Woodfibre LNG thumbs-up no real surprise

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 18, 2016

West Vancouver council voted unanimously against it. At least 9,000 people signed a petition damning it. Hostility toward it bristled at three public meetings.

So, no surprise, the Woodfibre liquefied natural gas project on beautiful Howe Sound got the thumbs-up, ultimately from the only thumb that counts, the prime minister’s or his proxy’s.

Right, the premier’s thumb also chimed in – why not mix metaphors, just for laughs? And the First Nation thumb will be on the scale, once its benefits are successfully negotiated.

Obvious. After the obligatory ritualistic bow to the environment, the human race’s relentless expansionism, the project’s corporate dollars, jobs and politics will always trump nature. (Hmmm, I’ll look for a better verb than trump.)

So the public consultation was the usual charade. I’d wager my record as a trained skeptic that the decision to go ahead with the relatively small $1.6-billion project was a fait accompli at the highest levels – the only impediments being the long-depressed price of LNG and international competition.

As Constant Reader will recall, my conscience is troubled by this area’s bland acceptance of tankers, pipelines and so forth – elsewhere. Not in our million-dollar-and-up backyards.

All credit to Liberal MLA Jordan Sturdy – this is his riding, West Vancouver-Sea to Sky – for up-front honesty. While opponents raged, Sturdy supported the project, partly for its tax benefits. A yawning contrast with the area’s MP, the federal riding confusedly called (couldn’t a less overlapping name have been chosen?) West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country.

I’ve been on the Pam Goldsmith-Jones watch for years, and once again I’m fascinated by, even admire, her non-stick political record as West Van mayor, her survival smarts, and her agile ascent to higher levels. I’d roll out that record again, but space is limited.

Teflon Pam repeatedly ignored my emails last spring soliciting her opinion on Woodfibre, yea or nay; adroitly chaired three heated open houses on the matter without doing so; and, cornered at a meeting at Gibsons whether she’d heard anybody favouring the project, responded: “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.”

Which raises the question: Where, exactly, had she gone?

Indefatigable Woodfibre opponent Eoin Finn stated that her 50/50 claim “beggars belief,” citing 9,000 signatories to the (Save) Howe Sound Declaration and the B.C. Environment Assessment Office process, reflecting more than 90 per cent opposition. Finn noted that the approval coincidentally occurred days before the provincial Liberal annual convention. Tsk tsk, what a cynic. Finn declares opponents of the project aren’t giving up.

• • •

The Old Frenchman, so often quoted here, mused: “Les extremes se touchent,” which my learned readers will easily translate as “the extremes touch” – more broadly, “the extremes resemble one another.” Hitler and Stalin claimed radically clashing ideologies. But they were tyrants united by mass murder.

On a fortunately milder matter, Donald Trump and his sore-loser detractors similarly share a bond: They’re fair-weather friends of democracy. On side when they win elections, outta there when they lose them.

Trump’s most reprehensible, even unprecedented, campaign turn wasn’t the sex thing or even predicting prison bars in Hillary Clinton’s future. It was his zero-evidence accusation that the election was rigged, and – as calmly as a psychopathic killer – his declaration that he’d wait to see the results before accepting them. He won. His “rigging” allegation instantly vanished.

The protesters? Hey, why the bellyachin,’ guys? The Republicans won the presidency (by the weird rules), the Senate, the House of Representatives. Democracy.

But Trump championed the forgotten (and more), and only a bull could smash the cosy Washington china shop – D.C. voted 90 per cent for Clinton, four per cent for the vulgarian  – which Trump is. Or was? In a trice, knives sheathed, Trump made statesmanlike noises, and Barack Obama and, briefly, Clinton rose graciously to the moment. They’re politicians. Actors, you know.

It’s a gamble writing about this shifting surrealism. All could change by the time you read these words. As for the overwhelming media bias for Clinton, it recalls the apocryphal son who was ashamed to tell his mother he was working in the news business. So he told her he played piano in a house of ill repute.

