Friday, December 11, 2015


Things that will not change if you complain about them:
  • The weather.
  • Falling Trees
  • The ferry schedule and its daily implementation..
  • The colour of the tap water
  • The price of firewood in December
  • Ferry line up jumpers
  • Tourists

Things that might get better if you complain about them to the right people:
  • A power outage
  • BC Ferries service
  • A cross walk design
  • Speeding
  • The temperature of your soup.

Things that will get worse if you complain about them:
  • Your neighbours
  • Snug Cove plans
  • The quality of discourse on the Forum 
  • Anything happening at the Cape 
  • A server who has busted her butt to heat up your soup during a power outage because you are late for the ferry that's running way off schedule due to the weather.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What a newcomer learns in 90 days

We're working on a whimsical yet practical guide to being a newcomer on Bowen Island.  Islanders are whimsical yet practical people, after all.  In doing some research about what newcomers want to know, we've been posting questions from time to time on one of the better read Bowen Island facebook pages.  

Today one of our new neighbours made a list of what she has learned.  It's really good:

1. It's not a case of "if" the power goes, it's "how long" the power will be out.
2. Flashlights and candles are invaluable commodoties
3. Don't get embarrassingly drunk at The Pub because EVERYONE will know . . .unless everyone else is drunk, then drink up.
4. If #3 happens, Glen and Meredith have your back
5. Everyone knows who Glen and Meredith are
6. Everyone knows who you are, where you live and what you plan to do next Tuesday
7. The mainland is officially known as "town"
8. You can walk into Knick Knack Nook with $5 and walk out with a massive bag of stuff
9. Directions rarely include road names and mainly revolved around "you know the red chicken coop past ___'s farm? Turn left there"
10. Everybody has chickens
11. You suddenly have the urge to own chickens
12. You don't know the first thing about chickens
13. Burger Night. 'Nuff said.
14. Hitchhiking is a legitimate form of transportation
15. When someone asks for your help, they actually need it and don't plan to mug you
16. Never trust BC Ferries sailing times. Ever.
17. The speed limit is actually 30 km/ hr . Respect it.
18. Driving around the North Shore is simply too hectic for you
19. Driving in downtown Vancouver gives you a panic attack
20. If you do venture off to 'town', you want to get back to your cozy little island ASAP and return to the life of a hermit.
Nice.  There was widespread consensus that she has "become one of us."  Burger Nights at the pub will do that for a person.  Especially the way she experiences them.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


There has been a good facebook discussion on affordable housing prompted by Wolfgang Duntz's Rezoning Proposals for Parkview Slopes.  This development proposal is for a couple of lots on Cates Hill below and west of Rivendell and Artisan Square.

A feature of this proposal is affordable housing of different kinds, including housing intended to be affordable to own through a leasing arrangement.  There are a number of issues with land leasing (including what happens if the leaseholder ever goes bankrupt, because there can be liabilities for municipalities in these cases).  But in general ANYTHING we can do to provide affordable housing option on Bowen is a good thing.

However, that doesn't mean we can't be strategic.  And that means understanding our context.  As I see it we have two kinds of affordability challenges on Bowen.  We require housing for people that live and work on the island as low wage employees, making something between minimum wage and say, $20 an hour.  These are the people that staff the bricks and mortar businesses on the island and make it possible for us to be more than a bedroom community.  In general these people rent housing and are unable anywhere in the Lower Mainland to develop equity in property.  They are island-based renters, although they are increasingly commuting from cheaper digs on the east side of Vancouver.  Several of your favourite people on Bowen make that reverse commute every day. Currently the on-island renters are living in the few apartments we have around Bowen, or in basement suites or shared houses.  Their housing situations are not secure or stable, and the rents are essentially set at the level that allows the owner to cover the costs of the building: mortgage and taxes.  They get kicked out when the market spikes and the owner wants to sell.

The other kind of affordability need we have is for affordable ownership.  This is a Lower Mainland problem and because of that it creates a special problem for our first class of renters.  Whenever an "affordable" home comes on the market (and I'm talking less than average, let's say $3-500,000) it gets snapped up immediately by folks looking for affordable home ownership.  These are people capable of paying a downpayment, which in general is not your labourer, cashier or retail staff person.  The result is that we could build 1000 "affordable" homes that would do nothing to create any new housing stock for on-island renters.  It would just bring 1000 new people to Bowen who previously were struggling to make ends meet in Vancouver.  Belterra is a recent example, and although several islanders moved there, several more also arrived to be a part of the co-housing development (and don't get me wrong, they're awesome!).

So how to fix this?

Well, there are a number of things that we could try but they would be counter cultural on Bowen Island.  One major reason for this is that they have to operate outside of the market, and that makes these proposals a non-starter for some people.  Some of these things include:

  • Subsidized social housing
  • Trailers owned and rented out by a housing authority
  • Restrictions on AirBnB and VRBO rentals which take available housing out of the rental stock in order for owners to rent their places out on weekends.  (San Francisco is already confronting this)
  • Allowance for liveaboards on boats. 
  • Encouragement and perhaps subsidy of some kind for business owners to build apartments above their businesses to house their employees.

It is just not going to be enough to build more houses that are smaller and cheaper than the existing stock.  We need low rent housing that is protected for on-island workers.  This is so totally out of the box in BC right now that I expect lots of push back for an idea like this.  But it is common in many other parts of the world, and perhaps our new federal government will have a different and progressive take on addressing affordability in market-bubble zones.  Not all housing has to be market based.  And part of ensuring that your own home has a high value is that you live in a community with the kinds of amenities that can only be provided by the folks that serve your coffee, beer and sandwiches, that fix your roof, repair your boat, clean your house look after your kids and take care of your elderly neighbours.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Calling out a made up "tradition"

I want to do something really unBowen: call something out directly.

Today the Undercurrent published this article: Campaign road signs not 'the Bowen way'.  It describes how there is a tradition on Bowen Island of election campaign signs being restrcited only to the sign corner at the crossroads.  Apparently, it is "Not The Bowen Way" to place them on lawns or in windows and candidates that do "receive a polite phone call" presumably inviting them to do something else.

