More on where affordable housing in Kamloops is going

Tonight, my partner and I attended a presentation/open house for the Kamloops affordable housing strategy for the North Shore.  While we missed the presentation, the open house materials were very informative and there were opportunities to speak to City staff and provide feedback in various ways.   Personally, I am excited by what is happening in our city with respect to affordable housing.  Kamloops is in a fortunate position in that it has a City Council that is taking the issue seriously, a provincial government that is providing significant investment, a diversity of social service agencies that have the capacity to participate meaningfully in the development and operation of affordable housing, and City staff that has the capacity to help steer this.  We even have private sector developers playing an active role which is great.  No one agency or level of government is able to effectively take on the affordable housing issue on their own so the partnerships that have been established are encouraging.

While there is a lot of positive energy around the provision of affordable housing in Kamloops, not everyone is completely on-board.  While I doubt that there are too many people that don’t see a need for affordable housing in Kamloops, I have certainly heard some people express consternation with where affordable housing has been proposed to be located and the lack of consultation on the process.  While I can see their point in some way, this is often a challenge with community planning – people do not pay attention to the higher order plans that set the direction for future development but will raise concerns when an actual development is proposed.  I remember years ago being at a presentation that the City participated in pertaining to development in Kenna Cartwright Park.  Mountain bikers and cyclists were irate that development was going to infringe on their trails.  I remember being one of them.  However, the City representatives noted, correctly, that development had always been proposed for that area in the Kamloops Official Community Plan (KAMPLAN) and was in fact a condition of the transfer of the land that forms Kenna Cartwright Park from the province to the City.  The challenge was that due to market conditions the development took 10 – 15 years to actually materialize so people lost sight of what was in the plan.

The same is in fact true of planning for affordable housing.  The current Official Community Plan, adopted in 2004 identified the need for affordable housing.  The Official Community Plan that is currently going through the adoption stages reiterates this need.  More specifically, the North Shore Neighbourhood Plan which was finalized in 2008 has a section on Affordable Housing and quite clearly states that the City will support a diversity of affordable housing types in all neighbourhoods, including in the Tranquille market area.  This plan, while getting older, was developed with a significant amount of community and stakeholder engagement.  While there may not have been consensus on the direction set, there was generally support and it was adopted by Council to be part of the Official Community Plan.

Municipalities rely on these types of plans to set direction for future initiatives.  While they may fade into the background in terms of the public perception, they are critical to the day to day planning and development of the community.  The Local Government Act requires that all bylaws enacted or works undertaken by a council be consistent with the Official Community Plan.  As a community planner, I’ve been involved in the development of a number of Official Community Plans.  It is sometimes challenging to get the general public excited for these types of plans and policies – they are abstract, future oriented and comprehensive.  Sometimes it feels that we need a really contentious issue to bring people out to our engagement sessions.

You can see this manifested in the current debates over affordable housing in Kamloops.  While I may not be right on this, if the City were to seek broader community engagement on creating an affordable housing strategy before any potential locations or housing styles were selected, it would only really get the input of people that are very much in support of affordable housing and those people would likely be pushing the City to get on with it.  The fact that more people are starting to get engaged in the issue is probably due in large part to there being defined projects being proposed.  There is something tangible going on and people now have opinions, either in support or opposition.

Related to concerns about consultation, people have also mentioned that they would like to see greater transparency from the City in this process.  While this makes sense on one level, I think it would be very challenging given that these types of developments involve complex land deals and multi-stakeholder partnerships.  Section 90 of the Community Charter, which governs the way municipalities operate, allows for in-camera discussions of property purchase details and provision of a municipal service in order to protect the interest of the municipality (it could be debated whether affordable housing fits the definition of municipal service).  Regardless, it would be difficult and perhaps impossible to negotiate these partnership arrangements in public and necessarily the City must rely on the guidance provided in previous planning documents in order to make decisions that reflect the interests of the community.

While it is up to the City to provide meaningful engagement at appropriate points in any process, it is also up to us as citizens of the community to actively participate in the shaping of our community.  The fact that people are coming out to these sessions on affordable housing is great but I’d encourage more people, in any community, to get involved in the development of their municipal Official Community Plans, neigbourhood plans and other higher order plans, policies and strategies.  These plans provide the framework from which the community develops and evolves and therefore are critical to determining what should happen in the future.

Turning back to the open house tonight, one of the questions that was asked is what is your vision for affordable housing – let me share mine: Affordable housing will transform from being an issue that brings out the ‘not in my backyard’ crowd to being something that people want in their neighbourhood because the City, province, social service agencies, private sector, and occupants have collaborated effectively to address the issue in a way that benefits the whole community.  I wish all the various stakeholders well in this process.

 

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Improving the McDonald Park Neighbourhood

Recently, the City of Kamloops has announced that it will be working with partners to construct affordable housing on Tranquille Road and Victoria Street West.  These homes will provide housing to people with various needs from those simply needing an affordable place to live to those that have a number of concurrent health issues that require more support.  Predictably there has been a backlash to this proposed development along with concern over the mobile safe injection site.

As I have said before, I am quite supportive of the affordable housing project on Tranquille and the safe injection site.  I believe everyone has a right to housing and that location matters if we want transformative change to our housing, addictions, and poverty issues in Kamloops.  I think it also offers an opportunity to keep some of the issues we’ve faced in our neighbourhood more contained and controlled in a way that benefits all residents and businesses.  The Tranquille corridor is ideally situated for affordable housing.  I think there is also an opportunity to improve the urban design of the corridor and create value for the rest of Tranquille.

However, the recent event have spurred me to think about how we could improve the McDonald Park neighbourhood.  According to this article (https://www.kamloopsthisweek.com/affordable-housing-project-brings-north-shore-residents-together-opposition/) it appears that the McDonald Park Neighbourhood Association, which has not done anything for the last couple of years, will restart with the aim of ensuring better communication with the City on matters related to the affordable housing and safe injection.  This is likely a good step but the last time I went to a meeting of the Neighbourhood Association, they verbally beat up a City of Kamloops representative for having the audacity of showing drawings for a proposed community garden.

There are a lot of positive things going on in our neighbourhood despite the challenges we have faced an I think there are opportunities to build off of these.  In this regard, I wanted to share a few ideas that the McDonald Park Neighbourhood Association and/or the City could consider focusing on to maybe create a more livable neighbourhood

Add more sidewalks – we have a lack of sidewalks in our neighbourhood. While this is a historical legacy of not having installed a stormwater system and curb and gutter when the neighbourhood was built, this does make the pedestrian environment more dangerous which is too bad because it is an easily walkable neighbourhood due to the flat land and grid streets.  While it would likely be cost prohibitive to put sidewalks on all of the streets, there are two areas where they are absolutely necessary, albeit for potentially self-serving reasons.

The first is on the south side of Mackenzie Avenue.  Mackenzie Avenue is a transit corridor, collector road, and connects to Norkam Secondary School and McArthur Island and in general is a fairly busy road.  Traffic speeds and volumes are high and motorists don’t stop for pedestrians.  You may say that it’s being lazy not to cross the road, but how many people are going to cross a busy road twice to get to their bus stop or to complete a walk that is only a couple of blocks?  I know this is not a cheap fix but it’s a necessary one.

The second area for a new sidewalk is a simple little extension to the sidewalk on Royal Avenue to cover the bend to Thrupp.  This is a blind corner that motorists often cut through despite the paint markings and they often take this corner at high speeds.  This is an area where there are lots of families that walk to McDonald Park.  In this instance, we are only talking about 20 – 50 metres of sidewalk but it would make a big difference to safety in that area.

thrupp

Adopt lower maximum speed limits – many communities are adopting 25 – 30 km/h maximum speeds on local roads to make roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. While the move would be somewhat symbolic as you won’t necessarily have police setting up speed traps on local roads looking for offenders, it does send a message that streets are for all people, not just people driving vehicles.  This is particularly important in our neighbourhood where there are a lot of pedestrians and few sidewalks.  Combined with this, the City should start making the paved widths of local roads in the neighbourhood much narrower as they upgrade infrastructure.  There are a lot of studies that suggest if you make roads narrower, then speeds will slow.  It would offer more space for pedestrians on the shoulder of the road and would also make it cheaper for operations and maintenance in the future.

