process.

First there are many serious errors in the process.  The consulting firm  that was hired to undertake the work, Kirk and Company, basically violated every line of the International Association of Public Participation’s Code of Ethics with respect to what actually constitutes public engagement.  The figures we are being given to discuss only include vehicle traffic and not foot passenger traffic.  And there has been no socio-economic analysis of the impact of service reductions on coastal communities.  It is unimaginable that the government would undertake a similar study about, for example, restricting access to a bridge, or twinning a highway without undertaking a socio-economic study to understand the impacts on citizens, communities and local economies.  It appears that the service reductions planning has been made simply on the basis of numbers alone, and not even a complete set of data at that.

The firm that conducted the work has not substantially incorporated any of their findings from last fall’s consultation into the discussion document that we are now “discussing.”  It is clear to me, as a professional that works in this field, that we are being subjected to a strategic communications job.  We are being sold a done deal dressed up as “consultation.”  This is not consultation or “engagement” and calling it such undermines confidence that your government consults citizens ethically.   We have not been told how our feedback will be used or what the decision making process is.  This simply does not pass the test of meaningful citizen engagement and the perception of conflict of interest is a serious stain on the democratic credibility of this process.

But there is more that troubles me.  The consultation process is so bad that I started looking at the firm which conducted it and I was shocked by what I found.  The principal of the firm and the lead facilitator in the process are substantial donors to the BC Liberal Party. The CEO, Judy Kirk was retained by the premier to deliver 1 on 1 strategic communications coaching to Cabinet ministers after the election.  She also made a $500 donation to the party within a month of the consultations starting in October of 2012. An important facilitator in the process, Nancy Spooner, has donated or overseen more than $20,000 of donations to the party in past ten years.  I have documented these facts in a recent blog post on my Bowen Island weblog which is now making the rounds.  You can read it here and follow the links for yourself.  Nowhere have I seen a declaration of this blatant conflict of interest.  

We are being subjected to a strategic communications initiative by a firm with more than close ties to the party in power and pecuniary ties to the decision making body that set the reduction targets for BC Ferries.  This is a serious issue,  There are serious impacts to coastal communities flowing from this process, and there is a growing perception that the process is rotten.  

I am sure many islanders would be keen to hear your response to this and your own thoughts on what constitutes meaningful consultation on transportation infrastructure and socio-economic community development..  Furthermore, there is a part of this you can play directly.  

We are being told that in the discussion guide that "The Province has set an objective of $18.9 million in total net savings to be achieved through service reductions by 2016.”  What I would like to know is where that number came from, why it was chosen and why the province directed that cost savings to be found in service reductions rather than, say, meeting the shortfall through other ideas or through increased subsidies.  In other words your government has deliberately set an agenda of service reductions over the vehement opposition of coastal communities without any rationale for doing so.  I trust that, as a member of the BC Liberal caucus, you can find this out for me.   I appreciate that the decision was taken before you were elected to office, but it is critical,  It is this figure that we are being asked to address, and yet I haven’t seen anyone explain to me how this figure was arrived at and why the Province has ordered it to be funded by service reductions.  

I would be deeply appreciative if you could provide this information.  I’ll publish this letter to you and your response on my blog as well.  

Thank you,

Chris Corrigan

Bowen Island BC

cc. Sheila Malcomson, Chair, Islands Trust
     Bowen island Municipality Mayor and Council

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Unethical consultation and conflicts of interest

As a guy that does public engagement work for a living, I was really interested in the process BC Ferries used to produce their proposals for service reductions, fare hikes and gaming possibilities.

I looked through the report and the supporting material from their fall 2012 "pre-consultation" consultation - which was actually a consultation - that produced the report we are all tearing to shreds these days.  The work was all conducted by Judy Kirk and Company, a public engagement and communications company that works on a lot of large scale provincial projects.  They work in the field of communications and public engagement, which, in democratic practice, are not the same thing.  Their work seems to be heavily on the "communications" side.

So let's have a look at what they heard and see if they learned anything.  I'm looking at the verbatim notes from the public meetings (Open Houses and Small Groups) and comparing them against their discussion guide for this round of consultations.  Follow the links and read them for yourself.

If you look at the summary report you will find that people talked a lot about some of these themes:

  • The ferry system as highway system: the word highway is mentioned 447 times in the open house meeting notes, and gaming not at all.  Yet we have no discussion of ferries becoming part of the highway system, but a whole proposal regarding gaming.
  • People believe that ferries should be returned to the care of the province, but there is no proposal in these consultations to do that.
  • Everyone agrees that fares are too high.  With the exception of a discussion of rewards programs, the current proposal suggests raising them further, rather than finding ways to reduce them.
  • People talked about high fares impacting the socio-economic life of communities, yet there is no discussion of this in the proposal and it seems like the Kirk and Co. never did a socio-economic analysis at all. 
  • There was concern expressed about the methodology used to determine the utilization data, and this was raised again last week at the meeting on Bowen.  The data does not include foot passengers which are significant users on our ferry, as many people keep a car on the continent or ride the bus to town.  There is no adjustment in the numbers in the discussion guide.
  • Furthermore, the current round of "engagements is substantially about this: "The Province has set an objective of $18.9 million in total net savings to be achieved through service reductions by 2016.”  Several ideas for INCREASING savings appeared at the Bowen meeting last week, but without service reductions.  We don't why the province has said this objective needs to be acheived with that strategy.
In short, this is a pretty appalling process.  The major issues that people raised are never addressed.  The consultation process has ignored almost everything the public wanted to talk about.  The discussion guide that was released talks about meeting to funding targets that the provincial government has decided for BC Ferries.  This verges on unethical behaviour for a public consultation.  In fact I'll call it out as unethical.  If you go to the International Association for Public Participation (essentially the professional association in our world) you will find their code of ethics.  I think you will find that Kirk and Company and the Province violated several of these ethics, including, advocating for the outcome and not the process, making the process about better decisions, openness and trust.  This is not an engagement process by any stretch of the imagination.  It is a strategic communications process, undertaken by BC Ferries to communicate a rationale for how it has unilaterally chosen to meet funding restrictions that have been arbitrarily applied by the provincial government.  

And to add insult to injury, the principal facilitators in this project are big donors to the BC Liberal party.  Judy Kirk herself, used to work for Gordon Campbell and has given strategic communications training to BC Liberal cabinet ministers as recently as THIS YEAR!  She has also donated more than $14,000 to the party over the years, including $500 one month before this project started.  Nancy Spooner, who has facilitated many of the meetings is also a big donor, having given or overseen $20,000 in donations over the years.

