Vancouver Island Economic Alliance Summit report – 2017 – Updating Wed/Thurs

I am here for the VIEA Summit 2017 on behalf of Council.  I’ll be doing a report like I have done for UBCM.  It is just a two day conference with just three or four sessions that I’ll be able to attend but I have always found it to be very valuable.  Below is my schedule:

It is now 3:30PM and I’ve already had a number of great conversations with folks, from a solar installer in Nanaimo, to Sheila Malcolmsen NDP MP for Nanaimo about derelict vessels and a rep from the Coastal Community Credit Union about community funding of local agriculture!

First session I attended was on Trade and Transportation.

Here are my notes:

Keynote – Dan Tisch

Mr. Tisch spoke about the fake news phenomenon and how to manage communications with customers and clients and constituents in that new world.

He emphasized the need to create trust and how the (social) values of an organization has become extremely important to their overall reputation and success.

Openness, willingness to listen, and willingness to take and maintain principled stands will lead to success for the organization as a whole.  This is definitely something that applies to Cities as well.


VIEA Trade and Transportation Session

Short Sea Shipping –

Peter Amott – Pacific Basin

They moved log shipping (export) from Fraser port to Nanaimo because of shipping costs, delays, etc at Lower Mainland. Realized major volume increase in Nanaimo, 60 jobs.

Tabare Dominquez – DP World – Major Container Shipping (10% of world shipping). Only lift on/off (no dreyage, no trucking) on Vancouver Island for import/export to Asia.

Adam Cook – CN Rail

“Truck like service at the cost of rail” Partners with Southern Rail of VI at Annacis Island to Welcox Seaspan – BC Ferries – DP World – Steamship Lines

Alison Boulton Small Business BC – Export Navigator Pilot (also in Port Alberni through Community Futures). Facilitates communication with exporters. Export Advisor in each community…

…… QUESTIONS ….

To DP World —

Infrastructure is a significant constraint. It is fragmented.  It would be good to concentrate volume. We are ready to invest if there is more volume.

Q: Nanaimo/Alberni or Prince Rupert is place for expansion if Vancouver is maxed?
A: vancouver capacity is tight. Rupert and Island do not compete.  He sees opportunity for direct calls to the Island.

 


Renewable Energy Session

EcoSmartsun.com

Solar energy installation in the world is currently at “one Site C per month”. In 10 years, world will install 1 Terawatt per year. In US, grid parity has been achieved (solar is as cheap as coal or gas) in 27 states.

Price for utility solar is now $1 per watt. Residential in US is about $2 per watt (installed). Resource on Vancouver Island is good in SE, plus Port Alberni and Comox Valley.  Maps available here.

Gave an example of Sooke first Nation for net metering (which is similar in payback to WCGH installation)

The cost needs to be below 11c/kWH to beat BC Hydro and achieve a payback.  The grah below shows the potential.  2 axis refers to the solar panels being able to track the sun horizontally and vertically.  Most installs, like WCGH are fixed (blue dots).

Nanaimo, Tofino and Comox are listed and are indicated to be just above the threshold. Port Alberni should be as well.

Renewable Natural Gas – Fortis BC

“Carbon Neutral option”. “Biogas” is injected into the conventional natural gas stream.

Take gas from landfills, farms. 200,000 GJ of NG in 2017. City of Surrey is doing a biofuel plant in 2018 that will take organics.  Will provide 120,000GJ. City of Surrey uses CNG for their garbage trucks, will potentially use RNG for their trucks will reduce their carbon footprint.

Percentage RNG – is currently 0.25% of installed capacity of traditional gas. Fortis can move up 5% or 9 petajoules per year to RNG. (How likely is this??)

VIU Allan Cumbers -Geo Exchange utilizing old Mine shafts

Water is 12°C year round.  Will be used for multiple buildings on a 3 loop system for both heating and cooling. Health and Sciences centre (being built now) will be first building.  Then Gathering Place and Building 205. Then HSC 2.  If pilot project is successful should be able to expand district system to all buildings where it makes sense to retrofit for geo-exchange.

Expect to save 320 tonnes of CO2 on first building on Phase 1, payback is 18 years.


We will be hearing from the Premier at dinner tonight. He is addressing us by video link from Victoria (due to needing to be in the Legislature for votes in the house).  Will report back tonight or tomorrow.


Thursday morning.

We started with a breakfast and keynote focusing on Earthquake preparedness and risk management and then that continued into the first session of the morning.  Here are notes from that:

  • At LA International Airport they focused on what was needed to operate. Only two things… runways and communications not buildings.  So they focused on hardening those.
  • Nothing in BC is designed to survive mega earthquake

  • Japan earthquake. Nuke damage was done by tsunami, not earthquake. The company built a 7m wall when data said it should have been 15m. Has cost Japan $1 Trillion.
  • Another nuke plant, Onagawa… undamaged. Had a 15m wall. The ground dropped in earthquake (much closer to epicnter) by 1m. Tsunami was 13.5m.  Largely undamaged and safe.

  • The risk in Vancouver Island is very high.. as high as any japan, mexico, just less frequent. Studies are often too academic.  Frequency is almost irrelevant. Focus on simple study of elevation and practical steps to harden buildings. For houses… keep them on their foundations. Bolt them down.

