Changing Hammond

Our neighbourhood of Hammond is changing and the community is abuzz. The focal point of this discussion is the possibility of a new multi-use recreational facility being constructed in the middle of Hammond on city-owned land which is currently home to a small community centre, outdoor pool and two baseball fields. This is really why I’m writing this post. It’s a chance to talk about the future of our community.

It’s time to speak up. If you live in Maple Ridge and you would like to learn more and voice your opinion, here is the link: https://engage.mapleridge.ca/move-meet-play

Change is hard

Hammond is changing whether we want it to or not. Some of these changes we like, some we don’t, some we fight over. We’re at a cross-roads of the lasting impact of the pandemic, a housing crisis, an opioid crisis and a climate crisis. The City of Maple Ridge is growing and diversifying. It’s easy to feel powerless.

In this post I’m going to talk about what we can control and what we can’t.

Because of the rapid growth of our town, we’re watching as older homes in our neighbourhood are bought, torn down, and replaced with houses three times the size. Even houses that have been recognized as having heritage value are not immune as recently the one that belonged to John Hammond, one of the three founders of Port Hammond Junction was demolished and a towering modern structure is being erected in its place.

Cars and trucks speed through the small Hammond streets, ignoring stop signs. The school zone at Hammond Elementary is ignored by drivers in a hurry. Sidewalks are scarce and cycling feels risky. There are two small shops but most shopping and services require a trip to Lougheed Highway in a car. The historic commercial centre has a few businesses that struggle to survive. In a car-dependent town, people from other neighbourhoods won’t make the side-trip into Hammond to shops here and Hammond’s population doesn’t provide enough walking traffic to make businesses here viable.

As a parent of two teens, I’m still carrying some parental guilt that my kids didn’t grow up cycling around their neighbourhood as I did in Vancouver. I think I could have done more but I also remember them expressing fear of traffic. How different would their lives be if we lived where bikes were more welcome on the road?

Climate change means to Hammond more extreme heat events in summer and cold snaps in winter, putting vulnerable people at risk of heat stroke or being snowed in. There is more frequent and severe flood risk from the Fraser River. Air quality problems from wildfire smoke are a regular occurrence. Meanwhile the older homes are poorly insulated, use fossil gas for heat and lack air conditioning.

In 2019, a major employer in Hammond, the Interfor cedar mill, shut down, leaving its property and buildings dormant. The entire site had been a settlement of the Katzie People, including a sacred burial ground. The Katzie were forced off the land by the colonial government in 1862. Although the current owner has plans to re-develop the site for industrial purposes, they must work in good faith with the Katzie First Nation and deal with the important archeological implications. This will take time.

While we wait for resolution and reconciliation for the old Hammond Mill site, a major expansion of a lithium-ion battery assembly plant has been announced for the industrial park adjacent to Hammond. This should bring new jobs, improve the city’s tax base and perhaps launch us into the clean economy. The plant’s location next to the Golden Ears Bridge means trucks won’t need to drive through the neighbourhood which has been a problem with the mill site.

Doing nothing is a choice

Many residents of Hammond like it the way it is, (or is it that we’re willing to put up with its short-comings if it means keeping the things we like?) but change is a-coming. We can watch it roll over us or we can help to shape it.

The City of Maple Ridge is growing faster than almost anywhere else in Canada. In BC, only Langley is increasing in population faster. Like it or not, Hammond is a natural area for increasing density. It has had residential streets mapped out since 1883 when the town was registered as “Port Hammond Junction”. Streets are built and all have power, water and sewer systems. The railway tracks run through and take commuters into and out of Vancouver. It’s accessible via Lougheed Highway and the new bridge to Langley. There is potential for growth in employment with the nearby industrial park. All these factors combine to make Hammond attractive for sustainable development and increased density.

Some people who are concerned about losing what makes Hammond special say that population growth should happen in newer communities in the east of Maple Ridge. However, those communities mean enormous costs to the city, which must build new infrastructure, not to mention schools and services, and to natural habitats which are destroyed to build new houses. In a world which needs compact, accessible cities, Hammond has a lot of the right stuff.

“But” you say, “can’t we push all the density into Haney?” The downtown core. City Hall, Arts Centre, shopping, transit hub, recreation centre—all these things are close by. It’s perfect. Well, if you’ve visited Haney lately, you’ll see all the housing units that are going in there. So Haney is already densifying. In fact, it is no coincidence that Maple Ridge was successful in attracting a new Rapid Bus service connecting us to Langley and the Skytrain in Coquitlam. The federal and provincial governments are taking some climate action and that means encouraging population hubs where transit can be more effective in giving people the freedom to leave their cars at home.

Well then, can we hope that Haney will take all the people and leave Hammond alone? Sorry, it’s a free country and we can’t stop people from moving into our nice community. However, we CAN lean into the historic settler rivalry between Haney and Hammond and grow BETTER than Haney.

Preserving the Form and Character of Hammond

So if we can’t hold back the population boom, how can the form and character of Hammond be preserved? The properties here are cheaper than Vancouver and buyers are free to do what they wish with their lots as long as they don’t apply to re-zone. Some buyers work to update the existing house, but it often makes economic sense to start from scratch. Can we blame them? Not really. The people we need to talk to are the current owners, not the new buyers.

In BC, unlike some places in Ontario where the government can unilaterally protect a heritage property from demolition, the only way to preserve an older home’s character here is if the current owner decides to protect the building by working with the heritage department of the city. We did this with Hammond Forever House. Owners are sometimes concerned that they will lose money if/when they choose to sell if any restrictions are placed on the buildings, but this fear is largely unfounded as shown by examples in Vancouver.

In Maple Ridge, there are different heritage tools available for homeowners, ranging in ease of application and levels of protection. Currently there are properties in Hammond which have been identified as having heritage character and value. Some have received awards and are listed on the city’s heritage inventory. However, Hammond Forever House (AKA the Whitehead Residence) remains the only property actually protected. John Hammond’s house had a heritage plaque on it, but was demolished. I know that the heritage department had many conversations with the new owners, but without the previous owner having protected the site, the city could do nothing. The current owners are perfectly within their rights to build their dream home on the property they have bought.

Once a house is destroyed, the BC building code has a lot to say about what replaces it, but the form and character requirements are very loose. Even in the Heritage Character Area of “Upper Hammond” the Hammond Area Plan provides guidelines and not requirements. While it is shocking to see a much larger structure replace a modest pre-1940’s house, we must ask ourselves how much we want our government to intervene in these cases. As it is, we have put a lot of power into the hands of property owners and it is they who have the power to save the houses that we love.

If you are a Hammond homeowner and would like to learn more, go here: https://www.mapleridge.ca/2570/Heritage-Conservation

So, as the population of Hammond explodes, in addition to encouraging homeowners to have a chat with the heritage department, how can we hold on to the neighbourhood’s character-defining elements?  I think the answer lies in what happens when a property is re-zoned. The Hammond Area Plan identifies parts of Hammond for higher density: along 207th Street, around the historic commercial centre and around Tolmie park, among others. When a development proposal is made for those properties, the city has much more influence over form and character including green space and setbacks. These are opportunities for residents and city staff to have their say.

Source: https://www.mapleridge.ca/1754/Hammond-Area-Plan

So, if we can make sure the new multi-family buildings fit in with that Hammond character and convince the owners of the single-family zoned lots not to let them be replaced by monster houses, we could avoid the fate of so many ruined communities.

By the way, do you know what we get when we densify? A viable commercial centre on Maple Crescent! The city can’t force a business owner to relocate where there are no customers. With enough people within walking distance we could have some really nice services there. Can you imagine a dentist or medical clinic? One business I’d like to see flourish there is The Good Wolf Café which is planning to relocate to Dartford Street. Click here for a story about the café and if you’d like to support this dream, you can check out the owner’s gofundme page.

Will a new Recreation Facility Ruin Hammond?

