"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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Rainbow logic supports rainbow crosswalk

Pride Flag: Strikingly similar to "diversity" crosswalk.
And so, Coquitlam will now have its very own “rainbow” crosswalk, lovingly applied along a strip of pedestrian pavement directly south of city hall at the western side of the intersection of Pinetree Way and Burlington Avenue. The multi-hued fixture will surely enliven the city hall precinct, even as it stands as a testament to some dubious decision-making and the power of virtue signalling.
Exactly what the rainbow crosswalk will officially stand for is still not quite settled. Reasonable folks, who are relatively familiar with recent history, might conclude that it is a sign of support for the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transexual-Questioning (LGBTQ) “community.” But the majority of council say this is not actually the case.
Rather, they say it is a sign of the city’s acceptance and even celebration of diversity. But, surely, such an assertion contradicts the rainbow crosswalk’s colourful history.
The idea to create rainbow crosswalks appears to have first emerged in West Hollywood as part of the 2012 Gay Pride Month celebrations. Why a rainbow? As Wikipedia says, “The rainbow flag or gay pride flag, is associated with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and LGBT activities around the world.”
The direct connection between the rainbow crosswalk and LGBT(Q) was just as clear when, in 2013, Vancouver unveiled Canada's first permanent rainbow crosswalk in the West End to help mark the city’s Pride Week. Councillor. Tim Stevenson explained that the crosswalk helped reflect the area's significance as the city’s “gay village”. He is quoted by the Georgia Straight as saying, “This really does mark the strongest support the city has ever shown towards the GLBTQ community.”
Now, given that council has a longstanding policy not to issue proclamations in support of any specific group or cause, and given that the installation of a rainbow crosswalk would surely constitute a de facto proclamation in support of the aforementioned “community,” one might conclude that Council would not, could not, and would never support the installation of said crosswalk.
But this is where it gets cute. When making her presentation to Council in Committee last month, Nicola Spurling argued that the rainbow crosswalk was not actually a symbol of support only for those identifying as LGBTQ, but was a “a universal symbol of acceptance…”
Rainbow Crosswalk: Pro-LGBTQ or pro-diversity?
The majority of Council bought the argument but, even as they did, seemed to realize that many citizens might not view it so broadly, so they called for the crosswalk to be accompanied by an explanatory sign, that would say something like “diversity lives here.”
Hmmmm. I sincerely doubt that Council would have a similar reaction to, let’s say, a Christian group that came to council asking for crosswalk depicting Christ and his apostles –even though they might argue with great fervor and compelling rhetoric that Christ is a universal symbol of the power of love and peace, and what the world needs now is, certainly, more love and peace.
Neither would Council support the environmental-action Blue Dot group asking for images of the blue earth to fill crosswalks, even if it might argue with great passion and reason that the earth's environment is endangered, and that everyone loves the earth and we must protect it.
In both cases, it is true that the groups are invoking universally accepted or supported themes, but they are also using very particular images associated with their particular group in an attempt to advance those themes. Council would rightly adhere to the logic of its long-standing no-proclamation policy, and reject the overtures on the grounds that they constitute de facto proclamations in support of a particular group.
And that is the reason I voted last night against the installation of the crosswalk. It was not because of any opposition to the high ideals of inclusivity, just as I do not oppose the flowering of love and peace in the world, or the protection of Earth from pollution.
Rather, it is because, in supporting this crosswalk, Council is actually singling out for support one particular cause among the many scores of worthy causes that exist in the world. And that is simply unfair, unequal and inequitable.
Having lost that vote, however, I did support a second motion to have staff present a report back to Council in Committee on the options for explanatory signage designed to try to persuade the populace of our fine city that the Pride Crosswalk isn’t really a Pride Crosswalk. I look forward to the discussion that will surely follow.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Foreign-funded interest group seeks to sway next civic election

An organization called the Dogwood Initiative (also known as Dogwood BC|) has announced it intends to get involved in next year’s municipal election in Coquitlam. The environmental and government-reform group has every right to do so, of course, but the potential consequences of its involvement further bolster my ongoing argument that the provincial government should deliberate very carefully before enacting any municipal-level campaign-donation “reforms.”

Such reforms are top of mind this week because, with news that the NDP government’s first throne speech is to be delivered on Friday, Sept. 8, speculation has turned to what the contents of that speech may be. Many observers predict the Horgan government will have to address its longstanding commitment to introduce provincial campaign-donation reforms. 

This, in turn, leads me to wonder if the NDP will decide to act on municipal-level campaign-donation and -spending restrictions, as has been called for by some local politicians but which has been opposed repeatedly by me; moreover, such possible restrictions were the subject of a cautionary letter sent by Coquitlam Council to the three provincial party leaders last spring.

