There’s more sailing club speculation afloat

Appeared in the North Shore News – September 25, 2015

Yes, at some point the present Hollyburn Sailing Club will be evicted. Yes, relocated elsewhere. And favoured use of the site? A restaurant. Not likely a fast-food joint.

Mayor Michael Smith made this clear in a statement that dispels – or confirms – rumours swirling around the sailing club, smack in front of the uber-high-end Grosvenor building that the mayor sees as the centrepiece of his vision of Ambleside’s Marine Drive rejuvenation.

Let me be equally clear: In 20 years, or fewer, when present disputes have dissipated along with memories of Ambleside/Dundarave when it was a friendly, human-scale “village” – and, some will say, never was, certainly not in their lifetime – Smith may be celebrated as the visionary catalyst of West Vancouver’s business prosperity and a livelier streetscape.

For now, the popularity of the twice-acclaimed mayor, with a three-year mandate remaining as the town’s chief executive officer, has fallen sharply among some oldcomers and others who see West Van as being exploitatively sold, especially to international buyers, for its seaside charm and spectacular views that are in fact disappearing – certainly out of the price range of ordinary mortals.

And Smith seems perfectly OK with that. What price charm?

With no shortage of speculation afoot, including my own – my perfect logic in my last column foundered in the tangles of the sailing club’s lease – I asked Smith:

“What is your personal wish regarding whether the sailing club stays where it is or is moved? As CEO your personal wish – informed of course by your take on community or any particular or special interests of the district – is the most important, if not the only one that ultimately counts.”

The mayor’s response, in full:
“I support a sailing club on our waterfront. Sailing, boating, kayaking, and other water sports are key to our community. We proudly refer to West Vancouver as the waterfront community.

“I also support sensible use of municipal assets and this is why all district land assets are being looked at for opportunities that would benefit residents.

“The current site is large and extremely valuable and is a key part of Ambleside. Maintaining a sailing club has always been part of any discussions. The current building is old and does not serve the community well and councils for decades have considered what should happen there. A new sailing club building offering more rentals and lessons and other services could allow for many more residents to enjoy and use this beautiful site.

“A restaurant as part of the redevelopment of this very prime location could provide funding for the project instead of relying on taxes to build it. A facility like this would be enjoyed by all residents and visitors, sailors or not.

“District staff will continue to develop plans for this and other waterfront sites which have been purchased over the years at great cost by our taxpayers. All proposals will, as is always the case, go out to the public for full feedback and input before any decisions are made by council.”

That’s it. Read carefully. The club premises are, he believes, old – and it seems the mayor is not a fan of old. And he’s long favoured a restaurant right on the beach.

When he speaks of renewal of Marine Drive businesses, plainly he hasn’t present businesses, mostly small ones, in mind: restaurants, tiny cafes, chain coffee shops, vegetable markets, florists, beauty salons, clothing. He likes new, and bigger, and generating more money including tax money. His record as CEO and in council votes shows he’s indifferent to the (quite toothless) official community plan restricting height and bulk.

And monster houses? Give him credit, seriously: No politically stroked, mealy-mouthed phony bow to preserving neighbourhoods and so forth. He’s truly honest. When asked about the huge edifice taking hotel-sized shape beyond Lighthouse Park and easily visible on Marine Drive from a kilometre away, Smith shrugged. It’s a free market. End of story.

Maybe it’s a salutary reminder that West Van really has very little history, little beyond nature’s gifts worth preserving: The father of the town, if there is one, is John Lawson – who sold real estate, whose eyes lit up when he looked across the water and saw the possibilities. Nor did the Guinness family build a bridge to the North Shore in the 1930s to serve a population but to create one, possibly the most fabulous $75,000-real-estate investment in Canada’s records.

It may seem a puzzling paradox given the aforementioned, but I like and admire the mayor as a person.

I’m less sure I like him as a mayor.

But then I may be classifiable as transitioning into oldtimer-hood.

Oh, fresh rumour: That restaurant that could appear on the sailing club site in the next few years – a Cactus Club. Just talk.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

Sailing club lease deserves a closer look

Appeared in the North Shore News – September 11, 2015

Long experience persuades me that the difference between rumours and official statements is that the former are usually more accurate than the latter.

Case in point: The thick fog around nautically jaunty Hollyburn Sailing Club.

It’s due south of West Vancouver’s supposed gateway to a grand civic future, the Grosvenor development. And were the club’s quarters, um, quite up to snuff, you know, for purchasers of Grosvenor condos? — prices estimated by Coun. Craig Cameron ranging from $2 million to $5 million, and that was in 2013, ancient times in local real estate history. (To be fair, Grosvenor claims not to oppose the club’s locale.)

So as the five-year lease expiry date of Dec. 31 approached, negotiations between town hall and the sailors became a matter of speculation.

Mayor Michael Smith declared in January that town hall and the club had signed a new five-year lease. End of story? Not. Ray Richards, Christine Ballantine, Scenerey Slater and others had doubts.

Christine Ballantine raised a petition signed by more than 800 to preserve the club and clarify the lease terms.

Quite unnecessary, she was assured by a town hall staffer as recently as 10 days ago: “I have no idea where people get their information from and wish they would take time to check with the district before creating fear and angst in the community; the Hollyburn Sailing Club is a vital piece of Ambleside and I can assure you it is not being closed.”

The only way to dispel (or confirm) the uneasy rumours was by reading the lease. Thanks to Mayor Smith’s aide, Sabia Curran, I have.