• • •

I can’t and wouldn’t want to recommend a candidate for councillor on the eve of West Vancouver’s very important byelection tomorrow – when there’s no time for rebuttal. Just get out and vote.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Candidates’ nomination papers provide a snapshot

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 4, 2016

The Old Frenchman said that a man is better revealed by his possessions than by anything he says, or claims to think or believe.

So here is a taste of the possessions of the 12 candidates in West Vancouver’s Nov. 19 council byelection – on which millions of private and public dollars may hang by the thread of a single vote (think Grosvenor) – from their required nomination papers.

Note: “Property” doesn’t include a principal residence. “Assets” and “corporate assets” are, murkily, separate entries; I’ve lumped them together. “Income” means remuneration for services – other income, from stock etc. not included. “Liabilities” don’t include residential property debt or money borrowed for household or personal living expenses. So a candidate could have a $3-million home mortgage and $75K credit card debt, not required to report. That said, here’s the list:

David Ayriss. Own financial agent. No liabilities, no income. Property: Whistler; 70 Mile Creek. Assets: shares in 22 Canadian and 11 U.S. companies and funds.

Farzaneh Bamani. Own financial agent. No assets, liabilities, income or property.

Joanna Baxter. Financial agent: Michael Preto. No liabilities or property. Income: owner, Joanna Baxter Design; employee, Hive Management Inc.

Tom Dodd. Own financial agent. No liabilities. Owns jointly with wife 466895 BC Ltd, DBA Grantham Publishing. Income: part owner/director of Grantham. Property: 2065 East Second St., Vancouver.

Tara Haddad. Financial agent: Lorana Mangali. No assets, liabilities, or property. Income: director, Aspire Math Academy and Jackson & Co. Chartered Accountants; employee, Royal LePage Sussex.

Rosa Jafari. Own financial agent. No property. Liabilities: StudentAid B.C., M. Seraj. Income: business consultant, self-employed. Assets: Rimex International Trading Co. (“not active”).

Jon Johnson. No liabilities, property or assets. Income: employee, Clairmont Camera Inc.

David A. Jones. Own financial agent. No liabilities or property. Assets and income: owner, president, Jones Custom Framing Inc.

Andrew Krawczyk. Financial agent: Robert Patterson. Assets: six bank funds. No liabilities, income or property.

Peter Lambur. Own financial agent. No liabilities. Assets and income: Peter Lambur Architect Inc.

Vernon Pahl. Own financial agent. Liabilities: left blank. Property: 5504 Marine Dr. (home address). Assets: pension and three funds. Income: partner, Guild Yule LLP.

Carolanne Reynolds. Financial agent: George Pajari. No liabilities or income. Assets: “Various corporations via mutual funds.”

Moving on: Why did the WV Chamber of Commerce schedule its meeting only three days before the election, little time for letters to the editor or other reaction?

Why is attendance only by RSVP – arguably allowing nimble factions or special interests to (already?) pack the meeting?

Ha, a mind corroded by journalistic suspicion! Leagh Gabriel, C of C executive director, crisply and quickly replied: “We chose the date because that was when Kay Meek was available.  …  Being a byelection we have no idea how many will attend so the request for RSVP is to give us an idea. If it’s a small turnout we will host it in the small studio downstairs.”

• • •

The U.S. presidential election: The undersigned fears for America’s next four, eight years – whoever wins. Scenarios:

Hillary Clinton wins. Elite Washington breathes easy. Major crisis triggers civil chaos. A young charismatic white firebrand emerges, championing angry whites and promising to restore order and make America greater than Donald Trump ever mouthed off about.

Donald Trump wins. Trump moves toward the centre, disillusioning his furious core constituency. A young, charismatic etc.

Second possibility: Trump begins carrying out his agenda – and can’t control the beast he’s unleashed. A young, charismatic etc.

Alarmism? Hope so.

U.S. columnist Ilana Mercer – who began her career in Canada, as she often acknowledges, and in this very paper – is a true original, a self-described paleolibertarian. Google “Disenfranchisement of Poor Whites Under Hillary.”

