Report from UBCM 2016 in Victoria

A Comprehensive and complete report from the UBCM 2016 conference in Victoria.

7AM Tuesday – Good Morning from Victoria BC!

Like last year (UBCM 2015) and the FCM, and the AVICC, I have once again live blogged and reported on the Union of BC Municipalities conference.  Enjoy!

This post was updated continuously throughout the week. The schedule was packed.  Here it all is below.




I don’t have the schedule for Friday as it was only speeches and resolutions in the main hall from 8AM until the official close of the conference at 12PM.

First, the Liability Exposure of Local Government workshop. Here is the description:

Section 744 of the Local Government Act provides immunity to local governments in relation to certain nuisance actions. However, in the face of ever changing climate conditions, broader protection for local governments is needed. Comparable legislation to the British Columbia act in Alberta provides considerably expansive protection in this regard. It would be beneficial to local governments if legislative reform to Section 744 rendered it as broad – and possibly broader – than the immunity currently granted to local governments in British Columbia.

9AM Update – Municipal Liability with severe weather (climate change) and lobbying the Province to better protect Municipalities and taxpayers.

I didn’t realize this was actually going to be a climate change related workshop… but when dealing with insurance and liability I guess I should not be surprised.  The message was clear that local governments, because of the legislation in BC (compared to somewhere like Alberta) are very exposed to being sued due to severe weather events they have no control over.

Reducing Liability Exposure for Local Gov.

– We are actually talking climate change liability risk
– Problem is Section 744 of Community Charter
– The $2 Billion Floods in Alberta – (from mostly sewer backups) – was largest insurance claim in Canada and mostly fell on local government.  However, because of Alberta legislation, they were protected and did not have to pay out.  In BC we do not have that protection.
– Local Governments in BC are sitting ducks.

Here are the main issues:


Local government has little responsibility on first two… main liability is extreme weather.  We are now seeing 1-100 year events every 10 or so years.  Infrastructure is often built for 1-25 year simply because municipalities can’t make stuff bigger than that for cost reasons. In Alberta, that gap is covered. We must plan for future development… paving over natural drainage ways… not making sure new development does not impact downstream. Not correcting a problem when you know about. You have to maintain. Sued for negligeance most common is Sidewalk.

Here is the section:


This will help protect from climate change, severe weather but not always, ONLY WITH BREAKDOWN OR MALFUNCTION, not capacity! (Severe flooding). Alberta has more broad protection that covers operation or non operation.

Comment: Port Alberni is not under of the BC Municipal Insurance umbrella.  Perhaps we should be if it gives us more collective influence with other majority of municipalities.

This issue is going to cost many many more times more than leaky condos.

MIABC will help Local Gov implement “get out of jail free card” in new policies. It has to be in writing and approved, and does it set out reasonable achievable resources. Not “best practice” that is unaffordable or practical and realistic. Make sure you document everything! In legislation we need to change “breakdown and malfunction” to Alberta’s “operation and non-operation”. This is the only thing that needs to change so it is simple and hopefully easy but need lobbying support from affected local governments.

700-800 Municipal Insurance claims a year… usually about 12-24 right now weather/climate related.  This year, forecasts say fewer days of rain, but more intense storms.

Note: if you are with MiABC you get unlimited number of basic consultations on tip line for $100/yr.

10AM Tuesday – Affordable housing and low wage crisis.

Even small communities are starting to lose young demographic because it is unaffordable in BC but smaller communities do have ability to pull disadvantaged millenials and gen X from lower mainland.

From a generational standard, no province has taken bigger hit in housing cost and low wages for younger generations.  Child Care is costing more than tuition… at same time that new parents are paying historically high tuition debt.

img_9039 img_9040 img_9043Solutions:

Homes first. Tax housing wealth more to slow housing price, cut income taxes. Need more rental accommodation.

Second speaker: Mayor of Quesnel Bob Simpson

$2.4 Million annual infrastructure deficit. Tax shifting from Industry to Residents, they increased taxes 7% for 4 years. We did a town hall and did a 10% incremental cut in operations.  We had to show that it was all going to infrastructure. We have not had a tax revolt and people are accepting of it because they see tangible benefit.

“We need to giveup parking in business district to create a people cemtric space”

It is about creating our own positive, progressive stories.  We are investing and making great infrastructure. We are providing a Living Wage. We are in control of our google results by doing and creating the news and creating the infrastruxture that makes it real! (Liveavle, bikeability, transit, condos and small affordable desirable living places).

2PM Tuesday – Drug-Related Overdoes: A Public Health Emergency

Dr. Perry Kendall – Chief Medical Officer

We are on track for 600 overdoses… this graph below starts in the 1990s and shows how fast it has been rising (first bump was the Vancouver crisis in 90s)img_3418

(Go to BC CDC to see a larger readable version of this image)

These deaths (below since 2007) are the tip of the iceberg because of the naxolone kit or otherwise… you can see the impact on communities (Nanaimo in list note how numbers rise).

img_3419This outbreak is happening amongst the working class, younger (under 50) and so it is in private (in homes) not in public on street.  Leads to challenges for notification and education as well as direct access to the users.  The fentanyl is being cut in with other drugs “polydrug”.

Comment: A lot of heavy slides.  They are doing a ton of work across all sectors of the public service to try to address the problem.  It truly does sound like an emergency and crisis footing.  This includes trying to get more buy-in from senior government to expand health intervention and safe injection type sites.  There is a lot of political resistance to the concept still… asks attendees to advocate for that to the province.  It is a health issue.