Which turned up some highly pertinent words. A section of the previous lease is deleted and replaced by Section 2 (ii): “The District, in its sole discretion, reserves the right to terminate this lease at any time during the term upon a minimum of 12 months written notice, which notice may be given at any time (and shall not be restricted to an anniversary of the commencement date).”

Couldn’t be plainer. The lease hugely favours the landlord — who could say, with a straight face, “We have negotiated a five-year lease” (true), without adding “which we can terminate unilaterally” (unspoken truth). Which revealed more, the rumour or the official line?

• • •

A quiet departure: Bob Sokol, West Vancouver director of planning, land development and permits. He was at the sharp end defending some hackles-raising building permits in recent years — the 17,500-square-foot edifice on Kensington Crescent may be dwarfed by an alleged 25,000-square-footer on Mathers.

Town hall director of communications Jeff McDonald dispelled any speculation: “Bob is from the U.S. After eight years in Canada, his wife wished to return there and received an offer of a dream job, so they made the decision to make the move back home.” At this writing his successor hasn’t been identified.

• • •

Couns. Bill Soprovich and Michael Lewis attended a recent free-wheeling informal-ish meeting where Sop, as he’s fondly called, drew attention to council’s defeat of a proposed 15-storey condo at Bellevue and 23rd. Good call, to this observer’s passing eye. Reasons: Design too small at the base, insufficient parking. All for it: Mayor Smith and Coun. Mary-Ann Booth.

• • •

I had fond but doomed hopes of interviewing all federal election candidates in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky riding. But space and time limitations would have confounded Stephen Hawking.

So, incumbent Conservative John Weston and Liberal former West Vancouver mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones being well known to our readers, today a quick snapshot of Green party candidate Ken Melamed — who, importantly, lives in the 55 per cent of the riding outside of West Vancouver. (You can check all riding candidates at two meetings on Sept. 23: 1 p.m. at Kay Meek Centre for high school students and at 7 p.m., centring on marine issues, at West Vancouver Yacht Club for members.)

Melamed was born in Philadelphia of parents “from the pogroms of Europe” and grew up, fluently bilingual, in Montreal. His father began as an antique dealer. Both father and mother — who returned to school after her education was interrupted to bring up a family (she got a PhD from famed uber-liberal Antioch College) — became college teachers, one of Canada’s spectacular and too little recognized immigrant success stories.

Ken Melamed went as far as Quebec’s CEGEP, roughly equivalent to first-year university. He liked — still likes — building, working with his hands.

He served five terms on Whistler council, two as mayor.

He left the New Democrats on an issue of principle and joined the Greens. On the riding’s most contentious issue, the Squamish LNG plant, he says: “I go with the residents.”

Putting politics aside, he’s one of those extraordinary ordinary people, quietly impressive, short of stature, modest of manner, thankfully lacking the hearty, beaming salesmanship and predatory mien of too many politicians. Worth a look.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

Ambleside dog walkers are all ears for Raju

Appeared in the North Shore News – September 26, 2014

News rains on us incessantly. We must raise an umbrella over matters we choose to save and protect. Today I choose Raju.

Raju is an elephant. Captured as a baby, cruelly abused and shackled in spike chains, Raju spent 50 years as a begging elephant in the Uttar Pradesh region of India. When he was rescued, tears rolled down his cheeks.

If he’d been taught to do this, you have to admit this was one hell of a circus trick.

West Vancouver graphic designer and animal advocate Robin Schade has been spreading the word about Raju, notably around the Ambleside Beach dog walk where she predictably finds sympathetic ears.

Raju was rescued by Wildlife SOS, with an international reach beyond India. The Huffington Post quoted Nikki Sharp, executive director of Wildlife SOS-USA: “The vet and our team came with fruits and just started speaking softly to him and to reassure him that we were there to help, and it was at that time that tears flooded down his face.” In bad shape, he was taken to the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in Mathura where he is thriving.

Happy ending? Not yet.

His claimed owner, a Mr. Shahid, charged with illegal custody of Raju and facing a possible jail term of three to seven years, demands his return. The case before India’s High Court has been repeatedly postponed, just days ago to Oct. 13.

Scores of thousands are contributing to Raju’s cause. Robyn Schade notes that a Global March for Elephants and Rhinos is scheduled for Oct. 4 at the Vancouver Art Gallery beginning at 1 p.m. Don’t get me further into the topic. The Chinese have many cultural graces, but sensitivity to animal life isn’t among them – like the fantastic cruelty of cutting shark fins for soup and throwing the helpless sharks overboard – but even more utterly revolting is their commerce in elephant ivory.

A sickening photo recently in the press showed a dead mother elephant and baby killed (as other animals must be) by African poachers, ingeniously poisoning their water holes with cyanide. This is reprehensible beyond words. I wouldn’t buy a single article from China if avoiding its cheap goods flooding world markets were possible.

I may be the only one in the world who is sore about the one thing his many detractors praise him for – that Nixon went to China. Better he should have stood in bed, as used to be said.


The coyness surrounding the Hollyburn Sailing Club lease issue frankly has annoyed me out of my usual cheerfulness.

Two weeks ago I reported Agent Y6xE9j’s claim that the Ambleside Beach club – a martini-glass throw from the not-universally-popular Grosvenor development – might go on a month-to-month lease next year, usually signalling a new use or development. Subsequent reaction to the item from the club only confused my small brain.