BC Code should be closer to Chile and California, we need to compare Canada and other codes to learn from their experience.

  • Municipalities – do a strategic risk – find the most critical pieces.
  • The building code is not always the end all be all… building code is for life saving, not business interruption. Low bidders may be life saving minimum code only… higher cost, possible business interruption which is key.

For mitigating Tsunami. Really can only build a wall (backfilled with parkland) direct the water away from downtown…. or long term plan to move people/business out of flood zone.

Film and TV Session

BC is the 3rd largest film production in North America, biggest in Canada. #1 for visual effects in the world

$2.6 Billion in production this year. $1 Billion in wages. $23 Million in wages on the Island. 50 productions on the Island, 250 filming days. Chesapeake Shores spent $5M alone. Streaming services (Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Google) will add $25 Billion to global production business.

32,000sqft of stage space in Parksville. 3-4 Million sqft of stage space in BC.  Why B.C.? -> locations. Every possible type. Episodic TV is now main source of revenue in BC.

There is no Commercial space in lower mainland. 1% vacancy. Film Commissions cannot charge fees… so are left to ask for community grants to help fund their activities.

For Film Studio space you need high ceilings,  30-40ft. Clear span no pillars. Purpose built is usually best though small productions can use smaller spaces, but are unlikely to commit long term.

Parksville is going out on a limb. Because it is a location spot, not studio.  There are numerous people on the Island and the training is key.  Need more infrastructure in terms of rentals for video and lighting and audio.  Usually if a space is built, and a long term contract found, then the rental infrastructure companies come.

Tofino was great to shoot but no hotels… so used Best Western in Port Alberni for shoots for a commercial.  Major production facilities requires 5 star hotel for the actors. So only Victoria and Vancouver currently. However, small scale commercials or TV could use production space on an interim basis.

X-Men spent $40,000 just on ferries.

Biggest takeaway is for communities to always be welcoming, not to lie or gloss over locations, and to roll with the punches.  TV Industry is extremely fast paced, last minute, and unconventional.  They respond to places that can meet their idiosyncrasies with a smile.

That’s it! It was a very quick, but very good conference.  Lots of things to take away and learn from. I’ve already sent a number of emails to a bunch of people following up about it.

 

UBCM 2017! So many Meeting with Ministers and Staff. Stay tuned all week.

The Full UBCM 2017 Report is done!

Preamble

We have a ton of meetings this year with Ministers! Here is my calendar right now!

In order the meetings we have are:

  • Ministry of Environment – on Climate Adaptation measures, flooding, and setting up further meetings and on support for new Open Burning Restrictions
  • Ministry of Public Safety – A meeting our CAO will be having with Ministers
  • Sean Grant from the Ministry of Finance
  • Brian Bennet of Infrastructure – discuss grant opportunities
  • Ministry of Forests Lands Natural Resources and Rural Dev. – on Open Burning Restrictions and on Community Forests.
  • Jackie Hunter of Small Business, Jobs and Trade Ministry
  • Scott Fraser Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation

……….

Sunday September 24

Here is the policy booklet to see all of the resolutions.

Monday September 25  meeting with George Heyman Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

We got started bright and early this morning 9:40AM with a 20 minute meeting with Minister Heyman.

We addressed issues around sea level rise, particularly planning for how our major infrastructure assets like the sewage lagoon, will be protected from rising sea levels. We also mentioned the flooding that has occured along the river from recent extreme weather events that have become all too common. Thanks to the raising of highway 4/river road after the Tsunami, the city has been protected mostly….. more coming….

…. back from a quick Taco Time lunch! ….

Minister Heyman and his staff were very receptive and of like mind.  They reminded us of the federal and other grant funding available, particularly for emergency management. This is something the City/ACRD has already been in the process of doing so that was well received.

I won’t say more than that because you want to be sure that you don’t say things ‘out of turn’ when Ministers are involved. But suffice to say I think it was a short (they are all short!), but good meeting.

Marijuana

There were a number of morning sessions held. I was only able to attend a small portion because of the meeting with the Minister. However, I did get to the Marijuana session (on legalization for recreational use). I heard from what appeared to be someone familiar with the upcoming legal issues.

Basically we will have two regulations going forward, Medical, and Recreational Marijuana.

The crux of the advice from the individual speaking was that getting an early start on the regulations for Recreational marijuana would be a good benefit for local governments.  That means going through our bylaws, much like we did for medical marijuana, and ensuring they are appropriate and ready.

One thing he made very clear was that constitutionally, Medical and Recreational marijuana are very different.

Medical Marijuana use is protected by the constitution so we cannot make bylaws that would limit that use (even though currently, sale of medical marijuana from store front remains prohibited and is likely to continue to be).

Recreational Marijuana use is unlikely to be so protected by the constitution. So municipalities *will* have the option to prohibit sale outright.

I asked a question to the person relating to the fact that for all intents and purposes, the current Medical Marijuana retailers in Port Alberni and elsewhere are selling to recreational users. This is an open ‘secret’. So how can we have two regulatory regimes when on the ground, the public is treating the issue really as one and the same.