Faithful readers of this blog will recall that I have long argued that restrictions on corporate and/or union donations will severely handicap independent and unaffiliated candidates, unfairly helping candidates who are members of slates or parties, or who have the backing (and access to membership lists) of labour unions.

What is also evident is that, if severe donation restrictions are put in place, outside special-interest groups will likely end up playing a bigger role, not only in pre-campaign marketing, organizing and lobbying efforts, but also during campaigns themselves. It is easy to imagine a variety of issue-oriented groups moving into the vacuum created by hamstrung candidates who, because of donation and spending restrictions, will be unable to produce the flyers, pamphlets, and advertising they could produce in past election campaigns.

And here’s where Dogwood comes into the picture. The organization boasts on its website that it had a successful (but, in my eyes, largely unrecognized) impact on the last provincial election. “We had 71 election related events over the last two months across B.C.,” the group reported in early June. “We made 36,564 phone calls to get out the vote. We had 13,576 live conversations with our supporters. We texted 63,000 people. That is powerful.

“We made sure our supporters, those who want to stop Kinder Morgan, ban big money, and end thermal coal exports, showed up at their voting polls. We talked to people who weren’t sure who they were voting for or if they were voting. We helped British Columbians find their polling place and bring the right ID. And we know by how tight this election was that every vote counted — especially in those important ridings where anti-Kinder Morgan politicians were elected like Burnaby North, Coquitlam-Maillardville and Courtenay-Comox.“ 

Coquitlam residents should take special note of the fact that DI is, essentially, claiming credit for helping elect NDP MLA Selina Robinson and defeat BC Liberal candidate Steve Kim.

As suggested above, it is worth underlining that the DI is an enthusiastic supporter of banning “big money” from elections   and has even called a “corruption inquiry”into BC politics. Of course, the way I see it, a ban on so-called big money would undoubtedly strengthen the DI’s hand, giving it less competition in the marketplace of political ideas.

Moreover, the DI’s call to eliminate “big money” from politics can easily be seen as rather rich coming from an organization whose $2.2-million-dollar budget (for the year ended March 31, 2016) has its own share of “big money” revenue, to the tune of $922,447 in grants.

All this wouldn’t necessarily be of much interest to Coquitlam civic voters were it not for the fact that, on June 13, Alex McGowan, who identified himself as “the Dogwood BC Provincial Organizer in the area including Coquitlam,” told me in an email that his organization “recently made the decision to invest in building teams in the area from Burnaby to Maple Ridge in advanced [sic] of the 2018 municipal election.” He continued, “I know you are an incredible advocate in your community and I think we can find space to work together.”

I responded to his invitation to meet me by posing a series of questions, including these:
*From which organizations, and of what total, did you receive grants in 2016? 
*What were the services you provided, and to whom, that accounted for the reported $350,427 in "fee for service" revenue in 2016?
*Your organization's website celebrates the "behind the scenes" impact the DI had on the last provincial election. The site also states that the DI is a "registered sponsor" under the "Election Act." ... [W]hich candidates or parties did you sponsor, and how much did you spend in support of that sponsorship? (Please itemize).
*Is it the DI's intent to formally or informally support candidates, based on their support of your policies and or campaigns, in next year's municipal elections? If so, can those candidates expect to receive indirect or direct financial support from the DI? If so, how much?

Mr. McGowan’s responses were revealing for what he said and what he did not say. Most importantly, he revealed that the group receives an unspecified amount of funding from sources in the United States. Here is his complete answer on this subject:

“On fundraising: - 60% of Dogwood's funding comes from non-grant sources: individuals and earned revenue; none comes from government or corporations; among the foundations that support Dogwood several are based in Seattle, a city that shares the Salish Sea with British Columbia. Dogwood’s campaign decisions are independent from any financial influence since no single source provides more than 5% of total revenue. We receive donations from over 10,000 individual Canadians.”

He did not provide the names of any of those foreign funders. But a little Internet sleuthing turned up the fact that the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation, which has been the subject of several exposes by National Post contributor Vivian Krause,  has been one of the DI’s major funders, pouring $187,425 into its coffers in2015 alone. 

One suspects that those BC voters, who are concerned about corporate and union donations to local politicians, would also be concerned about foreign advocacy groups’ support of a local special-interest group.

I am also wondering why Mr. McGowan did not answer my question about the nature of the “fee for service” revenue it received in 2016. He did say that, “We have registered as intervenors in the past three elections. We have never endorsed or financially supported any candidate or party as per our non-partisan status. We remain committed to that policy. Our election work continues to be about increasing turnout and engagement. In regards to election spending, all registered intervenors are required by law to submit detailed reports to all applicable election oversight bodies.”

