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!

Updated Jan 12 – A Question of Honour and Reconciliation

Updated Thursday Jan 12 Below

Some updates since the weekend:
The Hilton Centre has estimated the cost of a transition coordinator to manage the change of address at $13-$16000.  I will encourage Council to cover this cost either through the Community Grants program or directly. Hopefully with the help of provincial and federal grants as well. You can see their letter sent to Council this week at the bottom of the post or here.

Tseshaht First Nation passed a resolution at their AGM supporting the name change of A.W. Neill school.  A motion on the street issue did not pass.

John Alan Jack, Chair of the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District and Councillor at the Huu-ay-aht First Nation was interviewed on CBC Radio Wednesday afternoon.  Unfortunately, a recording is unavailable, but a couple days before he tweeted:

And finally, the National Association of Japanese Canadians sent a letter to the AV News in addition to citizens supporting the Reconciliation efforts.

The support for this historic bit of work seems to be growing and Port Alberni is being watched by groups all over on how it deals with this important issue.

Hi everyone,

Below you will find a document I have been working on since early December on the issue of Honouring and Renaming Indian Avenue and Neill Street. I didn’t decide to move on with it until after the last council meeting in December.

So that everyone is on the same page with the same information with this difficult conversation, please read the document and this post in full before commenting.

This document is a draft. It is only my research. There may be errors and it will change and be updated. If you see an error please let me know.

These are my personal writings. This does not represent the City of Port Alberni.

If you have any trouble viewing the document below, you can download it directly here.

The report includes justifications, history, suggestions on alternative commemorations, costs, and implications for residents and non-residents.


This is an issue that came to me from Chris Stevenson.  Below is an interview he did last week with CBC on the topic. He did a paper on A.W. Neill and we started talking about it a few months back with Trustee Rosemarie Buchanan when the school was being switched to an Elementary School.

The motion I will introduce tomorrow (the 9th) will be:

That Council for the City of Port Alberni, in the spirit of Reconciliation, work with the Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nation Councils, the Community and any affected property owners to potentially rename Neill Street.

You might notice mention of Indian Avenue has been removed.  After talking with Jolleen Dick of Hupacasath I have decided to remove that at this point but I have kept it in the document since it was part of the original intent and so all of the information is there.

You will also see it says “potentially”. While I believe the renaming should proceed, no final decision will be made on the 23rd when the motion comes up for debate, only a decision on whether to move forward and start the consultation process with property owners, First Nations, the NTC and cultural groups and anyone else affected.  This was also my intent from the outset.

Reconciliation is an issue that requires a commitment to calm, thoughtful discussion in order for all views to be heard and respected. I invite your constructive feedback in the comments section.

I have shared this document and post with my fellow Councillors and I will bring it to the Council meeting with the Motion on January 23rd.

What the document does not mention in large part yet is the opportunity for healing.  What ceremonies could we undertake? What new memorials could we create?  What new understandings could we come to as we acknowledge and work through the pain of the Indian Residential School system, Japanese Internment, and Anti-Immigrant sentiment that have deeply affected our communities?

Those are the questions I would really like to hear answered as they are the ones I think we can get to now that this conversation has begun.  It will not solve the Reconciliation question overnight, but I hope it will get us a little ways there.

Please also consider the words of the others involved to this point, Chief Cynthia Dick of Tseshaht, Councillor Jolleen Dick of Hupacasath, Trustee Rosemarie Buchanan of SD70 and others in this AV News article.




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

RFPs to nowhere. Managing expectations.

Ask anyone what they think the most important job of a City is and they will probably say something that includes the words ‘roads’, ‘bridges’, and ‘sewers’.

It is without question that the biggest bill the city faces in terms of tangible, in-your-face, infrastructure is maintaining and replacing those three general things.  So it follows that when the public sees a project that is not performing as well as they expect, that they are especially annoyed. I think the Gertrude Street bridge project falls safely into that category now.


Here is a time-lapse of its progress from the beginning of February to last Wednesday.

The great controversy has been on the delay and cost overruns.  Certainly one can understand the frustration when initial reports were that the full road closure that started Feb. 3 would “run for three weeks.