This makes my skin crawl.  I frankly don;t care one way or the other if you want to have an election sign on your lawn.  In fact there is something about the rambunctious chaos of electioneering that somehow captures the colourful energy of a democracy in full sail.  On the other hand, its dismal when, weeks after elections are over, signs are still littering public spaces.

But what really bothers me is the self-appointed community standards police who enforce this policy year after year.  It is not really a tradition; not like slug races or the Black Sheep marking a store opening, or not telling anyone where Alder Cove beach is, or dropping off Halloween candy in the homes of Deep Bay residents you don't know.

It is a kind of conspiracy hatched by the original candidates in our first municipal election and enforced by some of them and their friends to this day.  Newcomers to our island should know that this is not an official policy of our local municipality - nor could it be, for legislating this kind of thing would probably be unconstitutional, if Elections Canada had any teeth left to fight this kind of thing.  instead it is a policy with a genteel veneer that sometimes has the nasty effect of suppressing the ability for new candidates to indelibly mark your brans with their names, for better or worse.  It serves incumbents and those with name recognition.  In short, a policy like this serves the very people who tend to be most supportive of it (and those who tend to support the workings of free markets except when it comes to promoting democratic choice)

It is quaint, which is very much "the Bowen way."  It is also elitist and exclusionary and that too sometimes is "the Bowen way."   So I'm going on the record, and I know I'm not alone, in objecting to the sometimes sanctimonious way this little tradition - with all of it's nuanced sneakiness and possibly dark sideeffects- is retreaded every time an election comes around.  I fjndamentally distrust people who, through tradition, coercion, influence or otherwise, work against participation in democratic process.  Even if it's a bit messy

If we really want to see if it's "the Bowen way" perhaps leave it alone, stop enforcing it with "polite phone calls" (Those sinister scare quotes) and see if Bowen Islanders, free of the pressure to conform, choose to continue this custom, or evolve something entirely different, and entirely Bowen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Epic hike to end the summer

We're blessed on Bowen with a small set of hiking trails which offer challenges to folks of all abilities.  Many of these are marked and official, and there are a few that are not official.

Yesterday Caitlin and I marked the end of summer with perhaps the most challenging hike possible on Bowen, the Mount Gardiner circuit.  It's an epic six hour trek that probably got us upwards of 1000 meters elevation in total.

We bagen at 1pm at the gate on Hiker's Road, on the north side of the mountain.  Climbing up a road for about 20 minutes takes you to Handloggers Trail (marked as the Midlevel trail on the map).  It's a 200 meter climb right out of the chute, but once on Handloggers heading west around the mountain another 120 meter climb takes you to a fantastic lookout over Killarney Lake and Mount Collins.

From there, the trail climbs a bit more before bending around the mountain and opening up views to the west, over Keats Island, the Paisley Group and the Sunshine Coast.  At 1.5 hours into the the trip you join the Bluewater reservoir trail, a high flat section of older growth Douglas fir and beautiful mossy forest floor gives you a chance to rest the legs for a bit until you join up with the Handloogers trail proper trail and begin steadily to move down the hill.  Some of the down hill sections are challenging, going on extending descents along cobble strewn creek beds, which were thankfully dry this season.

The Bluewater section of Handloggers crosses some impressive canyons and gullies as it makes it's way around the western side of the mountain.  After about 1.5 hours of this you arrive at the split and a decision point about whether head down to the Laura Road trail head, or complete the second half of the trip, which is far more gruelling.

At 4pm we headed up towards the South Summit of Mount Gardiner.  Having lost about 220 meters in elevation, we now headed almost straight up to recover it and more.  The 1.5 hour climb takes you up two impressive gully systems with some great views across the south part of Bowen Island, Apodaca Ridge and the Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Island.  You gain 440 meters in a little over a kilometre, which makes for a steep ascent in some places.

The trail comes out at a lovely flat saddle between the two peaks of Mount Gardiner.  From her eyou have the choice to climb to the summits, but yesterday we were pressed for time and we could feel the weather changing, so we decided to head back down again towards Skid Trail on the south flank of the mountain.  The section off the top is really steep and switchbacks take you back and forth along contours with blufftop view points opening over Sung Cove, Apodaca Ridge and towards Vancouver and the Lower Mainland away in the distance. You are now in the business of losing 600 meters or so of elevation, and the knees are knocking pretty hard by the time you get down to the Skid Trail.  The forest is all cedars and the forest floor is bereft of ferns and salal.  In the murky distance are Dangerous Dan Cowan's mysterious bike jumps.

It takes a little over 1.5 hours to go from the saddle back to the starting point, but Skid Trail becomes a friendly lovely way out.

It has been on my bucket list all summer to complete that circuit.  I estimated six hours and we were right on the dot, with time for one wrong turn that was easily corrected.  The legs feel good this morning which was a surprise, perhaps aided by a little bit of celebratory Laphroaig.  

Monday, August 31, 2015

The drought has broken

On Saturday the most violent August wind storm in history lashed the coast with damage that rivalled 2006's December windstorm.  Since then it has been raining steadily and heavily, to the tune of more than 100mm making this drought beset August now one of the wettest on record.

I went out this afternoon to look at some drainage channels I had cut at the back of my land that help the water find it's way into better drainage than under my neighbour's foundation.  I was surprise to see hardly any run off at all.  The land has been so thirsty that it has just absorbed all this rain.  Last winter, there were massive puddles and rivers of water cascading off a saturated Mount Collins.  Today, the earth is a sponge.

This bodes well for the recharging of our aquifers, the refilling of wells and the rejuvenation of the microbial systems that require moisture to do their work.  The drought is over and falls seems to be at hand.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Spear Sisters finalists in film competition (last day to vote!)

You have a chance to be a part of Kailey and Sam Spear's career boosting move to have their short film on the Twilight saga pitched to Lionsgate pictures.  Follow the link below.

