"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Monday, November 30, 2015

Diversity, and then what?

When it comes to the sort of ethnic, cultural and racial diversity of which our country and our community are so proud, can there be “too much of a good thing”? The answer is “yes,” according to Martin Collacott, Canada’s former ambassador to Syria and Lebanon, whose opinion was featured as the “Letter of the Day” in the November 30 issue of the Vancouver Sun.

Is Collacott correct? It’s a timely question, not only for Canadians to consider, but also for Coquitlam residents to ponder as we continue to welcome new immigrants into our community on a regular basis and, more notably, also await the arrival of Syrian refugees in the coming months.

Results from "I love Canada because..." mural.
Collacott acknowledges that the increased diversity this country has experienced in recent decades “has made Canadian society more vibrant and interesting in some respects.” However, he continues, “too much diversity can create major problems.” This “has been amply illustrated in the case of more than a few European countries that have begun to discover there are limits to how much diversity they can absorb without harming themselves.”

Canada’s diverse composition may, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently said, be “our strength,” but Collacott answers that diversity is not an unqualified good, in and of itself.

Looking at the question from a common-sense point of view, Collacott makes a good point. Consider the question this way: We may say that “variety is the spice of life,” but there are limits to the sort of variety sane persons will subject themselves to.

Whether it’s in our choice of what we wear (comfortable and warm in winter, not irritating and cold) or what we eat (nutritious and delicious, not poisonous and disgusting), we have boundaries.

Similarly, while we may say that we embrace diversity, most of us would not want to live in a truly diverse community filled with, for example, unrepentant members of Pol Pot’s murderous Cambodian regime from the second half 1970s. Or, of course, with unrepentant members of ISIS. (And, for the most comprehensive look at what ISIS is all about, please click here to see a story from The Atlantic magazine.)

When diversity works in Canada it is not because of the simple fact that the country accepts diversity, and neither is it because of the celebration of diversity; rather, it is because of the fact the new Canadians reciprocate with a commitment to fit into Canada. It’s called integration, and it’s a vital and too-often unacknowledged part of the Canadian success story.

Coquitlam Canada Day activities.
Coquitlam’s official position on diversity is one of unalloyed acceptance, inclusion and celebration. You can read the policy by clicking here. It’s great as far as it goes. But even the city’s own Multicultural Advisory Committee, of which I am vice-chair, is acting of late as if there is more to multiculturalism than celebration of diversity.

Consider, for example, the committee’s successful 2015 Canada Day display which was the subject of a report to council-in-committee on November 23. The display went beyond the usual “tell us where you are from” interactive display and, instead, asked participants to write a message on an “I Love Canada Because…” mural.

For the record, six top themes emerged – natural environment, people, values and culture, safety, family, and general satisfaction with the country. City staff also presented a word cloud, shown at the top of this blog, to illustrate the predominant themes. You can read the full staff report by clicking here.

The real import of the mural is not so much in the answers it found, but in the question it asked: Why do you love Canada? The question springs from an implicit understanding that diversity is a two-way street, that “We’ll accept you, but you have to buy into what Canada is all about, too.”

This represents a real and important maturation in the development of multiculturalism in our country. It’s not just about celebration of diversity. And it’s not even abut embracing the more advanced concept of “inter-culturalism,” which encourages cross-cultural understanding.

Rather, it is about identifying and celebrating those values that we hold in common—the values that are not signs of our diversity but of our unity. And that’s a good thing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Picturing a more meaningful Remembrance Day

