Did BC just radically change our energy policy?

In four years as a Refrigeration Apprentice I learned that it takes a lot of energy to convert a gas into to a liquid.   Which is why I did a double-take when I read that the BC government has endorsed three liquified natural gas (LNG) plants near Kitimat.  In a province that has grown in leaps in population and energy consumption, I thought “Wow, that’s a lot of energy, where will it come from?”

BC’s wonderfully ludicrous politics makes for  excellent dinnertime conversation.  One of my favorite anecdotes is about a bunch of dam happy BC Hydro engineers who lost their jobs in the early 1980s because BC’s load forecast flattened.  Plans for a Site C dam were shelved simply because we had overdosed on capital-intensive projects and never had to give a second thought to energy consumption.

Fast forward 30 years, BC’s population has grown by a few million, average home has grown from 1400 sq ft to 2700 sq ft, and I suspect the number of electrical outlets in the average home has more than doubled.  Items once reserved for elites are now everywhere, from residential hot tubs to energy-vamping home theatre systems.  Suddenly in the 2000′s, the energy picture looks different: BC Hydro steps up “Power Smart” conservation campaigns, proposes 10% per year rate hikes, and claims that infrastructure needs to be upgraded to accommodate increased demand.  We’re indoctrinated with the idea that conservation and retrofitting is considerably cheaper (and more environmentally friendly) than developing new energy sources.  Not a bad strategy.

Jump forward a few more years to 2008:  Gordon Campbell is elected to a second term and makes it clear that BC will lead the world in reducing GHG emissions, signing deals with Washington, Oregon and Arnold Schwartzenegger to create a “Green Corridor”.  Ambitious provincial targets are set to achieve 93% clean energy production and 33% reduction in GHG emissions by 2020 (80% reductions by 2050!)  Neat!

So in a time of unprecedented conservation, I was surprised when I found out that BC was wholeheartedly buying into the LNG movement.  Not that I disagree with it – it sounds pretty cool actually.

We don’t have to look far for the energy to drive these projects after all.  The plan to develop Site C (although still controversial and under review) was announced before Campbell was shooed from Office (he was pretty crafty in maneuvering the Climate Action Plan and allowing for economic development – I wouldn’t want to play chess against him).  Under traditional policy, BC is required to be energy-self sufficient when its dams are at “critical low” levels – enough cushion to weather 3 consecutive years of drought.  On Feb. 3rd 2012, however, new Liberal Premier Christy Clarke announced a significant change: BC dams would now only have to ensure self-sufficiency at “average” water levels.  In doing this, she reduced the need to build new generation projects and freed the necessary capacity for LNG.  We’ve essentially had free energy sitting around all along and we’ve been hedging it based on some apocalyptic scenario… like Global Warming or something.

Thankfully people much smarter than me make sure that our energy supply (and water supply) is protected.  Not to mention the slap and tickle of overlapping natural gas, electricity and rival energy markets that buttress LNG production (markets are never wrong.)   Unforeseen environmental considerations aside, this seems to me like a fairly intelligent investment in BC’s future.  Premier Clarke is quoted as saying, “It is an opportunity to establish an entirely new industry in British Columbia.  This isn’t something that happens every day and it’s not something that even happens every decade,” and I’m tempted to agree.

Still, in years when BC drops “below average”, we may need to import dirty electricity from Alberta.  Coal is a filthy energy source, far worse than oil sands bitumen or natural gas, and if BC’s water dries up anywhere similar to the Colorado River, we can kiss our 93% clean energy target goodbye.

So here we stand.  I still think I’m behind Clarke on this and when the NDP win the next election, I hope they back LNG too.  Real environmental solutions require the ability to make major energy shifts.   And although the Energy Industry likely doesn’t produce a fraction of the jobs that people think it does, the jobs it does produce are intelligent and high-paying.  LNG also creates nice royalties that pay for cool things like health care and education.  See you soon, Alberta and Saskatchewan!

Compared to hydroelectricity, burning natural gas may not seem like a step forward, but considering that hydro reserves are limited and the rest of the world is burning coal, LNG may save countless tonnes of CO2 emissions.  LNG may prove an absolute environmental disaster for other reasons, but again, hopefully there are smarter people than me working on this.   Fracking is already happening and we won’t be the only ones to head down this fracking path; hopefully BC can establish “Best Practices” for the rest of the world to follow.

All-in-all, LNG may have benefits worth the risk.  Some suggest that developing the natural gas economy could eventually lead to a hydrogen economy as both energy sources will likely require similar infrastructure.