So you tell me.  What do you think is going on?

Edited to add the last bullet point and implicate the province in this round.  I have no idea yet which firm is conducting this fall's meetings.  

Edited to add: It was Kirk and Company.  And she has given even more money to the BC Liberals, both as an individual and as a company.

Friday, November 22, 2013

BC Ferries "engages" and I get a little angry

I've taken the time to read through the discussion guide, I filled out the form and the surveys last year too.  BC Ferries has entered into an "engagement" process about some decisions they are making to reduce the levels of our ferry service.  And there are some flaws in their process.

For Bowen they are proposing to reduce our service by eliminating the first two sailings on Saturday and Sunday mornings and the last sailing on Saturday night.  This will save the ferry corp $270,000 a year.  A few years ago the updated the otherwise just fine interior of our ferry for around $2.7 million.  We didn't need this cosmetic upgrade.  But we got it and now I guess we are paying for it, because it truns out thet BC Ferries didn't have the money to do it.  Or at least it seems that way.

There is so much to say about all this.  Let's start with the engagement process itself.

I'm not sure what the process has been.  BC Ferries has been surveying ferry users for a number of months now.  They released a very handy chart which showed ferry utilization last year.  But last night the showed up at the BICS gym and held an open house or something (I am away and couldn't attend) based on this set of proposals for reductions of service and increase of fares.  What ever their process actually is, it LOOKS like classic "tell and sell" work and it absolutely tanks trust between people and organizations.  So they are now badly trusted and everyone is cynical about the process.  If you want to engage ferry communities well, build relationships with them.  On the island's where crews live, which seems everywhere but here, islanders know their local ferry workers, and working on the ferry is a good job for local people, paying good union wages in otherwise isolated communities.  BC Ferries could have local employees living here, hanging out at the Snug, shooting the breeze with folks, sponsoring beach clean ups and ball tournaments.  But no.  They seem to just think of Bowen Island as a terminal they have to serve.

BC Ferries is a weird kind of company.  It is neither a private company or a Crown corporation.  It has a single shareholder - the province of BC - and it delivers on a single contract for ferry services.  In essence it is a semi-private transportation company that is bound to deliver a transportation service which is essential for island communities.  Imagine is all of the BC Highways were given to a single company to manage through a single contract.  Imagine if they incurred cost overruns from making pretty signage and painting the road with glittery messages despite residents desiring or needing it, and fixed the debt by deciding to close the highways at night, when they are "under utilized."  That's what we are facing.  And imagine if they just did that out of the blue and justified it simply using numbers without any kind of analysis for how it impacts highway dependant communities.

This is BC Ferries' methodology for these service reductions.  They have made decisions simply on the number of cars that travel on each sailing, not foot passengers.  They looked at which routes were running at less than 20% utilization and they have simply proposed cutting the lowest ones.  This is ridiculous.  There has been no socio-economic study of these cuts, no profile of the folks that use the early morning ferries - many of whom are shift workers who will now be forced to stay in Vancouver overnight to go to their jobs, if they end up staying on Bowen at all.  Under this new scenario, the earliest I will be able to leave my island on the weekend is 730.  Imagine if the people of Horseshoe Bay were not able to leave their village until 800 every weekend morning?  Often when we leave on trips we catch early morning make soccer and hockey practices in town you need these travel on other ferries to Vancouver Island for example, you'd leave on the early boat.  Starting at 530am is early enough, but starting service at 730 is ridiculous.

Others will argue "why should BC Ferries run a deficit to give you a ferry sailing that hardly anyone uses?"  And I would argue right back, why should I pay for roads in northeastern BC that I never use?  Ferries are a public service, but since 2003 they have been treated like a private service.  So instead of decisions made about how to best serve coastal communities, we have decisions made to best serve the bottom line, as if the entity providin gthe service was actually a company that could do what it wants.

Some wil argue "well you chose to live on an island, so suck it up."  To which I reply, where did you choose to live?  And why should I pay for your connections to the Lower Mainland or your nearest city.  You live in the suburbs or a small town for whatever reason you live there, but no one is arguing that you should have your local connections cut to save costs.  Why should we?  Why are ferries considered a luxury or a tourist operation in a province that has thousands of islands and thousands of kilometers of coastline dotted with communities full of working people?

Seems our local irascible libertarian islander army (usually opposed to taxation, subsidies and public services in general, until it affects them personally) has taken out its wrath on BC Ferries both through their connections to the political party in power and through the media.  I am glad they are doing this, because having been on the opposite side of another issue from them, I can attest that they are a pain in the ass to deal with when they have an issue in their teeth.  They will pester you endlessly regardless of whether they are making any sense or not. They will organize a petition (because petitions THEY organize are always worth doing, rather than petitions against, say docks)  I am glad our MLA Jordan Sturdy and the BC Ferries "engagement" team will taste their fire for a while. Perhaps the mayor will advise our MLA on a resourceful response to dissent.

(I won't be signing this petition by the way because the guys organizing were responsible for getting this crop of junior Republicans elected in the first place, as campaigners and funders of the BC Liberal party.  This is what happens when your pretty libertarian agenda gets implemented.  Hatred of "big government" = small government = idiotic service reductions.  We've already slashed social programs completely.  I wonder if this crew ever imagined that the chickens would come home to roost for them too?  Entitlement is a bitch, eh?)

At any rate, living on an island means you have to have a relationship with a ferry company.  BC Ferries is big pain in the arse to deal with, despite the fact that ferry usually works on time and the workers are prepared to dive into Howe Sound to save your life if you fall overboard.  Since the BC Liberals reorganized them they have operated with the worst kind of corporatist managerialism with no idea how to operate a public service, and the provincial government, who fully share the blame for this state of affairs, have been no better.  Grr.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

At rest

Fresh snow at 1000 meters. The other day walking at the Cape I saw a small pod of dolphins in the calm water heading out to the Strait and into the teeth of a small storm. Feels like the island is at rest. Water is flowing but we have had few wind storms. We move through the cold air to places of light and warmth - the pub, a restaurant, friends' homes - where a fire in the hearth and something warm for the belly reminds us of islands of friendship in a world that is sometimes as cold and grey as the winter sea.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Three seals

Ninety minutes paddling out on this followed by three seals, one of which had a cold judging by its coughing and spitting.

And ravens and eagles but no sight of our visiting humpback whale friend. Such a beautiful place.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Living under a fall high

Two weeks now without any rain. Fog every day, no wind and flat seas. There is a high in the Pacific that refused to move. Everything is at rest. Even the ducks are asleep in the water.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Salmon are back

Early chum spawners are back in the lagoon.  Snow on the mountains is early too.  I notice these things always happen at the same time.