Concerns over a large new facility in the middle of quiet, residential Hammond are understandable. We’re talking about at least one ice rink, an indoor pool and perhaps gymnasiums, cultural space, meeting rooms, performance space, health services etc. Construction is going to be disruptive to nearby neighbours. Traffic patterns will change. More people will come and go. The baseball fields would need to move to a better location more befitting the legacy of baseball in the neighbourhood and that of Larry Walker Jr. with as little disruption as possible to all the players who depend on them. It would be a big change.

I think all the discussions about whether it should happen or not and what form it should take, must be based on the future, not the past. Looking to the future, I think a comprehensive multi-use community centre could be the keystone to creating the vibrant, healthy and low-carbon community we all want.

As you can see from this image from the City of Maple Ridge, the two baseball fields dominate the site right now. To the south there is some green space and a little-used basketball court, a parking lot, a small community hall, an outdoor pool and a small playground. There is a childcare centre in the community hall but the hall itself has such terrible acoustics that it is not suited to most events (believe me, we tried). There are a few mature trees near the playground.

Some opponents of the location say it’s not good because it’s in a residential area and will bring people to the neighbourhood. I wonder if we have become so used to the North American standard land-use pattern of islands of residences separated from services, recreation, shopping and everything else that we can’t see the benefit of waking up and walking to the pool in the morning. It’s also difficult for us to imagine a system of walking/rolling paths and transit that is so easy that people leave their cars at home when they want to go across town to the gym, leaving the parking lot free for the hockey players who need a car to transport their gear.

This summer my 15 year-old and I walked to a playground half a block away, borrowed an e-scooter at the playground using an app on my phone and rode on smooth, interconnected bike paths to a local recreation centre where we had a light lunch and admired the pool and fitness facility. That was in August in Kokkola, Finland—not far from the arctic circle. Finland is one of the happiest countries on earth and I think we can be that happy, too.

The Baseball Question

Some of the discussion on social media about the proposed facility has taken on a divisive, pro-baseball vs. anti-baseball tone. Baseball has been important to Hammond since the 1920’s when it started being played at Hammond Park, about a block to the south. Back then, the Hammond Cedar Mill recruited workers based on their skill at the sport and there was a great rivalry between the Hammond and Haney Teams. The community got together and built the first Hammond Stadium in its current location in the 50s. Now we have the opportunity to decide what happens next.

Ridge Meadows Minor Baseball is very concerned about losing the fields because any disruption in the season could be devastating to the kids. After years of dreaming about a 5000-seat or 300-seat stadium, the fields were upgraded more modestly 10 years ago to fit regulations for players aged 15+. Baseball is important to this community and the city seems to acknowledge that. There are plans in the works to improve the experience of the baseball community but those plans are not public yet. Can we have that new baseball stadium as well as a new multi-use facility? Mayor Dan Ruimy told me he thinks the baseball community will be happy but it’s easy to be sceptical since plans have fallen through before.

I have been told that, as far as baseball fields go, the two we have now at Hammond Community Park are well-used. That seems to mean regular games, practices and events from April through October with little happening there during the weekdays until 4:30 pm. For five months of the year, the fields are not used for baseball at all. One of them is fenced off completely; the other, named after baseball legend and home-town hero Larry Walker Jr., is a nice grassy expanse where people throw balls for their dogs (even though it’s not an off-leash park). There used to be a soccer pitch on that field, but that was removed because it interfered with the baseball somehow. Summer soccer camps and other events take place there occasionally. As community space goes, it doesn’t seem well-used to me.

My wife and I walk our dog there regularly and almost never see anyone except other dog owners who walk the perimeter of the fenced-off field. Occasionally, during baseball season, a game is happening and we wonder why there are so few people watching.  Evenings and weekends for 7 months of the year may be well-used for a baseball field, but I think a multi-use recreational facility could benefit a lot more people, of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities, for 12 months a year, every day from early in the morning to late in the evening. The fields have been moved before and I’m sure we can move them again if it means opening up more recreational opportunities for all of us.

Location, location, climate action

Some people who are opposed to the new facility say that they see the need for new facilities, but want them located somewhere else — further east, they say, where the city is growing. They forget, however, that there are already similar facilities to the east and building more there encourages urban sprawl and car-dependency. Let me get into a little bit about why the proposed location is ideal and how it could help turn Hammond into a model community and also what climate change has to do with this.

So far, I’ve only mentioned climate change in passing but in 2024 it must be central to all our planning. We see this reflected more and more in our governments’ priorities. Mayor Ruimy’s  Climate Action Taskforce is in full swing; the federal government and BC Government are funding efforts to increase housing, address the opioid crisis, create walkable communities and fight climate change. Climate action, it turns out, has many co-benefits, including saving money in the long run. I’m hopeful that a new facility in our neighbourhood can take advantage of this unity of purpose and make all the disruption worth it.

We know that, in the face of climate change, we must mitigate its effects on our communities and also reduce our carbon emissions. The provincial target is to reduce emissions to 40% below 2007 levels by 2030.  How could a multi-use recreation facility help to do these things?

A community centre can mitigate the effects of climate related events like heat domes, atmospheric rivers and extreme cold snaps by providing respite for community members whose homes are too hot, too cold or flooded. It is a central point that people can walk to for resources, sand-bags, information and even food or clothing. Being within walking distance is key.

Can it reduce carbon emissions? To answer that we need to look at where the emissions are coming from in Maple Ridge and what big moves the City can make to address those sources.

Statistics Canada reports that when Maple Ridge residents were asked their main mode of commuting to work in 2021, 84% said car, truck or van. That was up slightly from 2016 so we’re going in the wrong direction (probably because the city is growing so fast and transit is not keeping up.) We also know that 68% of all car trips start and finish in Maple Ridge. Is that great? No! But it does make it easy to see how we can improve.

Source: https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2021/as-sa/fogs-spg/page.cfm?topic=13&lang=E&dguid=2021A00055915075

The Community Energy Association’s Climate Action Planner for Maple Ridge is also helpful. It provides a “Business As Usual” case and allows you to estimate the effects of certain actions towards the provincial goal for 2030. You can try it by following the instructions here: https://ghgtargets.mapleridge.ca/#ClimateActionPlan

Using this tool, I learned that the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Maple Ridge is transportation, with 60% of all our emissions. That makes sense because most people drive to work and we are still largely a bedroom community and a transportation corridor. We have not been served well by transit and we still have low levels of active transportation infrastructure.

On the graph for Maple Ridge below, the yellow line at the top is Business As Usual (no climate action) and the diagonal light green line is the target emissions reduction for 2030. The graph shows where the emissions are expected to come from if we don’t do anything.

Source: https://ghgtargets.mapleridge.ca/#ClimateActionPlan

The CEA’s climate action planner then helps you estimate what effect different “big moves” will have on emissions. The goal is to reach that target line. I played around and got the following result:

Try this yourself at https://ghgtargets.mapleridge.ca/#ClimateActionPlan

Those blue parts are about transportation. The largest emissions reduction will come from reducing the number of cars on the road and shifting passenger vehicles to electric. “Shift Beyond the Car” means Active Transportation (bikes, walking, etc.), Transit (buses and trains) and Land Use (locating places we need to go closer to our homes). I guess we’re not expecting everyone to jump on the new Rapid Bus immediately, so the biggest reductions are expected to come from more people switching to electric vehicles. We can hope in the future to improve transit and walkability to the point where fewer cars of any type are needed, but this is where we are now, it seems. My family has two EVs (a 2015 Nissan LEAF and a 2021 LEAF) and we like them, but I don’t like that it is difficult to get around without a car. That’s not freedom.

The purple and grey parts of the graph are about buildings: improving standards in new construction (using the BC Energy Step code) and retrofitting existing buildings. As Hammond develops with more multi-unit residences built in certain areas, they will be held to a stricter energy standard. Multi-unit buildings are more efficient to heat and cool than detached houses. Meanwhile, existing homes can be preserved and made more efficient with incentives and guidance. I could go on and on about buildings, of course, but let’s get back to transportation.