Photo courtesy of Steve Punter

Reflections after a trip back home

I just came back to Argentina, where I live, after a month and a half trip to Quebec, where I’m from. Every time I have to opportunity to go back home, enjoy friends and family, speak my language and feel my culture, all of this fills me with renew energy. Thus, on a personal level, it was a great trip. On the other hand, every visit up north makes me feel uneasy about Quebec and Canada cultural evolution. In Argentina, I pride myself in explaining how Canada and Quebec are different from the US, stretching our collective desire to build a lesser unequal society and protect our cultural distinctiveness. I now feel uneasy defending theses ideas and perceptions about my own country. Obviously, these are merely personal impressions, but I would like to share a few observations/feelings I got while visiting friends and family in Quebec.

First and most striking, politics have made a huge shift on the right. I am not only referring to Harper’s conservative, 19th century governing, but even more so to our collective incapacity to reject and denounce it. I will spare you my list of grievances against his government, let’s only mention his great symbolic gesture of reintroducing the “royal” appellation in the army and Canadian Embassies’ obligation to have a portrait of the Queen. Maybe we should also replace our dollar with the pound and sing God Save the Queen before hockey games… Talking with friends, I was shocked to see how right wing’s arguments/myths have now been integrated and interiorized as to become something banal. A few examples of things I heard/read as if they were simple truths we ought to accept: we pay too many taxes, we are broke, collective transportation is too expensive, we have to create more wealth if one day we want to distribute it (I’m guessing 2075…). The same shift is observable in the Media. Both the Journal de Montreal and Journal de Quebec have always been populist newspapers, however, together with the other main media controlled by Quebecor, TVA (the most watched television network), they now defend a clearly right wing agenda. All of this gave me the impression that left wing individuals do not even define themselves as such and seem to try to temper right wing politics instead of confronting it. Of course, this shift might seem dramatic to me, while other applause it. However, I think our very moderate social-democrat political culture has played an important role in defining both Quebec and Canadian identities, its actual disintegration might have great political and cultural impacts.

The other thing that has upset me while in Quebec concerns the quality of the French language. My parents’ generation has fought to defend and preserve it. Politically, by implementing controversial laws such as Bill 101, but also in their day to day lives. For example, they have “franciser” English words and resist the temptation to incorporate more and more words from the language spoken by 300 millions in North America. Every time I visit, this collective will seems to weaken. I got the impression that we are back to my grand-parents’ time when English words were used to qualify new things or as is happening in France, anything that is cool. For example, since I left “week-end” has replaced “fin de semaine” or “fucking” has appeared in French sentences to design something extreme. The biggest symbolic and linguistic aberration for me resides in the movement created to bring back an NHL team to Quebec City. They call themselves “Nordiques Nation”, nation being pronounced in English… A French name should be something like “la nation Nordiques”. This is breathtaking to me since the Nordiques used to take advantage of all of Quebec nationalist heritage to sell hockey: blue colors, fleur de lys etc. Basically, I feel that Quebec culture shows signs of falling apart, not because of foreign oppression, as it was the case under British rule, but for our incapacity to preserve our own language and culture. Injustices can always be fought and denounced, but what can you do against apathy and insouciance?

One might think I am being overreacting here. It might be the case that these impressions of fast Americanization of my culture say more about my own transformation living abroad or about my idealization of my collective “home”. Anyhow, just as it is depressing to observe a growing cultural uniformity all over the world, it makes me uneasy to see my own little culture getting slowly swept away from within.


Remembering Jack Layton

[Editor's Note: in 2006 I hosted an event that was playfully called "Mervillemania" - in a nutshell, a few dozen friends camped-out on my parents' estate/compound in Merville, British Columbia during the August Long Weekend. One of my friends brought an orange tent to the celebration. He borrowed it from, as he called them, "Jack and Olivia" - they were his neighbours at the time - who happily offered up the shelter for their, and my, very urban friend. This simple, thoughtful and necessary gesture provides, I think, a wonderful window into Mr. Layton's sense of community. Speaking of community, his letter below offers some prompts and encouragement regarding how we can work together to make Canada's better].

August 20, 2011
Toronto, Ontario

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton.

Jack Layton

Paul Nixey – Real(istic) Communicator

Who are you?

I’m Paul Nixey. I live in Vancouver’s West End, and own a scrappy little communications agency called Nixey Communications. We work with non-profits, progressive companies and public figures to help tell their stories, and have a strict no-working-with-jerks policy.

