Quick note on Victoria politics and level playing fields

by Yule Heibel on February 18, 2009

If I were perfect – and perfectly unencumbered by domestic and other obligations – I would write at length about two city of Victoria-related political events I attended in the last 24 hours.

Since I’m not perfectly unencumbered, however, that’ll have to wait.

But here’s foretaste (which serves also as a reminder to myself, in case I never get to the long version): the events were (A) a meeting called by the Victoria West Community Associaton and Victoria Member of Parliament Denise Savoie to gather public input regarding the proposed “mega yacht marina” project at the Songhees, 2/17; and (B) an Urban Development Institute luncheon featuring Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin who spoke to the assembled crowd about his – and his council’s – “vision” for Victoria’s development, 2/18.

Re. (A): I think this might be another case of putting all of one’s eggs into one basket – a large basket, but still a single, non-diversified basket. Not a good idea at the best of times, and since these are not the best of times, it’s even less of a good idea. I’m not worried about the alleged environmental impacts of dredging that section of the harbor (it’s even likely that dredging the harbor of its industrial and lumber gunk will restore seabed health), but I worry about the wisdom of asking multi-millionaires to fork over many thousands of dollars for the privilege of mooring their multi-multi-million dollar yachts at a marina where summer float plane traffic from the Harbour Airport proceeds to dump huge amounts of jet fuel residue and odor on patrons who are likely not to appreciate it. Bottom line: the Songhees condo dwellers already spend enough time kvetching about the working harbor (which includes a real airport with hundreds of flights from 7am to 10pm in the summer, not just a convenient water surface for occasional take-offs and landings), so what’s the benefit of adding a second constituency that will doubtlessly complain as loudly if not more so? Further, the condo dwellers are a captive audience and will continue to pay their property taxes to the city, while the second constituency is mobile (on luxury, aka “mega” yachts) and can just leave. Then what? A purpose-built facility built for just one purpose and for a very narrow niche market (admittedly lucrative) doesn’t seem like the best idea, given the scale of the project, the required investment, and the undeniable impact on the harbor and its current users …and the fact that the patrons can just sail away.

Can this one. Sorry. It’s clunky.

As for (B) – this one is trickier. Can’t sum it up in a few words, but let’s just say that I don’t buy Mayor Fortin’s talk of a “level playing field” for development. Let’s not forget who has the power to decide where the goalposts on this allegedly level field are (the current council). If you control the goalposts, then all talk of level playing fields is just BS.  One of the goalposts, for example, is called “skyline.” Here in Victoria that’s a loaded word, and code for a quite a few sore points. And here’s another thing that jumped out at me: Joe van Belleghem of Dockside Green introduced the Mayor in glowing terms, lauding him for his sense of direction and for being so accessible. Van Belleghem told us how he only managed to get to speak to the previous mayor once (that would be Alan Lowe, who was mayor for 3 terms – 9 years; Joe, you got to talk to Alan just once?, for real? hard to believe), but that he has been able to speak to Mayor Fortin 3 times already (since Nov. 08, i.e., in 3 1/2 months).

Yet here’s the contradiction: when Mayor Fortin spoke, he made a big point about how his new level playing field means that there’s no point in developers calling him to talk their projects over, that he and council work together and there’s no smoothing of paths by the mayor, and that all developers at any rate need to go see the Planning Department first and to get direction from Planning.

So who’s telling it straight, and whose level playing field are we on? Mayor Fortin named some names of people he favors and admires, including architect Franc d’Ambrosio (a personal friend of mine – at least I think he’s a friend, maybe he isn’t if he reads this?) – but Franc is known for preferring a low-rise skyline and as someone who believes that Victoria should emulate Paris with 6 to 7 storey buildings. Hmm. Level playing field, or just “these are my (our) conditions, take them or leave them”? Granted, there could be an advantage to that insofar as often enough one really couldn’t be sure which way the wind was blowing with the previous administration.

Incidentally, the overflow crowd at last night “mega yacht marina” meeting at City Hall had me sitting on the floor of the back corridor behind council chambers, which is normally off limits to the public. At one point Mayor Fortin left the meeting by the door I was crouching at, and he joked, “I see they’ve let the riff-raff in.” Very funny, Dean, and I know you were kidding, but I’m not just any riff-raff. I have a blog, I’m a citizen journalist, and I’m listening carefully.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Davin Greenwell February 18, 2009 at 11:32 pm

The Mega-yacht thing sounds like a seasonally and economically high-risk, low volume business idea. I don’t see business wisdom here, none at all.

You might be interested in seeing what a kayaker had to say about it:


Adam February 19, 2009 at 10:55 am

I agree, I can’t imagine what incentive a mega-yacht-uber-dock approach would really provide, other than the hopes of drawing more cash-flow into Victoria during the summer months. Is this really the best way to go about doing this? The idea seems a little half-baked.

Fortin’s comment to you seems a little tacky, joking or otherwise…

Yule February 19, 2009 at 1:01 pm

@Davin – I came across the “Adventures on the Blue” blog a couple of days ago, asked Werner to add it to MetroCascade. It’s not there yet, I think all the updates go on the production server on Monday. But at any rate, interesting blog. Also nice to see that the writer isn’t just knee-jerk rejecting the concept, but comes to his conclusions after considering the proposal – and still looks forward to a more mixed marina in the future.
@Adam – Fortin was kidding, we’ve met a couple of times. But ya know, sometimes a person’s true feelings/ opinions come out in jokes, too. 😉 Well, the times they are a-changing, even in Victoria. (We social media types are watching, but not just from one limited, political perspective.)
It occurred to me a moment ago to write a post to the MetroCascade blog about how our concept of offering “on a level playing field” (if I may be so bold as to borrow that phrase, haha) the voices of the official media (Times-Colonist, Vic News, et al.) side by side with the fringe-ier opinions and bloggers, how the availability of that platform really offers the local scene an opportunity to see itself better, and should serve as a wake-up call for the more “business / entrepreneurially” inclined sector to step the hell up and get into social media and start blogging about what you do and why.
Joe van Belleghem for example supports Gordon Campbell 100% for his eco-awareness/ eco-initiatives. Someone like Rob Reid (the so-called “business candidate” in the Victoria mayoralty race) supports business, entrepreneurship, and solving/ending homelessness/ addressing social issues.
Yet in Victoria (and BC) we still live in this world that’s parsed according to left v. right, at a student union level, incidentally, and I blame the so-called business community for not leveraging social media, for letting government do the heavy lifting for them, for being silent (except for when they let MSM do their talking), for not engaging in the conversation, for letting the anti-business voices have the only counter-say against the pro-business “official” media (Times-Colonist, CFAX 1070, and so on). It’s insane. Everywhere in every nook and cranny of this city there are people who defy the stereotype. I want their voices heard. We have to move past this left-right divide, it’s stupid.

Mark Lise February 22, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Are the majority of Victoria’s problems the result of a non-level playing field? I find that incredibly hard to believe, however it’s also hard to quantify exactly what that means. Does it mean that people don’t have access to the Mayor (in Franc’s case), or if you do have access it’s meaningless, or only people with $ get preferential treatment? I understand it’s a 3rd party summary of an event I did not attend, but it sounds like “more of the same” from what has happened the last 3 terms.

Dean is going to have to do more than tell everyone he’s ready to listen to them all. That’s an ante as far as I’m concerned. I suppose it’s a good thing to say tho. He needs to be engaged with the community and it’s issues, willing to do more than just setup meetings, gather people together, and then sit back and watch. Take some political risk!

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