Climate Change, Infrastructure, and the Emerging World

Hiroshima

*Hiroshima – in 1945 (picture above), compared to current (pictured below)

An enormous problem exists in towns across North America that doesn’t get much airplay.  It’s not sexy and rarely captures headlines, but if you walk outside your home, you’re bound to see facets of it everywhere: I’m talking about the infrastructure deficit.

Over the past 50 years (roughly) successive governments have vastly under-invested in domestic infrastructure.  These are your pot-holed roads, rusty water pipes, decaying dams, bridges, sewer systems, power lines, subways, and storm-water management.  It’s an enormous problem; think trillions of dollars in scale.

It’s almost as if society forgot these things were important; that’s how neglected the system has become.  I urge you to get acquainted with what’s going on here, as the infrastructure issue dwarfs all others when it comes to government inaction and irresponsibility over the past 50 years.

How bad is it?  Well, reports vary, and the issue itself is so large and complex that accurately estimating the problem results in a massive potential for error.  The Trump administration has recently asked congress for 1.5 trillion USD over 10 years to combat the issue.  However, the US Civil Engineers Association have pegged the shortfall as near 4.5 trillion by 2025.  In Canada the issue has been estimated by the Canadian Business Association to be around 1 trillion.  A good rule of thumb for infrastructure is 1 dollar invested = 3 dollars of GDP created, so there’s a multiplier at work here as well.

In a literal and conceptual sense, a ‘new world’ will need to be created to deal with this problem.  What is this likely to mean for our future with the onset of catastrophic climate change?

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It turns out that we’ve done this many times before in history.

In June 1945 both Europe and Japan were in ruins.  The strategic bombing campaigns of WW2 had devastated all forms of civil infrastructure.  On the battlefield, the allies had realized they didn’t have a competitive advantage. In fact, they lost battle after battle.  As a result, the allies adopted a philosophy of preventing their enemies’ ‘ability to wage war’, rather than confronting their military.  This meant destroying fundamental capacities by any means necessary.

The targets were bridges, dams, electrical generating systems, industry of all types, residential neighborhoods, roads, railways, you name it.  It was death and destruction from the air and the targets were most often civilians and civil infrastructure.  This was not the heroic warfare of days gone by.

In the aftermath the entire foundation of society had to be rebuilt.  It was a unique period, as there was the ability and choice to create entirely new systems of living.  This was Joseph Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction’ on a massive scale.

When Japan and Germany rebuilt their economies, it was with the newest and most modern of patterns of infrastructure.  When everything was wiped away, the renewal pattern was vastly more impactful and pronounced.

What resulted was an economic miracle in the 60’s and 70’s that saw growth rates and advancement that outstripped all competitors. Eventually leading to a situation where it looked like a complete economic and technological takeover was inevitable.  To this day Japan and Germany have civil infrastructure that is the envy of their OECD cohort and fundamentally more advanced economies because of it.

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There are some interesting parallels with the situation we face today.  The latest UN reports are predicting that the destruction wrought by climate change upon infrastructure could eventually dwarf that seen in WW2.  Admittedly, the current mode of infrastructure decline is not as overt.  It presents itself as decay and neglect on an enormous scale, but not outright destruction.  Nevertheless, the conditions are being created that will require an extensive period of renewal, the likes of which has not been seen in two generations.

The task facing humanity in responding to climate change will no doubt require an infrastructure revolution.  Coastal flooding is going to impact our largest population centers.  We will need to rebuild our energy systems to become more efficient and less wasteful in terms of the production of greenhouse gases.  New modes of living will have to be created to address the multitude of problems posed by adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

In some sense it is a case of serendipity that we are on the verge of needing to replace vast components of our infrastructure at the very time when climate change requires it.  We are likely to benefit immensely from this process, both as a society and economy.  If we can understand that appropriate infrastructure development is key to the entire process of climate change adaptation, we will better understand our next steps.

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In the political sphere society is going to need to come to terms with what is happening to our climate, as well as our infrastructure, and that it isn’t going to be business as usual.  Incremental budget changes and small-scale annual capital planning are going to become a thing of the past.  Populations will need to become comfortable with massive infrastructure bills in every calendar year, and likewise be prepared to support governments with the political backbone to enact such changes.  Think on the scale of double-digit percentage points of GDP per year invested solely in climate change adaptation and mitigation infrastructure.

This a monumental change to the way government operates now.  It will require structural adjustments to spending, taxation and investment on a scale that has not been performed since WW2.  Governments will need to become more goal-oriented in their design; voting populations will likewise need to understand and support these goals.  Once we begin to see characteristics of this change in our politics and government, we will already be headed in a far more positive direction.

In the end, successful adaptation to climate change may boil down to our ability to employ appropriate infrastructure re-development techniques.  In both a literal and conceptual sense, we need to create the new world.

Humanity has already proven itself to be incredibly resourceful and adaptable when required to be.  We’ve done this before, the process is simple.  We need to stay focused on our intended result, take a deep breath, take our tools out of our toolbox, and employ them with ALL of the creativity and drive we possess.