They are trying to build capacity and underpinning to try to make changes that will address the issue long term while “keeping people alive” with naloxone kits going to all emergency services including, soon, RCMP/Police. Trained 14,000 people so far and 2200 doses have been given across BC. (Those people could have all died!)

Mark Tyndall MD BC Centre for Disease Control

Drug Overdose is not a new issue.  Same social issues… but what has changed? Fentanyl is the opioid “currency”.  The margin of error is very small… thus deaths.  Sheer number of people on opioids has grown massively in past 10-15 years.

Started with patches (cutting up the patch into strips) by prescription and then the powdered fentanyl came in 2013. This has replaced heroine and cocaine and other opioids because it is so cheap.

“Fentanyl Kills” messaging — doesn’t work with people who are addicted.  They won’t stop without alternatives.

“Merits of Harm Reduction is not up for debate.”  (“Much like climate change”)

Many of these talking points are on the BC CDC website.

“We are downloading our medical care onto people who are least trained to do it …. friends, family, others.  Good that we now have BC Ambulance and Fire and RCMP are getting the kits but we need more support.

In all the years of safe injection site “InSite” in Vancouver, there has never been an overdose. Extremely effective way to prevent deaths and provide further support. (Social workers, nurses, etc)


There is no where for people to go for help to get those first steps. A 6 month Waiting List for treatment is not appropriate.


“The War on Drugs is a total failure”

Federal government is open to Harm Reduction. And Provincial government is very open to innovation.


Communities need to make it happen on the ground.  They have the most power because they are so close to the issue.

Dr. Kerry Jang – Councillor / City of Vancouver

We as Municipal politicians need to take care of the police and fire to make sure they are supported. Look after first responders.

Call on the Health Authority “kill the naysayers with data”.  The Health authorities will work hand in hand with communities to lead.  Communities need to lead to create safe injection sites.  Latest research shows keep people independent at home is most effective. We can create health teams that will go to peoples homes.

Vancouver Healthy City Strategy – (Food, Services, Health)

Put a strategy in place so that when next crisis comes you can respond.


They say they have brought forward some solutions (at emergency meeting in June) but nothing has been done.


They are doing everything they can and need and want to do more.

3:30PM Tuesday- Emergency Coastal Response Session


Since I wasn’t able to participate in the Emergency Coastal Response exercise I wanted to make sure to get to this special session debriefing everything. Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness Yamamoto is here as well. (Second right below) ACRD Chief Administrative Officer Russel Dyson is at left.


Minister Yamamoto came up to Councillors Washington, Paulson and I and thanked us for the whole of Port Alberni and the ACRD.  It was a massive effort!


The Minister “was struck” by the enormity of the task and complexity of the planning and operation.
img_3434400 different problems “injects” in the exercise to challenge the participants. The exercise involved all levels of government and also US FEMA and Washington State through “Cascadia Rising” exercise.


Had 140 people just in the Keating (Victoria) facility. Do we have the facilities (provincially and otherwise) capacity to do this?

They had an objective observer and analysis (from Alaska) done to see how the exercise went and will deliver a full “After Action” report with recommendations in coming months.img_3436Many moving parts and goals in the exercise.


Recurring theme:  There was a need for more capacity from a human standpoint.  People were starting to get tired and fatigued. Emergency Operations found they were looking very short term, hours and day time frame rather than looking out to Day 4, 5 or 6.  Operational Communications came away realizing how important it is to involve amateur radio in all aspects from the beginning.

Russel Dyson talking about how there was some apprehension at scale of the operation but with planning it all came together.  ACRD only had 20 full time staff and included City of Port Alberni and volunteers to pull it off.


Report from ACRD Staff will be coming to the ACRD Board and City of Port Alberni.

Western Forest Products, Catalyst and Port Authority participated fully and donated equipment and land to add realism to the scenarios.

It was ACRD, City, Nanaimo, Tofino, Ucluelet…. they were all thrown in with no expectation.  Comment from the evaluators: “You guys worked so well together”  Very proud.

Actually did paper work through HAM Radio to request resources like a Helicopter for assessment and situational awareness.

Mid way through the exercise an emergency Board meeting was held where it was suggested that 50% of the Board members, in a real case, would not have been able (either by being away or injured, or worse?) would not be able to be involved.

The big takeaway from Mr. Dyson.  Practice, Practice Practice. The team building and all of the different skill sets brought together was absolutely invaluable.  More of these exercises are needed across the province.


Extremely valuable and great job to the Province for bringing this forward and making it happen.

From the Questions – Looking at ways to improve communications perhaps including an EMBC specific radio channels but that requires infrastructure (that can also be affected by earthquake). Some great questions from audience on EMBC putting in resources to remote communities, on authority piece (when does local government take control)… the paperwork needed was huge and really needed to focus on that.

“We thought as planners maybe we would have staff that would walk out and be too stressed as new employees… but it did not happen. People worked together and collaborated and there were tense moments but there was great team work”.

Is there a next step, next place?

Minister comments that if a similar event was taken on in a larger urban centre it would be a very different and valuable exercise.  There have been many requests from other communities to have a similar exercise.

7:30AM Wednesday – It’s early! How about Motels and Ultimatums?


It feels like an early morning. Tuesday night was a long one of receptions and networking and, honestly, wine.  But this is really where you learn from others and from other stakeholders.

Case in point: Catalyst Paper.  As an elected representative I have a responsibility to listen to all sides of an issue.  Last night, I talked to a rep from Catalyst and his first words were something to the effect of:

“There is an Old Growth Logging moratorium resolution on the floor at UBCM. If you support it and that came to pass, Catalyst would likely shut as would the other mills in Port Alberni”.

I really don’t like ultimatums… I will leave it there.

