The case to never again vote NDP, Liberal or Conservative, as long as you live.

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There are plenty of juicy plots to enthrall voters in the 2015 election.

We’re familiar with lots of these stories from previous years, some new, some old.

How do we get rid of Harper?  Will there be the first NDP Government ever? Is Justin Trudeau up for the job?  Don’t let them raise your taxes! Immigrants are out to get us! Should we legalize marijuana? What is a niquab? Etc.  Truly fascinating stuff, that’s all very good for TV.

In varying shades we’ve seen this all before:

Again we get to watch and enjoy all the hyper-partisan bayoneting, until it slowly drives us insane, and then we all head to the ballots and choose a new leader.

But you’d be wrong to think this is a normal election.

The world is changing.

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Everyone seems to know that anthropogenic climate change is well underway.

We have seen all the symptoms at home and across the country.  This summer, wildfires ripped their way through Western Canada amidst record drought levels.

Municipalities, like our very own, appeared helpless as the taps ran dry and water faced severe rationing.

If you go outside and measure, the atmosphere reads a staggering 402 ppm CO2 concentration.

Additionally, we’re now adding 10 billion metric tons a year to that amount.

What this means is: by the time the next election cycle comes around, we’ll be at or near the 450 ppm international limit set for humanity to avoid ‘catastrophic climate change’.

Already, the wheels are in motion, and we’re not entirely sure how this turns out, but we have a very good idea.

The oceans are now rising by .5cm a year.  This is expected to increase, resulting in a 1-3m sea level rise by 2100, depending on which model you believe.

That is enough to make Florida disappear, along with a wide variety of heavily inhabited low-lying coastal metropolis’  turning into the lost cities of Atlantis.

We currently have 27 million climate change refugees in the world and that number is expected to grow to 250 million by 2050 (UNHCR).

Damages to the world economy are projected to exceed 400 trillion dollars.

Crop failures, super storms, ocean acidification and ecosystem decline.  We know what’s ahead.

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However, in a nutshell, we’re actually there now.

One might fairly ask: how did we get here?  Who’s responsible for this?

The mechanics of climate change have been well understood since 1980, however there has been little to no reaction from the powers that be on this planet.

I’ve said this before in previous articles that the blame for anthropogenic climate change will be shared among many.

The dynamics of international relations will certainly be at play.

Corporate leaders will certainly take a large portion of the blame.

However, the governments and voters of the world’s largest GHG emitters will likely take most of the blame.gw-graphic-pie-chart-co2-emissions-by-country-2011

They’ve consistently voted in governments that have no interest in adapting to climate change; governments that have repeatedly shown no courage to regulate, as if they forgot what their job was.

In Canada we’ve had 5 Liberal and 5 Conservative National governments since 1980.  Additionally, we’ve had 12 Provincial NDP governments.

Not one of these governments has taken the threat of climate change seriously.

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In fact, we’ve never had a government meet a greenhouse gas emissions target yet.

And still, year after year, some madness gets us out in droves to vote for parties and leaders that cannot reckon with today’s existential crisis, which is clearly: anthropogenic climate change.

It’s as if it’s 1938, and we’re content to believe, again and again, that Neville Chamberlin can give us ‘peace in our time’.

As long as we employ ‘middle class’ economics and don’t vote for the other guy, we’ll be ok, right?

Wrong.

Even the prospect of 27 million climate change refugees is enough to bankrupt the world’s governments.

250 million refugees, as are projected, along with the various other climate change maladies, represents something that even the world’s strongest nations will be powerless against.

It’s a monumental reckoning to start to think in these terms.

This is the kind of stuff that makes dust out of empires.

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Collectively, we need to start taking stock in our future.

And that begins by not voting for the ‘status-quo’ governments, around the world, that have failed to respond to this clear and present danger, repeatedly, year after year.

In each country the political dynamic is largely similar, although the names may vary:

Taken together, the Liberals, Social Democrats and Conservatives, will take the blame for not responding to climate change, for they have been in government through all of this time.

Expecting these status-quo parties to respond to climate change, is like trying to drive a car from New York to London: it’s a vehicle simply not built for the job.

These entities were only ever designed to fight elections against each other, and to compete in offering economic promises to voters.