That’s good information, but the non-partisanship implied by Mr. McGowan’s statement seems to be at odds with the declaration, quoted above, that, “We made sure our supporters, those who want to stop Kinder Morgan, ban big money, and end thermal coal exports, showed up at their voting polls.”


I had a brief phone chat this week with Mr. McGowan about some of the gaps in the information he supplied. We hope to have a fuller talk in the near future; if we do – and if any more details are forthcoming – I will update this article.

SEPT. 8.  I have now had a good discussion with Mr. McGowan about some of the issues I raised, above.
*On the fee-for-service issue, he stated firmly that DI does not sell its services to any political organization. Rather, its does training and consulting-type work for other non-profits.
*On the question of foreign donations, he stated that the amount the DI receives is "relatively small" and the money has been primarily used to support the DI's campaign to stop coal-port expansion.
*On the apparent conflict in values -- the DI is opposed to corporate and union funding of parties and candidates, but in favour of its receipt of foreign grants -- Mr. McGowan says the distinction is that the DI is not responsible for making decisions.
*On the possibility that, if successful, DI's opposition to union and corporate funding would create a more open playing field for DI and other organizations to influence public policy, he say Dogwood does not have the funds to run ads in every municipality.
*And, finally, on the apparent, de-facto partisanship, he said that, yes, the DI "definitely" wants to influence elections, but it does so by identifying party and candidate stances on crucial issues, and then communicating (to people they have identified who support the DI's goals) those stances. The DI does not specifically endorse or support any party or candidate, though.

For my part, I told him that it was my opinion that I am concerned about the impact of foreign money on local politics, that I believe its work constitutes de facto endorsement of candidates, and that the DI's anti-corporate and -union donations stance would, if implemented, unfairly favour candidates aligned with organized parties or slates, particularly if those parties and slates are affiliated with unions, which have access to volunteers and membership lists.

We agreed to disagree.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Green leader agrees to Coquitlam's call for 'careful deliberation' of campaign-spending reforms

The New Democrat-Green government in Victoria has pledged to ban corporate and union donations and to impose strict maximum-donation limits at the provincial level. Upon the announcement of the two-party pact (and, moreover, after the BC Liberals’ last-gasp Throne Speech, which delivered a flip-flop promise of campaign-financing reform), I feared that the new government would “double down” and automatically impose the same restrictions at the municipal level – something that I think would have a catastrophic impact on local-level politics.

I am pleased to report, however, that the leader of one of the two parties in the new political compact, Green leader Andrew Weaver, has, in response to a letter from Coquitlam Council urging caution in proceeding with such changes at the local level (a letter that was sent at my request and supported by all but one of my Council colleagues), issued a statement promising there will be “careful deliberation” before action is taken.

And thank goodness for that. As I have declared several times over the past few years and, moreover, have written in formal submissions to the provincial government on the matter, stringent donation regulations would have several unintended, negative consequences, the most worrisome of which is that they would severely handicap unaffiliated (i.e., independent) and new candidates, while at the same time giving an unfair advantage to political machines, parties, and those candidates who are affiliated with organizations that have a large membership base, such as labour unions. Please read one of my earlier blogs on the issue for a more complete analysis.

In Coquitlam’s letter to the leaders of the three political parties in the legislature, our mayor, Richard Stewart, pointed out that donors to municipal campaigns do not receive a tax credit for any portion of their donation, making the financing of said campaigns more difficult than those at the Provincial or Federal level.
Mayor Stewart continued that, In light of this, many candidates rely upon business or other organizational donations to support their campaigns to make up for the gap in individual contributions.

He also said that Coquitlam Council fears that removing this mechanism of support could lead to a dearth of candidates seeking local elected office, thereby increasing the power of incumbency and limiting voices from across the political spectrum. As well, he worried that such changes may also encourage an increase in slate politics and affiliated councils as candidates seek to bolster their support through a variety of labour and other organizations.

As far as I am aware, Dr. Weaver is the only one of the three leaders to respond to our letter. Here is the complete text of that response:

“Thank you for your correspondence of June 9 regarding municipal campaign finance reform. I apologize for the delay in responding. 

“I appreciate the concerns you raised regarding the effects of campaign finance reform at the Municipal level. I share your view that our democratic systems should be structured to support a wide range of candidates stepping forward to run for office, from a diversity of backgrounds and representing a diversity of views.  

“In my view, campaign finance reform at both the Provincial and Municipal levels is an essential way to strengthen our democracy and reduce the influence of special interests on our elections and on government decision-making. I believe that this reform can be undertaken in such a way that ensures that a wide range of independent candidates feel able to run for political office. 

