Why the Performing Arts Centre should be located downtown

The recent news that the Fawcetts have been spearheading an effort to reinvigorate the development of a Performing Arts Centre is exciting for Kamloops.  As a patron of the arts, I am looking forward to this getting off the ground.  The Fawcetts should be applauded yet again for their investment into the community.  The concept looks brilliant and the fact that it has had the participation of the arts groups themselves provides more promise that everyone is on the same page.  Also very important to this is that it is in the right location, in downtown where there can be great synergies with other uses and can take advantage of the existing complementary amenities such as restaurants.  A location downtown can also take advantage of an abundance of parking stalls that aren’t used at night.

That last point about location is important as there have been articles published recently and over the last couple of years suggesting that there should be consideration of putting the facility on the North Shore, notably at Henry Grube Centre.  It seems that there are a couple of reasons for this – one would be that it would be appeasing North Shore residents who feel that they always get the short end of the stick on civic investments and that developing the Henry Grube site would be a catalyst for further investment in this area taking advantage of access to the riverfront.  As a North Shore resident, I’d love more investment into our neighbourhood; however, as a citizen of Kamloops and someone who goes to the theatre, and as a community planner, I have to disagree with the logic.  Here are some reasons:

Nearby Population – in the vicinity of the Henry Grube, there are about 1100 people living within walking distance while downtown there are about 2500 people living within walking distance of the proposed location with 200 – 300 residential units within a couple of blocks of the location.  There are also 200 – 300 residential units proposed to developed in the next couple of years downtown which would add another 300 – 400 people with even more development and densification proposed in the next 10 years, including the Kelson Group’s proposal for 500 residential units downtown.

Synergy with commercial development – the existing location of the Sagebrush Theatre  does not add any complementary economic value as it is located in an almost exclusive residential neighbourhood.  In some ways it is a stranded asset whose value is not properly leveraged because it doesn’t contribute to the vibrancy of the neighbourhood as it is not located in an area of Kamloops that desperately wants a nightlife, unlike the downtown.  You can’t park, walk to a restaurant and then walk to the theatre in the current location nor would you be able to if the PAC were located at Henry Grube.  The spin-off economic value is minimized at both the current location and the Henry Grube site.

A location downtown would also contribute to a more vibrant nightlife, support the existing restaurant industry and could also help with tourism and be a catalyst for more routinely filling the 300 – 400 hotel units downtown.  It would also add value to the multi-family development downtown, the occupants of which might be willing to pay a premium to live near such a facility.  It may also serve to make infill residential development even more attractive and thereby be a catalyst for the development of more of the vacant building lots in the core area.

Parking – many people have criticized the proposal by the Fawcetts suggesting that more parking needs to be provided.  I think the 70 stalls probably suffices but it is worth looking into to confirm that.  The reason 70 might work is that there is already existing parking in the downtown that is poorly utilized at night with 200 – 300 parking stalls within 3 – 4 blocks of the proposed location.  Add into that the larger  resident population in the downtown that won’t need parking as well as a smattering of people that might take transit, and 70 parking stalls might be justifiable.  Conversely, if the PAC were to be developed at Henry Grube or any other location on the North Shore, there would be a need to develop many more parking stalls.  The Henry Grube site would require all purpose-built parking that would be poorly utilized most times of the day.  This would mean that a new facility would require at least 600 parking stalls if they are projecting seating capacity of 1500 people.  If this were all surface parking, a parking lot of about 3.5 acres would be required which starts to eat into the riverfront land that could be used for redevelopment.  Given that underground parking is not possible due to the Henry Grube Centre being located in the floodplain, an above ground parking structure would be needed, which would cost a lot of money and also occupy quite a bit of space.

Transportation Access – the downtown location is much more accessible than the Henry Grube site.  If you have ever gone to an event at Henry Grube, whether it’s kid soccer or a meeting, you have likely seen how challenging it is to get in and out of the neighbourhood.  The streets are narrow and a bit convoluted and there is only one signalized intersection with Fortune Drive which would likely to have priority for through traffic on Fortune meaning getting out of the neighbourhood could take a while.  Sure, there could be some upgrades to improve this situation but these could be very costly.