Beny-Sur-Mer
At the urging of a friend, my brother Doug and his wife Wendy visited the Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian war cemetery in Calvados, France, a few years ago while travelling in Europe. They were told it would be a moving experience.
It was certainly all that and more, for they stumbled upon information about a grave bearing the inscription: "Lieutenant F.S. O'Neill, the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, 26th June 1944."
Arnprior, Ont.
Knowing that, upon arriving from Tipperary, Ireland in 1848, our ancestors, Francis and Julia O'Neill and their young family had settled in the Ottawa Valley, Doug and Wendy wondered whether the F.S. O'Neill was related to us. They obtained a photo of the headstone and sent it to me and my five other brothers.
Peace Tower book.
Intrigued, we dove into some on-line and personal research shortly thereafter and we discovered that, yes, F. S. O'Neill was, indeed, a relative, and a rather close one at that -- he was my father's first cousin, Frank Smith (his mother's maiden name) O'Neill, and that, according to a story my father related to us for the first time, Frank had died on a patrol or a scouting mission shortly after D-Day.
Just hours after I first posted this blog, a distant cousin in Toronto came across it and sent me more information about the death--information which came to him by word of mouth from my distant cousin's grandfather. Reportedly, Frank was clearing a farmhouse or gatehouse, inland on the road toward Caen, and was hit in a doorway by light artillery or possibly rocket fire. He was killed instantly.
Lt. Frank Smith O'Neill, RIP
My family's Internet sleuthing and emails also produced a wealth of images, including: a photo of a cenotaph, in Arnprior, Ontario, bearing cousin Frank's name; and a photo of the page on which his name is recorded in the memorial book, displayed at the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower in Ottawa, which bears the names of all those who gave their lives for Canada in the Second World War.
But there was one image we hadn't found--a photograph of cousin Frank himself.
And so, on the eve of Remembrance Day 2015, I decided to restart my Internet search. It didn't take long for me to find what I was looking for on Veterans Affairs Canada's Canadian Virtual War Memorial website.
There, alongside a photo of his grave marker, and a photo of a Roll of Honour produced by the Bank of Nova Scotia (commemorating employees who died during the Second World War), was a photo of the man himself.
What a difference such a photo makes to our remembrance of this relative who gave his life for his country.
Cameron Highlanders, in Iceland, en route to England.
Making the photo even more moving is the fact that cousin Frank bears a passing resemblance to our father and an even closer resemblance to one of my brothers' sons.
And so, Remembrance Day has an especially deep meaning for us this year, as we remember the life that our cousin, whom we can now picture, gave in defence of his country and all it stands for. Thank-you, Frank!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Five schools on four sites

SD43's plan for 5 schools at 4 sites on Burke Mountain
This past January, I posted an item on this blog dealing with the location and timing of schools on Burke Mountain. Well, a fair bit has changed since then (here's a link to a Tri-City News story about the issue, from this past June), so I thought I'd better post a new item.
And so, with the help of School District 43 (from whose staff I confirmed this information), we can say that there are plans for five schools to be built on four sites. (Please see adjoining map and timeline chart for more detail.)
1. First would be the "Smiling Creek" elementary school, the funding approval (from Victoria) for which is being eagerly awaited by the SD (and everyone else, for that matter). If all goes well, the school will open in the autumn of 2018. More on this later.
Latest timeline projections from SD43.
2. Next up would be the "Partington Creek" elementary school, to be built at the Sheffield site. It could open in 2020-'21.
3. Next would be the "Northeast" middle school, to be constructed on part of the long-established high-school site in the Lower Hyde Creek neighbourhood. It could open in 2023-'24.
4. Following close on the middle school's heels would be the "Burke Mountain" secondary school, in the 2024-'25 time period.
5. Finally, we have the "Marigold Street" elementary school, on the far eastern side of Burke Mountain. It's pencilled in for opening in the 2025-'26 period.
There may be a need for another elementary school, in the Riverwalk area, but that decision-making process has to wait until after the current city-run Northwest Burke visioning exercise is complete.
No official names for any of the proposed schools have been selected.
As for the Smiling Creek school, SD43's Judy Shirra, chair of the board of education, released a letter on Nov. 6 saying the school "continues to be the top priority for this Board on our Five Year Capital Plan recently submitted to government."
Shirra explains, "In anticipation of a funding announcement from the Government of BC, a great deal of work has already been done by the district to prepare for the start of construction. Our staff continue to have numerous conversations with the Ministry of Education regarding this matter, as recently as today, and continue to speak with them on a regular basis with a positive outcome expected soon.
"In support of our commitment, SD43's Board has already invested significant funds upfront to keep the project moving forward to enable us to build and open the school as soon as possible. The school district continues the planning and preparation process including school site preparation, architecture work and other important tasks. Although we have not yet received funding from the Government of BC, no delays have been caused to date."
She also noted that Council recently passed OCP and zoning amendments for the site (which is jointly owned by the SD and the City), and that the district is "prepared to apply for a building permit at the start of December pending provincial funding approval."
So there you have it!