“I agree that there must be careful deliberation by government on the impacts of any legislative change, and ensuring that government undertakes this reform in a comprehensive and deliberative way is a top priority of my caucus colleagues and myself.   


“Thank you again for writing on this crucial issue. If you have specific thoughts about how reforms might be best undertaken to address your concerns, my office would be delighted to hear from you.”  

I appreciate Dr. Weaver's thoughtfulness in dealing with this important issue, and look forward to future communication with him and his party on the subject.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Two decades and going strong!

The following is an edited version of a 'story' I wrote this morning for my parish bulletin and the BC Catholic.

Picking up 500 flowering plants.
Members of St. Joseph's Parish in Port Moody launched the "Easter Flowers" project more than 20 years ago, delivering 80 flowering plants, donated by Wim Vander Zalm of Art Knapp’s in Port Coquitlam, and an equal number hand-made greeting cards, made by parish students, to patients at Eagle Ridge Manor.

This year, the parish’s example inspired three other parishes to join the project on Holy Saturday (April 15), resulting in cards and flowering plants being delivered to 500 seniors and patients in four facilities from Maple Ridge to Port Moody.

“We launched ‘Easter Flowers’ as a way of bringing to life our commitment to respect life until its natural end,” says parish organizer and project coordinator Terry O’Neill. “We wanted to show the sick and elderly that they are loved and valued. We also wanted to demonstrate to our fellow parishioners and to the community at large that we put our beliefs into action.

“The project has been a great success, allowing individuals and families to volunteer, bringing good cheer to the elderly, supporting care-home staff, and generally giving our Easter weekend even greater significance.”

Last year, reflecting on the 20-year run on the project, Vander Zalm urged O’Neill to expand the project. “In these troubled times, people need to see that there is still love and caring in the world,” Vander Zalm said. O’Neill promised he would do so.

Working through contacts he made at the new north-of-Fraser life-action group, Life Compass, O’Neill was able to deliver on the promise, with the result that, on Holy Saturday, dozens of volunteers from four parishes delivered flowering plants and hand-made greeting cards to about 500 people at four seniors’ residences or care facilities from Maple Ridge to Port Moody.
Volunteers from St. Joseph's Parish.

Sandra Dulong coordinated at St. Clare of Assisi, in Coquitlam, delivering about 80 plants to residents of Dufferin Care Centre in Coquitlam. “It’s all about giving back to our seniors, who have given us so much – to give them a little more comfort at Easter,” she said. “We need to tell them that we value their lives as much as we value our own.”

Britt Bright coordinated at St. Luke’s Parish, Maple Ridge, delivering about 150 plants to residents of Baillie House in Maple Ridge: “We did this in order to show that elderly people, at the end of life, are as important as our young people,” she explained.

Elizabeth Loch coordinated at St. Patrick’s of Maple Ridge, delivering upwards of 200 plants to residents of Maple Ridge Seniors Village. Volunteer Anna Tillotson said that she and her husband, Mark, had a personal reason for participating. “Mark’s father was in a care home last year before he passed away, and we could see what a positive effect a visit had on the residents,” she stated. “It just brought them so much joy.”

Besides coordinating the four-parish project, Terry O’Neill once again organized the St. Joseph’s team as well, as they visited Eagle Ridge Manor, delivering plants to about 80 residents: “In truth, we end up getting more than we give,” he said. “It’s very fulfilling to see what a positive effect we can have, not only on the residents, but also on the staff. All in all, it’s a very rewarding exercise, bringing to life our commitment to respect life from conception to its natural end.

“Wim Vander Zalm has been my partner in this project from Year One. He supplied the flowering plants; we supplied the feet on the ground! His generosity, his support and his commitment have been absolutely vital in making our Easter Flowers program the success that it has become. Thanks, Wim!”

