WV council shuts out WV people 5-0

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 17, 2016

West Vancouver councillors unanimously approved a waterfront plan Monday that had more holes in it than the Titanic.

Final score: Politicians and Financially Bulletproof Bureaucrats 5, Lesser Mortals and Present Businesses 0.

Schizophrenically, the five –  Coun. Michael Lewis absent –  rhapsodized over green space. And supported a new community arts building smack on said green space.

Supported, cross their hearts, West Van heritage. And issued death warrants for the Silk Purse, approaching century status, the Music Box, and the John Lawson arts building, dates of execution TBA after the new arts centre is built.

Supported protecting precious waterfront. And waxed enthusiastic –  specifically Coun. Mary-Ann Booth, but Mayor Michael Smith is also a big advocate –  for sipping wine in a waterfront bistro.

Supported, over strong opposition, removal of the Ambleside motorized boat ramp. And murmured empty words of sympathy for the ramp users.

Supported expelling evil motor vehicles and parking stalls from Argyle. And fell silent about access to beach and facilities for the disabled and frail. Bellevue Avenue businesses crying to keep overflow parking on Argyle? Stiffed. Mercilessly.

Supported –  the key blunder – extension of the trendy Spirit Trail imposed on narrow Argyle (and linked, nobody asked, to where westward?). Clearly to become overpoweringly dominated by a two-way cycle speedway separated by some manner of barrier from herded pedestrians. And councillors went on about inclusive use of waterfront by all “stakeholders.” The stake is through the heart of West Vancouver.

Absent from the pitches of town hall staffers Raymond Fung and brainy bafflegabber Jim Bailey was any tangible substance behind the colourful charts, word-filled balloons, the usual governmental hype.

Size, site, building timeline, above all costs of the dream and of levelling present buildings? Just trust us. Win-win solution. “It’s incremental, not irreversible,” Coun. Craig Cameron intoned. Humbug. Council gave the busy bureaucrats carte blanche.

Only Coun. Bill Soprovich questioned some whacky estimate of $1 million. Which wouldn’t pay for zip. Explanation: More bafflegab. And even Sop, council’s perennial hard-eyed skeptic, joined Booth, Cameron, and –  disappointingly –  Couns. Nora Gambioli and Christine Cassidy in supporting the wordy motion.

I repeat earlier questions:

What benefit to Ambleside’s existing businesses (Mayor Smith’s long-stated priority)? Not for nearby restaurants competing with the proposed bistro, one of which publicly aired its tax plight a few years ago.

How will people afoot –  families with toddlers and buggies, the frail, picnickers bearing stuff, etc. –  cross the wall of speeding cyclists? (Fung displayed a “map” with a couple of impressive black arrows intersecting the trail. That’s it, folks – jump on that arrow.) And the Harmony Arts Festival, the evil fossil-fuel burners essential to erect and service the booths? Silence.

But there was one magical moment. A 10-year-old boy, Antoine, clearly and with presence beyond his age, spoke up for youth concerts at the Music Box: “We always have a sold-out show … (There is) a special atmosphere of music, art, and view.” He urged renovation of the existing structures and a courtyard to connect the Music Box and Silk Purse. He ended: “It will be cheaper.” Torrent of applause, biggest of the evening.

Antoine spoke more sense than the whole damned council and staff.

If I’m unpardonably harsh, no pardon, thanks: This issue moves me to my West Van guts.

• • •

Before it closes June 26, spend an hour with Nanitch: Early photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann collection, a compelling exhibit at North Vancouver’s Presentation House Gallery. Newcomers especially will benefit from observing how crude life was in this young province. Oldcomers can use the reminder. Entry by donation. Drop five bucks.

B.C. as a white colony and photography are close to the same age (it’s astounding how sharp images had become by the mid-19th century). Both photographer and subjects took the occasion very solemnly. Just examine the faces. I found one faint smile, and that in an early 20th-century photo.

Gratitude for this excellent show for Uno Langmann, owner of a top South Granville antique store – full disclosure, decades ago he put me together from my only bicycle accident (doored by a nice Triumph TR in Shaughnessy) and drove me home. If I was too shaken to express thanks, here they are now, with accrued interest.

• • •

Horseshoe Bay is West Van’s jauntiest village –  this month eclectically staging a Taste of H.B., a beer tasting, a community picnic, and, on June 26, an art crawl. Tomorrow, Saturday, starting with a pancake breakfast at 9 a.m.: Anniversary celebrations for Sewell’s boating operations (85 years), Troll’s restaurant (70), native art store Spirit Gallery (25), and antique store Lalli Loves It! (5) –  Lalli being the nickname of Laura Blodgett, one of the most charming exports the U.S. has ever made to our country.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Bah! to batty bully-boy bicycle backers

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 3, 2016

You may have heard – or bellowed yourself – something like: ‘‘By Jing, that moron Coun. Thimblehooper! I’ll never vote for that idiot again!’’

The Thimblehooper moment has come in West Vancouver.

Because only a council of Thimblehoopers could consider for one New York minute voting for a project contemptuously hostile to West Van interests as this:

Turning  over a chunk of Argyle Avenue to the cyclist lobby’s Spirit Trail.

In all earnestness, I think better of councillors Mary-Ann Booth, Bill Soprovich, Christine Cassidy, Craig Cameron, Nora Gambioli and Michael Lewis, and Mayor Michael Smith. I personally like every one. There have been dud councillors. Not in this lot.

