Sunday, July 30, 2017

Save the NRE or pay (more!) later

This is the letter I have just sent to the mayor and council of the city of Nanaimo (mayor&council@nanaimo.ca is the e-address should you wish to do the same)



Mayor and Councillors:

I believe it was about three years ago I addressed the Regional District of Nanaimo, encouraging them to engage the Nanaimo Recycling Exchange, and noting to them how much the NRE benefits us all. Evidently the negotiations between the staff of the NRE and the City that followed went nowhere; the NRE simply did and does not have the capital to have met their expectations. Why should they? The NRE alone accepts materials that cost money to properly recycle. They do not get a slice of the income from recycling cans (apart from a few donations).

One of the materials they alone accept is Styrofoam. This material alone can occupy up to 25% of the space in landfills, but because the waste industry considers only the WEIGHT of materials the NRE is given inadequate credit for continuing to greatly extend the life of our regional landfill. In other words, they fail to appreciate the true value of the NRE.

What also seems to be evident that they and we fail to recognise that the NRE is capable of creating local employment by spurring new industries using our waste materials. Unlike most investments by the city these jobs would continue to increase over time, would benefit all people in our region, and would benefit the environment. Unlike any other investments a waste recovery centre would retain materials rather than burn or bury them, thus benefiting future generations, and would actually bring us to the 90% diversion rate envisioned by the city.

The NRE is the only true way we have been able to make up for the inadequate curbside provincial recycling program, a program that gives the RDN and city more than $2 million a year. Why isn’t at least some of this income being invested in the NRE and its vision of better utilising waste materials?? Please do not confuse the contract funds paid to the NRE with subsidy (an error I have heard made). The NRE is paid to engage in public education and to accept yard waste at its facility. This is not a subsidy. As far as I know it has never received any donations from the city or the RDN.

Given the fact that recycling, reusing, repurposing and composting generate double the number of jobs as do landfilling or incinerating waste materials, these measures also retain the latent energy required to create those materials in the first place, saves dwindling resources (we live on a finite planet), and that the NRE is uniquely poised to expand the opportunity to create local jobs, improve the environment, retain resources, spur industries in our region, and improve the local economy, why are the City and the RDN not seriously investing in this amazing non-profit?

I believe we have been getting a free ride for too long. Either the city and the RDN get serious about the benefits of the NRE or we fill up our landfill more quickly and/or get a far more expensive and polluting incinerator far sooner.

Nanaimo hosted Canada’s first Zero Waste International conference. Mr. McKay took in the event (then as a councillor). The City was a sponsor of that event. The international community is now watching to see if Nanaimo and the RDN will turn their backs on the opportunities that are laid at its feet.

I urge you to put some serious money on the table, and encourage the RDN to do the same.

Readers: if you wish to e-mail the RDN Directors here are their e-mail addresses: bill.veenhof@shaw.ca; ian.thorpe@nanaimo.ca; alecmcpherson@shaw.ca; maureen_young@shaw.ca; bobrogers4areaE@telus.net; fjfell.at.rdn@gmail.com; jstanhope@shaw.ca; bill.mckay@nanaimo.ca; bill.bestwick@nanaimo.ca; jerry.hong@nanaimo.ca; jim.kipp@nanaimo.ca; gordon.fuller@nanaimo.ca; bill.yoachim@nanaimo.ca; mayor@parksville.ca; councillor.colclough@lantzville.ca; mayor@qualicumbeach.com. To contact Director Houle click here. Please note that Ian Thorpe, Bill McKay, Bill Bestwick, Jerry Hong, Kim Kipp, Gordon Fuller and Bill Yoachim are all city of Nanaimo councillors. Be respectful; they receive a ton of e-mails.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

My picks for Nanaimo's By-election



All 13 candidates have desirable qualities for the one councillor position up for grabs on July 8th. 
In order to attempt to prioritise them I used a 10 point scale as follows:

Ability to:
1.      connect with and really hear where people are coming from, including genuine consultation with the local Snuneymuxw First Nation
2.      be astute managers –which includes putting sufficient effort to listen to people; do their own research; attend meetings and public events; and be able to make their own decisions (vs. blindly vote along with others)
3.      think through problems creatively, preferably by finding “win-win” solutions for all involved
4.      balance fiscal restraints with community needs
5.      sniff out when staff are trying to manipulate councillors to vote a certain way
6.      have a vision of sustainability and affordability for the community and our planetary home
7.      be authentic (not fake or egotistical)
8.      be a team player: genuinely work with other councillors and the mayor
9.      Extra point for being a woman (my bias: we need more of them)
10.  Extra point for being younger (my bias: the Millennials better understand what we need to do to attract this needed population and become more sustainable)
Please note that none of the above parameters consider the usual “right-left” wing perspective, although those who are stuck in a narrow perspective are unlikely to score very high on most of these parameters.
I score one point for each of the above 10 considerations. A candidate who (in my estimation, of course) does not obtain at least 5 of the possible 10 points is not on my top picks. From the top:
Sacia (pronounced “Sasha”) Burton is a young female and full of good ideas such as improving individual and community well-being (food security, active transportation, affordable housing, citizen engagement) and being a team-player. Her profile and answers on www.NanaimoNet.com and www.ournanaimo.com have the most pragmatic and thought-through policies of all the candidates. She is bright, positive, and able to make points without disrespecting others who disagree with her (“My experience as an advocate in University governance taught me to match thoughtful critique with an empathetic ear.”) She was the only candidate in the Chamber of Commerce/Young Professionals event to ask the audience questions (not easy when one is given only one minute to reply to a question!) and after her poll was completed she replied to the responses with “That’s interesting.” She is likely resilient, which will be necessary if elected to the current Council. She is as unique as is her name. 10/10

Noah Routley is a current school board trustee. He seems to be a team-player (“I will increase overall stakeholder and community advocacy if elected. My mandate is to be available and accessible to constituents, bringing public concerns to the board. Now more than ever in our school district we need advocates with a heart and a powerful voice... My co-working style is collaborative and supportive, while also being a strong advocate and leader.” –see his trustee profile at http://www.nanaimobulletin.com/news/school-trustee-candidate-noah-routley/; see also his first points noted in the current https://www.ournanaimo.com/index.php/question-1/ “First and foremost we need to hear from Nanaimo residents”) as well as comments made at http://www.nanaimonet.com/432653805).  He seems to support active transportation based on what he wrote in the Our Nanaimo website just cited but I see no evidence on how he would accomplish this, especially given his stance against raising taxes. He is more likely knowledgeable about what is needed to reduce the growing mental health issues due to his related background.   He advocates for a collaborative and practical approach to the city’s social issues.  7/10

In Kevin Cantelon’s responses to the Greater Nanaimo Cycling Coalition’s survey in the last general election (http://www.bikesense.org/elections/councillors/councillor-candidates/content/KevinCantelon.pdf) he strongly advocated for an improved cycling infrastructure. In his recent response to the Our Nanaimo (https://www.ournanaimo.com/index.php/question-1/) his views on how to make the city more responsive to current and future needs are practical and sustainable. As a lawyer he seems to have an idea how to respond to conflict and says he will work collaboratively. In my experience a number of lawyers are able to do this. “My platform calls for a return to civility and functionality.” Kevin seems keen to improve the social and economic conditions in the city. He seems to balance fiscal and social needs. 6+/10

Sheryl Armstrong is a retired RCMP officer. She’s interested in both economic development and reducing the city’s mental health issues, bringing leadership to the Council, and listening to/connecting with the electorate. Sheryl will likely be able to stand up to the bullying by some councillors. She has training in interest based negotiation, conflict resolution and conflict management. (https://www.ournanaimo.com/index.php/question-3rd/). While her principals are noteworthy it is not clear to me what policies, apart from mental health, she wishes to accomplish. She seems to be a fiscal conservative who may also be approachable by the electorate. She made mention of the need for bike lanes (https://www.ournanaimo.com/index.php/question-1/).  She seems to place a lot of trust in the abilities of the city’s CEO (see https://www.ournanaimo.com/index.php/question-2/).  6/10

Kevin Storrie has previous civic experience (two terms on the Campbell River Council) that would bring needed experience to Nanaimo’s Council. He is a former builder who has a social conscience. He seeks to be a team player. He’s been through enough personal trials to have developed empathy for others. He has plenty of good ideas. My sense of him is that he would be a fairly typical councillor and offer little in terms of making Nanaimo sustainable. 6/10

Alexis Taylor Middleton seems to have done her homework on how to make the city more sustainable (see her responses at the One Nanaimo website, https://www.ournanaimo.com/index.php/question-1/). She would not likely get into conflicts with other councillors as she seems not to be pushy. I would have preferred to see her be more assertive at the Chamber/YPN event. She seemed shy to pull the microphone toward herself well enough to get a good sound quality. Her closing remark showed some passion. 5+/10

Kelly Whiteside is a young adult who was unfortunately unable to attend either all candidate event due to work commitments. She says of herself that she is “a young, queer woman: a voice/face rarely seen in politics” (https://www.ournanaimo.com/index.php/question-6/) and that she is even-handed and independent https://www.ournanaimo.com/index.php/question-3rd/. Her focus is primarily on downtown revitalisation, infrastructure, good governance and an improved active transportation (see http://www.nanaimonet.com/435251043). Not enough information to give a score but at least 5/10.