Provide school bus service – the McDonald Park neighbourhood is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Kamloops but also is one of the most livable for lower income families with kids, with one key exception – there are no public elementary schools that can be safely walked to since the School District unfortunately closed John Todd Elementary. Regardless of what school kids attend, they must cross Fortune Drive which is one of the busiest streets in Kamloops.  While we are fortunate to have the Boys and Girls Club PowerStart program providing some bus service for kids, we need something where the financing is more secure and the service can be offered to all kids so that access to school is assured.

Do something with the old Thrupp Manor site – my understanding is that the City bought Thrupp Manor a number of years ago and tore it down. It actually made sense because the building was a health hazard due to flooding issues.  The lot has not sat vacant for the better part of ten years now and is fenced off.  It now looks fairly neglected with the City going in occasionally to take down the weeds.  I don’t know if there is an opportunity to create a park to integrate with the Rivers Trail or sell the land off for new housing, or something that takes advantage of riverfront access, but ideas should be explored for this site.

Manor

Vitalize McDonald Park – I always contend that McDonald Park itself is a jewel in Kamloops. With a meandering pathway and numerous older trees, it is a beautiful spot.  Over the last 15 years or so the City has done some great work to bring more activity into the park.  The development of a new spray park has brought a lot more people into the park than the pool ever did (though the communication around that process was a bit clunky and the SNAFU with the wading pool is still a sore point as there should have been clarity sought on whether a new wading pool could even be built before the pool was removed).  The pickleball courts, community garden and gazebo with the occasional Music in the Park act have also brought people into the park and more activity.  My cousin’s kids came up to visit and they loved the park.    McDonald Park

However, we must recognize that the park is too large to be just for the neighbourhood which creates the vacuum for a lot of less desirable activity.  We need to think of it as a community-wide asset that draws people from across the city.  From an infrastructure perspective, I’d like to see the City replace and relocate the old changerooms as the current location and design creates a lot of dead space in the park.  I’d also like to see the basketball courts resurfaced and consideration for McDonald Park being the home of an outdoor refrigerated rink if that proposal ever gets off the ground.

To generate more activity in the park, I’d like to see encouragement given to hosts of smaller events such as charity walks to consider using McDonald Park to take advantage of a great setting and access to the Rivers Trail.  Perhaps someone could start a 3-on-3 outdoor basketball league in the summer or the grass volleyball league could be moved there.  We could get better acts for Music in the Park and perhaps have more events such as the outdoor movies.

Finally, we should also consider having social workers posted in the park in the summer to provide outreach to people that hang out in the park.

Vitalize Spirit Square – Spirit Square was built at a time when the provincial government had funding available for community squares where people could gather. Many communities jumped on this program and that is why there are Spirit Squares throughout BC.  Unfortunately, our version of the Spirit Square, while a well-designed spot with some interesting things in it has never really taken off.  It’s kind of in an island of its own and is awkwardly located behind buildings.  When it first opened, there was a farmers market there but it never got busy enough to attract people to set up there.  It really needs an adjacent commercial use that can take advantage of the public space so that people can have coffee or eat a meal there as well as some activities such as music, plays, or barbeques.  The purchase and tear down of the house next to the Square hopefully provides an opportunity to put a complementary use there.

Spirit SquareExtend the Rivers Trail to be along the river – this is my pipe dream but I would like the City to purchase all of the houses along the river on Royal Avenue to extend the Rivers Trail to actually be along the river. It would be pretty awesome to take this all the way to Overlanders Park.  The City could purchase the land, take what they need for the trail and resell the remaining land for mid-density housing.  However, with the recent spate of construction of monster homes on Royal Avenue, this may be impossible in the near to mid-future but would have been a neat opportunity.

These aren’t revolutionary ideas but they would require a significant investment.  In addition to what’s listed above, we need more reasons for residents of our neighbourhood to gather and get to know each other in fun ways, and not always as part of a ‘fight’.

Thoughts on the North Shore Affordable Housing

Over the last couple of days the City and provincial agencies have released details on plans to open up new affordable housing in Kamloops.  While the initial speculation was that the City had purchased land and a building on Tranquille Road for use as a homeless shelter (see article here) the actual plan is to install modular housing on this lot and as well as one in the downtown area (see article here).

I’ll admit, I had some reservations when it was first speculated last week that the existing building would become a homeless shelter.  I walk along Tranquille Road fairly often in the summer and admittedly I felt some trepidation that there would now be a homeless shelter there.  I also was also somewhat empathetic to some of the developers in the area who are taking risks to invest in development in the area that would revitalize the neighbourhood.  However, I also know that there are homeless people in our neighbourhood and we need to provide more and better options for them so while I did have some reservations, I generally supported the idea of the homeless shelter.

Unfortunately, some of the business owners along the corridor went apoplectic based on the initial rumours.  They didn’t want to see a shelter where homeless people might congregate as it might be bad for business.  Though I can see why they might be concerned, ultimately I found this view pretty petty.  I have written before about what I think the challenges are for the North Shore (article), and, in my opinion, one of the most significant challenges the North Shore faces is that there is so much dead space, from an urban design perspective, along the Tranquille corridor.  While they are certainly social issues that need to be addressed, they are exacerbated in some ways by the lifeless sidewalks at night.  There are many vacant  buildings and vacant lots that contribute to a less than inspiring streetscape.  This is compounded by a preponderance of second hand stores, pawn shops, loan sharks, and of course, the Duchess.  While there are many positive things happening along the corridor including an amazing restaurant scene, the Kamloops Innovation Centre, and a concentration of social service agencies that provide daytime vitality to the area, there are simply too many businesses and property owners along the corridor that have done little to contribute to the vitality of Tranquille Road.

Alas, now we know that the proposed use of the land on Tranquille is a little more nuanced than what was initially speculated.  The City will be working with the province and ASK Wellness to provide modular housing units for youth, seniors, disabled, and homeless or people at risk of homelessness.  While it sounds like there will be some space for a homeless shelter, the majority of the space will be used for housing and key social services.  We have an obvious need for this in Kamloops and it’s great that this partnership has come together.  This will provide an opportunity for people who have struggled to get and keep housing, many of whom live in our North Shore neighbourhood, to get access to housing and the services they need to have more stability in their lives.  This will help strengthen our community and help our neighbourhood.

While the primary focus of the development will be to provide affordable housing, I am also hopeful that the design of the building will contribute to the urban streetscape on Tranquille and bring value to the corridor as a whole.  The new housing is to be constructed in an area with many dilapidated buildings.  While I have said that many property owners and businesses have invested very little, it’s not true of all.  The development of the Manshadi Pharmacy building on Tranquille has helped improve the streetscape and has improved the aesthetic of Tranquille.  The new development of the Station of Tranquille looks like it will also be a significant positive contributor to the streetscape of the corridor.  There is investment happening in development along the corridor and the new affordable housing units should be designed in such a way as to continue this trend of higher quality development along Tranquille.  While I understand that the development will use modular buildings constructed in a factory that may be temporary in nature, there is still an opportunity to implement some of the design guidelines described in the North Shore Neighbourhood Plan to ensure that the development complements and adds value to the area’s streetscape.  Making the building function at a pedestrian scale will be an important consideration.