My boyfriend is also named Paul, which is occasionally confusing at cocktail parties. In my mid-twenties, I was a television personality on a ridiculous South Korean game show called ‘SURPRISE!’

What do you do for fun?

I obsess over spelling errors on restaurant menus, watch PVR’d House of Commons Question Period sessions (and lament over why Canada’s is never as good as the UK’s Prime Minister’s Questions), and serve on the Board of Directors at the Vancouver Friends For Life Society.

Friends For Life provides complementary and alternative health services to people living with life-threatening illnesses, and operates the Diamond Centre for Living in the West End. I travel to warm places as often as possible, and sign up for at least one half-marathon each year. I have yet to run a half-marathon.

What is your Favourite Community? Why?

The city! It’s jammed full of people, it’s where arts and culture thrives, and where innovation and ideas happen. In Vancouver’s downtown, you can ride your bike from a meeting in the business district to a coffee shop in the West End, and see ten people you know along the way. I get nervous if I can’t see skyscrapers.

What is your Superpower?

I connect people with good ideas.

How do you use it to Build Community?

As often as possible, I put a bunch of smart people in the same room, and get the hell out of the way. Occasionally, this is an excellent (if accidental) business strategy. Mostly, it’s a way of ensuring that the people around me meet new people who are producing excellent work an helping in their own communities. The lines between the business and the personal are blurring more and more each day; I believe that social networks – both on and off-line – are going to be the community-builders of the future.

My Three Favourite Things About Paul are…

1. He’s didn’t drink the political koolaid. Nixey is a politically motivated fellow. He’s done a lot of work on various campaigns, particularly in Vancouver Centre where he’s worked closely with Hedy Fry and her team election after election. Like many political operatives (oh, I know that sounds dark and backroomish), Nixey is a strong believer in political engagement and the importance of politics in civic society. But he’s also a realist. When a someone does something that pisses him off he’s not afraid to talk about it. No glassy eyed “repeat after the fearless leader’s mantra” here. In my mind, that’s the best sort of person to have on your side. Someone who’ll work hard to get you elected, talk politics late into the night and call bullshit if he sees policy or a party member doing something it/they shouldn’t.

2. His entrepreneurship. Word on the street is Nixey was a bit of a wiz-kid in the Starbucks world (Editors Note: I refuse to buy any Starbucks coffee on the theory that the brand is positioning itself to become the monopoly of all things “coffee shop” by 2020). Fortunately for all us Starbucks-haters, he’s no longer working branding magic behind the scenes. Now he runs his own communications shop doing great work for a handful of amazing non-profit organizations. In fact, his work has been so good that business has increased enough to justify him opening the doors to a new office off Davie Street above the Fountainhead Pub. Starting your own communications shop can be  a risky move. It requires balls and Nixey’s got those. It also requires real skill to manage all the business requirements – things like HR, accounting, business development. It’s impressive and definitely a favorite thing!

3. Sense of Humor. Nixey is one funny fellow. Don’t believe me? Ask the casting director of “Surprise” the South Korean game show he acted on. Pretty sure he knocked that guy’s socks off. Or you can talk to the dozens of Westenders, Gay community members, business clients, Liberals and Visionistas that Nixey connects with on a daily basis.

The slow decline of angry punditry (we hope!)

Most of us “pinkos” are familiar with Fox News, American conservative talk radio and all the angry boomers that comprise the Tea Party movement. In fact, these days, it’s hard to not see their revolutionary impact splattered across the television screen or newspaper. With the recent scare of “Fox News North” heralded in by none other than Kory Teneycke (who resigned, then un-resigned), Stephen Harper’s own right wing communicator-extraordinaire, it seems apparent that many of the angry right-wing political winds may soon be blowing North.

The omens of right wing apocalypse are foreboding. A 2006 article in USA Today, paints a picture of a juggernaut:

In just 10 years, Fox News — the channel liberals love to hate — has transformed the cable news landscape with its in-your-face brand of news with ‘tude. In the process, it has reduced granddaddy CNN to a distant second and NBC’s cable news venture, MSNBC, to an also-ran. Fox News’ combative Bill O’Reilly has become a household name, drawing more than 2 million viewers a night. Sean Hannity, Shepard Smith and Greta Van Susteren are cable news stars. On-air barbs by them and Fox News correspondents have ignited debates in journalism circles about whether objective news can stay relevant, particularly in an Internet era that gives ordinary Americans the power to vent about anything in blogs.