Now if you want to appease the North Shore residents, invest in smaller arts-related infrastructure.  Or outside of the arts, invest in the things that each of the neighbourhoods want – for instance, my neighbourhood would like more sidewalks, traffic calming, newer playground equipment and the refurbishment of the basketball courts in McDonald Park; Brock might like the Tranquille Road multi-use pathway; we’d all probably like one of our neighbourhood schools to reopen.  Heck, move City Hall over to the North Shore – we’ll take it!  Regardless, let’s invest wisely.  The PAC is going to cost a lot of money, let’s do what we can to minimize the costs and maximize the benefits.

 

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Why I Voted Yes for Proportional Representation

While I am writing this a bit late in the game, I wanted to share my thoughts on why I voted yes to Proportional Representation (PR) in the current referendum.  I have been dissatisfied with First Past The Post (FPTP) since I learned that there were other ways we could elect representatives rather than the antiquated system we have now.  I know this could be expected by someone who is most aligned with the Green Party and doesn’t particularly care for the other options but there are other reasons for my thinking on this:

  • It makes the most sense to me – if a party gets 15% of the votes in the province, it should get 15% of the seats. The math isn’t that difficult.  Conversely, a party that gets 40 – 45% of the votes shouldn’t get a majority in the legislature and therefore get 100% of the power.  While these situations are more stark at the federal level where a party can win a majority with 37% of the vote depending on their vote distribution, majority governments are often times formed on the backs of a minority of the vote in BC.  Frankly it ignores the majority of people in most elections.
  • I want to vote for something, not against something – I have voted ‘strategically’ in several elections in order to try and block a party I definitely did not want to win in favour of voting for the party that I am most aligned with. This kind of voting is not inspiring at all and feels kind of pointless.  I want to vote for ideas and platforms that I think are good for the province, not against ideas and platforms that I think are bad.  Under a PR system, I would be able to vote for the party I am most aligned with and see a realistic possibility that my vote would matter.  While there are a multitude of reasons why people choose not to vote, the perception that your vote doesn’t matter, particularly in ‘safe’ ridings, is certainly one of them and this leads to lower voter turnout.
  • I am tired of the games that parties play to win a majority government. It’s one thing to want to win as many seats as possible and it’s quite another to attempt to actively undermine the legitimacy of minority governments and coalitions.    Political leaders today take too much pride in not being collaborative and rigidly adhering to their ideologies.  In too many recent close elections, politicians have said that they would not consider forming a coalition government like coalitions are evil concoctions.  This seems to be a strong armed tactic.  Under a PR system, it would be in the best interest of parties to learn to collaborate well with people and politicians of different stripes because minority governments would be the expectation.  A benefit of this is that once minority government became an expectation, there would likely be more stability in these types of government.
  • The emerging issues that we face, such as increased homelessness, opioid addictions, climate change and its effects such as increased wildfires, aging population, and gradual decline of rural communities are much too complex to be dealt with through partisan politics. We need a much more collaborative governance system in order to deal with these issues.  In short, we need the best ideas of the BC Liberal, NDP, and Green parties in order to develop robust solutions to these issues.  We are not served well by majority governments.
  • It might enable more maturity in politicians and the discourse around government in BC. While it may be wishful thinking that the discourse could improve, the partisanship that FPTP engenders disgusts me.  I would hope that because more people would be working collaboratively together rather than in opposition to one another, that there would be less incentive to engage in negative campaigning.
  • It will reduce the appeal of swing ridings – swing ridings are the apple of the eye and they get all of the attention because they decide the elections. Conversely, safe ridings get less attention and less love.  At least in a PR system every vote would count.  In this regard, it will be important for parties to get broad distribution of their message and ensure that they have high quality candidates throughout the province rather than putting up sacrificial lambs in ridings they can’t possibly hope to win.
  • It will keep politicians accountable – the previous majority BC Liberal government, the legislature barely ever sat. While what they did was totally legitimate under our governance system, it led to a lack of accountability by not enabling debate in the legislature.