We desperately need to re-tool our politics and remove these imposters from office.

The job of a ‘head of state’ is to respond to existential challenges on behalf of the populace, and they are simply not acting like heads of state any longer.

I foresee a future where these entities rightfully decline into obscurity, as the gross severity of their collective folly becomes fully evident.

Together, they’ve treated politics like a game, but it never was a game.

Their time is soon to be over, and that ending could not come soon enough.

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Dear Mr. Murray Dobbin…..

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Dear Mr. Murray Dobbin,

I am writing to offer some comment on the recent string of vociferous anti Elizabeth May and anti Green Party of Canada articles written by you and your colleagues at The Tyee.

In these articles you are proposing that Elizabeth May is both working to elect Conservatives and lying to the Canadian public.

You admonish her, her party, and her supporters in the aims of precipitating a widespread GPC candidate withdraw, or at least some depression of their surging support across BC.  A vote for Green is a vote for Harper?  Is that what I’m reading?

That’s an interesting, although not unfamiliar, dreamscape coming forth from long-time NDP ‘beasts of burden’.

I can agree with you on your central premise: it certainly would be an amazing rout of Canadian politics if we all woke up tomorrow and found the NDP working in electoral cooperation with the Green.

That type of electoral cooperation might lead to government, both federally and provincially; all be it, a shared government.

I can assure you, Green insiders understand this reality.  That’s the central reason why, in the advance of every major election in recent memory, the Greens have extended an olive branch of electoral cooperation to the NDP.

The Greens have been rebuffed every single time.

That’s astonishing regularity, especially for politics.  In fact, this time, Tom Mulcair didn’t even offer the courtesy of returning the phone call.  Not only a major breakdown of decorum and professional respect, but also a massive insult to Green voters everywhere.

Are these the same Green voters the NDP is trying to court with their now perennial ‘vote-split’ argument?

It seems odd that no respect can be shown to these voters, especially now that they appear to be central to any concept of an NDP victory.

After all, the NDP can’t win on their own, isn’t that basically what you’re saying?

Let’s be clear about a few things:

  • The NDP has never produced a platform that addresses the sweeping range of core Green issues, i.e. climate change, pipeline expansion, proportional representation (still not in the NDP platform by the way – have a close look)
  • The NDP is beholden to the same industrial-extraction interests as all other ‘status-quo’ parties
  • Future generations require far swifter movement than what the NDP brand is offering, in order to both re-ignite our struggling economy and avoid catastrophic climate change

I’ll happily inform you once again, that until the above gets addressed, you have no credible argument as to why the Greens should be supporting the NDP base.

As I’m sure you understand, the ‘vote split’ argument applies to parties that have, more or less, a congruent platform going after the same voters, offering them two identical options.  This argument could easily be made about the Liberal and NDP platforms.

Point by point, it’s essentially the same document, except for minor nuances.  Summarily, the slogans are even the same:  ‘real change’/’ready for change’, and ‘middle-class economics’.

The same can’t be said about either the Conservative or Green platforms: they are materially very different than the near identical NDP/Liberal platforms.

At the Green Party of Canada, they’re talking about the big ideas:

  • Eliminating post-secondary tuition by 2020
  • 80% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050
  • Proportional representation and a return to community minded, principled MPs
  • Opposition to all current heavy oil pipeline projects

All contained within a fully developed comprehensive 44-page platform, with a five-year budget outlook.

There is no true vote split in discussion of this party, and what choice they represent to voters, in relation to other parties.

One should rightly be asking why the NDP/Libs are content to produce nearly identical platform documents, and go after the very same voter base, year after year, and truly split the vote in ways the Greens never have.

Should Greens suggest that NDP/Lib candidates withdraw with such indignity and disrespect that have been shown to them?  I think we’re all pretty aware that the Greens will not be levelling these baseless attacks at their fellow progressive running mates.

Greens, in ridings across Canada, including my own and your own, now have the best platform, the best candidate, and the best leader.

Why on earth would they consider voting for a lesser candidate, lesser platform, or lesser leader, in another party?

Let’s cut to the chase: you, and your colleagues’, repeated attempts to demand Green support move elsewhere are fundamentally un-democratic and disrespectful to voters.