It’s been nicely cleared by John Long, West Vancouver’s manager of facilities and assets. The five-and-five lease – five years plus a five-year option to renew – ends Dec. 31. Negotiations are currently under way, but if no agreement were reached, the lease, like all such leases, would continue monthto-month – the basis for Agent Y6xE9j’s warning.

Only three months until the club’s lease expires? To me, that’s sailing close to the wind. Long assured me it isn’t unusual.

What does the club, as a public amenity, pay to lease this deliriously valuable stretch of waterfront? Like all town hall’s leases, the terms are confidential, Long said.

But another agent, 66mPwB, reveals that when the current lease was signed in 2004, the rent was – take a breath – $2,410.67 a year, plus GST. If it’s been bumped up, I’m unaware of it.

Such a deal. And, if there’s been a sticking point in negotiations, maybe that’s what it is.

Speaking of town hall, as I often do, and affectionately: Elections coming! Voters’ last chance on Nov. 15 to register approval or otherwise of candidates old or new until the next ones in 2018.

One new chair to fill: Coun. Trish Panz told council months ago that she wouldn’t run again. Which was hardly noted. I emailed asking if she was joining her personal friend Pam Goldsmith-Jones’s federal election team. No response.

One almost-declared council candidate at this writing: Christine Cassidy, 33 years in the financial services industry and currently on the board of the Ambleside and Dundarave Ratepayers’ Association. She’s raised funds for B.C. Women’s Hospital Health Centre and B.C. Children’s Hospital and has sat on the boards of Ballet BC and the West Vancouver Memorial Library. Early supporters include a couple of vocal critics of what they’re doing up at town hall.

Wanted: At least one opponent for Mayor Mike Smith. Acclaimed in 2011, Smith has said himself he’s not supportive of acclamation.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Grosvenor, town hall not on same clock

Appeared in the North Shore News – July 18, 2014

Dr. Lautens believes he recognizes the symptoms in the unfortunate marital breakup of a certain mayor across the water from the North Shore.

Dr. Lautens, B.A.,

D.K.F.A.A.A., the last three letters standing for All About Anything, diagnoses the underlying malady as what the French call la crise de cinquante – the crisis on reaching, or just north or south of, age 50. (It is adjustable to la crise de quarante, commencing around 40.)

The patient under scrutiny enters his 50th year in September – a classic case.

Cutting through the medical/technical jargon, which I’d gladly explain if space allowed and readers could follow it, the afflicted typically has a successful career, an agreeable spouse, satisfactorily raised grown children, and some prosperity. And – often abruptly, like a tropical disease – is struck by the haunting self-question: “Is that all there is?” Yes, he – more often he than she, though neither sex is immune – suddenly hungers for a new life. In the painfully fashionable phrase, has an intense urge to reinvent himself. Gamble all he has for an entirely new him. And often for a desirable new her.

Some time ago a woman I’ve met occasionally for 20-odd years fascinated me, only scientifically of course, though stunningly beautiful, when she confided that her marriage was over. I delicately coaxed out her age. Fifty. La crise. I had suspected it.

The above, I fear, sounds facetious. But there is underlying sorrow of deepest nature, poignancy for the restlessness of the spirit and of the flesh. I may be a mere D.K.F.A.A.A. – but after decades of study, I know something of the human heart. And it is a terrible knowledge, for I too have been touched.

Well, which is it, then? Who’s to be believed? One, the other, neither, or even both?

West Vancouver town hall and Grosvenor are strangely at odds on when the police will leave their turf at 13th and Marine Drive, and when the monster global developer moves in and starts building its project of decidedly mixed popularity.

As stitched together in this space last month, using a process of ratiocination stolen from Sherlock Holmes, it would seem that the WV police could be grilling suspects on the site while Grosvenor simultaneously holds open houses for prospective buyers of its costly condos.

Problem, no?

Town hall, as Stefania Seccia reported in these pages, claims the present tenants, the cops, have until Dec. 31, 2017 to remove their rubber truncheons, shock devices and other instruments of torture (joke!). But when I asked Patti Glass, marketing director for Grosvenor Americas, about its schedule, she stated: “Construction is expected to begin late 2014 or early 2015.”

Seriously sooner than on town hall’s schedule. So I checked again. Glass confirmed: “The dates I gave you regarding Phase 1 are correct – we are targeting end of year construction commencement.” I noted a construction fence has already gone up on the west side of the block. Glass explained: “The activity currently on site (former Handi restaurant) … is to make way for the presentation centre.”

The sure thing is that replacement of the cop shop, to be joined at the hip with a new firehall, is stuck at the design level, eight months to a year behind schedule, and chief administrative officer Nina Leemhuis conceded – as divulged here – that using WV’s recently acquired Vancouver Coastal Health buildings is a temporary option. Disputed: Whether to include holding cells, or share North Vancouver’s RCMP cells.

WV Mayor Mike Smith and Leemhuis are soothing: No fear, plenty of time to make design changes in the $36-million project. A good start would be if town hall and Grosvenor co-ordinated their clocks.

A West Van widow donates $8 million (1998 dollars) for a theatre. Grosvenor buys the name “Grosvenor Mainstage at the Kay Meek Centre” – 10 years of self-serving publicity for a measly $1 million. The grovelling locals tug their forelocks in gratitude. I vomit.

CKNW departures:

Outstanding broadcasters Philip Till, superb in his too-rare commentaries, and Bill Good are retiring at month’s end. Veteran Terry Bell, the best and clearest radio news writer/reader of my experience, has gone. All same with sports reporter Stu Walters, as biz-watcher Greg Douglas (Dr. Sport), my only sports pages must-read, notes in the Sun.