In the last few weeks, I have heard some silly things about the potential downsides of PR, such as:

  • It will lead to extremism – this is ridiculous. Yes, there are ‘extremist’ elements of governments in countries that have PR.  But this is also the case in countries with a FPTP system.  The UCP has a strong chance to form government in Alberta in the next election despite having a leader who has in the past has had strong anti-LGBTQ stances and has done nothing to suggest a change.  Doug Ford got elected with a majority government despite his shortcomings as a person and is now implementing policies that will be very damaging to the LGBTQ community in Ontario.  Some members of the Conservative Party of Canada, including its leader, have no qualms hanging out with Rebel Media, the xenophobic mouthpiece of Canadian media – they don’t see this as a potential limitation to them winning.  There are better ways to limit extremism such as public education, investment in the arts and community building activities, and preserving good quality journalism.  If you require the electoral system to defeat extremism then you are already on your way to losing the battle.
  • It will result in the loss of local representation – all the research I have done has assured me that we won’t lose local representation in the legislature. Our ridings might be larger but we’ll still have someone responsible for our area and voicing concerns on behalf of constituents.  I’ll admit, this isn’t a big issue for me to begin with.  I didn’t vote for our local representative and neither did 53% of the people who voted in my riding.  If local representation is so important, why do parties emphasize how important it is to have a representative in the governing party?  Also, people that fear not knowing what their riding boundaries need to be reminded that riding boundaries change from time to time without a referendum and at the direction of Elections BC.  So yes, ridings will change depending on the PR system but ridings change now under FPTP.

I understand why people like FPTP and would want to retain it.  It’s relatively simple, it’s what we are used to, and we are a very successful country and province under this system.  It provides a perception of stability that people crave.  However, I feel if you are truly interested in democracy, then you should try the most democratic system possible.  Really, if you think your ideas are so good, you shouldn’t be worried about a more democratic system, right?

Why we might want to consider the Kamloops Public Market idea…

When I was living in London, Ontario for a short period of time in 2000/2001, I managed to get an internship with Mainstreet London, an organization seeking to revitalize downtown London through a variety of mechanisms including beautification, promotions, events, and marketing.  To that point in my life, it was my dream job as downtown revitalization was (and still is) a passion of mine.  While downtown London had a number of challenges at the time, there were some cool things going on.  Perhaps the most interesting spot in the downtown was the Covent Garden Market, which opened in the late 1990s and occupies much of a city block.  The building was beautifully designed and had an interesting mix of food-related and non-food related businesses.  It was fun to meander down the aisles and see the various products available (and this was before my diet had dramatically shifted from macaroni and cheese).  The Covent Garden Market was and is a public market that allows a number of small vendors to come together and create a critical mass of activity that supports the viability of each of the small businesses.  The market was a key node for the overall revitalization of downtown London and with the later addition of the John Labatt Centre arena across the road, has created a fantastic public square that provides space for outdoor events and concerts.

Recently, a group in Kamloops has unveiled conceptual plans that would involve the development of a public market in Riverside Park.  Their plans to include a 35,000 square foot building and public plaza area built atop a parkade.  According to the initial plans, it would house 15 permanent businesses, likely mostly food-related, 20 day stalls and outdoor space for a seasonal Farmers Market that would have space for 100 stalls.  (you can see the concepts here: https://www.kamloopspublicmarket.org/).  It’s an interesting idea and something worth considering.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of resistance in the community to even exploring the idea.  Nancy Bepple published an article dismissing the idea with a headline saying that ‘Many reasons an indoor farmers market is the wrong way to go’. (article is here: https://armchairmayor.ca/2018/07/18/bepple-many-reasons-an-indoor-farmers-market-is-the-wrong-way-to-go/).  Her basic contention was that we shouldn’t mess with a good thing and that farmers markets work best when they respect the seasons and have limited hours of operation throughout the week.

There is no doubt that the Kamloops Farmers Market has become on institution in this town and that it is something that brings people together.  It’s an important part of our community fabric and we must respect that.  That being said, it would be foolish not to even consider the idea of a Public Market through further study and ongoing  community dialogue.  Here are a few reasons why:

1.) The basic premise of Nancy Bepple’s article is that this would replicate the existing Farmers Market.  I’d argue that a Public Market would differ somewhat from the Farmers Market in that it would provide a lot more variety of value-added food services in addition to produce and meats.  Think more mini-bakeries and delis, small food stands and other value added services.  Also think about other unique little businesses that could operate in this space.  Sure there would be plants, produce and meats but that wouldn’t be the sole focus.  The public market does not even preclude the continued operation of the existing Farmers Markets.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could have both?