-Noel Muller

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Why the US Military is humanity’s best hope for averting catastrophic climate change…

USMilitary

Beginning in 2014 the US Department of Defense began actively raising the alarm on the security risks posed by climate change.  They were very blunt in their language of ‘immediate risks’, ‘risk multipliers’, ‘catastrophic’, ‘irreversible’.  They get it, they’ve clearly been listening to the scientists.

In every year since, they have updated their urgent forecasts often going against the prevailing will in Washington. Of course, they will continue to do this so long as the threat exists, no matter what the political climate. After all, it’s the first job of the military to know what threats exist, and to have a plan to meet those threats.

The US military is the world’s preeminent goal-oriented organization and it has ‘action capacity’ that vastly exceeds any individual actor on the world scene today.

I take a lot of solace in the reality that the world’s largest organization readily understands the threat posed by climate change and is actively moving to meet that threat.  You should too; have a look at the budget diagram above.

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The amazing thing about militaries in general, and particularly the US military, is the extent to which they are goal-oriented.  The entire military structure from top to bottom is designed to be flexible, adaptable and actionable towards whatever threats may exist.

They have battle plans for literally everything.  It’s not an understatement to say that the Pentagon has a battle plan for every square inch of the Earth, and for whatever scenarios might possibly develop.  They know what adversaries they may face, the strength of those adversaries, and strategies to meet any emerging conditions.  They’ve spent immense resources to know and to be able to act with knowledge.

If anyone knows what’s ahead in the fight against climate change, the military knows.  It’s their job.

In terms of resources, the US military is much more than simply guns and ammunition.  They have logistical capacities that make them able to act in almost any capacity anywhere on earth.  These capacities include humanitarian action, civil infrastructure development, industrial development, and technological development, alongside regular military operations.

In a crisis scenario, the US military possesses the ability to ramp up and perform tasks that defy contemporary human understanding.  Don’t underestimate them, you likely don’t know what they are truly capable of (unless you have the security clearance).  Governments, in combination with militaries, can create vast industries almost overnight if the situation requires it, and adapt the employment of millions of people to enact their aims if they see fit.

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I understand the views of critics of US military power.  It is an organization founded in realism, and they make no excuses for the impacts of their actions over the years.   There have been plenty of issues with the enactment of US military power over the years that can’t simply be swept under the rug.

However, it’s important to know: the hegemonic might of the US military, to this day, cannot be confronted head on by any other force.  Claims of a decline, or power shift to other nations, are overstated, to put it mildly.  If they chose to stand in the way of progress against climate change, no power on Earth would be able to remove them from that stance.

Admittedly, it’s still in the early stages of adaptation by the US Military towards meeting this emerging threat.  However, with the official recognition that climate change is among the greatest global security risks, we may now have a fighting chance.  Before this acceptance, to put it bluntly, we didn’t have any hope whatsoever.

The fight against climate change promises to be monumental in scale.  Against such odds, we will need our greatest allies, and indeed the US Military may be humanity’s greatest ally of them all.

 

-Noel Muller

Goal Oriented Political Economy

Saturn 5

The concept of an economy being ‘goal oriented’ is not novel.  However, the academic practice of exploring the inner workings of economies through this lens is, to my knowledge, a new endeavor.  We do it, but we don’t explain it as such.

Plenty has been written on the subject, but it has been glancing blows rather than a direct hit.  It is obvious that goal orientation is everywhere in the economy, and to a large extent drives the world we live in.  This contrasts with the ‘naturally ordered’ views of the market, and a self-determinant economic system.  The truth is, it is always human aims that drive the outcome of human endeavors, whether at a micro or macro level.

Consider the following:

  • Nearly every person who is an economic driver is a deeply motivated and goal driven individual.
  • Nearly every organization is driven by a well laid out strategic plan that guides the co-operation of its contributors.
  • At the very highest level, it is economic policy and regulation enacted by governments that creates the very environment in which businesses can function.
  • Governments themselves are created and dissolved around political aims, and the collective societal aims of the population.

We live in a world that has been deeply organized around explicit and expressed goals.  By understanding what the goals are, and the methods of enactment, we will better understand what to do in that environment.

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Academic inquiry into the economic sphere has recently been focused on a false dichotomy between market and centrally planned systems.  The reality is that all modern economies blend these approaches to manage their economic sphere.  Additionally, there are ebbs and flows in the requirement of goal orientation based upon the emerging environment of threats and opportunities.

There are many instances in which even the most ‘laissez-faire’ market economies require a planned approach to certain areas of endeavor.  By shedding our ideological restrictions, we can have a better look at these instances and understand why.

I’ve mentioned WW2 as a very interesting example of the goal orientation of modern economies.  It is by no means unique, but it bears a closer look through this lens.