Among the points in Mercer’s blog post: Fashionable ideology considers all whites privileged. It ‘‘overlooks the descendants of poor white Southern sharecroppers who did not own slaves …  and with respect to education and income mirror those of the region’s African-Americans, with one distinction: poor whites are barred from affirmative action programs.”

Mercer isn’t alone. Under the head The Original Underclass, the September edition of The Atlantic – which passionately backs Clinton – reviewed White Trash: The 400-Year-Old Untold History of a Class in America by Nancy Isenberg.

Last words: Investment adviser Richard C. Young predicts Americans will elect Trump: ‘‘They have questions about Trump, but they know exactly who Clinton is.’’

What if a renewed FBI investigation confirms they didn’t know all? Nightmare: She’s elected. FBI recommends charges. Already the “i-word” – impeachment – has emerged.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

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

Soccer donation in bureaucratic limbo

Appeared in the North Shore News – July 3, 2015

Speaking personally as a notorious skinflint, just how a West Vancouver barber charging 15 bucks for an old-guy’s haircut can do it is beyond my comprehension.

“It” being good-deeds citizen Michel Ibrahim’s shouldering of a baffling burden in Beirut — nicked $3,500 in customs and import fees, a large nick for any barber. Plus an escalating bill of $50 a day for storage, imposed by airport authorities on his charitable shipment of used soccer equipment for displaced Syrian kids in Lebanese refugee camps.

Talk about taking a haircut.

Latest: John Weston, MP for West Vancouver — Sunshine Coast — Sea to Sky Country, has tried to bring a good-news ending to Christine Lyons’s story on Ibrahim that first ran in these pages in November.

Ibrahim, assisted by volunteer Sam Abou-Khazaal, says he’s helped 17,000 children in 30 countries over two decades to play the beautiful game that requires leather balls. But this particular shipment — flown gratis by Air Canada — stalled in Beirut International Airport, as Tereza Verenca described in May in the North Shore News.

Ibrahim was a high school teacher in his native Lebanon. He lived through Lebanon’s devastating 20th-century turmoil, which sucked in Syria, Iran, Israel, Hezbollah, the PLO, the Arab League, Christians, and Sunni and Shia Muslims.

You wonder if, in such a murderously divisive milieu, Ibrahim, or anyone, could survive without alienating some political or religious team or other. Then again, perhaps the shipment is in bureaucratic limbo only because it’s from a non-registered charity.

Ibrahim has been in Canada 25 years, in Vancouver 17. He’s a soccer-sized man of 55. Soccer-sized: This is the quintessential game for well-knit, medium-tall athletes, not North American football’s ox-like guards, or hockey’s hunks where anyone under six-two and 200 pounds is too small for the big time.

He’s a proud Canadian — recently he spoke with glee, in the first-person plural, of his adopted nation’s women’s soccer team (and short years ago who would have predicted 54,000 people piling into a Vancouver stadium for women’s soccer — or any — soccer?).

But Ibrahim’s flag-festooned barber shop in the 1300-block of Marine Drive shouts soccer religion at all levels. He has a soccer school, plays for two teams, coaches three, and is a BC Soccer referee.

Conservative MP Weston is puzzled that Ibrahim’s goods “are being held up for opaque reasons.” In May Weston wrote a letter on the impasse to the Lebanese embassy, and recently renewed the contact. “We feel there isn’t a breakthrough but it looks like a step forward,” he said. He calls Ibrahim “a great humanitarian.”

Looks somewhat more challenging than tuning a barber shop quartet. To raise money, Ibrahim offered a one-day soccer workshop in Ambleside Aug. 9 for 20 kids, registration fee $50.

Afterwards “the players can come back to my barber shop for a free haircut.”

Ibrahim recently posted: “We’ve just been told that I have until July 22 to pay the custom fees, which now total close to $6,000. If I don’t, the equipment will be confiscated.”