2.) It would provide suitable space for micro-enterprise – this space could fill a void that exists between those people working from the back of their trucks and those that need larger retail space.  The value-added food enterprises could use a different kind of space that is currently not available in Kamloops.  A public market could fill this void and provide an incubator space for vendors – not a lot of upfront capital and lower lease rates but huge benefits from being in a space that would attract a lot of people and would be good for those small businesses that are not destination type businesses but rather reliant on walk-by traffic.  We do not have this kind of business space anywhere in Kamloops.   These businesses could either outgrow the spot and find other retail space or stay the same size but the important premise is that a lot of upfront risk would be taken out of the equation.

3.) It’d be another tourist attraction in our downtown – when I am touring around cities, I love going to spaces like public markets.  Our downtown has very few interesting businesses for tourists which is fine because our downtown should cater to its residents.  However, with the recent announcement of Rocky Mountaineer’s aggressive plans to increase the number of people taking its tours, a public market, particularly in Riverside Park, could attract a number of tourists.  And the fact that it would be open 40+ hours a week versus the 10 hours of Farmers Market per week would allow it to capture more of that tourist traffic.

4.) It would be an interesting addition to Riverside Park – I know some people don’t like the idea of businesses in public parks.  However some of the most vibrant community spaces I’ve seen in my travels throughout the world have effectively mixed the public and the commercial realms seamlessly in parks and squares.  Imagine being able to grab some food at the public market and take it down into the park for a picnic.  Or imagine how this would complement the addition of an outdoor refrigerated rink in Riverside Park in the winter.  Right now the spot that is being considered is a parking lot – it’s nicely landscaped as parking lots go but it’s still a parking lot that could be redeveloped into something more.  This isn’t the same as the parkade idea from a few years ago.  The public market at this location could support even greater vibrancy at Riverside Park and be a further contributor to the ongoing vitalization of Lorne Street which has undergone an amazing transformation over the last 10 years.

5.) It’d be something interesting for the people that work and live downtown – as someone who works downtown I would be excited to have this Public Market as a place to get lunch or just wander around.  And I would imagine this would add to the quality of life for people living downtown.  This would add significantly to our downtown.

6.) It would highlight the importance of agriculture and food in our community – in some ways its amazing that the current market does so well because there is no real infrastructure that supports it.  The Saturday market just involves the closure of St. Paul Street and the use of Stuart Wood while the Wednesday market is crammed in half a block of sidewalk.  Other communities at least have permanent stalls while others have a mix of indoor and outdoor space.  The public market could reinforce the importance of food to our local economy by showcasing local products, particularly value-added products, year-round.

I don’t know if a public market could be successful in Kamloops but I think it is something that is worth exploring in more detail.  If there are enough businesses and vendors willing to use such a space and the capital financing can be put in place, then I think this is a really solid idea.  I applaud the folks getting behind this Kamloops Public Market idea for presenting this vision and facilitating the dialogue in the community.  Yes the Kamloops Farmers Market is important to the community fabric but we shouldn’t fear change. If we want Kamloops to evolve, we need people bringing creative and bold ideas like this to the table.

Why We Should Consider Legalizing Secondary Suites in Kamloops

Recently, Councillor Kathy Sinclair has proposed a motion for Council to vote on this week that would request that City staff look at options to legalize secondary suites in all single family residential zones and that would be subject to approval by City staff rather than Council.  The aim of this would appear to be threefold:

  • Help encourage the development of secondary suites to address our rental housing shortage in Kamloops by eliminating the Council process which can be costly and time consuming for the proponent
  • Get more secondary suites into a legalized development process that would provide better oversight from City staff in terms of compliance with the building code and various municipal regulations and policies
  • Save Council time – while this is the least of the issues on this list, the fact that most of the secondary suite applications that make it to Council get the approval of Council leads to the question of what is the point of having Council vote on them.  Frankly, I want the Council of a large city like Kamloops spending time discussing and debating matters of greater substance to the community.

While the motion at this point is simply to request that staff to do some research on the matter and bring back some possible bylaw amendments, I thought I would put out there that I support the legalization of secondary suites for a number of reasons:

More oversight of secondary suites – the fact is, the current process is such that it discourages many people from going through any of the steps of constructing a legal secondary suite.  It is expensive and time consuming.  People are circumventing the whole process and just going ahead and building their suites without any inspection for compliance with bylaws and building code and no notification of the City.  This creates a whole host of potential safety issues.  A process worked through with staff has a greater chance of encouraging the dialogue necessary to solve design issues and ensure that the secondary suite contributes positively to the neighbourhood in which it is located.