I am also happy to see that the City has purchased this land.  I am a big advocate of municipalities developing a diverse inventory of land holdings that they leverage to meet social, economic, and environmental goals for the community.   The Tranquille corridor suffers from too many absentee property owners.  Having the City own the land means that it can be used for affordable housing in the interim while also leaving open the possibility that the City could leverage the land in another way to meet other emerging social or economic goals in the future.  At the very least it probably means that the City will not be a negligent landowner unlike some other property owners on the corridor.  As residents of the North Shore, we can at least hold the City to account for what happens on their property – it’s much more difficult on a piece of private land where the owner is nowhere to be seen.

Homelessness and housing issues, along with the opioid overdose epidemic, are some of the biggest issues we face as a society.  Based on what I’ve seen, I believe the City and the agencies in Kamloops deserve a lot of credit for their ongoing efforts to find solutions to these issues.  As a resident of the North Shore, I recognize that some of my fellow neighbourhood citizens are not as fortunate as I am.  While it would be lovely to push the homelessness issue to Aberdeen, if we are truly interested in helping people achieve their optimal health and well being, we must be willing to face the issue head-on in the neighbourhood in which it exists and where the people have the best access to services.  So I welcome this development to the neighbourhood and hope for its success.  There are certainly people in our neighbourhood that need this step up and if we can give them an option that helps them be safer and healthier, then we must do it and we must resist the urge to be NIMBY’s about it.  This winter and its harsh conditions has exposed some of our shortcomings, as a society, in ensuring housing for all.

 

 

Taking the bus – why I use transit in Kamloops

I am a regular user of Kamloops transit and I was interested to delve into the Journey to Work data recently released by Statistics Canada as part of the 2016 census.  The data indicated that only 4.5% of people in Kamloops are using transit regularly to travel to and from work while 87% are either driving or are a passenger in a vehicle.  This is despite efforts over the last few years to improve transit service in the city.  While I am a regular user of transit, I can’t say that I am totally surprised.  The bus I take from the North Shore to downtown to get to my office is filled mainly with high school and university students with a few people travelling for work, but it pales in comparison to the number of people in their cars driving to work.  The census stat just confirms that there is still a lot of room to make transit a more attractive transportation option for people.

The release of census information comes roughly at the same time as Elon Musk has been sharing his personal dislike for transit (article: https://www.wired.com/story/elon-musk-awkward-dislike-mass-transit/).  Given that Musk is likely to be a key influencer of how we develop and move around communities in the future, his opinion on issues such as transit matters, even if his opinion is going in the wrong direction.  To counter Musk’s comments, Brent Toderian, urban planner extraordinaire launched a successful Twitter campaign to get people to share personal experiences about the great things that happened on transit.  It’s a great idea and I thought I would chip in a few of my thoughts on why I choose to take the bus to go to and from work on a regular basis.  Generally my reasons for using transit include:

Environmental responsibility – while there are numerous studies that suggest that environmental responsibility is a poor motivator for action, in my case it is the prime motivator for me taking the bus.  While I certainly have the means to drive to work everyday (I own a vehicle and my company pays for either parking or transit), I feel a sense of responsibility to try to reduce my greenhouse gas emissions, however small the impact (I’m not going to lie, it’s a small impact, and pales in comparison to my out-of-town trips which rack up significant GHG emissions).

I hate driving – I find driving to be one of the more irritating experiences in life, particularly when I am by myself.  I have little patience when I am driving.  I honestly don’t understand people who say they derive pleasure from driving.  For me, at it’s best, driving is a means to an end getting from A to B and at it’s worst, driving is a stressful experience and according to statistics, has a real potential to be dangerous.  I definitely don’t take pleasure in driving.  Taking the bus, on the other hand is rarely stressful and sometimes even enjoyable if I can zone out or chat with someone I know.

It’s what I desire in a great community – for me, transit is about what I choose to prioritize as being important in a great community. I believe a component of a vibrant community the size of Kamloops is having a more sustainable and dynamic transportation network that prioritizes transit, walking, and cycling relative to the use of single occupant vehicles.  More pointedly, I would rather that the money I spend on transportation go towards building a more sustainable transportation network in Kamloops rather than building more spots to store my vehicle downtown throughout the day.  Money could be better spent on creating a better pedestrian environment in the downtown and on the North Shore (i.e. curb bulb-outs at intersections!), providing protected bike lanes, or improving transit itself.  The point is that there are so many better investments than building more parking in the downtown at $25,000 – $50,000 per spot in a parkade or $1000 per metre of roadway.  But if I want to see this happen, I have a personal responsibility to be part of the solution and not contribute to more road and parking demand.

Transit is convenient – one of the big issues you’ll hear for people taking transit is the perception that it is not convenient.  While it’s true for some it’s certainly not true for all, including those that have access to other options.  For me, living on the North Shore and commuting downtown for work, transit is actually very convenient.  Every morning I leave my house around 7:36, walk a couple of blocks to the bus stop, catch the bus and arrive at my office at around 7:50 at a spot that is probably closer than any available parking spot (generally we start work at 8 am but we have some flexibility).  In the afternoon/early evening, being reliant on transit provides the discipline I sometimes need to actually leave the office at a reasonable time – I leave the office shortly after 5 and I am generally home around 5:20.  Now the overall travel time is slightly longer than driving but the trip is more enjoyable.  In the winter it is even more convenient because taking transit means I don’t have to clean snow off my car, scrape my windshield and get into a cold car and drive for ten minutes.  I personally find that to be less comfortable then walking and getting onto a warm bus and not having to deal with those things at all.

Personal connection – one thing that I noticed when I started riding transit was that a lot of people thanked the bus driver as they got off the bus.  I found this kind of weird at first but I have grown to appreciate this civility and it’s a great way to start the day.  In our society that seems to be increasingly uncivil to one another, this is a small act of humanity and contrasts with the impatience and road rage that exists among car drivers, myself included.

Given that my transit schedule is pretty routine, I generally have the same drivers and while we don’t talk to one another, there is familiarity.  Recently I benefited from this familiarity – I was leaving my house late one day and the bus was ahead of schedule due to it being School District professional development day.  As I was walking down my street I saw the bus drive by and I figured I missed it.  As I turned the corner onto Mackenzie Avenue, however, I saw that the bus was waiting at my usual stop which was still a block away from where I was.  I ran and was able to get on the bus.  The driver said that he saw me walking down my street and figured he’d wait to make sure I got on.  While it’s a small and simple gesture, it does provide a sense of connectedness and goes to show the value in having a transit routine.  I often see this on transit and there are several bus drivers in our city that will go above and beyond to treat people well.

Now, I’m not going to lie – transit in Kamloops is definitely not perfect.  And often times when using the bus goes wrong, for whatever reason it feels like it goes horribly wrong.  I’ve had times when the bus is late when it’s cold outside and frankly that is not enjoyable and I begin to question why I use transit when I have a perfectly good vehicle sitting in my driveway.  There are a small number of bus drivers that do not have great customer service skills which can be maddening and sometimes you end up on a bus with passengers that are smelly, blaring their music or acting inappropriately and that’s not fun either.  For whatever reason, these problems get magnified and by the time you talk to enough people in town you could get the feeling that taking transit is the worst thing you can do.  While I have fallen into that line of thinking at times, I have been trying to remind myself lately that in all the instances I have nearly been in a car accident (whether it was my fault or someone else’s), I have not said I am no longer going to drive again – I accept it, move on and hope to learn from the experience.  I think people who have one bad experience are likely to abandon transit if they have other options available.  This is unfortunate because transit works alright most of the time.

I have many hopes for Kamloops transit in 2018.  My biggest hope is that this will be the year when transit takes a bold step into the 21st century and gets next bus technology which will provide real time information to transit users on when the bus should arrive at a given stop and whether the bus they were expecting has passed by already.  This  system, which exists in a number of communities throughout the world the size of Kamloops, would allow people to greatly reduce their bus wait times which I find is one of the key barriers for using transit.  I have heard that getting such a system is in the plans for Kamloops Transit so hopefully 2018 will be the year it finally arrives.