Either way, the workshop will go ahead. Donations, currently totalling $2,500 can be made at the barber shop or follow michelhd@shaw.ca.

Weston is an optimist: “He’s got a dream, and he’s not going to let money or other difficulties get in his way.”

• • •

I polled West Vancouver council members: “Are you generally satisfied with the scale, pace and character of development in West Vancouver?” A pretty broad question, true.

Quick off the mark, Mayor Michael Smith replied: “West Vancouver has by far the slowest growth in Metro Vancouver — less than 0.5 per cent per year. There is less need for single family homes, more condos and townhouses are required. This density needs to happen in Ambleside, Horseshoe Bay and in the proposed Cypress Park Village. A change to our building bylaws needs to ensure that replacement houses fit better into existing neighbourhoods.”

Coun. Mary-Ann Booth: “I’m concerned that residents are suffering from construction fatigue in their neighbourhoods: too much, too big, and too impactful to cherished enjoyment and character. In our  town centre, on the other hand, we are not doing enough to support commercial vibrancy, and housing options near transit amenities.”

Coun. Michael Lewis: “I am not satisfied with the scale, pace and character of development in West Van. Some of my concerns are being addressed as part of the current ‘Housing Bulk’ (report).’ But movement on different forms of residential housing to meet the articulated desires of our residents and on improving the commercial areas remain outstanding.”

Coun. Nora Gambioli: “I am absolutely not satisfied with our single-family home development; the scale is too big, the pace is too fast, and any character is rarely present. Other than single family, I am satisfied with most of the recent development decisions.”

No response from the other three council members. With my usual charity, I well understand life gets in the way of other life.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

There’s a new kid on the development block

Appeared in the North Shore News – December 5, 2014

If you loved the Weegies, as I tenderly call the West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government, you may adore the West Vancouver Housing Association.

The WVHA is a new kid on the development block. Literally. It has a storefront in Dundarave. Two well-placed, mystified West Van town hall personages agreed with the undersigned that, as of last week, they’d never seen it open. Nor did it have a website. Or any Googleable reference.

Agent Tj3s8 – a development skeptic, so take the opinion with a large grain of NaCl – says the WVHA consists of “the worst” real estate heavies, the most powerful developers and salespeople. Meaning the best, biggest, most successful, by positive interpretation.

And why is the WVHA springing into life now?

Because next month West Van council begins serious debate on an updated official community plan, which will take many months to pass.

In that time gap, so goes the cynical view of Agent Tj3s8, the real estate business will put foot to the floor to rush town hall development approvals before a possibly more stringent OCP is passed.

Pretty much like the self-interest of all of us when our dollar is at stake.

Fittingly next up, gloomy retail news: Baracos + Brand is closing – a quality men’s store that would have attracted well-heeled residents of Grosvenor Ambleside, steps down Bellevue, had it held on for a few years.

Christine Baracos and late West Van councillor John Clark co-owned the store under the smartly named The Mensroom. Its successor’s closure supports Mayor Michael Smith’s case that many Ambleside businesses are suffering near-death experiences, and Grosvenor is a major step toward rejuvenation.

So Smith (and Grosvenor) must welcome the reborn Shell station across Marine Drive, long an inglorious mudhole entrance to Ambleside that hardly enhances sales of condos – which, Agent p49scR, a new agent whose accuracy is untested and is only on the apprentice list, declares are projected to start at $1.6 million and, for the two penthouse-type terrace homes, will be north of $15 million each.

Michael Ward, senior vice-president and general manager of Grosvenor Americas, responds: “Price lists are not something we distribute, but rather we provide those that are interested in purchasing specific residential units with the individual pricing for that unit.” Grosvenor Ambleside’s presentation centre will be completed in February, Ward adds.

As Constant Reader knows, my only journalistic fault is an abiding kindness.

So I’ve been musing about my words, last time at bat, about Coun. Craig Cameron’s pain that council duties were costing him – he has to take time off from what we might call real work. He’s right.

Most present councillors are either retired or aren’t principal or sole breadwinners.

