Update on Alberni-Pacific Rim Candidate’s Online…

Since writing my original post, I have discovered that the BC Conservative Candidate does in fact have a personalized website that has been more recently updated than the constituency association’s website. I was made aware of it by someone that spotted a poster with the URL on it (though they couldn’t remember the address). It’s unfortunate that this isn’t linked to from either her profile the BCCP website or from the constituency association’s website. It is also very unfortunate that when using Google to search for “Enid Mary Sangster Kelly”, the results for her site (with her name in the URL) don’t show up on the first page of results. There is no email address for her on the website. She encourages folks to contact her through her constituency office in person or by telephone (again, no email address provided). The contact section has an email address for a briansk.apr@gmail.com. I’ll see where that leads. Lack of a personal email address on her website sets off all kinds of alarms for me: if elected, how would I be able to contact this woman? Does she even use email?

Is there an election going on in Alberni-Pacific Rim?

Is the Alberni-Pacific Rim contest such a foregone conclusion that the candidates aren’t bothering to campaign? I contacted the BC Liberals about their candidate by email a week ago. They responded quickly to say that they would forward my message to Mr. Deluca. One of my specific requests in the email was to know when and if Mr. Deluca would be making any appearances in our corner of the Alberni Pacific-Rim riding. Apparently he showed up on Tuesday for a photo op with the premier. Eight days since my original email, I’m still waiting for some kind of reply from Deluca’s team. I similarly contacted Mr. Fraser’s team by email through another BC NDP candidate’s campaign, asking for information on any local appearances plus asking to be put on their email distribution list. I received a reply eight days later, on April 6th, but I have had zero contact from them since. Due to her lively involvement in civic politics, I have little interest in finding out any more information about Ms. Sangster-Kelly, but I looked her up online all the same. Like the other two candidates, she has a near-static presence online. None of them are using the Internet to connect with voters. They all appear on their party’s website with a biography and photo. Sangster-Kelly also appears on her local constituency association’s website, but this hasn’t been updated since the beginning of April. None of them have an online blog or use a website to regularly update voters or supporters. None of them use Twitter. Deluca doesn’t even have a campaign email address online. On Sunday, Scott Fraser’s team started a Facebook page (the only one of our three candidates to have one), but I only found this by looking at his page on the BCNDP site again today while writing this letter. Surely launching a new community like this would be worthy of notifying interested voters in an email? I asked Scott Fraser about his lack of social media presence two years ago, and he responded honestly that he just didn’t have the time for it. It’s a big disappointment for voters and supporters for a candidate to an online community during a campaign only to abandon it after the election (see Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan’s twitter profile for a perfect example), but I would still urge Mr. Fraser and the other candidates to make the time. Other MLAs seem to manage it. Even our MP manages to make himself accessible through these new media channels. It’s bad enough that Errington/Coombs/Hilliers is lumped into the Alberni-Pacific Rim riding. We’re economically and socially separated from the rest of the riding. We are in a different regional district and a different school district. We even have different news media here. Now, we’re also stuck in a riding in which the candidates have little grasp of how to use modern technology to reach the community. There’s no “buzz” here. By stark contrast, Barry Avis has been campaigning in Qualicum since he was nominated over two years ago, and both Stillwell and Coupland were making themselves be seen in the media long before the writ was dropped. They’ve had at least two public debates so far with another planned soon. No word from any of our own candidates on public appearances or all candidates’ forums. If they can’t be bothered, can you blame the electorate feeling disengaged and indifferent?

A Tree By-Law for the RDN!?

I haven’t had time to blog lately, let alone read much of the local papers, which tend to provide a great deal of fodder for me to comment on, but today when I opened up the Oceanside Star to see what Stewart Burnett had written about my chicken, I spotted an article next to it that has got my hackles up, so to speak.

Apparently, Jan Townend of San Pariel (part of Area G, next to Rathtrevor Provincial Park) has started collecting signatures to petition the RDN to create a tree removal by-law.

I really hope that Ms. Townend is petitioning for a by-law in Area G rather than all of the RDN’s unincorporated rural areas. It is completely contrary to the values of residents in Area F. Area G is such an odd string of communities, that I can’t see a great deal of consensus being reached for a by-law such as this. Perhaps it is time for San Pariel to consider merging into the City of Parksville so that they can enjoy all of the securities by-laws offer while leaving the rest of the country folk to enjoy their freedom from regulation and government interference.