I also hope that more people will give transit a meaningful try in 2018.  If you are reading this post perhaps you will be inspired to make a new years resolution to use transit for at least one week during 2018, particularly if you live on the North Shore and travel downtown.  Don’t expect it to be perfect and don’t expect it to be as fast as driving but give it a week so that you can get into a groove and see what you like and what you don’t like.  Maybe your perceptions will change.

Happy New Year…

 

 

The Purchase of the Kamloops Daily News Building – Strategic Purchase or Waste of Money?

When I first moved to Kamloops in 2001, there were a lot of things that I noticed about the landscape downtown where I chose to live.  The predominance of stucco and bright colours, the general lack of brick buildings with the exception of the courthouse, which was a hostel at the time, the boil water advisory, and the aridness.  There was a quaint ice cream shop and a nightclub that each occupied a corner of a dirt parking lot on the other side of the tracks near Riverside Park.  There was a new condo development in the downtown that I really wanted to move into.  There were also two movie theatres downtown – one that played recent releases and one that played old movies.  This was at the beginning of the process of movie theatres consolidating together in larger facilities with up-to-date sound systems and stadium seating so it was a bit jarring to see two theatres so close together.  Within a month of me moving here, the theatre playing older movies closed and now sits empty, 16 years later.  I’ll come back to this in a bit.

With our recent byelection campaign, I saw IMG_0441numerous candidates take direct aim at the current Council for the purchase of the Kamloops Daily News building and property and the subsequent demolition of the building which is happening right now.  Their points generally centre on their belief that it was a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.  On one hand, I understand where they are coming from – the building and land costs, along with the demolition and construction of the parking lot have been reported to be near $6 million, which is steep, for a parking lot.  While it was meant for the Performing Arts Centre, the voters in the borrowing referendum were not on-board and subsequent efforts to determine what else could be put on the property appear to have been underwhelming.  On the surface, it looks like the City, and taxpayers, might have wasted a bunch of money on this initiative given that the principal purpose of the site has not, and may never come to fruition and right now all there is to show for this is an expensive parking lot.

But was this a waste of taxpayers’ dollars? In order to assess this, it’s important to consider the dollars involved and the value of the City controlling a large portion of land in the downtown.  We can start by looking at what the City gave up by purchasing the site – namely property tax revenue from the site as it is if it were to be continued to be owned by private interests.  Currently, based on assessed values of the site, the City would be generating approximately $70,000 per year in property tax (the site is approximately 0.59 hectares).

What we don’t know if this level of property taxation would stay the same over time.  One clue would be my earlier description of the old movie theatre.  For whatever reasons, this property has not been used in the last 16 years IMG_0447despite being at a relatively prominent location in downtown. It finally sold last month for around $1 million.  According to BC Assessment, the building has an assessed value of $55,700 and the land has a value of $765,000 (0.12 hectares).  Based on commercial taxation rates, the City is only able to generate approximately $11,000 per year off of this property.  Not only does this property not currently provide value to surrounding land uses in terms of traffic generation, it does not maximize the value to the City in terms of taxation.  This is instructive as it is very likely that the Daily News building could continue to depreciate in value if it were not sold causing the City to lose revenue potential.  Old large buildings that are not easily adaptable with potential asbestos are not popular buys and there is decent potential that the building would remain vacant for a long time, collecting graffiti and generally not providing any value to the downtown.

So what can be gained by the City purchasing the property and demolishing the building?  First, we have to remember the City purchased an asset – land.  According to BC Assessment, the land is worth $3.4 million.  So, if the City were to sell the land at that value today, it would end up losing money but it’s not $6 million.  If the City continues to use it for a parking lot, they have the potential of generating $154,000 per year (bIMG_0448ased on $80/stall/month, 160 stalls).  The City could likely sell the land for redevelopment, with the favoured development type being a mixed-use development with ground floor commercial with residential on top.  To provide a comparison, Victoria Landing on the 600 block of Victoria Street is a mixed-use building that includes commercial and residential uses and is the newest and one of the few mixed-use buildings in the downtown.  It has a total assessed value of over $16 million and generates approximately $105,000 per year in taxation (on a 0.11 hectare site – roughly the same size as the old movie theatre property).  It is worth noting that the Kamloops Daily News site is large enough to accommodate 2 – 3 developments similar to Victoria Landing.

So let’s say, as a scenario, the City sells the site for $3.7 million in 5 years time to a developer with a requirement that the site is developed in 2 years and has a similar value to 2.5 times what Victoria Landing is worth in terms of commercial and residential development.  While it may take awhile, as indicated in the table below the City would have earned $6.1 million by 2031 through parking, land sale, and subsequent taxation.

Year Revenue Revenue Type
2018 $153,600 Parking
2019 $153,600 Parking
2020 $153,600 Parking
2021 $153,600 Parking
2022 $153,600 Parking
2023 $3,700,000 Land Sale
2024 $50,468 Property Tax on Land
2025 $50,468 Property Tax on Land
2026 $261,130 Property Tax on Lands and Buildings
2027 $261,130 Property Tax on Lands and Buildings
2028 $261,130 Property Tax on Lands and Buildings
2029 $261,130 Property Tax on Lands and Buildings
2030 $261,130 Property Tax on Lands and Buildings
2031 $261,130 Property Tax on Lands and Buildings
Total $6,135,715  

This is simplistic as it does not take into account inflation, net present values, and changes in tax rates, nor does it take into account any interest paid to borrow for the purchase of the site though being a municipality, the City gets really low interest rates.  It also doesn’t take into account any revitalization tax exemptions that the development might be eligible for.  And you could probably argue that this is a fairly optimistic scenario to think that more than $40 million of investment would go into the property.

Overall though, you get the picture, all is not lost from a financial perspective and the idea that this was a waste of taxpayers’ dollars is at best muddy when thought of over a long enough timeframe.  Obviously, if a private interest had originally purchased the building and land and developed the whole property, that would have been more advantageous from a financial perspective, but the point is that the City didn’t purchase a miscellaneous piece of land with no value, it purchased a piece of land that is an asset that will generate revenue in some form that is likely cover the purchase and demolition costs eventually.

The other thing that must be factored in is that by owning the property, the City is in the driver’s seat in terms of dictating what goes there next, even if they sell the property to a developer, as they can put conditions on the sale.  The City can require that future redevelopment of the land meet certain values such as providing affordable housing, community parking, energy efficiency or some other feature that is beneficial to the community.  While zoning and development permits could enable part of this, the City would have more ability to require these community benefits be met through a purchase and sale agreement.  This is a prominent piece of land with significant potential – if it gets developed in the right way, it can add value to an area of the downtown that could use a lot of love.

In addition to the mixed-use development opportunities, there is also the opportunity to revisit the Performing Art Centre as well as some other potential civic use (i.e. new City Hall perhaps).  While these would not necessarily generate tax revenue, they would help in revitalizing Seymour Street.

We should also remember that this wouldn’t be the first time that the City has sold prominent pieces of real estate in the downtown that was eventually used for significant development.  As I mentioned earlier, theIMG_0443 parking lot that had at one end Scoopz Ice Cream Parlour and the Max Nightclub is now the Sandman Signature Hotel which has $23 million of assessed value and generates over $325,000 of taxation.  There are well over 200 jobs generated from this development as well.

In closing, I understand why people may be concerned about the purchase of the Kamloops Daily News building and land, but from a financial perspective, there is still a strong chance that the City comes out ahead on this in the long-term, provided that the City is smart with how they use the site.  In addition, the control over what happens on this site in the future is a significant benefit and will help the City ensure that the development that eventually does occur is generates value both on the site and in the surrounding downtown area.  I believe quite strongly that there are sometimes good reasons for municipalities to purchase property to speed along redevelopment or meet a community goal, particularly for properties that have strategic importance, such as the Kamloops Daily News Building.  Based on this, I think the City probably did a good thing by purchasing the site and will likely recoup the costs.  The challenge now is to work to extract the most long-term financial and community benefit from this property.