Because it would be an act of certifiable insanity to surrender to the bully-boy bicycle lobbyists – who arrogantly jammed motor traffic to intimidate Vancouver into bowing to their demands – and their enablers among the busy-bee bureaucrats in WV town hall. A total loser.

Just for starters: Closing Argyle to motor traffic would strip away 104 parking spaces. From a downtown screaming for parking already! Bellevue Avenue businesses, for years spotted by struggles and closures, would especially be further hurt.

As for businesses on Ambleside’s one-block-over Marine Drive, which Mayor Smith for years has thrown a ton of political might and muscle into reviving – do you think losing those 104 parking stalls would help? And would the sweaty Lycra-and-spandex crowd patronize Chez Michel, Daichi Sushi, Carmelo’s, Blue Eyed Marys and other good restaurants, let alone pause to drop a dime on the street’s fine furnishing stores, women’s fashions, jewellers, florists, gift shops, and so forth?

Exercise? What a good thing. But exercise vendors Steve Nash, Trevor Linden and Ron Zalko don’t ask citizens to subsidize their businesses, especially by donating publicly funded thoroughfares to an interest group that pays zero for the surfaces they move on.

Even worse, the proposed Spirit Trail section imposed on WV’s gorgeous Seaview Walk – a paved surface, night lighting, and, most unbelievable of all, clear-cutting of Tantalus Park, tucked in near the traffic circle above Horseshoe Bay, were initially suggested – threatened an outrageous environmental wound.

Town hall ran a couple of meetings. The opponents were as defiantly rude as any I can recall. Their written responses could fill this space. One, close to my heart: “That the importance of off-leash (for dogs) is not listed under the key themes is a gross oversight.’’ No oversight, I’d have said: Dogs, leashed or unleashed, would get in the arrogant cyclists’ way.

But, to be fair, and a hopeful signal for the Argyle issue: This time town hall materially backed down. No paved surface, no lights, no clear-cutting, dogs still allowed off leash – a mixed benefit because a potential danger to man and beast, and still not a desirable sharing with cyclists.

Western Residents Association co-chair Chris Adshead, and all credit to his and similar sincere views and to WRA’s determination, acknowledges that the staff’s Seaview discussions “started off very poorly” but “we were later pleased by the way the district has consulted and listened,” and the work so far done “has not altered the rustic feel of the trail.”

Apart from the foregoing, there are more than enough questions about town hall’s waterfront vision.

Some West Vancouver Community Arts Council members are grieving over the proposed destruction of their charming Silk Purse building. Smith has mused that an all-new combined arts building, situated eastward, is an idea. One that I’d predict the artists, musicians and (presumably) concert attendees would resist.

Notionally, the arts may be a fit. In fact music through the walls while painting or teaching would be, put gently, a distraction.

Spirit Trail and waterfront change critics: Crowd in to council chambers at the crucial June 13 meeting. By the way, what ever happened to Coun. Thimblehooper?

• • •

And this just in: As Jeremy Shepherd reported Wednesday in these pages, North Van City council dumped – barely, 4-3 – the Mussatto Party’s insane fantasy of a $4.24-million bicycle tow lift (yearly maintenance, $133,000) for the sad exercise buffs who sweat pedalling up Keith Road. Applause for councillors Rod Clark, Holly Back, Don Bell and Pam Bookham. Scorn for Mayor-for-Life Darrell Mussatto and his unbreakable political machine.

• • •

Two North Shore theatrical home runs in a row: Theatre West Van’s second version of Fawlty Towers at the Kay Meek and North Shore Light Opera’s The Merry Widow at Presentation House – which drew a rave review from highly experienced opera critic and musician Hillary Clark – sold out. I tried love and money and couldn’t get tickets to either. I’m aiming for Mary, Mary at Hendry Hall, on stage till June 11.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Time to rally on ludicrous waterfront plan

Appeared in the North Shore News – May 20, 2016

It’s the classic solution looking for a problem.

There is nothing wrong with Ambleside beach that West Vancouver town hall can’t screw up, permanently, irrevocably – starting with the core surrender of delightful Argyle Avenue to the Spirit Trail bicycle lobby and its enablers.

To appease the politically correct bikers and hikers, West Van bureaucrats plot destruction of the Silk Purse, Music Box and Lawson arts buildings – claiming they’re threatened by (rare) high tides, ludicrous in the case of the Lawson – and insanely prohibiting motorized traffic and precious parking on Argyle Avenue.

Don’t fold to the pressures, council. Defend present uses and users: Families bound for the great children’s playground. Gentle strollers. Dog walkers. Fragile oldsters. Dreamers. Boaters preparing for the sweatiest relaxation on earth. Meandering couples looking into each others’ eyes, not keeping to the bureaucrats’ designated side of the “shared” path. And slo-mo bicycle riders too, not the grim-jawed, lycra-and-spandex show-offs speeding on three-grand-and-up machines with 192 gears.

Bottom line: As it now stands, Argyle Avenue unites. The proposed Argyle Avenue divides.

Literally. The Berlin Wall gone, the Bicycle and Birkenstock Wall through the heart of the beach would impede safe, easy crossing north and south by persons bound for the playground, beach, picnic area, public washrooms – at the mercy of those cyclists famous for meticulously respecting pedestrian crosswalks and red lights, hahaha.

