Month: July 2015

Uncertain Timing of Catastrophic Calamity

Back in 1991 daughter-in-law Susan Mayse wrote a book – Earthquake – preparing for the big one. It’s still in print at a fraction of first publication cost.

Her husband, my son Stephen, penned a series of articles for the Vancouver Sun some years ago and has now been hammering the pending earthquake-tsunami disaster theme at irregular intervals for close to 25 years.

Last year Margaret Munro, another daughter-in-law, wrote on “the big one” for the Postmedia Network in December 2014. For many years Margaret (married to son Mark who toils in the Globe and Mail Vancouver bureau and touches on earthquakes and other hazards to the environment from time to time) specialized in science and technology. She has more trophies for journalistic excellence in the field than the rest of the extended family put together.

Let me add quickly – we are not a family combine. We each do our own thing, independently, but have been known to engage in vigorous post-publication debate.

Back to Margaret and her article published in the Vancouver Sun last year just before she and other top flight reporters became victims in a Postmedia staff dismantling operation.

She wrote: “The pressure has been building for more than 300 years.

“A giant slab of rock sliding in from the Pacific is exerting so much pressure on the west coast of North America it is warping Vancouver Island, tilting it higher and squeezing it a few centimeters eastward every year….One day the strain will be released in an instant and a catastrophic earthquake will rip down the west coast from British Columbia to northern California…”

In the July 20 edition of The New Yorker that prestigious journal published a lengthy article by writer Kathryn Schulz, who to the best of my knowledge has not even a remote ancestral link with anyone in my extended family.

The article – headlined “The Really Big One” – embraced all the points made in earlier Mayse-Munro-Hume articles but confines the earthquake-tsunami destruction to “the northwest edge of the continent from California to Canada……by the time the shaking has stopped and the tsunami has receded (emergency measures officials say) ‘our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.’ “

Just an American event.

The article suggests “everything west of Interstate 5 (includes) Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem, Olympia and some seven million people.” It estimates the death toll will be close to 13,000 with 27,000 injured, one million homeless with emergency food and water required for two and half million more.

It would be comforting to think the devastation would be confined to the USA but, alas, as Margaret Munro pointed out last December the 1,139 kilometre Cascadia subduction zone reaches far beyond the 49th parallel. It lies with all its menace just off the west coast of Vancouver Island. For three days (June 7-10) next year Emergency Management BC (EMBC) is planning to hold the first ever provincially led earthquake-tsunami response exercise – Exercise Costal Response – in the Port Alberni region.

It’s an exercise long overdue and urgently needed but some early advisories are concerning. One says the exercise will “involve the real-time deployment of the Provincial Coordination Team a cross- government group that can be activated to bring support to a local authority in an emergency including the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team from Vancouver.” That sounds comforting in theory – but if Victoria and Vancouver are to get as battered as the experts predict, will there be enough Heavy Urban Search and Rescue teams to respond to a call for help from Port Alberni or Nanaimo or any other coastal community in desperate need?

Like many other citizens I have paid attention to early warnings and have a survival kit packed for a few days if I survive the shake and tsunami wave. But I am not prepared for a lengthy wait while Calgary and Edmonton – our nearest Canadian cities capable of major relief efforts get help across the mountains to the coast.

It sounds pretty hopeless, doesn’t it? But think –  survivors will be comforted by the knowledge it will be another 300 to 500 years before the next big one. Enough time to address today’s problem as presented by Ms.Schulz in the New Yorker:”The Cascadia situation, a calamity in its own right, is also a parable for this age of ecological reckoning and the questions it raises are ones that we all now face. How should a society respond to a looming crisis of uncertain timing but of catastrophic proportions? How can it begin to right itself when its entire infrastructure and culture developed in such a way that leaves it profoundly vulnerable to natural disaster?”

Think about it carefully in this 11th hour and any suggestions will be gratefully received.

Who Benched Raeside?

Once more my old Alma Mater the Victoria Times-Colonist is making news. For blog readers in foreign parts the name dates back to two newspapers born in the mid 1800’s as serious rivals in the business of packaging news for settlers in a new country. The Colonist was born in 1858, the Times came rattling along in 1884. After more than a hundred years of battle for the market the pair united in reluctant wedlock in 1980 and the slide, from publishing news because news is important, to selling news for handsome profits, began.