Right wing talk radio and cable TV have long been the preserve of old, white men. Boomers one could say. One thing that’s often forgotten though is that although Boomers are powerful are also, slowly but surely, getting older. As they age and pass away, it can be expected that a growing number of their generation will no longer be able to:

a) be politically active (marching to Washington to fight Obamacare) at the bidding of people like Glen Beck

b) watch and listen to right wing TV and talk radio

and most importantly

c) purchase the luxury products advertised on said radio and TV

As with any generation, their turn at the precipice of consumer culture (in the prime economic time of the their life) will soon end. This will likely make them far less attractive to advertisers then they once were. While they may still be voting in droves, they won’t be buying the SUVs in droves.

When you are unattractive to advertisers, you will quickly fall off the “target audience list” of your friendly media executive. Once that happens, say goodbye to the prime-time domination of the airwaves of your favorite shows.

In the end, if demographic projections hold true, it’s possible that the hyper-partisan vitriol made nationally famous by people like Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck  may soon also be heading into retirement. That is unless they can turn their angry vitriol and target it at a younger and more ethnically diverse audience. Somehow though it seems unlikely that hyper right wing and often xenophobic hosts of many of these programs will be able to co-opt their message to resonate with millions of Hispanic, black and other immigrant audiences.

The times are a changing and let’s hope so to will the political/media climate of the USA.

Bob Simpson – Independent Legislator / Democratic Reformer

Who are you?

I’m a Scottish immigrant from a blue collar family who pursues his passions because life is too short to do anything else. I’ve been in the Navy; travelled extensively throughout North America, Europe and Africa; taught High School; experimented (unsuccessfully) in Retail; run a successful consulting and training business; been a corporate manager in forest products company; and am now an Independent ”legislator” in BC advocating for radical democratic reform.

What do you do for fun?

Bike, hike, kayak, sail, play guitar, soak in hot baths. Hanging with my apolitical friends is also a great way to chill. Better yet, time with my wife and two kids is the ultimate way for me to have fun; especially when we get to travel together.

What is your favourite community and why?

I love rural communities. The smaller the better. There’s a sense of belonging in smaller communities, walking into the local coffee shop is like walking onto a Cheers set where “everyone knows your name.” When I first moved to Quesnel and the Cariboo I didn’t like being known by so many people and never having a sense of privacy in public spaces — anonymity is probably a better term. Now I don’t like the anonymity of larger cities and love walking down the street saying hello to the majority of people I see. Belonging builds pride of place, which can help us create stronger community responses to challenges, including global ones.

What is your superpower?

The faces of my children and my nieces and nephews and their children. In fact, children in general. I hate the phrase: “the children are our future.” It’s absolutely false: we are our children’s future! The decisions we make determine their fate, not the other way around.

How do you use this power to build community?

I strive to involve young people in everything I do as their presence in a room or at an event forces a reality check on decision-makers. Cross-generational decision-making will lead to a more sustainable society faster than our current approach. Involving young people also vests them in their community and empowers them to address the issues that concern them rather than having them choose to opt out because they believe they don’t have a legitimate voice.

My three favorite things about Bob Simpson are…

1. He isn’t afraid stand up for what he believes in. In October of 2010, Simpson was kicked out of the NDP caucus for daring to question the leadership of then BCNDP leader Carole James. His transgression? Two sentences that were vaguely critical of James’ address at the UBCM in an online magazine. James demanded an apology and Simpson stuck to his guns. Things weren’t right in the BCNDP and hadn’t been for quite some time. Simpson knew this and many other BCNDP members and electeds also seemed to be aware of this. And deep down, maybe James knew this too. Perhaps sensing the end was near, she decided to make an example of dissenters by tossing Simpson out of caucus with little discussion from caucus or supporters. Months later the quiet resistance to the negative campaign style epitomized by Simpson’s critique exploded into a full blown revolt with outing of the baker’s dozen MLAs and a highly critical open letter from longtime MLA Jenny Kwan. Eventually James, the unity of her party shattered, was forced out. Now new voices are coming to the forefront with new visions for the BC NDP. Simpson’s actions were a catalyst to change and might not have happened had he not been willing to put his career on the line for what he believed was right.

2. His drive to make our political system better. Since he was elected Simpson has been a tireless advocate for electoral reform. His issue: the negative and antagonistic nature of our political system is turning voters off. Pitting one party against one another in such a hyper-partisan way puts primacy on negative sound bites and ads rather than vision and solutions. Sometimes the other side has good ideas that you agree with. Where’s the political mechanism to publicly support those measures? What if you don’t agree with what your party has to say about a certain issue? Simpson’s commitment to electoral reform and a better system for all of is thoughtful and should be supported.