Monday, September 30, 2013


Our bone dry summer ended with a couple of incredible storms. Earlier in the month there was a lightening storm that struck Bowen with 1000 bolts of lightning and 100mm of rain in a couple of hours. There was some flooding damage but nothing serious.

Then last night the first southeasterly gale of the season. A hurricane force system slammed into the west coast of Vancouver Island and by the time it got to is at supper time it was blowing storm force winds - up to 100km/h. There were trees and power lines down and the creeks are swollen with salmon calling water. Within six weeks there will be snow on the mountains and chum in the streams.

We have turned.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cleaning up Mannion Bay

Adam Taylor and crew are set for their annual clean up of Mannion Bay.  I'm out of the country but if you are around on September 7, join in:

The 3rd annual Dive against debris will be held in a couple weeks, on Saturday September 7th. We will meet for a briefing at Noon on the pier outside the Taco & Kayak Shacks, then head over to Deep Bay. 

If you would like to lend a hand on shore, on the water in a kayak, rowboat or small power boat, or underwater as diver or free diver please let me know. 

Over the past 2 years we have brought up over 2200lbs of junk from the bottom of Deep Bay. We have covered most of the bay already so are hopeful that we won't be encountering as many old boat batteries, generators, welding machines and other such nasty junk. 

Based on recent discussions there appears to be some interest in improving the general appearance and functionality of the Sandy Beach area. To that end a few of us would like to have an informal site visit after the event to discuss what could be done to improve the beach & bay for residents and visitors alike. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

SUPping in peace

This is Hutt Island which lies a few hundred meters off of Bowen on Galbraith Bay. It's a steep island with hardly anywhere to land. It lies out of the way of most boat traffic and at the end of a small quiet road. This part of Bowen is perhaps the most quintessentially iconic Gulf Island. Beyond Hutt is Gambier island and behind that Mount Wrottersley, which stands further north of us up Howe Sound.

I SUPped out here this afternoon in the grey light and the warm summer air, paddling around Hutt. A little breeze from up the inlet raised some chop and have my arms a good workout. And running downwind I got to drift with the wind and the ebbing tide.

There were tons of seals out there today - several pairs of mothers and pups. One pair followed me almost the whole way around the island surfacing around me and disappearing as fast as they arrived.

It was beautiful and calm and relaxed and untouched. One of the last places on Bowen that has been allowed to return to its natural state. Hutt is all Crown land and at one point was slated to be mined for gravel put that was stopped decades ago. All that remains is some old pilings for a wharf and a half built road ascending into the second growth forest of arbutus, Douglas-fir and cedar.

May it always remain so.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Breaking the pattern for a moment

We set a record that will never be beaten.  July had no rain at all.  Not a drop, not a whiff, not even the mere idea of rain crossed the threshold of the island until just after midnight on August 1.  It (was, and is) bone dry around here, although last night the skies opened up and we got a good soaking.

Summer rain on Bowen is like that, the same as sunny days in the winter.  They briefly interrupt a trend and then the weather returns to the natural cycles that the climate has bestowed upon us.  And so the drought will return, but for the moment, we are basking in damp, cool, goodness.

Temporary respite in civic affairs can be like that too.

This morning there has been a lovely thread on the forum in response to one of my blog posts that got republished on our community mailer.  In it, several islanders who we haven't heard from recently surface and lend their voices to the conversation about change that is happening around us.  It's good to hear from devo and Irene and David (with whom I have had vehement disagreements in the past)  Corbin and Steve.  Feels like rain in the middle of a dry summer.

On Bowen Island, not matter how hard you try, you can't shout down the beauty.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Big dock gets its shaft - and so does the view

Don Ho's dock at the Cape

The big dock at Lot 13 at Cape Roger Curtis started getting its decking today.  From Collingwood Point the view of the Cape lighthouse from the point now has a line drawn straight across it.  It's as if the iconic view of a lonely lighthouse atop a rocky point has been cancelled out.  There is now nowhere on Bowen where the view of the north side of the Cape does not include this pier.  And should the current applications go ahead, another will be built between this one and the Cape.

It continues to be laughable that advertisements like this one are still in circulation:

In fact, even the views don't last forever.  At this rate the thing that is going to last the longest will be the general animosity towards the owners and the heartbreak of a huge section of the community, the cynical indifference of another huge section of the community and the perverse glee of our local libertarians. In fact the view on the cover of the developer's own design guidelines is actually different now because of this single dock.  

Speaking of which, I was cruising through these design guidelines and see how many of them have been simply broken by this one dock, let alone five more docks.  A sample, to which I have added some commentary:

  • "The southwest corner of the Bowen Island [sic] is afforded longer hours of afternoon sun while sunsets at The Cape on Bowen are unparalleled, silhouetting the Cape Lighthouse against he backdrop of the Gulf Islands."  Unparalleled in the sense that there is now a 363 foot wharf structure perpendicularly included in that view.
  • "The fulfilment of these concepts...will see a neighbourhood defined by grace and generosity."  I am gobsmacked that this is actually in the design guidelines.  I await with baited breath, the practice of grace and generosity in this whole debacle.  
  • "Spectacular views abound from the wild terrain and ocean's edge, intended to be captured through home siting and architectural forms and celebrated at key locations for shared community enjoyment." I'm not sure what is happening right now meets the owner's definition of a "celebration" by the community.  Unless you count the Stop the Docks parties at Pebble Beach.
  • "Preserve, protect and enhance existing natural features, including views." It's just not happening folks.  It's as if the docks are responding to a guideline to "create a massive personal moorage irrespective of its impact on your view, your neighbour's view or the views of the community."  There.  Fixed that for you. 
  • They actually identify the foreshore as a "conversation area."  The designers say that these areas "have been established as a mechanism to protect environmentally sensitive and archaeologically significant areas in accordance with Provincial legislation and and Conservation Covenants registered on the title of the property." Except go ahead and build a honking great dock there if you want.  
These design guidelines were created way back in 2010 so perhaps they have been forgotten or set aside now, except that they are still on the developer's website and they are right now being violated by the developer's own private dock.

Preserving seashells, the Bowen way

Kristen Denger over at FOXGLOVE Magazine has a wonderful tutorial for preserving seashells that you find at the seashore.  And she has some stunning examples of snail shells from King Edward Bay.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Currents are swirling

Another beautiful SUP last night down to Cape Roger Curtis. We have super big tides right now due to the phase and proximity of the moon. out at the Cape the currents were swirling this way and that. It was like a washing machine right off the light house, water heaving and moving in every direction. When a large boat passed the wake was crazy, at times becoming standing waves, breaking and moving all around. It was fun paddling in it, if a little nervy.