Exaggeration? I asked all councillors: How will families with a couple of toddlers and/or strollers plus burdens of bags, picnic hampers, whatever, safely cross? Park artists humping their easels and wares?

And has the future of the Harmony Arts Festival on Argyle been discussed?

Coun. Christine Cassidy replied: “Excellent question and thus far one that has not been addressed in any verbal or written report on this subject. I suspect that we’ll see signage giving specific instructions on how to proceed with regard and respect for the safety of all users. However, I will ask specifically for an answer.”

Read that again. The enablers haven’t even discussed the question. Premise: They haven’t got an answer. They just have a rosy PR “vision.”

The “11 guiding principles” of the Ambleside Waterfront Concept Plan are equally silent about parking – not a scintilla of relief for the major objective of “revitalizing” Marine Drive. On the contrary, ripping out parking spaces on Argyle’s 1300-1500 blocks would hurt Ambleside’s struggling businesses. Duh!

Note well: In an informal chat over soda water, Mayor Michael Smith denied any notion, mine included, that this is a done deal. Just proposals moving through process.

The next big date is June 13, when this stew of fixing a non-existent problem goes to council “for consideration”. Time to rally the “Negative Nellies.”

• • •

The reference above to a drink with Mayor Smith wasn’t facetious. He really was sipping soda water when we talked. Under the news radar, Smith was quite seriously ill for months.

“I don’t want to make a big thing out of my recent troubles,” he summed up in an email. “As you know, a low profile suits me. The brief facts are that I went into hospital on Jan. 14 for a short one-hour procedure and got a serious infection from it.”

Smith was hospitalized three times, “as the infection kept re-occurring,” puzzling the docs (note well: this wasn’t at our own Lions Gate Hospital).

After two months on antibiotics he feels fine “and am 30 pounds lighter and back working out five times per week with a personal trainer.’’ Also ready for a first real drink.

Dr. Lautens diagnoses the illness as a clear case of all too common but rarely admitted iatrogenesis. Look it up. Hint: Re-read previous item.

• • •

Agent 000, new and thus to be treated warily, alleges that a West Van town hall staffer resigned almost a year ago but is still being paid.

He suspects, no proof, two other departed staffers received similar (taxpayer) generosity.

Town hall’s response: “The district follows best practices in human resources, and we do not share personnel information regarding any employee.” Fair. And why the public never, ever knows.

• • •

Earls restaurant chain scrapped its beef-sourcing policy change after my last column’s deadline. And I misread the West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce finalist list for Business Person of the Year: That’s Peter King of Bowen Island Community Transit Ltd. My apologies.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Marijuana ‘mare’s nest’ deserves mention

Appeared in the North Shore News – May 6, 2016

Hey, let’s have some benefit to show for West Van’s fat 6.87 per cent property tax rise.

First, restore the trash cans – why were they removed? – at each littered end of the 5400-block Marine Drive. Sure, that’s my block, and why not exploit my dandy print pulpit for selfish interests now and then?

Second, bring back the portable toilet during baseball season at Cypress Park and other such sites. I’ve sometimes been obliged to take a whiz in toilet-scarce West Van woods, inviting charges of exposing myself. Which would be embarrassing, considering my dignified age and status, harrumph.

• • •

The North Shore Zone Festival of Plays at Presentation House Theatre is an annual week-long treat that deserves higher recognition – and attendance: Affordable, and no bridges to cross. The intimacy and yakking of the festival crowd come at no extra cost.

It’s not too late. Tonight’s play is Art, tomorrow’s a stage reading by West Van secondary school students of Crushed, and announcement of awards.

Weird: West Van Theatre just closed a second edition of Fawlty Towers, a sold-out smash – but for years hasn’t taken part in the festival. Why? Fear of winning. Can’t afford to go to the provincial competition (this year in Chilliwack, Jill-of-all-theatre-trades Anne Marsh reports). There’s a film/play comedy script lurking in there.

• • •

Mayor Michael Smith is delighted that the Grosvenor development will include an Earls restaurant – which will grant a reprieve to the mellow Hollyburn Sailing Club. Not his original vision, but the pieces fell neatly into place.

“Earls is a positive step for Ambleside and makes a development at the sailing club less of a priority,” Smith notes. “I would expect the facility to remain as it is for some time. Earls will bring a lot of people into Ambleside … a key part of our plan to develop a restaurant offering.”

Any jubilation was stepped on by the coincident protest over the Earls chain switch from Alberta beef suppliers to U.S. sources with greener practices – cleaving the Canada-first left from the environmentalist left.

• • •

A touch of irony: While Park Royal Shopping Centre was making ill-considered moves in the Big Chess Match that became nation-wide news of an unwelcome kind, the West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce anointed the centre’s longtime executive Rick Amantea as its Business Person of the Year.

Amantea – who was not, repeat not, the exec who ordered the chess players to move out – is publicly sensitive to Ambleside business concerns, personable, and always accessible to the undersigned. A worthy choice by his chamber peers.

• • •

All praise for Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang – in real life, note, a UBC psychology professor who teaches and does research on the causes of mental illnesses – and rare kudos from this observer for Vancouver authorities too for not backing down from the city’s closure notices to aberrant marijuana shops.

Of course the protesters defy the law. It’s what they do.