When we consider that 68% of car trips start and finish in Maple Ridge, having a recreation and community centre that serves a wide section of the population near where they live will certainly help. Combine this with much better transit and vastly improved bike and walking paths that connect the rail station and the Rapid Bus route on Lougheed Hwy., and the facility becomes a key climate action “big move” all by itself. With all these co-benefits, it is likely to attract funding from upper levels of government and we can avoid half-measures.

Note that we’re talking about Maple Ridge, so other sources of greenhouse gases are not part of this conversation. Canada’s biggest sources of emissions are electricity production and fossil fuel production. Those aren’t our particular challenge here in Maple Ridge (we don’t produce fossil fuels and our electrical grid is 94% renewable energy) except that we should make sure to vote for federal parties who are serious about ending fossil fuel subsidies and transitioning to renewable energy.

So, from a climate action perspective, this multi-use recreational community centre looks like it’s a good idea. So let’s see if we can make it even better for the planet.

With at least one ice sheet and a swimming pool, how about we use the excess heat produced by the ice rink to heat the pool? That should reduce the amount of energy needed by 55%. Chilliwack Coliseum did it, so why can’t we?

Fantastic. But let’s go further. This new facility will mean digging a pretty big hole, especially if there is underground parking (yes please and with EV chargers galore, please). Let’s bury some geothermal loops and use the constant temperature of the earth to heat the facility in the summer and cool it in the winter. That will save a lot of energy and money.

And since we’re burying pipe, why not bury MORE pipe and increase the heating/cooling capacity to the point where neighbouring buildings can share it? That’s called a community energy hub and it’s not a new idea. Any new homes, including multi-family developments along 207th Street, could opt in to sharing heating and cooling with this new hub.

With passive house design elements reducing the building’s energy needs and solar panels on the roof, this new facility could more than power itself.

Is this expensive? Yes, which is why we need funding from federal and provincial governments who know that, although there will be high upfront costs, the long-term savings are considerable. That’s how renewable energy works. It costs more up-front but slows climate change and saves a lot of money down the road. The city has already figured this out and shared it like this:

Source: https://ghgtargets.mapleridge.ca/#ClimateActionPlan

Our house is an example of this. We retrofit our house, put a 12 kW solar array on our roof and stopped using no fossil fuels. Our annual electricity costs, which now include heat, cooling and powering two cars, is something like $600 now (and we’re still aiming for that to be zero).

Climate action is all about the future and now is a moment of opportunity to secure that future. We have a Mayor and Council who are committed to creating low-carbon, walkable communities which address the needs of all citizens. We have two local MLAs and a provincial government who have shown they are serious about fighting the climate crisis, as well as the housing and opioid crises. The current federal government has also shown willingness to fund projects that address these challenges. Even more importantly, these governments have shown a level of willingness to work together which doesn’t always happen. In a short-term political system, politicians are often punished for long-term planning. With elections always looming, now is the time to dream big and secure funding for those dreams.

Hammond has a big enough heart to welcome all

As we envision our ideal Hammond community, we must acknowledge the enduring presence of the Katzie First Nation and Kwantlen First Nation who have occupied these lands since time immemorial. It was James Douglas, governor of the Colony of British Columbia, who allowed settlers to take possession of Indigenous lands in the 1860s. The Katzie were forcibly removed. Over the decades, children were forced to attend Residential Schools. The Katzie reserve is within walking distance of Hammond Community Park and many Indigenous people live in the Hammond neighbourhood. This facility should be a welcoming space of reconciliation and cultural exchange.

I think of all the different people in my neighbourhood, including new Canadians who are choosing it to call home, our seniors, the 2SLGBTQ+ community, people without homes and people with mobility issues, and I want all of us to be able to walk or roll to a place we can feel welcome, connect with our community, and improve our health. Healthy, happy people are more resilient and willing to help their neighbours. They also create fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Another inspiration I want to share is the Kitsilano Shower Program for the Homeless which happens bi-weekly from 7:30 – 9am. In a housing crisis, a community centre can help.

In conclusion, our neighbourhood of Hammond is changing whether we like it to or not and the best we can do is guide the change so that it means a low-carbon, climate-resilient, walkable community that welcomes all. Of course, change is uncomfortable and when it seems to benefit others while disrupting our own lives, it can be hard to see the positives. That is why we must step back and look at the bigger picture as well as the small details.

Applying an integrated approach to this neighbourhood, the new community center can address arts, culture, recreation and social needs in the community but also community energy needs, health services and services for people without homes.

It is time to speak up about the future of our city and our neighbourhood. If you are a Maple Ridge resident, please complete the survey before the deadline of Friday, February 23rd. Find it here: https://engage.mapleridge.ca/move-meet-play

Maple Ridge Elections 2022

Tomorrow we will choose who is going to be our new Mayor, Council and School Board in Maple Ridge.

I hope you’ll vote. Here’s where: City of Maple Ridge election site

In the past, I’ve tried to be a little indirect about who I support. I had some strong favourites, but I wanted to encourage people to get involved and vote with joy above all. Unfortunately, the last time around that didn’t turn out so well and we endured a really toxic City Council for the last four years.

This time, partly because the ruling party on Council is so clearly taking us in the wrong direction, a bunch of excellent people are stepping up. This time I’m being a little more direct about who I support and a little more critical of who I don’t.

I’ve been doing that on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I have no idea if I’m helping, but I hope so. Here is a collection of videos that I have posted.

If you would like to help bring positive change to Maple Ridge, I would appreciate it if you would share these videos widely.

Tomorrow is the big day. Let’s get the vote out!

First up are some quick, shareable hits from the team called A Better Maple Ridge. Most people don’t particularly want political parties on our City Council, but this is a diverse group of candidates who came together out of necessity to counter the current mayor’s slate which formed before the last election. They have been using every trick in the book to fundraise and promote themselves and it’s not easy to campaign against them without a team.

Who made these videos? I did. Are you getting paid by anyone? No, I’m just trying to make a difference.

Share this one tomorrow morning before 8am!

I’ll add longer versions of those conversations below. Now, just for fun:

A Better Maple Ridge are not the only good candidates running! Here are a few more for your consideration: Craig Speirs, Sarah Little, Rebecca Stiles and Bob Masse. The rest? I either don’t know them well enough to recommend or I wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole. Here’s Craig Speirs:

I’ve been hesitant to criticise or knock other candidates in the past, but fair and open criticism is clearly needed. We’ve started to see some real Trump-style attack ads put out by the current Mayor’s ruling party which makes my criticism seem like a butterfly kiss. Here is a series of critical videos for you to enjoy and share.

Some criticism based on my own experience:

Finally, here’s an easy place to find the longer introductions A Better Maple Ridge. Please share widely so we can get Maple Ridge back on track.

And that’s all the time I have to make a post! I hope my own personal view on our local political scene helps you clarify your own views. That’s all I can hope for.

Please encourage everyone you know who can vote to do so!

PS: It’s so sad that the School Board candidates are so often an after-thought and here I am adding them in a post-script! Even after running for the school board in 2014!

Very quickly, here are my thoughts on the SD42 School Board. It’s running pretty well and that means there’s not much need to shake things up. Korleen Carreras is the current chair and, excellent as she is, she is running for Maple Ridge Council. That leaves one spot open and more than one good candidate to fill it.

The incumbents: Kim Dumore, Mike Murray, Pascale Shaw and Elaine Yamamoto are doing just fine so I voted for all of them. I was torn for the last spot because we have Yvonne Desabrais and Gabe Liosis stepping up who would be good for different reasons. Please check them out.

The only thing to avoid on School Board is the candidates who are ideologically opposed to progress in the school system. As long as you avoid them, we’re likely to continue to enjoy good governance of SD42. Just my humble opinion as always.