Leon Cake: Into charities, hockey, instrumental in saving the colliery dams, seems willing to listen to the residents; wants to greatly reduce in camera meetings; ask tough questions of staff (he had passion and people responded well). Likely a fiscal conservative. He doesn’t seem to know much about how to make us more sustainable. In his responses to the Greater Nanaimo Cycling Coalition’s survey in the last general election (http://www.bikesense.org/elections/councillors/councillor-candidates/content/LeonCake.pdf) he seemed interested in learning more about active transportation and supporting some positive changes. Has he learned anything more about the importance of active transportation now three years later? A lack of his participation on Our Nanaimo’s website makes rating him not possible.

Brunie Brunie and Al Thompson interestingly are the two eldest and the most colourful candidates. They are worlds apart, however, when it comes to sustainability. Examples: for economic development Brunie supports greenhouses that utilise solar energy while Al would burn “garbage” to heat them. Brunie gets around by bicycle and Al is a former truck driver who advocates the replacement of the railway with a paved surface meant for seniors in scooters.
In 2014 city residents were very clear in their opposition to burning waste resources (aka “garbage”) near the city. Al seems unaware of this. No candidate seems to be aware that waste resources can be used to create local employment (as have other municipalities around the world), creating far more jobs than either dumping or burning. I do not believe they could improve the atmosphere at the Council chambers.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Democracy Sacrificed

With the election of three Green MLA's last month many hoped that the province of B.C. might experience something of a resurgence in democracy. Greens are known to work with other parties and now hold the balance of power.
Ever the strategists the Liberals have decided to not cooperate and hope for more seats in an election that will be called in the near future while blaming the Greens for not supporting them.
Here are signs of this strategy:
  1.  None of the Liberal MLA's are willing to stand for election as the Speaker of the Legislature, expecting the NDP or Green to provide one, thus creating a very unstable tie vote. This is unusual in the Westminster tradition
  2. Christy Clark is currently campaigning in the vote-rich lower mainland, wooing them with promises of improving their transit (finally!) and more
  3. Their budget will include many of the policies promised by the Greens and NDP such as more funds for social assistance and an end to corporate donations (which would, if put into effect, end their dynasty) -knowing that this budget will fail. This way they can accuse the NDP and Greens of not voting for policies they hold dear
  4. Corporations quickly began to donate large sums of money to the Liberal Party immediately after the election -more than $1 million in the first two weeks
  5. Their candidates appear to be readying to run in the near future. At least one has not closed his campaign bank account even though they cannot use it
  6. They have accused the NDP and Greens of being "power hungry" and "not cooperating"
  7. They are positioning themselves as being the only stable option (while doing all that they can to destabilize the Legislature). They have named their cabinet members and announced this to local media (even though they know that they will be defeated, terminating the cabinet), giving all appearances of being ready to govern
  8. They are hoping to convince the Lieutenant Governor that the NDP/Green alliance is too unstable and thus to call another election rather than to allow the alliance an opportunity to form the government. If they were to provide a Speaker this would not be necessary.
Contrast all of this to the recent occurrence in Great Britain. There the ruling Conservatives wooed a small Party that had won a few seats so that together they would have enough votes to prevent another election. They accomplished this in less than a month and got back to business. In B.C. the Liberal leader, Christy Clark, did not show up to the initial meeting with the Green Party's Andrew Weaver and the Party was not willing to give up some of its favourite positions in order to meet the Green's expectations of support, then blamed Andrew for forging an agreement with the NDP before meeting with Christy Clark. Where was she at that most important initial meeting? Why did they not go to Andrew on bended knee so that the province could enjoy a more stable government?

Projection is an attempt to place on to others what is true of oneself. While accusing the NDP and Greens of being "power hungry" the Liberals delayed the recalling the legislature as long as they could, and rumour has it that they will not present a budget when it first reconvenes. These delays allow the Liberal caucus to keep the Site C dam to continue to the point that it becomes uneconomical to stop it, displacing homeowners in the meantime, and continue their policies as long as possible. Claiming that providing a Speaker from their ranks as this would amount to "propping up" the NDP/Green government they expected the Greens to support them so as to provide stability in the province. Would this not amount to "propping up" the Liberals?

The result of all of the above is that the Legislature will fall as soon as a non-confidence vote succeeds -all this will require is just one Green or NDP MLA to be missing from the Legislature one day. The Liberal coffers are filling with corporate donations. They will be more than ready with their slick campaign that blames the NDP and Greens for messing up the province and offering a stable pro-economy, pro-jobs promise from the Liberals.