The problem here is the limitation of selling medical marijuana by mail order only.  As long as that limitation exists, it will create this strange situation where current dispensary are either going to be selling medical marijuana to recreational users illegally. Or, when it becomes legal to sell marijuana for recreational use, the dispensaries will change their signage, and sell marijuana legally, recreationally, but more than likely still be effectively supplying the medical market as well.

It really makes no sense. The speaker answered that he didn’t see a way around that at this point and it would be a matter of building a case to show that a marijuana dispensary was breaking the rules.  I difficult, and costly, course to take.

Personally I think we need to advocate that marijuana be treated the same across the board. Legalize the retail selling of it for all uses, then we can properly, and consistently regulate it on a local level.

That’s it for Monday morning.

Afternoon session:

Advancing Local Government and First Nations Relations

This was an excellent session where we heard of experiences by two government and first nation partnerships, one around Alert Bay and the other around Metchosin.

The Alert Bay example was about how the village and adjacent First Nation have formed an extremely close relationship. Since they are literally on an small island together they have developed a very practical working and even personal relationship where the Village and Nation staff and council work nearly as one.

They have joint council meetings several times a year where issues of concern are discussed, joint committees, joint planning, joint problem solving

Everyone on the Island (population under 1000) has a voice no matter if they are in nation or village.

The second example was Metchosin and Beecher Bay FN. They described a land swap and development agreement they reached along with Langford. Beecher Bay wanted to build/develop a residential project somewhere on their lands but the land they were considering was highly valued forested land the Metchosin community wanted to protect. Metchosin identified a parcel of land that was adjacent to Langford that was more suitable for development that they could swap with Beecher Bay. However Metchosin also is a completely rural community and does not support development so Langford offered to extend their boundaries to include the the developing parcel and then shared tax revenue with Metchosin.

We also had a very nice speech from Indigenous Relations and reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser.

“The Chilquotin decision is not an isolated decision”

The Minister spent a lot of time explaining how important the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). He talked about adopting and embracing the UNDRIP in full. The rights in undrip are human rights. He aims to realize these rights.

“Free prior and informed consent means to be involved from the start of a development process.”

Have to be included from the start. UNDRIP is not a threat to development. The minstry is working on more flexible options for treaties including shared territories.

A portion of Gaming revenue may begin to be shared with First Nations. As is done in other provinces.

Big part of reconciliation is culture and language and government will be investing in those programs.

That was it for the afternoon.

Tuesday!

Uncivil Civic Engagement

Continuum of Incivility: Negative Behaviour —> Verbal Aggression —> Physical Agression

 

The causes? Increased polarized political parties and highly polarized media. USA is an epicentre but B.C. has very polarized media as well.

Leads to total policy gridlock due to lack of ability to compromise.

At local government level the engagement is much more personal and direct so can be very difficult.

—Strategy for local governments—

Procedures Bylaws that are clear and detail rules of conduct for council members and for public.

– Mayors have a statutory obligation to keep order during a meeting but there is no definition of “inappropriate” behaviour.

Absolute privilege (like an MP or MlA that can say almost anything in parliament) does not apply to City Council.

But we do have qualified privilege. As long as statements can be proven to be truthful.

There are also ways to have a court injunction against individuals if they are so disruptive and disrespectful and especislly if it is long term, agressive, and baseless.

Can Council itself pass a resolution to prohibit an individual frim attending meetings?

It is not a decided legal issue in B.C. but in Ontario the court has determined No. A court injunction is the only way.

—- More Ministry Meetings —

Later Tuesday Morning we had a meeting with Sean Grant, a director from the Ministry of Finance.

We were there to discuss what options we might have in order to address derelict or fallow buildings that plague our commercial sectors.  There was a suggestion that we might be able to advocate for a new class of tax but that tool was quickly shot down by Mr. Holmes as, in his words, the tax system is meant to be a neutral revenue device, it is not intended and it is bad policy to use it as an incentive or disincentive system.

Many of the other options are things we have already done such as tax holidays, façade improvement, bylaw enforcement, and Community Charter supported remediation (like we are doing with Arrowview).

One option that the Director suggestion was a Business Improvement Area.  This is something that, according to Councillor McLeman, has been tried in the past and not been very successful. But perhaps it is something we can try again.

There is also the option of the City beginning to borrow and invest in the City directly by purchasing buildings of concern and then redeveloping them.  This would not be a cheap solution, but it does provide the opportunity for the City and Community to engage in a fulsome planning process that we could then follow and attract developers into the City.

Tuesday Afternoon

In the afternoon we as council agreed that we would put in the effort to bring the Martin Mars issue back to the UBCM.

I’ve created the motion and FAQ that we will be distributing to the UBCM delegates before we bring it to the floor likely on Thursday.

Here is the 2017 Resolution and Fact Sheet.

Alberni Valley News has a story here.

I had 200 copies printed out and I and Council will be distributing them before the issue comes forward likely on Thursday (it ended up being Friday). On the same topic of Forest Fires I attended the “Leading Through Crisis: Flooding and Fires 2017”.  I live streamed the whole hour discussion.

It was very good. It was such an incredibly challenging summer in so many communities but what came through was the incredible work done by staff, councillors, volunteers and the public to ensure everyone was safe and supported during the crisis.

In the evening there were a number of receptions to attend most had to do with energy resources.