The shift in focus wasn’t immediately discernible outside the newsroom but was felt quickly within. A reporter, copy editor or photographer retired or moved away but no replacement would be hired. Existing, maybe better described as “surviving”, staff was expected to fill the gaps.

The product suffered, circulation suffered. At its peak The Colonist alone could boast around twice the number (49,343) of readers The Times Colonist has today. It is true the digital explosion has hastened the decline in readership, but the seeds for a downward spiral were sown much earlier when newspaper owners and their publishers began to lose sight of original aims.

The decline in quality continued this week when Adrian Raeside, the local T-C cartoonist was quietly shown the door, thus ending 30 plus years of consistent political commentary. He will be missed – especially as this year advances into federal election high gear and readers will be looking for comprehensive insight on candidates and issues from skilled observers as distinct from over-the-fence chatter of the twittering class.

Times Colonist readers will also be denied the penetrating commentary of Iain Hunter, former member of the Ottawa press gallery and, prior to his years, “on the hill” a member of the BC Legislature press gallery. Like Raeside, Iain was always informative, clear in analysis and highly skilled in preferring a needle to a hatchet to pop political balloons.

Iain “couldn’t be afforded” little more than a year ago – along with several other regular contributors including yours truly. The reason was always the same with the “can’t afford you” decision relayed one way or another by Editor in Chief Dave Obee, the man who pulled the trigger but didn’t load or aim the gun.

At the time of my “print” demise he told me he had fought hard to keep me in my usual Islander spot. At one point he e-mailed to say he could now, again, offer me my spot but only bi-weekly. I believed him, thanked him, but declined because I wasn’t interested in playing uncertain future games with the shadowy figure orchestrating staffing decisions.

Who would that be? It has always fascinated me that David Radler is listed in Wikipedia as Times Colonist publisher for owners Clacier Media, but that his name doesn’t make the A-team list on the T-C editorial page. It could be that he’s shy, although a Google of his name indicates he’s been far from that in his newspaper career past.

In recent weeks the Times Colonist has been demanding the provincial government come clean on the issue of the eight heath workers who were fired, rehired (some), compensated, (others) or just moved on with life. It’s a good cause. The newspaper rightly argues “the people” have a right to know which ministers, deputy ministers or associate deputy ministers were involved in disgracing eight innocents.

I wonder if I might ask on behalf of other TC readers who also might like to know: Who’s running the Times-Colonist newsroom show? Maybe chief editor Obee could write a Sunday piece for us explaining what his duties are and what role he played in deciding Raeside was no longer affordable?

He could add a sentence telling us where Mr.Radler lives (some readers might like to send him a birthday card) – then list him on the editorial page as the man who’s really in command.

It’s that “right to know and transparency” policy all good editors cherish and should, in good conscience, observe. “Can’t afford”

.

Post July 19, 2015

Fragments from a tattered notebook on curious attitudes:

First a local newspaper attitude related specifically to my old Alma Mater the Victoria Times-Colonist. For blog readers in foreign parts the name is a link with two newspapers born in the mid 1800’s as serious rivals in the business of packaging news for settlers in a new country. The Colonist was born in 1858; the Times came rattling along in 1884. After more than a hundred years of battle for the market the pair was forced into reluctant wedlock in 1980 and the slide from publishing news because news is important to selling news for handsome profits began.

The shift in focus wasn’t immediately discernible outside the newsroom but was felt keenly within. A reporter, copy editor or photographer retired or moved away but no replacement would be hired. Existing, maybe better described as “surviving”, staff was expected to fill the gaps.

The product suffered, circulation suffered. At its peak The Colonist could boast around twice the number (49,343) of readers The Times Colonist has today. It is true the digital explosion has hastened the decline in readership, but the seeds were sown when newspaper owners and their publishers began to lose sight of original aims.

The decline in quality continued this week when Adrian Raeside, the local T-C cartoonist was quietly shown the door, thus ending 30 plus years of consistent political commentary. He will be missed – especially as this year advances into federal election high gear and we shall need all the insight we can obtain on candidates and issues from skilled observers as distinct from over-the-fence chatter of the twittering class.

Times Colonist readers will also be denied the penetrating commentary of Iain Hunter, former member of the Ottawa press gallery and prior to his years “on the hill” a member of the BC Legislature press gallery. Like Raeside, Iain was always informative, clear in analysis and highly skilled in preferring a needle to a hatchet to pop political balloons.