Hardened law-breakers. As the marijuana business wafts upward from small-fry shops past ex-police chiefs and old pols who have seen the light, like Kash Heed and Mike Harcourt, toward greedily waiting “respectable” corporate oligarchs and stuffy banks offering marijuana business loans, what a farce that what the media call “activists” are plain and simple business operators and promoters. Is the president of Ford an activist for car ownership, or just selling cars?

Predictably, pot legalization is in a confused legal and health snarl.

The claim that the “war on drugs” was a failure that wasted police resources is as hollow as the drug-pushing mind: The cops will have plenty of employment patrolling under-age kids, stopping stoned drivers, and chasing a continuing, I’d predict expanding, illegal market.

On that point: A long-time regular but light pot smoker told me he opposes legalization – because prices will explode under state regulation and government employees’ union wages. Bizarrely, the stuff he buys illegally costs about the same as legal but maxi-taxed pipe tobacco – 50 grams of which, about two ounces, cost an astonishing $55, nearly $500 a pound, at Victoria’s elegant 1892-founded Morris Tobacconists.

Where is legalization-pusher Vancouver Sun columnist Ian Mulgrew, now that we really need him to defend the mare’s nest of consequences of the normalization of marijuana as just another consumer commodity?

Maybe he feels outflanked by his and my former colleague Pete McMartin, who recently urged legalization of all drugs. All? Including the currently in-the-news killer ones?

To resurrect the once-trendy question: What have you been smoking, Pete?

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Supremes preside over rule of lawyers

Appeared in the North Shore News – April 22, 2016

Who governs Canada?

Why, the Queen, of course. Except she doesn’t. All those references to “the Crown” owning this or that, and prosecuting alleged lawbreakers (and, to her indignation about the impertinence, routinely taken to court herself) etc., which amuse visitors from the great republic abutting Canada, are quite, quite misleading.

Because Canada is a democracy, and a damned fine one, watch your tongue. We, the sovereign people, elect local councils, our legislatures, and the jewel in the crown, so to speak, Parliament. And it is led by a prime minister who enjoys the confidence of the House of Commons. (Enjoyable work, as you can see when any PM leaves office grey and spent from the laughter, the sheer knee-slapping daily fun, of governing this happy land.)

All textbook, all grand, all humbug. Canada is governed by exactly nine robed lawyers — unelected, unejectable, unrecognizable. If you can name two of them you are exceptional.

This is the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supremes hold the trump card that wins all games.

The theory is magnificent. The enshrining principle is that we are governed by the Rule of Law (capitals), not the rule of men (lower case, women implicitly included). In practice it’s the rule of lawyers.

They put the mere elected leaders in their place. They tell them not only if they’re wrong, but — and here is the real test of their overweening power, a totally arrogant and even frightening one in my belief — set a deadline for them to put things right.

That’s not political? Jump this high. That’s not arbitrary? Government can spend countless civil servant hours, drone through parliamentary committee meetings, seek (or pretend to seek) public opinion, and produce a law or a policy and — “You got it wrong, people. Try again and we’ll mark your papers the next time.”

The public animus between Stephen Harper, former prime minister, and Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice, of course was resolved by the zeitgeist savvy McLachlin. Her court recently quashed (“in no uncertain terms … good riddance,” crowed the B.C. Civil Liberties Association) legislation by the absurdly vilified Harper, mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offences and credit for time served before sentencing (context, “cruel and unusual punishment”). The profound moral issue of right-to-die legislation is scurrying like a rat to meet the Supremes’ deadline, opening up further lawyer-enriching, academics-employing questions, like whether it should extend to the “mature minor” — whatever that is, and the courts, right up to the top, will let us know.

Yes, anger and praise for court decisions depend on where you sit, and I unhesitatingly proclaim that I’m as biased in certain directions as … well, the keepers of the Rule of Law flame. They can no more divorce their beliefs, interests and alertness to current fashion from their decisions than a fish can ride a bicycle, as Gloria Steinem declared, or quoted.

And the hell of it is that nobody has figured out a better way to arbitrate between the democratically elected and the small unelected elite charged with keeping it in check.

• • •

Jim Bailey, West Vancouver’s newish planning director, has a smooth way of dropping the controversial-cum-unpopular — definable as issues that are unpopular among those who find it unpopular — in parentheses, or buried as clauses between commas. He’s charmed some critics with his unflappable, up-front salesmanship of town hall’s waterfront “vision.”

No matter how thin you slice it, the sure thing is that mayor and council have decided to demolish the John Lawson, Music Box and Silk Purse buildings because of very high so-called king tides. At the recent packed public meeting at the Silk Purse, an affectionate part of our thin heritage, Elaine Fonseca, long involved in West Van matters, declared that only two king tides have occurred in her time in West Van.

Scenery Slater and the Ambleside & Dundarave Ratepayers’ Association have valiantly led the fight with detailed objections. In vain.

• • •

Speaking of which: Agent f8sK5, who knows something about real estate and mortgages, declares that Mayor Michael Smith made a shrewd move selling the West Van police station waterfront site to Grosvenor (its huge project well behind schedule) for $60 million-plus. Interpret that remark as you will.

• • •

West Van’s Blue Bus drivers were recently sternly warned by Michael A. Kenny, superintendent of operations, that police reported these “frequent” violations which “can greatly tarnish the reputation of Blue Bus”:

Speeding through Ambleside. Running red lights. Excessive horn-honking, “especially near Park Royal and the HOV lane.” Speeding on the north approach to the Lions Gate Bridge.

Not on my buses they don’t. Wonder who the complainants are. Thoughts, readers?

