Toxic travel

I just returned from a sudden family visit to St. Catharines. Pleasant enough couple of weeks, and i do enjoy southern Ontario’s summer heat (until the humidex tops 35 degrees). But as with previous visits, i noticed again that whenever i go, i almost instantly compromise almost all the principles i live by, back home in BC.

2015-08-25 22.10.08Life in St. Cath is not set up the same as life in Tofino, and suddenly it’s near impossible to eat organic. Given my family’s tastes and the local restaurant options, vegetarianism is untenable. I don’t go near a bicycle, and i spend way more time in a car than i ever do at home. I frequent big box stores (even Walmart), and everything i eat or buy is packaged and wrapped and carried in plastic. I throw out way more than usual, and because we’re in an apartment block there’s no composting. I spend way more time on the couch in front of the TV.

Even clean air is rare, from the brown layer of smog over the Torontopolis across the lake to the miasma of chain-smoker stink and cleaning product that makes me hold my breath in the building hallway.

2015-08-31 starbucksThe compromises are built in everywhere. My 86-year-old mom has no Internet, so my visit is a continual scrounge for connectivity. My sister does have wi-fi, but she’s a smoker so the choice is offline with breathable air, or online in a smoke-filled room. That dilemma has me hanging out for hours a day in a corporate coffee chain (no name need be mentioned), gorging free wi-fi and guzzling brew from disposable, single-use paper cups with hardly a twinge of conscience.

St. Cath is actually a pleasant little city, with lots of lovely trees and interesting old brick houses and good food from the surrounding farms. But as a former factory town, it’s suburban to the absolute max: house culture and impressive churches on every second corner and kilometres of strip mall and shopping plaza, where car is king. And nobody i meet seems to have an inkling about climate or democracy or any of the big-picture issues that, back in Tofino, are part of the air we breathe.

On the better days, it’s a weird immersion in mainstream consumer culture — enjoyable if i lower my expectations and switch off my environmental conscience.

On the grim days, the place is utterly toxic in attitude and politics and habits.

BC is geographically as far away from ON as possible, and i think there’s a reason for that. It’s similar to the reason i choose to live there. And why i’m glad to be back.


I’ve been spending a lot of time in the local (St. Catharines) 24-hour Starbucks, where there is wi-fi and a constant slew of people, students to retirees, most with computers, banging away at assignments or blogs or novels or who-knows-what.

2015-08-31 starbucksAlso where i tripped across an apt quote from Czech-born author Milan Kundera, foreseeing our world of ceaseless personal output and minimal input. From his 1978 Book of Laughter and Forgetting:

The irresistible proliferation of graphomania among politicians, taxi drivers, childbearers, lovers, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, officials, doctors, and patients shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down into the streets and shout: “We are all writers!”

For everyone is pained by the thought of disappearing, unheard and unseen, into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words.

One morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived.

Yep, we’re living it!

Destination of Dreams


You can see a lot of words scribed into the West Coast beaches — we-were-here names, declarations of love, silly brags, indecipherable scrawls … and some, like the one below, proof that Tofino is the endpoint (or starting point) of a lot of big dreams from a lot of people in this world. It’s a privilege to live here, and a joy to be occasionally reminded of our hometown’s iconic status.

Tonquin Beach graffiti 2015-05-17--1000x563

Council meeting thoughts, 28-Apr

Last Tuesday was particularly interesting for a new councillor like me. It began at 9 a.m. with two well-attended public hearings about a proposed 22-unit multi-family rezoning for a property at the corner of Hellesen* and PRH, with several speakers both for and against.

It was my first experience behind the council table on a controversial issue that people feel passionate about, and I can tell you council (even the experienced members) feels that responsibility. Speakers made several good points for and against. My instinct is to say yes to everybody, but a firm decision has to be made at some point, and council is the duly elected body to make it, for good or ill. These decisions can have a big effect on people’s lives: In this case, we will be deciding yes or no on a process that the proponents have been pursuing since 2005.

With the public hearing over, council can now officially receive no further information about the project, which will come back to a decision at an upcoming meeting.