Exceptions are Cameron, a government lawyer who has lost income due to council demands, and newcomer Christine Cassidy, a financial adviser, who may find herself in the same financial boat – a metaphorical leaky 12-foot rowboat. Councillors are paid about $30,000 a year for running a municipality where top staff get up to seven or eight times as much.

So vote-topping Cameron isn’t whining. He’s just more open than others about the sacrificial realities of council service in 2014.

I allow myself one sports comment per year. This is it: My deep distrust of contact sports – football and, yes, hockey, about which I have a puckish sense of humour – deepened last weekend.

Hamilton, my home town (only 51 years away from it, seems like 52), crushed favoured Calgary with a touchdown in the last 35 seconds of the Grey Cup game … but for an interference call that wiped out Brandon Banks’ classic 90-yard run to the end zone. And left Calgary’s 20-16 lead intact. From my seat in Section 444, the referee instantly resembled the man who ain’t got rhythm, nobody’s with him, he’s the loneliest man in town (that’s Irving Berlin, kiddies).

Vancouver Sun sports writers mocked the illegal block call. Iain MacIntyre doubted that Taylor Reed’s infraction influenced Banks’ spectacular run: “By CFL standards, deciding the Grey Cup on largely innocuous contact was absolutely predictable.” Cam Cole: “That’s not to say there wasn’t a foul on the play. The problem is that there’s a foul, or two, or five, on pretty much every play in football.”

(Canada’s real gridiron drama was Saturday, when my school, Hamilton’s McMaster, bowed 20-19 to University of Montreal Carabins on a dying-seconds blocked field goal. Two hometown losses in a weekend!) Back to the point: In hockey, as in football, the line between fair and foul is often so subjective, so arbitrary – penalties commonly aren’t called in overtime, f’r instance – that refs have huge power to determine winners and losers.

Which is why baseball is my game. The umpires – suitably black-clad – are clearly God clones. Never wrong. Sort of like old newspaper columnists.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Weegies’ waning influence shows at polls

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 21, 2014

The victors’ last drop of Spanish champagne has been drunk, the losers are taking justified consoling pride in their sacrifice to the democratic process.

Moving on, what are the top 10 problems facing West Vancouver’s barely changed council?

1. Parking. 2. Ambleside rejuvenation. 3. Parking. 4. Stimulating business. 5. Parking. 6. Competing with Park Royal. 7. Parking. 8. Restraining Metro-topping town hall – mostly staff – costs. 9. Parking. 10. Neighbourhood consultation and protection. And, if there were a No. 11, how about parking?

Pointedly, the two naysayers against the 1300-block Grosvenor project, incumbent councillors Craig Cameron and Nora Gambioli, topped the polls – finishing one-two, the only candidates above the 5,000-vote mark.

The victory party leftovers were hardly stale before Cameron revealed he had polled all councillors and “can confirm none of us will participate in the (West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government) process next election, unless the process radically changes.” So, it would seem the Weegies are finally dead, at least in their current form. Yes, the long-powerful Weegies, as I fondly call them, were mauled in last Saturday’s election. Four of their six council choices tanked.

Cameron and Gambioli speedily vault to the list of future mayoral candidates, levitating to contender status with Couns. Michael Lewis and establishment-backed Mary-Ann Booth.

Cameron and Gambioli aren’t your usual evasive politicos. Darkly handsome Cameron is something of a soul-barer. Like confessing that council duties are more demanding and incomeshaving than he expected. Which could be interpreted as a whine about something politicians quickly discover but won’t admit – inviting the retort: Like, so why did you run for office?

Gambioli spoke up about the real estate industry’s secretive pressure on council to lay off trying to limit house size and, by implication, other restraints on their deflowering our beautiful town. She also told CBC’s Rick Cluff that there were only 21 people, 16 of them directors, at the WVCGG selection meeting – a handful of Weegies wielding ridiculous influence, the norm since 1972. But not this time.

