Van’s unhappy rules of engagement

Appeared in the North Shore News – February 1, 2013

So, West Vancouverites, are you happy with the iron rule of the Garbage Gestapo and Trash Marxists?

You may have quickly detected I’m not. You got that right.

Garbage in West Van will be collected only every two weeks starting April 22. On collection day it must be placed at the curb in the narrow window between 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. Not before 5. Not after 7:30. Or the heavy hand of the bylaw bullies will strike you down.

The worker who comes home after midnight must set his/her alarm to groggily tramp down the driveway, in moist darkness six months a year, bearing gifts to appease the Trash Gods. Or, since few people in the Best Part of the Best Place in the World actually work in any sense recognizable to the toiling masses, he/she struggles home after a hard night of partying or attending opera to do likewise – maybe choosing to put the trash in the BMW and back it down the driveway, rather than hoist the obligatory four (!) separate categories of waste manually.

Imagine the frail older West Vancouverite, perhaps taking medicine that encourages deep sleep, being nudged awake by Rick Cluff’s or Philip Till’s gentle radio voice at such an uncivilized time. Add rain or snow and there’s a threat to life and limb.

And don’t expect mercy from the bylaw bullies. This is the department that didn’t haul back its hyper-zealous officious officer who several summers ago made lightning strikes on about 500 astonished dog-walkers. Some old people wept at the meetings then-Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones called to soothe them. The ticket-writer’s boss backed him up unreservedly, and her boss coincidentally retired. She later moved on to lucky Surrey. (The officer’s contract ran out – whereupon he quietly got a less visible job elsewhere in the town hall empire.)

Has much changed? Ken Prescott related in a letter to the editor Jan. 15 that he parked in the library’s two-hour lot for 20 minutes, then returned later to drop off another item, parking 15 minutes. Fined! Yes, $35 for parking twice in the same day in the sacred library lot! That’s an offence! Who knew? I doubt that even super-informed council-watchers Carolanne Reynolds and George Pajari were aware of this grotesque bylaw.

Stalin’s apparatchiks couldn’t have dreamt up a more oppressive regimen of trash rules than those laid out in a glossy brochure by the environmental ideologues and their bureaucratic henchmen at town hall. A taste:

“Limits per home, per collection day: Two 77 L garbage cans or bags. Max weight: 20 kg (45 lb.) per can or bag OR Two 121 L cans containing one 77 L bag each. Max weight: 20 kg (45 lb.) each OR One 121 L can with no more than two 77 L bags. Max weight: 40 kg (90 lb.). . . .

“The use of bungee cords/ straps, rope or string to tie lids is prohibited and will result in your garbage or Green Can not being collected. Place Blue and Yellow Bags next to your Blue Box (not inside). . . . Cut cardboard down to fit inside the Yellow Bag or neatly tie in bundles measuring no larger than 60 cm x 60 cm x 15 cm high (2′ x 2′ x 6″ high.). Tie securely with biodegradable string. No wire or plastic strapping.” I’m taking university courses easier than remembering this stuff.

In the 1960s, Lonnie Donegan famously warbled “My Old Man’s a Dustman” – British-speak for garbageman. Now everybody’s old man is a dustman. Give Dad industrial scales and measuring tape for Christmas.

As for the every-two-weeks collection: Pray for a cold summer – for the bears’ sake too.

. . .

Speaking of George Pajari: Former councillor Shannon Walker asked WV council to waive a community amenity contribution (CAC) of $750,000-plus for a redevelopment of the family’s Walker Building on Bellevue Avenue, its floor area ratio (FAR) planned to expand from 1.44 to 2.16. Town hall staff backed her.

In a footnote-loaded presentation, Pajari alleged “questionable and misleading information” in the application. Coun. Craig Cameron picked up on Pajari’s claim that staff had misled councillors. Council was convinced by Pajari’s detailed objections and agreed that the CAC should apply – an implied sharp rebuke to the bureaucrats, and, I’d say, raising a serious question of confidence.

. . .

A big loss to Park Royal Shopping Centre: One of its liveliest businesses and a bright spot in the south mall, The British Newsagent, left for lower-rent premises at 3195 Edgemont Boulevard in North Vancouver, where it was scheduled to reopen today. It offered British foods, sweets, tea, soccer team mementoes and such, had a brisk sale of lottery tickets, and its huge racks displayed far and away the biggest range of magazines in West Vancouver. It leaves an amenity hole not easily filled.

. . .

One of journalism’s joys is interviewing smart, intriguing people like Jordan Sturdy and Robin Smith, seeking the Liberal nomination (Feb. 15-16) in retiring Joan McIntyre’s West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding. Profiles planned. Rumoured aspirant: Geoffrey Cowper, author of a major law reform report and tipped as a future attorney-general. Abodes? Pemberton, North Vancouver (“just over Mosquito Creek”, the riding border) and Bowen Island respectively – none, note, in West Van.

Buzz about former TV anchor Pamela Martin and past WV mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones has faded.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Wrong time, wrong place for WV gallery

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 23, 2012

CHRISTMAS is coming, the goose is getting fat, so I’d hate to disappoint Constant Reader by being ho-ho-ho in favour of something

I stand by my proud record of rejection, most famously of the entire 20th century. (The 21st isn’t looking so hot either.)

Turning to Greater Tiddlycove, a.k.a. West Vancouver, I’m foursquare opposed to the pitch for an art gallery.

At Ambleside Beach. Or anywhere. Or for any unnecessary bauble that will stick it to taxpayers.

We can’t afford it. We – the entire Western world, the eastern world too, even Tiddlycove – are hurtling toward bankruptcy. Haven’t you read the papers? Or heard Michael Campbell’s dystopian predictions on CKNW?

Maybe not. Simple, trusting souls hold to a kind of implacable disbelief in financial talk. Too complicated. Boring. Even more, suspect. The fiscal cliff, sovereign debt, that’s just the governments, the banks and finance-page columnists jawing. Way above most people’s heads. Let the good times roll – back, back to where they were. Painlessly.

But that subject will wait for another day. Here and now, this is no time – if ever – to build an art gallery in West Van.

“A giant milestone for us,” Merla Beckerman said of the council’s supportive vote. No. A giant millstone.