First the good news: West Vancouver lawyer Dave Thomas has been appointed chairman of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Now the bad news: He’ll have to live in Ottawa.

The tribunal adjudicates human rights complaints that the Canadian Human Rights Commission hasn’t been able to resolve. Thomas’ seven-year appointment starts Sept. 2. His Vancouver practice centres on corporate immigration.

In 2006, Thomas sought the federal Conservative nomination for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country (formerly West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast), won by present MP John Weston. I await with kindly interest how a white male heterosexual, father of three, fits into the human rights culture.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

West Vancouver cop shop in need of temporary digs?

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 20, 2014

You read it here fast: West Vancouver police may be pushed out and forced into temporary quarters in the Vancouver Coastal Health buildings on Gordon at 22nd Street — to accommodate Grosvenor, impatient to get on with its gateway development on the cop shop site.

My Agent Yc5uLW reports that the Coastal Health locale for a temporary station — which could raise hackles in the mixed neighbourhood – is among the possibilities under, I imagine, fairly frantic consideration.

The police station may have to move — somewhere — within as little as six months. Not even plans for a new one are settled.

The tip-off that time is short, and Grosvenor chomping at the bit to get cracking on its 1300-block development, came when I asked Patti Glass, spokeswoman for the global-wide developer, for its timeline. Reply: “Construction is expected to begin late 2014 or early 2015.”

Odd. Notice there’s already a building on the site? The police station. It can be razed and a start made on Grosvenor’s 88-condo, 30-odd stores by late this year? The plot thickens: In March the municipality bought Coastal Health’s 0.7 hectare Gordon Avenue property for $16.07 million, Mayor Michael Smith explaining: “It is extremely difficult to acquire such a large property in this area. This site adds substantially to our options for the future, including the potential to expand the civic site.”

Coincidence? Or, with the Grosvenor deal consummated and the clock loudly ticking, did the mayor look to the very near future – the imminent need for a temporary station for West Van’s 85-odd police and staff? (“Temporary” meaning several years.) More tips that the future could be approaching fast: Vancouver Coastal Health’s lease is for only six months, extendable for another six months. Interesting. It would expire next March for the two-building property, currently used for an adult day care program and for Stepping Stones, a facility for people with mental and drug problems.

Yes, the above evidence is speculative, circumstantial. But Sherlock Holmes (or even TV’s dull Frost) could make a case for it, and it’s backed up by Agent Yc5uLW, who, though a new recruit, seems a reliable source. Of course, he could be a double agent.

• • •

Defending the 1913 Ferry Building and its grassy waterfront site from being screwed up has attracted a brave band – John Seddon and West Vancouver Historical Society delegates to council Ann Brousson, Pam Dalik, Jim Carter, Rod Day and Rob Morris in 2011 when it was under pressure from arts imperialists who get town hall’s ear by pitching an arts edifice as a development/revitalization/touristy project ($-signs for the philistines), and currently Nora Gibson, an art consultant for 26 years, and Seddon. Their petition to leave the building untouched as a small community art gallery has drawn about 850 signatures (

After some toil, I conclude: It’s all for naught. It’s a done deal.

The questionnaire on Community Day at the Ferry Building was a prime, if petty, example of the common charade of “community consultation.” It offered five options, all involving additions to the heritage building. Most egregious: “Single storey addition south of a relocated and rotated Ferry Building.” Notably absent from the list: “None of the above! Leave it alone!” Astonishing, then, that 22 of the 102 votes cast were for “No,” which wasn’t even on the ballot, according to figures provided by deputy chief administrative officer Brent Leigh.

And what would any addition, almost quadrupling the gallery’s present 750 square feet, contain? Washrooms (there are others a short walk east and west). And — wait for it — a gift shop! And — wait no more — a coffee and wine bar! Rembrandt, El Greco, Carr and (my personal enthusiasm) Thomas Eakins would be thrilled by this homage to art.

Put plainly: Siting, space and balance are all. The present building has them. You don’t stick a McDonald’s onto the Parliament Buildings. You don’t erect a 60-storey tower overlooking the Arc de Triomphe. Vancouverites, of all people, furious with foreign zillionaires levelling gracious older homes and erecting built-to-the-max monstrosities, should need no such lesson.

My take is that any addition — its sincere advocates include Coun. Craig Cameron and well-respected curator Ruth Payne (“a win-win”) — would be like affixing a salmon to a rhinoceros. Esthetically grotesque, ruinous to heritage status.

An email informational from Coun. Nora Gambioli candidly drops any further consultative pretense: “The Ferry Building will be expanding.” I suggest that the “rotated” building, facing the “revitalizing” Grosvenor complex that it’s meant to worship, be reverently lowered onto its architectural knees.

Reminder: Municipal elections in November.

• • •

Cougar Country: A pupil walking to West Van’s Gleneagles elementary saw a cougar in broad daylight, 8 a.m. June 5, on the Gleneagles golf course, later seen on the school grounds.

A few days later it was spotted at distant Whytecliffe Park. Wild, wild west.

• • •

A little song, a little dance, lacking only a little seltzer down the pants. Spamalot is, as Internet language has it, an LOL hit. It’s on at the Stanley until June 29. See!