Another eyebrow-raiser: Booth, dropped from the Weegie slate and shaken – I believe truly hurt – by the rejection, finished third. Was she helped by her surprise 11th-hour announcement that her lawyer husband would no longer work for Grosvenor, a connection that forced her to abstain from the Grosvenor debate? Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson made a last-minute confession too. Did both pick up the humility vote, touching hearts of a forgiving electorate?

Lewis took fifth spot, reflecting the still-potent power of the Weegies to punish candidates who refuse to kiss the Weegie ring, foot, hand, or other parts of the anatomy. He’s the revolutionary who defied the Weegies in 2008, and has won twice since. So he was the pioneer worrisome wedge in the Weegies, if you can say that without laughing.

At all-candidates meetings the Weegie name drew snickers. Getting its approval has all but guaranteed a sumptuous victory party. This time Weegie backing more likely was a predictor of Kraft dinner. Only Bill Soprovich, who has a lock on eternal re-election but slipped to fourth in the 15-candidate field, and Cameron, a bit of a puzzling Weegie choice considering his dissident Grosvenor vote, were winners among its six recommendations.

The Weegie nod may actually have been fatal to Jim Finkbeiner, nice (and improving during the campaign) Joanna Baxter, Michael Evison and Peter Lambur, the latter a potential asset to council but still lacking political chops – he ran unsuccessfully 18 years ago.

Lewis was the only candidate in my hearing – unless I was on a washroom break – who offered a concrete plan above the usual campaign pledges of accessibility, openness, inclusiveness, honesty and a promise to send cards on Mother’s Day.

He outlined his “10 and 10” plan to rein in town hall costs. He noted that from 2004 to 2013 WV’s population rose less than one per cent but its operating costs 46.9 per cent, of which 80.11 per cent are staff salaries. (CKNW business guru Michael Campbell believes bureaucrat pensions are an economic time bomb.)

The intriguing council newcomer is Christine Cassidy. At the C of C-sponsored meeting she made by far the best pitch – clear, forthright and without notes. Candidates who stand and read their spiel seem dead to how off-putting it is.

Cassidy has a knot of dedicated backers with almost religious zeal. “I sought and was offered no endorsements,” she declares. “I paid for my own campaign with the exception of four nominal contributions.” When she pledges action “in the best interests of all citizens,” even a hardened cynic hopes there’s no awakening to how utterly impossible that is.

Don’t underestimate how tough this campaign was – and the next four years too? – for the ostensible bystander, twice-acclaimed Mayor Michael Smith. No wonder he’s taken a holiday. Just look again at those 10 problems he and his council face.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Defiance of Weegie’s blessing brings hope

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 7, 2014

Where to start? How about in November 2018 – when, let us pray, some tough opposition group coalesces to take on Weegie?

Ah, Weegie’s just my private name for the West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government, run by a tiny core of self-proclaimed civic do-gooders, heavy on implementers of the development industry. It’s a one-party town, a kinder version of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR, minus the gulag and the show trials. Website is a joke – its email address doesn’t work, and no phone number.

Glaring omission from its slate (endorsed council candidates pay $900 for the precious Weegie nod): Coun. Mary-Ann Booth. Why? Smart lady. Very West Vancouver. Ambitious.

Likely future mayoral candidate. But she had to recuse herself from the Grosvenor debates and votes, her husband being a lawyer for a firm hired by Grosvenor – otherwise, wild guess, she’d have backed it. So Mayor Michael Smith had to sweat to get the precious tie-breaking approval vote. Make no mistake: Now twice acclaimed, Smith’s vision implicitly endorsed, this is his town. (Credit where due: His council kept tax rises under one per cent.)

How about Agent Y3nPg6’s claim that three prominent political hitpersons are gunning for Couns. Nora Gambioli and Craig Cameron?

Their supposed sin: They voted against the Grosvenor development, thus proof they’re anti-development. Weegie-endorsed Cameron seethes: Says he’s no such thing, just sought a smaller project. Had the jam to admit changing his mind about the ridiculous Ferry Building extension.