We need the rental supply – the rental supply issues in Kamloops have been well documented.  Our vacancy rate is under 2%.  As someone who works for a company that brings a lot of people from out of town to work, it is difficult for people to find suitable rental accommodation and most of them end up in a secondary suite of some sort.  It’s only been in the last couple of years that developers are building rental housing in significant density and even then, it’s probably limited to a few hundred units.  Most new multi-family dwellings in Kamloops have been constructed as condominiums and while these sometimes get rented out, it is somewhat sporadic and at the whim of strata councils.  The growth in secondary suites, legal and illegal, has helped to bridge the gap in the lack of dedicated market rental housing.  Secondary suites help diversify the range of housing available.  This has been pretty important given the growth of TRU and the growth of Kamloops in general.

Our single family neighbourhoods can handle this – most single family neighbourhoods can handle this.  The average household size in Kamloops has fallen significantly in the last few decades.  We have fewer people living in larger homes.  Our neighbourhoods were designed to handle much more people than they are at present.  Even the streets have been designed to handle the increase in vehicles.

We have the Good Neighbour Bylaw – the recently adopted Good Neighbour Bylaw will put the onus on landlords to select good tenants.  By fining homeowners directly for nuisance complaints on their property, the Good Neighbour Bylaw will make landlords more accountable to their neighbours.  This would seemingly address more quickly the issues that can arise from bad renters.

Some other thoughts:

Parking – people are citing parking issues as a reason not to make this change.  There is concern that a house with a secondary suite will require on-street parking and this might spill over to on-street parking in front of the neighbours house.  First of all, people have to remember they don’t own the right-of-way in front of their house.  If parking is allowed, anyone can park there for up to 48 hours (they can actually drive their car around the block and then park there again for another 48 hours).  Second, most streets have been designed to allow on-street parking.  On-street parking can lead to congestion but that is not a bad thing, particularly on local streets where people shouldn’t be driving that fast to begin with.

Just because they’ll be more legal, doesn’t mean that we are going to be inundated with secondary suites – I have no idea how many secondary suites there are in Kamloops but I’d suggest that there are likely as many secondary suites as there are people who want to have them in their house (i.e. anybody that wants to have a secondary suite likely has one already).  Even once legalized, I doubt that there will be a mad rush of people building them.  First of all, most houses haven’t been well designed for them.  Second, it does represent a substantial investment that can take many years to recoup.  The suite in my basement cost about $30,000 to build and for the time that I had it rented, it did not pay itself back anymore than the increase in value of just having the basement finished.  Third, not everyone wants to be a landlord.  I have a secondary suite and I haven’t rented it out for 5 years because I found I liked my tenants one day a month and resented their incursion into my space the other days of the month.  Add to this the complexities of dealing with the Landlord Tenant Act and being a landlord is not always that lucrative.  Remember, we now allow people to have chickens in their backyards and from what I can tell, there hasn’t been a dramatic increase in the number of hens.  Pot will be legal in October and yet it doesn’t mean everyone is going to be out there getting high.  All I am saying is that even when they are more legal, I don’t suspect that there will be a sudden dramatic increase in the number of secondary suites in Kamloops.

Will it affect neighbourhood land values? Perhaps, but I look at the Sagebrush and Downtown neighbourhoods which I would guess probably have the greatest density of secondary suites and have some of the highest land values in Kamloops.  Somehow those neighbourhoods are not rotting away, people aren’t fleeing.  They remain attractive neighbourhoods despite the preponderance of secondary suites and mostly on-street parking.  Somehow they work.  Sure, you could have a bad secondary suite but you could also have a drug house next to you or someone that lets their house deteriorate or someone that chooses to paint zebra stripes on their house or park their rusty boat in the front yard.  We can’t control who buys the house next to us and there is little we can do to control what they do with their house.  If you want that level of control, go live in a strata.

It will better utilize some City services – if we were to increase the density in neighbourhoods such as Aberdeen and Juniper, we might actually see more people riding the bus in those neighbourhoods and there may be justification for even increasing transit.