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Love in a garden, and a less than smart chess move

Appeared in the North Shore News – April 7, 2016

Stunning blow to West Vancouver town hall’s Ambleside-Dundarave renewal vision (or fantasy): The Avant Gardener in the core 1400-block Marine Drive is shutting down.

After 28 years owner Darlene Sanders is holding a 30-per-cent-off closing-out sale and — romantically — is bound for new life and love on 14 acres of English soil.

The everything-must-go sale ends April 15. No one has come forward to buy the business as a going concern.

The wittily named Avant Gardener (how’s your French?) is just what Ambleside needs more of — beautiful goods, creatively displayed — if it aims to lure the rich residents of the most expensive real estate in the country, and to draw customers from a certain nearby expansionist shopping centre (see next item).

It’s strong on imaginative design and fine quality. Yet it is street-appealing and browser-friendly, entirely without the intimidating air of some up-market establishments that feel as if they make iPhone checks on your assets before you cross their thresholds.

Sanders herself is attractively smart and engagingly down-to-earth — appropriate for gardeners, to be sure — with roots (enough already with the horticultural puns!) in East Vancouver. She can’t speak too glowingly of her gentle sales assistant, Margaret Waddell — “a wonderful, wonderful woman, no pretense about it, honest, hard-working.” What a reference.

Now the storybook element. Or true-life fairytale for TV? Some 25 years ago Sanders met a couple who shared her gardening passion. When the wife passed away, Sanders and her now-widower friend kept contact with their enthusiasm for all things gardening.

She’s joining that friend, Maurice Foster, the owner of the 14-acre plot, a private arboretum in England’s garden county of Kent. Foster is a renowned British plantsman, holder of the rarest of English gardening distinctions, the Royal Horticultural Society Victoria Medal of Honour, attainable only through the death of a previous member: It’s restricted to just 63 living members — one for each year of Victoria’s reign. (I have a backyard I wish he’d look at.)

Trade has been brisk at the Avant Gardener. So are regrets, Sanders said. “There was an outpouring of affection this last week — ‘Oh no, we love the store, it has a soul, it’s different’ … ’’

But for the more hard of nose: This underlines Ambleside/Dundarave’s desperate need for more distinctive, imaginative, prosperous businesses — and for more parking, parking, parking.

• • •

Poor Laljis. Shed a tear.

The family owns Park Royal Shopping Centre. And much else. Canadian Business magazine last year rated the Laljis Canada’s 26th wealthiest people — assets, $2,688,080,424.

But every square foot is money, and for 50 years freeloaders have occupied costly retail space in PR’s food court.

Enough’s enough. PR’s patience is exhausted. Last month its general manager sent them a letter ordering them to leave. If they fail to comply, “it will give us no alternative but to reach out to the West Vancouver Police Department.”

Who are these putative criminals? These undesirables inviting a paddywagon trip to the Crowbar Motel?

They are chess players.

Some people think they’ve been a charming part of Park Royal for those 50 years, when Britain’s Guinness family owned the centre.

The Laljis know personally about expulsion. Brothers Amin and Mansoor Lalji were among the Ugandan Asians — ethnically, East Indians — kicked out in the 1970s by monstrous Uganda dictator Idi Amin, furious that they dominated business and the professions.

The expelled could take only $500 each. But the Laljis were Ismailis, a communitarian Muslim sect that collects and lends adherents’ money — better than any bank. Vivid childhood memory: A photo in Life magazine of Ismailis loading jewels and gold on a scale balancing their then leader, Aga Khan III. And he was no lightweight.

The Vancouver Sun played this story big — top front page, pictures. Friend Bill X reported the chess closure was the talk of a gala he attended. My opening words weren’t sarcasm. You have to truly pity people so dollar-driven they don’t know there isn’t money enough to buy bad publicity like this.

• • •

Easter in post-Christian Canada: The Province splashed an atheist organization’s opposition to Bible distribution in Abbotsford schools by the Gideons, even if parents consent to it. CBC Radio re-ran a profile of a Toronto area United Church minister who is a practicing, preaching, proselytizing atheist. Maclean’s rang in with a front-page teaser: “Did Jesus Really Exist?” I drily await these forthright media’s searching stories on other major religions and their leaders.

• • •

Correction: No matter what you read here March 25, Dr. Sabrina Freeman was co-founder, with West Vancouver’s Jean Lewis, of the organization that became Medicare for Autism Now!
My apologies.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Server sings and West Vancouver helps out autism cause

Appeared in the North Shore News – March 24, 2016

It’s asking a lot, but suspend your fascination with West Vancouver politics.

Go light of foot and heart to La Cucina, where the food and the unforced atmosphere of an intimate European restaurant are draws enough, its regulars confiding its lure only to reliable friends (“Umberto often comes here,” one told me, and, as if on cue, Vancouver’s top restaurateur walked in) for the stunning treat of Ingrid Faedo.

You will spot her immediately. Ingrid is so beautiful that she wears out the word. A new one cries out to be sculpted for her. Yet she seems unaware of it.

She is as modest as her role. She is the server-plus at La Cucina: 1509 Marine Dr., North Vancouver, memorize it.

Then, awing newcomers, West Vancouver’s Ingrid can break out in song. You will never hear Happy Birthday sung like this. Or opera arias in such a milieu.