• • •

If you missed the North Vancouver Community Players production of God of Carnage, winner of last month’s Theatre B.C. North Shore Festival of Plays, it will be reprised June 26-28 at the Theatre at Hendry Hall before moving on to the provincial drama festival in Kamloops next month.

• • •

Tiddlycove’s Joy Market, operated for 20 years by a nice North Vancouver couple, Korean immigrants So Hee Han (she’s the Joy of the name) and her husband, Gun Chul Han, is closing at the end of the month. Apparently the space will be absorbed, leaving no convenience store between Cypress mall and Horseshoe Bay. Another West Vancouver loss.

• • •

A couple of young women returned to their crossover vehicle with Alberta licence plates in Lighthouse Park last Friday to find the cargo window smashed and personal belongings and a camera stolen. What a fine memory of B.C.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Heed’s reemergence raises questions

Appeared in the North Shore News – February 28, 2014

The media grabbed the shallow story. They missed the deeper story. We do that, I’ve done it. Talkin’ about the West Vancouver Police Department “scandal.”

The real yarn here is the backstory — disgraced ex-cop Kash “The Stallion” Heed’s free pass to claw his way back to political respectability and power. Is this man a reliable witness to sickness in the WVPD?

No media report I’ve seen (delighted to be corrected) ran a word on the rise and fall of Heed, brief chief of the police force he now slags for endemic sexism, racism and bullying. And, granting him some credibility, West Vancouver Mayor Mike Smith agreed with that assessment, and is committed to cleaning the stables, though troubled that Heed’s “broad brush” tarred the whole department.

Heed was quoted at length in a recent scoop by Province reporter Sam Cooper about a 2013 WVPD survey showing nearly 70 per cent of the 83 police officers were very dissatisfied, a harsh comment on present Chief Constable Peter Lepine’s leadership. Now, some history:

Heed, a 29-year police veteran, unsuccessful in applying for chief of the Vancouver PD, was hired by the WVPD in August 2007. He replaced Scott Armstrong, after an officer in an off-duty car accident admitted to driving after drinking with others at the WVPD station. Armstrong had the honesty to admit alcohol was sometimes drunk on site, as he’d done himself. Not rare at cop shops, I suspect. (Incidentally, is there still a beer fridge in Victoria’s Legislative Press Gallery?)

Heed cleaned house. Or some said. Any new chief in the milieu of ambitious, A-type cops — well, no surprise, some win, some lose. Anyway, Heed replaced his four top cops. There were suits, at least one since dropped.

Early on, Heed controversially scrapped the WVPD’s DARE program against drugs in schools. Later, without apparent irony, he claimed West Van students were among the heaviest drug users. Later still, he went to a U.S. conference of officials with “liberal” attitudes toward drug enforcement, i.e. that it wasn’t working.

A consistent Heed hobby-horse was melding Vancouver area police into a single force. Wonder whom he had in mind as chief?

Then there was the incident when — a no-no of astounding proportions for a top officer — Heed told a police board member that a workplace colleague of hers was under investigation for pornography. This paper’s James Weldon and Jane Seyd dug out the story. Lo, it was the board member who took the fall. Her contract wasn’t renewed.

On Feb. 19, 2009, Heed, only 18 months into a five-year contract, announced he was resigning — without, Mayor and WVPB chairwoman Pamela Goldsmith-Jones insisted, any previous hints or explanation, except that it was for “personal reasons.”

Heed’s lasting legacy was the bold repainting of West Van police vehicles, bearing the now-ironic logo: “Serving with honour.”

The board was told Heed would be paid until March 6. Wrong. A deal was quietly struck. He received full salary, about $40,000, until May 19. Which happened to be seven days after the 2009 general election. Which Heed, apparently discovering his personal reason for quitting as WVPD chief, won as Liberal candidate in Vancouver-Fraserview.

Later Heed was to boast on Bill Good’s CKNW show that for years Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell had wooed him into politics, perhaps the source of speculation that the new MLA was tipped to be a future premier.

Heed quickly became a media darling. Ian Mulgrew, that tireless pusher of legalizing marijuana, ran a Sun story under the headline “The Man: Heed is just what the doctor ordered as Liberals stumble in justice area.” (That “doctor” should have been sued for malpractice.)

Before this political career, Heed’s most enduring utterance was recorded in 2008 on one of his later election team’s Blackberry, as reported by the Province’s Sean Sullivan:

“Think of things this way: You are a trainer that has a few horses in your stable … Wally (Oppal) is getting on and needs to be put out to pasture soon,” referring to a faithful B.C. public servant I much admire. “You have a stallion that has been in training for some time and you and everyone else know he’s a winner, but can’t wait on the sidelines forever.”

Heed was made solicitor-general, B.C.’s uber-cop. In that role he had to decide whether the West Van chief of the day, in indiscreetly discussing the pending charges against the man on pornography counts, had broken the law. That chief being — Kash Heed. The issue went through bureaucratic hoops and was left somewhat in the air because precedence was that the law — since changed — applied only to active, not past, police officers.

Worse followed. During the election campaign Heed’s headquarters pumped out a pamphlet, in English and Chinese, viciously smearing his New Democrat opponent, Dwaine Martin.

Heed — a career cop for 30-odd years — claimed he didn’t know of this wrongdoing, right under his nose. He lost his cabinet job. An auditor hired by Elections BC found campaign overspending. Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer crisply summed up the last act of this seedy drama: “The case led to the political ruin of Kash Heed. … He lost his seat at the cabinet table, was fined $11,000 for overspending and did not run again. His campaign manager was fined $15,000 and sentenced to one year probation and 200 hours of community service.”