Around paragraph 93 of the news report, the ugly – nay, philistinic – matter of money was gently raised. There isn’t any. There is only hope: That donations and grants will pay the “estimated” $25 million construction costs.

Don’t eat that, Elmer, as we used to say. In its earliest days, our glossy 21st Street community centre was estimated to cost $6 million. Completed, after blunders and delays, the final bill was north of $40 million, and it sucked town hall’s savings account dry.

Then there are operating costs for the proposed three-story, 28,000-square-foot building. Brent Leigh, deputy chief administrative officer, projects “private funding models” with “minimal district (i.e., taxpayer) support to pay those bills.”

A 12-month-a-year Santa Claus.

May I interrupt? I am not indifferent to art. Last month I bought three paintings, and about 10 in the last year or so, most by West Van and Bowen Island artists, including three by the under-recognized late Pam Scott, of Dundarave. One is by Tom Roberts, described as a member of the Group of Eight, if only there had been eight.

Of course I’ve been to the usual galleries. The Uffizi in Milan. The Tate. The Jeu de Paume in Paris and the predictable Louvre. The Guggenheim. The Art Institute of Chicago. The Buffalo. The Toronto. The Honolulu . . . never mind.

But those are trifles. I claim no expertise. In art, or anything. Only some familiarity with the art of spending other people’s money, i.e. taxpayers’, and the many petitioners of governments for their particular cause. The arts know no peer in this regard. OK, wouldn’t want to hurt the feelings of grasping sports team owners demanding free arenas or stadiums from grovelling city councils.

Back to West Van’s proposed art edifice. Build it, and who will come? That is – come more than once or twice a year?

Because art galleries are like poker: You have to keep shuffling the deck. The enthusiasts are relatively few, and they won’t pay an eye-blinking entrance fee, like the Vancouver Art Gallery’s, unless the displays are vigorously changed.

The VAG is a compelling example. The lobbyists for a new gallery in an inferior venue – the VAG enjoys a majestic building and a centre-of-town location that other galleries would drink linseed oil for – plead lack of wall space, that 9,500-odd paintings are stored unseen in its vaults.

Of which, I’d guess, 9,000 are so-so, not especially worth seeing. Galleries, desperate for funds, count on imported shows of international drawing power to stay alive – something like restaurants sustained by Saturday nights and retailers praying for a good Christmas.

Such VAG-level shows must appeal to those (like me) with marginal interest in and knowledge of art – who have to be told, expensively and often, that a five-month display of 16th-century Volcanovian church art, or le dernier cri from Paris, is an absolute must-see. An art gallery in our little town, pop. 44,000, would be nowhere in that league, of course.

No misunderstanding: Advocates like Ruth Payne, the widely experienced Merla Beckerman, Darrin Morrison and Michael Evison are good people in a nice cause.

But I’d say wrong time – and wrong place. Town hall will clear the last few (and valuable, for night-time safety alone) beachfront houses on Ambleside Beach, while plonking down a view-limiting three-storey building on a parking lot, with drivers already screaming for space? Spare us.

. . .

So it wasn’t a misprint: The B.C. Property Assessment Appeal Board really did reduce the value of B.C. Ferries’ Horseshoe Bay terminal from $47.9 million to $20. I’ll take 10 of them.

© Trevor Lautens, 2012

Kitimat refinery a billionaire’s pipe dream

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 31, 2012

PUNDITS and politicians may gas away all they want about oil pipelines and refineries, but let us turn to a local, hard-nosed expert for an informed opinion.

West Vancouver Mayor Mike Smith retired last year from more than a quarter of a century as owner-manager of M.R. Smith Ltd., wholesale distributor for Imperial Oil and ExxonMobil in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.

So what’s Smith’s take on the latest angle (or sideshow) of the giant Northern Gateway pipeline project – David Black’s out-of-the-blue suggestion of a refinery in Kitimat?

Blue, as in blue-skying. It’s a let’s-look-at-this idea, an industry outsider’s invitation to the old bulls of oildom to think afresh – rare and usually stonily resented in any industry.

To be sure, Black quietly studied the issue and made high-profile financial contacts. Interviewed, he’s been commendably open and has dodged no hard questions about his proposal. If he doesn’t know, he responds with a monosyllabic “no” – not the usual weaseling.

He’s put up his own money for an environmental assessment, sure to be duplicated and triplicated by industry, the federal government, provincial governments, environmental groups and native interests if his proposal turns out to have legs. Building the refinery would cost an estimated $13 billion, far beyond Black’s reach.

Then there’s the NIMBY factor: Everybody needs oil; nobody wants its infrastructure in their backyard. This explains the score in the last 30 years in B.C. Refinery closures: five; still operating refineries: two. (And let it be clear that if a refinery were suggested for, say, Kew Beach in West Vancouver, it would not find a champion in the undersigned.)

Which leads back to West Van Mayor Smith’s views as a long-time player in the oil an gasoline business.

“In my opinion, there is virtually zero chance of a refinery being built in Kitimat,” Smith said, in response to my request. “No one in their right mind would finance one.

“Refined product is not needed in Northwest B.C., so there is no demand. The capital cost of a refinery in that remote part of the province would be very high, and the products produced would need to be shipped enormous distances to find a market. You notice that there are no proposals to build a refinery in Alaska to process their crude oil and ship finished product south.

“It is not a coincidence that three of the four Vancouver refineries have closed,” Smith noted. “The refining and marketing of petroleum is not nearly as profitable as the production of crude oil.

“There is also the important matter of getting the crude to Kitimat. The Northern Gateway project is highly controversial, as it passes through very challenging terrain and many pristine wilderness areas. .

. . I would personally bet against the project ever being approved.

“There are other alternatives to get Alberta crude to market. Eastern Canadian refineries and those in the U.S. would make more sense as a destination.”

No mealy-mouthed equivocation there.

. . .

A footnote: Why couldn’t the Vancouver Sun and the National Post clearly spit out the identifier, the media term, for David Black? He’s an “industrialist.” He’s “a successful B.C. entrepreneur.” Only Keith Baldrey in this paper put it plainly: He’s a “newspaper mogul,” owning about 150 U.S. and Canadian newspapers, mostly small.

. . .