A short history re-cap: at the very highest level of understanding, we can look at the rise of the NAZI regime as a fundamentally goal driven organization.  This forced neighboring societies, both market and centrally planned systems, to adopt goal-oriented approaches to combat the NAZI threat.  The resulting ‘total war’ scenario which developed pitted multiple goal-oriented systems against each other.

Ultimately the systems that could muster the most effective strategy and bring the most resources and best technology behind their goals won.  In this situation, we see that market and centrally planned economies of the world adapted goal-oriented strategies almost overnight.  They were forced to do that by their situation, it wasn’t a choice.

The NAZI strategy was to will their victory through the most complete realization of a goal-oriented society that they could muster.  They sought to overwhelm their adversaries, whom they regarded as soft and unorganized, through sheer force of will and co-operation around their common goals.  They gambled that their enemies would not match them in this, because it was obvious that the vast resources available to the US, UK and USSR would come to bear if they did.

In the case of WW2, it was extremely foolish to think that other societies would not fight back against the NAZI threat with everything they had.  After all, they were promised annihilation and slavery should they lose.

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Admittedly, the WW2 example is an extreme version of the concepts I wish to convey.

Perhaps closer to our contemporary experience is the example of the ‘space race’ between the USA and USSR between 1955-1975.

What we know as the ‘space race’ was a mutual response and goal orientation around the development and adoption of space technologies.  The subtext was that space technology=military technology, and that by falling behind in the ‘space race’, either society would fail to contain the others’ dominance.

I mention the ‘space race’ as an interesting example because it allowed both societies, through methods of goal orientation, to divert immense sums of resources towards developing advanced technologies.  Such a vast diversion of resources would not have been possible under normal circumstances, with solely the profit motive of business at play.

The result of this focus was incredible technical advancement that continues to impact the economy and society to this day.  So many of the technologies that define the post-modern age were created during this intense competition.  It is fair to say that the application of ‘space race’ technologies created advancements unique to the USSR and USA that no other countries have since been able to re-create.

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Throughout this work, perhaps hidden from view, I am postulating that a self-preservation mechanism exists within communities that requires a goal oriented response to any emerging situation.  This ought to be a comforting conclusion to the anxious among us.

In this philosophy a danger exists when we fail to understand emerging threats, or underestimate the resources required to move towards meeting those threats.

At the start of the 21st century, society is confronted with many emerging threats to our existence, the most critical of which may be climate change.

By knowing how societies have dealt with such changes in the past, and where they have failed to do so, we can begin to understand what needs to be done in our present situation.

It is incumbent upon leaders to stay vigilant and carry their communities through troubled times.  And most importantly, to correctly identify and meet emerging threats by employing goal-orientation whenever necessary.

I hope you will continue to join me in this work.

-Noel Muller

Goal Orientation and the emerging world

earth

I’d like to introduce you to a new way of thinking about the world we live in.

In everything humans do, either together or as individuals, there are a variety of motivations that underpin those activities.  The motivations themselves are highly determinant of the outcome, a concept that is obvious and entirely natural.

The same dynamic exists for higher organizations of human activity to be found in institutions such as the military, government, economy and enterprise.  Aided by ideology, and contained within politics, vast areas of operation and resources have come to bear upon our emerging world through the goals we hold as a society.

In this piece I wish to explore the economy through the lens of our collective motivations.

The emerging world has produced a system that we have so far yet to master, and we owe ourselves deep consideration of this situation.  We find ourselves struggling to deal with the concurrent issues of ecological crisis and socio-economic stagnation.

Indeed, human civilization may be on the precipice once again.

 

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We currently live in what I call a highly ‘Goal Oriented Economy’ (GOE):  in which the economic linkages between people and institutions have been deeply skewed towards one goal above all others.

That goal is the embodiment of capitalism, and the maximum return of profit to the capital owner in everything we do.  This is the world that has emerged over the past 30 years and is the hallmark of post-modernism and the neo-liberal capitalist world order.

It’s not that other goals don’t co-exist with our primary drive in today’s world.  But the reality is that from the very top down, we have a deep organization of our activities to propel the accumulation of wealth through capital returns.

By understanding that this goal orientation has taken place, we can better understand our place in that system, and what to do next.

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It may seem self-determinant that we have chosen to focus so intensely on the accumulation of wealth as a society.  But the reality is that over history we have many examples of societies adopting other goals as the basis of their endeavor.

Consider the ancient Egyptians, and their societal drive to create monumental architecture such as the Pyramids.  Or in medieval Europe when vast resources were spent building cathedrals or fighting the crusades.  These are examples in which the ethos of the time created GOEs that had little to do with wealth creation as we know it today.

Most recently, and perhaps most worthy of our attention, we retooled our entire modern economy towards the fighting of World War 2 in a time span of less than 2 years.

It’s amazing to think of what was accomplished as a society to fight WW2.  We suspended all other goals and achieved a highly skewed GOE almost overnight that is unrivaled in its scope of operation, and its marshaling of resources.

The entire sphere of economy and society was mustered.  Individuals happily submitted to deep rationing of critical resources, and literally paid with their lives to achieve the societal aim of the day.