Housing costs are escalating – while the idea of the mortgage helper took root in Vancouver years ago, the need for a mortgage helper is becoming more pressing in Kamloops now for young people wanting to enter the housing market.  Housing prices have increased much more significantly than incomes.  I earn more than most people and can afford my house but I also bought ten years ago in a more depressed neighbourhood and therefore my mortgage costs are fairly reasonable.  I couldn’t imagine the stress of trying to afford a more expensive mortgage with less disposable income but that is the reality many people must face (my monthly mortgage is less than most rental rates).  You can say that people should be happy just renting but the fact is that so much of our retirement system is still based on real estate and therefore if you want to dream of retirement, you have to be in the housing market.  A secondary suite makes this more of a possibility for young people.

Should we have empathy for people who bought in a single family neighbourhood and now face the prospect of their neighbours having a secondary suite?  Potentially but things change.  We can no longer sustain having predominantly single family neighbourhoods – they are taxing to our services and our land base and a waster of resources.  We need to diversify our housing options and enabling more secondary suites is a way of doing this.

 

 

Why We Need The Summit Overpass

The idea of building an overpass over Summit Drive to connect the downtown west end of Kamloops with TRU has been in plans for a decade or more.  Recently, the idea of developing this overpass seems to have become a higher priority project due to a variety of reasons.  The soon-to-be-completed Peterson Creek pathway means that the overpass is next up in terms of large projects for the City’s pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure network.  The recent purchase of Upper College Heights and the proposal to construct more student housing in the neighbourhood provides greater urgency for the overpass as there are likely over a thousand students and staff that live in this area with that number expected to grow in the future.  The recent death of an international student in Prince George further highlights the need for safe access to campuses for all modes of travel.

Earlier today, Mel Rothenburger published an editorial that said that TRU, not the City, should pay for the costs of the overpass.  He also said that building a fence on Summit would be a suitable alternative to building the overpass.  While I don’t disagree with him that TRU should pay at least a portion of the costs, if not all of them, particularly given that they are flush with cash and embarking on private land development, I believe that Mr. Rothenburger is quite wrong about the fence – it’s not a suitable alternative to an overpass.

Besides the increase in safety that it would provide, the overpass would also offer more direct access to the heart of campus than going to the intersection of Summit/McGill.  I have heard people say that this overpass could be similar to 3rd Avenue overpass over the rail tracks which doesn’t get much use but this is not a great comparison simply for the fact that most times during the day, there isn’t actually a train crossing 3rd Avenue cutting off access to Lorne Street and Riverside Park and walking along 3rd Avenue is easier, more efficient and safe.  The same cannot be said of Summit Drive where there is always traffic which forms a moving barrier to actually walking safely across the road and therefore using the overpass would make sense.

Another benefit would be that pedestrians would no longer have to wait for the walk signal at the intersection and would not have to worry about turning vehicles.  On the flipside, there would be a benefit for motorists making turns as there would be fewer pedestrians crossing the road.  This would reduce vehicle congestion at one of the busier intersections in Kamloops.

The overpass would also help to better integrate TRU with the west end of downtown and the core of downtown itself.  The TRU campus is like an island in the middle of the city bounded by arterial roadways.  While the campus itself is quite nice, it has always felt like a separate entity to me.  While this overpass would not completely solve this issue, it would provide a tangible connection between TRU and a neighbourhood in town which is a good starting point in better integrating the campus in the city.  The overpass could become a fundamental component of a broader bicycle network in the city that could connect Dufferin and Aberdeen through the TRU campus with the downtown.

While a fence could be installed in the median of Summit Drive and would be a cheaper alternative, such a move is retrogressive.  It means that we are going to continue to prioritize motorists of pedestrians and people that ride bikes and other modes of travel which is the opposite of what progressive communities are doing.  It is saying to pedestrians that we like you enough that we don’t want to crush you with our 2000 pounds of steel but we don’t like you enough to actually give you something that makes your travel more convenient.

The overpass won’t be cheap but it is a worthy investment.  It would be safer, more efficient, and would send another signal that our community is putting pedestrians and people that ride bikes on a more equitable level with motorists.  Hopefully TRU and the City can get this figured out and get it built soon.

Thoughts on the Ontario Election

Tomorrow night is the election in Ontario.  It is likely to bring down the Liberal government and herald in what looks like a Progressive Conservative government led by Doug Ford which will bring some challenges.  My hope against hope is that there will be an NDP minority government which will give the Liberals and the PCs a chance to find new leaders that can have a better contest a couple of years from now.

