Category Archives: Society

Can We Revitalize Public Dialogues?

It’s time to start talking about rebuilding democracy from the grassroots


I helped facilitate two public discussions recently; one delved into a global emergency, and the other a local crisis. Fascinating similarities between them hinted at ways to strengthen community dialoguing and social change.

The first discussion involved a panel of three writers noted for environmental concerns: Mark Leiren-Young, author of The Green Chain; indefatigable activist Guy Dauncey, and Focus own Briony Penn.

We’d briefly sketched how we wanted to explore personal, “psychological” reasons we’re struggling with climate change; essentially, our question was, if most by now know what we can do to prevent worsening climate change, why aren’t we doing it? Continue reading

The Politics of Parking

We’re paying a lot for parking. An awful lot.


Years ago, I was awaiting the fate of a grant application before Victoria city council to help build a community garden. Instead, council got bogged down debating a developer’s building permit and re-zoning application.

The developer wanted a reduction in the number of parking spaces required in favour of more room to expand his apartment building. Discussion ensued about the number of people moving in, the number of cars they’d own, the limited availability of street and store parking in this high-traffic area, and our tight, expensive rental market.

It seemed mundane. Recently, though, an opinion article prompted me to investigate the politics of parking, and it dramatically shifted my perspective.

Most of the article’s arguments and statistics were based on Yale University urban planning expert Donald Shoup‘s intriguing book, The High Cost of Free Parking. Reading Shoup’s analyses, it suddenly seemed bizarre that, even though I’ve long been aware of the many damaging environmental and economic impacts from cars, I hadn’t thought much about the role of parking. Continue reading

What the Kids Don’t Know

Hands up if you know how Victoria’s deeply divided school board is going to pull together to address the biggest operational budget shortfall in its history — in a way that won’t erode the health of public education.


“I worry about your article, frankly,” says Bev Horsman who, after 23 years, remains the longest-serving trustee in the Greater Victoria School District (GVSD). “Because September is the most hopeful month. You’ve got the sharpened pencils, the smell in the air… Everybody’s all spiffed up and they’re off to the first day of school. You have this wonderful, magical world which is a school, and that has to continue.”

Yet Horsman’s reverie segues, unprompted. “Then you have this governance aspect over it which is full of worries and concerns… We desperately don’t want to be squeezing something in a way that’s going to cut off its air supply…”

Horsman ultimately knows better than anyone that, with the biggest operational budget cuts in the school district’s history approaching, decisions made by our provincial government and school trustees could damage children’s hopes infinitely more than any foreboding news article ever could. Continue reading

Is it Time to Put the Mounties Out to Pasture?

Policing expert Paul Palango, author of a new book on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, argues we need to revamp the dysfunctional organization–or get rid of the RCMP altogether.


Over the past few years, RCMP controversies have been in the news constantly. The extent of lying revealed during the inquiry into the tasering and death of Robert Dziekanski has been mind-boggling. High-ranking RCMP officials embezzled millions from the force’s retirement funds. The RCMP Commissioner misled Parliament about what politicians knew about Maher Arar. During a recent botched drug bust, an RCMP dog dragged a Surrey man to officers who kicked and stomped on him, even after the man had apparently pointed out they had the wrong apartment number. A long-awaited RCMP investigation found no fault with its officers, even after Ian Bush was arrested outside a hockey arena for jokingly giving a false name and, 20 minutes later, was dead in a jail cell from a bullet to the back of the head.

disperseThe debacles keep coming. Yet, somehow, the RCMP remains unassailable. Aside from the replacement of the Commissioner for his prominent lying, why have officers been subjected to only token reprimands or transfers? Why haven’t RCMP leaders or politicians emerged to be held accountable? Is it time to revamp an organization seemingly permeated with poor training, weak supervision, corruption and dysfunctionality? Should BC avoid renewing its contract with the RCMP in 2012, and instead create a provincial police force like it had until 1950? Paul Palango explores these questions in his recently-published book, Dispersing the Fog: Inside the Secret World of Ottawa and the RCMP (Key Porter, 2008). Continue reading

Everything for Show

Our elections have ever less substance–and maybe that’s becoming true of us, too.

There’s an empty vacuum in the middle of our elections.

For years, the honesty and humanity of candidates has been evaporating, leaving behind only superficial posturing. Then, substantive issues and investigative, truly critical media were sucked of vitality, leaving behind only vague generalities and simplistic soundbites. But startlingly, during our most recent election, even we ourselves started dissolving, by attaching ourselves to ephemeral, non-substantive issues, and allowing ourselves to be treated as a largely imaginary electorate. Continue reading