We went to a Coal industry reception, where they had the strangest promotional device I have ever seen.

An Apple, wrapped in a plastic box, with the tag line:
A is for Apple,
B is for BC,
C is for Coal.

Well… OK then.

We then went to the Clean Energy reception… which frankly is more my style.

The difference in marketing strategy for renewables versus fossil fuels was stark.. and more than a little humorous.  It actually turned out to be the highlight of the night.

Wednesday Morning

I started the morning at the Energy Sector Resource Breakfast which was attended by the Minister of Energy among many other ministers, MLAs and city councillors.

I have to be honest I thought it would be primarily focused on fossil fuel infrastructure, but while LNG was certainly still discussed and promoted to an extent, the breakfast itself was notably sponsored by Energex, which is a major renewable energy developer across Canada.

We had a good talk with one of their representatives about the opportunities available in Port Alberni.

Thats all for now. Meeting with Minister of Forest shortly about Community Forest.

Wednesday Afternoon

Our meeting with the Minister of Forests (and other things :)) Doug Donaldson went well. Councillor McLeman presented his concerns on our Community Forest and its need for more Annual Allowable Cut to bring it up to the amount that was originally intended (20,000m3 vs. 15,000m3).

After that we had our first Plenary session of the conference.

Here are some tweet highlights, the biggest highlight may been the silly test question.

I have a video of the really great Keynote given by Terry Milewski this morning all about fake news, Russia, Canada, the US and Facebook.  I will post it once I get to a place with good enough WIFI!

Here it finally is!

This afternoon I will be at the Provincial Cabinet Town Hall for Jobs, Resources, and Green Communities featuring no fewer than 6 ministers!

Wednesday Afternoon Recap

Had an excellent Cabinet Town Hall.  I was able to ask the panel of Ministers, specifically the Minister of Environment, Forests, and Jobs/Innovation, on the Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation that potentially deals with smoke in communities from open burning and slash burning.

All three Ministers spoke supportively both on addressing the health and air impacts and on the aspect of ensuring that the fibre in the forest is used in innovative ways (or even left, in a fire safe way) than simply ‘going up in smoke’.

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (George Heyman) also mentioned that the Carbon Tax may begin to apply to the open burning context. This would really change the economics.

The Minister of Jobs and Innovation mentioned that they are developing an office, or a fund, (I don’t remember exactly :)) to support innovation in the forestry sector. His words were that “tech is not just in the big cities” and also happens, and needs to happen in small cities and resource management.

Efforts on the Martin Mars resolution continued.

Including with an interview with CBC, which was set up through Twitter of course… because it’s 2017.

Wednesday night was full of receptions and networking including with the  Premier itself.  I generally avoid the whole “look at me with X” thing… but Premier Horgan is a pretty affable person and I’ve talked to him at past conferences.  He’s funny and remembers you, and always has a topical issue in mind when he here’s where you are from.

And unlike his predecessor, who was literally in front staged in front of a pre-framed backdrop with people lined up like a side-show at a carnival, the Premier was here mingling, beside the food, as much as a Premier can mingle when in a huge room absolutely packed full with other politicians.

So when I saw him a little ways away from me shaking hands and taking pictures I got Councillor Minions and we went over to say hi!  He talked about his parents cottage on Sproat Lake. 🙂

Crazy BUSY Thursday Meetings and Preparations for Martin Mars!

Thursday was quite the blur.

We had three meetings with different ministry folks.  I attended a couple sessions, and there was plenary resolutions to attend as well!

7AM Early Session

Bright and Early at 7AM I attended a session titled: “Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation in BC”.  Apparently Thursday morning is a tough one for folks because I was there with only about 20 other colleagues!

There was a lot of talk of course of the just-passed fire season where $544 Million was spent on fire suppression alone. Other than that though there was not a huge amount of new information on protecting communities.  The same programs are available.

8:30AM Interim Leader of the Opposition Speech

We then went down to the main hall to hear Rich Coleman speak on behalf of the Opposition.

He made some good points on helping the needy in our province and how that often means having to push through housing projects in the face of NIMBY forces because it is good for the community as a whole and rarely leads to the problems people associate with low-cost, low-barrier housing initiatives.

He also said some stuff that I disagreed with, surprise, surprise:

He railed against the campaign finance reform and picked an unfortunate line when talking about when he was first elected, “My friends helped me get elected.”.  Indeed, that is exactly what campaign finance reform is about. It should not be about who you know and how much money they can give you, it should be about what you say, and do, and how you present yourself to your constituents.

He also came out strongly against proportional representation:

Well, a few folks disagree.  It will be a very interesting referendum on proportional representation during next years Municipal Election! (October 2018)

Thursday morning Resolutions

After the speech we had a little bit of time to participate in Resolutions.

One of particular interest to Port Alberni was a resolution on Improvement Districts (like Cherry Creek) having access to grant monies.  The resolution passed:

 

We then had our meeting with Jackie Hunter of Small Business Jobs and Trades on economic development strategies, particularly around succession planning for small business.

I went and checked out the trade show… which was a little underwhelming this year.  But had a great chat with Dave McCormick of PAPA about the PATH project.  I actually had a number of positive conversations with people on PATH both during the conference times and at receptions.  It definitely seems to be on people’s radar as a positive thing for BC and Vancouver Island as long as it is done right. I even had a positive conversation about it with a rep who I believe was from Surrey Docks.  He was at the coal industry reception that I attended on Tuesday night.

