Zealots crowd out the considerate

Appeared in the North Shore News – February 13, 2015

The bicycle is one of the greatest inventions in history, a freeing vehicle, a pioneer emancipator of women — and now a vehicle of protest.

To start at the conclusion: The North Shore’s nearest analogy to the gang warfare elsewhere in Metro is on the verdant slopes, notably Mount Fromme, where some mountain bikers, hikers and residents are in a turf war that better get top priority for attention before there’s serious injury or death.

Attempts to satisfy these interests clearly have failed.

A bow, first, to those cyclists, especially commuters with well-lit bikes and good road manners, who deserve — in law and in reciprocal manners — merited, very careful regard.

But as always, a minority claque of zealots can always be counted on to crowd out the considerate and the conciliatory.

Not to keep you in suspense — and granting this isn’t my personal or journalistic beat, and I’m past pedalling my four loved bicycles, least of all on steep forest trails — I’m skeptical whether Mount Fromme’s competing interests can peacefully share the same space.

The urban bureaucrats’ notion that walkers and cyclists share some kind of jolly camaraderie, presumably based on mutual contempt for the car, is delusional twaddle.

Start here: I recently praised North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton. A reader — not, note well, the woman whose case is before the courts — sent a long, furious email slamming Walton and alleging cronyism with his “mountain biking buddies” of the North Shore Mountain Bike Association (which in fact posts a sober, sensible code of conduct.

Is it followed? Well, we’re talkin’ human beings, like thee and me).

Before firing off a droll response, I dug a little. This reader has been the target of vile, vicious, profane-plus screeds (the c-word is winning disgusting currency) from mountain bikers around the world — braying bullies of the woods, cowards crouching behind the Internet’s anonymity.

There’s a resemblance to the rip-roaring ski jocks who spatter their brains and others’ on twisting mountain roads.

I also recalled the bike anarchists who, in Gregor Robertson’s Vancouver, pressured city hall with organized rush-hour demos that screwed up vehicle drivers’ lives and suppers.
Whatever has been done to keep the peace on North Shore slopes doesn’t look like nearly enough. This cries out to be fixed.

• • •

Just going through the motions. West Van council is sure to approve Park Royal’s expansion, no matter what neighbours or councillors say.

The plan is for two towers of 27 and 12 storeys, 251 residential units (about two and a half times the number for controversial Grosvenor Ambleside), 17,824 square feet of office space, total 300,000 square feet.

Thanks to the crazy-quilt jurisdiction, if council doesn’t ratify Larco’s project on the old White Spot site at Taylor Way and Marine Drive, where town hall enjoys zoning and other municipal powers, why, the owners can just shrug and build elsewhere on land that Park Royal leases from the Squamish.

I’d guess the owning Lalji family would prefer building on the White Spot site. And it’s beyond question that town hall, whatever public agony it displays, would too. It covets the tax revenue.

Agent y8Tb3, a knowledgeable devil, roughed out the taxes generated by the project. I lost track of the number of zeros.

And the traffic at Taylor Way and Marine Drive, cheek-by-jowl with the three-lane 1930s Lions Gate Bridge? Park Royal vice-president Rick Amantea told a public meeting: “No one is more concerned about traffic at this corner than Park Royal.”

Yes, what if the increasingly strangled North Shore bridges discouraged West End and other Metro shoppers, foiling Park Royal’s goal of being a great regional shopping centre? Right, they can always take the bus . . .

• • •

Without searching through yellowing newspapers, I’m confident that no entertainment at West Van’s Kay Meek Centre ever had the stunning hype given to The Goodnight Bird. (Which closes tomorrow night — so hurry, if it isn’t sold out.)

With a blockbuster photo on the arts section front page, keyed to a glowing spread inside, the Vancouver Sun seized readers by the lapels and all but choked them into attending this North American premiere. Rare, perhaps unprecedented, for a play in a modest-sized venue in the ’burbs.

And the play? All theatre requires suspension of disbelief. This is a mighty chore here. Unless you know of a greying couple (Christopher Hunt and Nicola Cavendish) who’d react to a late-night entry by an apparently bipolar gent (Graham Cuthbertson) like . . . this. Even remotely like this.