Chickens in the City

The City of Parksville is considering adpoting a by-law that would allow residents to keep up to four hens. I was contacted by Oceanside Star reporter Stewart Burnett for my insight on the subject. Here’s his article, along with a photo I submitted of our hens. I submitted my comments by email, so the article directly quotes my quirky writing.

Oceanside RCMP Seek Public’s Assistance in Panago Pizza Robbery

Local print media doesn’t seem to have picked up this story yet, so I thought I would share it with you. The following is a direct quote from a press release by Oceanside RCMP:

The Oceanside RCMP Detachment are seeking the assistance of the general public after an armed robbery occurred at Panago Pizza at approximately 1:30 a.m. on July 8th.

The RCMP were dispatched to the Panago Pizza location on the Island Highway in Parksville following a report of a robbery.  A male individual  riding a bicycle came into the restaurant at closing time, he produced a knife and demanded money from the employee.

He is described as a Caucasian male, with graying hair and a dirty face, possibly a moustache.  At the time of the robbery he wore riding glasses, a green bicycle helmet with a small white label on the front, long sleeve dark sweater, light coloured gloves with a dark palm and he had a black/purple backpack.  He departed on his bike up Craig Street with an undisclosed amount of cash.

Anyone with information in relation to this incident or knowledge of a suspect fitting the description is requested to contact the RCMP or Crime Stoppers.  The man is considered armed and the public should not approach him if located.

Growing Up Growing Food

Growing up, I was fortunate to see first-hand where food comes from. While I didn’t grow up on a farm, I grew up in very close contact with one. Our Lasqueti Island homestead has been in the family for 65 years, and four generations of Johnsons have called it home. Due to its isolation – especially the lack of daily ferry service, the fact that the ferry isn’t equipped to carry vehicles, and the absence of public electricity – residents need to be resourceful and self-sufficient.

My family kept a very large kitchen garden, cultivated fruit trees, raised livestock, harvested wild berries and mushrooms, fished, hunted, and collected shellfish from the beaches around our farm. I remember, back in the far reaches of my childhood, my aunt milking one of the black and white dairy cows (though I don’t actually remember drinking the milk). We would often fetch eggs from the chicken house. My mother used to send us off to the beach for the day, and we would bring back little pots of limpets which she would then cook up for us on the wood stove. I remember catching my first salmon. My sister had received fishing rod and reel for Christmas, so my great Auntie Carmel and great Uncle Bud took us all out on their boat the Valkyrie. I got to use one of the deep sea lines that was attached to the boat. We all caught salmon, and when we got back to the farm, we had to go to the beach and learn how to clean them (though I’m not sure I did much of it myself). We fished several times as a family (always an adventure, especially the time our golden retriever tried to follow us by swimming behind the boat). Clam digging was a regular summer event, and when my uncle started his shellfish farm, oysters became plentiful at family gatherings.

I remember this one time that my family slaughtered a bull. I must have been really young, because I seem to remember that we kids weren’t allowed to be there when it happened (one of my siblings or cousins will probably correct me on this!), perhaps because of the potential danger from the bull (these were free-range cows, so it wasn’t like he was in a small pen or anything) or because the adults just didn’t want us getting in the way. I remember that there were lots of people on hand, and they had to use a really, really big tree at the top of the hill to hang it. When I was about 12, I watched my uncles slaughter lambs at the end of the summer, though I skipped the part where they handed the organs to us kids to hold while they finished cleaning out the carcass. I also watched chickens being slaughtered: they really do run around after their heads have been cut off. We thought it was so funny that my mother decided that we should each have to pluck one of the birds. That was bad, but not nearly as bad as watching the chickens being cleaned out. For years after that, every time we ate chicken, I asked my mother if it was one of the “Lasqueti” chickens because I was determined I was never, ever going to eat those disgusting creatures. There was a sense of amusement, curiosity and pride for me that surrounded these events. Not many other kids at school could say that they had seen what I had seen, and writing an essay on “how to slaughter a sheep” in grade seven seemed like great way to cause my teacher some concern. (I ended up handing in an essay on “how to cook a can of soup” instead). As I look back  now, though, I think that part of the amusement was a way to deal with seriousness of what was happening, rather like giggling while being disciplined or scolded; it may have been a relief from the stress of a solemn situation.