And not amateur night. Lyric soprano Ingrid’s professional credits would fill this space. With music degrees (bachelor’s from UBC, master’s from McGill), as Ingrid Erika Mankhof she had leading roles in operettas in Germany, Austria, Holland and Belgium, by Strauss, Offenbach and Kalman, and the title role in Lehar’s The Merry Widow. She’s sung at Salute to Vienna concerts from New York City to Calgary.

Does she miss such celebrity? Her answer seems without false modesty or hidden regret: “For everything there is a season, and I am very happy with my present season” (as wife of Tiberio Faedo, owner of La Cucina for 36 years). But Ingrid also keeps a professional tonsil in, singing once or twice a month at prestigious Pan Pacific Hotel’s opera buffet evenings.

It’s a musically long but geographically short road from her Chemainus birthplace.

“I remember at the age of five singing solo the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” in front of the congregation at the Brethren Church in Ladysmith, and the reaction that I received made little Ingrid very happy,” Ingrid said. “I even remember the light blue blouse that I wore and the little black skirt. My love of fashion also started at a very young age.”

If you can get a table at this cosy restaurant, go. Take a loved one. Guaranteed memorable, especially if it gets buzzed around that it’s your mate’s birthday.

• • •

If autism, an often poignant affliction of children, finally gets under Canada’s medicare tent as a medically necessary treatment, a surprising number of West Vancouverites coincidentally will have had a hand in it.

David Marley, Medicare for Autism Now! spokesman, tells a riveting tale of how the MFAN cause was chosen – luck, stickhandling by Paula Williams and her South Surrey-White Rock team, heavenly intervention, whatever – by B.C.’s federal Liberal constituencies as a resolution at the Liberal national convention in Winnipeg in May.

Jean Lewis of West Van has been pushing, pulling, pleading for the autism sufferers’ cause since 1998, when she and Williams led a meeting at West Vancouver’s St. Francis-in-the-Woods Anglican Church. West Vancouver resident Chris Hinkson, now chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court, acted pro bono for 30 MFAN-supporting families, and in 2000 Madame Justice Marion Allan, also of West Vancouver, ruled in their favour. In 2002 the B.C. Court of Appeal – its judgment written by Madame Justice Mary Saunders, another West Vancouver resident – upheld the trial judge’s findings of fact.

In 2004 Canada’s Supreme Court didn’t overturn that ruling, only suggested that the B.C. government could have more swiftly moved its buns – I translate freely from the court’s obiter dicta – to fund MFAN’s core rationale, applied behavioural analysis, which I won’t attempt to translate in case it looks like showing off.

Politically, the cause stalled at the door of Conservative health minister Tony Clement. MFAN hopes the Justin Trudeau Liberals will be more sympathetic to an issue West Van almost holds the deed to.

• • •

Ironic. It took years to strip Howe Sound of waterfront industry – the Britannia Beach mine, and a pulp and paper mill. When we moved to West Van 31 years ago, the pong assailed the nostrils whenever the wind blew wrong. Now the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant has leaped environmental hurdles, delighting advocate Fred Bowyer. But the political bar could be set higher, West Van council, including business-friendly Mayor Michael Smith, being among the unanimously opposed.

• • •

West Vancouver is stingy honouring its late great. But it should name a nub of Lighthouse Park waterfront, just east of the wartime buildings, Murray Newman Point. I cherish walks there with the innovative founder of the world-class Vancouver Aquarium, relishing his wit, elegant conversation, and erudition.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

No opinion on LNG, says non-stick Pam

Appeared in the North Shore News – March 11, 2016

You’d think the local member of Parliament would have an opinion on the Woodfibre LNG project, wouldn’t you? Or am I being naïve again?

I’ve sent several unsuccessful emails to Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, our woman in Ottawa as MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, inviting that opinion. Surely she has one? Any doubt of the issue’s importance?

So what’s our Liberal MP’s stand – on arguably the most important current issue in this awkwardly sprawling and diverse riding wrapped around Howe Sound?

Not that she’s lacked opportunity. Goldsmith-Jones recently chaired three open houses on the matter in Howe Sound communities, one in West Vancouver – boisterously anti-Woodfibre.

She told a meeting last week in Gibsons: “Our government is moving quickly to deliver on our promise to overhaul the federal environmental assessment review process and to restore public trust. … The process will have greater transparency.”

Moving “quickly” – as governments uncannily always do. “Promise” – yes, look for the bank where you can take a promise of Justin Trudeau’s election campaign.

“Transparency” – no word deserves more banishment form the Dictionary of Political Platitudes.

An audience member in Gibsons came fairly close to pinning down Goldsmith-Jones. He asked if she’d heard from anyone favouring Woodfibre LNG. Jacob Roberts in the Coast Reporter quoted her: “There are definitely people in favour. That’s why this is so difficult. To be honest – and depending on where you go – it’s 50/50.”

“The audience,” reporter Roberts drily wrote, “interrupted Goldsmith-Jones with their unanimous disagreement of her numbers.”

Eoin Finn, with deep science and business expertise and exhaustive files on the issue, told me: “Pam’s statement – that community reaction was 50/50 for and against – beggars belief, and is at odds with the 9,000 signatories to the (Save) Howe Sound Declaration, and the public comments on the B.C. Environment Assessment Office process,” which showed more than 90 per cent opposition.