But once past the initial obligatory full-press nudity and tediously conventional dirty-mouthing, Colleen Murphy’s play seamlessly turns touching, poetic — though quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson and Emily Dickinson is as unlikely as Cavendish’s splendour in the grass. Never mind. Cavendish, top of her game, meltingly makes it happen. Go see, if you can.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

LNG plan prompts genteel concern

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 1, 2014

So how do you like the idea of tankers carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG) past Lions Bay, Bowen Island and – take note – not far off Horseshoe Bay and the western flank of West Vancouver?

Clapping hands? Possibly distracted by distant oil transport disputes, most West Vancouverites seem unaware of a RITOBY (right in their own backyard) plan for the old pulp mill site at Woodfibre – even though Jeremy Shepherd reported in the Feb. 16 News that about 40 double-hulled ships a year would transport the LNG down Howe Sound to the parent company’s facility in China, and tireless West Van Matters editor Carolanne Reynolds flagged the item a couple of weeks ago.

The small plant is sought by Pacific Oil Gas subsidiary Woodfibre Natural Gas Ltd., owned by Indonesian billionaire Sukanto Tanoto. He aims to have it up and running in 2017. A government photo shows Tanoto and a smiley Premier Christy Clark meeting on her Asian tour in May.

Somehow, I doubt if the Liberals would have been hot to trot with Tanoto if this had been proposed before or during Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics.

A group called the Future of Howe Sound Society, noting that the company could be the first LNG export facility on the west coast, stated: “There are inherent dangers in liquefying and storing some 100,000 tonnes of liquefied gas, let alone the shipping of it down Howe Sound.”

The Council of Canadians says the plant’s capacity would be two million tonnes a year, 290 million cubic feet a day, partly transported by Eagle Mountain-Woodfibre pipeline.

West Van seems to be last stop for the predictable controversy (an even hotter one swirls around a logging permit for Gambier Island, Agent 6J9Sqk reports from a meeting). About 100 quite unruly protesters gathered outside Squamish chambers a couple of weeks ago.

Prominent opponents of the LNG proposal include a North Vancouverite, Laurie Parkinson, and Eoin (pronounced Owen) Finn, a sometime resident of Bowyer Island. Both attended a meeting with Woodfibre executives at Gleneagles in February, where Byng Giraud, vicepresident of corporate affairs, said assuringly: “The LNG industry is safe. From 1964 to 2012, there were more than 140,000 LNG carrier sea journeys without one incident of loss of LNG containment.”

Finn, with a PhD in chemistry and a master of business administration degree, and a retired partner of KPMG, one of the world’s biggest audit and management advisory services, is a self-styled “unlikely LNG opponent.” He’s written a carefully detailed critique of the proposal. There are huge safety risks in permitting tankers – 80 a year, Finn estimated – to navigate Howe Sound’s narrow channel. He called it “a class-A hazard.”

West Van councillors unanimously voted July 21 to write the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) expressing their “concerns” (that weakest word in contemporary usage), asking for a seat on the current EAO working group, which has ignored Bowen Island too. They also wrote to the federal ministers of transport and the environment.

Politely, no doubt. The toughest talk came from Coun. Bill Soprovich: “We should pull all stops out to prevent this (LNG plant) being placed at Woodfibre.” If this were the Downtown Eastside a rent-a-crowd would have been angrily massing in the streets by nightfall, shouting slogans. Not the West Vancouver way, my dears.

A more genteel protest would have been for “concerned” West Vancouverites to post a comment on the EAO website. Ah, too late. The deadline was last Sunday.

When a council hastily takes an issue off the agenda – like West Van’s Ferry Building item scheduled for July 21 – there are two classic reasons. One, the politicians genuinely want more time to think it over. Two, they hope the opponents of this needless, costly and stupid plan (I know, I should get off the fence) will have cooled off by the time the rescheduled meeting is held. I favour the second explanation.

The downtown press may also have influenced the postponement. The Vancouver Sun fell upon the issue and ran a timely story that perhaps alarmed town hall. It had a gap or two, such as stating that a “coffee bar” was planned, omitting “and wine bar.” The story demeaningly described the nearby beachfront older houses as “shacks”. One is owned by West Van’s very own world-class billionaire, Jimmy Pattison. I doubt if Jimmy would enjoy the implication of being a slum landlord.

Now some deserved good news about the Kay Meek Centre, from new executive director Jeanne LeSage: You might be able to catch today’s (2 p.m.) Youth Conservatory Music Theatre performance of Aladdin, staged by the youngest thespians. The program’s teens perform A Chorus Line, Broadway’s second-longest production ever, tonight at 7 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m. Future theatre careers begin here.