I have taken a keen interest in this election as a transplanted Ontarian.  I have watched with nervousness as Doug Ford has become PC leader and taken advantage of a vacuum of leadership in the Liberal and NDP to have a realistic chance of being premier of Canada’s most populous province.  I have watched many people compare him to Trump because the comparison is too irresistible but I’ve also seen him compared to Mike Harris which is also not a comforting thought.

Mike Harris was premier from 1995 to 2002, just as I was finishing high school and going to university.  As I was poor and making the transition to university, Mike Harris was nothing but awful in my eyes.  He not only cut social assistance, he demonized being poor by starting welfare snitch lines which cost more to operate than they saved in welfare snitching (the precursor to Harper’s Barbaric Cultural Practices Hotline).  His cuts to the education system, which was ironic given that he was trained as a teacher, led to teacher strikes, larger class sizes, and higher tuition fees.  His first Minister of Education didn’t even graduate high school which I took for disdain for the education system.  Mike Harris’s government was partially responsible for Ipperwash and Walkerton.  He was responsible for the loss of community identity in many places through the ill-conceived idea of forced amalgamation of municipalities, which in many cases resulted in illogical local government structures and boundaries (see Quinte West).

I understand why people voted for Mike Harris after the Bob Rae NDP era as the promise of reduced taxes and reduced provincial debt was alluring and the perception that he was going to stick it to fat cat civil servants and to poor welfare bums was likely appealing.  He marketed the ‘Common Sense Revolution’ to great effect because really, who doesn’t like common sense.  Mike Harris was the precursor to Stephen Harper and ushered in a much meaner type of politics in Canada where there were clear winners and losers in society.

I say all of this because while Doug Ford has been compared to Donald Trump, he is more akin to a Mike Harris – meanness and policies that help a select few.  I wish Ontarians well as they go to vote tomorrow – it can’t possibly be easy.  May the best woman win…

10 Albums, 10 Days – Uschi Tala

ArtsWell 2016 – I read in the program that this experimental musician was going to play a daytime show at the Tempest (an old church).  The description was promising so I made a point of getting to the show which I believe was on the Sunday.  It seemed that this show had some buzz to it which was interesting given that I hadn’t heard of Uschi Tala.  When we got to the church there was a long line-up outside – the fascinating part was that there were so many other musicians in the line-up.

When we got into the church it was completely dark with the exception of a couple of lights on stage.  The windows were covered so it was slightly disorienting given that we had just come from daylight.  Then Uschi Tala started and the show was mesmerizing – lush instrumentation including guitar, cello, and keyboards, looping pedals, reverb, a mixture of operatic tones with hip hop and beat boxing, and an artist doing drawings in sand projected.  The show was haunting and heavy.  Emerging out of the church at the end of the show from darkness back into light I remember feeling that my world had shifted slightly.

I immediately went to the merch tent and bought the CD.  The album is a reflection of the live show in many ways.  It’s an immersive experience listening to this album – it needs to be listened to loud or on good headphones to capture all of the nuance.  Despite listening to it loud, it can also be a meditative journey going through this album.  For me, there are no favourite songs or songs that particularly stand out – each song is in its right place on the album and the album deserves to be listened to as a whole.

 

10 Albums, 10 Days – Xavier Rudd, Live in Canada

In February 2002 I was still relatively new to Kamloops and didn’t know too any people outside of my work colleagues.  I lived downtown so I would often just wander around town to kill some time.  While I was wandering around one time I saw a poster for a band called Xavier and the Hum.  They were going to play at the library downtown and best of all, it was going to $2 which was something I could actually afford on my meagre wage at the time.  I did a little bit of internet research on Xavier and the Hum and found out that Xavier was an Australian guy who played didgeridoo.  I think there was one video that I was able to watch to get an idea of what it’d be like.  I decided to go by myself to the concert.  When I got to the library there was an elaborate set-up with a bass drum, a wide assortment of percussion instruments, guitars, and 3 didgeridoos.  It was pretty wild.  Then this wild looking guy in barefeet got up anxavierd started to play all of these instruments, sometimes, simultaneously while also singing with this powerful voice that was controlled yet all over the place all at once.   It was intense, it was amazing, it was absolutely mind blowing.  Having seen a bunch of crappy one-man cover bands at Sergeant O’Flaherty’s over the previous months, this was a breath of fresh air.  I don’t know what happened to the ‘Hum’ part of the band, but Xavier Rudd was enough.