The dock at Lot 13 is now out a long way from shore. When I rounded Collingwood Point close to shore the perspective I had was that the pilings were out nearly twice as far from shore as the lighthouse is. Once they top it with a dock that majestic view of a rocky headland with a lighthouse perched on it will be eclipsed until nature decides otherwise.

Big docks for little cocks, if you'll pardon my rude insinuation. The owners of the Cape are selling these properties as a way to make your mark and leave a legacy for future generations. I have no idea what motivates a person of extreme wealth to create such a grandiose and out of proportion legacy such as this but I can only imagine it has to do with compensating for feelings of inadequacy in other parts of one's life.

But being out there in the crazy current last night convinced me that the owners are not building docks so much as they are building shish kabob skewers for large boats. The real shame is that there will almost certainly be ship wrecks out there if people choose to actually moor boats on those docks. So I'm proposing a tongue in cheek fundraising effort. I'm proposing that we start a pool. We can bet on the date of the first boat sinking at the Cape with the proceeds going to the community centre fund (but only after the fund goes to building a proper community centre). How about that?

Or is raising money off another person's misfortune too mean a thing to do, even if they clearly have the money to spend and they don't seem to care about sinking it into a situation that will only cause them to lose it? There has to be a way to convert the spiteful imposition of these structures into a force for the common good, no?

Anyway. I hear there is a community meeting on Thursday to talk about Council's proposed by law regulating, or to be clearer, permitting docks. I'm off island that day so no chance of me witnessing a miraculous recovery of civic decorum. If people like my friend Melissa are there I'm sure she will be erudite and calm and constructive. But it will up to everyone else to decide whether Council has achieved their goal of healing the community or not.

Currents indeed are swirling and are unpredictable things. Only a fool stakes an anchorage there hoping to find refuge.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Taking a stand in the new world

Another beautiful SUP this afternoon out from Tunstall Bay, into a small headwind and down to Cape Roger Curtis.  We are having the most amazing summer, as evidenced by the water restrictions in place and the fire ban.  It's dry and hot - most days the temperature reaches 25 and the ocean is in the low 20s.

I like that I practice a water sport that requires me to take a stand.  It's a hell of a way to think about things.

There is a lot happening at the Cape.  Monster houses are going in there - the biggest is said to be 17,000 square feet, which is about ten times the size of mine.  And the docks have started to be built, with the first one on Lot 13 about 100 meters north of the Cape now featuring three sets of piles, two of which have been driven into the sea bed.  It is creeping out to sea and is now probably a hundred feet out from the foreshore, and growing.  There is a current application for another dock BETWEEN that one and the Cape.  The view is already ruined, the iconic view of the Cape with a gnarled and sweeping arbutus tree, is forever overwhelmed by a two story set of pilings soon to be topped by a pier.  A second dock going in between that one and the lighthouse will simply make the whole place seem crowded and cluttered.

Not a whiff of the usual seals and sea lions that hang around there.  Before the construction I would see one every single time I was out there, whether on land or sea.  Perhaps they will return, but for the moment they have fled the pile driving and the rumbling engines of the work barge for quieter waters.

Something has changed forever on Bowen and these docks are the physical manifestation of it.  There is an irreversibility to it all.  We no longer talk about the land in terms of reverence; instead the public sphere is full of words that describe our island as if you would sell it to tourists.  The way I used to know this community of Bowen Island is now just an idea, and we collectively serve that idea, but the idea is made up and talked about only.  It is marketed, discussed as an economic advantage, but discarded in practice.  In practice we seem to be able to simply take or leave the beauty and the power of the place.  Hardly anyone with any power at all is working to preserve anything.  Instead folks like the Cape developers talk about Bowen's charms while daily depleting them. Since the National Park vote I think we have lost the public will to steward the natural world of Bowen and instead are focused on the built environment and the economy.  Those two things go hand in hand because the IDEA of the natural beauty of the place is what drives our primary economic activity - land values.  To the extent that development DOESN'T impact MY land values, I'm okay with it, says this worldview.  It's a kind of every-one-in-it for themselves mentality.  IN that respect we aren't really an island anymore, we are just like everywhere else.  Where we come together now as a community is around things like Steamship Days which was fabulous, but which was targeted at commerce.  Bowfest, which this year has been reclaimed by community, and Remembrance Day continue to be two of the only things left that everyone gets involved in that have no outcomes other than community building.

We are retreating into the realm of the private.  There are few activities anymore that serve the public interest and few places in which the public can gather and simply be together.  Our municipal Council, who were so gung-ho on building a proper community hall - to the cheers from all of us - have instead re-envisoned it as a municipal campus, as a place that serves their needs.  The last true commons - the sea - now has a large phallic structure asserted across its surface in the most beautiful part of our coastline, with possibly five more to follow.  This was done despite nobody other than the owner wanting it.  Public debate is not about our place; it is angry people yelling at each other, naming each other, projecting themselves into each other's words and deeds.  It is a disgusting display of rudeness coming from all sides.  We are ungenerous with our words, ungrateful for our neighbours, and we bathe in a narcissistic intolerance for small differences, That is how decisions are made now on Bowen.  Go to a public meeting (not that we even have those anymore) and you will be shocked by the behaviour of grown adults discussing important issues.  Any attempt at reasonable dissent is met with paternalistic carping on all sides.  It's embarrassing.

This is becoming Dubai with fir trees.  It is made beautiful by friendship and the land itself but the heart and soul of community is now held by private effort, and we no longer speak the language of community like we used to. The community builders are the ones with money, not ideas.  You gain influence here by being accepted by certain groups, not on merit.  Things like "parks" and "nature" and "community centres" are fraught with politics.  I used to write folk songs about this place, because it used to be a place that deserved a folk tradition.  At one time those songs were sung at Council meetings, and artists joined local governors to express and care for the soul of Bowen.  But singing those songs seem quaint now, just another piece of history to celebrate during steamship days.  The poets are quieter, the painters and musicians of Bowen don't celebrate the community like we used to.  We are in hiding.

But I am not going anywhere.  We have just finished repairing and updating the shingles on our house and three years ago we put on a new roof.  We didn't do it so we could sell it.  We did it so that it would shelter and care for us until we are too old to climb the back steps.  Committing to things in the long term makes a guy sanguine and reflective.  It makes you pick your battles.