Food on Lasqueti was actually the source of a huge annual family gathering – a special cultural ritual we all shared in. The Johnson Family BBQ was quite an event.  Neighbours would be invited and extended family was always present. While my grandfather Lance (and later my great Uncle Andy) tended the fire, over which a whole lamb would be roasted along with fresh-caught salmon, the kitchen would be a-buzz with pie-making (blackberries picked by the kids, of course, or early Transparent apples), vegetable peeling and preparation of various other dishes. Huge pots of clams would be steamed and served with garlic butter. The whole day was a celebration of all the land and sea had to offer.

Skye. With a zucchini. Circa 1983. Photo by Araby Gillespie.

Of course, food production wasn’t limited to the farm on Lasqueti. In Parksville, on our large lot, we had blackberries, golden plums, and apples. For a time when we were young, my mother kept a huge garden. For several years, we also raised rabbits for meat. The does and bucks were our pets, but the offspring were for eating. A family friend would come over and do the slaughtering for us, and we shared the meat with them. We didn’t actually watch, but afterwards, there were fluffy rabbit tails to be had. I couldn’t wrap my head around eating the cute little bunnies, so I told my mother that I didn’t want to eat them. Thankfully, she never tried to trick me into it, and I only ate my first rabbit when we were in Paris a few years ago. On a few occasions, we also kept the orphan lambs from the farm on Lasqueti in our backyard in Parksville. The lambs needed to be bottle fed multiple times each day, so sometimes, when there was no one living on the farm full time, they needed to come over to Parksville. These lambs were given suitable names like “Lambchops” “Burger” and “Shanky”, which helped remind us of what they were going to end up as at the end of the summer. (This practice came to an abrupt end when an ex-alderman that used to walk by our place thought the by-law enforcement officer should be made aware of the back-yard attraction that thrilled neighbourhood kids.) Just before moving away from home, inspired by hearing Whim Van der Zalm talk about tomatoes on the radio, I took it upon myself to overturn some of the backyard and raise an amazing crop of tomatoes from seed.

All of this first-hand experience has shaped my attitudes about life, death, animals and food. I laugh when I read stories and Internet anecdotes about people that don’t understand that the meat they buy in plastic wrap at the grocery store actually came from a living, breathing animal.  I grew up being very sensitive to loss (you should have seen the tears when my first pet fish died!), but not so sensitive that I couldn’t kill fish that we caught out on the water. My faith has brought me the understanding that we’re called by God to be good stewards of creation, that we may use the gifts of creation (minerals, trees, land, air, water, animals), but we need to do so with reverence and responsibility. Sure, cut down trees to build houses, heat homes, and make paper, but don’t cut them down faster than they can grow back or over-harvest from any one area. Raise animals for meat, but keep them healthy and happy while they’re alive, and make their death as quick and stress-free as possible. Despite the fact that growing up, I made choices not to eat certain animals that I knew before they had become “meat”, I didn’t morph into a vegetarian. Quite the opposite, actually. My background has given me the fortitude to do very difficult things I never, ever thought I would be able to do, things that I will write about in my next blog.

Crash Near Cameron Lake

Oceanside RCMP are reporting that shortly after 2:30 AM on Tuesday, February 14th, a 19 year-old Port Alberni resident traveling westbound on the Alberni Highway was involved in a single vehicle crash near Cameron Lake. The driver reported losing control of her vehicle after swerving to avoid a small animal. The vehicle rolled onto its roof. The driver, the lone occupant of the vehicle, was transported to West Coast Hospital in Port Alberni with cuts to her head and hands. Police report that alcohol was not a factor in the crash, and they are taking this opportunity to remind drivers that that “the damages caused by a collision with a small animal are usually far less severe than the results of trying to swerve and avoid them.”

