Saturday, October 02, 2010

You've read the words, now see the pictures

If you're out and about in Victoria, consider stopping in at 2% Jazz Coffee, where I have a bunch of pictures on the wall.
Last year I set out to do 45 works on paper in 90 days, mostly as a way to get down to making art and also because the commitment discouraged over-thinking. I used moments in my life as topics.
The results - or most of them - are on the wall at 2621 Douglas (beside the Times Colonist).
Take a look. And try the great coffee and food.

Oppal's appointment says, once again, that the missing and murdered women don't matter

Times Colonist reporter Lindsay Kines, who has been reporting on the missing women case long before police and politicians were even acknowledging women were disappearing in Vancouver, explains why Wally Oppal's appointment is another indication that they are still seen as disposable people in a column here.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Campbell has little new for UBCM

The Union of B.C. Municipalities has evolved into the big political event of the year.
And the just-concluded gathering in Whistler was suitably weird, as you would expect in these strange times.
The meetings bring together mayors, councillors, provincial politicians, lobbyists and a few reporters, who swirl around a convention centre and bars and restaurants.
There are speeches and private meetings and votes on resolutions covering everything from whether to kill urban deer to the risks of offshore tanker traffic.
The Liberals put a lot of effort into preparing for UBCM. The premier traditionally speaks on the last day; Gordon Campbell generally has launched some now initiative or announced some politically popular measure.
Ministers are kept hopping - to a tight script - through the event.
That turned out badly for Murray Coell. The Saanich-Gulf Island MLA is B.C.'s low-profile labour minister. He spoke to the convention Wednesday and talked about increasing the minimum wage, frozen at $8 since 2002.
The government had focused on tax cuts and other "levers" to put more money into low-income earners' pockets rather than a minimum-wage increase, he said.
"But we are getting close to, I would say, running out of levers that we can use, so it's something we're definitely going to have a look at in the future," Coell said.
That heartened advocates for low-income workers, who have watched as B.C.'s minimum wage fell to the lowest in the country during the eight-year freeze. (While the premier's pay increased by more than 50 per cent.)
But the next day the minister was in full retreat. By "in the future," he meant someday, Coell said. For now, the lowest minimum wage in Canada is just fine. (Someone likely got yelled at about all this. Ministers' comments are generally crafted to sound meaningful without actually committing to anything. The initial minimum wage comments actually hinted at action, a mistake.)
Campbell's speech was foreshadowed by another weird development. Just before midnight Wednesday, Bill Vander Zalm and the Fight HST people put out a news release citing "reliable sources" and saying Campbell would announce a reduction in the harmonized sales tax in his speech and an earlier referendum on the tax.
The news release got some media coverage, although it's hard to see how Vander Zalm could have inside information from leak-resistant Liberals.
Finance Minister Colin Hansen quickly denied the rumour. The agreement with Ottawa fixes the HST rate until 2012, he said, coming close to calling Vander Zalm crazy.
The stunt made the Fight HST people look flaky. But it also undermined Campbell's speech before he said a word.
Whatever he promised, it would be kind of anticlimactic after reports - ill-founded or not - that he'd be announcing a cut in the HST.
As it turned out, Campbell didn't have much new to offer.
There was $3 million to help communities hit by the pine beetle disaster try to diversify their economies and a renewed commitment to transit projects. Parks will get extra funding next year and communities that hose the B.C. Games will get more money. The province will pick up the tab for criminal record checks for volunteers.
There will be some sort of big tourism marketing effort in the future.
About half the speech was devoted to reminiscing about the Olympics and looking ahead to the HST referendum.
Campbell likened the introduction of the HST to a bad figure skating routine, continuing his Olympic theme.
But that section of the speech was a tone-deaf performance. There was no apology or indication that serious harm had been done to political life. The imposition of a new tax that angered so many was the subject of a series of jokes.
Campbell fared better in making the argument the referendum should be about the tax policy itself and the benefits and costs.
That's going to be a Liberal theme for the next 12 months.
Footnote: Campbell offered strong support for Taseko's Prosperity gold mine project. It was approved after a provincial environmental assessment, but a federal review found significant problems, including the destruction of a lake and conflicts with native rights. The federal cabinet has yet to make a decision.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why the ruling on prostitution laws matters