Aw, don’t you columnists ever have anything positive to say? Not often, but here’s one: Victoria Times Colonist writer Rob Shaw’s scoop on B.C. New Democratic Party’s then-leader Carole James, a superb story picked up by the Sun, confirms that James is a person of outstanding character (as the present writer contended at the time – while slamming the NDP rebels who undermined her in favour of Adrian Dix).

James courageously stood by her troubled son in wrenching crises, once on the eve of her election debate with Gordon Campbell. This story is must-read, major-league journalism, and proof again that the beleaguered dailies remain utterly indispensable to the serious reader.

. . .

“We’re right out of food,” smiled Joan Cox, an hour or two into West Vancouver’s 100th anniversary celebration by the West Van Historical Society last Saturday. Last year – leftovers. Dozens gathered this year at the Gertrude Lawson House, where Ann Brousson, who chaired the marketing committee for the society’s centenary book, Cottages to Community: The Story of West Vancouver’s Neighbourhoods, had very youthful memories of the house.

Jim Carter, who chaired the committee steering the handsomely produced book, gave up-to-the-minute sales figures: 2,630, only a few hundred copies still available for this sure keepsake. And author (aided by curator John Moir) Francis Mansbridge, a historian whose PhD in fact is in Canadian literature, was present, and smilingly confided there are shady bits of West Van history not in the book – like current grow-ops in certain neighbourhoods.

Wait for the 200th anniversary book, maybe.

© Trevor Lautens, 2012

Sunny God conjures the perfect birthday

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 8, 2012

RELIGION being unfashionable these days, few know that West Vancouver has a Civic God, just like pagan Roman cities.

The gods of ancient Greece and Rome were completely amoral. They were licentious pleasure-lovers and robust imbibers – founders of Alcoholics Unanimous – and amused themselves toying with hapless human beings like playthings.

Considering our climate, it’s ironic that West Van’s Civic God is named Sunny God. He rarely pays the town any heed. He is preoccupied chugalugging wine from animal horns and chasing nubile, and I’m sorrowful to say willing, goddesses.

And while he is distracted, the mischievous Rain Sprite moves in and pretty well pisses on the town whenever he likes. Which is almost non-stop. (Little guy, big bladder.)

You’ll agree this is a lot more plausible than a Mark Madryga forecast.

So it was highly unusual when Sunny God paused from popping grapes into the mouth of his current inamorata, noticed the Rain Sprite was soaking his turf, and zapped him with a concentrated sunbeam on his private parts. (The Rain Sprite pouted, rubbed himself, and sped off to soak a Dairy Queen. But his GPS acted up, and he mistakenly wound up in a far place raining on a nice old Queen’s parade.)

Meanwhile Sunny God idly decided to smile down on his very own town on, quite coincidentally, its 100th anniversary day.

It rained before. It rained after. But on this very special day . . . the sun shone in all its glory.

It shone on Horseshoe Bay. It transformed taut faces and liberated their workaday wrinkles.

Children lined up for face paint and turned away smiling to their mothers. A skinny balloon man twisted his wares into hats and silly shapes.

A lad with a guitar sang into an empty space where unaccountably no one had provided seats, but three squatting boys listened and kindly applauded. So did a man with perfect sideburns who didn’t pause as he walked by, but, feeling the loneliness of the entertainer, gave this maybe future star a big hand.

A huge Irish wolfhound bent down and, as tenderly as a lover, nuzzled a squirt of a pup reaching up for a kiss. A teenage girl who’d rather not be alone walked by clutching a coffee cup. Old men inched along, faces down, silent and introspective, remembering who knows what.

A midlife couple, serious riders, dismounted their huge motorcycle by a cafe. He, a fleshy barrel, looked like a bouncer at a Hell’s Angels restaurant. But any menace fell away: “Coffee time!” he called with a massive smile to a watching idler. A man glanced longingly at the bustling bars on Bay Street with their fragrant ale, but thought better of it.

Long-legged girls barely into their teens walked by the stouter moms they would become. On the free bus (fine idea) a stoic dad held an infant to his chest and deftly steered a pram to the door while mother guided a toddler, parents engaged in humanity’s most important and unrewarded activity.

At Ambleside Beach offleash area there were more dogs than you could throw a stick for.

Action Central was the fenced-off beer garden and the tent temples to the human digestive system: hamburgers, salmon burgers, poutine, the indispensable icon of cotton candy. “Eat Live Be Happy” advertised a truck marked “spud.ca.”

Police, ever watchful to ensure that people didn’t enjoy themselves too much in impermissible ways, casually chatted. One tilted a bottle and took a large swig straight from the neck. Perrier, naturally.

An old print guy imitated a reporter, producing pen and pad thrust in the face of sauntering Mayor Mike Smith: “Anything you’d care to say?”

The mayor smiled, tossed off an original line: “What a great day! . . . What more can I say?”

What more, indeed? Further along, collectable cars were an unfailing magnet. Beside one, a Whippet, appropriately there were two braces of actual whippet dogs, finely boned and aristocratically aloof.

At John Lawson Park picnickers had spread their cornucopias of food on the tables – the wicked little Rain Sprite having kept the ground too soggy for down to-earth picnicking. Greying women in pairs drifted chattily past, as if needing no man. A lovely woman in a faux cowboy hat had a ring of male admirers.

At Dundarave by 5 o’clock a boxy rental truck backed up to haul away the rented chairs and tables. The last celebrants drifted away.

Two young women happily lugged a picnic freezer up to Marine Drive. Ambleside’s evening of music lay ahead.

The racial demonstrations must not be ignored.

The many races present demonstrated that under the skin of colour, origin, nationality and culture there is one indivisible human race. At least on Sunny God’s perfect day.

Soon West Vancouver was slumbering in the downy double bed of its next 100 years.

© Trevor Lautens, 2012

Sometimes you can get city hall to listen

Appeared in the North Shore News – February 3, 2012

FAMOUS saying: You can’t beat city hall. But occasionally you can persuade the folks there to see the error of their ways.

So Neil Thompson convinced West Vancouver town hall to consider expanding public skating hours at the local rink. Took him only eight years. And no final decision yet.

Thompson’s proposals aren’t all that revolutionary. They seem to be the essence of good sense. He suggests skating for adults and high school students Fridays and Saturdays from 8 to 10 p.m. Currently there is an adults only skate Tuesday nights at 6: 15 and Friday nights at 6: 45 (“couldn’t be at a more inconvenient time,” he notes) and no public skating Saturdays and Sundays.