Spear Sisters finalists in film competition (last day to vote!)

Friday, June 26, 2015

▶ A Day Trip to Bowen Island BC Canada - YouTube

▶ A Day Trip to Bowen Island BC Canada - YouTube

North Shore Tourism has produced a video of a day trip to Bowen.  It's full of a lot of adjectives.

But one thing I like about it is that it has a brief glimpse into Artigiani Milanesi, an outstanding small cashmere tailor that relocated from Milan to Bowen last year.  They make outstanding quality clothing from incredible cashmere wool.

Dave Witty on our OCP

LETTER: First understand the law, Mr. Long

Dave Witty, a Bowen resident and nationally respected planner, outlines what our OCP is, how it was made and amended, and why it works.  It's a good read to put into perspective the mechanics of designing an OCP for a community.

And if you want to read our document, so so here.

Making the full potential internet a reality

“It would become essential...”

Great article about Ken Simpson's recent talk at Collins Hall.  A truly broadband community run internet connection, with superior upload speeds would make shift Bowen Island's economy to a more local one quicker than almost anything else I can think of short of stopping ferry services.

It would be a powerful attractor for home based businesses and creative professionals and could be a powerful way to talk about the way our community invests in itself.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Belonging on Bowen

I've been really enjoying the work we have been doing on the Bowen Island Economic Development Committee.  I'm sitting on the Business Retention and Expansion working group and we are about to embark on a project to host a few dialogue circles with local businesses.  We want to test out a few assumptions about the way the local economy functions before embarking on strategies to retain and expand it. 

In most municipalities, BRE committees publish data and try to attract investment and industry to their communities.  On Bowen, my hunch is that we need a really different approach to this work for a number of reasons.  First of all, we are an island, and we are not on the way to anywhere.  It is very hard to attract business to a place that automatically costs them extra for being here.  We suspect that most business people who live on Bowen are in business here because they want to live here.  That is in contrast with many other places, where people are in business because the market conditions are good.  Evidence of this is simple to see: of the 500 or so businesses on Bowen you would be hard pressed to find a single one that is owned by an absentee owner.  It could well be true that every single business on Bowen is owned by a Bowen Islander.  That is a remarkable statistic.

The nature of community here supports businesses.  And it's also an inhibitor.  You have to want to live on Bowen to work on Bowen.  But when you become a part of the community it makes it easier to do business, or work jobs.  Belonging becomes not only the reason you live here but the way you can stay.  

For visitors, belonging is a key aspect to their experience as well.  Our current community branding initiative is interesting in that our visitor's survey has shown that people feel a sense of connection and restoration when they come to Bowen.  And when my little company hosts groups here, we ensure that the entire village is involved, taking our people out to Rustique for dinner, having The Snug cater, getting provisions from the Bowen Wine and Beer Store and spending a night out in the community living room up at The Pub.  I love watching people from our groups experience Bowen, meet local people and make connections while they are here.  They can feel the belonging that we know.

Belonging is a key indicator of the quality of our relationship to this place.  For me this really informs our BRE work, because we are looking at the role that belonging to Bowen plays in the attractions nd retention of business here, despite thin profit margins and staffing issues.  If it wasn’t for that sense of “belonging on Bowen” I think a lot of businesses might have relocated elsewhere.

Vancouver Coastal Health did a survey in 2013 looking at community wellness on the North Shore and Bowen island, and not surprisingly we came out at 82%, the highest by far of all the areas surveyed. This is an important feature of community life here and is a big reason why we are a unique community within Metro Vancouver.  It is also a big reason why strategies tailored to business retention and development on Bowen need to uniquely fit our context.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Loons calling

There big spring bird migrations are in full swing.  We have had warblers around here for a month or more and vultures moving north as well.  In the last few days the snow geese have been moving by the thousands as well, have fed or overwintered in the Fraser estuary, and flying high at night on the still air, heading to Alaska.

This morning, a rare sound from Mannion Bay.  A common loon has been warbling on the water.  Once in a while we hear them, but not for a few years.  For anyone born in Ontario, this is a strange noise to hear on the ocean as we associate loons so strongly with interior lakes.  But they move up the coast every year too, with all of the other birds.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Oil spills and dock fires

A week of environmental accidents that have only heightened the story that Howe Sound and the waters around Vancouver are at risk.

A 2700 litre spill of bunker fuel in English Bay took hours to be discovered and dealt with.  As a result, the beaches around English Bay have been exposed to highly toxic bunker oil, and while the visible damage may not be all that impressive, the microscopic damage could be much much worse.

Following that, a fire at the Squamish Terminal destroyed the creosote coated pilings at the freight terminal, releasing noxious smoke into the air shed and endangering 30 dock workers, all of whom escaped safely.  The response to that fire included fire fighting boats from Vancouver.  The damage from the fire has probably killed all or most of the 100,000 chum salmon fry that were being raised nearby, and it's unknown how it will have affected the herring spawn.  Herring spawn on those pilings which have been wrapped in fabric to protect them from the chemicals in the creosote.  That intervention has led to a record herring population resurgence in Howe Sound and that in turn has brought back dolphins and orcas (a family of which were seen off Deep Bay this week).  This spring, a heavy herring spawn on kelp took place near the Woodfibre site and on the pilings at the Terminal and Nexen Beach.  The hope is that these herring are already hatched and gone, but we won't know for sure until the science is done.  At any rate, the replacement pilings will almost certainly not be creosote soaked wood, and that will be good news for the future, which is pretty much all we have right now.

Industrial accidents, are inevitable in industrial societies.  But the way we respond to these accidents is what matters.  In the case of the oil spill, the federal government was largely panned for the fact that cuts to local Coast Guard resources, and the privatization of spill response has led to an erosion of oil spill response capability.  There are now danger signs posted up along the Vancouver and West Vancouver beaches, just as summer begins.  The federal government has largely been praising it's own efforts to respond to the spill, in the face of evidence, reason, or citizen demand to do better.