For me, my battleground has been respect and decorum in public affairs, but I'm starting to think I lost that war.  The loud and angry voices have won, and this is the way we do things for now.  I've been called a "revisionist" as if my desire for a community-minded conversation was somehow tantamount to criminally rewriting history.  Small cabals of people accuse other people of being in small cabals.  The word "conspiracy" is tossed around by people who sit and conspire about what the other group is doing. It's all very grade five, very much like ten year olds pointing fingers and calling names.  Last week I made peace with my accuser, shook his hand, slapped him on the back, and drew a line under it.  We exchanged no words until a couple of days later when we made awkward fumbling conversation that was nonetheless a relief.  I still live here and so does he.  Perhaps he'll draw a line under it too rather than holding a grudge for all time against his idea of who I am and what I do.  But maybe not.  He can choose to carry the stress of mistrust and suspicion as long as he wants.

The only suffering I can take care of is my own.  So this is me greeting the new Bowen.  It's not the one I wanted, or the one I celebrated or the one I voted for, but here it is and here I am.  I'll offer my gifts and appreciate others and get on with things and stop expecting it to be different than it is.  And when the wheel turns again, when the docks have been smashed by the sea and wind, when the real estate values collapse, when we remember that we need each other in community, I'll be here to dust off a few old songs that remind us of who we could still be.

In the meantime, that man out there standing on the sea?  That's me.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Enough blame that we'll never starve

Councillor Tim Rhodes' continues his tradition of "correcting"the stories about the exploits of previous Councils.  He does it today by taking on Murray Skeels' latest recap of the history of the Cape.  Ian Henley and Bruce Russel gleefully weigh in with support.  

Meanwhile massive docks are being built at the Cape, and all this moving around of the verbal deck chairs is doing nothing to re-float the Cape Roger Curtis shipwreck.  Lots of blame is being thrown about, and it seems nourishing for people.  But dining on poison is ultimately fatal.

At any rate, I commented on Tim's blog responding to Bruce Russell's comments that the previous Council must accept responsibility for their failed negotiations with the Cape Roger Curtis owners.  Now Bruce is a guy who does indeed put his money (and his elbow grease) where his mouth is, having led the charge to build a golf course, get rid of derelict vessels in Mannion Bay and generally help out around the place when there is something to do.  Which is why I'm surprised that he joined in the blame game too.

So did the previous Council push too hard for amenities at the Cape?  I guess so, as the owners walked away from the table.  That is what happens in negotiations.  But somehow Bruce and Tim want the previous Council to do something about it.  And that is what prompted this comment from me:

Didn't the previous council already accept responsibility for their decisions when they ran and lost to our current Council?  What more do you expect them to do?  If you want to fix the situation at the Cape, you need to have power and the only people with power in this situation right now are the current Council.  So at this point, and by this logic, clearly every dock that is going in, every lot that is being built out, is currently what the current Council wants.  1200+ people may not want it, but I watched a piling being pounded into the seabed on Wednesday.  So it's obvious to me that 1200 people can't make a difference to what happens down there.  What do you want four people to do?   
"Owning up and taking responsibility."  You guys hammer away on the previous Council like there is something they can do.  What can they do?  What is going to fix the future? If you were them, what would you do to rectify the situation?  If it's too late for all that, then why keep hammering away on them?  That just seems mean spirited at best. 
The owners of the Cape are amongst the richest people in the world.  They have all kinds of options and are making all kinds of choices with their property.  I would be very intrigued if you could show me anything that would "force" them to do something they didn't want to do.   
Now, speaking of taking responsibility for our actions, how about we do some tests on Mannion Bay septic fields and get this Bay cleaned up for good.  You can come and test mine first and see if it's to code.   
It's fun to feast on blame.  But taking one's own medicine is sometimes a rather harder proposition.  Real leaders do that.  At least that is what MY parents taught me.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Shutting the barn door after the horse has run

Yesterday I witnessed the first pilings being pounded into the eelgress meadows on the sea bed near the lighthouse at Cape Roger Curtis.  Today, our local government posted on its website a memo about a study being conducted by the Islands Trust and the Bowen Island Municipality to study and map the eelgrass beds on Bowen to better understand the potential impacts of things like wharves and docks and other foreshore uses.  The reason for the mapping project is this:

The Islands Trust Policy Statement, section 3.4.4, states: 
Local trust committees and island municipalities shall, in their official community plans and regulatory bylaws, address the protection of sensitive coastal areas.  
The recently released Audit of Biodiversity in B.C. (Office of the Auditor General of B.C.) highlighted the importance of collecting sufficient and reliable information on species distribution in order to make well informed decisions about conserving biodiversity. With sensitive ecosystem mapping completed in the Islands Trust Area (2008-2010), the Bowen Island Municipality (BIM) and local trust committees have access to ecosystem data for terrestrial species. The Islands Trust and Islands Trust Fund are now working to secure good mapping of sensitive coastal areas to help island governments meet the requirements of the Islands Trust Policy Statement.
And so, despite the government's auditor highlighting the lack of sufficient and reliable data about these ecosystems, both the province and the municipality have gone ahead and approved foreshore leases and  building permits for docks that are being planted directly in these environments.  yesterday I made my objections known to the dock applications at Lot 1 and Lot 14 at Cape Roger Curtis.  The one at Lot 14 will be less than 100 meters from the one next door at Lot 13, both of them right up against the Cape itself and the Lighthouse, and both extending more than 100 meters out from shore.

If you make your objections today, please mention that these foreshore leases should be delayed until this study can be completed.  As it is, the maps will be made in August and September with possibly three big docks planted right in the middle of the environment the study is meant to understand better.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Heartbroken at Cape Roger Curtis

It was a beautiful day to SUP today.  Checked the wind forecasts and it looked like the west side was a good bet, so I chucked my board on the car and headed for Tunstall Bay.

Out on the bay the water was a little windy but I powered into it and headed for the first point, the one I call swimmer's rock because Sue Schloegl and Sharon Sluggett always rest there when they are out swimming.  Rounded the point and SHOCK!

Right beside the lighthouse at Cape Roger Curtis was a 50 foot barge with a crane and a pile driver on it.  It was pounding pilings into the sea bed next to the Cape for the first of the monster single use private docks being built for the new owners of the Cape.  I paddled out past the new house (which clocks in at more than 10,000 square feet) out to where the barge was anchored and watched a small crew of men drive a pile along a line that extended a long way out from shore.