Additionally, in order to achieve our goal, we created institutions and technology that continue to impact our world.  To name a few: atomic energy, rocketry, aviation, modern warfare, modern medicine, computation, telecommunication.

It’s not a stretch to say that the world we live in today was created by the utterly intense crucible that was WW2, and the Cold War that followed.

 

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Fast forward to the present, and our society that has been so utterly skewed towards capital accumulation, and understand that things can be different.

It’s our goals and ideology that have created this, and those goals remain as malleable as they ever have been.

If we seek to pivot to meet our destiny as a civilization, we can do that so long as we choose it.

By understanding the mechanics by which vast resources come to bear in the creation of Goal Oriented Economies, we will better know our ability to respond to our collective situation.

In the face of the emerging existential ecological crisis we will need to shift our aims to meet the solutions that we know exist.

I believe we can do it.  After all, we’ve done it before.

-Noel Muller

Why Gerald Butts resignation has nothing to do with SNC-Lavalin.

Butts

“I also need to say this (and I know it’s a non sequitur). Our kids and grandkids will judge us on one issue above all others. That issue is climate change. I hope the response to it becomes the collective, non-partisan, urgent effort that science clearly says is required. I hope that happens soon.” – Gerald Butts, February 2018

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Well, the news is out: the top public servant in Canada has resigned. The man that spear-headed the Trudeau majority government, and furthermore, a lifetime friend to the PM, has simply walked out on the job. In an election year I might add. What the hell is going on here?

The political pundits have been quick to assign this to the ongoing spat over SNC-Lavalin, MP Wilson-Raybold and ethical issues within the PM’s office.

In my mind that’s lazy journalism, and a conclusion that we ought to reject outright.

Why would the top political adviser in the land leave over simple, anonymous allegations? These are allegations that he categorically denies as having no basis in fact. Is it too much of a distraction from the work of his office? Or is it perhaps that the SNC-Lavalin affair is itself a distraction from a much larger issue threatening to rot out the core of the Liberal leadership in the upcoming election year.

Distractions, allegations and misinformation can easily be ironed out by the enormous public relations and legal powerhouse that is the PM’s Office. There’s so much more to this rift than the SNC-Lavalin affair alone could justify.

It’s going to take some time for the full truth to come out, but we have a very tasty clue in the quote at the top of the page.

The quote above by Butts has an uncomfortable place in a letter that has almost nothing of substance in it. A few cordial thanks, a few denials, and nothing much else. That’s why it’s so telling, and it ought to be the focus of our understanding. It’s what he wants us to know about why he’s leaving, despite the candid admission that it doesn’t fit with the overall picture.

This has nothing to do with SNC-Lavalin. This has everything to do with the next election, and a deep split over how it ought to be handled. Furthermore, how the nation will be governed in the aftermath, and how it has been handled so far by this government.

Trudeau has laid his plans clear in the years he has held office. He wants to walk the safe middle road between the NDP and Conservatives and walk easily into a second term. He is prepared to buy pipelines, pander to oil industry, and progressive conservatives, and reject the pressing need of a real climate solution for the globe. It’s easy to do, it doesn’t require real leadership. These are the hallmarks of the Trudeau government now, and will ultimately be his longest legacy.

What started as a very promising progressive new government at the COP21, has evolved into a queasy balance between the old and the new that has never quite fit. Climate change is the issue that this government has failed to juggle in any palatable way, to ANY side of the political spectrum. Perhaps this is the issue that could split the Liberal caucus, and cleft a brilliant long-time adviser and friend from the PM’s side.

From the quote above I get the feeling that Butts just isn’t on board with this.

And you know what, I agree with him….

Noel Muller

November 11th 2018

“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it.  It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by war” – Prologue, All Quiet on The Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

remembrance day

November 11th 2018 ought to be worthy of wider celebration.

It represents 100 years since Western Civilisation was given one last chance to redeem itself.

Most importantly, collectively we’ve survived 100 years since the end of the great war.  There have been some close calls in that time, and we ought to celebrate that we’ve arrived.

We didn’t learn the lessons of the Great War and within 20 years even worse fighting had broken out again.

It was by no means guaranteed that civilisation would last even until now.  Looking ahead to the next 100 years it’s hard to know what awaits us.

The observant among us know that a new age is coming.

 

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1-inci-dunya-savasi-nda-almanya-nin-yenilme-nedeni_563391

The armistice of 100 years passed indeed happened almost by chance.  It’s clear that the war could have gone on much longer, and with worse effect.  In the end it was the people that rebelled, finally broken by the strains inflicted upon them.

The Great Wars of 1914-1918 ushered in the modern age.  It also destroyed the imperial culture which preceded it.  It was a cataclysm that heretofore couldn’t have been imagined in even the darkest nightmares.

Trench warfare was truly hell on earth.  It consumed a generation of young men, and irreparably scarred the rest.  It changed society at its very foundations and wiped away all that came before.  Perhaps most importantly it set the stage for the second cataclysm: the war in which humanity nearly lost its soul altogether.