Should Kamloops try to attract a cannabis production facility?

I will preface the following with that I could be wrong about this:

In the last few months there has been a lot of excitement about the emerging cannabis industry in Canada with the anticipation of legalization in 2018.  According to Deloitte the legalization of the cannabis industry could be worth up to $8.7 billion in production alone and $22.6 billion when all ancillary services and taxes are considered.  They estimated demand at 600,000 kg of marijuana per year (16 grams/Canadian or approximately 50 joints).  That’s a lot of money and production.   (https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ca/Documents/Analytics/ca-en-analytics-DELOITTE%20Recreational%20Marijuana%20POV%20-%20ENGLISH%20FINAL_AODA.pdf).

Recently I have been spurred to think about this a little further for a couple of reasons.  One is that a number of communities I work with, both First Nations and municipalities, have said they either want to pursue the industry which makes sense given that even a relatively small slice of the pie could result in substantial economic development opportunities or have been approached by businesses looking at potential locations.  So far, most of this has resulted from facilities producing medical marijuana but with the potential legalization of marijuana, there is likely significant potential for more of these facilities to be developed.  Being someone who assists many communities with economic development initiatives, an industry that brings investment and jobs is worth getting to know in a little more detail.

The other is that at least one candidate in the upcoming byelection for City Council in Kamloops has had the attraction of a cannabis producer as part of their platform.  The candidate recently asked on Twitter whether the City should dedicate resources to attracting a cannabis producer.  At the time I disagreed.  While I applaud the candidate for having economic diversification as a key component of anyone’s platform, my reason for disagreeing was based on the idea that there are already many communities, both local governments and First Nations, trying to attract cannabis producers and there are likely only going to need to be a few production facilities needed throughout Canada in order to meet demand.   Given this environment, it appears there could be an intense competition between communities to try and attract these producers.  This may result in producers choosing locations, at least in part, based on access to affordable land and access to cheaper, but qualified labour.  While Kamloops is not the most expensive place in Canada for industry, it also isn’t the cheapest.  Based on these factors, I feel that the odds of Kamloops landing a large facility are not amazingly high and is definitely far from a sure thing.  While communities must sometimes swing for the fences in terms of economic development, I don’t know if working hard to attract this industry to town is an effective use of City and Venture Kamloops resources.

Though I initially disagreed with the idea of trying to attract the industry, I was compelled to do some research and thought I would share what I learned.  As mentioned earlier, the marijuana industry could be worth $8.7 billion in production and could result in 600,000 kg of cannabis being produced.  The big questions, in my mind, is at what scale can these producers operate and how many producers will be needed to satisfy demand.  Based on some quick research I did, I learned that up to one-third of the cost of operating a marijuana production facility is energy.  Many of the commercial facilities I could get information on are either operating completely indoors with heat lamps being used to help with growing the cannabis or have a combination of greenhouses and processing facilities.  Cannabis facilities appear to be great employment generators with some facilities employing 200 people.  The Aurora Sky facility in Edmonton is expected to be 800,000 square feet and will produce 100,000 kg of cannabis every year (http://globalnews.ca/news/3534220/construction-underway-on-800k-square-foot-cannabis-facility-near-edmonton-airport/).  This will make it the largest cannabis production facility in the world.  Another facility operated by Tweed in Smith Falls, Ontario, took over an old Hershey factory, to use for medical marijuana with plans to expand into recreational marijuana once it is legalized.  Most other facilities that I could get information on are large enough to produce 15,000 – 50,000 kg of cannabis in a year.  It appears that greenhouses are likely to preferable to totally indoor cultivation, particularly as laws loosen on the production of marijuana, thus making it less necessary to hide.  This reduces energy costs, particularly for lighting.

One of the fundamental questions for me is how many of these producers will be needed across Canada?  One article I read suggested that there would be hundreds of these facilities.   This number seems high to me.  Even if we are conservative and assume that the average facility produces 15,000 – 20,000 kg of cannabis per year, there will need to be 30 – 40 facilities across Canada to satisfy the domestic demand which isn’t a lot.   Having a number of larger scale facilities such as the Aurora Sky facility would mean that fewer facilities would be required.  As legalization takes place in other countries, the production patterns may change and importing and exporting of cannabis will also be likely.  It will be interesting to see if Canada, as an earlier adopter, is able to get a head start and become a net exporter of product which would be great for our economy.

Another question is whether Kamloops would even be attractive for someone to invest in a facility?  It’s hard to find a ton of information about what makes a great location and with the Edmonton area being an attractive site for the largest facility in the world, it’s hard to imagine what a producer actually needs.  One can assume low energy costs, the ability to take advantage of natural lighting where possible, large areas of flat land, access to transportation and availability of a highly technical and skilled labour pool are all helpful characteristics.  Kamloops has all of these characteristics with the potential exception of available land though there is a lot of suitable land on the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc reserve if they were so inclined to pursue this investment.  The other thing that some producers need, who want to produce indoors, is an old large factory such as what Smith Falls had with the old Hershey factory.   As far as I can tell, Kamloops doesn’t have any of these but my old hometown of Trenton, Ontario has dozens of abandoned factories!

So, back to one of the original questions – is this an industry the City of Kamloops should actively pursue?  First, we must recognize that there are few things that a municipality can do to attract a specific industry and even less to attract a specific business so it might be a moot point anyways.  I am completely supportive of a large-scale producer coming to the area – it would create jobs and generate property tax for the City, Tk’emlups or the Regional District.  That being said, I still question whether it is worth the time and energy of City staff and Venture Kamloops staff to try and attract the industry to Kamloops.  Based purely on the numbers, it seems that there could be a relatively low number of facilities that may need to be developed nationally to satisfy demand.  If this is indeed the case, this will create significant competition amongst communities.  One producer I read about indicated that producers don’t really have to ask for locations – communities are coming to them to try to recruit them.  This puts pressure on communities to have lower industrial tax rates, good availability of land, and affordable but skilled labour.  While Kamloops is potentially attractive to a producer due to low power rates through BC Hydro, excellent transportation access and good growing conditions, the City does not offer any advantages in terms of cheap land, cheap taxes and cheap labour.

While it may be difficult to attract a major producer, it may be more possible, and perhaps likely, to attract a smaller producer.  One thing that was interesting from the research I did was that a few people mentioned that the legal production of cannabis could resemble the brewery industry in that there are a few larger producers (i.e. Molson’s, Labatt’s) and innumerable boutique producers that will sell much lower volume, but much more specialized products.  So, even if Kamloops did not attract a major facility, there would still be room for a smaller, boutique producer.

In closing, after all of this, I still think it would not be a great use of resources to try and attract a cannabis production facility to Kamloops.  That being said, I could be wrong about all of this so I would be interested in any constructive feedback in order to learn more about this industry.

Some thoughts about what’s happening on the North Shore…

On Monday evening, some friends and I visited McDonald Park on the North Shore to play some Pickleball.  I arrived late and I quickly learned that a couple of friends were helping a guy who had been stabbed in the leg minutes earlier.  I also learned that the guy that was stabbed was obviously on some drugs and that there was a pile of needles all around the scene.  This incident came as absolutely no surprise to anyone that was there and reinforced a number of stereotypes about the North Shore. However, I found it jarring.  I have lived in the McDonald Park neighbourhood for most of the last 10 years and I like the neighbourhood and I love the park.  McDonald Park is a hidden jewel in the City’s parks system and while it has challenges at times, it’s a beautiful spot with the Pickleball courts, basketball courts, playground/water park, and lots of open space with wonderful old trees.

I’ll admit, I was angry about the stabbing and the drug use in the park.  I felt anger that visitors to my neighbourhood had to witness something like this.  I felt anger that all the stereotypes and perceptions of the North Shore were highlighted in one incident.  But I was mostly angry because over the weekend, my cousin visited with her two young boys and we took them to the park a few times and they LOVED it.  I’m angry because the very ground that the boys ran over only days earlier was stained with the blood from this mindless incident.