8:00AM Wednesday – Cleaning up Motels, Inns, and Dives.


Prince George talking about how they cleaned up derelict buildings.  It comes down to just doing what needs to be done after 30 years of talking about it. In 18 months 5 properties dealt with and now the community knows the Council and City are serious and “have a list you don’t want to be on”. (A Bylaw compliance list)

Make sure the process is transparent and legally supported but the community will support you and become your “eagle eyes”.


Business licenses are the method and process you can use to force compliance. If you suspend or cancel a business license at the location then they must stop and you can start to implement and require changes through worksafe, or health, or fire or safety or many other reasons.

Bylaw department takes the lead to gather evidence, inspect and outline the deficiencies so that they can be followed up on.

The suspension can be delegated to staff. The owner can then appeal to Council. Council has to deal with the appeal, have a public hearing and act on the will of the public which generally supports the issue.

Key evidence: Police callouts to the location.


If the “ground game” by Council and Staff is proper and transparent and wise, there will be no impetus for Judicial Review or challenges against the action from the motel owners or others.

Specific factors in business bylaw are helpful but most of the power comes from the statute in Community Charter. Just needs to be applied by an active and engaged Council and Staff.

Some places will shut and be “boarded up” but the hope is that the property owner does not want to keep paying taxes or the City can enforce destruction. (Which the Port Alberni has done in a number of cases).

10AM – Keynote at UBCM

Hearing from Dr. Samantha Nutt in the keynote this morning. An inspirational start that everyone needs and some simple messaging.


11AM Resolutions! Convention Begins!

A shot of the table of contents of the Resolutions. You can see them all at we will do the “A” resolutions first today.


First four resolutions below all passed very easily on downloading of DNA Analysis costs, marijuana regulation and taxation and short term accomodation (AirBNB)

img_9071 img_9072 img_9073


11:30AM Protection of Old Growth on VI and Site C

Two main resolutions that generated important votes. First a recommendation for UBCM to send a letter to the province to halt Site C development. The resolution was in the “block” of resolutions to be considered together.  Someone attempted to pull it out and debated indivdually (only those opposed to a resolution can call for them to be pulled).

That attempt was defeated and so the resolution was passed with the rest of the first B resolutions. Second, there was a resolution brought forward to Protect Old Growth on Vancouver Island.

img_9077 img_9078

The person in the picture is a councillor in Metchosin and a published scientist in forestry on the Island including all of the studies that have dealt with the issue.

After some debate, the motion on Old Growth passed strongly (I voted for as well).  We need to shift our forest industry on the Island to a sustainable second growth industry. There is no future in cutting Old Growth and the benefits from the small amount remaining, as has been advocated by the BC Chamber of Commerce, are huge and varied and much greater than the limited, finite value of cutting them.

Speech by Andrew Weaver.

You can view it on my Facebook page.

That was the end for the mornings major Resolutions… off to panels!

Cabinet Panel on Responsible Resource Development.

This is a Q&A session direct to Ministers.  Should be fun!


  • Minister Coleman (Natural Gas Development) at Left
  • Minister Letnick (Agriculture)
  • Minister Polak (Environment)
  • Minister Thompson – (Forests and NRO)
  • Minister Bennett – (Energy and Mines)
  • Minister Rustad (Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation)

Q1 – From Powell River on Agriculture – Can municipalities trade ALR land.

A1 – Best option is to ensure the Agricultural Land Commission is involved in Official Community Plan and it is that Commission, arms length from Minister that can approve a trade or other work.

Q2 – Shawnigan Lake  – Will you commit to reviewing the Professional reliance model and ensure there are no conflicts of interest with analysts being hired by company. (This is to do with the Land Contamination in their watershed!)

A2 – Minister Env. – The province monitors operations and ensures the compliance is met. The analysts are not handling compliance, they are data gathering and analysts.

Q3 -Will biomass to electricity facility shut down in Interior?

A3 – Minister Bennett There is a negotiation underway right now for the IPPs in the province for first contracts from Campbell era. The prices Hydro pays for that energy is hopefully going to go down but he does not believe that will jeopardize those facilities.

Q4 – Interior Annual Allowable Cut reductions – Softwood Lumber agreement

A4 – Minister Thompson – Softwood Lumber agreement is now under heavy negotiation. We would like free trade but that has never happened in the forest sector. That said they are working very hard to make that new agreement including working with Government of Canada. There will be reductions in AACs as the transition occurs from Mountain Pine Beetle and government will help with transitioning if needed.

Q5 – MMBC and zero waste

A5 – Ministry of Environment has worked hard to make improvements to MMBC.  And Ministry will be working hard to get to zero waste as it is a major part of Climate plan.

Q6 – Site C – Food Security – Peace Valley could feed a million people a year.

A6 – Minister Ag – 95% of farmland in Peace will continue. Farmers affected will be compensated. High tech Farms will need electricity (??). He fully supports Site C.

4PM – Premier’s Address – Cabinet Panels – “Responsible Resource Development”

I live streamed Premier Clark’s 30 minute address.  The link to that is on my Facebook page.

8AM – Stretch Code : A New Tool for Better Buildings


Stretch (Step) Code is a proposed tool.  Coming in the spring as part of Climate leadership plan. Building Act is now a specifically Province led.  Technical requirements driven by province no longer City.  Takes effect in December 2017.  All new buildings Net-Zero Ready by 2032.

The purpose is to build on top of the basic building code.  4 step between now and 2032.  As of Dec 2017 city will be able to require in bylaw that builders adhere to higher Steps.



They will be rolling it out over the next 12-18 months.