We then had an excellent meeting with Scott Fraser, the new Minister of Indigenous Affairs where we talked about the City’s efforts towards Reconciliation.  The minister was of course very supportive and we hope to be working closely with him as the process moves forward.

And finally after lunch, Councillor Paulson, Mcleman and I met with staff from the Ministry of Forests to talk about flooding adaptation and the open burning smoke control regulation.  Staff indicated the resources that were available to us and some of the steps we could take, like LIDAR mapping the estuary in order to have a precise idea of how things are positioned.  Given that bout ACRD and the City talked about this issue on multiple occasions with multiple Ministry staff and ministers, I think we will be in a good position to create a broad, all-stakeholder, process to mitigate the flooding issues that continue along the Somass and will get worse with climate change and sea level rise.

We also talked about Open Burning and the new Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation that the Ministry of Environment has had on the books but not implemented.  The ministry staff person indicated that the Open Burning regulation may be implemented before the end of the year.  Fingers Crossed for cleaner air!

Thursday afternoon Flood Mitigation and Photocopying!

After the meeting with the Minister I went up to the session on Flood Mitigation… which was of course very topical to my just finished meeting with the staff.

I was there with Doug Holmes, the new CAO of the ACRD.

They talked about the risks, and that flooding is most expensive and most frequent of disasters and have gotten worse with extreme weather.  There has been one disaster each year in Canada since 2011 cost at least $1 Billion!

I also asked a question to the panel about whether their programs and initiatives are also focusing on the upstream effects.  The representative from the Fraser Basin Council (?) reiterated the importance of managing upstream land impacts in order to help mitigate flooding downstream.  But unfortunately they did not indicate any specific strategies on that front.

There is a “Consequence Classifications for dyking infrastructure” coming soon. They also mentioned a “Flood Hazard Areas Flood Hazard Guidelines.” which… upon some googling, looks quite interesting.  Here is the Flood Hazard Land Use Management BC website.

I left a little before the end of the session so that I could head up to Staples and run off 500 pages of Martin Mars resolutions that we would need to distribute before the Friday morning vote.

Thankfully there was time between that and the dinner to get into the hot tub at the hotel and soak some very sore feet!

The Thursday banquet was nice as it often is. I sat at a table with Councillor Minions with folks around the province including former MLA Bob Simpson who is now Mayor of Quesnel.  Sharie, he and I all had a very interesting bit of conversation on a whole host of topics from economic development to the Mount Polley mine disaster (the company is now being allowed to put its effluent straight into Quesnel Lake!!).

Friday Fun Day – Martin Mars and other Resolutions and Premier Horgan.

So Friday was the big day.  We were up very early distributing leaflets on the chairs.

We have to do that in order to ensure the delegates can be informed of the resolution before the vote. It has to have background information as well.

The UBCM delegates actually managed to power through all of the Late Resolutions, which was super impressive.  That does not happen often!

One was on allowing ranchers to assist more directly with wildfires when it affected their property and another was asking for a strategic review of fire strategy (which, who knows, may have implications for the Martin Mars.)

There was also a motion that was defeated on banning additional fracking in BC.

Finally, there was a motion that was accepted on having government consult the public to possibly end Daylight Savings Time so that the clocks never went back and forth.

With the Late Resolutions then done, I had my opportunity to present the Martin Mars motion.  I spoke first to the motion. Here are my prepared words:

Three things have changed delegates since this body last passed a motion on the Mars in 2014

Number One, incredibly, even though we all surely didn’t think the fires could get worse, along came 2015, and along came 2017  with unprecedented fire activity and impact on our province and unprecedented $544 million dollar cost in regions across the province and provincial fire resources absolutely maxxed out.

Number Two in 2014 we passed a simple resolution unanimously for government to bring the Mars back into the fold, with no expectations of change on the company’s part. This year with this resolution we can urge the government AND the company to work together. The company is willing to make the required changes that would upgrade the aircraft and address many of the concerns of government if government shows its commitment in the long term.

And the Third key fact that has changed delegates is of course the government itself.

So today I ask you to urge the NEW government of B.C. to give us all a definitive answer on whether we will be able to see these planes, upgraded, to help our province, help our communities, and help all of the other firefighting assets not because it is better but because it is one more tool in the toolbox, to help during the next worst season on record and for decades more. Thanks you for your support of this motion.

After a Con speaker came forward, the Mayor then had a chance and spoke to the sound of the Mars coming overhead and comforting those who needed it.

There were multiple speakers after that. One Con speaker brought up the legitimate concern that the UBCM was directing the province to enter into a contract with a specific company.  However, given the nature of the firefighting business, this was a big of a special case.

Director Jim Abrams (who is well known for his advocacy around BC Ferries) also spoke strongly in favour of the Martin Mars.

After a long debate, the question was called and the vote was made.  Delegates held up their hands, first for, then against. The Chair was not satisfied with the vote and so asked again for hands (cards) up for… and then against.  She then called the motion result as defeated.