A question I’ve asked myself lately and I know is circulating in the community is whether it is safe on the North Shore?  If we are being honest, the biggest safety issue for most people on the that are not in the drug scene is motor vehicle traffic.  I can’t recall too many situations where I have felt unsafe.  Even after a stabbing took place meters away, we continued to play pickleball.  My experience is that other than property crime, the safety issues generally stay within that particular group of people, unless you have a house along the river, then there can be bigger issues.

Despite this feeling of relative comfort (some of this may be due to the fact that I am a male so I can by no means talk about safety issues for women on the North Shore), the fact is that the North Shore has always had problems – it’s nothing new.  I’ve lived in Kamloops for 16 years now and it’s been the perception that the North Shore is a sketchy place.  My understanding is that this perception has been in existence for decades.  So all in all, I don’t think it’s getting worse but it may be getting magnified again.

What causes these problems to happen specifically on the North Shore?  The North Shore seems to be a vacuum for nefarious activity on the streets and in the areas that surround them.  I feel that the North Shore provides an environment that allows undesirable street level activity to flourish.  Some of the contributors to this environment include:

Transient population – with lower rents, a large number of affordable housing units, and more rental units in general, it feels like there are a lot of people that move in and out of the North Shore frequently rather than being longer term residents.  This creates a situation where people don’t put down roots are less emotionally invested in the neighbourhood and are less engaged in making sure it’s a great place to live.  I always think of the closure of John Todd Elementary School as a perfect example of this.  One of the biggest struggles for the school besides declining enrollment was the fact that the Parents Advisory Committee was underfunded relative to other schools and that the voices of the parents was not strong enough to advocate on behalf of keeping the school open, which was a huge loss for the neighbourhood as it means that any child living south of Fortune Drive now has to cross a 4-lane arterial to get to the school in their catchment area.

Historically poor urban planning – the North Shore suffers from a legacy of poor planning that goes back before amalgamation between North Kamloops and the City of Kamloops.  Tranquille Road is this weird mix of pedestrian-oriented development and vehicle oriented development.  If you were to smash Notre Dame Drive and Victoria Street together, Tranquille Road is what would happen.  The mix of land uses, vacant properties, the length of the commercial district, the design of some properties to have on-site parking while other buildings are right on the right-of-way, and the function of Tranquille Road as a collector/arterial road does little to promote a positive pedestrian experience.  In lieu of this, less desirable street level activity is enabled and is amplified by the lack of any other activity on the street.  The poor urban planning and design has led to lots of dead space that is hard to monitor and easy for people involved in nefarious activities to exploit.  A perfect example is the area behind the Macs store which is near the intersection of Royal Avenue and Tranquille – this empty space combined with the JUMP building, a car dealership, a vacant building and vacant lot as well as access to the beach has created a perfect space for people to congregate over night.  And as much as I love McDonald Park, I’ll admit that it is much too large for the neighbourhood and provides too much space for undesirable activity to take place.   Unless there is something like Overlanders Days happening, there is not enough positive activity happening on any given day to fill up the park and push out the undesirable activity.

Confluence of services – the North Shore has a confluence of services that attracts people to live there.  There is some low barrier housing, safe injection site, ASK Wellness, and various societies and other services that attract vulnerable people in our community.  This is great – people need these services and frankly, without them locating on the North Shore, we’d have a lot more commercial office vacancies.  But they do attract a clientele that leads to some of the street level issues we see.

Accessibility – frankly, the North Shore is an accessible place.  It is flat which makes it easy to travel around by food or one gear bicycles, has access to transit, and has access to the beach area which is a favourite spot due to its seclusion in close proximity to the developed area.  It’s easy to get here and stay here unlike some other neighbourhoods in the hillside.

Lack of investment by property and business owners – there are many property owners in the commercial district that have chosen not to invest in their properties in years.  This is matched by a poor mix of businesses that includes way too many thrift shops, pawn shops and cheque cashing services..  This results in a street environment that is drab and uninteresting leading to little positive street activity (i.e. pedestrians walking down sidewalks and going into shops) and is therefore easy to disrespect.  The fact that one abandoned building has been recently spray painted to indicate that it’s an eyesore is proof of this.  The old Tony Roma’s building has not had an operating business in the last 9 years but there is still a sign advertising pho and ribs (or something like that) and has a number of broken windows.  Even the building that is home to the Kamloops Innovation Centre, one of Kamloops’ coolest success stories has exterior siding that has been taken down and not replaced in recent years.  You can argue that business and property owners are waiting for the street level situation to improve before making an investment but you need only look at how well businesses such as Red Beard are doing to realize that there can be successful businesses if you are entrepreneurial.

There are many more reasons there is street level activity but these are some of the main ones in my opinion that contribute to this activity occurring more often on the North Shore relative to other areas of the city.

So how can it be fixed?  If we want to push the negative activity elsewhere, there are two solutions that are not mutually exclusive but could have different results.  We can either push the problems out through enforcement undertaken by bylaws officers and the RCMP or we can push these activities out, or at least reduce their significance, by increasing the level of positive street activity.  More enforcement is nice but fines and jails rarely deters people from engaging in the type of negative activity we see on the North Shore – it’s a temporary fix.  On the other hand, increasing the amount of positive activity would require business and property owners to invest in their buildings, create interesting businesses, improve the mix of businesses and develop quality residential development in the core area of the North Shore.  It would also require people living in the neighbourhood getting out for walks on Tranquille Road and using McDonald Park in much larger numbers than what currently happens in order to take back the space.

The other mix of solutions is to address issues of homelessness and addictions at their root.  We need more resources such as social workers, affordable housing/low barrier housing, and drug rehabilitation centres.  We need more resources for children-in-care so that they are less likely to become the next street people.  We need to explore options for guaranteed income or at the very least higher welfare rates so that people can have greater stability for themselves and their family (I wrote about my own experience with the importance of stability for people in poverty in a previous blog article).  We need a much more significant investment on the part of the provincial and federal governments to address these issues.  The problem is that those solutions may take a long time to have a substantial impact.

Despite the dourness of this blog, I am hopeful that the tide is reversing and that the street level activity will become less of an issue on the North Shore.  The success of businesses such as Red Beard and the Kamloops Innovation Centre may provide proof that the North Shore is a good place for investment.  Proposed investment in new, higher density housing could also bring positive activity to the streets over time.  I also feel that we are blessed to have a municipal government that is heavily invested in trying to find solutions for key social issues.  This is not necessarily a core mandate for a municipality the size of Kamloops and we are lucky to have some talented and innovative people on the job.  They are complemented by an even larger group of awesome  social service agencies such as Interior Community Services and ASK Wellness to name but two that are doing some really great things in Kamloops to mitigate the issues we face.  These issues can be solved but it will require collaboration and a coordinated investment of resources on the part of residents, business and property owners, social service agencies, and all levels of government.

 

 

ArtsWells 2017 Recap

This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure of attending the ArtsWells Festival in beautiful Wells, BC.  I wrote about this festival means to me last year (see story here) and all in all it was another great weekend filled blessed with awesome and innovative music, a lovely setting, crazy people and clean air.  This is the fifth year that Leanne and I have attended the festival, but the first time that Leanne has taken a pre-festival workshop, which required us to be in town for a few days in advance of the festival which was great because we got to see and interact with the town in a slightly less chaotic state.