The sea lion that usually hangs around there was obviously AWOL.  Not a seal to be seen either, anywhere.  Just the constant chug of the engine and the clanging of metal on metal as the crew raised and lowered the cuff around the newly installed piling.   I sat on my board for quite a while just witnessing the permanent destruction of one the most lovely and wild views on Bowen Island: the rocky promontory of Cape Roger Curtis, a single arbutus tree and the light house and now, a set of dock pilings and soon a dock and a float and probably a huge yacht.  Tears were shed.  A song was sung. The old world has died, and the new has come, on the heels of a massive failure of imagination and will in the face of greed.

The Stop the Docks crew have been trying to stop the docks, but obviously the owners of these properties neither know about or care about the objections of 1200+ Islanders to these monstrosities.  In fact in the Undercurrent last week are public notices for two more docks, one right next to the one I saw being built today.  Meanwhile the guys that are selling the Cape, the same people that are now building these docks, are advertising their properties like this:

   This is an impossibly beautiful coastal site. Its untouched shores, whispering brooks, and deep woods are a Pacific Northwestern gem. We are determined to tread upon this land lightly. We have taken extensive measures to preserve the natural and ecological integrity of the property. Substantial planning and infrastructure work has been carried out, guided by some of the region’s most respected environmental consultants. The vast majority of The Cape’s 618-acre property will remain a protected natural green space. The site plan allows for maximum natural drainage of stormwater, for minimal impact on the water table. Burke and Huszar Creeks – crucial wildlife habitats on the property – have been protected, with generous buffer zones. All in the name of preserving The Cape’s pristine natural state, for generations. Meanwhile, we encourage owners to create a home that respects this pristine coastal landscape, and provide you with every opportunity to do so. From environmentally sensitive design to awareness of sensitive habitats, from intelligent landscaping to the use of local materials, we offer pragmatic guidance to help you build an island estate that protects the fragile natural beauty of this land.
All of that fancy copy is clearly a bald faced lie now because they have forever ruined the "untouched shores."  They have not tread lightly at all, and have no intention to.  The pristine natural state of the Cape will now be littered with docks, the foreshore broken up, the waters and the intertidal zones impacted forever.  They are lying.  If you are considering buying a property from these charlatans, you should know that.  Who knows what else they'll tell you to get you to part with your millions.

I hope our new neighbours are community minded, that they come on down and volunteer at the recycling centre, that they join the Fastpitch league or the co-ed soccer league, that they join SKY, shoot the breeze at the Snug and split a bottle of Chardonnay on an overloaded Friday night commuter ferry.  I hope they are like that.  But today my heart is split in two, the Cape has been forever changed and I am trying hard to suppress emotions ranging from sadness to anger.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Being a guest on the sea

Yesterday paddleboarding in Tunstall Bay, I headed out towards Cape Roger Curtis past the absolutely MAMMOTH mansion being built on the bay.  There was a little wind, but in the first 15 minutes it died away and the water became glassy.  One seal in the cove at Pebbly Beach and then I headed out around the Cape.  Exiting Howe Sound on a paddleboard is an awesome experience.  Come around the corner and the sky open up and the Strait of Georgia trails away to Orcas Island in the south and Texada and Lasqueti to the north.  I sat out there for a while on the flat glas and then drifted back past the Cape.  In the cove right at the lighthouse a sea lion was hanging out.  It spotted me and came right towards my board stopping a paddle length away and just looking at me.  Then it slipped under the water and headed out into the Strait.

Awesome experience...I am become friends with the sea, but still feel like a guest out there.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Oh Hooray!

Kristen Denger has launched a new magazine about life on Bowen called FOXGLOVE.  It looks like an antidote to everything that ails our public conversation.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The tenor of our times

An image that captures something of the feeling of the community these days.  Juneuary has set in.  Fog and soft rain and cooler weather.  Garden loves it, salmonberries are ripe and everything is drinking.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Deer proof?

People ask all the time...will the deer eat this plant or that plant?

The answer is yes. Sometimes mitgated by no.

So far the only plants that grow free around our place that the deer wont eat are bamboo, lavender, lemon balm, campion, oregano, rosemary and foxglove.  I believe deer have nibbled on everything else at one time or another.  Even if certain plants are deer proof, they may still sample young shoots thus killing the plant or step on it, which happens a lot.

So simple answer.

Now do people eat deer?  No.  Not n Bowen anyway, hence we have a lot of deer and no maple saplings anywhere.  I dare you to find a maple sapling.  When our current generation of maples dies, they will not be replaced.  Basically deer - rose fed and maple sweetened - have been protected by humans on Bowen, and now we complain when they eat our gardens.

This is called "being out of touch with nature!"

Just part of life on a little rock.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Rain showers on a May afternoon

Spring in full flight in Howe Sound. Blossoms and sun and birdsong and light and a warm shower or two on a grey afternoon.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The citizens present some options

A group of citizens led by the wonderful Melissa Harrison presented some options for Council today regarding what the municipality may be able to do to stop the dock construction at the Cape.  It seems there are things that can be done and it also seems like something weird is happening in the legal realm.  If we are to read into the comments from the Councillors, it seems as if there is very dicey legal brinksmanship going on in secret.  Things work differently at the Cape.  The owners are not land owners like you and I.  Our Council meets in secret quite often to deliberate actions to take with the owners, and the result has been that the Municipality has been unable to enforce covenants about construction of fences and hedges in designated setbacks, or even to exercise their responsibility to issue building permits for the docks.  It seems the current legal advice - which flies in the face of everything you would expect - is that Council does not have the power to issue a building permit for these docks.  If this is true, does it mean that anyone can just build something on Bowen without regard for proper planning and permitting regulations?  And if not, what makes these docks different?  What makes the Cape different?  I wonder if we will ever know.

I want to commend Melissa and her team for a well researched and constructive presentation and for standing in complete calm against Wolfgang Duntz's initially patronizing behaviour and his unilateral conditions under which he would listen, even accusing the totally unflappable Melissa of "militancy."  I liked the part where Melissa asked if she could drink from his cup.  It immediately invited him back to a civil frame of mind and gave him a chance to be gracious.

And mostly Melissa deserves kudos for standing up to our Mayor Jack Adelaar's repeated jabs at the previous Council, including at one point inviting Nerys Pooole to speak instead of "pulling the strings."  It's just completely uncivil behaviour from the Mayor, who has shown in the past that he can't temper his contempt, and Melissa met him with dignity and not a little fierceness.  Since his sudden appearance on the political scene in the 2011 election campaign in which he tarred a group of sitting Councillors as the "gang of four," Jack Adelaar has shown unprecedented contempt to the former Council and to members of the public that he associates with them.  Watch and learn how to be a spectacularly ineffective leader.  He says the Cape is dead (not even in the Strategic Business Plan!) and later we learn that it is not dea at all and is consuming meeting after meeting of Council's time and tons of legal advice.  It's not dead Jack, clearly.  Not a single Councillor defends his accusations and snide remarks and most of them distance themselves from him in one way or another.  Cro Lucas and Andrew Stone are commended for sharing their perspectives as well as they could given the cloud of confidentiality that seems to have fallen around all things Cape Roger Curtis.  Even Wolfgang, once he calmed down, was able to share some information.  And that is good.  Information is all we want, no matter how hard it is to get a hold of.