As for Gambioli, she let the feline out of the Gucci when she said WV council battles behind closed doors because “Realtors, land investors and developers have sent us many emails voicing their rather livid concerns about these plans to debate reductions to new home volumes.” Surprised? Cue George Bernard Shaw (see his Saint Joan at the Stanley): The best-kept secrets are the ones everybody guesses.

It all fits: With Booth, now a Kremlinesque Weegie non-person, and Gambioli hopefully exiled, the Weegies have sent into the lineup pinch-hitters Peter Lambur, Joanna Baxter and Jim Finkbeiner. Impressive careers. Zero political experience. No accident, says my theory. The Weegies want, possibly sought out, reliable neophytes. They’ll be beholden.

Hey, no dirty works. Conventional politics. Just like in Ottawa or Victoria. Team player, or out. Smith needs a council majority.

Otherwise, why Baxter, nice woman, shaky speaker, and why Finkbeiner, who recites his c.v., empty of content concerning WV politics?

Story making rounds about Finkbeiner: Early on, he asked where town hall is. Whaaattt? His explanation: “No, I was just kidding a couple of people. We have good friends who live right around the corner of the municipal hall.” His brochure boasts two pages of nationwide accomplishments – and no contact info. (Hastily reprinted, now added.)

Intermission, light relief: Clear winner of Most Unlikely Former Oakalla Prison Guard – svelte, stylish and smart council candidate Christine Cassidy. Yes, briefly, after graduation. Today a stockbroker, and passionate fund-raiser. A voice for slopitch development.

Coun. Michael Lewis’s campaign launch featured big backers, including Smith, former mayors Ron Wood and Pamela Goldsmith-Jones (who I believe don’t exchange Christmas cards), and former B.C. attorney general and councillor Russ Fraser.

However different politically, Lewis (again) disdained Weegie endorsement. Also Terry Platt, an actual working person and New Democrat and thus hardly a fit councillor for West Vancouver anyway.

Lewis is a strong future mayoral candidate – and his quietly successful repeat defiance of Weegie’s blessing brings hope before 2018 of a fresh political alignment challenging this stuffy little clique. Otherwise Lewis is no rebel, certainly not anti-development, a rubbery term. Platt (thrice, not twice as I recently reported, an unsuccessful provincial candidate against ageless Ralph Sultan) is a platform favourite.

Coun. Bill Soprovich – West Van’s all-time election champ, perhaps? – is a populist who personally trots around to listen to any aggrieved citizen, but Sop, as he’s fondly known, can’t be categorized as anti-development. Nothing is so black and white. Newcomers, oldcomers, we all live in developments. Hold the hypocrisy.

Personal regret: In the 2011 elections I blandly declared that Carolanne Reynolds, tireless chronicler of council meetings and defender of heritage, was more valuable outside council than in. Bad me. That shouldn’t disqualify her. Few know more of our town.

At this writing no council candidate proposes any means of stopping neighbour-insensitive bloated houses like Dong Biao Huang’s and Catherine Zhao’s on Kensington Crescent.

Does your reps’ wealth interest you? Fascinating public information: Return-match candidate Michael Evison holds stock in 38 companies; Finkbeiner in 29 (he evidently likes Supreme Pharma, 100,000 shares); Cassidy in 65, including 521.636 in Fidelity Northstar Fund and 812.056 in Manulife US Large Cap. Well, sure, she’s a stockbroker – the Oakalla prison guard gig rather far behind her.

And then some candidates declare no investments at all. Why do I cynically suspect that the spouse evasively holds the shares?

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

Behind council’s sober second thoughts

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 15, 2014

Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow was bloodier, but West Van council’s U-turn on its slamming of proposed liquefied natural gas tankers on Howe Sound was quicker.

Councillors at the Aug. 4 meeting volubly backed off their unanimous decision two weeks earlier when they had asked Ottawa to ban Asian-bound tankers from waters uncomfortably close to the western shores of West Vancouver.

I pause. Let’s be fair. This is what politicians should do more often, right? – have sober second thoughts, admitting mistakes first time around.