The second war could never have taken place without the stage being set by the first.  Total war, totalitarianism, the military industrial compact, and all that entails, are things that require practice.

 

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Mueller August Heinrich 1924 or 25, age 26

The life of August Heinrich Muller was emblematic of his generation.  He was conscripted into the Austrian military at the youngest possible age for WW1 and fought in the alpine wars of the Italian campaign.  At the end of the war his country of birth had ceased to exist.

He was then a POW in Italy until late 1919 when he was released.  Conditions in the camps had completely rotted his teeth out and destroyed his health by age 21. He returned to Romania, a new country to him, and was promptly conscripted again into their new army.

By running away to Vienna, he avoided army service.  However, in 1940 he was conscripted again, this time into the German army.  He fought in the ‘continuation war’, in divisions helping Finns against the Soviets.

He avoided further military service by becoming a teacher of math and sciences in the military academy.  In 1944 all remaining draft age men were conscripted, with August among them.  His daughter recalled “The mood became sombre when we got the draft letter, like a cloud had descended on the house.  We walked him to the train station in his uniform New Years Day 1945.”  He disappeared into history.

August Muller was assigned to a Festungbatallion in Czechoslovakia and killed in fierce fighting against the Red Army in April 1945.

 

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How far have we really come since this horrible way of life and utterly regrettable times?

100 years is nothing but a heartbeat in the pulse of civilisations.

Have we learned the lessons of the past 100 years?

Will we be up to the trials required of us in the next 100 years?

At times like this we must take stock of our history and look to the future.

In these times it’s up to us.

 

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“To you from failing hands we throw

    The torch; be yours to hold it high.

    If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

        In Flanders fields”

4 Years on Council…

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Dear friends, supporters and colleagues: today I am announcing that I will not be seeking a second term on Sechelt Council.

This was a very difficult decision that took many months to make, and I did not make it lightly or in passing.

I sought feedback from the community, and consulted with my family, friends and trusted advisors.

In the end it was my choice alone to make, and I have now made it.

I want to thank my supporters, the first of which was my partner Georgia, who provided the vessel with which I could do this work.  Also, to Council, staff, and the community for making this work a success.  I have immense gratitude for the collective experience over this past 4 years.

I love my community, and that is what made this decision so difficult.  I know that in the view of many in this community, I’m needed on Council.

I’ve seen it myself many times, and I do not dispute the impact I have personally had by holding public office in Sechelt.

In order to better explain my decision, we will need to go back to the beginning of how I got started in my run for public office.

I started politically engaging in 2013 as a part of the ‘U-turn generation’ movement of leaders in my generation that are seeking to address the foundational issues in our society that are eroding the basis of sustainability for future generations.

The very lives of our children, and your grandchildren, are at stake unless we get to the root of our collective dysfunctions and address them.

This isn’t a game, and there are no re-runs.

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I began as an activist, and quickly moved towards organized politics, and then on to government.

Along the way, many have tried to leverage my energy to their own ends, and I have always refused to become someone else’s adjunct.

I came of my own volition and have always spoken for my understanding of what is right and wrong.

I’m now 5 years down this path and am still moving rapidly with clear intentions.  That much will not change, although the venue may.

All the time I have been seeking to learn what the issues are, and how in the future my generation will be addressing them.

Never at any time have I been swayed from my path by trinkets, accolades or offers of influence.

I wanted to see these issues from inside government and understand what is going on.

One thing has always remained clear: it will be left to my generation to undo years of careless neglect of our environment, public institutions and society at large.

It’s our world to create and create we must.

This will require both creation and destruction to achieve.

The truth is that the next words in this poem cannot be spoken by the voice of government.

The changes that are now required of us are so fundamental that government will never be the originator.  This needs to come from the grassroots, through ground-breaking societal change.

In today’s world currently, we’re divided by politics.  That much is abundantly clear, and that’s at the heart of what’s wrong.

It’s been more than a generation since we’ve been united in common cause on anything, and that needs to change, with politics along with it.

More than anything else now, we need to move towards unity.

There’s a storm coming, and we’re going to need all the help we can get.

In the coming months, and years, you are still going to see me doing important political work in this community.

My intention is to focus on things less political, and more foundational.  I hope you will join me in that work.

Along with that, I will be focussing on synthesizing what I have learned towards producing lasting solutions that are both national and international in scale.

You will get another chance to vote for me in the future.

In closing I would like to offer these thoughts:

The political spirit of my generation has so far neither been explained nor understood.

The time has come for us to renew our commitment to a better future and join together in creating it.

We are not destined to some depleted future, unless we choose to accept that.

We’ve faced worse, and come out on top, time and time again.

We have all the tools we need to produce the world we want to leave our children; we just need to use them.

I will continue this path with the utmost dedication and commitment, and all my energy, until I perish in the pursuit of a better future.

Thank you for your continued support.