Council would do well to remember that the citizens sit between them and the door.  It is a proper and symbolic arrangement for a chamber of democratic deliberation.  Elected officials must never forget that the community lies between them and their next hot meal.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The wind casts it's vote.

Yesterday we had a glorious spring northwesterly, gusting down the strait and pummelling the west side of the island, a it does.  Over at Cape Roger Curtis, there is some construction going on of some MAMMOTH docks that no one on the island wants to see.  The northwesterlies, which at times gusted to 60km/h managed to rip out at least one of the moulds being used to pour the concrete to extend jetties out over 100 of rock, mussel beds and intertidal habitat.

Building these docks is so ill advised for so many reasons, not the least of which is that they are being built on exposed shoreline that gets hit by these winds on a regular basis.  They are not being built in sheltered bays or coves.    No one wants these docks except for the new owners on the Cape, and they want them so badly that they even went against the wishes of their friends on Council who tried to persuade them not to build the structures.  Somehow, DFO and the BC Government saw nothing wrong with the docks and they are going ahead.  I should run a pool on how long it will take for these docks to wash up on the beach.  I reckon we'll have a "detachment event" within five years.  Not to mention a complete change in the nature of the foreshore: that goes without saying.  

What is happening at the Cape, from these docks to the road building to the contemptuous privacy hedges on the "sea walk" (currently a "cedar walk") trail is breaking hearts.  Yes it is private property.  Yes the owners can do whatever they want within the terms of the their development permits.  Yes, the whole things has gone very badly over the past ten years.  Yes, it all just sucks.  You'd be hard pressed to find an islander anywhere who wou be able to express complete delight at the outcome.  And everyone has someone else to blame.

Me, I have no idea.  I'm so confused by what happened down there, and what continues to happen.  I don't know who is doing what, what is happening or who is letting it happen nor stopping it from happening.  Whatever.  It's largely over I think.

The one redeeming feature is that the Cape itself is a powerful place.  Even with all the building and blasting and moulding and logging and surveying.  You can go down there and stand on the shore and still FEEL it.  It will never be the same as it was 10 years ago, but no matter what happens there, it will be hard to rob it of it's pure power.  To experience that you can simply go down there and sit still and listen to the waves pounding the shore.  You might even hear the sounds of dock footing being pulled up by the one force that can arbitrarily decide what gets to stay - the wind and the sea.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The price of cheap outrage

A couple of years ago, around the time that tha BITE paper started publishing,  I noticed the sharp decline in civility on Bowen Island around various issues.  It really came to a head during the National Park debate, and later became deeply personal during the election campaign and in subsequent months.  Now the entire Bowfest Board has resigned after facing a torrent of abuse from islanders about the date for this year's festival.  Traditionally, it has been held on the last weekend before Labour Day.  This year they chose to hold it on Labour Day weekend.

This was the third controversy this year's committee has had to deal with.  Earlier they were the focus of an intense facebook debate after the decided not to pay musicians, but to still allow commercial vendors to profit at the festival.  Then they chose the theme of "zombies" which was quickly opposed by families with young kids on the grounds that, well, we already do Hallowe'en really well.  The date change was the straw that broke the camel's back.

But the way some members of the community have responded has been in a fashion that has become all too familiar.  Keyboard warriors flooded the committee with really harsh words on the forum and by email (and probably face to face to, or at least through the rumour mill) and now the Board has resigned.  The overwhelming sentiment now is "you have to have a thick skin to volunteer on Bowen."

This is actually true.  Whether you run for Council or sit on a committee you are likely to get verbally abused.  I have been sneered at and mocked and subjected to cheap outrage just because I dared host community conversations.  The community centre committee got the hairdryer treatment at Council recently.  Individuals get personally criticized for their views in public.  There has been an 18 month long campaign against several members of the previous Council who continue to attract vitriol, even though they haven't been involved in decision making at all.

How does this stop?  A part of me would like to see our mayor lead the call to more civic dialogue, but he was so blatantly personal during the election campaign and right afterwards that his credibility is shot on this topic.  There are a few Councillors on Council who could make a public appeal top chill out, step up and make this place a more respectable public market place of ideas.  I hope they will...I think their leadership would be welcome.

But we now see the price of this kind of tone.  It costs us.  Hopefully Bowfest will go ahead this year, but if it doesn't it will be a real tangible victim of mean spirited talk. Snide, snippy, sarcastic, rumour mongering gossip has to stop if we are to recover a sense of vibrant community life and see new hearts and minds volunteering to care for the soul of this place.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

No signs please we're Boweners

A funny little Bowenism.

Traditionally on Bowen provincial and federal elections have gone on without lawn signs going up. It's a funny thing. It's as if political debate is unseemly or something. Those who take signs are stigmatized as if they were serial litterers. And God forbid you are party campaigner and you exercise your right to place a sign on public property.

So today on the Bowen Forum the debate begins anew.. It's funny. One poster even muses about whether we have a local by law that can stop this unseemly exercise in democracy from muddying the view. I have no idea why we do this. Perhaps people feel politics should be a private matter.

I used to think it was quaint that we had this local tradition. But during the national park debate there were lots of no parks signs that went up. So now I think we have abandoned the practice. Politics on Bowen has now become personal it has become nasty and it has signs. I think it's time we realized that we can't have it both ways.

The Little Bowen mindset is getting tiresome, but its harmless and funny.
But watch how the debate unfolds and you will learn something about why people think our community should have its own standards with respect to off island politics. A funny kind of exceptionalism that looks small minded and hypocritical the more I see it play out.