Such is the state of democracy in British Columbia. Will the voters reward or punish the Liberals?

Friday, June 2, 2017

To Make Nanaimo Affordable and Better



In light of Nanaimo’s aging population (somewhat higher than Canada’s and even B.C.’s) and that the future looks dim without a greater immigration and retention of younger adults (called “the Millenniums”) who are keen to have a planet worth living on, what does Nanaimo need to do to survive and thrive?
A Master’s thesis written by Lan Le Diem Tran, a Millennial who hails from Vietnam, answers this question. Her thesis focused on leisure mobility in Nanaimo for Millennials (born 1984 to 1996). After surveying them in 2016 she concludes that in order to thrive Nanaimo needs to attract and retain talented workers by greatly improving our sustainable transportation system. Young adults want to live in mid-sized cities such as Nanaimo, especially with the natural beauty and amenities offered here if such cities catch up on sustainable transportation, including far more transit and active options afforded by dedicated cycling and walking infrastructure.
They want an affordable, sustainable, city. They know that transportation is one of the two most expensive costs for individuals and families (it is often as expensive as is housing). In 2010, transportation alone accounted for 13.35% of the total average estimated household expenditures in Nanaimo – higher than the two largest cities in British Columbia, which are Vancouver (12.95%) and Victoria (12.29%). Why? Because 88% of the people living in Nanaimo travel by car for their daily needs, whereas only 8.5% choose to walk, 1.0% cycle, and 2.5% use public transit.
Not good news. But in 2014 the city of Nanaimo conducted a nearly $1 million study about how to move forward. The vision of Nanaimo’s Transportation Master Plan looks compelling:
Nanaimo’s multi-modal transportation system will connect the City’s residents and businesses to each other, the rest of Vancouver Island and beyond. It will provide inclusive transportation choices that are safe, comfortable, and accessible for people of all ages and abilities. A system of interconnected facilities and services will provide affordable mobility while supporting a shift towards a more sustainable mix of transportation alternatives. The transportation network will seek to create and support a vibrant, liveable, healthy and sustainable community for residents, businesses and visitors alike.
Sadly the actual action plan is weak.  It aims to reduce the trip proportions made by private vehicles by only 8% within 27 years (2014-2041), leaving Nanaimo far behind in the global and regional competition for Millennial talents, keeping it as one of the most expensive cities in the province, contributing to its very high poverty rate.
Being a car-dependent city brings many draw-backs, and not only for Millennials.
What does our current transportation system truly cost? A lot!
The dependence on the automobile leads to:
  •  High incidents of injuries and death. In Canada people aged between 15 and 34 account for the most fatalities and injuries.
  •  Current urban designs lead to car dependencies and lead to a lack of sufficient physical exercise through walking and cycling which significantly contributes to health issues such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.
  •  Other health issues arise from noise pollution from traffic and air pollution (that kills several thousand Canadians every year).
  •  Transportation challenges restrict access to numerous services and facilities, namely jobs, education, leisure facilities, and health-care services, all of which are critical social determinants of health.
  •  A lack of adequate transportation is also correlated with higher crime rates and thus a reduced sense of security and life satisfaction.
  •  A lack of transportation options also reduce the economic performance of a city or region in part because money spent on cars leaves the region, and such prevents many of those in the lower socio-economic spectrum from getting work or gaining better paying employment.

In addition a city’s economy and vitality is constrained by inadequate transportation systems.
  1.  Urban areas that encourage reliance on private motorised vehicles foster expenditures on cars and their related costs, such as gas, insurance, and parking. Money spent on cars and fuels is money that largely leaves the regional economy, draining it.
  2. Without people-friendly transportation systems consumers are less likely to be enticed to purchase local goods, resulting in weak economic resilience of the community.
  3. A lack of transportation options greatly increases foreclosures at times of economic recessions
  4.  Businesses in the community may have difficulty hiring employees and suffer from lost customers
  5. Provincially, poor transportation options results in higher benefit payments and reduced tax contributions

What does it cost society for various ways of getting around? For every $1 spent on walking or cycling society pays less than 10 cents. Locally for every $1 spent on buses society pays $2. But for car travel for every $1 spent, society pays nearly $10! [1]
Relying heavily on the single-occupancy motor vehicle is not only costly for the user/owner and especially for society it also exacts a cost to our well-being, physically and socially. Car travel is often isolating. Healthy humans are well-connected to others. The quality, not only the quantity of travel, needs to be considered.
By changing this we can benefit in many ways. Greatly increasing affordable, accessible and sustainable transportation costs a lot less, improves our local economy, boosts our health outcomes, and brings many others benefits.
The Victoria Transportation Institute (www.vtpi.org) concludes that the most liveable cities are the ones that provide the most public transportation. Lan Le Diem Tran would wholeheartedly agree.