That was the end of that process. It was a disappointment certainly, but it is also not the automatic end of the fight for the Martin Mars. The issue has now been raised with government so they could still choose to at least bring the issue forward.

The final event of the day, and conference, was the speech by Premier John Horgan!

I recorded nearly the entire thing, I only missed about 30 seconds of the beginning when he was making some hilarious jokes about Donald Trump and Sean Spicer.  He’s a very funny speaker. I was telling someone today that I have never Not laughed out loud when he was giving a speech.

He is also very good at bringing real policy into his speeches and he revealed a number of things that were subsequently reported in the press.

Here is his speech as it was live broadcast on my Facebook page.

That’s all I have from the UBCM for 2017. It was a very productive conference, the most productive yet. I feel like I got a lot more comfortable speaking to people and asking questions to Ministers and staff both at the mic and at the one on one meetings. I am glad we have 1 more year before the election to try to move on some of the things that were discussed at the conference.

Time to Investigate, Improve and Augment Aerial Fire Fighting. Commit to the Martin Mars.

This is a followup to BC Wildfire Tanker Cost FOI — The Devil is in the -redacted- Details.  Download the full FOI Release here: Reconsideration FOI (PDF) Download the Excel Spreadsheet here: XLS file or PDF file

Do the poll on the side or leave a comment!
CHALLENGE #1:

Will the parties and subsequent new Provincial Government, commit to re-evaluating the effectiveness of its FIRE FIGHTING STRATEGY and USE OF AERIAL RESOURCES?  Are we attacking fires effectively in order to keep overall costs down?  Does the current ‘let it burn’ strategy still apply with new and extreme fire behaviour? Should we implement ‘no-go-zones’ in regions near population centres with heightened surveillance and much improved initial-attack response times in order to keep uncontrolled burning to an absolute minimum?  Have we implemented the recommendations of the Commissioners report produced after the Kelowna Fires?

CHALLENGE #2:

Will the New Provincial Government, re-evalutate its tendering process, make long term firefighting contracts open and public and ban the receipt of donations from prospective firefighting companies as well as impose limits on how government and industry professionals and move between sectors that would avoid potential conflicts of interest.

CHALLENGE #3:

Will the New Provincial Government, invest in the upgrade of both Martin Mars aircraft to modern turbine engines to reduce fuel, maintenance, and positioning costs and ensure these aircraft are in the provincial arsenal for the forseeable future and further, create lake bases across the province for all amphibious and flying boat aircraft to use in times of need as inevitable fire fighting emergencies will continue to increase as climate change impacts our province?

In the words below I submit the information that I believe supports implementing these initiatives.

The Government Fact Sheet Debunked by Government Information.

As announced by Airspray on their Facebook page on Sunday, Monday April 24 marks the start of the 2017 Fire Season.  At this time in 2016, I had already been in contact with the Ministry for a request for information on contracts and flight and fuel costs.  The full information was initially redacted and, after a complaint to the Commissioner, was not released for 6 months. In January I finally got the email. It has taken me this long to slog through the numbers and create a report.

So here is a little reach back in order to tie up those loose ends.  In summer 2014, when fires raged and controversy peaked on the absence of the Martin Mars aircraft including a 19,000 signature petition. The Government released a “Fact Sheet“. It was thoroughly debunked with available information.

However, some questions lingered due especially to a lack of full cost information. That was the purpose of the FOI and new facts released by the Ministry have helped clear things up.

The Ministry claimed “four new fire bosses cost $2.5 Million per fire season” plus hourly rates.  The FOI reported cost for 2015 was $2.1 Million excluding the birddog and a total of $3.3 Million including flight and fuel costs for 600 hours of work.  The Martin Mars cost $450,000 on standby for 30 days and another $456,000 for flight and fuel.

Fuel costs are estimates as only average fuel consumption numbers were provided by the Ministry.  According to my discussions with the Ministry, actual billed fuel costs seem to be tracked nearly manually and are not coalesced electronically. This would have required a massive cost in time and effort to bring together that I could not afford or justify.

Why are fuel costs, surely the cost most susceptible to extreme fluctuation, not tracked more comprehensively and transparently?

Hourly flight rates between the various types of aircraft turn out to be very similar.  2015 rates, excluding fuel, are around $6000-$6500 for Martin Mars and Air Boss Groups, bird dogs are included, and $4000-4500 for CV580 or L188 Air Tankers.

Actual fuel consumption rates are also very comparable between flight groups.  A pack of 4 Airboss aircraft have an average fuel consumption of 1400 Litres per Hour (350 each), slightly less for the wheeled types.  The workhorse CV580 and L188 fire retardant air tankers use between 1400 and 2800 Litres per hour respectively.  And the biggest aircraft, Martin Mars, consumes 2850 Litres per hour.

Perhaps the most emotional topic brought forward during the debate was age.  The FOI request revealed not only the age of all of the aircraft in the provincial arsenal, but more importantly for aircraft, the flight hours.