Thompson is a fine, old style West Van character, preyuppification, pre-monster houses, pre-insane real estate prices. Visibly successful, in earlier life he was an investment dealer.

His age won’t be divulged here because he looks young enough to be a magnet for women half his calendar years. And he is. He and Kia, his tiny schipperke dog, are fixtures at Ambleside Beach. With friend and retired geologist Stan Fleischman – who has his own canine companion, gentle retriever Tessie – they can be seen on a beachside bench greeting passersby and solving the world’s problems any sunny day.

But there is steel under that charming exterior. Thompson has opinions. Strong ones. He disseminates them freely and frequently in letters to the editor of this and lesser papers – and to West Van council and staff. Some approach the rotundity and style of the Magna Carta.

It was his campaign for public skating changes that finally wore down town hall. “I was advised to ‘forget about it,’ ‘you’ll never change city hall,’ and ‘get a life, relax, why be concerned,'” he reminded mayor and council in a December letter chronicling eight years of frustration.

“But, eureka! A ray of hope appeared. A call from city hall said my name was put forward to act as an advocate for the public and to attend the yearly meeting of rink users to discuss time allocations. A window of opportunity – thanks, city hall!”

Thompson attended the meeting, “loaded for bear” and prepared for a fight. “Wow, guess what? These other users said one by one, “sounds reasonable to me,” “why not?” . . . 100 per cent support, co-operation and good will.”

Battle-scarred, the war not yet over, Thompson is cautious: “The new schedules are made this month for the new year. We must hope oldstyle bureaucracy does not prevail to kill this initiative.”

. . .

May I praise a North Shore News advertiser? Thank you.

Last August, Sears’ furnace serviceman visited our house and left us $901 poorer. Fair enough. The furnace, approaching its 40th birthday, was due for serious work.

In November it began to growl. Then howl. Patience exhausted, I phoned Sears, prepared for heated, you might say, debate. A good offence being better than a good defence, I launched into a belligerent complaint.

I was nearing full flight before realizing the Sears furnace man was calmly agreeing with me. Fixed. Under warranty. No charge.

In contrast, I recently dealt with an urgent bathroom problem at my tenanted house. A plumber visiting on another matter offered to fix it on his own time for $2,600 – cash. Meaning no receipt, no guarantee, no tax, no thanks.

When I turned to a well-established Vancouver plumbing company claiming membership in the Better Business Bureau, and a tiler of more vague credentials, they piously denounced such illegal moonlighting. They got the job – and their bill totalled $5,000-plus.

Faced with five tenants and one shower, I admit barely glancing at estimates and rushing acceptance. An emergency, a west-side house, a West Vancouver landlord: Beware, that’s a recipe for creative arithmetic for slippery tradesmen.

Now hear this: I pay quickly. But time passed. No receipts followed. Nothing to prove they’d done the work at all. In short, no better than that under-the-table moonlighter. When, under pressure, they produced receipts, the plumber had stretched 4½ hours into seven – at $95 per.

The lesson is: The big company, Sears, stood behind its work – and big companies, so often popularly maligned because they’re big, generally do.

Reminder: The tradesman who comes in your door is not your friend. He’s there on business – his.

. . .

No music critic was in sight for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s Jan. 26 matinee. Pity. They’d have seen a sensational seduction satire from Bizet’s Carmen between soprano Nadya Blanchette and beloved host Christopher Gaze. She lassoed him with her red scarf. She drew him unwillingly near. They rubbed backs, yes, on the dignified Orpheum stage! They ended with a torrid kiss that would have been banned in Boston, even today. The audience (our average age around 100) was convulsed with laughter, or envy.

© Trevor Lautens, 2012

West Vancouver ballot advice nobody had to pay for

Appeared in the North Shore News – November 11, 2011

It is time once again for the sage old gent who has been at this stand for 21 years to give his sage old advice

Feel free to ignore it, as you probably have in past West Vancouver elections with no loss.

First, a favourable nod to former member of the Interested Taxpayers’ Action Committee Michael Lewis, a principal player in shrinking the West Van budget increase toward zero. A possible future mayor.

Perennial poll-topper Bill Soprovich won’t quit and won’t relax. Loves the work. Loves responding to citizen calls. A love reciprocated – this is his sixth election.

Carolanne Reynolds is committed, deserving, but, as a long-time citizen council-watcher and editor of West Vancouver Matters (a labour of love that she underwrites), arguably is more valuable outside than inside the tent.

Vivian Vaughan is the Woman Who Would Have Been Mayor, maybe, second in a three-way split in 2008. She’s of independent mind, brainy, politically not necessarily a team player.

On the other hand. . . . School board chairwoman Mary-Ann Booth plunged right off my recommended list with the revelation that her husband is a lawyer with a firm representing Grosvenor, hip-deep in redevelopment in West Vancouver. This clear conflict of interest would fatally disqualify her from important decisions ahead. On the other hand. . . .

Incumbent Trish Panz made a jibe about something negative I wrote about her in 2008, and she won. No kidding, I like that. Keeps me humble. Panz is a “Pamette,” a total political and personal friend of retiring Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones. If you liked the one, you’ll like the other.

Craig Cameron is too sleek, too “downtown” by half for my tastes, his speech stuffed with clichés – will someone please kill the word “transparency” with a stick? My suspicion: Another development-friendly heir of Goldsmith-Jones. And allow that there’s no black/white on that issue, but a matter of degree and kind.

Nora Gambioli has a law degree (Dalhousie), teaching certificate, and diploma in psychology, but in 2008 she impressed me anyway.

Still does. Less impressive: She doesn’t advertise that she ran for the Green Party provincially against Ralph Sultan (a distant second) in 2001. “Environmentalist” isn’t a dirty word to me, but her silence on this point slightly bothers me.

Gregg Henderson may have got the sympathy vote in 2008, his speeches painfully inept, but three years have improved his platform confidence without improving his mind. His foolish pitch to end incamera meetings shows blank ignorance of why, though open to abuse, they exist.

. . .

Finally, West Van voters will have to decide whether the following is important.

A curious reader questioned this statement on Coun. Michael Evison’s website: “Michael is a FCCA Fellow, Chartered Association of Certified Accountants in the U.K.”