Iain “couldn’t be afforded” little more than a year ago – along with several other regular contributors including yours truly. The reason was always the same, the “can’t afford you” decision relayed one way or another by editor in chief Dave Obee, the man who pulled the trigger but didn’t load or aim the gun.

At the time of my “print” demise he told me he had fought hard to keep me my usual Islander spot. At one point he e-mailed to say he could offer that slot bi-weekly but not weekly. I believed him but declined because I wasn’t interested in playing future games with the shadowy figure pulling Obee’s strings.

Who would that be? It has always fascinated me that David Radler is listed in Wikipedia as Times Colonist publisher for owners Clacier Media, but that his name doesn’t make the A-team list on the T-C editorial page. It could be that he’s shy, although a Google of his name indicates he’s far from unknown in the newspaper game.

In recent weeks the Times Colonist has been demanding the provincial government come clean on the issue of the eight heath workers who were fired, rehired (some), compensated, (others) or just moved on with life. It’s a good cause. The newspaper argues “the people” have a right to know which ministers, deputy ministers or associate deputy ministers were involved in disgracing eight innocents.

I wonder if I could ask on behalf of other TC readers who might like to know: Who’s running the show? Maybe chief editor Obee will write a Sunday piece explaining what his duties are and what role he played in deciding Raeside was no longer affordable?

He could add a sentence on where Mr.Radler lives (some readers might like to send him a greetings card) – and list him on the editorial page as the man who’s really in command.

It’s that “right to know and transparency” policy all good editors cherish to explain major editorial decisions to their readers. “Can’t afford Raeside” from a newspaper as jammed with advertising as the Times-Colonist in its newspaper edition, revenue rich occasional glossy magazines and never-ending “flyers”, is not acceptable.

No “Just Cause” – And As Yet – No Justice

A few years ago someone in the British Columbia Ministry of Health fired eight public servants without, as it was later revealed, “just cause.” Some have since received re-instatement, some cash settlements, one committed suicide – and the government has apologized for what it concedes was a brutal response to whatever it originally, and wrongly, conceived as wrong-doing.

Government has confessed the firings were in error, but has remained implacably silent on the perceived cause and on who ordered the trigger pulled.

On July 3 Health Minister Terry Lake proudly announced newly appointed Ombudsperson Jay Chalke, would be asked to investigate the debacle and let the world know who did what, why and when. Data mismanagement and contract irregularities swirled and rumour was rife throughout the pharmaceutical division of the ministry. But no specific charges were made.

New Democratic Party leader John Horgan said he was pleased with the government’s decision to at last let some light shine on a murky situation, but added he wasn’t sure the Ombudsperson was the right person to do the job. He suggested Ombudsperson Chalke, formerly an assistant deputy minister in the Attorney General’s ministry might find himself in a difficult position as an investigation progressed.

It took Ombudsperson Chalke himself, in a letter to the joint Liberal-NDP legislative committee which will ultimately be responsible for recommending an investigation, to agree his office might not be the best way to find the truth of the matter. He listed strong reasons, not the least of which would be his difficulty in getting essential answers from sources now protected by oaths of confidentiality.

I recommend – especially to Minister Lake and NDP leader Horgan – a careful read of Chalke’s letter (just Google Ombudsperson BC) plus the Ombudsperson Act (another easy Google). And you may wonder, as do I, why Lake and Horgan were not familiar with problems raised by Chalke.

In essence: A cabinet member swears when taking office “I will keep confidential all matters dealt with in the Executive Council (cabinet) and I will not disclose any of the same to any person” other than other cabinet members. Sections 18 and 19 of the Ombudsperson Act deal with confidentiality but 19 isn’t clear in definition. Chalke says before he could respond adequately to an investigation request Section 19 would need to be repealed and replaced with “and updated and effective provision consistent with that of other officers of the legislature.”

He requests from the committee “no referral (to launch an investigation) be made by the Committee unless it has a commitment from Government to introduce the changes in legislation at the earliest opportunity.” In addition he wants to see a clause “to release parties from any confidentiality undertakings entered into as a condition of settling prior or outstanding litigation; and to disclose cabinet records and legal advice in accordance with established protocols….”

He seems to be saying – “I don’t think I should be asked to do this job, but if you insist on asking me, then you must give me the tools to do it properly. All sources of information must be available for questioning.”

He emphasizes that Investigations by the Ombudsperson are traditionally and properly, conducted in private with only the results made public. But the health ministry mess demands more closed door questioning and the fact that government would prefer a “private” investigation obviously concerns Ombudsperson Chalke.