Monday, September 12, 2016

How to improve on Nanaimo's Core Services Review



Core Review questions and comments
September 12, 2016

While I applaud this Core Services Review I believe that its greatest weakness is that it sometimes fails to address the causes of issues (and hence expenses) and then only addresses how to treat the symptoms. This is a cultural norm in our part of the world, and costs us tremendously –in every way. I wish to especially focus on the area of waste management and transportation (which are related).

Waste policies (pg 77)
            The options offered are far too limiting and do not meet our goals of continuing to improve our performance in this area. Indeed, the solutions may encourage us to go in the opposite direction! The following are just two options that most other municipalities are not embracing, ones that would again place Nanaimo at the leader in both waste reduction and boosted related employment:
Greatly reduce the weight of the garbage cans being lifted (and injuring our employees)
·         Charge according to the size of the garbage container –this step alone greatly increases the rate of recycling and composting
·         Make the containers clear so as to show the contents of the trash (revealing wet compostables, bricks/rocks, etc.)
·         Removes the need for automated vehicles
·         Reduces the cost of delivery
Provide or subsidise household compost systems that safely compost bones and meat
·         This alone greatly reduces the cost of picking up compostables
·         This step provides superior soil for backyard gardens while reducing GHG emissions (if used properly) beyond what the existing facilities offer
·         Greatly reduces tipping fees
·         Reduces injury to city employees
·         Removes the need for automated vehicles
·         Reduces the cost of delivery
The staff are largely trained by those associated with waste management companies that benefit from cities utilising less than best practises. E.G. Automated trucks suffer from even more mechanical failures than does our existing fleet. Best to hire a consultant who is an experienced waste reduction (not management) company for the best practises outcomes. Buddy Boyd of Gibson’s Waste Recovery Centre is the only such individual in our province.
Transportation
Vehicle Fleet Costs and Policies (Pg’s ~80-84)
            Many other cities are finding considerable fleet cost reductions by partnering with the local non-profit carshare coop. Why? Because:
1.      The vehicles are used both day and evenings, spreading out the capital costs to more users.
2.      The co-op offers an itemised accounting of what vehicles are used for, and exactly for how long.
3.      There is more accountability and less unauthorised use for personal purposes
4.      It increases the use of public transportation and cycling/walking
5.      Maintenance issues are handled better (other carshare coop vehicles can be used when some are removed for maintenance purposes or after an accident).
6.      Coordination is very simple, resulting in far fewer duplications and need for rental vehicles
7.      Offers the lowest cost service per vehicle to the City
8.      New vehicles can be purchased to fit the unique needs of the City, including hybrid and all electric
Transportation –general
1.      The plan seems to offer nothing in terms of how to help the city reduce future costs from adding new subdivisions on its outskirt. While DCC charges help in the short-term the City is left holding the bag in terms of maintaining roads, sewers, water, transit services and emergency services & their attendant facilities.
Solution: charge DCC’s according to the distance from the core of the city. This costs the City nothing to implement and improves sustainability by increasing the population density. This also reduces the need for the single occupancy motor vehicle, lowering GHG emissions, accidents, improving health outcomes, attracting young adults, etc.
2.      The City is very limited in terms of how to save the taxpayer money except in this one area: transportation. By greatly increasing the budget for dedicated bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure (the most cost-effective way to spend the predicted surplus) the number of accidents is reduced, the health of the population is improved, the number of young adults willing to live in Nanaimo increases, and the cost to live in this city for those willing to utilise sustainable transportation. If the City really wishes to reduce the burden of expenses for its people why not make this the #1 area to invest saved funds??
3.      By taking this step the City will reduce the overall social cost of living here (which is borne in part by the City) and attract more young adults to the City (currently a major deterrent).
4.      By ending the subsidy to the E&N railway, because we do not live in a bubble we will encourage more vehicle traffic in the future, costing us individually far more while placing an additional burden on the city. This takes us in the opposite direction to a sustainable and affordable future. Is this what the City really wishes?
5.      By embracing sustainable transportation the City reduces the cost of building and maintaining its road infrastructure. Isn’t this a laudable goal?
Other
Reducing access to health-improving activity centres (such as the Beban Pool) will reduce the health of more individuals, increase costs for the medical system and for those who are employed or are assisting their families with children. This flies in the face of the need to reduce the social costs of living in Nanaimo.