Then Citizen V set up his camera for the regular council meeting for a full-agenda regular meeting. Here’s the full meeting (almost three hours), with my personal highlights listed below:

32:25 — I was able to supply a bit of environhental background around TFN’s request for a letter of support for their proposed Run-of-River hydro project at Winchie Creek, near Kennedy Lake.

47:55 — A thorough debate about whether to recommend that the LCLB approve a liquor licence amendment for Jamie’s Rainforest Inn, extending liquor service from midnight to 1 a.m. It was a solid half-hour discussion, ending in a 4-3 vote to not recommend the extension.

1:38:50 — The 45-minute process awarding of the district RMI grants. GRANT APPLICANTS, there’s much to interest you here — clues as to what the requirements are, what council is looking for, what is judged desirable and what less so. Listening to this will help you with next year’s applications, but if you don’t have the time here are a few (overgeneralized) pointers:

  • Grants that launch a new project, or explicitly serve to expand an existing project, are well received.
  • Projects that help extend the shoulder seasons (i.e. outside of our June-July-August busy season) are well received.
  • Grants that have been running for a long time are generally expected to have found alternate, sustainable sources of funding.
  • It’s important to target your grant to the requirements listed in the application. RMI grants, especially, are quite restricted in what they can support.
  • It’s important to send in a complete application, including required items like financials, board list, past reports due, etc. Several applications were missing pieces.

Thanks once again to Citizen V, who feels strongly enough about openness and transparency of municipal government to voluntarily come to the meetings to record them, then take the time to index them and post them to the Tofino Council YouTube channel.

The experiment is far enough along that the view numbers start to tell a story. At this moment (1-May), the nine recorded meetings, with their views:

28-Apr — 33 views
14-Apr — 77
24-Mar — 54
10-Mar — 84
24-Feb — 67
10-Feb — 40
27-Jan — 178
13-Jan — 124
9-Dec — 155

Citizen V’s experiment begs the question of whether the district should be videoing and broadcasting the meetings ourselves. The question has come up a few times already, and there are some significant financial and logistics issues — but that’s a blog post of its own.

[* Edit 2-May: corrected spelling of Hellesen Drive. Thanks, keen-eyed Mayor Osborne!]

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My fight against the resistance

I went for a jog at dusk last Thursday , which brought me down to Tonquin Beach. In the low light, i didn’t see a small rock; it caught my left foot and i came down hard on my right side, directly onto a rock outcrop. Bad words were uttered, curses invoked. But the net result was just a scraped knee and elbow, so i continued my run. I cleaned the scrapes in the shower, slapped on a couple of bandaids, and that would normally have been that.

Friday morning, the injured joints were stiff and a bit swollen, but usable. On Saturday, Mr. Knee was improving; Sir Elbow, though, was noticeably swollen and tender. Hm, i thought, must be some fluid build-up. I’ll keep it in mind.

By Saturday night, it was hard to put out of mind. Swollen to an angry red, the elbow throbbed and ached. Sunday night was unpleasant. Turns out everything you do in bed — getting in, rolling over, adjusting the blankets — involves elbows. When one of them is uber-sensitive to every tiny sensation, it doesn’t make for a restful night.

After a long meeting Monday, i want straight to Tonquin clinic. The doc took one look and said Yep, antibiotics required, and wrote me a scrip for Kellex. He did warn me that the hospital had been seeing some infections resistant to this antibiotic, but that as i didn’t have much exposure to the risk groups, it was worth a try. I filled the scrip and started at once.

Things were better the next day — not hugely, but noticeable. It didn’t last, though. Wednesday, the swelling was back. On Thursday, the doc took one look, said Yep, resistant, and sent me to emerg for a direct intravenous infusion of stronger antibiotic.

A half-hour pokefest with two funny nurses, then a stoic session while the doc froze my bum elbow and sliced away at it with a scalpel, looking for a centre core of pus to release. (He didn’t find one.)