The reader couldn’t find Evison’s name on the members’ or Fellows’ list.

A Wikipedia entry describes ACCA as a global body for professional accountants with 147,000 qualified members, who, if they have “sufficient post-qualification experience are designated Fellows, and use the designatory letters FCCA in place of ACCA.”

After we exchanged a few emails, Evison – who is seeking re-election – explained, verbatim: “Thank you for your question for clarification. I am not now a ‘registered’ member. I use the designation as in I’m a Lawyer or an Engineer or a Teacher.

“For the record, I never practised, as in public/private practice. I spent most of my career in financial roles for a variety of companies.

I formally resigned my membership 22 Feb., 1998.”

At best it’s strange that the affable Evison is flaunting an affiliation that ended 13 years ago.

. . .

After West Van acclaimed mayor Michael Smith made it plain in an interview that he was scandalized by union donations in North Van, I questioned North Vancouver’s city and district mayors, Darrell Mussatto and Richard Walton about that.

Walton: “No, I don’t accept contributions from unions. I have maintained a very positive relationship with our unions over the years but am uncomfortable accepting financial support and have spoken very amicably and objectively with them explaining why. They fully understand and have not offered me financial support.”

Mussatto: “Hi, Trevor. Yes, as an ambulance paramedic I am a member of CUPE 873 and I do receive money from them. As well, I receive contributions from CUPE B.C. and from CUPE National. I received money in all my previous campaigns from CUPE since 1993. I also receive money from independent businesses and from individuals. If you would like to donate to my campaign I would be happy to receive it from you! Warning, all donations to my campaign are disclosed as per the provincial government regulations! Cheers, Darrell.”

I prefer Walton’s stand, but whatever your take on Mussatto’s, top marks for his openness and wit. Maybe that’s why his constituents have given him four council and two mayoralty terms for 18 years.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011

Mayor-elect Smith embraces restraint

Appeared in the North Shore News – October 28, 2011

WHAT’S the world coming to? Mike Smith is mayor-acclaimed of West Vancouver, he’s a long-time fuel distributor for Esso – yet he can’t get a fillup in his own town.

Smith’s car runs on diesel. None of the six remaining gas stations in West Van’s 89 square kilometres – only two beyond Dundarave – pumps diesel fuel. Ironic, no?

Cynics will recognize the above as a conventional cheap journalistic trick – suck in readers with the “human element” angle. Right. Now stick around for something completely different. This is not the mayoral – or any politician’s – style you’ve come to know and maybe loved. Or not.

“I’m cautious. I want to do things right. I really believe this – in 14 years I’ve treated public money as if it was mine.” He listed the West Vancouver projects that have cost far over budget, “two or three times” over: the aquatic centre reno, the Gleneagles Community Centre, the Gleneagles fire hall, the 22nd Street community centre (“it started out at $16.7 million and ended up over $40 million”), the Gleneagles clubhouse.

“Everything we’ve done has been over budget. That’s not gonna happen – I can promise you that.” And if he has a liberal-spending council? “I’m going to stand up and say ‘I don’t think the public is going to support this.’ The public is way ahead of the politicians.”

More: Smith scorns and defies the entire debt-ridden world, and essentially declares West Van will be an island of fiscal sanity. Few financial analysts are as brutal as this:

“We are going through an economic cataclysm. You’ve got to be pretty stupid not to see it. . . . There are 50 million Americans on food stamps. . . . Europe is a basket case. The western capitalist countries are paying for 50 years’ overspending and way too much debt. And it’s not going to end well – can’t.

“All the politicians do is kick the problem down the road, and it can’t be kicked any more.

“In West Van, I think we can stand up and say, ‘Look, this is the way it has to be.’ . . . We have a great community, we’ve got all these volunteers, we don’t have to go out and hire consultants, we don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers. It’s got to stop. Look at the police department. I think they spend half a million dollars on legal fees.”

Smith talks turkey as if it’s still Thanksgiving. He cited a November Vanity Fair magazine article on U.S. debt problems: “It’s just haunting reading. . . . It’s happening in the United States. Do we want it to happen here?”

He’s soft-spoken, but the words are like a blowtorch peeling off paint. He scorned Liberal Dalton McGuinty’s debt-loaded Ontario, recently called the Greece of Canada.

“And (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper? He calls himself a conservative. He’s not my kind of conservative. Same with Gordon Campbell. Every year he increased the provincial debt. Yet they pass themselves off as these great fiscal managers. And they’re not. We haven’t had a sound fiscal manager since the (WA. C. and Bill) Bennetts.”

Does he belong to any party? “They’re all too left wing for me,” Smith laughed.

“I was on a Metro labour board for three years, and you want to see a frustrating experience. . . . I looked around – 18 representatives from the other municipalities, none of them with any management experience, any labour relations experience.”

The Smith view: If those municipalities pleaded they were forced by union contracts and fire and police legislation to raise wages four per cent, then they simply had to cut their budgets by four per cent. “They looked at me like I was a wild Attila the Hun type. You can’t have a system where the public sector workers have a standard of living that the rest of us are like apes looking through the bars.”

Unions got “way better than anybody expected” during tough times, Smith said, and now negotiations have to be about job preservation: “If you’re going to be talking about wage increases, we’re going to be talking about layoffs.”

Won’t that be huge for a mayor to do? “My drivers were unionized. I’ve worked in a unionized environment (the International Union of Operating Engineers) for years. We never had a problem. We never had a grievance that went to arbitration.” At bargaining sessions there were “rants and raves about what an evil employer they had. . . . We’d eventually get what we needed to get. It’s a bit of a game.”

Closer to home: He’s critical of AmblesideNow’s proposed public safety building for police and firehall, a cost of $65 million being floated around. “The thing’s taken on a life of its own.” It’s “a plain real estate play that’s become a giant, ballyhooed revitalization project,” complete with an information centre, website and consultants.

The present police station is “falling apart” but the firehall is perfectly good, Smith declares, and the plan only makes sense if the cost of a new police station can be covered by the sale of the present site.

He’s made a cause of the North Shore’s three fire departments: “Why do we need three separate bureaucracies?” He favours “one command and control structure” that would buy the equipment, do maintenance work etc. for all three. “The savings would be huge. What we have now is like Vancouver having 12 fire departments – one for Point Grey, one for Kitsilano . . . how can you argue against it?”