Happy voting

Awkward Reconciliation Conversations

Tomorrow is September 30th and in Canada that is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This day means many things to many people and for me, it is a chance to open my mind and heart to the stories of the Indigenous Peoples on these lands.

I am grateful to the Katzie and the Kwantlen First Nations for hosting me and Hammond Forever House on their Traditional Territory.

As a white male, I understand that September 30th is not about me. I certainly want to be involved in Reconciliation and speak out about it and I also know that tomorrow is not the time for my voice. It is time for me to make space for Indigenous voices. My family and I will attend the event in Maple Ridge to show support and learn. I will be listening and sharing content from Indigenous voices.

However, on every other day of the year, I believe it is important for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people alike to discuss openly the challenges of Reconciliation. It is not up to Indigenous people to heal the historic wrongs of our colonial history, Residential Schools, the Indian Act or the Sixties scoop.

With that in mind, I made a series of videos for social media with which I hope to break the ice. You may have seen one or two out of order and wondered what I was on about so I collected them here.

If you would like to keep up-to-date on my social media efforts, please like and subscribe to my youtube channel, follow me on Instagram: @2bjamesrowley Tiktok: @jamesrowley12 and Twitter: @JamesMRowley

Here’s a specific example of what Reconciliation does NOT mean:

One of the best things we can do for Reconciliation is vote for political candidates who make it a top priority. In Maple Ridge on October 15th, 2022 I think that means voting for Dan Ruimy (Mayor), Sunny Schiller, Korleen Carreras, Onyeka Dozie, Jenny Tan and Craig Speirs (Counsellors). There may be other good choices I don’t know so well, but these are the top of my list.

See you next time!

Voting in Maple Ridge

It’s election time in Canada and once again we all get to choose who to hire to represent us in Ottawa to improve the lives of everyone in Canada and make the world better. I like to think of it like that. We’re a hiring committee choosing the best new employee.

Vote Monday!

Voting day is Monday, October 21st. In BC we can vote from 7AM to 7PM so grab a cup of coffee and vote before breakfast! You can find out how to vote here in my riding of Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge.

How we’re feeling this time around

Here at Hammond Forever House my family has spent the last four years trying to finish the ambitious renovation and retrofit that we started in 2015. That’s right, we’re still not done.

I spent the summer trying to finish the exterior details so that the siding would be on in time for winter but now it’s October and already freezing (this early in the year for the first time in 120 years!). Leanne and her father have been working hard on getting the picket fence back up so we can finally, finally get the dog we have wanted for years. We save money by doing this work ourselves, but every purchase drives us deeper into our credit line. As we work we feel the parental guilt of time not spent with the kids. I also feel the guilt of not spending time with my aging parents who live in Vancouver.

Meanwhile, the news is full of Greta Thunberg and 100,000 people marching in Vancouver to demand Climate Action.

It’s tempting for me to say, “Hey, I’m already working flat out!” I mean, we super-insulated our house; we switched from oil heat to electric heat; we’re trying to get solar panels up on our roof; we bought a used electric car; we recycle like crazy…what more does Greta want from us? And why does it seem like everything is up to us?

It’s easy to feel beaten down. Leanne and I both work full-time and pay our taxes but we often feel we’re treading water and, you know, just not getting ahead.

So, with all that in mind, who should I vote for?

Judging by the number of blue signs around town, I should vote for the CPC. The Conservative Party of Canada, founded on December 7, 2003 says it will “make life more affordable and put more money in your pockets.” They are quite popular in our riding of Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge.

In the last election in 2015, 31.4% of people in my riding voted for the CPC. That’s 16,373 people and a lot of them are my neighbours. They are good people working hard to make a good life for their families. They care about their community and the world. How many of them feel exhausted like we do?

The Conservative ideology of lower taxes, balanced budgets, smaller government and less regulation appeals to people like us because taxes, government and regulation can feel like unnecessary hurdles we have to jump over just to get on with our lives. Why should my money be collected and given to someone else? Andrew Scheer promised to balance the budget and at first glance that makes sense. After all, that’s what we strive for in our household budgets. It feels like common sense.

Scientists, researchers and economists are out there trying to explain the big picture, but the busier we are, the more Conservative slogans like, “It’s time for you to get ahead” cut through the analysis and give us something to hold on to. It’s simple and effective and makes us feel like we can go back to a simpler time when things weren’t so complicated.

Can you see the problem?

It’s too simple.

Conservative ideology is not based in the real world. Maybe it was in the past–back when we had a “Progressive Conservative Party” with its roots in the “Liberal-Conservative Party” of 1867–but not now. Now it is the stuff of Doug Ford, Donald Trump and Brexit. Now it thumbs its nose at science and expertise. Now it does not show up to debates. Now it avoids questions. Now it releases its platform after all debates are over and voting has begun.

It does not want us to think too carefully about its plans.

Economically, Conservative ideology is steeped in the much debunked trickle-down theory that if the rich get richer, everybody benefits. Unfortunately, that is great for wealthy people and great for corporations but great for nobody else.

This Conservative ideology is also based on the impractical but understandable wish to go back to a time when people like me (white men) didn’t have to figure other types of people (everybody else) into our plans. Those men believed that taking care of themselves meant everybody else would benefit, too. The intention wasn’t to oppress anybody, but it had that effect.

In it’s journey to being a truly free country with equal rights for all, white Canadians (“old stock Canadians” as Stephen Harper called us) can often feel like the ground is shifting under our feet. It’s uncomfortable to be confronted with past wrongs like Residential Schools, the Chinese Head Tax and what I said to that girl at our Grade 8 dance.  We need leaders that move us forward into the free and fair society we know we want. Instead, the Conservative Party is that guy who leans over and says in your ear, “Hey man, isn’t it time for you to get ahead? I mean, it’s tough being a straight white male these days, am I right?”

White guys like me need role models

Right now, we have a straight, white, male Prime Minister. As you probably know, Justin Trudeau was recently confronted with a mistake he made in his past. Photos were released by the Conservatives of a 29 year-old Trudeau wearing blackface as part of a party costume. It’s pretty bad. However, in one of his apologies he said something important. He said, “I have always acknowledged that I come from a place of privilege but I now need to acknowledge that that comes with a massive blind spot.”

For many people of colour this may not earn forgiveness, but with these words he is modelling a path forward for white folks like me. We’re not bad people, but we have blind spots. Apologizing and making amends is what adults do and Canada needs leaders who can do that. I think Elizabeth May can do that. I think Jagmeet Singh can do that. However, I don’t think we can expect that kind of leadership from Andrew Scheer or Maxine Bernier, do you?

Economics

The challenges we face as a country and a riding will not go away with belt-tightening–we have a lot of stuff we need to get done and that will require a more complex approach. Balanced budgets are good for households, but economists say we shouldn’t run a country like a household. Case in point, if we need a balanced budget so bad, why is the economy as strong as it is under the Liberals? I mean, we’re way off on our emission reduction targets, but by all the measures economists are supposed to care about, the country is humming.

Everybody hates taxes

Nobody likes paying taxes so promising to cut taxes sounds good to a lot of us. But we need taxes to pay for stuff, don’t we? It’s like socking money away to save for a down payment. Nobody likes doing that, either, but we have to if we want a house someday. Where did we get this idea that taxes are not conservative? Isn’t saving for the future a conservative thing to do?

Everybody likes buying in bulk

What about another wonderful habit of conservative people: buying in bulk? We all know that buying toilet paper in bulk will save us money; it’s a fundamental capitalist consumer principle. If we get a bunch of people together, we can buy something nice–like a much cheaper healthcare system. We did that a while ago and it works pretty well.

Hey, prescription drugs are expensive, let’s buy in bulk with a national pharmacare plan! Why is that not a Conservative policy?