The AirBoss aircraft are essentially new.  The oldest planes were built in the 1990s but most were built in this century.  However, the veteran aircraft in the arsenal are the CV580 and L188 Electra aircraft.  These aircraft are between 40 and 65 years old and yet log hundreds of hours a year from bases around the province.  Their airframe hours (reported in 2010) range from 14,000 to 24,000 for the Airspray L188s and 52 – 81,000 hours for the ConAir L188 and CV580s.  The Martin Mars aircraft, according to information provided to me by the company, are as of 2017 at exactly 21,326 hours and 23,497 hours for the Philippine and Hawaii Mars aircraft respectively.  For the Hawaii Mars, the aircraft used last in 2015, just 3,459 of those hours were since conversion to Fire Bombing in 1964.

The biggest challenge for the Martin Mars is not age or ability, it is maintenance of its engines and the cost and availability of the “AVGas” fuel needed for the piston engines compared to “Jet A/B” used by turbo-prop aircraft.

The cost to replace the piston engines with fuel efficient and more powerful turbo-props have been suggested to be in the $10-$30 Million per plane.  Would that one-time cost be worth it if the planes could give us 5000-10,000 more hours each of forest fire fighting time over the next 40 years?  Given the changes in weather that we can expect in that same time, I believe so.

CONTRACTS FOR LIFE

Away from the technical details, the contracts themselves should really be a cause for concern. They are invariably long term, and rarely changing… demonstrated in the excerpt below:

Last Line of the 2008 annual modification with Airspray. Document shows it was reused from Year 2000 contract.

Agreements are 7-10 years with modifications each fire season to specify location, dates, and incremental increases in costs if they are different from the template.  The process has essentially gone unchanged, and unchallenged, for probably 20 years if not longer.  And yet, the public does not have access to these contracts.  They are not overly complex. And their cost should not be a state secret.  We already know the bottomline numbers for the cost of wildfire firefighting in British Columbia.  The public deserves to know more detail.

The call for proposals for the 2007 Air Tanker Service contract above is still on the website and shown below.Note that Jeff Berry, the Provincial Air Tanker Manager in 2007, is now Vice President at ConAir.

Over that time, there can be no doubt that ConAir in particular has benefited to the tune of millions upon millions of dollars in contract and flight/fuel costs compared to the other two companies.

ConAir provided 5 groups comprising 18 aircraft for the 2015 season compared to 4 planes from Airspray (up from 2 since 2008) and 1 from Coulson (down from 2 in 2007).  The total bill shared in standby costs to three companies in 2015 was approximately $15.7 Million.  About $12 Million of that went to ConAir.  With flight and fuel costs you can add another $18 Million being paid for Provincial air tankers with only $450,000 of that going to Coulson/Martin Mars and $5 Million going to Airspray.  So in total ConAir, in one year, walked away with business totalling as much as $24 million on a total BC Wildfire cost of $277 million.  About 1/10 of the entire budget.  Is that right? That is what the information seems to suggest. We need more transparency.

Donating to Political Parties, or not, is just as consistent.

Since March 2005, ConAir has donated $100,000 to the BC Liberal Party and $2500 to the NDP.

Coulson started donating politically in 2009 and has donated $9450 to the BC Liberals and $5350 to the NDP.  Airspray is not listed as having donated to either party.

You can get there from here.

Finally, remember when the Province said the Martin Mars was not that great because of the small number of lakes it could use in British Columbia?  The FOI included the list of lakes, both those suitable for bases, and those just for scooping.

I have plotted them in Google Earth.  You can download a Google Earth File with the information here.

Here are the Bases.  These lakes represent places where not only the Mars could be based, but any amphibious or flying boat aircraft could be repositioned in times of need.  Except for those way up north, they are all within a few miles of a major population centre able to provide logistics and support.  If there is not already facilities for floating aircraft, these are the places BC should invest in staging areas to facilitate the use of all firefighting water-borne aircraft.

The circles are 600km radius showing the historical range the Martin Mars has demonstrated. For example, from its base in Port Alberni to a fire in Nelson. From bases in BC the Martin Mars can cover all of the province, plus most of Alberta, Washington and parts of Yukon and Oregon. KMZ DOWNLOAD HERE

These are lakes able to be used by the Martin Mars for scooping.  Most are near population centres, where extreme fire conditions are most likely to require extended attention.  It is likely that these are the most commonly used lakes for all firefighting activity by amphibious or flying-boat aircraft.

Rebasing the Martin Mars is certainly one of the key reasons it is expensive to operate.  The amount of support people and materiel that moves with the Mars means an extra $13,000 a day in costs. However, as we saw with the fires in 2003 in the Interior, when you need them, they are worth the cost. A basing scheme with permanent staging points that benefits more than just the Mars would maximize their use and minimize the costs of all water-borne aircraft.

One last thing, that fancy plane.

Remember when Provincial Cabinet Minister Mike De Jong announced in February 2016 that the BC Government would be evaluating the RJ-85 Avro jet powered fire fighting aircraft for the first time in the 2016 fire season?

FOI records do not show any new contract being awarded.  The RJ-85 had already been on a ‘supplementary’ list for additional aircraft since at least 2014.  The RJ-85 has not been used in BC for fire fighting according to the information provided. The information does show that two RJ-85s were flown for a total of 9 hours at zero cost to the Province in 2014. By the way, by the way, is around 2,400 Litres per hour, in line with the all ‘heavy’ fire fighting aircraft.

Take out the Politics. We need all hands on deck.

As I have delved into this topic over the years one truism came up again and again… aerial fire fighting is political.  And here we are, in the middle of a provincial election proving that point once again.