Who’s backing him? Any “downtown money” – code for Vancouver developers and businessmen hungrily circling B.C.’s wealthiest municipality?

Smith said evenly – he says everything evenly – that in his four school board terms and two as councillor “I’ve never taken a dime from anyone. . . . In North Van they take it from the goddam unions!”

He agreed a race for mayor would be healthier for democracy, and was surprised at how many people offered to work for his campaign – “I’m talking hundreds.” (After he declared his candidacy, Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones announced she wouldn’t run again.)

Born in Brighton, U.K., in 1946, son of a Royal Navy captain and a mother with a gift for painting, Smith has lived in West Vancouver since 1955. He passed through West Van public schools and at UBC majored in bridge, poker and rugby, but they gave him a degree in economics and history anyway.

He worked as an investment analyst for Peter Brown, then in the Bank of America’s Vancouver office, and – something of a surprise – as a newspaper publisher. He sold his White Rock Sun and Surrey-Delta Messenger to Conrad Black and David Radler in 1976. He’s been with second wife Virginia for 12 years and they married three years ago. They had five children – all girls – between them. Smith lost a daughter aged 23 to a brain tumour. “It changes your life. Something you never get over.”

Big events lie ahead: He retires from the oil business this month, his dream house in Kauai is nearly finished, and in December he becomes mayor. Any views of his predecessor?

“She did some things really well,” Smith said. “When it comes to community engagement, I take my hat off to Pam. Citizen involvement, the working groups – that was all good positive stuff. . . . She had a good vision.

“The flip side of that is the reality that she had never come from a management background. . . . Pam was a great speaker and – better than I’ll be – a great front person for West Van. I can try, but it’s just not my nature – I’ll never be as successful as she was. Not as good a public speaker, not as flamboyant – she served West Vancouver well in that way.

“It’ll be a change of culture.”

I expect so.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011

Pajari suggests mews hearing compromised

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 19, 2011

Was West Van council’s Esquimalt Avenue/ Hollyburn Mews densification decision tainted?

Note well: This is not one of those sly journalistic questions inviting readers to guess this is a quiz, and the “correct” answer must be yes – or why would the scribe ask it?

Nor is there any implied reflection on developer Michael Geller’s integrity. Geller, a 63-year-old architect and developer with strong credentials, was genially open about his plan to densify three Esquimalt Avenue lots, requiring an amendment to the official community plan.

The issue is whether some council members may have – perhaps unwittingly – violated the law that prohibits councillors from receiving any information about a matter subject to a public hearing after the hearing has been closed. Such impropriety or innocent carelessness once caused a court to quash two West Vancouver bylaws.

George Pajari, who has meticulously documented challenges to some municipal activities, last month wrote mayor and council that “there is reason to believe” the Esquimalt public hearing may have been “irreparably compromised by the actions of some councillors.”

The complication is that these occurred in the adjournment between the first and second sessions of the Esquimalt hearing.

Pajari concedes there apparently is no case law on that situation. But he believes his call to Don Sutherland of B.C.’s Office of the Inspector of Municipalities established that such between-session hearings would be “highly irregular.”

Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones – who cast the tie-breaking vote favouring Geller’s project – compared in-camera and public council records and said: “I want to assure the public that the public input and the public debate corresponds entirely with our policy and our standards. Both Coun. (Trish) Panz and Coun. (Shannon) Walker made comments referring to their own work in understanding public opinion prior to the close of the public hearing, which is exactly what the public expects of us all.”

Pajari’s version in his letter: “. . . one councillor stated she had met privately with residents to discuss the development” – evidently between the adjournment and the second session.

“Another councillor said she had discounted the value of the letters opposing the development based on discussions during ‘lunch with a client’ who had signed one of the form letters.”

My question: Do such contacts constitute “understanding public opinion”?

Chief administrative officer Grant McRadu – note, not the elected officials – answered Pajari: “With respect to your email . . . Mayor Goldsmith-Jones and Bob Sokol, director of planning, lands and permits spoke relative to and provided information regarding the process, and relative to concerns set out in the subject email.” Clear?

Panz and Walker, who both voted for the project, are first-term councillors, and veteran councillors will tell you it takes six months just to find the washrooms, as the saying goes. But if Pajari is correct, innocent error may be no excuse. He’s pursuing the issue.

. . .

My AmblesideNO! campaign continues.

Its ultimate target is the fascinating disconnect in many minds between new taxpayerbacked projects and the public debt that is destroying Europeans, Americans, and inevitably Canadians, even Tiddlycovers.

Latest: The proposed 28,000-square-foot arts bunker – I call it the Artsy Bunker – squat on Ambleside Beach, centrepiece of an “arts precinct.” The suggestion that no public money may be needed is hogwash. And there are four existing Ambleside public arts venues a kilometre apart.

Just say no.

. . .

The bullied have become bullies.

The public pressure by the bullying wing of the gay, lesbian etc. movement on politicians to attend the various Pride parades – eagerly abetted by the media – is reprehensible in the extreme.

The clear implication is that those who don’t submit are closet “homophobes,” i.e. anyone who isn’t 276 per cent behind the cause, and as such fair game to be “outed.”

The rights-demanders show zip respect for the right of politicians, including those who might support those rights generally, not to attend for whatever reason, and who feel intimidated into attendance – knowing that the usual suspects in the media, the academy, civil liberties groups and other sunny-day champions of rights they approve of, won’t back them.

This irony couldn’t be greater: In her previous life, short months ago, Christie Clark was super-keen about CKNW’s wear-pink day, a campaign largely against the schoolyard bullies of gays and lesbians. But as premier, Clark and none of her Liberal MLAs showed at the Vancouver Pride parade.

Maybe Clark began subscribing to Maclean’s. The magazine’s Web Poll – hardly scientific, to be sure – asked: “Is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford right to skip the city’s gay pride parade?” Said 56.4 per cent: “Yes, he should be free to do as he chooses.” Said 27.1 per cent: “No, it’s his duty as

mayor to attend major events.”

Let’s agree that the remaining 16.5 per cent responded frivolously: “Ugh, I couldn’t care less what happens in Toronto.”