By this measure, Mayor Michael Smith deserves praise for the frankness that slick politicians avoid when they give a 3,000-word, non-answer to an unwanted interview question.

At the second-thoughts council meeting Aug. 4, Smith commendably took full responsibility for the July 21 decision.

“All blame lies at the feet of the chairman of the meeting,” Smith was quoted by News reporter Jeremy Shepherd. “My legendary impatience sometimes gets the better of me after over an hour of going around in circles on a debate. You get desperate to call a question, any question.” (If you can recall any time that former mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones publicly admitted to her blunders, jog my memory.)

On that point – what the hell did we agree to? – Coun. Craig Cameron was equally candid: “I didn’t know what we voted for.” His only vote he’s been embarrassed about in three years on council, he confessed.

Returning now to my usual sunny cynicism: Why council’s hasty retreat?

Wild guess: Largely because John Weston, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country – the LNG tankers would sail through the population heart of his riding – wacked council’s motion, the way it was passed, and its timing. Otherwise he’s OK with it, one might drily say.

Strange. Does Weston carry such clout? Another wild guess: Yes, if he’s the messenger boy for the big guy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and by proxy for an equally agitated Premier Christy Clark. (As indispensable Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer recently noted, Clark vowed in 2011 that the first LNG export venture would be “operational by 2015.” Not.)

If my take is correct, Harper, Clark and the oil and gas industry don’t need the distraction of yet another protest.

The Howe Sound LNG plant, a subsidiary of Pacific Oil and Gas, owned by a Singapore billionaire, would be small potatoes compared with the proposed Northern Noway Gateway project. But it’s our small potatoes. The issue hits close to home.

So was council’s first decision correct? Or its second? Or will it be its third, next month? Coun. Michael Lewis expects more information will uphold council’s original decision opposing the project.

Predictably, industry leaders say LNG is safe. Predictably, opponents, including chemistry doctorate Eoin Finn, cite the worst case: An LNG tank explosion destroyed a square mile of Cleveland and killed 130 in 1944.

Extraction industries are locally popular, generating prosperity and jobs. Unless something goes hugely wrong. Hello, Mount Polley.

Agent 7p2sd4g angrily writes: “Just as dear old Dal Richards was about to sign off on his delightful Harmony Arts concert at John Lawson Park (Aug. 7), who should enter, accompanied by 100 or so (mostly) female followers, right at the foot of the stage, but Justin Trudeau. Absolutely tasteless, and downright rude. Poor Dal looked shell-shocked.”

Or was Dal willingly cooperating? We may never know.

Also speculative: Lisa King’s front-page photo in the Aug. 7 News was a great shot – worthy of an award-winner – of Justin Trudeau dancing in a steamy, almost orgasmic clinch with Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, John Weston’s Liberal opponent in next May’s federal election. But was it winning politics? My guess is that it turned off as many voters as it turned on.

Agent C8tt0j4 reports “turmoil” at CKNW. Right, vertigo must be swirling in management/ownership heads – dropping its best and most loyally listened-to segment, Cutting Edge of the Ledge, with top Victoria-watchers Vaughn Palmer and Keith Baldrey, hosted by Bill Good. The Three Wise Men, I called them.

Except for sharp Mike Smyth, NW is wildly shuffling the deck, conscripting mostly affiliate Global TV staffers as temp fill-ins replacing

Good and Philip Till – it’s radio’s new Amateur Hour. Complete disclosure: I hold parent company Corus Entertainment stock. I sell my shares, you guys could be done like dinner!

Closing in Ambleside: Familiar, colourful and long-established Amadeo, and Redfish Kids Clothing, consolidating its business at its Hornby Street store after only two years in West Van.

One of my most respected Agents, Y8c5scu, conjectures what town hall will never admit about the delay in a joint police-fire department building: The police and firefighters don’t like each other (not a unique wariness). The plan for a “combined safety building” in fact showed two separate edifices joined only by an atrium.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014

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