Category Archives: Society

Dispatches from the Urban Meter Wars

Resistance to BC Hydro’s smart meters still seems strong, but it’s hard to tell who’s winning.

A BC Hydro rep gave a presentation at a recent meeting about energy conservation initiatives. Unbidden, he began by letting us know, “One thing we’re not going to discuss today is smart meters.”

Since I was filling in for a friend and not there “as journalist,” I won’t disclose details. Suffice to say the meeting was filled with people very supportive of energy conservation.

When the BC Hydro rep inadvertently mentioned smart meters some minutes later, he interrupted himself: “Let’s not go there.”

When his PowerPoint slide about smart meters popped up, he jumped to the next slide. He wasn’t even going to try to make the case for them to this knowledgeable group.

As we received this in polite silence, it began to sink in for all of us, I think, just how deeply damaging the Liberal “slam smart meters down their throats” campaign has been for BC Hydro’s reputation.

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A retired Saanich woman, not keen to have a smart meter in her home, recently called to tell me her story. After some exchanges of emails and phone calls with various BC Hydro representatives, she said, one rep “ended our phone discussion with the interesting advice that I should be looking into alternative energy sources.”

Go to the article at Focus Online

Making Our Circles Bigger

A plethora of young groups are bringing extremely diverse people together to share knowledge, ideas and perspectives. Can getting us out of our silos lead to new types of collaboration, community building and social solutions?

I arrive at the Victoria Event Centre not knowing exactly what to expect at a “PechaKucha.” I leave a couple hours later having had a great time—but still not knowing exactly what I’ve experienced. However, I’m becoming increasingly sure it’s part of a growing local and international social movement of immense vitality, astonishing creative breadth, and intriguing political possibilities.

PechaKucha nights, I’ve discovered, are just one of a growing number of unusual ways that diverse Victorians are being brought together to share ideas and explore collaborative possibilities through relaxed, open processes. Some are even trying to generate new approaches to tackling serious social problems.

Read more.

Can Wi-Fi Harm Kids?

Hearings on Wi-Fi in classrooms reveal large differences in the level of trust of information about health impacts.

It’s not often CBC radio host Gregor Craigie’s soothing voice puts someone on the defensive. But Craigie said he’d heard from many people complaining about the Greater Victoria School District’s (GVSD) decision to appease protesters by holding hearings about the health dangers of Wi-Fi. Since all the science shows Wi-Fi is safe, Craigie posed to school board chair Tom Ferris, “They wonder why [such hearings] would even be considered.”

Eventually, the elected official gave up portraying GVSD’s “investigation” as much more than political flak-catching. “The thinking is that if people don’t have an opportunity to air their views and get some sort of response,” Ferris answered, “then it’s something that may go on and continue to worry parents.”

Maybe that suspect commitment to truly investigating the issues explains the uncomfortable atmosphere later that same day in the GVSD boardroom as a 14-person Wi-Fi Committee commences a series of meetings. The committee includes teachers, parents, principals and several elected trustees, along with GVSD secretary-treasurer George Ambeault and technology director Ted Pennell; there are no health experts or scientists. Ambeault facilitates with grim terseness. Most committee members rarely if ever ask questions of the presenters, while teacher-member Michael Dodd, who’s already announced he’s wary of Wi-Fi, is perpetually lobbing softball questions at the anti-Wi-Fi presenters like, “Could you explain that further?”—to the obvious irritation of Ambeault and others.

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What is a Sidewalk For?

Municipal engineers have a lot more power over city life and politics than most of us realize.

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It’s an academic lecture about sidewalks. Could I have even dreamed up an event that sounded more inconsequentially mind-numbing?

But on this cold, rainy, January night, the little Legacy Art Gallery and Café, as part of the University of Victoria’s “City Talks” lectures, has drawn nearly a hundred provincial and municipal bureaucrats, business owners, artists, developers, lawyers, students, urban gardeners, civil rights activists, anarchists… Why on Earth would all these people be so interested in sidewalks?

Within the hour the answer becomes clear, as Simon Fraser University’s Nicholas Blomley delivers a surprisingly riveting overview of the role of sidewalks in social control.

Blomley is a “legal geographer” who specializes in “property and its relationship to the politics of urban space.” His new book sounds similarly recondite: Rights of Passage—Sidewalks and the Regulation of Public Flow. However, much like his earlier work on homelessness, First Nations dispossession, and community gardens, Blomley adeptly straddles abstract academia and on-the-ground activism.

“What is a sidewalk for?” he begins, and it’s soon apparent this seemingly benign question holds the seeds of intense urban conflict.

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The Problem with Thinking Charitably

Sometimes charities don’t educate us about the broader political context, and we prefer it that way.

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What’s a good charity? Malalai Joya gave an interesting answer.

Joya is the female politician dubiously ousted from the male-dominated Afghan Parliament in 2007. She was promoting her book, A Woman Among Warlords, last November at the University of Victoria. An audience member asked if a particular Afghan charity was worth supporting. Joya didn’t know the charity, but dispensed general advice: Examine the charity’s political positions.

Essentially, Joya argued, if the charity isn’t protesting the NATO military occupation of Afghanistan, then it’s likely not empowering ordinary Afghans so much as furthering the agendas of foreign powers.

Joya’s not alone in recognizing broader political context as crucial to evaluating charitable activities. The World Bank notoriously provides “aid” benefiting multinationals and rich nations more than the poor. And though many donors are unaware, international charities run from political right to left, and often take sides. For example, OXFAM provided aid in Eritrea throughout the region’s two-decade independence struggle, while CARE didn’t start helping in Eritrea until its 2000 peace accord with Ethiopia.

I was still pondering this when Canadian media’s December outpouring of heartstring-plucking human interest features began. Continue reading “The Problem with Thinking Charitably” »