Throughout the weekend, we were treated to some amazing experiences.  I will attempt to recap a few:

Kym Gouchie – Kym is a musician and is from the Lheidli T’enneh Nation.  She had a key role in both the opening and closing ceremonies at this year’s festival, leading Indigenous prayers and songs to greet the participants in the festival and to send them on their way home.  I managed to see Kym Gouchie perform last year in Barkerville and she put on a great acoustic set.  While I have not met Kym personally, through seeing her at the last 2 ArtsWells Festivals I don’t know that I have witnessed anyone that possesses as much grace, poise, wisdom and dignity and just exudes this both in her presence and in her words.  It is truly a enriching, learning experience to see Kym play music and speak.  The arts is a critical component of reconciliation in Canada and I feel Kym exemplifies this.  Her presence has helped to make the ArtsWells Festival a much more inclusive environment.

Leanne managed to catch Kym’s set at the Sunset Theatre and she said it was a profound experience, particularly a song that was performed about the Highway of Tears.  I didn’t see her perform a full set of music this weekend but did see her also perform with Samson’s Delilah and she rocked out playing her hand drum and performing chants during one of their songs.

Wallgrin – ‘she will melt your face off’ is what Sam Tudor said about Wallgrin and while my face is still intact, Wallgrin’s sets were absolutely stunning.  Armed with a violin, finger drum pad, looping pedal, and an amazing voice with inIMG_0305credible range she performed some of the most dramatic, haunting and mesmerizing music I have heard in recent times.   With the aid of the looping pedal, she created complex tapestries that were beyond being mere songs and being complete works of art.  It was the first time I’d heard the words exosphere and lithosphere used in a song.  She was also pretty funny which juxtaposed with the dramatic songs.  Here is a link to a video of her performing from youtube.com:

Roadside Rattle – these guys weren’t in the program and I had no idea what I was going to see when I wandered into the Museum Stage tent.  They call themselves a collective with rotating band members with this iteration seemingly including about 8 people led by a trio of singers/guitarists.  Their music combined elements of blues, bluegrass, country to create some foot stomping fun.  They even used a kazoo on several of their songs and there was a kick ass washboard solo during one song.  This was probably one of the funnest sets I saw on the weekend.

Melisa Devost – Leanne had a singing workshop before the festival started with Melisa Devost that she really enjoyed and this prompted us to check out Melisa’s performances at the festival.  The first performance we saw was Melisa telling the story about how she emerged as a signer-songwriter.  It was just her standing on the stage at the Sunset Theatre talking and singing about various experiences in her life interwoven with her love of the movie ‘The Commitments’.  I found the story-telling very entertaining and Melisa had a commanding but warm presence throughout the performance.  The other time we saw Melisa was not so much a performance but a facilitation of Sunday morning gospel sing-along with the audience.  This is an annual event at ArtsWells and I participated in the sing-along for the first time last year and really enjoyed it.  It is an invigorating pick me up at the halfway point of the festival.  Melisa led the audience through a number of easy to sing gospel type songs that had us all out of our seats.  It was like church without the preaching and with a bit of swearing…

Corwin Fox – Corwin Fox is a folk singer and an ArtsWells fixture having performed at pretty much every festival. We have probably taken in his performances at the last 3 or 4 festivals.  His performances usually evolve into giant sing-alongs that are a result of having really approachable music and the humour he infuses into his songs and his on-stage banter.  Corwin, from a distance, seems like a happy-go-lucky guy.  He always seems to have a smile on his face, is well-loved and has a close knit family.  This made his performance last year unique in that he shared with his audience about his struggles with depression which you wouldn’t necessarily connect with him and played, for the first time in front of an audience, a song describing his battles with depression.  It was a beautiful song and while I couldn’t remember the song exactly, I remember the feeling I had when he sang it.  As someone who doesn’t suffer from depression but know there are lots of people that do, this song and Corwin’s description of his struggle really helped in my understanding of the kind of illness depression can be and how I treat people that may be going through this.  I thought about that song a lot over the last year.  He played that song again at this year’s festival and described his decision-making for including it on his new album and his decision to open up about this.   All I can say is kudos to Corwin for choosing to open up.

I also saw Corwin play with Raghu Lokanathan as part of their folk music combo – the Chimney Swallows.  These two together were hilarious as were many of their songs.  Playing at the intimate Museum Stage, they started off with a sound check and then told the sound guy to turn everything off before they started playing and went wholly acoustic.  Their banter and their songs were very entertaining.  When they finally asked the sound guy how much time they had left in their set, it was a bit of a surprise that they were a half-hour over because the time flew by.  Undaunted by their time violation, and being the last act of the night on this stage, they played another couple of songs.

Parlour Panther – Parlour Panther is a band that plays really fun, unique and edgy rock/pop music.  Great musicianship and IMG_0286singing combined with a strong stage presence makes them an entertaining group to watch and listen to.  They were one of the first acts at the Community Hall and their show really kicked off my ArtsWells experience this year.

Naomi Kavka – we saw Naomi play in Barkerville – just her playing her acoustic guitar playing folk-country music and it was incredible.  She was formerly the principal cellist with the Prince George Symphony so she has great musical acumen.  What stood out was the power in her voice and how expansive it was yet under control.  It felt like she could blow the doors off the old wooden church and almost to the point of being overwhelming (she wasn’t mic’d) yet she was able to draw us all in to the stories she was conveying.  Her voice will stick with me for a while and I am looking forward to album coming out.

Rae Spoon – Leanne and I have been big Rae Spoon fans since we first saw them at ArtsWells a few years ago.  Rae’s music is an infectious mix of rock and electronic with political and social overtones, particularly on gender and sexuality issues and colonialism, all blended with Rae’s great sense of humour (jokes about Justin Trudeau were pretty funny and pointed).  They played the Sunset Theatre and they rocked it.  I’ll admit, I’ve learned lots about the challenges that transgender people face and the emotions that are experienced and this has helped increase my understanding of transgender people and I am grateful for that and hopefully I am at least a little more accepting and inclusive.  Even simple thing such as getting the pronouns correct or at least having the knowledge to ask I have learned is meaningful.

Uschi Tala – at last year’s ArtsWells, Uschi Tala put on a performance that was completely mesmerizing.  You know a performance might be special when you see other artists lined up outside the venue trying to get in.  Playing at the Tempest (an old church) during the middle of the day, all the windows were blacked out and no light shone through.  The stage was candlelit and there was an artist doing a drawing throughout the set that was projected onto a wall creating a multi-media experience.  The music included layers of guitar, cello, keyboards, vocals and other weird noises all looped in various fashions and included everything from operatic singing to beat box to rap.  It was dark and deep and kind of frightening in some ways.  I remember walking out of the Tempest after that performance a little bewildered and thinking that I had seen something totally unique and out of this world.  This year’s performance at the Sunset did not approach last year’s performance but was still memorable and I am happy that I saw Uschi Tala again.

Twin Peaks – Twin Peaks in some ways is similar to seeing Corwin Fox as you know when you go to one of their shows that you are going to be entertained as they are two extremely funny and talented people who play guitar, ukulele and keyboards and are each strong singers.  We saw them play in Barkerville at the old church and they put on a wonderful performance mixing great songs with extremely entertaining banter, including some great stories about their bad experiences in Saskatchewan.  They also did an excellent job of facilitating the Clam Jam, which featured all female performers including the aforementioned Naomi Kavka, Britt A.M., and This Way North.

Other musical highlights of the festival were Sam Tudor, Slow Motion National Park, This Way North, The Risky Few, Betty and the Kid, and the Honey Tongues.

The other highlight of the festival was getting to stay at the Hubs Motel.  This was the first time since our first year at ArtsWells that we haven’t camped in our trailer and while the motel is fairly basic, it was very comfortable and quiet and the hospitality and friendliness of Dianne, the motel owner, added to our experience in Wells as did the abundance of free cookies.  If you are ever going to Barkerville, this is the place to stay (don’t bother with the ArtsWells weekend – they already have a waiting list for next year!).

I can’t wait to go back to Wells next year provided that Donald Trump and Kim Jung Whatever can resolve their conflict over whose rooster is bigger.  In the meantime, I will attempt to keep the memories fresh and capitalize on the feelings of inspiration.