-Noel

Promises and Deliveries

*Actual proofs of my handout, delivered to ~1000 Sechelt homes as part of my canvas campaign fall 2014

 

I want to reflect a little on what I campaigned on, and what has come to fruition out of that.

I haven’t achieved everything I set out to, of course – it has been a challenging term – but,  I’ve also achieved things that weren’t part of the original plan. I was a brash and inexperienced candidate in 2014, and that was certainly reflected in some of my promises then.

However, I made some key assertions that still stand today.  To me they represent a fair delivery on my key messages.

Learning the business of government

The single most common question I faced in the 2014 campaign was: why do you want to be on Council? Why are you doing this?

I answered this question 100 times a day and my response was always the same: we need the next generation to step up and start learning the business of government.

I’d been to various community meetings and seen with clarity that my generation was almost totally unrepresented.  It was a change that I could affect as an individual, simply by being there and engaging.

Knowing that governance is a specialized skill set that is vital to the smooth functioning of society, I set out to learn this business the best I could. After 4 years on the job, and with multiple advancements and accolades from my peers, I feel I have adequately learned this skill set.

I’m a journeyman of local government now, however, not a master by any stretch.

Working with Sechelt’s Council

The second most common question I was asked was: who do you want to be mayor?  Who do you want to work with on council?

My response was: it’s not up to me to pick the mayor and council.  That’s up to Sechelt, and I am prepared to work with whatever mayor and council was chosen, to the very best of my ability.

I have lived up to that.

There have been challenging times for this council, no question.  But, we have consistently maintained our working relationship and not let our differences devolve into something unworkable.

I would like to thank this mayor and council for working with me as well.  They’ve supported me to learn my role and engage the system, when they could have attempted to stifle and control my input. I think all members of this council will agree that we’ve maintained a level of respect and fairness for each other.

I’m proud of that accomplishment and worked hard to achieve it along with my colleagues.

The 4 points

All of my campaign materials featured 4 key points: Fiscal Responsibility, Green Values, Transparency, Fresh Perspective.

Here’s how I think I fared with each of these:

  • Fiscal Responsibility

This is the area I’ve achieved the most in.  It is a misnomer to think that fiscal responsibility can simply be equated with low taxes.  It is a combination of measures taken together to implement overall corporate financial health.  I have written at length about my work regarding the structural deficit, but the highlights are that Sechelt now has adequate DCC’s to fund growth related infrastructure and a financial sustainability plan – including an asset renewal fund.  There is still more work to be done shifting our operations towards greater efficiency, however, the bulk of the work of pushing Sechelt towards better financial stability has already been completed.

 

  • Green Values

I inherited a plethora of planning documents and bylaws, all of which speak to sustainability as a core intent.  It has been relatively easy to speak to these documents to implement change.  A revival of the existing Tree Protection Bylaw has restricted large-scale logging operations within the district.  It is now commonplace to see a tree protection plan associated with every major, new development.  I have written in other places about my external work related to oil spill response in the Salish Sea, which has been very successful.  Sechelt World Oceans Day is another initiative that will work to bring a cultural focus back to the preservation of Sechelt’s waterfront.

 

  • Transparency

The work of this council has been done in a fully transparent manner and that’s been with my expressed support.  On a day-today basis I have sought to provide clear rational on my views of all key council decisions.  I make a regular statement at the adoption of every budget, as well as at 2nd or 3rd reading of every major development application.  In these ways my views are recorded in a permanent way for reference and discussion by those who may be impacted.  I may have missed a few opportunities, but for the most part, my views are regularly recorded on the DOS Youtube channel here.  Another aspect of my transparency commitment was communicating through my blog.  I have admitted that my blog has been spottier than I would have liked.  I found it very challenging to write my blog mid-term as we were ‘neck deep’ in our most difficult period as a council.  I struggled to communicate anything of this that the wider community would have been interested in.  In retrospect, I could have done better in this regard.

 

  • Fresh Perspective

When I came to Sechelt Council it was common practice to perform accounting magic, and ‘add back’ amortisation of our capital assets within the capital budget to reach a net-zero position at the end of the day.  We were thus recording falsely balanced budgets, without understanding the clear consequences inherent in that.  I refused this way of doing business outright, and consequently, staff and council’s understanding of this key issue has evolved.  My other main contribution has been to help re-focus our administration on the many key planning documents that already exist and have been agreed upon.  In both cases these issues were low-hanging fruit, and a new perspective provided the catalyst for significant change in these areas.

 

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I wanted to touch on Youth Engagement, because it was an area many in the community were looking to me to improve.  This is admittedly the weakest area of my delivery, as I have no specific initiatives to report.  As well, there is no visual change at town hall meetings regarding demographic composition.

I have spent a fair amount of time discussing my work with my cohort.  They’ve also watched me go through this process and are making their own conclusions about what that means for them.  Altogether, my work in this area has only been in passing, and I would have liked to be able to deliver more in this area.

 

-Noel

My window onto the creation of a government….