Right, the government properly regulates beer. But – set bar price minimums for it? Getoutahere.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

A miserly ministry adds insult to injury

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 9, 2012

IF anything could diminish the always poignant Remembrance Day, it’s the reminder of how shabbily Ottawa treats its injured veterans.

Like Daniel Scott. He was incredibly badly hurt on the job – soldiering. If only he’d been hurt on a civvy street job, then his compensation would have been far more generous. Collateral damage: The Stephen Harper government’s self-inflicted wound. Its attempt to shrink the nation’s debt is generally praiseworthy, but this is pinching pennies all too hard.

Scott, then 24, was so badly injured by a mine explosion on a training exercise in Afghanistan that he was a good candidate to die. Surgeons removed his left kidney, spleen and part of his pancreas. His career dreams were over.

Scott received a lump-sum payout of about $41,000. The Scott family’s arithmetic was that, including interest, this amounted to $140 a month for 25 years. The Workers’ Compensation Board payout for the same level of injuries to retirement age of 65 would have been $1,400 a month – 10 times as much.

A Vancouver Sun report notes that such disability pensions used to be a little more, not a lot less, than WCB compensation. But the Conservatives screwed them down – and screwed the injured vets – in 2006.

Scott has joined a class-action lawsuit on behalf of veterans injured in Afghanistan seeking parity with workers’ compensation.

Jon McComb has chased their plight hard on his CKNW show. The mentally damaged by the war in Afghanistan – a corrupt state not worth the loss of one drop of Canadian blood – suffer as well. One is haunted by the memory of the “pink cloud” when people were hit by gunfire and, ugh, exploded.

A touch of irony: Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney chose Halloween, of all ghoulish days, to repeat that the government will support a private member’s bill amending the Criminal Code to include mischief relating to war memorials.

Protecting the memory of the war dead is well merited. But Blaney and the prime minister should properly honour warfare’s walking wounded too. They sacrificed their youth and normal lives for Canada.

. . .

In contrast, a warmly upbeat Remembrance Day item: Since its brave beginnings, West Van’s Kay Meek Centre has experienced almost as much drama in its often-disputatious boardroom as on its stages. But in the last couple of years, it’s settled down with more varied and better fare, and grown worthier of the status of its town. Artistic director Claude Giroux, who has also kept up his previous theatrical ties with Fort McMurray, has won respect.

And here’s an innovative idea: Tomorrow, Canadian armed forces veterans get free admission to the 2 p.m. performance of Theatre West Van’s Waiting for the Parade at the Kay Meek. Perfect timing on the eve of Remembrance Day.

John Murrell’s praised play is set in the Second World War, centring not on the lot of male combatants but on the lives of five women – an unusual approach to wartime plays when first staged in 1979, as the Meek’s website notes. Giroux himself directs.

Thanks to Geoff Jopson, who retired three years ago as superintendent of West Vancouver School Board and has since steeped himself volunteering in West Van’s cultural matters, for tipping me to this unusual salute to Canada’s veterans.

. . .

The years pass, and I can’t help thinking that I’m one of the few practising newspapermen with memories of the whole Second World War. I began kindergarten the week war was declared.

A new generation of historians is harder-eyed about the war. The stature of Winston Churchill and especially U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt has declined. And too little credit – even attention – is paid to those who were architects for European peace after 1945.

High among them were those who, in 1951, founded the European Coal and Steel Community, which buried past Franco-German hatreds and was the seed for the future European Community: Frenchmen Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. The political accomplishment, short years after the second of two bloody 20th-century wars, was stunning.

They all should have received the Nobel Peace Prize. We owe them today more than most of us realize.

. . .

Speaking of honours: City of North Vancouver councillors, not famous for warm, fuzzy harmony, unanimously agreed last month to rename Boulevard Park in honour of the late Ray Perrault.

Ray led the B.C. Liberals in the early 1960s, thankless years in the political wilderness, when W.A.C. Bennett squashed all rivals. He went on to serve in the House of Commons and Senate, where he was majority leader. He was a director of the Vancouver Canucks (remember them?) and laboured hard but vainly to bring major league baseball to Vancouver.

Good for CNV council. Why is West Vancouver perennially reluctant to bestow similar honours?

© Trevor Lautens, 2012