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A city-wide CAC would worsen affordability problem

What is the best way for cities to raise funds for amenities that are needed as communities grow? Higher property taxes? Spending-authorization referendums? Increased fees?

Cities in B.C. raise all their basic money through property taxes and also get to levy Development Cost Charges against developers to fund some basic infrastructure. But, by provincial law, those DCCs cannot be used for amenities such as fire halls, community centres and swimming pools.

In Coquitlam, we also have a Density Bonus system through which the city collects revenue from developers who, in exchange, get to build their projects to a more-dense standard that normally allowed. In the City Centre and Burquitlam areas, this typically translates into higher condo towers than would otherwise be allowed.

The City also established a Community Amenities Contribution program in Burquitlam that accepted even more funds from developers. This money is being used to fund the City’s share of the proposed new YMCA.

Now, there’s a plan afoot to extend the CAC program throughout Coquitlam and to have it apply to all residential development that involves a rezoning, even on a single lot where, for example, the owner wants to subdivide in order to build two smaller houses. The proposed charge is about $5,000 for every new lot. All the details can be found by clicking here.

On Monday, Nov. 2, Council voted 6-2 to support the plan in principle; it will now go to the public and to the development industry for its feedback. I was one of the two (along with Councillor Asmundson; Councillor Reid was absent) who opposed its going forward. And my main concern is that I believe such a program worsens to the affordability problem.

Simply put, I don’t agree with the contention, advanced by staff and strongly supported by Mayor Stewart, that the CAC charge will ultimately be borne by the person who sells the land to the developer.

The argument that CACs do not negatively impact the cost of housing is a fragile one, but is one that has gained traction throughout Metro Vancouver because of one consultant who is not an economist, but is a planner. Our staff cites, on page 10 of the report to council, the consultant’s study concluding that CACs have not impacted home prices; however, it appears no economic analysis was put forward to support this conclusion.

Dr. Michael Goldberg, Dean Emeritus of the UBC Sauder School of Business and one of North America's most celebrated urban-land economists, has taken a contrary view. He has explained that, in a mythical, totally-elastic market, where land supply is infinite, the consultant’s claim that--land prices will fall to account for the CAC burden--could be realistic.

However, Metro’s developable land market is notoriously inelastic due to geographic and regulatory constraints on land supply, like Metro Vancouver’s Urban Containment Boundary, which I spoke about 10 days ago at the Metro Council of Council meeting; there, I asked about whether anyone had studied its impact on housing affordability. Apparently no one has, even though it surely must have a negative impact on affordability.

Continuing with Dr. Goldberg, he has said another reason the developable land market is inelastic is due to the political risk associated with obtaining land-use entitlements. Since there is a limited supply of developable land, a vendor of a development site will hesitate in selling if he believes he must discount his land, resulting in less land available and higher land costs overall in the market.

At a macro-economic level, CACs are simply inefficient. Altus Group has done a number of studies on this over the last decade for the Canadian Homebuilders' Association. In effect, if the CAC cost is built into the home price, the homeowner ends up financing that cost in the residential mortgage market. (In the case of an estimated $5,500 CAC cost, the homeowner repays the original $5,500 plus $3,405 in interest cost over the life of a 25-year mortgage -- assuming a 4.25% mortgage rate). So, $8,905 is the real cost of that contribution to civic infrastructure.

On the other hand, if we, as a municipal government, borrowed through the MFA to finance that infrastructure, our borrowing costs would likely be 2% to 2.5% lower and we would amortize the borrowing over the life of the infrastructure – more like 50 years instead of the limited 25-year amortization of residential mortgages.

But what about the political considerations? Yes, it’s easier for a council to charge CACs than to hike taxes or user fees to pay for a new swimming pool. But this doesn't really represent full disclosure. By hiding this tax burden in the cost of new housing, we’re fooling taxpayers. We are pretending we are limiting taxes, when we are really hiding part of it and targeting the burden on a select group of taxpayers.

Mayor Stewart launched a strong rebuttal to my anti-CAC speech last night. One of his main points was that, because of market pressures, the added CAC cost will not be reflected in the selling price of a home. The market is the market is the market, he essentially said. The implication is that either the seller of the land or the developer would eat the cost of the CAC.