3. He’s a champion of small rural communities. We Vancouverites are often too focussed on our big city affairs. We forget that there is a whole province out there. It is a beautiful province that many of us rarely get a chance to visit. In many cases, that province has dramatically different priorities and perspectives (on issues ranging from climate change to transit to taxes) than big city folks do. It’s easy for those ideas to be subsumed by the louder Metro Vancouver voice. That’s why its critical that rural communities have the leadership of a leader capable of representing their interests at a provincial level and someone who will not be stifled by the “power’s that be” down south. Considering his popularity up north, Simpson certainly seems to be that man.

…as told by Kurt Heinrich

Brenton Walters – Just a Guy

Who are you?

I’m just a guy, trying to make his way in this big world, trying to make a difference.

That’s why I’m starting with me. I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. No message could’ve been any clearer: if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make that change.

What do you do for fun?

I read and write about food, politics and football proper. I sing in a decent falsetto. I like baking, watching as much football as humanly possible, and figuring out how best to run the world. I enjoy critiquing any and every thing I see, read or watch, whether it’s political blog posts, English football tactics or poorly-written recipes.

What is your favourite community and why?

I love working towards a common goal with a team, whether it’s sports, politics or cooking. I like the energy of being part of any and all communities. There is something very raw in the experience of being one of thousands of cheering fans, in being a member of a team all working your asses off, something exhilarating about doing something so physical, precise and competitive, or relaxed and sharing some time with friends.

I love you all. Unless you’ve been working to make my community weak, unable to help itself and starved of funds. In which case, piss off.

What is your super power?

Can I have a few? I have an insatiable appetite for knowledge, an unerring ability to spot spelling mistakes from 50 yards, and a strong desire to play host to friends.

How do you use it to build community?

I like having people over to do nothing, or to do things, or to watch things. Informal is best. Just drop by for tea, come by if I’m watching a game of football, or bring a board game and a friend. We can talk politics and plan revolutions until the wee hours. And then tomorrow I can help you with that press release.

My Three Favourite Things About Brenton Are…

1. He’s political and I like that. He’s a political junky who’s constantly engaged in movements and campaigns on the left side of the spectrum. And he’s not there for power or money. Nor is he on the dark side of the force. He’s there because he cares, wants to make things better and is willing to put his actions where is mouth is. Be it door knocking, building signs, attending events and rallies, organizing, calling, writing comms materials – Brenton is your guy. It’s neat to meet people so engaged in the political system.

2. Soccer Fanatic. This guy loves soccer. Hell, his Facebook name is Brenton FC – how much more hardcore can you get. He’s also an official Whitecaps blogger, loves Arsenal and if you catch him on the pitch watch out.

3. He calls it as he sees it. Sometimes political people get so wrapped up in saying the sound bite answer, you never feel like you can get the straight goods from them. Authenticity gets kicked in the junk. Brenton on the other hand is a realist and as “I’ll look you in the eyes and tell you what I think” as they come. He’ll let you know what he thinks about situations with a candour that’s refreshing.

As told by Kurt Heinrich


Last week I printed google-map directions from the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Media Centre to their National Convention Centre.  I then followed these directions.

At 10:23am, I left the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Media Centre/Convention Centre and using only the times and directions on the map from Beijing, I ended up at the point at which Stanley Park meets English Bay and the West End at 11:17 am.

The derive, or ‘drift’ was an essential method of urban exploration for the Situationist movement (1958-1971).  A ‘drift’ is a day or multi-day long wander through a city, directionally random, yet with a strong focus on the poorer and thus more invigorated neighbourhoods.  Psycho-geography is the method of recording such wanders, and involves the division of the city into non-cartographic sectors, based on such non-specific criteria as ambience, emotion, authenticity, and welcome.  Today, many romantically-inclined urban aficionados might include these terms under the umbrella of ‘community’.