While at the concert I bought the album Live in Canada and like the live show, it blew me away.  Of course, it was recorded live so it was able to capture the frenetic energy of a Xavier Rudd show.  This album was like nothing else in my record collection to that point – the obvious part is that I didn’t have any other albums from Australian didge players.  Epic jam songs, didge solos, mellow songs, slide guitar, primal yet beautiful and a crazy energy associated with it.  ‘To Let’, the second song on the album is like a microcosm of all these elements.  ‘River Groove’ and ‘Like This’ are slow grooves that hang out on a knife’s edge wanting to break out but staying contained…barely.  ‘The Native Eye’ is a great song about is the idiocy of some tourists to foreign cultures who dress the part but are very superficial in their cultural appreciation.  Sadly, I’ve seen this character and perhaps more sadly, I have likely been that character from time to time in my travels. ‘Green Spandex’ is the kind of song that if you lived a good life that meant something to those around you, someone would write.  It’s a wonderful tribute to someone who must have been loved.  The album ends with a mellow song ‘This Little Space’ which is a mix of sadness, anger and hope for a relationship.

That Xavier Rudd concert in February 2002 was helpful in getting me out of the funk I was in trying to get used to Kamloops and being away from home.  Xavier Rudd’s music became a fundamental part of my listening for the next several years after that.  An interesting tid-bit – that concert, which was only attended by maybe 50 people, was likely the first time Leanne and I were ever in the same room together.  It only took us another 10 years to get together…

 

 

10 Albums, 10 Days – Coco Love Alcorn – Wonderland

Coco Love Alcorn is another discovery from the ArtsWells Festival in 2015.  Leanne and I first saw her at the Bear’s Paw and it was amazing.  On top of being an incredible performer with an exceptional voice, she was personal, engaging, and funny.  She was playing around with a looper that she used to greacocot effect.   We saw her a couple of more times that weekend and it was a great time.  She was back again in 2016 and this time she co-led the traditional Sunday morning gospel session at the Tempest (an old church) with Bocephus King.  She had just completed her album Wonderland which had a lot of gospel-type music on it so she was able to borrow material from that and lead a sing-a-long on many songs.  Adding to it was that there were no mics being used and many of the songs were done acapella.  Her powerful voice and the engagement of the audience as one voice nearly blew the roof off of that rickety old building.  It was such an invigorating event that I still get goosebumps reminiscing about it.

Wonderland is an amazing album with many great songs generally in the gospel realm.  Like I said, Coco has an amazingly powerful voice with great range and it shows on many of the songs.  When combined with her use of the looper and instrumentation, you have a very enjoyable album to listen to – the songs are catchy without being sugary pop music or necessarily being ear worm material (i.e. a song that gets stuck in your head and you can’t get it out).  This is one album that I can listen to and it actually lifts my mood.  Coco has said she crafted these songs to be sung, not only be herself but by others and many of the songs have been adapted by choirs and acapella groups and she often sings with community choirs as back up singers for her live performances.  Whatever the case, Wonderland is an amazing showcase for Coco’s talents.

 

 

10 Albums, 10 Days – Weeping Tile – Cold Snap

Weeping Tile was Sarah Harmer’s band before she went on to her long and successful solo tour.  I remember them being the first band to play at Nipissing during frosh week of my first year and myself and a newly made friend being the only people that had ever heard of them.  It was a somewhat sparsely attended show but it was great and it was part of a great start to my university days.  I seem to recall they might have done a version of ‘The Wall’ by Pink Floyd which would have been in honour of our now departed university pub.

weeping tilegot into Weeping Tile when the video for ‘Cold Snap’ came out and I really enjoyed the energy in that song.  I bought the album Cold Snap and subsequently really enjoyed that as well.  Sarah Harmer’s lyrics and singing combined with simple but interesting musical arrangements really made this album for me.  There are many gems on this album – ‘Westray’ which questioned how we could ever allow something like the Westray mine accident happen; ‘In the Road’ which is a simple song but overlain with a rich cello; ‘UFO Rosie’ a song about seeing UFOs; and ‘Handkerchiefs and Napkins’ a nice mellow song to end the album are all highlights for me.