Kash Heed began his brief political career as a rumoured crown prince to the Liberal leadership. The media’s recent silence on his past invites his return from exile.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Will they, won’t they run again?

Appeared in the North Shore News – December 6, 2013

But enough of my opinions. For now. Municipal elections are less than a year away. Read on.

I asked West Vancouver councillors two questions: “1. At this point do you intend to run for re-election next November? 2. Are you considering running for mayor?” I thought they were pretty good sports to answer. Let them speak.

Bill Soprovich: “I plan to run for re-election to council.” Short and sweet from West Van’s senior and perennially popular councillor.

Trish Panz: “Apologies for my delayed response, out of the country dealing with a family situation. My easy answer to your easy question is, my focus is working hard on council’s five priorities for this term, and I have not made a formal decision at this time.”

Nora Gambioli: “1. I love this 95 per cent of the time – who else can say that about their job? Thus, unless some major tragedy or upheaval were to befall me in the upcoming year, my intentions would be to run again, as a councillor, yes.

“2. Absolutely not. Mayors are paid three times what councillors are paid for a reason; it’s three times the work! “I have two young kids, another job, an unwell 85-year-old father and a big garden. Councillor is just perfect for me. .. for now. .. (ha, ha!).”

Craig Cameron: When I solicited councillors’ feelings about their first year on this council, Coun. Cameron barely missed the deadline. Also his candour is admirable and his points informative. I hate to cut the following too:

“The short answers to your questions are yes and no. I am very much enjoying my work on council and feel I have more to accomplish.

“Regarding the position of mayor, the truth is that I simply could not afford it. By my rough calculations, taking such a pause in my career would leave me more than $200,000 in the hole for a three-year term (not counting the cost of my pension being reduced about $9,000 per year from age 60 on – another $200,000 if I live to age 80). Keep in mind I am a lawyer in the civil service and am paid far less than my private bar contemporaries (for whom the loss would be higher).

“At present, only those who are independently wealthy or supported by someone else could afford to take the job. … I don’t point it out to complain (as I am content with my lot in life and the privilege of being on council) but instead to offer a real-life rejoinder to those who question the earnings of civic officials.. .. I wouldn’t want to be the first sitting mayor to go bankrupt! “Nor, in all seriousness, would I want to force hard financial choices on my family so I could be mayor (and, for the record, our lifestyle is modest and does not include luxury cars, private schools or exclusive clubs).”

Mary-Ann Booth: “While it is still early days, at this point I’m very much enjoying the job and am likely to run again.”

Mayor Mike Smith: “There are things I would still like to see get done in the district and some projects that I would like to see through to completion. I am getting a lot of encouragement to run for a second term but I will make a final decision in the spring.”

Michael Lewis: “1. Yes. 2. Too early to say.”

With her sharp analytical mind, Constant Reader will jump on the last three statements.

Got it? Booth doesn’t answer the mayoralty question. I rate her council’s most politically ambitious member. She wants the mayor’s office.

I believe she’s weighing whether the voters – who overlooked her husband’s employment with a law firm serving the Grosvenors and their now-approved development for Marine Drive and 13th – have moved on from doubts about the propriety of the family connection, and don’t care that she had to recuse herself repeatedly from voting on the Grosvenor issue. That stilled a council voice on a top local issue. Not good.

My take is that Smith has an even hand on the tiller, gets establishment backing, is respected even by critics, and has re-election in the bag. If he runs. He’s financially triple-A, loves his Hawaii home that he visits on each side of the holiday Mondays when council doesn’t meet, and may feel he’s done his one-term mayoral bit.

Reader, look closely at the website video clips or when Shaw broadcasts West Van council meetings. Unless my drawing attention to them makes them change their ways: Check the councillor(s) who don’t speak to other councillors – but directly to the television camera. Starting their election campaigns early, hmmm? Most intriguing response? Lewis’s. Employing my unmatched gift of prophecy, I predict: If Smith retires, look for a Lewis-Booth faceoff for mayor next November. If.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Heads up: Park Royal has WV over its barrel

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 2, 2013

I haven’t seen the term for a long time, and it may be out of fashion. So tell me, dude: Is the term “over a barrel” still widely understood? Like, cool? If it’s still in use: With West Vancouver’s Grosvenor development slogging its way to fruition, here is an early alert to the next big controversy: Park Royal’s proposed twin towers at Marine Drive and Taylor Way. West Van council will be over a barrel on this one.

Flatly, if council should strongly oppose such a development smack on the North Shore’s most traffic-snarled intersection and just a country boy’s apple toss from an artery clogged with the traffic equivalent of cholesterol, Park Royal, meaning the owning Lalji family, can politely pick up its marbles and play elsewhere on its site.

Which would mean a large hit in foregone taxes to West Van, thus hurting property owners and community services.

Why so? Because the towers as planned sit on municipal land and thus under West Van council control. If council stonily rejects adding hundreds of condos in an area where Lions Gate Bridge traffic already moves glacially at peak times – meaning, increasingly, almost any time of day – Park Royal can say thank you for your consideration and build the towers on a part of its South Mall domain leased from the Squamish, where council has no jurisdiction and of course no taxation power whatever.

I believe that dilemma defines the phrase “over a barrel.”

Mayor Mike Smith says council’s refusal of the application for the Marine Drive-Taylor Way site would therefore deny West Van taxes running into six figures a year.