UPDATE: This morning there was an NDP sign at the corner by the Catholic Church.  This afternoon it is gone. You will see this happen throughout the campaign.  What IS the word for this kind uppitiness?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Improving community decision making

How many of you live in communities where community meetings are boring affairs punctuated by outrage?  How many of you feel like influencing your local government means showing up en masse with a pettion or an organized campaign to get them to make a small change?  How many of you are just plain disillusioned with your local government and have given up trying to help them involve citizens in decision making?
And how many of you are leaders that are frustrated by citizens who just yell at you all the time?  How many of you don’t actually know what you are doing, but could never admit that in public?  How many of you have tried to involve the community once, failed and vowed never to do it again?  How many of you have strategic communications strategies (public or secret) for dealing with your own citizens?
This is what it has come to in many places.  In my local community, not unlike many others across Canada, our local Council was elected on a tide of resentment that was stoked against the previous Council.  For most of the previous Council’s term, a group of citizens mounted a campaign of smear and slander, including starting a newspaper funded by developers devoted to criticizing almost every Council initiative and culminating in an election campaign where four of the sitting members of Council were branded “The Gang of Four.”  And even subsequent to the election 18 months ago, there has been an ongoing litany of blame against the old Council and people considered to be nsupportive of the old Council (and I count myself as one of them).  The result is, on our local island, there is a real sense of cynicism.  The new Council has not created any new initiatives with respect to involving citizens, and has, if my records are straight, only one “town hall” meeting.  We have been short on dialogue and deliberation and if there are any decisions being made at all, they are being made without the invitation of the community.  It feels sad, not because somehow the old Council was better than this one, but because our community can be so much more interesting and engaged.
Over the years citizens on Bowen have self-organized not just is lobby groups to advocate for particular policy decisions, but to actually build things that local governments should otherwise be doing.  A group of citizens from across the political spectrum participated in a unique group called Bowen island Ourselves, which sought to undertake these kinds of initiatives to compliment local government services and functions.  As a result, we did things like develop a crowdsourced road status tool, hosted a parallel process of Open Space dialogues alongside the formal consultation process for our official community planning process, sponsored deliberation meetings on issues such as local agriculture and the proposal to create a national park on Bowen Island, organize and implement BowenLIFT as an alternative transportation system.  Lots of stuff.
But when the well becomes poisoned and citizens and elected officials begin just screaming at each other, fear takes over and stuff like that shuts down.  We are in a period like that right now on Bowen, and the result is that a number of decisions are being made that have a significant impact on the future of our island, especially with respect to our village centre, without having any creative public dialogue.  There is simply no place for the public to be a part of co-creating the future.  We will get open houses on the plans that Council designs with a few advisors.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.  There are thousands of tools out there that can help people do interesting and creative community engagement.  This list of decision making tools from the Orton Family Foundation came through my inbox today. What is required to choose these tools?
Well first, a local government must be brave enough to stand in front of it’s citizens and ask for help.  Assuming that you have the answers to complex questions is unwise.  Better to be learners in office than heros.  Second, a local government has to trust it’s citizens and create a climate where ideas can be discussed respectfully.  Sure there are always going to be people wanting to take shots at you (especially if you played that way before you were in office) but as local leaders, there is an art to opening space where citizens can be in dialogue rather than debate.  Third, local governments have to be serious about using what they learn and being clear an transparent about why they are choosing some ideas over others.  Lastly it helps if local government leaders actually relish their jobs and see their community members, even the ones they disagree with as interesting and worthwhile neighbours.  I have heard many local elected officials over the years express outright contempt for their citizens (although rarely does it happen while the official is sitting in office)
If you get some of this right, things can open up.  If that’s what you want.  But it takes leadership, and not just the kind that massages agendas and works behind the scenes.  It requires leaders to stand up in front of their citizens and declare their willingness to make a new start and to leverage the best of their community’s assets.  It requires leaders to trust their citizens and to relish working with them to create community initiatives and services that are loved and enjoyed by all.
I’d love to hear stories of local governments that changed their tune midstream to become open and excited about inclusive and participatory decision making processes.  It would inspire me to hope that maybe something like that is possible where I live.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Randy flickers

Every year the dawn chorus swells between February and late June.  Birds on their way north stop off here and make some noise, and the resident nesters carry on finding mates and raising young, and in the case of eagles and ravens, eating everyone else's eggs.

This year, for whatever reason we have one northern flicker that has taken up residence around our house and flies from tree to tree to roof to tree making a huge noise.  It laughs all the time - ALL the time - and then lands on top of the metal roofs or the transformers on the power poles in fron of our house and drums incessantly.

Have a listen to him laughing away.

So we are officially advertising for a mate for our randy flicker.  Come and get him, females...he's hot to trot.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Past last frost

Came back from a week skiing at Sun Peaks and found that Bowen had been bathed in sun and warm temperatures. Spent the evening conditioning the soil and getting ready to plant. Here's what's already up:


A rogue borage that has nice edible flowers for salad.

Hyacinth, daffodil and some rock flowers.

Over wintered kale

Rogue sorrel

Chard also from last winter

Beds all ready to go.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hitching on Bowen

Bowen LIFT got a nice boost on CBC Radio this morning. Listen to the podcast here.

Protecting Howe Sound

Now that Howe Sound is well on the way to recovery from years of toxic leeching from gold mines, mills and industrial development, it's time to wreck it again!

“This repeated series of proposals for heavy new industry in Howe Sound, we believe, underscores the need for a comprehensive management plan put in place for the Howe Sound region,” he said.
As an example of the current piecemeal approach, he said Sunshine Coast Regional District has a document called “We Envision” that sets forth a set of ecosystem management objectives. But the document’s reach stops at the north end of the Howe Sound Pulp and Paper mill at Port Mellon, he said.

“There have been hundreds of millions spent on remediation of Howe Sound, and there’s been a significant recovery of the sound, but it’s very fragile and it’s not a given that the overall recovery will not be put in jeopardy by heavy, new industry.

“This [Woodfibre LNG] is clearly a large project. We don’t know a lot about it, but there’s certainly potential for impacts such as what I’ve outlined and we have concerns about those potential impacts.”
Though Gau didn’t want to get into specific concerns about the potential impacts of the Woodfibre LNG project, former Squamish councillor Meg Fellowes did. She told The Chief on Friday (March 8) that the “re-industrialization” of the Woodfibre site has the potential to threaten ongoing efforts to restore the sound to environmental health after decades of degradation, most of it the result of heavy industry.

The struggle to clean up the sound began well before the Woodfibre mill closed in 2006, she said, but has become much more evident since that time, Fellowes said.

Thanks in large measure to the efforts of groups such as Squamish Streamkeepers, who have worked diligently to restore the herring spawn to its former glory, dolphins and even whales have been seen at the head of Howe Sound. Tens of millions of dollars spent on water-quality remediation has also resulted in the restoration of the salmon run on Britannia Creek, she said.

Any sort of discharge from a future Woodfibre LNG plant, or from tanker ships serving the facility, has the potential to wipe out those gains in a matter of hours, she said.