Another strength of conservative people is common sense. Let me hit you with some common sense. If you give money to a person who already has money, they will put it in the bank; if you give money to a person who does not have money, they will buy groceries with it in the community where they live. There is a direct boost to the local economy. There’s a reason why tax rates are higher for wealthier people like me. It’s common sense.

I think the Conservative Party of Canada really needs to look up “conservative” in the dictionary.  Oops, I did and the internet says…

Conservative  noun  a person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes, typically in relation to politics.

Okay, I stand corrected, that does sound like the CPC, although maybe it should read, “a party who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

I guess I was confusing “conservative” with “sensible”, “reasonable” or “cautious”. Those words mean looking at the big picture, looking into the future, and listening to experts. That’s all just common sense to me but the CPC does none of that. Their policies are focused on getting elected–designed to signal to the wealthy and middle-class that they will lower taxes for us and let everyone else fend for themselves.

“It’s time for you to get ahead.”

They don’t need everybody’s votes, just people like me who want to protect what we’ve got.

By the way, check out the Vote Compass

Vote Compass is a tool developed by political scientists for exploring how your views align with those of the parties.

You give your opinion anonymously on 30 issues and then your responses are compared with those of the parties. When you’re done, you get a “compass” like the one below, except the “you” dot will be somewhere else. Here, “you” answered neutrally to all questions. (It’s not my result.)

What I find alarming here is how far to the right (in economic terms) and down (socially conservative, anti-equal rights, anti-abortion, etc.) the CPC really is. Most people consider Maxine Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada pretty extreme but the CPC is not far from them.

This is not my result. Giving neutral answers to the Vote Compass quiz gives this result for “you” but look at the relative party positions!

Are we afraid of Commies?

Maybe my neighbours who support the CPC are actually voting against another ideology, Socialism, without realizing the problems of voting for Conservatism. That would explain a lot.

I don’t think we have to worry about socialism. Joseph Stalin is not knocking on the door. We have a lot of social programs that help a lot of people and also save us a lot of money. Socialized medicine and socialized education, are easy examples. We pay taxes so we can get these things in bulk and pay less, right?

We’ve tried to leave things like climate action and prescription drugs to the free market but it’s just not working. Voting for a party that proposes tackling these challenges does not make you a socialist. It means you live in the real world.

Okay, but I still feel overwhelmed. Maybe the Conservatives can help. Let’s look at Andrew Scheer’s plan for me to get ahead as described in the glossy flyer someone left at my door:

1. UNIVERSAL TAX CUT TO SAVE THE AVERAGE FAMILY $850.

Hmm…everybody pays less tax. I get to keep more of my money. Sounds good buuuuuuuuuuut it’s not. This appeals to those of us who believe that we know how to spend our money better than the government, but it ignores all that vital stuff the government does that we simply can’t do as individuals.

It also seems fair but is really not. If my income is so low that I don’t pay tax, I see no benefit. In fact the only change for me is that the government has less money to fight poverty (or anything else) so low-income families will struggle more and put a strain on Provincial and Municipal resources.

2. TAX-FREE PARENTAL BENEFITS

Good one, but, wait, my family already gets a tax-free Child Tax Benefit. Are they trying to sell us something we already have? What’s next, indoor plumbing? “Vote Conservative and we’ll make sure every home has a flushable toilet.” I don’t get it.

3. RESTORE CHILDREN’S FITNESS AND ARTS TAX CREDIT

Again with the tax breaks. For this one I have to find good programs in my community, keep my receipts and claim it on my taxes. If the programs are not there, this does me no good. Also, the people who need this credit the most are the busiest and most likely to simply not apply. The CPC loves policies that set aside money which is never used and can be put back in the coffers later. “Hey, a budget surplus!”

Meanwhile, back on the warming planet…

What is missing from this flyer is any mention of reality. We face tremendous challenges in Canada and the world which include climate change, housing, poverty, reconciliation with indigenous peoples and an opioid epidemic, to name a few.

All of these are life and death challenges which make my day-to-day struggles with the house I own with my wonderful family seem small. It’s Thanksgiving weekend and I’m grateful for all my good fortune. This flyer clashes with the mood of the holiday. It persuades us to think of our own self-interest and vote without considering others less fortunate.

The challenges we face have solutions if we act together and act now. The Conservatives, however, want nothing to do with facing real problems.

Let’s take climate change for example.

What my kid wrote on a poster on the wall of Maple Ridge City Hall.

When Greta Thunberg spoke to the UN and said, “you have stolen my dreams from me” she wasn’t talking about how they didn’t recycle that drink container last week.

The Global Strike for Climate is calling for us to treat the climate crisis as the emergency it is. In an emergency, we work together, not individually. It’s not a marketing opportunity for green tech companies, it’s a call for immediate, large-scale action to save our own lives.

My kid at the Global Strike for Climate, Maple Ridge

It’s not like we can blame Greta, either, because she is just pointing to the science. We need to get past our guilty feelings or resentment that a Swedish teen is scolding us and get to work. We need to grow up and we need a government who gets that.

My kid at the Global Strike for Climate, Vancouver

Retrofitting for Climate

As you know, I’ve committed to retrofitting our heritage home to reduce our impact on climate change. My goal was to learn how to retrofit an older home, find out why more people don’t do it, and find solutions to those barriers. It’s true my family is struggling through this process but we don’t need a tax break, we need real help. We are meeting the limits of individual action. We really can’t do this alone.

What’s stopping people from retrofitting their homes?

As you might expect, the biggest obstacle is the upfront costs. Yes, you’re going to save money in the long term (and lower your emissions) but if you don’t have the cash, you just can’t do it. That leaves a lot of us paying high energy bills every month with no way to change that. The people who can afford to do a retrofit can also afford to pay more to heat and cool their homes, so it’s not their top priority. As usual, the money is in the driver’s seat.

The Liberals, NDP and Greens have all offered serious proposals to help Canadians retrofit existing homes and buildings. At a glance, they all look like they’ll do some good. The Liberal plan to offer a $40K interest-free loan, for example, would get a lot of people into the market and create a lot of jobs. I’d love to analyze all the proposals and share my thoughts but let’s face it, none of them will happen if we end up with a Conservative government.

Do the Conservatives have a plan?

Yes, but it is a plan they made so that they can say that they have a plan. Emissions are expected to rise if it is implemented. To quote Marc Jaccard in the National Observer:

The proposed Green Home Tax Credit would likewise have little effect on emissions because most recipients would receive the credit for investments they would have made anyway. A large literature shows the high free-riding effect in such programs.

Climate action is optional to this party. Those Canadians who are “climate skeptics” can rest assured that nothing will be done under a Conservative government, even while the permafrost melts, the glaciers disappear and the wildfires burn.

I guess we shouldn’t be shocked. With an ideology celebrating a free-market economy and individual choice, it is on-brand to leave it up to consumers to what extent they wish to fight climate change. Unfortunately, individual action is not working. We must unite behind the science.

How do Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge voters feel about Climate Change?

The Universite de Montreal used national public opinion results to estimate differences of opinion on global warming across the country. Below is a screenshot of the results for our riding. Check out the complete publication here.

This explains a lot to me about why the people in my town vote the way they do. About 86% of people in my riding understand the earth is getting warmer, but 35% think that we should give up on trying to stop it and focus on adapting! That shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what we’re up against and a vain hope that we can get by without really changing much.

If those 35% who don’t support climate action vote and a bunch of better-informed people stay home, we’re in big trouble!

The problem with Climate Change is it is an existential threat which can be ignored in our day-to-day lives here in the paradise of Maple Ridge. Climate Change isn’t breaking into cars or using drugs in public. When we’re choking on wild fire smoke or living through a freak storm we can blame the fire or blame the storm and pretend that the climate isn’t really changing. Meanwhile we slowly get warmer like the frog in that fable.