In the case of the Squamish fire, absolutely heroic efforts got everything under control, but the dock will need to be taken down and replaced and the damage to the environment may be long lasting.  The inlet is at a crossroads, at which we can decide whether or not to pursue an aggressive agenda of risky industrial activity in the Sound, or choose a restorative approach to the inlet, which could include some development activity such as renewable power generation and tourism, but which eschews extractive resource activities and the processing and transportation of dangerous cargo.

If the last week has meant anything, it will push a sharper awareness of the future of our inlet to the forefront, and stimulate a deeper conversation about what is appropriate for this place.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mike Harcourt just gets it wrong. So wrong.

I love Mike Harcourt.  Terrific guy. My wife's first boos when we moved to BC. But he is so so wrong on this:

 Opinion: Woodfibre LNG on the correct track: During my time as premier of British Columbia, I had three basic ground rules to encourage growth and development in the province: treat workers with respect, pay your fair share of taxes and don’t mess with the environment.
Even by Mike's standards, WoodfibreLNG fails.  Treat workers with respect?  This plant will be built overseas and shipped here to be assembled at Woodfibre.  WLNG has applied for permission to employ temporary foreign workers to assemble it and ultimately operate it.  We have no trained LNG assembly and operations workers in BC.  We have chosen to support an industry that supports 100 full time jobs, almost none of them local.  BC workers will not be employed by this.

Pay your fair share of taxes? Ridiculous.  Not only is WLNG's owner a convicted tax evader, but the royalty scheme for this project is so light that it will probably end up COSTING BC taxpayers to get it going.  Eoin Finn puts is best when he says that we are getting into LNG at a time when the future is actually in renewables.  The price of LNG is diving downward and the tax revenues we get (paid on profits, not tonnes of gas) will be minimal, if they aren't somehow laundered through Tanoto's network of shell companies and tax havens.

Don't mess with the environment?  The biggest Howe Sound herring spawn in recent memory is happening right now, and right by the Woodfibre site.  Woodfibre LNG will pour 17 swimming pools of heated and chlorinated water into that very part of the Sound EVERY HOUR.  And as for environmental protections neither international shipping standards nor the SIGTTO (The Society of International Gas Transporters and Terminal Operators) standards permit or advise terminals to be located in narrow inlets full of commercial, recreational and ferry traffic.  This is why Woodfibre LNG will not even join it's international industry association, because this proposal would be in violation of those standards.  Woodfibre LNG likes to boast of the safety of shipping LNG, but those safety records are the results of industry and international standards being adhered to. You cannot simply ignore them all and yet still base your proposal on the past safety record.

Mike Harcourt is deeply wrong on this.  We may or may not need LNG (why are we creating an economic plan based on extractive industries that combust fossil fuels again, when we could be pouring ourselves in the development of renewable technologies and become a world leader in an industry that will only grow for as long as there are humans?) but we do not need this plant in this place owned by this man.

Monday, March 9, 2015

I like to think that Bowen does this for me...

whiskey river:

"How can we ever know the difference we make to the soul of the earth? Where the infinite stillness of the earth meets the passion of the human eye, invisible depths strain towards the mirror of the name.

In the word, the earth breaks silence. It has waited a long time for the word. Concealed beneath familiarity and silence, the earth holds back and it never occurs to us to wonder how the earth sees us. Is it not possible that a place could have huge affection for those who dwell there?

Perhaps your place loves having you there. It misses you when you are away and in its secret way rejoices when you return. Could it be possible that a landscape might have a deep friendship with you? That it could sense your presence and feel the care you extend towards it? Perhaps your favorite place feels proud of you.

We tend to think of death as a return to clay, a victory for nature. But maybe it is the converse: that when you die, your native place will fill with sorrow. It will miss your voice, your breath and the bright waves of your thought, how you walked through the light and brought news of other places.

Perhaps each day our lives undertake unknown tasks on behalf of the silent mind and vast soul of nature. During its millions of years of presence perhaps it was also waiting for us, for our eyes and our words. Each of us is a secret envoi of the earth."
- John O'Donohue

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Calm morning

Flat water, green earth, grey rocks. A new season beginning. Starting with the contemplation of this primal sea. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Just sitting.

Mannion Bay on a Friday afternoon. Mild and dry. Work done. On my way to the village to pick up some food and maybe share a pint with neighbours. Stopped to watch mergansers hunting and listen to Eagles and Ravens calling. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Joining the EDC

Got word today that I have been appointed to the Bowen Island Economic Development Committee.  Excited to be working with good folks trying to understand how this place works.  If you have stuff you'd like me to read and understand or share with the committee, let me know.  Should be an interesting three years.

Monday, February 9, 2015

DFO in the house

Fisheries are starting up again in Howe Sound. Saw this DFO vessel waiting to come into the harbour this afternoon. Awesome that we can imagine a herring fishery here again. One more step to an economy based on the healthy land and sea. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Well that didn't take long

Last week at the Woodfibre LNG open house I asked the representatives of Woodfibre how it was going to be possible that those of us opposed to the project could stop it.  To their credit, Josh, who formerly worked with the Environmental Assessment Office, advised that really the only way was to get political.

So I got up this morning, after a busy week of work, to sit down to write a letter to my local MLA Jordan Sturdy, who is also the MLA for Squamish.  As I fired up Google to find his email address, here are the articles that suddenly appeared:

Huh.  I'm not sure I have the capability to raise more money for Jordan Sturdy than Woodfibre LNG can.  Here I was, furiously putting in a shift documenting my experience of the Woodfibre open house, trying to muster strategic opposition by encouraging people to write to our MLA so that he could take a stand against Woodfibre LNG on behalf of the citizens of his riding who do not want the project going ahead.

I ask you though.  What are the options in a democracy when the only route citizens have to actually stopping something are closed by the combined weight of a billionaire's treasure chest and the strategic insight of Hill and Knowlton, who certainly have an extensive playbook on helping big energy companies get what they want?

The timing on this is shocking.  The environmental assessment process is currently open and closes on March 9.  Here is how you can participate. After that process, the Environmental Assessment Office will make recommendations and it will be up to the government to approve or reject the recommendations.