The Ontario Superior Court has ruled that laws around the sex trade targeting soliciting, bawdy houses and living off the avails are unconstitutional. They create added dangers for people - mostly women - in prostitution business, which is legal in Canada, the court found. And they have no offsetting broader public benefits.
Jody Paterson spent several years with PEERS, a non-profit supporting sex workers in Victoria. She set out why this is important in a fine column in the Times Colonist today.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Oppal a wretched choice for Pickton inquiry

The appointment of Wally Oppal to head the Pickton inquiry demonstrates this government's combination of arrogance and ineptitude.
Attorney General Mike de Jong announced details of the inquiry into the Pickton murders and the missing women this week.
Its excessively narrow mandate includes looking at the police investigation and the Crown's decision to stay attempted murder and other charges against Pickton in 1998.
The inquiry can also make recommendations for the way future missing women's investigations and homicide cases when multiple police departments are handled.
But not, however, on the broader issue of regionalized policing.
Oppal's appointment shows remarkably bad judgment.
He was a Liberal cabinet minister until he was defeated in last year's election. He supported the party's policies, including its rejection of the need for better co-ordinated policing in the Lower Mainland.
He worked with ministers who were in power as the Pickton investigation unfolded. As a cabinet minister, Oppal publicly rejected the idea that racism played a role in the missing women investigation, although many of Pickton's victims were aboriginal. As attorney general, he waged a legal battle to keep evidence from the inquiry into the death of Frank Paul, a native man who died after Vancouver police left him in an alley.
The appointment creates an instant and well-founded perception of bias.
De Jong brushed off the concerns. Oppal is a good man and independent by nature, he said. He's a former judge and conducted another on policing in 1994. So we picked him.
That's all fine. But it's also irrelevant.
Oppal's most recent job was serving as de Jong's predecessor as Liberal attorney general (with an unremarkable record).
The appearance of conflict of interest in his appointment is enough to undermine the inquiry's independence and credibility.
It is baffling how the government could not see - or not care - that Oppal's appointment would be greeted with suspicion.
The inquiry's narrow mandate is also a serious problem.
A Vancouver Police Department internal review of the Pickton investigation found serious problems within the department. But it also concluded that Pickton was able to keep on killing long after he should have been caught because of the fragmented policing structure on the Lower Mainland. The Vancouver police and RCMP detachments failed to share information or co-operate. The Mounties refused a request for a combined investigation. And the women kept dying.
But Oppal isn't allowed to look at the option of regional policing.
He's also not allowed to look at a wide range of other factors that might have helped Pickton - and others like him - kill women.
His victims were women on the margins. Many were aboriginal, poor, in the sex trade or addicted. Did that affect the police response? Did our laws around prostitution serve these women up as victims?
The inquiry won't answer those questions.
Admittedly, those issues would be difficult to deal with in a focused inquiry.
But the government's alternate plan for dealing with them is fuzzy. De Jong said he hoped the Native Women Association of Canada will hold a national conference in B.C. in 2011 on the broader concerns.
It appears to be an inadequate response to a serious problem.
De Jong doesn't appear to have consulted with families of the victims or the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, which has sought an inquiry for years, on the terms of the inquiry or Oppal's appointment.
The government has the ultimate responsibility. But not consulting shows, again, arrogance and an unwillingness to consider that others might have useful contributions.
What can the Liberals be thinking?
It would seem they either didn't realize that naming Oppal - a Liberal cabinet minister not that long ago - to head an "independent" inquiry would be viewed with suspicion.
Or that they didn't care what the public thought.
We need to know how Pickton could kill so easily and for so long. We need to learn from this horrible case.
And the government has made a lousy effort to accomplish those goals.
Footnote: De Jong also said he would not delay negotiations on a new long-term contract with the RCMP - expected to be concluded next year - until Oppal reports. (His deadline is Dec, 31, 2011.) That suggest any recommendations on changes to policing or for mandated improved co-operation between RCMP detachments and municipal forces will be ignored.