(Note that two councillors, Craig Cameron and Nora Gambioli, opposed the Grosvenor application to build its Official Community Plan-trumping development a short distance to the west, though that may not have set their personal precedents at all.) The Park Royal situation is inherently and permanently quirky. The boundary between West Van municipally controlled land, where the White Spot restaurant currently sits, and the long-lease Squamish land cuts eccentrically through the area, not along streets or natural boundaries. Late councillor Alan Williams once explained it to me in numbing detail, though anyone who grasps the Schleswig-Holstein question, which ate up 20 years of 19th-century European diplomacy and was said by one participant to have been understood by only three men – one was dead, one was mad, and he himself had forgotten the answer – would have little difficulty with it.

Just a little heads-up – a phrase I dislike much more than “over a barrel” – to the political fun and games that may lie ahead.

Catching up: A West Vancouver couple were startled some time ago when a bylaw officer appeared at their door – and on a Sunday at that – to inquire about a licence for their dog.

This coincided with a town hall initiative to promote “responsible pet ownership” by issuing written warnings rather than fines to owners violating the animal bylaws.

The couple were surprised.

First, about the unheralded visit. Second, that it was on a Sunday, raising speculation about overtime pay. Finally, their dog had died two years earlier.

Well, never let it be said that town hall doesn’t stand on guard for thee and me. This visit was not an aberration.

Steve Simmonds, manager of bylaw and licensing services, explained: First, personal visits are a last resort, when letters and calls go unanswered. Second, there is no Sunday overtime pay for officers. (No kidding? What kind of union contract is that?) Finally, town hall wants to be notified about change of address or a dog’s death, needed so that a lost dog when found can be reunited with the owner “as part of our ‘Free Ride Home’ program.”

To recapitulate: A West Van bylaw officer can appear without prior notice at your door on a Sunday to inquire about a licence for your late dog, whose demise you have an obligation and self-interest to have informed town hall staff about.

Who knew? Not I. And is this municipal bureaucracy at something very near to perfection? Eyeball bicycle statistics: Sunday before last, mid-day, in ideal summer weather like nothing in my memory anywhere, I earnestly counted the number of cyclists crossing Burrard Bridge in each direction in the length of time my shamefully fuelthirsty sedan took to cross it. An even dozen.

Then on Dunbar Street in the long sloping stretch between 16th and 41st, which I travel occasionally, where there is a bike lane and one lane for motor vehicles on each side, I counted (I have an interest in counting them carefully) the number of bicycles. The figure equalled the top number I’ve seen on at least 20 occasions. One.

In not-Amsterdam Vancouver, less than a hill of beans.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Minister Sultan part of election victory

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 7, 2013

I predict backwards as well as forwards. So stand by for a prophecy for the past.

I predict that Ralph Sultan played a much bigger role in the B.C. Liberals’ election victory May 14 than he’s been given credit for. And this is not just parish-pump flattery for little old West Vancouver.

First, though, Sultan has been in the news since the election. First, rumoured to step aside for a Christy Clark byelection in West Vancouver-Capilano where his ownership is engraved in stone. He didn’t, gladdening supporters. Also, influential Tex Enemark, Gordon Gibson and Harry Swain mused in the Vancouver Sun that he could be the man to lead the glacial treaty negotiations with B.C.’s First Nations. That’s now a non-starter.

Sultan was the most strangely under-utilized talent in the Gordon Campbell caucus. First elected in 2001, aged 68 – which sounds youthful compared with his present 80 – and with a wealth of high-level business experience in banking and as a Harvard professor, this son of a modest East Vancouver background looked custom-made for finance minister.

Or was it so strange that Campbell passed over him? Often the big boss is nervous about giving a portfolio to someone who actually knows a lot about the territory – like, infinitely more than he/she does. Above all in finance. Might do dangerous things that make economic rather than political sense.

David Schreck, then North Vancouver-Lonsdale’s New Democratic Party MLA, hit a similar wall in the 1990s when, notwithstanding or because of a career in health matters, he never made health minister.

Yet there could hardly have been a more cautionary tale than that of New Democrat finance minister and later MP Dave Stupich – who knew plenty about figures.

Too much. In the scandal called Bingogate, Stupich, a professional accountant, was hit with 64 charges concerning the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society, an NDP piggy bank he devised. He pleaded guilty to fraud involving $1 million and running an illegal lottery. Blameless Mike Harcourt took the political fall, while arithmetic-challenged party people explained they’d left the numbers to Stupich because he was so adept.

Forward to Sultan. He finally made cabinet last September in the much less onerous role of minister of state for seniors. A brilliant choice. He is one of nature’s gentlemen, a rare intellectual patrician without airs who easily but rather shyly meets “ordinary” people and can relate to their situations.

Sultan soon put the Liberal show on the road for old people, as I prefer to call without euphemism those like my good self. I ran into him in April, crisply turned out with suit and tie and apparently fresh from political business. Aided by ministerial assistant Barb Ewens, he said he’d visited “50 or 60” B.C. communities (Terry Oaken in his office gave the final number: 68). In all, he said he talked to about 1,000 people.

He was surprised. Some told poignant stories. But few were angry or discontented. Most radiated what’s called “happiness economics,” pioneered by psychologist Abraham Maslow, whose work 50 years ago excited me. Maslow had the outrageous habit of studying happy people, an approach threatening to his Freudian peers, psychiatrists, pharmacists, scholars, social workers, journalists – hell, to Western civilization as we know it.