Voluntary incentive program – Energy Advisor ($500) and achieve Energuide 80 (which is Step 2 in plan above) they will refund portion of building fee.

(Note: my home is Energuide 77. So not quite 80. But shows it is achievable through renovations.)

Sparwood has seen very good uptake in new home building and builders do not report rise in cost.

Mentions City of Vancouver “raising the bar”. That will be useful in rest of province as builders start to learn required skills.

98% of houses since 2012 are built to Step 2.

PassivHaus is the goal/Step 4.



In smaller communities wih no Energy Advisor we may be able to have building inspectors be certified as energy advisors so they can check off that box. Note it does not apply to Manufactured Homes. Ministry is currently analyzing the cost differences.

For existing buildings there is no step code due to complexities but there is work beginning on the national level.

9AM Wednesday Official Opposition  Address John Horgan

You can see the recording on my Facebook page.

10:30AM  – Resolutions Day 2! Individual Debates

I will include Resolutions of particular interest or debate.

B66 Hauling Company permitting.

Trucks are supposed to require oversize or weight.  This is asking province to enforce that.







B68 Train Idling reduction.


Went to electronic vote. Passed.


B69 – One Accessible vehicle in taxi services.



B71 – Extended Absence from RD Board.  Boards would be able to dismiss a director and trigger a by-election after missing 4 meetings rather than have an alternate.


Motion Fails

B74 – Allow gas taxes to be used for Fire Equipment.



B75 – Changing Police Funding model so that the shift from 30% to 70% is not all at once.


Lots of debate. Carries with amendment striking the 2nd resolved paragraph.

B76 – Social Procurement –


Amendment to take out the second Resolved (As a first step) passed. There are infrastruxture funding requirements in other jurisdictions (Ontario) that require these considerations.


B77 – Socially responsible investing. (Climate) Creating an option for communities to invest.


Long debate and very close electronic vote. Passed.


B81 – Another call to change how RCMP funding (in a different way).


Long debate and close vote. It fails.


B82 – To have Province analyze the RCMP issue.


Passes easily.

B85 – Bylaw Enforcement fine limits be raised to $5000. (To try to cover the costs actually incurred)


B86/87/88 on pets and dangerous dog registry.

img_9116img_9117Amended B87


B88 (focusing more on owners)


All Passed.

11:00AM Resolutions continue

B91 – First Nation consultations

img_9120 C and D points were removed after much debate. Passed strongly.

B95 – Funding of Libraries in rural areas.


Passes easily (province share in VIRB has gone from 25% to less than 10%)

B97 Gender Neutral Language


Long debate with honestly some terrible comments. Passed easily. (Small house now)

B98 – Transgender protection



Wednesday Afternoon – Red Cross – Weird Weather – BC Assessment.

Red Cross Disaster Management

In Fort McMurray : It was the local authority that got people out.
1929 dwellings destroyed 643 unsafe
28 days with evac order
80,000 individuals evac in 24hrs

They have a “shadow” population of 45,000. Spread all over country. Very unusual.


$50M distributed to evacuees electronically within days.
$299M raised total. $165 from donations

Over 100,000 people registered in the emergency.
There are RC resources (cots/beds etc) in communities across BC.
First Aid by the Canadian Red Cross App

Be Ready by Canadian Red Cross App

Straight talk weird weather.


Showing that heat is not evenly spread in any particular year, but trend (circle) is accelerating. From 0.48°C in Summer 2003 to over 1° Warming in 2015 winter.

Future projections.

Projected 45% increase in heavy rain events south Island.

2015 may be the best case scenario in future, or low (cold) end of the worst.

more local data at

General predictions for BC

Light blue shows future extent of King Tide after sea level rise in False Creek (extends to Clark Drive.)

Most flood maps in Canada average age is 1986 are obsolete due to already occurred climate change. Expect 45% more flood area.


Image shows when under three sea level rise changes, Vancouver will have up to 100% chance of need to move or deal with sea level changes due to King Tides taking over land.  “1” blue line In Vancouver, adaptation, replacement of viaducts will be built above flood level.


You can’t rely on voluntary restrictions only. “If nothing is done to manage demand, if supply increases, demand will increase to manage it.” Monitoring and metering water. “Smarter metering the better”. Australia managed 10 years of drought because they had all metered usage and so could manage.  Cheapest safest way to expand supply is to stop wasting water (this also applies for electricity).

BC will need to increase irrigated farm areas outside lower mainland. Some areas of BC are wasting 30-60% of water from leakage.

Friday Finally!  First a Resolution.

img_9145 img_9147

It is a near empty room on Friday morning but there are a number of important resolutions coming forward this morning so it is really important that as many people are here as possible.  Councillor Sharie Minions is pictured at front voting.  It was an early start after a long week!

A motion from the floor for university and college student housing.  Trying to address the rental housing crisis in Victoria and Vancouver.


Passes easily.

A motion off the floor for Open Government at UBCM and Area Association.  It needed a 60% vote in order for it to be considered. It failed.

img_9150 img_9151


B99 – Resolution on allowing those who take Parental Leave can return with all of the same responsibilities.


Much debate. Passed.

B100 – to acknowledge and support the Auditor General Local Government office.



B101 – Excellent Port Hardy Councillor Jessie Hemphill to task UBCM to invite all First Nations to participate in UBCM.


Passes Unanimously

B102 – Prioritizing UBCM Resolution processes



B103 – Code of Conduct (to prevent sexual harassment) for future UBCM events.


Passes as amended.

Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities address and BC Minister of Communities

Live Video (FB) of Minister Sohi and Minister Fassbender addressing UBCM

 Last Resolutions… for real.