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One problem I have had writing from the voice of government is how to relate something that might be  remotely interesting to read.  Much of what we do is far too boring, albeit, entirely necessary towards the smooth functioning of our society.

Rarely does a story of political action live up to anything of wider interest.  Truthfully, it takes a lot of art behind the scenes to create any ‘political moments’ at all, let alone interesting ones.

By some amazing luck, I actually have had a few moments that are worth writing about.

Here’s one that I think is…

 

AVICC 2015…

 

In April of 2015 I was freshly elected, bright eyed and idealistic.  I was looking to make an impact in the political milieu after my promising electoral start in fall of 2014.

The Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) Convention provided that first opportunity to meet my provincial counterparts and leave an impression.

The Wednesday before the conference, disaster struck English Bay in the form of the Marathassa Oil spill, capturing headlines and provoking public outrage.

The stage was set for action, and I jumped to it right away.  I researched and wrote an emergency resolution on the way over to Courtenay on the ferry and shared it with my Council via email looking for input.

We convened that evening, by then we had our CAO in support, and a workable draft.  Council enacted an emergency meeting at a local restaurant and unanimously supported including this wording as an emergency resolution for AVICC:

Whereas the oil spill event of April 8, 2015 into English Bay and the Salish Sea, demonstrated a clear lack of capacity to respond to oil spill events in British Columbia;

And, Whereas the long-term viability and economies of BC coastal communities are dependent, in part, upon the protection and preservation of the local marine environment;

Therefore, Be It Resolved that the AVICC request that the Province of British
Columbia order an independent audit of the current state of oil spill preparedness in BC.

As soon as the conference began, I hit the ground running, looking for support from potential allies.  I found them everywhere I looked.  Apparently, we had touched a nerve.

I walked outside to a protest rally being lead by City of Victoria Councillors and Elizabeth May.  Victoria Councillor Ben Isitt thrust the microphone in my hand and told me to get on stage to go promote my resolution….it all became a blur, because of course I wasn’t at all prepared to give a speech.

Only in hindsight was it clear: the moment had arrived.

 

Enter John Horgan….

 

The next night I attended a Young Elected Officials caucus before the traditional conference banquet.

While we waited for our rides to the banquet hall, out walked newly minted NDP leader John Horgan with his assistant.  Seeing that we were headed to the same place, he offered a ride, and I graciously accepted.

Once in the car, I jokingly broke the news to him that I was a former Provincial Council member for the chiding BC Green Party, and that it might be a tense ride.

I had lots I wanted to talk about with John, and it was my one shot to make my pitch.

I had already grown tired of the perennial partisan bludgeoning between the Green and Orange.  I thought things could be done differently, and much more effectively.

I made the case that I think we all want the same thing: a better BC government for the citizens.  A shared love for BC could unite the parties in cooperation, and ought to be the focus of both our parties’ leadership.

He took the long route, and our talk continued.

It was a very energized exchange, and we concluded feeling like something had been accomplished.  We walked into that banquet hall together as what felt like friends.  I introduced him to our Council and walked around introducing him to others.

 

********

 

At his delegate address, John assumed the stage to deliver his first impression as NDP leader to the AVICC membership.  Already in campaign mode, it was an election speech made by a veteran political leader.

I stood by the wall, near the stage and watched.  I was stunned when midway he pointed to me and stated: “I’m with Noel, this isn’t about flag-waving to me, this is about the people of BC and the Province we call home.”  We need to do better was his underlying message, and it clearly resonated.

He finished to thunderous applause, and I walked away feeling like we had climbed a mountain.

 

***********

 

At UBCM 2016 I sought to further implore the leaders of the BC Green and NDP to work together in the best interests of BC.

In the context of the 2017 general election, with evident public disappointment in the BC Liberals, I felt this was too good an opportunity for BC to pass up.

I arranged a meeting with John in his office at the legislature to restate my case.

Additionally, I spoke with Andrew Weaver and his campaign chair at a BCGP function regarding this potential.

In both cases I was rejected outright.  After 2 years of difficult work in the legislature, mistrust and criticism of the other held sway.

Nevertheless, I made sure to drive home my point: cooperation was likely to lead to government.

 

******

 

The rest, as they say is history.

The electoral result of 2017 set the stage for cooperation like it never had before.

I wasn’t any part of the eventual agreement that got signed, but of course, I remained overjoyed at the outcome.

In 2017, I managed to meet John again at a UBCM banquet.  This time I waited in a long line of well wishers to see our new Premier face to face.  I was unexpectedly quite emotional.

What Weaver and Horgan did by cooperating truly satisfied me to my core.  It got me to believe in our public institutions again.  It proved that we don’t have to live in a partisan bloodbath if we don’t want to.

They can’t be congratulated enough for what they did.

We do in fact need to work together, not just in politics, but in all aspects of our lives.  Above all, we need that reflected in our political leadership.

When I approached John and shook his hand, he turned to the gathered mayors and ministers and said:

“This is Noel from Sechelt! He and I came up with the idea for a coalition government together two years ago in a car ride at AVICC!”

