The Double Edged Sword of the Politics of Fear

In the past two weeks we have had two very separate but similar instances where fear has played a large role in decision making.  I’m going to start with the most recent one.

Fear wins over contracts and trust

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At the just completed council meeting on Monday July 13th (Agenda) Councillor Minions and I brought forward what looked like a complex motion on the surface, but was really simple at its core.  Here is the motion:

WHEREAS the City of Port Alberni entered into a Lease of Lot A and B of the “Plywood Site” with the Port Alberni Port Authority on July 1, 2014.

WHEREAS the terms of the Lease state that during the first year of the Term the Tenant must commence “industrial activity on the land” or the Lease “will be terminated upon 90 days written notice”, and also “provide landscaping improvements” and these milestones and covenants have not been met,

WHEREAS the terms of the Lease also included non-binding expectations of:

– Shared use of the Parking on Lot B for users of the Beach
– Construction of stairs from Lot B to Lots A/C which public may access to beach
– PAPA provision of utilities required to Lot A

BE IT RESOLVED that the City of Port Alberni give the agreed 90 day notice of termination of the Lease beginning July 15th, 2015.

There are a lot of whereas’s and things there but that was only to spell out the situation as clearly as possible and have it be part of the public record.

The simple explanation is this:

The City and Port Authority signed a lease (Download the full lease from 2014 Agenda here) for Lot A and B of the Plywood site with certain conditions that were to be met within a year (July 1 2014-2015).  Those conditions were not met. So the City will give the Port Authority 90 days written notice at the end of which the Lease would be terminated if the conditions were still not met.

Simple.  No animosity.  No hard feelings.  Nothing secretive or upsetting.  It was a simple contractual arrangement and carrying through with that arrangement, including terminating it when the conditions are not met, means being able to pursue the full gamut of other options, including other leases with the Port Authority, other entities, or something else entirely.

Here is where the fear comes in.  This is fear of change.  Fear of the unknown.  There are elements in this City that live in the fear that our major industries will one day leave and indeed that is a legitimate, perhaps even inevitable, fear.   However, that fear is sometimes a means for manipulation, it can and it has been used to persuade.

Council decided last night to table the motion.  That means aside from statements from Councillor Minions and myself, no debate happened, and the motion was set aside with no vote until a later date.  We had an opportunity to make a simple, justifiable and transparent decision and instead chose to delay for reasons that are largely unknown to the public.

Councillor Minions has provided this quote

If we don’t follow the terms of this contract, what precedent are we setting for future business dealings? What message are we sending to our community about what our word means? I want our community to be able to trust that our word (or in this case our legal contract) actually means something. I want to be a government that our community can rely on.

Councillor Minions is absolutely right.  I think the decision had a lot to do with fear, and that is never a good way to show leadership or transparency on any issue.

Fear wins contracts and trust

Funny how one word can change the meaning of a sentence so drastically.

The Saturday before last, a fire started on Dog Mountain.

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As anyone who wasn’t living under a rock knows, the Hawaii Mars has not been on contract with the province for 2 years now and so even though the fire was literally in sight of the base, it was helpless to do anything.

What’s more, the Wildfire Management Branch was completely over subscribed due to fires in Port Hardy, Sechelt and elsewhere in the province.  This all meant that only half of the Wildfire Management Branches mission could be completed:

Through early detection and aggressive initial attack of wildfires, the Wildfire Management Branch is able to keep the cost of fighting wildfires to a minimum.

We had the early detection thanks to multiple witnesses on the lake frantically picking up their phone and dealing *5555.  Unfortunately the aggressive initial attack came up two and a half hours too late.  By that time, the fire had spread down the mountain that all efforts by helicopter or fire retardant line laying aircraft to stop it were unsuccessful.

Thankfully, the forest service was successful in first evacuating and then defending the small number of cabins on the east side of the mountain.  But it was already too late for the fears of the public.  They had warned, including through their elected officials at the UBCM in September 2013, that without the Mars on standby to knock down fires like these before they got out of hand, there could be disaster on the Coast and in the Province. The fact this was happening almost within spitting distance of the bomber just added insult to injury.

Last summer, during a later, but also frightening fire season, a petition gathered almost 20,000 signatures in a few weeks demanding the Mars be reinstated.  This year, within hours of the fire starting, the petition was relaunched and gathered nearly 21,000 signatures in just a few days.

There are times when government needs to settle the fears of the public by taking proper actions.  It’s not about whipping up more fear for the sake of fear (like say, political election commercials featuring ISIS), but about providing encouragement and support to a public that is legitimately shaken.

The public clearly feels vulnerable with the wildfires raging in the province and across the country right now.  I believe the Government of British Columbia has wisely recognized that fear by not only granting a 30 day contract to the Hawaii Mars, but also bringing in resources from out-of-province.  I have heard the Hawaii Mars may be headed to the Interior where it will be able to provide the most help to the most people.  This is exactly as it should be.

This should not be about politics, or egos, it should simply be about using all the tools we have available.  The public was demanding exactly that, and the province listened.  Kudos to them for making something positive out of fear.

I’ll have another post soon about our water and other things.

Cheers,

Chris

2 thoughts on “The Double Edged Sword of the Politics of Fear”

  1. The tenant/leasee hasn’t provided any explanation for why it hasn’t started anything? I forget who it was that signed the deal, it’s been that long.

    1. The parties involved were the City (Landlord), Port Alberni Port Authority (Tenant) and Canadian Alberni Engineering (Pre-approved Subtenant).

      I don’t know what I didn’t before, but I will post the full text of the document in this post.

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