To be fair: Don’t expect candour. Under the party system the prime minister’s henchmen, and those for all party leaders, tell MPs when to breathe in and breathe out. A maverick is whipped and stripped – of perks such as sunny-climate conferences in January – and sentenced to the Siberian backbench. Thus the adage that MPs aren’t sent to Ottawa to represent their constituents’ views; Ottawa sends MPs to their constituents to represent Ottawa’s views.

So can you find it in your heart to sympathize with poor Pam, the most ambitious political animal in West Vancouver of her time, maybe all time? And not to flatter the environment’s more pompous guardians: B.C. has to toil to live, and that means dirty hands and dirty work that upper middle-class urban elites have only heard about.

Add this: Liberal MLA Jordan Sturdy, whose West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding also includes the proposed site, supports the facility, partly for its tax benefits. He strongly slams a news story that took on a life of its own – that Woodfibre LNG “hosted” a fundraising dinner for him during the 2013 election campaign. It simply bought a table, he said, like other companies and 200-odd individuals, a tradition for the riding incumbent for 25 years.

The biggest barriers to the project may be that natural gas prices are scraping bottom, with inventories swollen since the U.S. vastly grew its fracking production.

• • •

Michael Smith entered the mayor’s office fighting for thrift. Has he wearily surrendered to the bureaucratic spend brigade?

West Vancouver’s 6.87 per cent property tax rise is easily Metro’s highest, and more than five times the Metro average, the Sun reported. That includes a 5.25 per cent levy – finance director Isabel Gordon wanted 10.5 per cent! – to maintain and repair WV’s $1-billion public assets. The $245 tax increase on a $2.5-million West Van home is stratospherically above all others (second highest is Port Moody’s, $97, with North Vancouver city and district not reported as of a week ago).

Hawk-eyed tax-watcher David Marley quotes the notorious figure that 80 per cent of WV’s operating budget goes to staff salaries and benefits. “Where do we find these people?” asks Marley, with commendable grumpiness. “Clearly, they live in an alternate universe from those of us who have to pay the bills.”

• • •

David Johnston is every inch the representative of the Queen. The Governor General charmed a business-attire crowd on his official visit last week that included a keynote speech to the Sea to Sky Community Foundations at the Kay Meek, where he was easily the most unstuffily relaxed person in the theatre. One of those born aristocrats with the uncondescending common touch.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Hotel, casino could lure fun-loving to West Vancouver

Appeared in the North Shore News – February 26, 2016

I interrupt a half-written diatribe on the West Vancouver waterfront for a different diatribe.

Here are three money-spinning strategies for West Vancouver revival. Sure to alienate some faithful readers, all seven of them. And free. If I had a lot of professional initials after my name I’d demand $100K.

One: Old proposal, but like a fine whisky aged in sherry barrels.

When, interviewing new West Van planning director Jim Bailey, I began repeating this brilliant idea, communications spokesman Jeff McDonald quickly jumped in. He’d checked this column’s archives. Had done his homework.

It’s ingenious but obvious: Attract (international?) money to build an international-quality hotel above the Upper Levels Highway near West Van’s premium Salmon House on the Hill.

The big draw? It would be, (though not exclusively), a luxurious magnet for Whistler-bound skiers.

Many arrive jet-lagged at Vancouver’s outstanding airport in the dismal dark or the grey six hours of our winter “sunlight.” So lure them. Of course with the fluffiest comforts world-class travelers expect. But also with the pitch that after a cosy sleep and great, bountiful breakfast to stoke their anticipated calorie-burning pleasures on Whistler’s slopes, and with the reluctant rise of the fuzzy brass doorknob of the sun, they can anticipate a matchless experience they would have missed had they whipped through during the other 18 hours of the “day.”

Even the most jaded would be awed by the exhilarating drive to Whistler in their rented Bentleys, clutching to Howe Sound’s contours and witnessing the stunning spectacle of sea and mountains. Which have their grey-tones, painterly beauty even on sombre days. Repeated, the view not quite so dramatic, returning to Vancouver International.

But more: Spin-offs for Hollyburn, Seymour and Grouse (on a clear night, dinner with a sparkling view) mountains. Night skiing for the real keeners who just can’t wait. Snowboarding, hiking, summer mountain biking. Packaged two- or three-day side visits. Advertise!

Also a must-see descent to Marine Drive for its cool bars and dazzling night life – build it and they will come (in late afternoon/evening when there’s actually parking available). That could fire up Mayor Michael Smith’s Ambleside and Dundarave renewal goals more than the bureaucratic BIA (Business Improvement Area) initiative.

Why hasn’t a top hotel chain glommed onto this idea? Has town hall ever pushed it? Or does West Van’s drawbridge mentality head off serious marketing before it’s allowed to be thought of?

Two: You’ll love this. Or not. A casino for Horseshoe Bay. Perfect location: The B.C. Ferries parking lot, with the casino built over it, minimizing annoyance to neighbours and keeping the footprint. A lesser alternative: The site of the Boathouse, the restaurant perhaps combined with the casino.

Horseshoe Bay – dare I say my favourite West Vancouver area – has it all. Excellent, existing road access. Striking beauty. Friendly. Easy charm. People-on-the-move holiday atmosphere. (But town hall shamefully ignores the village’s litter.)

Its reach: North Shore residents, of course. South-of-the-inlet gamblers who bet they can cross Lions Gate Bridge. Ethnic Chinese from the British Properties.