The boiling frog is a fable describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

Given all the overwhelming science, we have no choice but to trick ourselves into panicking. (I suggest watching Greta speak. It might help you get into the mood.) Now, when we have the chance to vote, is the perfect time to panic.

So if not Conservative, who should I vote for?

In Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge, that is a tricky question. A majority of people in this riding voted against the Conservative ideology in 2015 but it very nearly won out. The Conservative candidate, Mike Murray,  lost by just 1300 votes out of 52,150. (These days Mr. Murray spends quite a bit of time in the UK campaigning for Brexit)

Without the electoral reform that Justin Trudeau promised last time, voting with your heart could split the “progressive vote” among the Greens, NDP and Liberals, effectively electing the Conservative candidate with as little as 30% of the vote. I’m afraid we just can’t risk it so I’m going to vote for the party that I think stands the most chance of defeating the Conservative candidate.

Here are the 2015 Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge elections results in a (beautiful) graph I made with Microsoft Excel:

Black is Independent, Red is Liberal, Green is Green, Orange is NDP, Blue is Conservative

 

Our local Conservative

Conservative candidate Marc Dalton has a track record as a BC Liberal MLA which is very problematic.  Among other things:

1. As our MLA, Mr. Dalton personally intervened to stop BC Housing and his own Housing Minister from opening a homeless shelter in Maple Ridge in 2016. [I wrote a more detailed post about this situation before the last provincial election (Mr. Dalton lost).] For years afterwards, homeless people moved from an illegal camp to an emergency shelter to another, larger camp on city property. The courts wouldn’t grant permission for the City of Maple Ridge to clear the camp because the residents had no reasonable alternative housing. Finally, our current NDP/Green government followed BC Housing’s recommendation and opened enough units of temporary modular housing so the people in the camp had somewhere to go. Hopefully some healing has begun.

2. As MLA, Mr. Dalton advocated for and helped to enact BC’s very successful carbon tax which was brought in by his BC Liberal government.  BC is the proof that carbon pricing works and he knows it.  Now he is against it because that is the Alberta-born Conservative Party’s policy.

Mr. Dalton acts from his Conservative ideology or, in the case of the carbon tax, the party line. That is just not what we need right now.

Yeah, okay, but who should I vote for reeeeeeally?

In past elections, I have tried to predict which party has the best chance to defeat the Conservatives but I have been wrong. I’m not an expert here, folks, but if you want another opinion, check out VoteWell, which makes calculations for those of us concerned about vote-splitting. Spoiler Alert: when I posted this on Oct. 13th, they recommended voting Liberal in our riding but now they recommend voting NDP. I guess you have to ask yourself how much you trust opinion polls!

Here are links to the pages for the local candidates of the Green Party, Liberal Party and NDP.

Ariane Jaschke, Green Party of Canada

Dan Ruimy, Liberal Party of Canada

John Mogke, New Democratic Party of Canada

The Good News

The Global Strike for Climate movement is energizing younger voters to turn out in large numbers. If this happens, vote-splitting won’t matter so much and the cynical and self-serving policies of the Conservative Party will fade into memory.

So if you know anyone 18-25, get them to the polls!

But don’t tell them how to vote. They hate that. Also, we can’t count on the young people to save us, so make sure you vote, too!

Voting day is Monday, October 21st from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. Go here for more information about voting in our riding!

Declaration of bias

“What if I told you that it’s okay to change your opinion based on the newest evidence?” Neil Degrasse Tyson

Please don’t criticize this blog as “biased”, criticize it for other things. I’m not a journalist so of course it is biased. Here are a few of my biases. I’m a married father of two kids, 11 and 13. I’m a straight, white, cis-gendered man. I was born in Vancouver and have lived in Maple Ridge for 12 years. I own a heritage home thanks in part to my parents and my wife’s parents. I studied Sciences and English Literature at UBC and Theatre Arts at VCC Langara (Studio 58). I work in Maple Ridge for a not-for-profit organization as a LINC Programme (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) ESL teacher. My wife works for a local environmental not-for-profit organization. We’re landlords of two rental units, one in Maple Ridge and one in Burnaby. We lived in Japan for three years about 20 years ago. All of these things contribute to my bias.

Thanks for reading!

Voting with Joy in Maple Ridge

Voting should be fun. It’s a serious responsibility but I think we take it too seriously.

Ernie Daykin
Craig Speirs

For example, Ernie Daykin and Craig Speirs are running for Mayor of Maple Ridge. They would both be good, but I feel a certain pressure to endorse one or the other. I could let this dilemma stress me out, or I could celebrate the fact that we have two strong choices for Mayor. It’s a good problem to have.

Of course, even while we’re being positive, we should not ignore the temptation to vote negatively–I mean against someone. I could vote for Ernie or Craig based on who I think more likely to defeat someone else I don’t support. It’s no fun, and it discourages people from voting, but it’s a reality in our current first-past-the-post system. (That’s my plug for voting for Proportional Representation in the referendum this fall. Check out Fair Vote Canada for more info.)

Find out where and how to vote by clicking here.

Maple Ridge City Council -vote for up to 6 Councillors

Now, let’s get back to the positivity. On City Council this time we have a lot of turnover (Kiersten Duncan is running again which is good) so we can elect a lot of new faces. Yay! Let’s choose some good new people.

Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows School Board -vote for up to 5 Trustees

Our School Board choices are similar. It would be good to keep some experienced trustees, but there’s only one remaining, Mike Murray!  Fortunately, he is also a good trustee, so that’s an easy vote. Otherwise, I’m voting for Elaine Yamamoto but I don’t know who else, yet. That’s three more people I need to choose. Wheee! Continue reading Voting with Joy in Maple Ridge

Bathing in a Half-finished Bathroom

I’m so excited about my new (used) computer and ability to shoot a video and share it immediately that I took my clothes off!

The bathing room January 14th, 2018

To give us a conditional occupancy permit just before Christmas 2016, the City of Maple Ridge required us to have somewhere to bathe. We installed the Master Bath, but not the Master Shower. They inspected the shower pan to make sure it was water proof and I assisted our Master-mason neighbour, Ron, installed the floor tile.

The bathing area has not changed much since then. No shower. Red walls (sealed with Red Guard roll-on sealant). No curtain or barrier between the bathing area and the rest of the bathroom.

How can we possibly live?

This is a video Leanne shot with me last night to answer that question. In it we talk about the where we are, how we got there and where we’re going with the bathroom. I also demonstrate how we bathed when we lived in Japan and how that colours how we bathe now. You can tell I’ve forgotten how to talk publicly at the beginning of the video because I can’t seem to finish a sentence.

**WARNING!!! The following video contains middle-aged semi-nudity. Viewer discretion is advised.**

After we moved into this house in 2007, we updated the kitchen and bedrooms. The bathroom then became the focus of our discussions. It was the reason we started looking at a more ambitious renovation.

It was in this room, when it looked like this:that Leanne inspired me to dream bigger. We were talking about what changes we would like to make while standing between the old sink and the old bathtub.

I said something like, “wouldn’t it be amazing to have a Japanese-style bathroom where you can get the floor wet, bathe outside the tub and then have a nice soak in clean water?”

Leanne said something like, “Why can’t we?”

I said, “Wha-huh? Whaddaya mean?”

“There is no reason we can’t have the bathroom we want.”

I’m paraphrasing, but that conversation led us to ask Annabel the Architect to draw the generous bathing space we have today.

Even though it is not finished, I remind myself every day that we have achieved that dream.

Credits and Thank-yous for the bathroom:

Ron the awesome neighbour for donating his time and expertise. He taught me how to use his tile saw, advised me on everything from framing the tub surround structure to how to create a slope for the shower drain and how to mix sand and cement to pour over the heating pipes in the floor. He lent me his big tub o’ Red Guard, tools, and so much more.

Pro-fix Drywall for putting the drywall and Densshield boards up, mudding, taping and priming the whole room. Great job!

Meadowridge Plumbing and Gas for all the plumbing.