The provincial government is supposed to be the people's voice in this matter. We elected our MLAs to represent us.  In a democracy you would expect that their review of an environment assessment process would be impartial and would balance the company's aspirations against the citizens'.  Just because Woodfibre LNG meets all the criteria does not mean that it is something that should be built. It just means that whatever IS built will be compliant with whatever guidelines are currently in place .

And so we rely on our local MLA to take forward our concerns and one would hope that he will be neutral and considered in his deliberations about what his constituents want.  On the biggest and potentially most important economic and evironmental decision in a generation for his riding, you would think that Jordan Sturdy would rise above Hill and Knowlton and Woodfibre LNG's manipulations and at least maintain an air of neutrality while the process he is to influence is still open.

But that's not the case.  

I have spoken to Jordan Sturdy in the past and I like him, even though we have radically different opinions about the role of the ferry system and other things.  People I know who know him say he's a good guy and I believe them.

But on this issue he has made a colossal, disappointing and dispiriting mistake.  Our last hope to stop Woodfibre LNG was politically.  It was always going to be hard to convince BC Liberals not to approve Woodfibre LNG.  But now that they have been funded by them, there is absolutely a stench of actual, financial influence peddling in the air, and as nice a guy as Sturdy is, I can't shake the feeling that his constituents have no chance to get him to stand in the legislature and oppose this project.

In my dreams, here's what happens.  Jordan stands up in the legislature and declares that there has been a mistake.  That he realizes that receiving funds from Woodfibre was wrong and that he rejects all present, past and future efforts of Woodfibre LNG to influence the political process while the decision is still open. He would declare that he needs all of his constituents to write, phone and email him so that he can return to the legislature and express their concerns.  Because not a single employee, investor or beneficiary of Woodfibre LNG lives in Jordan Sturdy's riding.  Imagine if he stood alone and voted to deny Woodfibre LNG?  How courageous would that be, even though it probably represents what his constituents actually want him to do?  It's a sad day when doing what is expected of you is a courageous act.

Perhaps we should throw a fundraiser for him here on Bowen Island.  We could invite him out to the pub for "Take Back Our MLA Night", point out that he's here at the behest of a group of people that don't want the project to happen.  We could pass my hat around to raise a few bucks for his next election campaign and try as hard as we can to engage in our own influence peddling.  I wonder if he'd come?  I wonder if other communities around Howe Sound would do the same?

I also wonder about influence now. Other than a blog post from an obscure Bowen Islander whose faith in our democracy is continually eroded by the very people we elect to be its guardians, I wonder what ability we have now to stop it.  It's not that I expect to get my way on every issue.  What I expect is an assurance that there is a clean, lawful, neutral process for citizens to express their dissent.  You'd think that would be through your local MLA.  

Jordan has to know that the only people who really want this are a corrupt SIngaporian billionaire, The BC Liberal party brass and the bond rating agencies that underwrite our provincial finances and who call the shots.  The rest of us can live without it.  No one will go out of business or die because we DON'T build it.  

So this is a long letter to Jordan Sturdy.  To conclude: Jordan...I'm opposed to Woodfibre.  I'd be amazed if the collective voice of your constituents made a difference in this respect, because until you distance yourself from Woodfibre LNG, it's hard to have faith that you will be making a decision in the best interests of the people whom you represent.  I think you should issue a public statement clarifying the relationship and rejecting you now appear to have and take a strong stand for the integrity of the democratic process.  

I'll post your response on my blog.

EDIT TO ADD: To his credit Jordan Sturdy called me back this morning and we had another good talk about things.  I think he acknowledged that the perception is everything and the perception is bad, but he clarified that the fundraising event was not "sponsored by Woodfibre LNG" but Woodfibre LNG bought a table along with many other donors.  While I am not naive, and know full well how political fundraising works, I pointed out that the real problem was that you have an open application process in which the politicians are going to be responsible for making a decision.  They haven't decided yet so the thing about Woodfibre LNG contributing to the Liberals stinks, and still has the appearance of influence peddling.

I will give Jordan Sturdy credit though.  He personally maintains a principle of a strict separation between the fundraising activities of the riding association and the party and his own work.  He "chalked this one up to experience" acknowledged that it looked bad.  We spent about a half hour talking about the proposal and the inlet and I have to say he deserves a lot of credit for responding right away. He declined to write anything for my blog saying he prefers a phone call to engage over a written piece.  I agree with this.  Our MP John Weston is the worst offender of this kind of thing, never taking time to respond or engage and only just publishing pap that makes him look good and effective when in reality he has rarely acted on anything of substance.

So while I am still highly skeptical about the process I continue to be impressed by our MLAs willingness to engage and ndisncuss issues.  Thanks for the call, Jordan.

PS...He also laughed when I asked him if he'd come to a "Take Back Our MLA" night at the pub as a fundraiser once he clarified that I wasn't starting a recall campaign.  Who knows, eh?  

Sunday, February 1, 2015


Celtic spring begins. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

What I learned from the Woodfibre LNG open house

Last night I attended an open house along with many other islanders put on by the Woodfibre LNG proponents who would like to build a liquified natural gas facility and port at the head of Howe Sound.  The BC Environmental Assessment Office was also there.  I came away with a number of thoughts.  This will be long.

The format

This was an open house, meaning that it was a chance for people to interact one on one with various folks.  The proponents were spread between two rooms, one that looked at benefits and one that looked at technical questions.  Woodfibre had it staff there including everyone from community relations to to the CEO and with the exception of a disrespectful offhanded comment made to me by a senior technical staff person, the company staff were chatty and open and polite, if not particularly forthcoming.  It was hard to get through the sales pitch for the project.  Some of the folks in the room have amazing technical knowledge and it was good to talk to the real humans who are trying to make this thing happen.