Levity aside, Sultan brought the Liberal message to an underestimated part of the electorate: Not the courted young, not the chattering political class, not the various parties’ phone-in squads and letter writers who distorted public perception, not the Twits and Internuts. No – old people who vote. Actually vote. Simple as that.

It would be entirely speculative to declare that Ralph Sultan single-handedly drew decisive votes to the party. Well, that’s the nice thing about it: It’s speculative. You can speculate right back, disagreeing. But I say that if anyone may have played a bigger role than met the eye, it would be well-respected Ralph Sultan.

. . .

Note: My dastardly election prophecy in no way was shaped by inside knowledge. I knew nothing of top-secret Liberal polls that predicted victory for Christy “Well, That Was Easy” Clark, and I didn’t chat up candidates. Both Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix’s aides (hello, Jan O’Brien) ignored my requests for lunch, and at Victoria’s Union Club at that. Their loss. My table talk can be wittily delightful.

. . .

Mayor Mike Smith backs Grosvenor’s West Van development. Fair enough. Here’s a radical idea: Why didn’t this huge company just follow WV’s community plan about building height and such? Would have won acceptance with a chic, smaller proposal.

Answer: Because the Grosvenor family, its scion the Duke Of Westminster who owns big, choice parts of central London, is fabulously, I mean fabulously rich, impresses and intimidates hell out of lousy little grateful councils, and with British charm is used to getting its own way. They don’t do small.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Whom is garbage pickup meant to benefit?

Appeared in the North Shore News – February 15, 2013

MARGARET Davies is spirited, witty, and as sharp as the memory of a first and last kiss. She proudly lives independently in her small Ambleside house. She is 93. And she is a perfect potential victim of West Van’s Garbage Gauleiters.

Margaret, a Second World War veteran, has a property unconducive to humping four categories of waste to the back lane any time, let alone for a nonagenarian on a pitch-black, stormy morning. A wonderful friend living blocks away usually helps.

As noted here recently, town hall’s busy bureaucrats have issued a trash diktat more complex than the Treaty of Utrecht. Most repressive: On collection day you must put out your trash not before 5 a.m., not after 7 a.m.

West Van is not alone. Philip Till, CKNW’s morning man, writes me: “I am also a victim of the guerre de garbage. In the District of North Vancouver it is verboten to put the garbage out the night before pickup. But as someone who must leave home before 4 a.m. it is not possible to rumble my full-sized Scheafer down the laneway for fear of waking up the folks next door.”

Till is among many whose work, play or flight schedule doesn’t fit the preposterous iron window of 5-7 a.m. Who’s in charge: the citizens – or the bureaucrats and private companies whose contract conveniences themselves?

Mayor Michael Smith made a fair point concerning the bear-aware program: “We must get smarter in disposing of our waste for both economic and environmental reasons,” he replied in response to my request. The 7 a.m. deadline minimizes the time garbage is left out: “Garbage attracts bears and it’s cruel to the animals, as they often have to be destroyed if they have become a nuisance.”

My solution: Extend the deadline to a civilized 9 a.m. and have the collectors start and finish later. Few bears will turn up that late. Self-interest will guide most homeowners.

The mayor concludes: “Our employees are expected to use their judgment. We do not want to ticket residents who have a need to put their cans out earlier.”

. . .

The parking ticket issue is the stuff of fiasco: A bylaw, unknown even to insiders, that forbids parking in the same block twice in the same day, and allegations that the bylaw office told some protesters that they had no legal recourse, just pay up.

The first insanely punishes the driver who typically might park for lunch or shopping, then return to buy frozen groceries or whatever later.

The second is more serious. Challengers were misinformed, either out of ignorance or knowingly.

The fact is that anyone ticketed for alleged bylaw infractions in the three North Shore municipalities can challenge a ticket. First step: a screening officer will get in touch and may decide to cancel the ticket forthwith.

If not, and still unsatisfied? For a $25 fee you can demand adjudication – a little-known process, and in cynical moments I suspect municipalities are happy to keep it that way. Check the back of the ticket.

North Vancouver city and district and West Vancouver pioneered in agreeing to this system in 2004, bluntly because – contracted to a private agency – it’s cheaper all around than provincial court trials. The positive side: Much less formal, can even be conveniently conducted over the phone. The negative: Public and media very rarely attend (hearings are at North Van city hall). Recall the principle: Justice, to be done, must be seen to be done.

Praise for the editors of this paper – no sucking up here; I’ve given them many headaches in my time – for the pointed editorial and the editor’s note attached to Mark Chan’s letter published last Friday.

Chan has a long title encompassing a huge range: Director of lands, bylaws, First Nations and legal affairs. He has fought serious flu since December and I lashed myself for grilling him when he was so ill, especially about the allegations that the bylaw office misinformed ticketed callers. While on the phone he walked into the bylaw department and said he redistributed instructions on procedure regarding challenges.

Now an off-the-cuff ruling by Mr. Justice Lautens: The bylaw is faulty, too broad, and/or open to an officer’s abuse, because of these italicized words: “No person may cause or permit a vehicle to move from one location to another in the same block to avoid the time limit regulations specified in that particular block.”

Question: How can officers know the driver’s motivation – “to avoid” the law – unless they personally observe the driver get in a parked vehicle, move it to another space in the same block, and leave it? The three writers of letters published in this paper did no such thing.

I’d guess the officers just wrote the tickets, shrugged, reminded themselves they were just following orders, and left the drivers to pay up or stew in the procedural juice, and the hell with it.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013