B104 Taxation of Brownfields



B105  Allow Municipalities to tax multi-family residential differently from other residents.



B106 – Rainwater Harvesting Systems

B107 to make it possible for government to force the extension of sewer to electoral areas without requiring consent.


Fails. (Mostly due to abrogation of electoral area rights.)

B108 – To assess professional reliance regimes (Shawnigan Lake watershed issue)



B110 – Camping on riverbeds.



B114 to review and change funding of Hospital infrastructure away from property taxes.



B122 – Pharmacare program



B127 Herring west coast ban.



B128 – Put unredeemed container deposits into parks.



After this resolution there was not enough time left to get to the many remaining resolutions.  The resolutions were thus voted as a block to either be endorses or not endorsed as the resolutions committee recommended, or if no recommendation was given, referred to the UBCM executive for a decision.

That brings an end to this report.  Another very tiring but very rewarding and interesting UBCM.  Looking forward to next year’s event which is being held in either Vancouver or Whistler.

(This was me most of the time in the conference hall… video live streaming and taking notes, or tweeting, or updating the blog or…) lol.


Natural Gas “ban” in Vancouver and what Port Alberni is doing

Subtitle: “In defense of difficult, yet necessary, conversations and policy.”

(Updated, see P.S. And P.P.S. At the bottom)

I am about to say something controversial. (Big surprise right? :)).

The City of Vancouver’s policy on 100% use of renewable energy by residents and business in the City and an 80% reduction in GHG emissions before 2050 is proper, wise, policy.  (I have a problem with their claim of using “renewable natural gas” but we’ll get to that another time)

It is far from popular. I listened to the screaming on CKNW yesterday that they would “ban” natural gas (which isn’t right… it is a phase out, not a ban) and have witnessed plenty of angry 😱😤😤😱😡😡 emoticons across Facebook and Twitter. (There appears to be confusion, possibly intentionally sown? between the targets for new construction and renovation markets, clarification here)  This is an understandable and reasonable reaction.

But here’s the thing: If we all accept the climate science, and most Canadians do (“Canadians Back Bold Climate Action“), and we are serious about addressing the problem then this must happen. There is no way around it.


What is that number? That is our CO2 “budget”. That is the amount, in billions of tonnes (GigaTonnes) of CO2 humanity can emit after 2015 in order to have a good chance of limiting warming to less than 2°C.  It is from the IPCC and reiterated in a report released yesterday.

The city of Vancouver is planning for there to be zero use of Natural Gas by 2050. People are very upset.  People, especially folks like the Canadian Tax Payers, Federation say it costs too much money.  And yet what those voices ignore is the cost of doing nothing.  Not reducing our total fossil fuel usage to zero before hitting that 843 budget will have consequences that will cost taxpayers billions, perhaps trillions, of dollars.  Already, we have had disasters like those in Fort MacMurray, connected to climate change, that will cost the insurance industry billions, cost government hundreds of millions just for dealing with the disasters at the time (Infrastructure repair comes later), and cost residents thousands in expenses trying to put their lives back together.  The same goes for other flooding and fire disasters in Canada over the past few years. And this, with only 1ºC of warming in the world so far…

So this policy is what climate action means. In order to stop pushing our planet to an unliveable state, we must stop using fossil fuels and a gradual decline to zero before 2050 makes sense. Replacing heating appliances using Natural Gas with electricity and requiring buildings to be far more energy efficient is the low hanging fruit.

So you might ask if there are similar plans in Port Alberni. Do we have similar reduction targets? No. Should we? Honestly, yes, but we’re not there yet. Instead, we are working on policies that will help people transition even if the implied end goal is not yet spelled out.

The City of Port Alberni is working on a program to be implemented soon that will give homeowners rebates if they switch their oil (and possibly natural gas) home heating appliances (furnaces) to electric.  There are similar programs in Nanaimo and other cities.  There will also be rebates that will encourage making your home more energy efficient because the best way to save money isn’t to pick the cheapest fuel, it is to reduce the need for any fuel at all.

We will try to help that happen and in the process we will be starting to make the required reductions that Vancouver has been so brave as to state in full.  We will all need to be more brave in the coming years, this change will be very rewarding, but undeniably difficult.

By the way, the conclusions of the report I linked to at the top before the little table…. was that the math shows us we cannot start any new fossil fuel infrastructure. None.  The operations in the world today that are currently extracting coal, oil, and gas, have more than enough carbon in them to put us over the 2ºC limit (just under 1000 gigatonnes).  So that makes questions about whether or not to support things like LNG, Kinder Morgan, Dakota Access, and other new infrastructure pretty moot…. the report recommends no new fossil fuel infrastructure be approved or built.

This reinforces many research papers published recently showing that 99% of unconventional (i.e.. oilsands and fracked gas) and 72% of conventional oil reserves remaining in Canada must stay in the ground. (Nature – data table 3)


There seems to be talk in the media about an incredible 70% decrease in 4 years.  This is false.

The 70% by 2020 refers to new construction only, not existing buildings (renos). Vancouver are focusing on their building bylaws (because they can do that under the Vancouver Charter). They want all new construction to be 100% renewable by 2030. 90% by 2025. This is Reasonable.

Here is the report that is being referenced, it says:

“Analysis undertaken in the development of the Renewable City Strategy estimated that of all the buildings (measured by floor space not number of structures) that are anticipated by 2050:
30% would be built prior to 2010
30% would be built between 2010 and 2020
40% would be built after 2020.

If all buildings are to use only renewable energy by 2050, the sooner new buildings achieve near zero emissions, the fewer buildings there will be that require costly and challenging deep energy retrofits to achieve the target.”