Coal Harbour is a distinct psycho-geographic community from the West End, and they are divided by Robson St.

no dogs in parks; keep your bikes away; control the lanes; keep those evil-deors out of the parking garage


  • The architecture and landscape of Coal Harbour are very authorized (read: planned + manicured), making a true ‘drift’ difficult, as the body is directed along a very specific set of paths and journeys
  • It is possible to have the awkward hallway you-go-this-way-I-go-that-you-go-my-way dodging game in the middle of cross-walk, with only two people present.
  • Coal Harbour is a place of hierarchical spectacle.  This ranges from the spectacle of the mountains and the voyeurism of viewing people on the seawall from your glass tower; to the micro topography of the seawall’s successively higher grade of walking path, benches and bike path
  • Your presence in Coal Harbour on a weekday must be authorized: this can be demonstrated through: conference name tag, business suit, olympic dog-tag, construction vest and work boots, landscaping or rent-a-cop outfit. Servant or served, you cannot be neither without being actively observed and questioned by those with the correct clothing mix
  • North-south penetrations of the city are difficult, roadways, signs and pathways consistently direct you on the west-east axis

name tags are carefully tucked away along with safety vests


  • Predominantly low-rise, residential architecture, combined with a few key commercial strips, filled with drift potential; alleyways, small streets and through-passages abound.  A heterogenous built environment means the body is constantly intrigued by its’ surroundings
  • Also a place of spectacle, yet it is a dinner-theatre event to the formalized national opera house of Coal Harbour
  • Mobility scooters and/or short haircuts are requirements for inhabitation
  • Rent-a-cops take the time to coo at small babies, without looking askance at your loitering
  • Name tags are removed with care and stowed in re-usable shopping bags

The ‘drift’ is a non-judgmental journey, rather the experience is to simply allow situations to happen to you and you turn cause situations through your very presence.  Based on these observations and your personal experience, what do you think of these nieghbourhoods’ psychogeographic feel, or community Have you drifted before?

The Plight of the Republican Party

SP back in the house?

SP back in the house?

It can’t be easy being a Republican these days.

Not only did you soundly lose the last presidential election, but you control neither the house nor the senate. Odd feeling for a party that’s previously controlled the legislature for nearly 12 years.

Now, with the recent passing of health care reform, many of the pillars of the right (like  low taxes and many of the ubiquitous “family” oriented values) are increasingly coming under siege.

Often the feeling that your values and core principles are under attack can energize people. That’s where campaigns are born and what nurtures them into movements. And no movement is totally complete without a leader.

These days, American politics increasingly seem like a pitched battle between partisans of both sides. The Democrats have Obama at their helm.

But for Republicans, there is no such icon to rally around. One of the biggest problems is the difficulty of shoring up the party’s support on the one hand, and the general electorate’s support on the other. When the base of the party is composed of voters who hold  similar values, that’s not a problem. But when your base is unaligned with the general sentiment of the times, you end up with someone like Sarah Palin.

Not so big an elephant anymore.

Not so big an elephant anymore.

Palin doesn’t strike most observers as presidential smart (certainly not in the league of people like Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, or even George Bush Sr). She isn’t particularly charming either. But she does possess something many other more qualified candidates do not: name recognition and strong conservative values, which have both given her a growing power within the party’s grassroots.

Is she electable in a battle against the bright and shining hope? Not likely.

So who is? Let’s be honest – plenty of people. The problem is, many of the best candidates are continually being dragged to the right, forced to say radically conservative things and kowtow to the religious power-brokers of the party. This in spite of the fact that most Americans want more help from the government, not less, particularly in tough economic times like these. Afterall, when you lose your job (or are worried about losing your job) do you really want a government that says, “you’re on your own”?

And yet, many hardcore Republican activists refuse to recognize this vulnerability and ignore the fact that the farther right they drift, the farther they move from the average voters’ sentiment. As Globe and Mail writer Konrad Yakabuski writes:

No record of accomplishment is enough to compensate for a perceived failure to adhere to the most rigid conservative values. Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, might be considered a catch for any party. But Republican stalwarts have organized a campaign to thwart her bid to become the party’s Senate candidate in California in 2010.

Popular Florida Governor Charlie Crist has similarly become suspect in the eyes of the Republican base. It was bad enough that he initially supported Mr. Obama’s $787-billion (U.S.) stimulus package and has backed legislation to cap greenhouse-gas emissions. His worst faux pas, however, was hugging the Democratic President.

The photo of that embrace has become Exhibit A in the campaign to paint Mr. Crist as an ideological heretic and prevent him from winning the primary to become the Republican candidate for a Senate seat in next year’s midterm vote.

In the end, the inevitable forces of party politics are doing the Republicans a disservice. Disqualifying some of the best candidates before they even have a chance to run. Unless this is fixed soon, they’ll end up with Sarah Palin (or some right wing carbon copy come 2012. That’s not a winning proposition.