Splashes Bath & Kitchen Center who supplied the shower fixtures.

-Ron’s friend Andy who custom-made the new window sills for all the new windows in the house.

-Our neighbour Sue who supplied tonnes of storage advice as well as furnishings like the shelving unit in the bathroom.

Craigslist for helping me find the toilet, sinks, taps and the dresser I turned into a bathroom counter.

-Our friends who gave us their old bath tub.

-Leanne for giving me inspiration and partnering with me on this crazy journey.

Renovating a home is not easy, but by telling our story, I hope it becomes easier for you.

#BCPoli – The Newest Political Evidence

I got pretty political during the Federal election in 2015 and I even wrote a post titled “Vote for Bob D’Eith“. Bob was the NDP candidate in my riding.

Well, it’s Provincial election time and I haven’t had the time to investigate the candidates too deeply, let alone create a well-researched blog post about it, but I do have something to say, for what it’s worth.This is my political T-shirt this time around. That’s Neil Degrasse Tyson saying, “What if I told you that it’s okay to change your opinion based on the latest evidence?”

With a T-shirt like that, you’d think I’d be voting Green, wouldn’t you? Sorry, but we still have a first-past-the-post system here, and in my riding of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, the race is between the NDP and the BC Liberals and I have to vote against the Liberals IMHO. So do what you want, but this time around I’m voting for Lisa Beare of the NDP.

Do I have something personal against my BC Liberal candidate? No, but if we look at the responsibilities of the provincial government, especially healthcare, housing, education and transportation the evidence shows that those files, after 16 years of Liberal government, are not doing well.

What we typically hear from Liberal candidates is that they will create jobs, but I’m hearing from economists that provincial governments have very little control over the economy as a whole. The promises that Liquified Natural Gas will solve everything have been proven hollow, yet they continue making them.

Speaking of LNG, how does such intense support of the fossil fuel industry jibe with fighting Climate Change? I’ve written about the inconsistent support for reducing home energy use, even though I appreciate the new Oil to Heat-pump rebate, but how can a government simultaneously build a massive hydro-electric project like Site C, push LNG and still support homeowners reducing their GHG emissions?

They can’t and they don’t.

Priorities like LNG and Site C demand that the world use more natural gas and more electricity, not less. China should move (and is moving) directly from burning oil and coal to using renewable energy. British Columbians can and should reduce their energy use and switch to renewables, too.

UBC researchers have even found that halting construction of the Site C dam is our best economic move. “The report calls for the project to be suspended as it has become ‘uneconomic.'”

Without First-Past-The-Post, I would say let’s collect the best information from experts on how to solve the challenges before us–the housing crisis, the drug-overdose crisis, rising healthcare premiums, rising BC Hydro rates, climate change, etc.– and then vote for the party whose platform most closely matches what the experts recommend. It is my impression that the NDP and the Greens have platforms that are far more evidence-based so, in this system, it becomes a question of voting for the candidate who stands the best chance of defeating the BC Liberals, whose platform seems based on populism and trickle-down economics.

A case in point in Maple Ridge is the homelessness issue. It’s not unique to Maple Ridge, but two years ago there was a large “tent city” that sprang up in the downtown and wouldn’t go away. Many residents and local businesses naturally wanted to blame the people camping there because they are breaking the law, but homelessness and drug addiction are problems that can be traced to failings in Provincial policies related to healthcare, housing and education.

It’s a question of priorities. The good folks in the BC Liberal party like to campaign on the concept of balancing the annual Provincial government budget. Every election, if they can claim to have done that, many people will vote for them. I guess we think of our household budget and how hard it is to balance that, and surmise that if the government does it, they must be good fiscal managers. However, a province is not a household and the long-term economic and social well-being of the province cannot be managed in this way.

If you want to balance your short-term budget, you must ignore the experts that tell you to invest in education, affordable housing and healthcare. In the long-term, failing to invest will cost far far more. (To be fair to the BC Liberals, our political system is not set up to manage long-term challenges very well and it takes a lot of trust for someone to vote for a party who says they will run a deficit, even if its the right thing to do.)

So, when other parties promise to increase funding to deal with these problems, the BC Liberals fire back that what they are proposing is impossible “within the framework of a balanced budget.” This is a false standard. People are dying. People can’t afford to live in the Lower Mainland. People can’t afford childcare. Beyond the human cost, these crises have long-term disastrous effects on our economy.

The way the BC Liberals have chosen to “balance the budget” has been to cut (or fund inadequately): education (including childcare), healthcare and transportation. Ironically, the result is that ordinary households shoulder the burden of increased healthcare premiums, higher BC Hydro rates, traffic congestion, housing costs, childcare costs, etc. (And if you want to take the extra step of renovating and retrofitting an older home, forget it!)

Yes, while the Provincial government’s books look nice, most households are borrowing heavily. That’s not sustainable.

So what happened to the homeless camp? Did the provincial government step up? No.

As I recall, it was the Municipal government who arranged for a temporary shelter made sure the homeless camp was dismantled. A lot of people didn’t like that our property taxes helped fund a homeless shelter, and neither did I, but somebody had to do something.  Was it worth it? Apparently, yes. While deaths due to fentanyl overdoses are still rising in other municipalities, those in Maple Ridge have gone down. That’s a Municipal Government taking on a Provincial Government responsibility and showing them how it’s done.

Did Maple Ridge Council listen to the experts? Here’s a story on BC Housing presenting to Council last year: click here. BC Housing is the Crown Corporation that should be leading our representatives with fact-based advice. I wonder why their website, www.bchousing.org is showing “service unavailable” right now? Perhaps their fact-based advice is not something Christy Clark would like us to hear right now? Ah well, the information is still out there. UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research wrote a policy framework for the City of Victoria and it clears up a lot of questions.

That “temporary” shelter’s operation stretched out while the homeless hot potato bounced around. How much easier it is for a government if homeless people keep to themselves so we can ignore them, eh?

Nobody wants a homeless shelter in their neighbourhood, but experts will tell you it needs to be centrally located and accessible (among other things) or there is no point. The way it usually works is the city provides land and the Province builds the facility. The Quality Inn was identified as the next step–still temporary, but it would do until a permanent shelter was built with $15 million of Provincial funds. There was, of course, a protest and it seems that our two local BC Liberal MLAs intervened and asked the Housing Minister to cancel the Quality Inn plan. That extended the use of the first temporary shelter.

In this photo of a house I pass on the bus a lot, a BC Liberal supporter displays a “No Shelter” sign in their window. This slogan epitomizes to me short-sighted, mean-spirited NIMBYism.

Next, the City agreed to buy another plot of land for $1 million. In the face of more protests, our MLAs rejected that site, too. More recently, they held a public forum and appointed 7 residents to choose a location for the shelter. Any experts on that panel? Nope. The big thing we know about the panel’s recommendation so far is that it should be outside the city centre and shouldn’t be “low barrier”. Now, I’m sure these are well-meaning, concerned citizens, but how much do they know about where a permanent, multi-faceted housing and service center should be located other than, “not in my back yard”? If we put the facility out of sight (and out of mind) there is a good chance we will pay $15 million for a hardly-used facility while the crisis continues. That’s right, a shelter AND a homeless camp.

This is hardly evidence-based decision making. This is populism at its worst.

While this staggering inaction is continuing, the 2 year-old “temporary” shelter is being closed down and the situation is returning to where we were two years ago when the homeless camp sprang up. Is there another camp? Of course there is. Politically speaking, what our BC Liberal candidates must be hoping is that their supporters will take their anger and frustration out on the people creating the new camp and not on them.

It’s not a bad bet politically. I can imagine a crowd chanting, “Lock them up! Lock them up!” However, what we really need is leadership which listens to both the public and the experts but is not afraid to do what is right based on the best possible evidence. What we have now is MLAs who listen to the people who shout the loudest.

This is where my vote is going this time around.