The best way to make that switch isn’t shift from nat gas to electricity, it is to reduce energy usage to as close to zero as possible, and that is exactly what they have proposed to require new developments to do by adopting Passive House or alternative zero emission building standards”

from their third recommendation:

“THAT Council direct staff to build all new City-owned and Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) projects to be Certified to the Passive House standard or alternate zero emission building standard, and use only low carbon fuel sources, in lieu of certifying to LEED Gold unless it is deemed unviable by Real Estate and Facilities Management, or VAHA respectively, in collaboration with Sustainability and report back with recommendations for a Zero Emissions Policy for New Buildings for all City-owned and VAHA building projects by 2018.”

Council Document

Notes from the first Island Corridor Foundation Liaison meeting

Today was the first get together of the Community Liaison Committee for the ICF which is a committee created by the ICF to more easily provide information to its member communities without having to worry about the conflict of interest issues of the Board reporting back.

Below I have organized the report in some pictures and then answers to questions.

We first had a brief presentation at the ICF office at the Wellcox (short for Wellington/Comox) rail yard in Nanaimo.


image Click for larger images.

You can see the agenda and the attendance.  I believe all but one person attended including John McNabb director of the ACRD Beaver Creek area who is not listed. The hi-rail trucks were full.

Existing freight customers and shipments.

We first got a tour of the rail yard and the various transloading (where goods are moved from rail to truck or vice versa) customers in the Wellcox yard.  There are five.

SVI receives a barge regularly to the Seaspan controlled barge slip at the yard (the black square in the middle of the picture below). The slip is the only public transport connection to the Island.  It also receives truck trailers but that traffic will soon be moved to Duke Point which means the slip will be for the near exclusive use of Southern Rail of Vancouver Island which they see as a major plus. Their rail slip on Annacis Island connects to CN, CP, BNSF, and UP and so all points in North America.


PRoduct #1

is delivered at the white tent above.  Western Aerial receives fertilizer there for forestry.

PROduct #2


is delivered a little further in the yard.  The white rail cars are carrying fly ash for the island cement industry.

PRoduct #3


is where telephone poles (on the left) are brought down from Courtenay (at great expense by special truck) and shipped to the mainland by rail (on the right) for treatment.

PRoduct #4


Is the shipment for Top Shelf feeds in Duncan (straight ahead) that is the only large shipments of grain to the Island.

PRoducts #5 and #6image

are in the distance.  The first is latex for the Catalyst paper mill in Port Alberni, a large customer.  The second is a supply of water stored there for use by the BC Wildfire service for use in rural communities along the railway.

Product #7


is propane shipped by rail to their Nanaimo depot near the Nanaimo Golf Club.

Track Maintenance and Repair 101

After the yard tour we all got into hi-rail trucks for a short journey up the Welcox spur to the main line.  We passed a few potential future customers at the veneer plant in Nanaimo and a gravel pit further south.

image image image

We then stopped at a section of the mainline south of Nanaimo where 100 ties had been marked out.


A few things to notice in the image above.  First, the tie bar in the far rail where you see the bolts is an example of an old style tie bar that will be replaced along the line.  Every old bar has been counted.  About 9000 will be replaced.

On the rail, you see red and green markings. These are not-good (red) or must-be replaced (red/green) ties.  Notice the red/green tie in he picture is quite split and rotted.  This is an example of how they will mark the entire line as the replacement program progresses.  The tie replacement will eat up the largest amount of the $20.4M at around $11M.

Enough ties will be replaced with the $11M to be compliant with Class 3, 40mph passenger rail and 30mph freight service and allow that to continue for 10 years with regular maintenance.

You might notice the tie right in front of the red/green marked rotted tie is in very good shape.  It is also not treated with creosote.  This is a new yellow cedar tie.  Yellow cedar ties are great and are often used near water courses so as to minimize impact from creosote on rivers and streams but unfortunately the supply of yellow cedar ties is limited because yellow cedar is in such high demand.

Every effort will be made to source ties from Vancouver Island mills (like Alberni Pacific Division) or to otherwise benefit Island businesses during the retrofit.

in case you are wondering what a $100 million investment would look like… That would easily replace every single tie and then some.  (If $11M will do every 4th tie then $50M would easily replace everything.).

That amount of work is not needed for either a return of fast enough speeds for passenger service, nor for freight service.


Above is an example of what the Victoria to Courtenay line will look like after the $20.4M program is complete.  The big thing after replacing the ties is installing ballast… the rail term for rock under, beside and over the tracks.  This improves the drainage and the stability of the track (which also improves the ride comfort) and the process used will also realign and position the rails so they are where they need to be.

56,000 tonnes of ballast will be used costing around $2 Million.  This rock will come from Island quarries.

Questions, lots of questions.

That was the end of the hands on stuff.. we then went back to the Nanaimo train station for a lunch meeting where we had more presentations and Q/A.

I will include questions I was given before this meeting and the answers I got or gleaned throughout the day.

Transport Canada regulations and upgrades and changes to rail crossings.

SVI did a presentation on the implications of the new rail crossing regulations on the Island Railway.

The upshot is that the process for the federal railways (CP/CN) is going to happen first and has not yet occurred.

They do not know yet how these federal regulations will filter down for the provincial railways like SVI/SRY.  However, they estimate that about 85% of the more than 200 crossings between Victoria and Courtenay already meet the new standards.  50% of the remaining non-compliant crossings are municipal responsibility and are pretty evenly distributed along the railway. This applies to between Victoria and Courtenay.