 

 

Why I voted for the BC Green Party

I managed to vote this weekend – it was probably the most excited I have ever been to vote for someone – I got to vote for Dan Hines who is running for the BC Green Party in Kamloops North Thompson and while I don’t know that Dan will win, it was the first time I’ve ever voted where I felt really good about my vote.  At both the provincial and federal levels I’ve voted Liberal, Green and NDP in various elections.  I tried to ‘vote strategically’ in the last federal election and felt horrible because I did not vote for a party or a candidate I particularly liked.  I’ve even spoiled my ballot, in the last provincial election because while I really like Terry Lake and think he was the best Minister of Environment and Minister of Health we’ve had since I moved to BC and feel he was a good representative for Kamloops North Thompson, I couldn’t get behind the Liberals with Christy Clark.  This time however, with the Green Party and Dan Hines, I was able to vote for a person and a party I believe in.

Anyways, why did I vote Green this time around?  At a fundamental level, I like bold, ambitious policy that is grounded in sound environmental, social, and economic values. The Green Party has shown that ambition through the development of a platform that is based on smart policy and good research.  While I don’t agree with the entire platform, there are elements that have really caught my eye including:

Universal Basic Income – economists of all stripes have said that this is a good policy that is worth looking at in more detail and could go a long way to alleviating poverty in a much more efficient manner and would put us in a stronger position as a society to deal with changes in the economy as permanent full-time work becomes more precarious for a larger segment of the population.  The fact that the Green Party has stated that they will test this out in a smaller community is really interesting to me and could be a really compelling experiment in new social and economic policy.

Cancelling Site C – I feel that Site C has a strong potential to be an environmental and economic disaster.  It needs to be cancelled and replaced with options that are more sustainable economically and environmentally.  The Green Party is the only party that has taken this stand.

Banning non-personal donations to political parties – The more I learn about party financing, the more I realize that BC is a backwater on this issue and that it needs to change.  While the BC Liberals are certainly the most egregious in how they raise money from corporations, the fact that the BC NDP is bankrolled by the big unions also does not make me comfortable.  I would really like to see this reformed and the BC Greens have led by example in this regard.

Investment in preventative health – I really like their health platform and their emphasis on preventative healthcare.  I think this is absolutely vital to ensuring that healthcare is delivered more affordably in our province, particularly as the population ages.

Transportation policy – the BC Green Party has pledged to keep tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge.  While this may not be popular with users of the bridge, it must be recognized that comprehensive road pricing is an important solution to congestion and transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.  It also introduces user-pay to our road system – frankly we need more road tolling, not less.  The Green Party has pledged to maintain tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge and research and implement more policies on road pricing.  They also have a comprehensive Transportation Demand Management program which includes exploring distance based insurance.  These could be important and transformative policies that reflect actual best practices.

Carbon tax – one of the reasons I voted for the BC Liberals in the past was they were willing to adopt a carbon tax.  Most economists agree that carbon pricing is the most efficient way of achieving greenhouse gas reductions.  The BC Green Party commits to increasing the carbon tax which will help re-establish BC as a leader in taking action on climate change.

Electoral reform – the Green Party has long committed itself to electoral reform.  We need this to end the polarized politics in BC.  The Green Party not only commit to electoral reform, they will also consider reducing the voting age to 16 which I think is a really interesting proposal given how engaged youth are in politics (though this is self-serving because the Green Party always does well with people not old enough to vote!).

Along with the policies in their platform, there is also Andrew Weaver’s performance in the legislature.  Despite only having one seat in opposition to a majority government he has actually managed to work with the other parties to get legislation passed.  These haven’t been monumental bills but they do show a willingness to work with the parties in power to influence policy.   If Dr. Weaver’s ability to work with the other parties permeates throughout the Green Party, we will be in good stead if there is a minority government.

Finally, there is Dan Hines himself – the person I actually voted for.  I’ve met him a few times and he is exactly the type of person I want to represent our riding.  I follow him on Twitter and Facebook.  I have been impressed by his enthusiasm, intellect, humility, and drive to serve.  He wants to do things differently.  I know he would serve our riding with honour.

 

I applaud all of the candidates in our local area.  They have all demonstrated great commitment to our community.  I wish the winners well in serving our local ridings and hope that the people fall short will continue to work to make Kamloops a great place.

 

Terrorism Comes Home

Recently I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with a Syrian family that arrived in Canada from Jordan about a month and a half ago.  Myself and the volunteers I work with are tasked over the next year to help them settle into Canada.  I will tell you that it is not easy – while these families get lots of support, they don’t get any luxuries and are essentially living in poverty.  We aren’t creating touching Tim Hortons commercials here – it’s a lot of work on both sides and it’s not always smooth. But ultimately it is rewarding because Canada is trying to provide them a place of safety, a place of refuge, a place where they can raise and educate their children while their own country falls apart. Through fits and starts they are making progress.

I haven’t gotten to know the family well yet, but from what I have learned, they have gone through stuff that you and I can only imagine.  I will safely say that none of the people that will read this blog post have ever had their homes destroyed or had close civilian family members killed in war – but they have.  They are the faces and the emotion behind the statistics and facts that are the Syrian war.  While they feel safe here there are still the loved ones left behind in Syria that are effectively trapped in a failed state with extreme violence and so there is still a burden they carry that includes a whole lot of worry and angst.

Earlier today Leanne and I were at the family’s house helping them with some furniture.  Outside the family’s sons were playing hockey with some sticks that they were recently given. At one point, they called upon their Syrian neighbour to drop the ball for a faceoff. It was a beautiful classic piece of Canadiana.  Each of the boys has already been out skating with their school and for all we can tell, they are adapting well.  Through all of the stuff they have been through, they are still able to experience joy in our country and frankly I feel blessed to have seen it first hand.

This experience juxtaposes jarringly with recent events.  Trump’s racist policies with his Muslim ban has spawned outrage across the US and Canada.  In Canada, it also spawned our worst character trait – smugness – to rise up.  We think we are better than the States because we would never enact such a policy and better yet, we open our arms up to refugees.  It can be nauseating to be honest.

And then tonight happened.  A Canadian terrorist opened fire in a mosque outside of Quebec City and killed a number of people.  The perpetrators likely killed more Muslims in one act of violence than Islamic terrorists have killed Canadians over the last 15 years. And our smugness disappeared and now we must face a reality that we are not as good as we think we are.  The fact is, we can’t be smug because we need to be vigilant.  The fact is, this kind of violence was enabled in large part on a disturbing reality that has been building for years.  The Stephen Harper Conservatives ran with a platform that featured the Barbaric Cultural Practices Hotline and a vendetta against Niqabs and nearly won the election.  Kellie Leitch, with the assistance of her scum bag campaign manager Nick Kouvalis are running a campaign for the Canadian leadership based on thinly veiled racism masked through a Canadian Values Test for newcomers to Canada.  Quebec had the Bouchard Taylor Commission that focused attention on growing intolerance in Quebec and subsequently brought out the worst of Quebec society in public hearings.  Ezra Levant has a small but loyal following despite the crap he continually spews.  People set fire to a mosque in Peterborough.  I have seen examples of casual racism from people I am acquainted with on Facebook who live in Kamloops.

What I am saying is that Canada is not immune to racism and yet we often turn a blind eye to it.  It is tempting to blame the terrorism experienced in Quebec City on Trump, but we need to own this or else nothing will change. We must not treat this as an isolated incident but rather a culmination of events leading to this.

This brings me back to the family I have the honour of working with.  They were brought to Canada so that they could be safe, raise a family, and hopefully prosper.  While my exposure has been limited, they have enriched my life and they will enrich our community in due time. This may be an overreaction but my concern is that we, Canada, promised them safety – can we keep this promise in lieu of tonight’s events?  Can we tell them not to be fearful when people, terrorists, can go into a mosque and shoot people at prayer?  How do we ensure that our Muslim community must not live in fear?