Then a half-hour laying there alone to think while 300 ml or so of drug-infused saline dripped into my good arm. And i thought, this is pretty serious. I’d asked the doc what would happen if i did nothing. Would it eventually go away? He shook his head but didn’t elaborate. I made the extrapolation myself: My immune system was powerless against this invader. It would get worse until my arm had to be amputated, and if that didn’t happen in time it would kill me, slowly and painfully.

This IV dripping into me was uncomfortably close to a last line of defence against that outcome. Soon after i left the hospital, an evil metallic taste appeared in my mouth, and i thought, “This is more like chemotherapy than what i remember as infection control.”

I went back the next morning for a second IV dose, then filled a prescription for stronger antibiotic pills, which i am now following religiously. At the beginning of day three i feel good, and the battle against the resistance seems to be won.

All this drama from a scrape on the elbow, something i normally shrug off. The injured knee is healing up normally, after all, with scarcely a second thought.

But it’s a telling indication of what life before antibiotics was like, where any tiny scratch might turn deadly serious. More importantly, it gives a first-hand look at what is coming. Medical researchers have been sounding drug-resistance warnings for years. More and more resistant strains are appearing, largely as a result of irresponsible use of antibiotics in industrial animal farming. Fewer antibiotic drugs are being developed, because of rising costs and fewer promising avenues of research.

I used to think of unstoppable, flesh-eating infections as a nasty urban blight or third-world curse. I assumed i was safe from all that, out here at the end of the road in pristine, wild Clayoquot Sound. Turns out it’s a global village after all.


Bill C-51 has been getting a lot of press lately for the (many say, including me) draconian policing and surveillance measures the ruling Conservative party seeks to introduce, in the name of saving us all from terrorism. This is one of those many “boiled-frog” moments we’ve had in recent years … the changing of the rules in small ways that are incremental steps to a huge, irreversible change in Canadian culture.

I’m not saying C-51 is a small change, but its direct effect on our daily lives would probably be small. Until it wasn’t, until the police and the watching were everywhere, and then it’d be too late.

tweet RobNicholson IsraelI had a small foretaste of where things are headed on Wednesday morning. The Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of Foreign Affairs, had tweeted something predictable about Canada standing with #Israel. I replied that that’s all well and good, but maybe we should stand with the horribly oppressed people of #Palestine too?

Those hashtags unleashed a minor onslaught of passionate response, most decrying the terrorist tendencies of Hamas and Palestine in general. In a pique, i posted these 139 characters:

If foreign powers invaded Canada, killing civilians wholesale and playing politics for decades, then yep, I’d probably be a terrorist too.

I hesitated a few seconds before posting, but then (as is my wont) let ’er fly. It seemed a reasonable capsule summary of the world’s Middle East policy, and its utterly predictable aftermath of “radicalizing” people with no other options to turn to. I went upstairs to boil a pot of oatmeal.

But i didn’t feel right. I began to wonder how that one tweet, bereft of context, might look to some CSIS-hired troll after it was pulled from the twitterstream by some terrorism scan-bot. Might it look enough like “promoting” or “sympathizing with” terrorism to get my name on a watchlist somewhere secret and unaccountable? Could it even lead to a phone call, a knock on the door? A computer seizure, an ineradicable spot on a no-fly list? The more i thought about it, the worse the possible consequences became — especially since my opposition to Harper’s odious agenda is hardly a secret to the Internet.

After 15 minutes, i went back downstairs and deleted the tweet. Nobody had responded or retweeted, so maybe it had gone unnoticed. Whew! And then i realized: I’d been chilled. I had voluntarily suppressed my legitimate opinion because … somebody might be secretly watching.

That’s an unfamiliar feeling, and a dirty feeling. It’s something i might expect in Egypt, in China. But not in Canada. Harper had had his intended effect.

I’m more comfortable posting the tweet here, where i can put some context around it and respond at length to comments. But even so, a small part of me is now looking over my shoulder. I know many concerned people who are doing the same. Eventually you probably will be too — even if you’ve got “nothing to hide.”

Which is exactly the unstated goal of Bill C-51 and the secret surveillance police-state agenda Harper is pushing. A state that, once set up, will be almost impossible to dismantle.

Under neo-conservative rule, we live in increasingly ugly times. Oppose Bill C-51 vigorously!