There were also people from Fortis, the company that is twining the pipeline from Burnaby to Squamish and people from Hill and Knowlton, Woodfibre's PR firm and one of the biggest PR and lobbying firms in the world.  It took me a while to find out that the H+K guy was from the firm as he said he was one of Woodfibre's consultants.  When I asked which company he worked for he said "Woodfibre" until I pointed out that I knew that Woodfibre had hired his firm, but I was curious which firm he worked for.  He eventually told me.  Hill and Knowlton are heavyweights.

Nobody had logos or last names on their name tags.  The Woodfibre CEO was only identified as AG.  

There were also folks from the Environmental Assessment Office present who were there to explain their process.

So in terms of process I like these kinds of things better than "public meetings" which are highly controlled and constrained.  At least with open houses you are free to learn more about the issues that are important to you, rather than being fed a big picture.  But let's be clear, this was not a consultation.  It was a sales job.  We were not being asked anything, we were being told things.  When I asked "What are you curious to learn from me?" only James, the project manager from Fortis asked me "Well what do you think of this whole thing?" and we had a really good conversation.  The others were flummoxed by my question and demonstrated no curiosity at all in our perspectives.  They were there to answer questions, not asked them.  That is not "consultation."

(And just to say that the previous consultation process was conducted by Kirk and Company, the same firm that ran the BC Ferries consultation. The principal of thet firm is Judy Kirk who is a private coach to BC Cabinet Ministers and makes regular donations to the BC LIberal party that have coincided with the awarding of her contracts for the Ferries work.  You can read more about that here.  This was at least a more straightforward and direct person-toperson contact.  Even the company CEO was there and available to chat,)

Economic Benefits

One of the questions I had for Woodfibre was about economic benefits.  Woodfibre talks alot about the benefits to the local Squamish economy, including the construction jobs and the 100 $100,000 jobs that will be at the plant in an ongoing way.  They talk about the $283 million that will be added the the provincial GDP and the tax benefits that will come from the various taxes which they will be paying.

But when you dig a bit deeper, you notice things that are missing.  For example, when I asked about what the benefits are to Bowen Island, there was no answer.  They haven't really studied the benefits beyond Squamish itself, other than to say how Woodfibre adds to the bigger GDP.  And the truth is, there will be no real direct benefits to Bowen Island or Bowen Islanders.

But the slide that showed economic benefits was incomplete.  Because while those numbers are big it's hard to know what they represent.  So I asked the CEO of the company for the other, unmentioned benefit.  How much was Woodfibre guessing they would make?  No one engages in a project of this scale without determining the profitability.  So you look at all the benefits that Woodfibre is paying out and you can safely assume that they are projecting making a profit anyway.  And the more I pressed the CEO for numbers, the more he added costs on to this.  Capital costs, shipping, salaries, marketing...and yet it is STILL viable enough to be profitable.  Taxes, royalties, local benefits, donations, and STILL it is profitable.  All the CEO would say is that the business relies on thin margins.  But a thin margin of 3% is quite different when your base costs are $10 vs when you base costs are $10 billion.  $10 billion is a lot of money to spend, but if can you earn $300,000,000 from spending it, that might be worth it.  But I have no idea.  Perhaps the profit from this venture is only $300,000,000 over the course of the 25 years of the project.  Or perhaps the profit will be $4 billion.  Or $20billion.  Who knows? Regardless, the benefits to the Howe Sound economy are likely to be small.  And it is of course always an incomplete picture when we have no idea the economic benefit to the owners.  They want our social license to operate in Howe Sound.  At what price are we willing to give it?

The other thing to bear in mind with discussions about GDP is that there is no way to measure subtractions to the GDP.  You can only add to it.  So Woodfibre would make a substantially larger contribution to the GDP if, for example, there was a major accident requiring billions and billions of dollars of remediation and salvage.  It might cost lives, and property damage and ecosystem destruction, but there is no way you can subtract those costs from the GDP - all of that activity simply contributes to economic growth.  It doesn't matter how a dollar is spent, it always adds and never subtracts. If you want to grow the GDP quickly, poison a water supply, destroy a community, start a war.  You will have instant "growth."  Instant "benefit."  So when someone says their project is contributing to the GDP, you say of course it is. But is it contributing to a better world?  We don't have wasy to measure that in this process.


This is where I learned the most.  Here is the truth about Woodfibre project: it is does not have a particularly big environmental impact, not when compared to other resource activities, other development projects or industrial uses of Howe Sound.  The folks at the Open House were quick to point out that the economic benefits were huge and the environmental impacts were small.  The Woodfibre folks are well prepared to demonstrate how every worry you have about impacts is addressed with a technical solution.  The exclusion zone around ships is non existent, the air quality degradation will be negligible, there is very little impact on water, the site will be cleaner now than it was when the mill was there.  LNG is cleaner that coal.  The plant's GHG emissions will be so low that the company won't have to pay for carbon offsets, etc. etc.

But here's the deal.  The impact of Woodfibre is not necessarily technical, environmental or even economic.  The impact is that it represents a clear and unequivocal statement that Howe Sound is reversing the story of de-industrializatino and instead is being used as a showcase for industry that the province is trumpeting to the world.

Howe Sound used to be an industrial nightmare.  Two polluting pulp mills and one of the most toxic mine sites in Canada, saw mills, hundreds of log booms dropping organic material on the sea bed.  Life was heavily impacted in the Sound.  The deindustrialization of Howe Sound has proceeded apace over the past couple of decades and the arrival of dolphins in the Sound in 2005 was a significant marker.  Suddenly a new story of possibility for the local environment and economy began to be told.  Tourism became more important than logging, Squamish billed itself as the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada, we even considered a national park proposal on Bowen Island.  To even imagine Howe Sound as a national park in the 1990s was well out of the realm of possibility.