One last note about the NDP. Someone I know says they will never vote for the NDP because of experiences they had with a labour union 30 years ago. Is that still a thing? I pointed out that Christy Clark was Education Minister 15 years ago when the BC Liberal government illegally altered the teachers’ contract and has been spending millions of Provincial government money fighting a case they must have know they would lose. “But it’s a different party now” came the response.

30 years vs. 15 years.

I don’t like party loyalty and you won’t get me to pledge my future support to any party, but if you hate the NDP on principle but are willing to accept that the BC Liberals can change their ways, you should read my T-shirt again.

What if I told you that it’s okay to change your opinion based on the newest evidence?

Trump the Planet

Does Donald Trump’s victory mean the end of Climate Action in the United States?

Does it mean the end of the Paris Accord?

Does it really mean that half of the American people think that Climate Change is a hoax?

I don’t know about the first two, but I can’t believe people who voted for Trump don’t understand that Climate Change is a thing that we have to do something about.

Some of them, maybe…

I suspect they are mostly sick of having it pushed in their faces as if its their individual problem to solve.

Leanne and I can relate.

img_2865At this stage in our renovation and retrofit we’re just trying to finish enough of the house so that the building inspector will let us occupy it and we can get homeowner’s insurance again.

We’d like to spend Christmas in our house for a change instead of next door.

I haven’t been writing the blog because I simply don’t have energy at the end of the day. Weekdays I wake up early to make lunches for the kids, teach a class til noon, pick the kids up from school, and then work on the house til dinner time. Leanne works full-time and keeps up the electrical work with our electrician and her Dad. On weekends its all house all the time.

If this is what it takes for average folks to fight climate change, its no wonder we’re the exception, not the rule. My Eco-Warrior Badge is heavy.

Trump often railed against “the Mainstream Media”. Apparently, it struck a chord. Maybe when you are  struggling to eek out a living and the media reports that climate change is the single greatest threat we face, it’s a little hard to swallow.

The truth is that the media have been under-reporting climate change. There is no confusion among scientists, researchers, NASA, the UN and everyone else who has looked at it for ten minutes but nobody seems to have any solutions besides buy more eco-friendly stuff.

One problem is that most mainstream news is delivered in a context of commercialism. Every story is steeped in commercials for stuff we don’t need and the solution for climate change is presented in products. Buy a more expensive car to reduce emissions. Replace lightbulbs, shop local, buy organic. The market has consumed environmentalism as an opportunity to sell more stuff and that has made everybody cynical.

CBC radio had a story on today about some people who say that Canada should reconsider its commitment to introduce a carbon tax.

Wrong! A carbon tax is precisely the kind of tool we need!

The BC example has been good for the economy while reducing greenhouse gases. It provides incentives for communities to take climate action which takes the pressure off the individual consumer who is already wracked with guilt for buying a new…anything.

What will happen if the US stops taking action on climate change? Will Canada’s economy suffer?

Can I answer that question with a question? Can we stop thinking about the profits of large corporations as if their well-being is more important than anything else for a second?

The Natural Resources minister under Stephen Harper, Joe Oliver was on the radio programme I was listening to. He was so full of misinformation I was yelling at the radio.

One thing he said was that the best way to fight climate change is to push forward in science and technology so that cheaper and better ways to solve the problem come into the market.

Sound reasonable? It’s hogwash. What makes me angry is that he is in a position to know better. All the best information was at his fingertips, but he continues to soothe the shopping public with the message that we can keep doing what we’re doing until technology fixes everything.

One of the biggest lessons we have learned as we work to make our home as energy-efficient as possible is that technology is not the issue.

The technology and techniques have been around a long time and they are so simple that most people can understand easily:

  1. Insulate your house
  2. Insulate your house some more
  3. Insulate your house to the point where people look at what you’re doing and say, “holy crap that’s a lot of insulation”
  4. seal your house (doors, windows, chimneys, vents…)
  5. ventilate your house (you need fresh air now that you sealed it so well) with a Heat-Recovery Ventilator

Now that you have done all that you should not need very much heat in the winter nor cooling in the summer. Now you can decide how you want to provide that little bit of heating and cooling. (Hint: try not to use fossil fuels, including Natural Gas)

Here are a few fun options for heating your house without emitting GHGs: an air-source heat pump, a ground-source heat pump or a sun-pump.

SPOILER ALERT: Leanne and I have decided to deliver heat in the house with water pipes under the floors (and radiators on the top floor) and heat that water with electricity. We’re eschewing a heat pump for the time being but we may be able to partially heat the water with solar panels.

Yes, there are best-practices and some gadgets which help with all this, but the technology is available.

The problem is that not enough people are doing it.

Why are solar panels expensive?

Not enough people are buying them.

Why is it so hard to find a contractor who knows how to retrofit a house?

Not enough people are doing it.

Why does it take so long to retrofit a house?

Not enough people are doing it.

Does this cycle right back to blaming the public for not taking action? No. How can we expect the 99% of people who are not rich to spend a year and a lot of money retrofitting their house when the return on investment will be at least a decade away?

So, let’s not blame the media for ringing the climate bell without offering solutions. The solutions have to come from the people we elected to manage our future. Unfortunately, I don’t think Donald Trump has any solutions and I pray that Canada stays strong and doesn’t get sucked into the past.

Til next time,

James

 

Insulation Sketch

Ever since the spray foam was…installed? Is that the word? Sprayed? Anyway, ever since then, we have been working flat out roughing in electrical, building interior walls, building the basement stairs, putting a skin on the outside of the house and on and on.

imageIn the mornings I am back at ISSofBC teaching English to new immigrants and in the afternoons I pick up the kids and work on the house. I’m so busy I haven’t had time to share some significant events with you: the spray foam installation, the stairs, presenting at our MP’s townhall on Climate Change, to name just a few.

We’re finally nailing down the details of how we will heat our house–with water, as it turns out–and I remembered from my experience putting hydronic please pipes in the basement slab, that the City will probably want a heat-loss calculation done. That will show how much heat will be lost from each room of the house to ensure that the system we put in will meet that need.image

A Heath-loss calculation is not something I can do, so I asked Richard from Meadowridge Plumbing to get one done.

I think that these calculations are usually done assuming standard insulation values and I didn’t want that. We’re going far beyond the minimum in some places and if we use standard values it might mean installing a heating system far bigger than we need. For example, minimum wall insulation in Maple Ridge is only R20 and there will be R50 in some of our walls.

I thought it would help if I marked how much insulation will be in the walls and ceiling on a plan. Here’s what I came up with.

On the top floor, the spray foam gave a minimum of R28 to all the ceiling space. Wherever I can I will add more batt insulation below that. The number will vary based on the size of cavity–those attic spaces are triangular.

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On the main floor the R-values vary in the roof spaces again and you can see that the front two rooms of the house will remain at R14 because we cannot add insulation in those walls due to heritage considerations.

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Check out my previous videos to get an idea of what’s going on in the basement. It’s a little confusing from the drawing…

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PS I always imagined this blog could be a play-by-play of our project as it proceeded but it looks like I will have to tell much of the story in detail later in retrospect. The story is complex and sometimes requires careful wording which takes time. Every moment I am not working on the house keeps my family out of our home for longer, so please accept my apologies if I paint an incomplete picture.

All will be revealed, I promise.

 

A Basement Tour

The kids are at summer camp this week so I’m tiring myself out working on the house.

Soon these walls will be 6 inches thicker
Soon these walls will be 6 inches thicker

Tomorrow Element Spray Foam is coming to insulate the house! It has been a lot of work to get ready for this day and I haven’t had time to write.

That’s why I thought I would shoot a video for you.

In it I show you around the basement and explain where the spray foam will go and how we’re insulating the walls down there.

I also demonstrate how tired I am!

Please remember that I am not an expert so if you are interested in doing something like this, make sure you get professional advice before you proceed!