Source: Oceanside RCMP

NDP Agriculture Critic Lana Popham Visits Qualicum Beach

The Qualicum Beach Rotary House was full last Saturday (February 4th, 2012), as folks from across the region gathered to hear NDP Agriculture critic Lana Popham. Popham was elected as an MLA for Saanich South in 2009. Raised on Quadra Island and educated at UBC, she currently resides in Saanich. She and her husband started the first certified-organic vineyard on Vancouver Island (though it doesn’t sound like it is still an active vineyard). Her visit coincided with our local Seedy Saturday, though it was not an official addition to the program. Also present was Barry Avis (future NDP MLA candidate for Parksville-Qualicum), farmer Kris Chand (Blue Heron Farm & Qualicum Beach Farmer’s Market), and farmer Joanne Sales (Blueberry Fields Farm).

Popham’s introduction produced some good light-hearted laughs, but I found that it had some important (albeit subtle) substance: farming is more than a business; it is a culture.

“There’s magic in a vineyard, and you get caught up in it the romance of it. And, you know, it’s like a love-hate relationship: the hate grows, and the love eventually dies, and you wonder what the hell you were doing. But, I can tell you that, at the beginning when we planted our vineyard, I planted it with my father-in-law who had just retired from being a lawyer in Victoria, and I came into the family and he said, “I have been waiting for a farmer my entire life. Let’s plant a vineyard!” and so I thought, ‘that sounds great to me’. And so, we were able to plant a vineyard out on the Saanich Peninsula on a 16-acre property. I also established a vegetable growing business at the same time, and the varieties that we choose were cool climate grapes. We got our winery started, and unfortunately my father-in-law passed away before our winery sold its first bottle of wine, which was too bad, but we laugh a lot because, you know, we’re kind of clinging to this two-acres of grapes because it has sentimental value because my father-in-law helped plant it, but the joke of the family is that, you know, he would have pulled them out years ago.”

From my own experience of family and farming, I know exactly what she means. This kind of sentimentality is very alive in my own family. I’m not sure how we can keep the romantic side of farming while actually making a living at it. (I’ll blog about this later this week).

The topic of culture came up a number of times during the afternoon. I think that guest Kris Chand articulated the cultural challenges around farming well: our culture does not value farming, we don’t value it as an occupation, and we don’t teach it in our schools. Changing culture is going to take a long time, but Popham rightly points out that we currently have a window of opportunity to effect this change. “This window of opportunity that we have right now is really based on consumer interest in our food, and we have to engage that because there are 4 million people in BC that eat three times a day, so if we can’t create a stable domestic market with those numbers, we’re doing something wrong. And it’s not the government’s job to make that work; it’s the government’s job to have policies that allow farmers to make that work and consumers to connect with that.”

She identified these policy/roadblocks to agricultural development in BC:

  • BC’s meat regulation legislation
  • Inter-provincial wine trade restrictions/regulations
  • Regulations around farmer’s markets
  • Land being removed from the ALR for development
  • Funding cuts to provincial extension officers
  • Elimination of the provincial Standing Committee on Agriculture
  • Cessation of the “Buy BC” program
  • Lack of infrastructure to process food and/or create value-added products

She posed these solutions, some of which are NDP policy:

  • Public institutions (health institutions) need to buy a minimum of 30% of locally sourced/produced foods
  • No further exclusions of land from the ALR (though privately, afterwards, she said that farm land that never should have been put into the ALR could be excluded, so an exclusion process would still need to exist).
  • Track genetically modified seed that comes into the province
  • Restart the Buy BC program
  • Carbon tax exemptions for farmers (especially greenhouse growers)
  • Allow more use of mobile abattoirs

She kept referring back to her plan, but the plan – part of the NDP platform – isn’t publically available. I imagine it won’t be available until we get closer to election time which, while politically strategic, doesn’t really help get the public educated or engaging in conversation in a timely manner. If the plan is ready, let us see it!

I know first-hand that her criticism of the meat regulation policy is very legitimate, but she did not articulate a solution, aside from bringing up mobile abattoirs (which already exist). She did not say that the NDP would eliminate or re-write the policy. If the policy is eliminated, what do we do for the abattoirs that have invested in facility upgrades? Should we do something for them? Interestingly, she brings up this very problem as a reason for the current government not making changes: how do they explain to all the abattoirs that did the expensive upgrades that they screwed up their legislation?