And yet, here is a new story of an ecosystems being restored to health by countless volunteer hours led by the residents of Howe Sound themselves.   It is about the kinds of choices we want to make for the future of Howe Sound.  And perhaps the Woodfibre LNG with all it's "low" impacts will be a part of that future, but the big danger is that approving Woodfibre changes the narrative away from the story that is emerging now, the story that has invited and encouraged enterprise and economy based on tourism and a healthy environment.  I asked the Environmental Assessment Office folks if there was a way they could evaluate and assess the impact of a thin edge of a wedge and of course they can't  They can only assess the narrow direct and the broader cumulative impacts of the actual project.  There is no mechanism for taking into account what will happen when the message goes out that Howe Sound is a showcase for industrial projects again.  The reindustrialization of Howe Sound is a real possibility.  

The Woodfibre folks have heard your comments about the dolphins.  But they don't see the bigger picture and they take no responsibility for it.  Nor should they really.  The future of the story of this places belongs to those of us that live here and we need to think carefully about what we want that to be and we need to communicate that to the political decision makers that will ultimately approve or deny this project.

The thin edge of the wedge always has a small impact.  That's how wedges work.

Climate change

There is no place in this process for discussions about climate change.  Unless you are a Woodfibre representative and you want to show how few emissions the plant will actually produce, vs. the thousands and thousands of cars that will come into the Sound if tourism becomes the chosen pathway.  And the Environmental Assessment Office has no way of taking into account the total green house gas emissions that are accelerated and made possible by this project that ships fossils fuels to Asia.

For me, climate change is a huge issue and what makes it hard for me to say yes to these kinds of projects is that there is no tie between a project like this and the transition that we need to make to an economy of renewable energy production.

I use fossil fuels as do you and everyone you know.  You cannot live in this world without using fossil fuels.  Climate change skeptics and resource company shills will point out that you are a hypocrite if you use fossil fuels while complaining about them.  But you aren't.  You are simply embedded in a system that you are powerless to change on your own.

I think, broadly speaking, that if we are to make a planetary shift to renewable energy sources it needs to happen by linking the wealth and energy generated from fossil fuels to the development needs of a new grid.  I have no major problem with drilling for oil and gas IF the use of it is tied to the shift.  That means substantial royalties and taxes taken from that activity and given over to subsidizing research, development and construction of a new power infrastructure.  That means using fossil fuels now to produce the next generation of power generating infrastructure.  And in this scenario, natural gas is a better choice than coal for doing that.

And if that was the project of our governments, then I would be a strong proponent of more activity in the oil and gas sector because I would know that such activity is making a difference because policies and regulations tie that activity to a promising future.  But that isn't what we have.  What we have is a fiscal, policy and regulatory regime that enables private companies to make massive profits (even on small margins) with no responsibility to contribute to the future transition to renewable energy.  The renewable energy infrastructure will take a generation or two to build.  If we don't start building it now with what we have, are we sure that we will be able to afford to build it with what's left later on?  Are we okay with handing over the worlds energy resources to a few salespeople who are trying to burn them as quickly as possible?  The science is clear.  This may be the stupidist thing any animal has ever done in the history of life.

So the climate change conversation is very much a part of this for me, but there is no place for it in the proposal that Woodfibre is making.  If we can't talk about climate change at the very place where the problem originates, where can we talk about it?

How to stop it

When I worked for the federal government years ago doing consultations on the treaty process, one of the questions we used to get a lot was "How do I stop it?"  I found that question odious.  I have a high regard for the moral and legal imperatives of negotiated settlements for the reconciliation of rights and title and treaties are some First Nations way of addressing some of that imperative.  My instinct was to say "That is a ridiculous and odious question and I refuse to even discuss it."

But I didn't.  Because I worked as a public servant and it wasn't my job to decide whether people's opinions and ideas were odious or not.  It was my job was to be at the coal face of democratic involvement.  Some colleagues and I actually prepared and delivered a workshop presentation for people on the seven ways we could see of stopping treaty negotiations. They ranged from political influence to direct action and radical disruption.  I'm not sure too many people took up the strategies but it gave them a realistic sense of what they were facing.  We always received incredulous appreciation for the fact that we were honest about what ot would take to stop it.

Yesterday I asked Josh, from Woodfibre the same question.  "So, how could we stop this proposal?" And I have to give him credit.  He said that at this point really the only way to stop it is politically.  It will be politicians that eventually approve the EAO findings, and they can choose to deny the project a green light.  But they also have to have very good water tight reasons for that otherwise Woodfibre can get a court order to overturn the political decision.  Capital usually gets what it wants.

So if you want to stop it, you have to do more than just oppose it or register your opinion with the EAO.  You DO need to do that, but you also have to support things like marine use planning and land use planning and some of the really interesting work that is happening that helps us to understand Howe Sound, because no politician is going to go against this showcase LNG project unless YOU have a better story, and one backed up with good data.  Woodfibre has 12 binders of stuff, which they were giving away on thumb drives.  How many binders do YOU have?  And do you really have solid data at your fingertips?  And do you know how to read and interpret what Woodfibre has?  Do your homework, but don't hold back.

That is what we are up against, if stopping it is what you want to do.  The Future of Howe Sound Society is the place to start if you have things to offer.

What next?

So where does this all go and what happens next?  There are deadlines and milestones in the process and you should know what those are if you are interested in this process.  There are groups that are working for the future of Howe Sound that actually contain a diversity of opinion about this project. There is not necessarily consensus that this project is a good or a bad thing.  Last night was useful for me in understanding the context for the project.  I think I've tried to make it clear that I could be supportive or opposed to an LNG project like this depending on the shape of the context.  As it stands I'm opposed, and that feels small and lonely in the face of what Hill + Knowlton and a few billion dollars of potential private profit will throw at you.  

What I am up for is developing a much deeper personal and collective understanding of this inlet, and its community.  I'll be working more with that over the next few years.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Everyone is walking away from the Cape

After years of stormy civic relations culminating last year with the construction of three docks nobody wanted that ruined the views and lead to nowhere, the current owners of Cape Roger Curtis want out.  They've subdivided the land, cleared it, built roads and these monstrous docks and sold the prime pieces of waterfront.  Now they want out and are willing to part with the upland lots.

And hot on the heels of that, one of the major development partners in the Cape, Wakefield, has declared bankruptcy which is devastating for many people here on Bowen.  They owe the Bowen Building Centre over $100,000 and owe substantial amounts to local contractors who have been doing work for them on the Cape.

