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!

2018 Progress Part 2

Welcome back to Hammond. This is the second part of a status report for 2018. You can find the first part here.

This post will cover stuff like the main floor bathroom, the back porch and steps, railings for the basement steps, rainwater collection, landscaping and shingles. Next time I’ll get into heating, energy efficiency, transportation and other stuff.

The Master Bathroom

In April of 2018, our amazing neighbour, Ron, helped me take the next steps in tiling the bath/shower walls. The shower area needed more water-proofing than just the Red Guard I painted on. Ron helped me with the orange Kerdi membrane which is the last step before we put white tiles on the walls. We had already done this with the shower basin because we had to prove to the city

Ron’s Kerdi and tile work Dec. 17th, 2016

inspector that the floor under the shower wouldn’t leak and the drain worked. The photo on the right is Ron’s tile work just before Christmas 2016. You can see the Red Guard, the Kerdi membrane and the tile. A few days later the inspector came and passed us which allowed us to have Christmas in the house that year for the first time in 2 years. Huge deal. Huge.

This year we got as far as tiling the top of the bench and stair (grey tiles matching the floor). Ron lent me his tile saw and we drew some lines on the wall but then I just ran out of time. Those walls are going to take at least a week of solid work. Ron says it will “test my abilities” which is putting it mildly. To this day, the bathing area looks like these photos (except there is a rabbit cage in there). Hopefully, in 2019, we’ll get that finished with beautiful white tile.

The Upstairs Bathroom Penny Floor

Penny floor Feb. 2018

I’ve already posted about the penny floor so I almost forgot to mention it here. That project sure took a while, but once I told everyone I was going to do it, I kind of had to, didn’t I? For the full story go here. All I have to report now is that the epoxy is holding up well and the floor feels even better now that the pipes I embedded in it have heated water running through them.

The Back Porch, etc.

In the summer we took some more strides on the exterior. The back porch needed more than a plywood surface. The rainwater cistern was snug in it’s concrete home but had no landing nor stairs above it as the plans said it should. The gutters were not connected to the cistern either, of course. The first step was the concrete walkway that would be at the bottom of the stairs coming off the porch.

One of the trades I talked to recommended some drainage so that the water coming down the slope of the back yard toward the house wouldn’t end up pooling on the concrete. I can’t resist more work, so I did some more digging and fussing with PVC pipe. It’s raining a lot these days and it all seems to be draining nicely.

I posted a little about the concrete and back landing and you can find that here.

Craig Pinsent Carpentry was a great help in getting the concrete poured and he built the landing and the stairs you see here:

BTW the three short posts you see on the porch itself are reclaimed pieces of the cedar posts that used to hold up the house. It feels good to incorporate elements of history like that. The posts will be covered with another layer of finishing boards and caps to match the front porch.

Craig referred someone else to us to put a vinyl surface on the porch itself. His name is Perry and he did a great job. The pattern looks like wood planks and doesn’t draw the eye, but should go nicely with the dark trim on the house. The porch serves as a roof for the basement, so we needed (and the building code requires) something weather proof. The whole family loved having a porch at last. I put up hammocks that had been bought years ago but never used.

As for the rainwater, with some trial and error I connected the back gutter to the cistern and it filled up quickly. We have some work to do before we can pump it out of the cistern for use in the garden, but at least we’re collecting water now.

Shingles

It was our hope to finish the exterior before winter, but that ship has sailed. We have stacks of cedar shingles in our basement still waiting to be primed and put up. Leanne does most of the painting when she has time and the kids pitch in, too. We had a shingle-painting party on August 4th when some friends joined the team (thank you friends!). Most of the yard was covered in drying, primed shingles.

For months, whenever I had a few hours, some dry weather and some primed

Me, my Dad, and a stapler

shingles ready to go I was outside running the (borrowed) compressor  with a pneumatic stapler just putting up shingles. My dad bought me that stapler in 2016 along with a bunch of stainless steel staples for just this purpose. It’s nice to finally be putting it to use. I’ve made a few mistakes but hopefully none will be noticeable in the end.

Basement Step Railings

I called Craig back and asked him to build us a railing for the basement steps. We discussed it and here’s what we ended up with.

The final step will be caps for the posts to match the front porch railings and some paint!

The Landscaping

Getting the yard graded and seeded was something of an emotional need for the whole family. We had been living in a construction zone for years and it was really dragging us down. Leanne found a landscaper called Clearview Lawn and Landscape and they ended up doing a great job. We’re never sure if we can afford these big ticket items, but it was a good investment in our mental health, if nothing else!

Before
Grade adjusted, topsoil added, plants removed (or moved) and potting soil added in some places
Hallowe’en with grass!

Another outdoor achievement was the new concrete front path. That was the first bit of concrete I didn’t get any help with (except for the concrete company and Ron, the neighbour who drops by every so often to inspect my work). The forms and mesh were mine and Leanne and I did the screeding, edging and “brush finish”. Not bad, eh?

There you have a very short telling of some of the stuff we got up to here at Hammond Forever House in 2018. I do have a lot more photos, details and video to share on each of these topics, but this will have to do for now.

Up next: heating, energy efficiency, how we ditched our hybrid car for a pure electric one, and other stuff, too. Thanks so much for reading!

2018 Progress Part 1

It’s hard to believe it’s 2019. It feels like we’ve been renovating forever (but hey, it’s only been since 2015!).

In the next three posts I will share what we’ve got still to do and the broad strokes of what we accomplished in 2018.

“How’s the house coming? Finished yet?”

People who haven’t seen me for a while because I’ve been busy working or renovating or taking care of kids or doing housework often ask how the house is coming. Day by day is the answer. Sometimes they ask when I think it will be finished. Please don’t ask me that, I say and laugh a bitter laugh. Ha. Ha. Ha.

What’s next? I can only express our plans as hopes because all my estimates have been wrong and are at the mercy of so many factors. In 2019 we hope to finish all the railings, siding, trim and shingles on the outside of the house. We hope to finish the basement.

We hope to finish interior details like inside window frames, door frames, shelving and cupboards. We hope to put up the used solar hot water panels that some friends gave us. We hope to replace the

The house in 2009

white-picket fence which will mean we can get a dog. We hope to paint the house.

Milestones we can aim for are 1) passing our final building inspection, 2) submitting new photos to the local film commission in case any productions want to use the property as a location again and 3) doing a post-retrofit energy audit to see just how successful we were at improving the energy efficiency of the house. Continue reading 2018 Progress Part 1