Once they know what the provincial requirements will be and whether there will be any grandfathering then they will do a full assessment of the crossings but in the meantime any crossing work that they do they always make sure it meets the new standards.  They have also done crossings on the Island where they brought the crossing to the minimum and then put plans to bring it to a higher stanadrd once infrastructure monies are released.

The ICF now has a general policy of no net-new crossings.  They have strict requirements for requestors to meet if they want a new crossing.  They managed to resolve concerns in Langford by upgrading one crossing and closing another.  Since costs for a crossing can start around $750,000, the ICF is keen to keep those costs down and new crossings to a minimum.

The ICF has over 1000 contracts and agreements over the entire line that they manage.

1. What’s the current status of the First Nations Snaw-naw-as legal action (Nanoose).

The ICF and Snaw-naw-as are currently in delicate talks for a negotiated settlement.  Because the talks are ongoing Mr. Bruce did not want to give a timeline or any other indication but he did say communications have been had and talks are good but sensitive so no more details can be provided right now.  Judith Sayers also related that there are other options to pursue if talks failed like pressing the single issue of the definition of the railway being inactive which they believe very strongly is illegitimate.  But the first option is of course a negotiated settlement beneficial for all parties and sooner rather than later.

2. Has there been any movement on the part of the Federal Government regarding its commitment to provide $7.5 million?

Nope. Not without movement of Snaw-naw-as lawsuit.

3. What is the current status of municipal and regional district commitment toward the retention of the railroad as a viable economic entity?

I think as one could see from the representation at the meeting, which was from most of the municipalities and all the RDs there is still good interest and commitment and want to make it work and seek viable business as well as social plans for its use. Reps presented included those from recent sources of some skepticism including Parksville and Langford.

4. What is the current amount of freight using the railroad? What part of the railroad is currently being used? What is the economic value of this freight?

You can see the current products and customers at the start of this post.  Most are transloads within the Wellcox yard. One direct rail customer remains in Nanaimo at Superior Propane.  And that is the remaining part of the railway that is running a few times a week through Nanaimo.

I honestly forgot to ask about the value for those existing customers. Will do so.

There was also a lot of talk about partnerships and possibilities for traffic on the Port Alberni subdivision including Catalyst but also more broad shipping of containers and goods from the West coast through to the rest of North America through Nanaimo and the barge slip.  SVI said they continue in discussions with both ports.

Southern Rail employees also made it clear that they and the Washington Group including the owner Mr. Washington have taken a very long term view to their holdings.  They see a lot of growth potential for the railway due to a whole host of factors.  That is why they have stayed even though the ICF has struggled to secure infrastructure funding.  They are not making money on the operation currently.  When the VIA service was still running they employed 26 people.  They now employ around half that.

Once that funding is secured there will also be a new agreement between the ICF and SVI where the SVI will pay the ICF fees as operator of the track that will go towards its capital maintenance and administration.  This agreement is under negotiation now and should be ready soon.

5. Is there more that the ICF needs municipalities such as ours to do with respect to working toward long-term viability of this railroad?

From the discussions during the meeting it appears the most supportive thing we can do is keep advocating for the railway at senior government level and also at the public level wi factual information and be sure to include the railroad in all long term social and transportation planning.  We had a good chat about the use of Development Cost Charges as a way to push improvements to the line when new developments are proposed adjacent to it.

SVI also made it clear that their own thinking and that of many railways has changed a lot when it comes to the use of a railway corridor by trails.  In previous eras the whole right of way was considered off limits for safety and development reasons.  Now, they realize that having a trail right beside the tracks actually improves safety because it gives people a much better option than walking in the tracks and it also increases the profile and ultimate support for the railway.  So they now enthusiastically support the building of the rail trail system.  It also provides funding for things like new and better rail crossing hardware, so all transportation users win.

6. When will Port Alberni be involved and receive some benefit and what is its state?

As I already mentioned, SVI and the ICF continues in discussions with the Port Alberni and Nanaimo Port Authorities looking at opportunities that could arise and bring freight to that corridor.  They do believe strongly that a customer like Catalyst would have much cheaper transportation costs in the current transport framework if they went fully to rail.  They are already a customer for SVI as the latex for the paper making process is delivered by rail to the Wellcox yard in Nanaimo and then transloaded to truck for Port Alberni.  Shipments come in every week.

There has not been a very thorough assessment of the ties and bridges yet done on the Alberni sub but the general feeling based on the experience of the people at SVI (the roadmaster has 38 years) who also worked at CPR and RailAmerica before they left is that the Alberni sub will likely be in better shape as a whole than the Victoria-Courtenay line even though it has sat dormant for so long because the majority of the limited maintenance that CPR and RailAmerica did do was on the 38mile Alberni subdivision.  However, the bridge decks need more regular maintenance so since that has not been done, the bridges will require an assessment and work to make sure they are good to go again.  Structurally the bridges should not have any problems since they have not been under any load in the past 10 years.

I got the impression that once the infrastructure monies were in place and SVI was secure for that 10 year commitment, that they would turn their attention more fully to the Alberni subdivision for both freight customers and tourism in connection with the Alberni Pacific Railway.

7. “IF the Fed’s position is that the funding is not forthcoming until the railway is running. We have an impossible situation on our hands…. is this scenario 100% accurate?”

No. The feds current position is the money will be released once the Snaw-naw-as lawsuit has come to a conclusion that they feel comfortable with.

8. In light of the fact that no Federal money is forthcoming, as difficult as the situation is, what does the ICF plan to do about this?

Since the feds are not providing their funding and the whole $20M package rest on that, the ICF and SVI is currently pursuing two interim plans that they believe could be done even without the infrastructure monies.