A very big draw: Access by foot passengers – from the Sunshine Coast, Bowen, and much of southern Vancouver Island – without the ferries’ repelling vehicle costs, then short steps to the casino. And those giddy, fun-loving Victorians could drive to Nanaimo for a day, park, and return there by nightfall to live it up with their ill-gotten gains.

A casino could explode spin-off business growth in all West Van. Smart marketing, anyone?

I see some readers frowning with moral indignation. But I rate gambling as among the lesser societal sins. (A view corrupted by my just winning $20 on Lotto Max?) Compare the big, rising societal costs of drug and drink use, smoking, obesity, you name it. A little flutter isn’t so wicked.

Three: This’ll knock your socks off with its originality: Turn Ambleside’s historic Ferry Building into … a ferry building!

Yes, for the proposed West Van-Vancouver service. Build a perfect replica on the Vancouver side. Charming, cheeky, cheerful. A draw for tourists. Face up to it, Vancouverites: For all its international prestige the city, a bit seedily raffish when I arrived 53 years ago, is now stiff, unimaginative, funless – especially for children.

My criticism of West Van’s renewal goals goes beyond whether town hall is favouring a couple of business areas over others, or, inevitably, some businesses over others within those areas. Or its waterfront vision and eagerness to bend bylaws for private dollars and more tax revenue. It’s that they’re dully conventional.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Self interest fuels real estate Wild West

Appeared in the North Shore News – February 12, 2016

Who didn’t know that Vancouver real estate prices are outrageous – even possibly inciting future civil violence by young generations shut out of ever owning a home in the city of their birth?

What’s new – what’s news, thanks to a print reporter who proved what everyone should know, that if you aren’t reading newspapers you’re badly under-informed or misinformed – is that persons of shabby ethics are legally but odiously taking middlemen profits from unknowing home sellers while arguably gouging the ultimate buyers.

The device is being dubbed “shadow flipping,” and it’s threatening to tar the whole real estate  industry thicker than the stuff needed to repave West Van’s lumpy 1500-block Marine Drive (try that for reviving Ambleside, Mayor Michael Smith).

And yes, many named in Globe and Mail reporter Kathy Tomlinson’s outstanding investigation into this unpleasant practice of flipping properties are ethnic Chinese, leaving owners selling for less than they might have got, and buyers – many themselves offshore Chinese – paying more than they might have paid.

The middlemen make up to seven-figure profits between the time the owner sells and when the deal legally closes. Sometimes that’s months later.

Unless the seller is alert to his or her interests, and to the fine print in a sales agreement allowing such a process, in this grey period the property can be “assigned” – flatly, flipped to someone else, who in turn can flip it further up the food chain.

For example, Tomlinson cites a case before the courts wherein the West Vancouver plaintiff claims a scheme was concocted by a real estate agent and a buyer to purchase his home for $5 million. It ultimately sold for $7 million. Middlemen allegedly shared the $2 million difference.

Apparently, that’s legal. Offensive to many, perhaps, but legal. Where the regulators can, and should, jump in is into the loophole, because the flippers, not being the actual final buyers in such cases, are suspected of reaping their profits without paying the capital gain or provincial property transfer tax (PTT) that lesser mortals (very sourly) pay.

The Liberal government handed the issue on a silver platter to the NDP. Following Tomlinson’s story, New Democrat David Eby raised the suspicion of PTT avoidance and possible insider trading and money laundering. Christy Clark, abetted by cabinet minister Peter Fassbender, who seems even more laissez-faire than the premier about Vancouver’s (dangerous, I fear) real estate bubble, has rejected interfering with the market by imposing restraints on offshore property purchases.

And to be fair – my greatest fault – Clark makes a sobering point not missed by West Vancouver’s millionaire property owners, which means every one of us: Discouragement of offshore or home-grown buyers, including speculators who buy houses and leave them empty (or faux-occupied)  in expectation of higher prices, would lower existing owners’ property values. Gulp. Who said self-interest and greed should be monopolized by any one group?

I asked Jason Soprovich, a top West Van Realtor, for his view. Which was: “Oh, shadow flipping, yeah. It’s not good for the industry. It’s unfair on so many levels.” As in any industry, “there are always a few tainted apples – it’s limited to a few tainted apples.”

Another long-time West Van Realtor of integrity whom I dealt with years ago politely declined to comment: “Our company has a policy that only regional management can make public statements on behalf of our company.”

Tomlinson quoted Vancouver real estate agent Allyson Brooke of Macdonald Realty: “There is a lot of speculation in this market – but lack of government intervention is as responsible as the speculators themselves.”

Obvious question: How come a newspaper reporter could winnow through hundreds of records to discover what bureaucrats must have known about – and will now likely snap out of their doze to do something, or seen to be doing something, about?

Well, um, maybe because that might jeopardize Vancouver’s standing as the third priciest real estate on the globe – and also a great many interests with dollar signs attached. Go back to Premier Clark’s candour. Do I want my real estate values to crest and then drop, joining my stocks and savings accounts in their calamitous swoon? I refuse to answer on the grounds that I’d have to tell the truth.

David Marley, a relentless West Van political scold, emails: “Don’t count on the Real Estate Council of B.C. to do what is necessary. It seems they’ve been aware of the unethical behaviour by some of their members for quite a period of time now and, instead of immediately revoking licences as should be done, have merely been giving those brokers who have been caught abusing their position of trust short-term ‘time-outs’ as though they were naughty children. A little respite to count their ill-gotten gains.”

© Trevor Lautens, 2016