I didn’t get an opportunity to reply to the mayor, but I will do so now with this single point: if, as the mayor declared, the retail market is the market is the market (and I don’t completely buy that, of course; instead, I believe the CACs will drive up the price), then surely the land-sale “market is the market is the market,” and the price of that land won’t be discounted in response to the CAC charge.

This being the case, it will be the developer who must bear the burden of the CAC – yet another charge, hoop, obstacle, and hurdle with which the developer must cope.

Pity the developer? No, not really. Instead, pity the prospective home buyer who will have fewer opportunities to buy a home when a developer concludes, reluctantly, that the CAC is the straw the breaks the camel’s back, making the proposed development economically unviable. I hope it doesn’t come to this.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Remembering my mother-in-law

McKINNON, Mary Elizabeth (“Betty”) (nee James)
May 8, 1922 – Oct. 23, 2015
A woman of deep faith, an inspiring teacher, a loving wife, a parent of boundless affection, and a loyal friend to many, Mary (also known as Betty) went to meet the Lord in the early hours of Oct. 23 after her great heart finally gave out at Eagle Ridge Hospital in Port Moody. She was 93.
Born in McMurdo, B.C., Mary was predeceased by her parents, Marguerite Josephine Chaloner and David Atlee James, by siblings Atlee and William, son-in-law Richard Bylin, daughter Susan Pummell, and her husband, J. Douglas McKinnon, to whom she was married for 67 years. She is survived by her older sister Neetta Moriarty and sister-in-law Ann James.
Her wisdom and compassion, sense of humour and joy, and religious devotion will long be remembered and treasured by her seven surviving children and their spouses—Katherine Bylin, William, Timothy (Ruth), Christopher (Valerie), Mary O’Neill (Terry), David (Doreen) and Elizabeth Keobke (Brian)—and by her 26 grandchildren and 26 great grandchildren. The life she gave to so many was her greatest gift.
Doug and Betty started their life together in Surrey, and also lived in Mission, Prince George, Vancouver, Burnaby, Lake Errock and Port Moody. She taught at the elementary-school level, primarily in Vancouver, and was celebrated for her exceptional work with special-needs students. After retirement, she and Doug spent many memorable winters travelling through the southern U.S. in their RV.
The family is indebted to the dedicated emergency-service personnel and medical professionals who supported Mary in her final years.

Prayers will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at St. Clare of Assisi Church, 1320 Johnson St., Coquitlam; a funeral mass will be held at 11 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 29 at the same church.  A reception in the church hall will follow. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Warmer weather would help Canadian economy!

For the record, I wrote a controversial cover story for the Western Standard in 2007 which declared that global warming would actually have a beneficial economic impact for Canada. .Cover story is here.
Now, eight years later, the CBC is reporting the same thing. CBC story here.
Just saying....

Monday, September 28, 2015

Sanctimonious crap'?

If it's true that Justin Trudeau called David Suzuki's views about climate change "sanctimonious crap," then I wonder how Mr. Trudeau would describe the these comments:

- "We are completely misunderstanding the fundamental relationship we have with this planet that sustains us. Our relationship with the natural world needs to fundamentally inform, shape and guide our lifestyles, from the simplest element to the biggest." (Victoria Times Colonist, Oct. 19, 2006)
- "All of our advances in science and everything have led us to this point, and now we're going to have to do something that no civilization has ever been able to do, which is to have certain behaviours, to reach the top, and then suddenly change direction, change our habits, and change our ways away from the very things that brought us here." (National Post, Nov. 8, 2006)
To me, these quotes represent the same sort of environmental apocaplytic rhetoric as anything Dr. Suzuki has ever uttered.
Yet, they were mouthed by Mr. Trudeau himself when he was on the speaking circuit, buffing his image in preparation for his political career.
Something to think about.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Kube is in. Why not Byfield?

As head of the B.C. Federation of Labour in the 1980s, Art Kube was the leader of the Operation Solidary movement that fought against the Bill Bennett/Social Credit government’s labour-reform and austerity measures and very nearly sparked a crippling general strike. That destructive meltdown was averted, however, by the intervention of IWA leader Jack Munro. 

I raise this today because the nation has just learned that Mr. Kube, now a seniors advocate, has been named to the order of Canada. 

Which leads to me ask: If firebrand Kube’s history-making radicalism didn’t disqualify him from Order of Canada membership, why has the legendary Ted Byfield’s history-making radicalism as conservative journalist and publisher* apparently disqualified him from membership in the same august body?