The bullies, as wiser heads in the gay etc. groups must know, are cruising for a backlash by the non-elites.

. . .

RCAF! RCN! Yes!

© Trevor Lautens, 2011

Win the war on folly: just say AmblesideNO

Appeared in the North Shore News – August 5, 2011

It’s a small gesture in a swelling global crisis, but today I’m announcing AmblesideNO!

Basic idea: Stop till we can live within our means. Just stop.

Unlike the disastrous HST referendum question, AmblesideNO! really means no – not just to AmblesideNOW and growing West Vancouver taxes, services and transit burdens, but to such City of North Vancouver follies as replacing Harry Jerome rec centre at 23rd and Lonsdale with a multi-million-dollar new one on part of the popular adjacent Norsemen Park, and building eight high-rises on the rest of the park to pay for it.

(Before moving on let’s name the proponents: Couns. Guy Heywood, Pam Bookham and Bob Fearnley. Add this: CNV’s Courthouse Area Residents Association and others want Jerome renovated, and renowned international architect Carl Elefante, a Washington, D.C. specialist in far cheaper sustainable preservation is a guiding light.)

Yawning over Middle North Shoreans, as well as Middle Canadians and Middle Americans – whose reps have just “solved” the bankruptcy crisis by adding more than $2 trillion to the till – is an explosion in taxes, bureaucrats’ salaries and service costs, while local governments play handmaiden to big developers and cook up glitzy projects that further burden taxpayers and clog roads.

We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Highrise developments proposed along Lonsdale Avenue at 13th, 17th and 19th Streets, as well as the North Shore Credit Union’s new digs at 13th Street – to say nothing (too late to say much) of massive waterfront condos – would transform the villagelike area into an extension of Vancouver’s West End. Bridge traffic, anyone?

Now West Vancouver. Harken to Garrett Polman, a finance guy with top credentials and a member of West Vancouver’s Interested Taxpayers’ Action Committee: “It’s intellectually dishonest or just irresponsible, whatever you want to call it, to promise, as the mayor (Pam Goldsmith-Jones) did in a formal press release of Jan. 26, that AmblesideNOW would be done at no cost to the taxpayer.

“Fact is . . . they don’t know how much revenue the sale of land will generate, or what the construction costs are. . . . Costs . . . may be as high as $70 million and involve debt financing.” (Memories dance of the huge community centre overruns.)

Waste? Council voted to spend $3.1 million just for studies of a proposed combined fire hall and police building – a figure jumped on by Coun. Shannon Walker, hardly a left-wing loose cannon.

Polman asks: “Can anyone have any confidence in the spending of the $3.1 million . . . a good part of which can be avoided by doing some serious calculations in-house?”

What a novel idea. Assign already highly paid staff.

How highly paid? It’s scandalous. David Marley of ITAC states that in the last five years, its population near static, West Vancouver town hall annual salaries have risen 32 per cent and those of staff paid more than $100,000 by seven per cent. Forty per cent of the 640 employees are paid more than $75,000 a year. That excludes police, whose salaries are a Victoria secret.

On Bill Good’s CKNW program, Marley specifically exonerated union staff for the rise, though their four per cent a year isn’t too cruel either. He passed on the joke that B.C. Ferries CEO David Hahn is considering leaving the corporation to work as a West Van municipal manager.

I’ll have to bypass a thundering 44 per cent rise in Metro services projected over the next five years – a backbreaker in itself – and the grotesque $1 billion aspirations of democracy-proof TransLink, to the question I posed to Mayors Goldsmith-Jones of West Vancouver, CNV’s Darrell Mussatto, and Richard Walton of the District of North Vancouver:

“Would you prefer funding TransLink’s expansion plans through a two-cent-a-litre tax on gasoline, a one-percent reduction in Metro Vancouver municipal budgets, a combination of the above, (or) another option/proposal of your own?”

After an initial nonresponse, Walton courteously replied for all three mayors: “We are committed to working closely with the province in finding solutions that do not fund additional public transportation (TransLink) using property tax, and we believe that user-based pricing and demand management strategies are the way to control congestion, pay for future needs, expand access to transit and improve goods movement on our roads.

“These are challenging questions, and we believe the mayors’ council, the TransLink board and the minister of transportation are beginning to move in the right direction. We welcome hearing from the public on the future of transportation for the region, and TransLink is setting up public consultation meetings in September to discuss these issues.”

Now you know, eh?

. . .

Speaking of Hahn, Business in Vancouver recently listed B.C.’s 100 highest-paid executives. Hahn’s $1.2 million salary was too contemptibly paltry to make the list, being more than $400,000 below 100th place.

. . .

Jim’s Hardware, a loved Dundarave institution for 25 years, is closing. The usual: A victim of change, a small store on big valuable lot up against the big boxes. Sad.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011

I’ve lost my rose-tinted 2010 spectacles

Appeared in North Shore News – February 18, 2011

Are you getting off on the drooling orgy of nostalgia on the anniversary of Winter Olympics 2010?

Oh, you’ve guessed I’m not.

Television retrospectives? Special sections in the dailies? Oily hype and self-congratulation? Whenever Vancouver talks big-city, it’s small-town.

Yes, it was a grand party. But:

Not much ink on the disappointing number of out-of-province visitors.

Or on the narrowness of benefit to retail and hospitality industries beyond a tight geographical area. Do the six families that threw in several hundred thousand each to bolster West Vancouver/North Shore attractions believe their (probably tax-write-off) philanthropy made a substantial difference?

Or on the unpaid bill — more than three-quarters of a billion dollars — stuck to Vancouver taxpayers by a desperate city hall to backstop the overpriced and underwhelming Olympic Village condos built by overstretched Millennium, which had to go to obscure, hard-eyed, high-interest lenders because the financial mainstream (cannily, in retrospect) wouldn’t touch the project.

Or on John Furlong’s pained confession that due to an unfortunate lack of cash in the till he couldn’t keep his word — a moral if not legal obligation — to Olympic staff of expected bonuses, held in trust.

Journalist Bob Mackin is the media expert on that issue: VANOC, the organizing committee, stated in a Dec. 21, 2009 report that the trust held $17.744 million. In its post-Olympics Dec. 27, 2010 report, mention of the trust vanished. Days later staff learned by email they wouldn’t get the final bonus instalment.