In a small community this is big news.  Our local economy relies on the trades who build houses and help maintain existing structures (our primary economic activity is property values, supported by commuters who pay mortgages and tradespeople who keep the places looking good).  No amount of tourism will make the difference and it will be interesting to watch this situation unfold and see what we can learn about the way private property needs to be developed here.  Having large scale off island development companies insert themselves so fulsomely into the local economy is good during boom times, but is a bust when people get into trouble, as they are now. Boom-bust cycles and structural economics is not a good way to sustain an economy in a small town, especially when we have so many other options, like local developers, and our own particular brands of tourism.  Until these big firms arrived development on Bowen was largely run by a couple of local companies who had a substantial network of local contractors.  It was stable and reliable.  Now it runs the risk of being in tatters.

It remains to be seen how many people will be put out of business with Wakefield's bankruptcy, and what it mean for contractors who may have to declare bankruptcy themselves.  And the question we need to ask ourselves is this: how can we continue to develop an economy based on private property without getting overly attached to a very small number of large developers whose fortunes are tied to what is only going to become an increasingly volatile real estate market?

Maybe I should join the economic development committee.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Warmest winter in record

Coming home on the ferry. Notice how little snow there is on the mountains of Howe Sound. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A soft day

Misty drizzle after last nights heavy rainfall. Twelve degrees. Feels more like herring season than winter. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Land of the long white cloud

Not New Zealand but Bowen today has been shrouded in fog and low cloud streaming in from a bank in the strait that has been there for a week. Fog horns and frost in the night. Sunshine and calm during the day. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Cetaceans return

Working in my office this morning and I see a post on the Bowen Island Forum indicating that a huge pod of dolphins was heading north. I look out my window, grab the binoculars and see a wave of 100 or more dolphins swimming sometimes in a perfect curtain of spray, all rising at the same time, between Whytecliffe and Dorman Point.  Amazing.

And then reading later that there were 5 orcas trailing them too, which I didn't spot.

Herring must be running already...nice to have our cetacean friends back.

All will be revealed

Clouds and mist on Cates Hill
No, not a promise of a wild expose of some kind.  Just a reflection on the day.  Yesterday a warm air mass began to move back into our part of the world.  It is 10 degrees now and the snow is all gone, and the clouds and mist are hanging over the hills and mountains.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Snow and foolishness

Our first snowfall of the season. Beautiful if you don't have to be anywhere. But at The Snug this morning tales of cars in ditches and people lamenting not having snow tires and so on and how late the plies were getting in the road

Don't go anywhere if you don't have snow tires. This will all turn to rain and melt soon but it boggles my mind that folks set out on our hilly slippery island with the wrong gear. One of those who went off the road today did so to avoid hitting someone who was stuck on the road. 

Remember your neighbours. You aren't the only one out there.

LATER:  Oh boy.  Between my house and the United Church, 300 meters down the hill there were SEVEN cars either in the ditch or stuck on the side of the road.

NEXT DAY: trucks getting towed out of ditches:


Saturday, January 3, 2015


Happiness is a new fire pit and a Christmas tree that has been sent to the heavens. 


Happiness is a new fire pit and a Christmas tree that has been sent to the heavens. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year

We enter into 2015 as a community that seems relieved that the previous 7 years or so of acrimony over Cape Roger Curtis, artificial turf, the National Park and vicious and personal blame and counter blame has finally ended.  It feels like the day after the Pineapple Express has blown through.  Branches litter the road, the sky is clear, and everyone is appreciating the respite. 

If you aren't from Bowen, you'll be relived to discover that the world hasn't ended.  That Bowen is still a beautiful green paradise set in an inlet that is getting healthier.  The heron's have not all donned swastikas and appropriate private businesses.  The island's forests have not become smoking cinder fields, razed by commercial interests with no concern for life itself.  And no one has been imprisoned for corruption, lying, misleading, damaging, ruining or otherwise irrevocably destroying Bowen's future.  Prominent individuals have pledged to re-evaluate their desire to still live on this sullen and ridiculous rock, and they have stayed.  Blow hards and conspiracy mongers are running thin on material.

And importantly, new people have arrived, gushing about the amazing place that this is.  I like talking to them.  They see things that those of us who have been around for a while no longer have the eyes to see, have long ago poked out our own eyes in an effort to remove the speck from our neighbour's eyes.

I was reading the first couple of years of posts on the Bowen Phorum last night, going back to 1999 and noticing that the same debates and conversations and complaints and idea have been kicked around since then, and no doubt long before then.  the only thing that has changed has been the voices, but it's like the ideas (ferry marshalling, community centre, Cove planning, development, Council decisions, herons, beer, commerce, noise, suburbification, culture and the naming of idiots) are ideas that are sprung out of the very nature of the place.  It doesn't matter who lives here, the same insider narrative keeps appearing over and over and over.  Amazing.  Like the sword ferns that just keep unfurling year after year from the same hummock in the forest.

Perhaps this year, we can all endeavour to see the island with new eyes, that's what I'm up for.  Here is an old song I penned during the Artifical Turf War back in 2008.  May it guide you this year:

For this we came

For the inland sea that holds the wind
The forest full of sighs
Arbutus on the rocky cape
and low and leaden skies
Seen from afar its verdant light
is caught within our eyes
For this we came

For this we travelled far and wide
from the homelands of our birth
to rest upon this rocky shore
sink our feet into its earth
for this we came

There's nothing that surrounds us
Except beaches made of stone
And for all the change and difference
we're made from skin and bone
and neighbour leans on neighbour
to make this place a home.
For this we came


Remember when you first laid eyes
on the waters of the Sound
And the Tantalus and Britannia ranges
rose up all around
And your heart sang with the beauty
in awe of what you'd found.
For this we came


So tap this source and hold it close
when the storms come rolling in
Remember what it feels like
to begin again
to make a life upon this land
that takes us warmly in.
For this we came