Just asking.

*And, yes, I worked for and with Ted for a decade and a half.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Coquitlam's tax-shift policy is working

Just a quick note about council proceedings last night. One of the highlights was our passage, by unanimous vote, of fourth and final reading of the bylaws enacting the 2015 budget.

As noted earlier, the budget calls for the smallest property-tax increase (2.34%)  in a decade and continues the laudatory trend of decreasing annual percentage increases.

The budget also calls for another one-point "tax shift" which seeks to gradually reduce the large gap between the too-high property-tax rate that commercial properties pay and the rate that residential properties pay.

As I pointed out last night during our brief discussion about the budget, our tax-shift policy appears to be working. Indeed, the bylaw contains a rather revealing graph (see adjoining graphic) showing quite clearly that the tax burden on business is declining in relation to the burden on homes.

Some of this change is undoubtedly due to the fact that the residential-property base in Coquitlam is growing faster than the commercial-property base. But I am also assured that the tax shift is contributing to this pattern as well.

This is good news for business and business-lobby groups, which have long complained that our commercial tax rate is far to high. Here is a link to one of many stories on the issue. But it's also good news for residents, because a healthy business community is good for everyone.



Monday, February 16, 2015

Today is Coquitlam Foundation's grant-application deadline day

Just a quick reminder: today is the last day you (students, community groups, non-profits and the like) can apply to the Coquitlam Foundation for grants, scholarships and bursaries. Deadline is 4 p.m. Please visit the foundation's website for all the information on how to apply. Www.coquitlamfoundation.com

Thursday, January 29, 2015

About those schools on Burke Mountain

NOTE: The information, below, is out of date. I've now written an updating piece on the current status of schools on Burke Mountain please CLICK HERE to read it -- Nov. 9, 2016.

Last Monday's public hearing, on the proposal to rezone land on Burke Mountain to facilitate the development of the first full neighbhourhood in the Partington Creek area, as well as to zone land for a school there, elicited much interest from the public, specifically on the issue of why no new schools had been built on Burke Mountain, even though the city had designated so many sites for schools.

Both the News and the Now devoted quite a lot of coverage to the subject, as you will see if you click on the links. But there's still some information I'd like to get on the record to allow the public to better understand the situation.

Many members of council, including myself, spent a fair bit of time during that public hearing explaining that it is not the city's job to build the schools; that responsibility rests with the Ministry of Education and School District 43. Nevertheless, we acknowledged that the City does have a role: we designate land in our Official Community Plan and our Neighbhourhood plans as (possible or potential) school sites, and we rezone land to allow school construction once the SD is prepared to move ahead.

But we recognized that the OCP and the NPs can create  uncertainty, in that some people interpret them as meaning schools WILL be built in the designated areas, when, in fact, the identified sites are only potential sites.

Also, it appears the SD communication on the issue, as to the number and timing of schools on Burke Mountain, has not been noticed by many members of the public.

So, for the record, here's what's happening:

1. Our OCP shows eight potential school sites on Burke Mountain, as per the map above. However, the school board announced in December 2012 that it would be needing only five -- not eight -- schools on Burke Mountain. I have circled the three sites that are "not preferred" by the School District.

2. Of the five preferred sites, the E site in the Smiling Creek area is now in the process of being acquired. In fact, the City and the SD announced last fall that the land acquisition was proceeding for a joint school-park site.This is the Smiling Creek Elementary School. Here a link to a story about that site.

3. The S site in the Lower Hyde Creek is where a new high school will, in fact, be built. That's firm.

4. The E site in the upper Partington Creek area is the site that was the subject of Monday's public hearing and eventual rezoning vote (unanimously in favour).

5. The School District has also released a projected time line for the construction of the five schools.  See the nearby chart. The black bars indicate planning-to-construction-to-opening. Please note that the Smiling Creek project is already a year behind this schedule and likely won't be completed now until sometime in 2017 according to the board.

Stay tuned for more information from the School District in the coming weeks and months. Burke Mountain residents are rightly frustrated by the slow pace of school construction, and it's high time that the process for approval and construction was speeded up. It simply isn't right that, as we heard on Monday, every child on one street is attending a different school -- a half dozen or more schools in total. That's no way to build a neighbourhood!