“It’s no surprise that the bonuses went bust,” Mackin wrote for Toronto-based Sun Media — no link with the Vancouver Sun, an Olympics sponsor. VANOC revealed a $187.8 million taxpayer bailout, required to show a balanced $1.884 billion budget for operations, which were solemnly pledged not to need taxpayer money. That’s where the bonus went. Vancouver didn’t have its own variant of Montreal’s “Big Owe” for its 1967 Olympics, eh?

No question, though — a fun time. See Roman history, subhead: Bread and Circuses.

– – –

Expect Joan McIntyre to get perks, perhaps a minor cabinet post, if Kevin Falcon takes the leadership prize and premiership when the Liberals meet Feb. 26.

The other three North Shore Liberal MLAs — Minister of State for Building Code Renewal Naomi Yamamoto, North Vancouver-Lonsdale; Jane Thornthwaite, North Vancouver-Seymour; and Ralph Sultan, West Vancouver-Capilano — are backing Shuswap political scientist and berry farmer George Abbott. West Vancouver-Sea to Sky’s McIntyre supports Falcon.

McIntyre helped Falcon — largely by her silence — when the Eagleridge environmental protest raged over “improving” (did it?) the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler as a sop to the Winter Olympics 2010 machine. Nothing new; the International Olympic Committee is a quadrennial dictatorship before which even the mightiest host nations and cities kneel, quake and suspend rights to attract and mollify.

Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones’ council overturned her predecessor Ron Wood’s council commitment to try to protect Eagleridge. That left some protesters, including some principled and respected West Vancouverites, high and dry. Some stuck with it and were fined or went to jail for their ideals.

Falcon was then highways minister. McIntyre, when asked, claimed she’d heard from only a couple of people opposed to the destruction of the bluffs and its sensitive waterways. Which, if true, bluntly suggests she didn’t have enough profile or wasn’t worth contacting.

She’s a perfectly nice woman and Gordon Campbell loyalist from the Liberal backrooms (a pollster in real life) who in two terms has made no discernible imprint, and — these are compliments — lacks hard political edge and naked ambition to win.

Prediction? If the Liberal delegates in their hearts dislike and resent Christy Clark, not too difficult a chore in my view, but have read the public opinion polls and swallow their misgivings, she’s in. But factor in the women’s vote, and my sense is a lot of women aren’t Clark fans.

In leadership debates Falcon has had the sharpest, most concrete facts and figures in his head, and a ready tongue to disseminate them. I’d predict Falcon. And, of course, big business likes him.

CKNW’s Jill Bennett violated an unspoken media truth last weekend: She declared the contest bored her. Sure, but we have to pretend.

– – –

Speaking of democracy and all that, this observer cringes, hides, even takes a stiff libation, when the Western world applauds and lectures lesser and poorer nations about free elections and all that.

Western media have gushed barrels of ink and electronic bites about the recent unpleasantness and bright hopes for democracy in Egypt. It seems Hosni Mubarak was a dictator.

Who knew? Who cared? Until weeks ago, no one much. Most of the world’s 190-odd nations are dictatorships or oligarchies of some stripe. In the cool light of the new dawn, some Western drumbeaters are waking up to the essential fact that Egypt’s so-called cold peace with Israel is pragmatically more vital to more people everywhere than Egyptians marking Xs on ballots.

From the start, this observer kept remembering the Shah of Iran. He was a very useful dictator. When his usefulness ended his American and other Western friends despicably dumped him. The pious Jimmy Carter didn’t want him. Overthrown, terminally ill, the Shah died in exile. And far worse followed in Iran.

But enough of that. Egypt need only look at distant British Columbia for a model of democracy. Like massive sign-ups of instant party members. Including a cat. A hockey team. About 40 people with the same address, a restaurant.

Another democratic party’s legislative minority staged a (bloodless — at least we do that) coup overthrowing a good, morally as well as politically, woman leader thought to not have the right stuff to win the next election. Quixotically, one of the party’s top three executives is required to be a woman — a ridiculous quota brought to light by a solid party man (good on you, North Vancouver’s David Schreck).

Just call us, Cairo. We’ll give you tons of democratic theory, free.

– – –

West Vancouver chief administrative officer Grant McRadu was scheduled to meet this week with library officials over the dispute that won’t die — concerning George Pajari’s stand on the library and library foundation’s budget facts and figures.

Good initiative by McRadu. It says here this is a serious matter of public trust. Town hall must not let this “he said/we said” argument remain hanging inconclusively in the air.

Reminder: It’s an election year.

– – –

Soon after beginning a distinguished journalistic career marked by integrity, loyalty and humility — on Oct. 9, 1953 to be exact — a young proofreader began reading the columns sent from distant Vancouver bearing the amazingly funny words of one Eric Nicol.

The other readers competed in thumbing through the long strips of proofs to be first to have their chuckles in a dark night.

Nicol was a master of language, comparable to Blondin, you know, the highwire gent who repeatedly walked on a tightrope across the foaming Niagara River Gorge, on stilts, carrying his manager on his back, once pausing to make an omelet.

The shy Nicol possibly avoided such heights but he rose to similar dizzy levels of verbal gymnastics. He won numerous awards, including three Leacocks. When a play of his flopped in New York, he wrote a book about it with a splendid title — A Scar is Born. He never quit. The last of his books, 37 by my count, was published just months ago.

Nicol died recently aged 91. When West Vancouver’s Jim Taylor phoned CTV to tip it to Nicol’s death, the response was a cautious: “Help me.” Another generation. Nicol’s appreciative readership through nearly 65-odd years had slowly expired.

It happens. The young break through the earth and blossom. I can’t recall a review of a Nicol book in the Vancouver dailies for years, while the book pages hyped new writers — interesting how many were female and photogenic — who, lacking a fraction of his genius, usually vanished quickly into the void.

Multiple hall-of-fame sports writer Taylor gave Nicol’s eulogy at a service that whimsically began with something of a last laugh. Nicol was a football fan. His service started at 3 o’clock — the exact time the Super Bowl began.

– – –

Had it not been for certain well-reported stumbles, I’d bet the farm, tractor and cattle that Kash Heed would have been in the Liberal leadership race, thus possibly the next premier of this province. Think of it, and be horrified and cheered.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011