NDP policy on the ALR appears to be quite clear: viable farm land should never be excluded from the ALR. I’m not thrilled with this policy. I don’t want to subdivide or over develop my farm, but what options do we to raise capital so that we can build infrastructure so that we can actually farm? If ALR is frozen, property values will likely go down, thereby helping people that want to get started in farming. Unfortunately, it that doesn’t help people that already OWN farm land. In fact, we’d be worse off. I know there is a need for the ALR, and I agree that it isn’t working the way it should right now, but there’s got to be a solution for people that own ALR, want to farm it, but can’t afford to. There also needs to be a reasonable solution for farm-property owners to get a fair price for their investment (their land) when they’re ready to sell or retire. Is there benefit to allowing development or subdivision on ALR if the funds raised are to go directly into agricultural investment? If a farmer has 20 acres and wants to subdivide 5 acres so they’ll have capital to start farming the other 15? Popham’s answer is “no”.

During the question period, I was blown away by a call from the audience for the provincial government to step in and deal with municipalities to remove anti-farming land-use policies. WHAT!? It is SO MUCH easier is it to effect change at the local level. Why would we ever want to give away local autonomy to the provincial government? If you want zoning and by-law changes, work with your municipalities to change them. These policies are in place for good reason: people live in cities because they don’t want to listen to farm animals and smell manure. Allowing someone to keep six chickens or to have a family kitchen garden in their backyard doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, but city residents have legitimate reason to object to intensive farming with the intention of producing products for sale. That’s why they live in the city and not out here in Area F. Decisions about zoning and by-laws must be kept under the control of local government. We need more grass-roots government, not bigger, distant government. I was relieved to hear Popham say that “As far as local planning goes, there’s only so much that we can do at the provincial level.”

Despite these criticisms, my impression of Popham was very favorable. She appears to be intelligent, confident, professional and well-spoken (as can be seen in the video archives of question period from last fall), but she is also approachable and personable. What’s more is that she seems fairly believable: she comes across as genuine. I’m not sucked into her philosophy, but I’m also not completely disengaged by politi-speak. I think she did a good job of answering questions. We didn’t always get the plain, simple, clear answer that people want to hear, but she did better than others I’ve heard, and she clearly has a lot of ideas that all sound great. Interestingly, though, no one asked the golden questions: how much is all of this going to cost and how are we going to pay for it?

Oh, and kudos to Qualicum Beach Mayor Tunis Westbroek and SD 69 Trustee & Vice-Chair Barry Kurland for attending: it’s always good to see our local elected officials out and about.

Disclaimer: I am not a member or adherent to any provincial or federal political party. I have never financially supported a political party. My family and I own property that is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve. We are actively farming on a small scale. I am a member of and vendor at the Errington Farmer’s Market. All photos are my own work, and all opinions expressed in this article are my own. I did not receive any financial compensation to write this article.

First lamb of 2012

As I looked out my bedroom window this morning into the drizzle and misty fields, I spotted a new addition! One of my mother’s ewes lambed this morning. The little one was already up and about, but I was the first to spot her. Earlier this week, we gave all nine ewes their annual booster shots, and it was clear that the two ewes from Lasqueti were very close to lambing. The shots were “fun” as always: my ewe, Lucy, kicked me in the face. Not fun!

Here are some shots of the ewe (Princess) and her new lamb, taken this afternoon about six hours after birth. The ewe is from our family’s flock on Lasqueti Island. The ram was a Texel-Friesian cross (more about him later). This is Princess’ second lamb, and while we we’re always hoping for twins, it is satisfying just to have a healthy little one bouncing about.

(Note: Click on the photos to scroll through them faster).

National Sweater Day!

Poster provided by WWF.

The World Wildlife Fund is asking all Canadians to turn down the heat and put on a sweater to “show you’re taking action against climate change”.

WWF has put together a great site for the event with cute videos in which the Granny Call Centre uses multicultural grannies to try and guilt you into putting on a sweater. You can book a “granny call” to remind yourself or a friend to turn down the heat & put on a sweater for the big day.

I’ve decided that on February 9th, I’m going to do more than just turn down the heat & wear a sweater – I think I’ll start knitting one, too.