Monday, October 29, 2012

Housing on the Block

Last week Victoria City Council voted to cut funds for affordable housing.  The vote will be considered for adoption this week and deserves a second look.  It's indicative of a problem with so many governments who see themselves as an investment bank rather than a service provider.  Governments don't collect taxes to earn good financial returns, rather they collect them to fund the services and build the assets necessary to sustaining healthy communities.  Good on those who saw that difference in the first place.  Here's my letter asking for reconsideration.

Please reverse your GPC vote to cut Victoria's housing programs.

Clearly we have made a lot of progress in generating new partnerships to expand our supply of affordable housing and new private sector projects are moving forward that will add more market rentals.  Still, the job is not finished and the private sector alone cannot meet the specialized needs of disadvantaged populations and the many who remain homeless in our city.
Victoria needs to hang on to the leverage the city can exercise through funding contributions and partnership programs.  We cannot do that through the CRD alone.  Ensuring that projects are sensitive to local concerns will still be best addressed when the city has a strong voice at the table, and that voice is strongest when we have the leverage of being a major funding partner.

Victoria does face financial challenges, just like every other municipality in Canada.  It is simply not good enough, however, to wait until other governments return to the housing field to deal with the problems we face today.  There are still homeless on our streets and projects that will be needed to house them take time and planning.  The respite of a weak economy is not a long term solution.

Likewise, the obsession with funding challenges is also short term.  Many projects initiated by yours and previous councils are moving to planning or are nearing completion.  They will add to your assessment roles and help support the services Victoria citizens expect their city to deliver and the assets you are charged with managing.

Looking for budget efficiency is important to our citizens, but it is not your only task.  Housing now and in the future is key to the healthy of our economy, our community and our citizens.  It is critical that Victoria remain committed to that agenda by ensuring the resources and the influence the city exercises through our own programs are supported.

Please make sure that the good work we have started as a community does not stall and rethink the funding cuts supported at committee.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Your ship has sailed . . .

Another in the seemingly unending stream of harebrained letters hit the paper today, floating the fantasy that the city could be better served by a fixed link crossing in place of a new Johnson St. Bridge.
One premise of the letter is that the bridge lifts only for the occasional sailboat to pass through the channel.  Quite the contrary, an active and vibrant shipyard continues to operate at Point Hope and it will be a surprise to some how large some of the ships are that get pulled onto land via a marine railway that cost no small sum for the owners of the shipyard.  They’ve added a few spurs so that numbers of vessels can be anchored in the yard for repairs and maintenance. 
Many are much too large to fit under the existing bridge of course, and federal regulations would require a clearance of some 185 feet for a fixed link over navigable waters.  Even were those regulations to be tweaked to accommodate local conditions, the idea of a fixed span is unworkable if not nonsensical, and would require the alienation from productive use of great swaths of land downtown and in Vic West, eviscerating any of the imagined cost savings proposed by such a foolhardy project. 
Point Hope is already one of, if not the largest single taxpayer in the city, and choking off their business would be compounded by the disappearance of many smaller businesses that would have to be razed to fit in ramps and other infrastructure to facilitate a fixed link in support of the “free flow” of traffic the writer is desperate to pursue.
The shipyard is at a most perfect location for their operations and those others that will continue to suggest the city just move them out of the centre to a location more convenient to their myopia know nothing about how Point Hope operates let alone the next phase of their planned growth.  A graving dock that would allow them to work on larger vessels, perhaps even new construction, would fit nicely into the harbourfront and, in contrast to the complaints of some, contain some of the noisier operations with a more sheltered facility.
The graving dock plan, by the way, emerged after the referendum on the new bridge, even before a new federal shipbuilding program was announced, and has required some of the scope changes for the new bridge mischaracterized as a runaway budget by critics masquerading as media.
Point Hope has been a shipyard for almost 150 years, employs hundreds of skilled tradespeople and supports hundreds of other small businesses in the city.  It is a huge asset to our local economy in so many ways and, with their more ambitious plans, will employ some hundreds more, pumping more dollars into a city treasury that faces revenue challenges most of us are familiar with. 
Barring the predations of new councillors who imagine that they have a better idea for the use of the land, or want to promote more punitive strategies for dollar extraction from the shipyard business, Point Hope has a promising future that includes many more ships larger than the limited imaginations of commentators who continue to dredge up ideas I thought were scuttled long ago.