We need a government that will take the politics out of it.  We need a government that will not be influenced, or even be perceived as influenced by political donations from companies that provide its services.  Will the any of the parties commit to this?

In light of the challenges faced us with climate change and the new fire behaviour that it is creating, are we providing adequate protection to our forest service?  Is the Air Tractor, which has had notable safety as well as personnel problems investigated by Transport Canada, the right system for the job?

I believe all of the planes in the provincial arsenal are valuable and need to be used to their maximum potential.  We need to find the best way to minimize the potential for loss of life, property, and resources in BC and a robust initial attack.  Aircraft should not be retired out of spite, or misplaced ‘ageism’. We need and deserve as British Columbians a full costing of the forest firefighting world and an analysis of how best to minimize those costs both now, and in future conditions in 10, 20, or 50 years.

The technology is unlikely to change much in that time, but it seems certain that expectations for success are certain to only rise.

Media Contact: 250-731-7930

 

 

A slow, but determined, walk uphill toward reconciliation.

Not just a gathering

Something happened on a chilly and drizzly Monday afternoon and it wasn’t just a bunch of people milling about at Harbour Quay and then walking to City Hall. On March 27th, 2017 two leaders in this community, Cynthia Dick, Chief Councillor of Tseshaht First Nation, and Jolleen Dick, Councillor of Hupacasath First Nation organized a gathering to speak against systemic racism in Port Alberni.

It succeeded in bringing together a huge amount of people, here on the unceded territory of the Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations.  All of these people were together to acknowledge that territory and acknowledge the pain that racism and hatred toward First Nations and toward one another has caused over the years and continues to cause today.  Here are three big things I gained from the experience at the Walk for Reconciliation.

A long Walk uphill.

It is a long, steep journey up Argyle hill from Harbour Quay to City Hall.  There were 200-300 people, trudging up the hill together.  It was made easier because we were all together, we all had someone to talk to and share stories with. We were together in common cause and purpose, and it felt good. When you feel good about something, when you are with friends, when you know someone, or a lot of someones, have your back, it is a lot easier to tackle hard climbs.  This will be a slow process, this reconciliation, but people are determined. Some will not be able to make the journey on their own and will need help.  Others will not be able to participate at all but will meet us there at the finish line in full support.

A Song sung by All.

If you’ve followed me at all on Facebook you might have seen a Kinder Morgan protest march I participate in that featured a very strong First Nations presence.  One of the big moments of that rally of tens of thousands strong was at the end, when a huge circle of Indigenous peoples from all over BC and elsewhere sang and drummed and they asked the crowd to join in. This was the first time I had participated in something where First Nations so openly invited all into their celebration and exclamation. It was very powerful and I think it made a real impact on people there.

There were a number of great songs sung at the Walk for Reconciliation on Monday.

And as Trevor Little of Tseshaht passionately led the final song in front of City Hall, drummed and sung by members of Tseshaht and Hupacasath and others, he encouraged the whole group to join in.  Which it did, a little timidly perhaps, but it did.  For this to be happening in my hometown. A town known for its divisions between races, even between neighbours, was very powerful.  It was a wonderful moment and I thank Mr. Little especially for his passion and outspokenness.

Not just something to wear for the day

Finally, one last thing.  When I first got there, John Alan Jack, councillor for Huu-ay-aht First Nation and Chair of the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District, walked up and offered me this head dress to wear.

He and other First Nation leaders were wearing similar features. I took it and wore it out of respect, but honestly I did so without really knowing what it symbolized.

After the event had wrapped up I walked back up to John and asked if I should give it back.  He very kindly told me it was not something to return but something to wear at events of importance or where learning was taking place. It was a way to focus the mind on the task at hand and it was now mine.

I don’t seek out gifts from others, and so when I am given one of symbolic importance it is important to me.  I want to thank Councillor Jack for his gift.  I am still not entirely confident on how and when is the right time (and may bug John occasionally for advice) but I deeply appreciate the gesture.

I think it is safe to say that Charles Thomas (picture above, courtesy Jen Fisher Bradley) and many other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal residents of Port Alberni had a lot of fun yesterday.  It was a wonderful event put on by two inspiring leaders in our community, supported by their Nations, and supported by the wider community in an unprecedented way. I hope we have all been able to come away with something of value from the event. I know I did, both in the form of a gift and in the knowledge that Port Alberni might just be ready to heal and grow.  There are no set dates or defitinitions to this. We do not know if this is really the start of real reconciliation or not (I think it is), it comes down to the feeling in the community as a whole and the true relationships between people.  The start and end are fluid, but I think we will know in time, when we have made good progress.

Klecko Klecko.   ….. now… if I could just convince my keyboard to write that in the proper Nuu-Chah-Nulth, we’d have another step up the hill. HELP! 🙂

Update! See it always helps to ask for help.  Here is where you can download keyboard layouts for a huge array of Indigenous Languages and install them on your Mac or Windows computer.  You are looking for Nuučaan̓uł under the Wakashan group of languages.

For iOS users, you can grab the First Voices App and add the Keyboard Layout to your screen!

And if you just need a quick character translation, you can go to this webpage here!

ƛlecko ƛlecko!