Work actually started in the last week of January so we are now entering week 11. Is this a huge time delay that could have been avoided or could this have been predicted?  The best place to look is the bids in response to the Request for Proposals which were in the October 26, 2015 regular agenda package.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 1.14.43 PM

City Council selected the middle quote from K&G with the addendum at the bottom “Precast Option” which put the original price to $249,500 and shortened their original 9 week start/end period by 2 weeks to 7.  Note this was for completion of the whole project, not just the closure of the bridge to traffic.

Other bids from Surespan, Bowerman, Hazelwood and Seismic 2000 had time periods of 9, 11, 8 and 9 weeks respectively.

So by that measure we are actually not far off.  We’re certainly towards the maximum of the alloted times in those bids, but we are not anywhere near the 4x longer than it would seem from the “3 week” window of closure which people may have implicitly taken as the full length of the project.  With the now expected closure lasting until the end of April that will bring us to 14 weeks.  Certainly longer than conceived in any of the RFPs, but allowing for unforeseen issues that do happen from project to project, it is not as stunning to consider.

There is no doubt in my mind that the bill will be higher than the already raised $347,000.  I hope I am wrong.  However, the positive is that this will be a learning experience for both our City staff and City Council.  We have a number of other bridges that are going to need to be renovated or replaced soon.  I hope that the lessons learned here will make it more likely for those projects to go much more smoothly and come in on time, and on budget as I believe is the norm for projects in the City.


I have been asked a few times what the purpose of the bridge project was as many have heard that it was only to provide bike lanes.  In fact, the surface of the bridge deck was in need of overhaul as well as the pedestrian walkway and railings.

Here is the full background from the October 6 agenda:

City Council’s approval is requested to award the tender for the construction of the Gertrude
Street Bridge Widening that has been planned for construction in 2015.


The Gertrude Bridge is a narrow point in our road system that creates a safety issues as it is a well-travelled pedestrian and cyclist path that is also close to AW Neil School. The project was proposed in 2014 to widen the road surface for cyclists and install a separate sidewalk bridge
over Kitsuskis Creek.

The separate sidewalk bridge over Kitsuskis Creek was installed in 2014 upstream of the
existing bridge and the vehicle bridge work was carried over to 2015.

The existing bridge has a treated timber sub structure that is in good condition, however, there are some operational issues:

The asphalt surface bridge deck and timber wheel guards need to be replaced.

The road and sidewalks widths are too narrow for pedestrians and cyclists.

In summary the project components include:

1. Removing the timber wheel guard rails and sidewalk
2. Extending the timber substructure and installing 2 steel girders for the length of the
3. Resurfacing the bridge
4. Installing a railing and guard rail on each side of the bridge for cyclists.

The 2015 Capital Budget allocated $250,000 for this bridge widening project.

The Mark of a Well Respected Man

This evening (Saturday Jan 30) I had the honour of attending Ken Watson’s celebration of his years of service as City Manager and Engineer for the City of Port Alberni.

Even though I grew up in Port Alberni, I am of course a bit of an outsider when it comes to the City workplace having been around for barely a year and also being a (near)millenial in a place where baby boomers still dominate but are now retiring at a rapid pace.  However, after 15 years in my own workplace at VIU and watching my own parents retire, I understand the bonds that are made over long periods when the same people work and really live most of their lives together.

In less than a year I have now been to two celebrations for employees for the City, Scott Kenny and now Ken Watson.  In both cases the outpouring of respect and heartfelt thanks for their years of service has been something to behold.

The dignitaries and community leaders that came out for Mr. Watson, the serious and silly and good hearted speeches, the emotions and impassioned statements and Mr. Watson’s own words all confirm that he is a man who has earned the respect of a whole community over the years.

Personally, I credit Mr. Watson for helping put me in the Council seat that I am in today.  Were he not always so willing to answer every overly detailed email from me, often in a matter of minutes after sending it, when I started to engage in city issues when I moved back to town then I probably would not have continued on, becoming more and more engaged.   He even seemed to like graphs and charts and spreadsheets like me… always the mark of great guys.

Now, as a rookie councillor, he always provided me solid and timely information and answered every question no matter how mundane or naïve.

Most of all though what I have witnessed is Mr. Watson’s great respect for and from those who he worked with at City Hall.  He is a true leader and I know he will be proud of his accomplishments.

I write this so that a few more citizens of Port Alberni may know the excellent people that work for their City and who have nothing but the best for the City and its citizens in their hearts.

Thank You Ken.  You literally helped shape the Port Alberni I grew up in and all its citizens are in your debt for your service.