Friday, October 5, 2012

One vote at a time . . .

Next weekend I will cast a ballot to nominate the person I would like to carry the NDP banner in a by-election that must be called to replace my friend Denise Savoie, who retired from office last month after years of stellar service to the community.  My heartfelt thanks go out to Denise for all the good work she has done in Victoria and on the national stage to give voice to the issues and initiatives important to our community.

I will be supporting a candidate who reflects my values and priorities and someone who I think can carry forward the legacy that Denise has built in our community.  It is most important to me that in Victoria and across Canada that we focus on the coming calamity of climate change.  It is probably the most pressing issue of our time, and we need a candidate for our times. 

There is no challenge today more critical than our intractable dependence on fossil fuels to power an unsustainable way of life that must change, and not just for the reasons of environmental catastrophe that awaits us if we do not act.

New Democrats have a long and proud history of tackling the social and economic issues that reach beyond the comfortable and the well to do.  We brought socialized health care to Canada that is being eroded by those who believe we should return to a failed private delivery system that would cheat many Canadians of their rights as citizens. 

We have fought for decades for new models of economic sustainability and equity to ensure that our citizens have decent jobs to support themselves and their families, and can make a positive contribution to our country and to our communities.

We have fought for equality and the rights of Canadians regardless of race, colour, sexual orientation or the many other differences we celebrate in our diverse country.  No party has been a more vocal advocate for issues of social just than the New Democrats – past and present.

Canada also used to play a positive role in building a peaceful world and we have lost our way.  My father wore the blue beret with a pride that I could celebrate.  Today we seek military might and export aggression alongside the rest of the tools of our undoing. 

We need to be a voice again for peace and reconciliation at home and abroad, and we need to catch up to many of our partners in other nations who are working towards a sustainable future.  I fear that the only sustainability our current government is interested in is the outward flow of our resources and the return of money that will, ironically, pay only for the damage we will have wrought on the world and ourselves.

Health care will not only be pressured by an aging population who need the contributions of young and diverse flows of immigrants the Harper government is trying to keep out of Canada (except for those who can be exploited in servitude).  It will also be challenged by the epidemic of sedentary lifestyles that we have adopted and new diseases and pests that who need no passport, only a changing climate in which to thrive.

Our crumbling infrastructure needs the money that Harper invests in fighter jets, and climate change will challenge us here too.   It will be harder to create jobs from denuded forests, drought stricken farmlands, or to house people in communities flooded by rising sea levels.  These threats are real; the cold war targets we are preparing for are not.

We cannot move forward relying on the models of the past, and we need new, genuine voices for change, for sustainability and for a true agenda on social justice that recognizes the interdependence of our community and our environment.

I have considered all of these issues and face a difficult choice.  We have before us exceptional citizens with diverse histories and a commitment to our community and our country that demonstrates again that New Democrats have the best to offer the people of Victoria who want a responsible voice in Parliament.  But at some point I will have to cast my vote, and so, after having listened to those who are candidates for the nomination, and a feeling that I know all of them well enough to call them friends, I am casting my vote for Murray Rankin.

Murray brings a voice and a record of experience as well as something new for Victoria.  He has a history here, but much valuable experience elsewhere in the province and in the country.  I believe he offers us not just the best hope to keep Victoria’s parliamentary seat in the NDP family, but also the best choice to take the issues that matter to me personally and to many in our community on to Ottawa.  He will truly make an exceptional Member of Parliament and I believe he will be “cabinet ready” in a new government led by Thomas Mulcair.

I hope you will join me at our nomination meeting and cast a vote in support of that hopeful future that I believe Murray will well represent.  Let’s hope we have a by-election soon so we can get to work filling the big shoes Denise left behind.  We have much still to do.