We chatted for about 10 minutes until he was pulled away to another function.  I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm.  I felt like hugging him, and I think I might have (see my firm grip on the Premier pictured above).

I know the part I played in all this was small, but it’s something that I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life.

My window onto the creation of a government.

Noel

Achievements

 

IMG_2023I don’t ever forget that I was elected with the most votes in Sechelt history.  It’s something that I think about every week as I do my Council work.  That show of support has made me work harder than I ever have before.

Looking back over the last 3.5 years, I’m reflecting upon this legacy of work and I’m unabashedly proud of it.

In that time frame I have put in on average 10-20 hours a week of Council work, as well as 30-45 hours of paid work in residential construction.  I’ve provided for my family, as well as been able to do important work for the community.  I’ve worked on 10 houses to completion, and still managed to be a partner, a father, a Councillor, and have some fun along the way.

I live for my work, and because of that, this gruelling schedule hasn’t fatigued me in the slightest.  In fact, I’m ending this term much more experienced and dedicated than I was in 2014.

Here’s a little of what has been accomplished since that time:

 

Finances

I’ve said it many times throughout my term that Sechelt is facing some very tough choices financially in the coming years.  That continues to be the case, as I’ve written and spoke about in detail.

We simply haven’t spent enough on the upkeep or replacement of our capital assets.  A cornerstone of good financial planning is recouping the depreciation on your critical infrastructure (in our case: roads, pipes and buildings), to spend on future replacements or maintenance.

Sechelt, along with many, many other municipalities, has not put aside anything to replace aging infrastructure.  In our case this depreciation represents around 25% of the annual budget, so it’s a massive amount that goes unfunded each year.

Starting this year, we’re going to begin correcting this structural imbalance.

We’ve started a capital renewal reserve which will be the focus of regular funding increases gradually over the next 20 years until the underlying situation is fully corrected.

 

Infrastructure

Development Cost Charges (DCCs) are, in a nutshell, what it costs to service a lot with municipal services, e.g. roads, parks, pipes, garbage collection, sewer etc.  As new lots are created through development, that service fee is then charged at the time of subdivision.

For years Sechelt had DCCs that didn’t reflect the true costs to the municipality of providing infrastructure for growth.  We have asked our staff to make sure we are adequately charging for what it actually costs taxpayers for these services.

We’ve since changed our DCCs to reflect this and have added $40 million in capital funding over the next 25 years.  That’s over 6 pages of planned community projects, listed here (scroll down to the last 6 pages).

Additionally, these funds can be used to partner Federally and Provincially, and further multiply that funding for community projects, potentially up to $100 million total.

This is watershed change for our community that will be felt over the next 20 years.

 

Planning

I have spent much more time on planning than any other file during my term as Councillor.  This is reflected in the decision by the Mayor to appoint me to Chair of the Planning and Development Committee last year.

In our term we have been dealing with an unprecedented construction boom in Sechelt.  We have around 2000 units proposed, that could add 1/3 to our population, and change the face of Sechelt forever.

I’m very thankful that we have such thorough and well drafted core planning documents to guide us through this, such as the OCP and Sechelt Vision.

Take some time yourself to look through Sechelt’s plan for a sustainable and livable future.  It was put together by our most prominent community minded citizens, and still presents the clearest agreed upon view of our community will.

We take that very seriously as a Council and are working to reflect this will on behalf of the community.

 

External

Sechelt shares many interests with its partners in the SCRD, by far the most crucial being water.

I am proud to have written the resolution that assigned our representatives the pointed task of securing an expanded supply to meet Sechelt’s growing needs of potable water.

Currently the SCRD board remains deadlocked on this issue, despite the clear leadership and political will shown by Sechelt Council.  We will need the public’s dedicated support to remove this deadlock in the years ahead.

I have also been working to reflect Sechelt’s interests to partnering governments at a higher level at every opportunity that has presented itself.

I consider that we have many important Federal issues due to our proximity and dependence upon the ocean, which is their jurisdiction, but also embodies many interests of Sechelt residents.

We’ve been very successful at raising oil spill awareness on behalf of our citizens.  In 2015, I personally drafted and backstopped the AVICC emergency resolution to the English Bay Oil Spill to its eventual unanimous support by that body.

Then in 2016, in the wake of the Nathan Stewart Tug spill near Bella Bella, Sechelt Council asked Western Marine Resources Corporation to present their current spill response capacity to AVICC members at our AGM.  The result was a thorough rebuke of current response capacity and a unified voice calling for greater response measures on behalf of coastal municipalities.

In 2017 the Canadian Federal Government launched their Oceans Protection Plan seeking to improve spill protections.

In 2018 the BC Provincial government launched their process for enhanced spill protection as a further response.

 

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This is a small sampling of my political adventures on Sechelt Council to date, and I’ll be writing more in the coming months.

I will also be sure to include a thorough treatment of our challenges and missed opportunities.

I wholeheartedly thank the people of Sechelt for their continued support.

 

Noel