Friday, April 7, 2017

Signal Hill's Value Project is a success

One of the charities I volunteer with is Signal Hill, an educational non-profit dedicated to inspiring young people to "Value Every Person" – themselves and others.  One of the ways we try to do this is through The Value Project. This morning, I was honoured to attend a student-led Value Project rally/presentation at a Surrey high school, where I hoped to see the fruits of our commitment to this project. I was not disappointed.
  Here’s how Signal Hill explains the rationale behind The Value Project: “We are living in a value crisis. Our culture treats human beings like commodities and values possessions and status over relationships.  We are constantly being fed the message that we are not beautiful enough, not smart enough, and not strong enough. 
  “Young people see the fallout from this value crisis every day at school and in their own personal lives. Because they experience these problems on an everyday basis, we believe that these young people are in the best position to find a solution and communicate the message of Value Every Person to their peers. That's why we train young people to speak to their own generation about the value of human life.” 
  Enter The Value Project, a three-day symposium where high school students learn that valuing themselves and valuing others has the power to transform their personal lives and their school community.
  Signal Hill explains further: “Led by a team of experts from the fields of communication, media, and marketing, the students are educated about the inherent value of every human being; equipped with the skills to craft a customized media campaign, and given the support to implement it within their schools - spreading Signal Hill's message of ‘Value Every Person’ to everyone they encounter.” 
  Five students – Samantha, Christina, Steve, Rachel and Beatrice – from Holy Cross Regional Secondary in Surrey completed such a three-day symposium a few months ago; they presented their project to the school this week, culminating with this morning’s multi-media event.
  In a series of informative, insightful and moving speeches and presentations, the five challenged their fellow students to look beyond surface appearances – to shatter the mirror – in order to find each person’s intrinsic worth. “Remember, you’re more than your reflection,” one said.
They continued: Too often, people feel they have to measure up to a perfect, non-attainable standard. It’s called a “value prejudice,” and it’s a debilitating way of living, leading to low self-esteem, harmful relationships, and bad decisions in time of crisis.
  The powerful counter-approach is this: we are all deserving of love and respect by the simple fact of our existence. “We all bleed red,” one student leader said. We must get past labels that lead to insecurity, and judgemental, hurtful actions. “The way we see people affects the way we treat people.” Find the diamond at everyone’s core and treat them as the precious, unique, intrinsically beautiful people they are.
I want to thank the Holy Cross community for allowing fellow Signal Hill board member Pat Myers and me to sit among upwards of 800 students this morning to witness this remarkable and inspiring event. So much good will emanate from this project, I'm sure!

For those wanting to learn more about Signal Hill, please visit www.thesignalhill.com.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What Do Higher Property Values Mean for Taxes?


With all the discussion, misinformation, speculation and confusion about the impact of soaring assessment rates on property taxes, the City thought it was a good idea to public this detailed explanation and offer it to local news outlets. I agree and I hope it calms some of the nerves out there!

COQUITLAM, BC, Jan. 10, 2017 - A higher assessed property value is usually good news for property owners – it means the value of their investment is going up.

But does a higher assessed value also necessarily mean higher property taxes? Not exactly.

When a city plans its budget for the year, the amount it needs to collect (revenue) is based solely on the services it plans to provide (expenditures). Let’s say this amount is $100 million. No matter how much property values go up or down, the City still only needs to collect $100 million to do its job for the year.

In a separate process, the BC Assessment Authority, a provincial body, determines the value of all properties across the province, based on factors such as age, location, size, improvements and the value of recent nearby sales.  The City is not responsible for property assessments, however the City is mandated by provincial legislation to tax the homeowners based on the assessed value of their property.

These two processes come together when cities set their tax rate (sometimes referred to as the mill rate): the calculation that determines each property’s share of the cost to run the city that year. If average assessed values go up, the tax rate goes down to compensate. The opposite is true if values decrease. But in the end, working from the example above, only $100 million is collected.

2017 Tax Increase
In Coquitlam, the 2017 tax increase for the average residence is 2.48%, which is in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI).   As the cost of maintaining service levels continues to rise, the City is constantly striving to find efficiencies in the provision of services, as well as other sources of revenue. As such, this is the lowest tax increase in 25 years.

What this means is that if your home’s assessed value went up by the average (33%), your taxes will go up 2.48%. However, if your assessed value increased by more than the average, your taxes will increase by more than 2.48%. However, it still won’t increase at the same percentage as your property assessment increase. Similarly, homes with a below-average increase in their assessment could find themselves paying lower taxes than last year.

Homeowner Grant 
The Homeowner Grant is a provincial grant outside of the City’s control, but the City is responsible for administering the Grant on the province’s behalf. The Homeowner Grant assessment threshold was raised in 2017 to $1.6M at which point the grant is gradually reduced by $5 per $1,000 value.  Therefore depending on your property assessment, you may not lose the entire grant, just a portion of it.

Municipalities share the publics’ concern about the need to ensure the Homeowner Grant remains available as the assessed value of B.C. real estate continues to rise and we will continue to work with the province on this issue.

Any questions related to your property assessment should be directed to BC Assessment Authority (1-866-825-8322).  The deadline to appeal your assessment is Jan. 31.

For information on property taxes in Coquitlam, visit www.coquitlam.ca/propertytaxes.


Media contact:
Rhonda Anderson, Revenue Services Manager
604-927-3920