In his letter he reminds committee members the health ministry employees mud-splattered in this affair would also prefer a public inquiry to a private search for truth. They have stated, he wrote, “that investigation by the Ombudsperson is not the approach they favour…..I would suggest that the committee give those views the utmost consideration…..”

His recommendation:”That the committee consider the views of the former employees as to whether the matter ought to be referred (to the Ombudsperson) or an alternative approach pursued.”

Will the government listen? It should, but among his “conclusions” Ombudsman Chalke, possibility inadvertently, provides the perfect blanket for further political delay. He says revised legislation must be in place before he can get serious; he wants the referral, if one comes, to be unanimous –without partisan politics; he wants “no deadlines placed on any investigation” until he has had time “to provide the committee with a considered opinion following receipt of any terms of reference, including the timing of any actions required to be taken by the government; and, almost unnoticed in the text: “Once the terms of the referral are finalized (to) develop a budget and return to the committee for funding.” Total cost unknown, but certainly rising.

I’m forecasting a tabling of a final report, if one is ever produced, the day after Greece repays its loans.

To Live But Not To Learn

Were we sincere as a nation when we jammed our capital cities streets with flag waving crowds, sang our national terminal anthem in robust chorus, consumed junk food by the ton and maybe welcomed John Barleycorn too frequently in the name of God Bless Canada Day?

I ask the question seriously. In Victoria, British Columbia, where I scribble these meanderings, the largest crowds were on the streets bordering the Inner Harbour where the historic Empress Hotel towers over the Harbour Causeway on one side and the provincial Parliament Buildings. (The Legislature) another.

The crowds lined up for hours under clear sky summer sun to join celebrating thousands and create a living Maple Leaf flag on the front lawn. Their reward 15 seconds of fame on the TV evening newscast and a red or white t-shirt to keep.

A somber statue of Queen Victoria presided over the occasion. A summer fountain offered a picturesque, splashing, refreshing relief. Across the street at harbour-edge Street vendors plied their trade, bands played, jugglers juggled, and buskers of every kind performed.

And tucked in one corner, its 13 pillars as proud as in the days they were the glorious stamp of the Canadian Pacific Steamship terminal on the West Coast of Canada, the old gateway in and out of BC sat mute in all the clamor. Externally the old CPR building remains much as it has always been. Inside it had been substantially renovated after serving for years as busy terminal, then a wax museum. Today at serves multi purposes today as home for an art gallery, a restaurant and offices.

There had been hope early in 2015 that the old terminal, the heart and hub of transportation since European’s discovered the safe waters First Nation’s had known and used for centuries, would again beat with maritime pride this summer as the new home for the Maritime Museum, until recently housed uncomfortably in the old Victoria Court House in Bastion Square. The proposal to move the museum from the perceived unsafe historic Court House to the modernized and safe equally historic CPR steamship terminal received all-round warm approval when first broached.

Negotiations began with the landlords of the old terminal – the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority created in 2002. It was thought the decision to welcome the Museum would be a slam-dunk. Alas, although GVHA justifiably boasts on its website http://gvha.ca/h_history,php it had “achieved financial sustainability more quickly than it anticipated” it didn’t appear willing to share its good fortune with the Maritime Museum.

Talks commenced with such optimism collapsed when the landlord demanded a rent the Museum could not afford. Most of the priceless collection of maritime artifacts is now heading for storage. A fraction of the best exhibits will find a crammed store-front home; a precious but humiliating moment in what has been a proud history.

On Canada Day the crowds happily jostled ate and drank and danced and waved flags and sang with gusto “Oh, Canada, our home and native land, true patriot love in all thy sons command….” With gusto for sure – but without a thought for the mini betrayal or heritage taking place across the street.

The GVHA web page says it “envisions a harbour where people can live, learn, work and play….As the leading advocate for an ‘alive, accessible and dynamic harbour’ GVHA is passionate about the power of the harbour to act as a catalyst for Victoria to fulfill its destiny as one of the most outstanding experiences in the world.”

To “live, learn, work and play”, worthy objectives to always be voiced with passion, but much better and stronger when advanced with passion backed by action.

The GVHA, to be praised for many harbour improvements since 2002, missed an opportunity with the Maritime Museum. With its “financial sustainability” from commerce it could, and should, have offered inducements not obstacles.