#1: is the Excursion train for cruise ships at the Nanaimo Port Authority.  This was demonstrated in April this year and the train is ready to go.  They have a business plan and believe the economic impact to the region would be around $20 Million a year.

The train would depart the SVI yard (which is next door to the cruise ship terminal) and head to Chemainus for part of the day. Come back to the Nanaimo train station for food and enjoying the Nanaimo uptown area and then back to the terminal. They see this starting as soon as next cruise season.

Once the infrastruxture monies are in place then the excursions could also include bringing people to events all over the Island not necessarily tied to cruise ship visits but the public in general.

#2: There is a very interesting plan being worked on where the SVI and ICF would work with BC Transit to provide a pilot commuter service between Langford and Victoria during the McKenzie interchange construction period.  They are currently looking at suitable rail stock.  They feel the tracks could currently support 20 minute service between Langford and Vic West.  They say that BC Transit has indicated a willingness to shift or even change their bus routes or timings so that they met up with the train more smoothly.

I really hope to see this pilot come to fruition. It would be a major boost.

Both of these initiatives could happen without the $20M in funding.

9. Would they reconsider their “all or nothing” approach to getting the line repaired and renegotiate funding deals still on the table to at least get part of the line repaired and operational? Even the feds might consider funding if the plan for repairs doesn’t go as far as Nanoose.

I believe the answer to #8 covers this with the addition that SVI feels very strongly that the $20M will absolutely ensure the entire rail line from Victoria to Courtenay will be able to meet Class 3, 40mph passenger and 30mph freight standards.  The ICF board feels very strongly that the whole rail line cannot be considered abandoned due to a few years of inactivity as there is still activity on the line including maintenance as well as there being a specific definition to deactivating a railway that the Island Railway does not meet. Their intent remains focused on the whole railway even while they pursue small opportunities on some portions while they work on resolving the legal case.

10. An estimate of the timeline for the Nanoose lawsuit would be nice to have too.

They were unwilling to give a timeline because the negotiations are ongoing and sensitive.

11.  I’d tell them to immediately re start freight service to Top Shelf and the pole shippers, even if they have to run at a walking pace the public needs to see an active railway.

They can only serve customers that they can get the train to within the 12 hour working day.  Otherwise, due to transportation regulations, they have to change crews.  That is the main reason why both passenger and freight service has shut or been reduced to just Nanaimo.  At current operating speeds the train can’t get to the customers in a reasonable time, so this option isn’t viable.

12. I think it needs to be made clear that they need to have some sort of forward movement related to rail even if they need to create it themselves.

It does appear tey feel the same way and is why they are pursuing the two oportunities mentioned above and they say they are continuing to work on business plans that can stand on their own.

13. Another question. Is SVI / Washington Group willing to step in and front this 15 million to stop the line from being lost forever?

I honestly didn’t ask. However they are putting in their own resources to make the Chemainus and Victoria commuter pilot a possibility.

14. Could you ask the ICF to host a public forum in Port Alberni to discuss the future of the E&N Railway.

The ICF reps made it pretty clear they realize their public outreach hasn’t been up to par. They hope these liaison meetings will help and I think they would be open to hosting an information session in Alberni. I want to be work on this with them.

Federation of Canadian Municipalities – Winnipeg 2016 – Rolling Blog!

Overall thoughts on FCM 2016

This was an amazing few days.  It was very much like UBCM in that it was jam packed with information that was useful to take ‘home’. FCM does not have quite as much direct access to Ministers of government as UBCM but what it lacks there, it gains in intensity of the sessions it puts on, the variety of the study tours that were available, and the vast number of people both the 1000+ municipal attendees but also very knowledgeable FCM staff, that you meet and network with and end up discussing, sharing and even commiserating with throughout the stay.   I also thought the trade show was much more useful than UBCM (which was almost exclusively LNG focused) and my only complaint of the entire 4 days was that of those 4 days I only had the opportunity to walk the dozens of booth on the trade show floor for about 1 hour and have about 5 conversations with booths of interest.  I could have easily spent an entire day just in the trade show.

When people ask whether it is “worth it” to go to these conferences that is what I will point to.  While 4 days seems like a long time, because of the sheer variety of the speeches, policy, sessions, and study tours, there is actually a very limited amount that one person can accomplish and thus gain value from.  Between Mayor Ruttan, Councillor McLeman and myself, we all went to different workshops or tours (except for two instances I believe) so that we could all get back together and at least share notes.  (including this blog).  Even between the 3 of us, we were not able to cover all the possibilities.  There were also many CAOs there with their Council members as much of the information is relevant to City Staff as much as it is to Council.

The more we can attend these, and the more people we can have there, the more value we get from them.  It is a wonderful opportunity that can pay dividends to the City.

Below is the full report, enjoy.

Continue reading “Federation of Canadian Municipalities – Winnipeg 2016 – Rolling Blog!”

BC Wildfire Tanker Cost FOI – The Devil is in the -redacted- Details

Note: The FOI documents had to be run though an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program so that they would be searchable and copy/paste-able.  This causes some character (letter/symbol) errors with the original text that may show up in the quotes even though I have tried to catch them all.

The Big Three Air Tanker Companies

There are only three companies providing in-province fixed wing air tanker service to the Government of British Columbia.  Airspray, ConAir and Coulson.

Earlier this year I submitted a Freedom of Information request to find out the real costs of the Air Tanker program (excluding helicopters).  It took a few months but the request has been completed.  You can see the original request here and the full 297 page response here.

Continue reading “BC Wildfire Tanker Cost FOI – The Devil is in the -redacted- Details”