In light of the NDP ‘shutting the door’ to any meaningful electoral cooperation with Green for decades, voters will rightly be asking hard questions about your argument.

Greens have been subject to baseless and personal attacks for far too long, and without a dignified response, or a respectable forum to discuss the charge.

I think we need to really get to the bottom of the arguments you’re proposing, and so, I offer you a challenge:

I’m inviting you to a town hall in Sechelt and Powell River held before the general vote Oct 19th, where you can make your case to the public in person, and also hear my arguments against it.

I further propose that it be a parliamentary debate, with an independent moderator.

The topic: “Why don’t the Greens Just Go away”.

We’re both sideline commentators in this Federal election, what have we got to lose?

Are you game sir?

Words in tribute: Daniel Kingsbury

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It’s taken me some time, but I’d like to offer these words in public tribute to my dear friend Daniel Kingsbury.

Daniel was our leader, and he will be remembered in sanctity for the works he performed while he was here.

Daniel’s passing has left so many of us with deep, grasping questions, and I can be counted among them.

Daniel was a true inspiration to all he met and will continue to be.

He left us with so much to cherish in the years ahead, and although we miss Daniel in profound ways, that much we can feel good about.

Daniel was the ultimate giver and gave completely to those around him.  His first thought was always of us, and he gave generously to ease our suffering.

To me: he was my brother in arms, my closest friend, a confidant, an advisor.  But above all: he was a true inspiration in my life.

It is without question that he was a major factor in my current path of political involvement.  He ignited my passion, along with the passions of so many young people, in similar ways.  I am proud to be among those Daniel inspired to perform what is required of today’s generation.

He challenged us to accept this calling, showed us the way forward, and then helped us walk there together.

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Losing a cherished leader is a deeply shattering experience for any community.

We are conditioned to accept the passing of our aged leaders.  We expect that, and we know what to do with that grief.

There are no words that adequately describe the pain of losing a young leader.  These are the people that give us hope that we might live out a different future.  These are the people that help us see the world in new ways, and move toward a new outcome.

In many large ways we depended on Daniel to keep that candle going.

We are, after all, living in an age nearly completely bereft of true leadership.

Our Political leaders, for a start, have failed to address the clear and present existential problems of our time.  Is it too early to condemn this as a ‘failed generation’?  The failure seems clear enough, and we are now nearly out of time.

Perhaps, we have failed ourselves too, and are getting the outcomes we deserve.  The blame for these outcomes can, and will be shared amongst all.

Climate change and ecological collapse are our reality now, and we appear unable to reckon with this truth.

It’s no wonder that the epidemic of our age is anxiety and depression: something Daniel knew very well, and struggled with.

Our current existential conflict can’t be ignored, even if we look away.  It seeps in through our pores, skin and lungs, it’s everywhere, and it has become us whether or not we choose to accept it.

It has now been left up to the ‘U-turn Generation’ to somehow stem the tide of what lies ahead.

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Daniel walked slowly and deliberately into an open field to confront the menacing giant that threatened his people in this time.  With an easy confidence, and without any hesitation, Daniel picked up the only stone that he could find.

He had nothing else with which to fight this battle, and so in a sense, this one stone had to be enough.

He cast that stone with everything he had, and focussed himself on the protection of his people.  This is the path of a true leader.

Along his path, Daniel endured every hardship to bring forth his message.

His only thoughts were of our welfare, salvation, and inspiration.

He gave us everything he had.

We could not have asked any more of Daniel.

I struggle to find the words to thank him for all he has done.

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I will always remember Daniel as the giant that he truly is.

A giant in spirit, courage, determination and understanding.

He walked this earth in the possession of rare genius, and all who knew him have seen the proof, and will happily testify.

Daniel had the ability to explain the very essence of life itself, in all it’s intimate texture and detail.

He was able to explain to us some distant memory of ourselves that we can barely remember.

Like the countless shades of the rainbow, Daniel revealed all the shades of the human heart in their true purity and clarity.

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That final stone Daniel cast still has yet to land, and so we don’t know the final chapter of Daniel’s story.

His passing has left us searching for ourselves, and maybe that’s what we need.

When we do find ourselves, may we find new strength for all our work ahead

May 1000 leaders step up to take Daniel’s place and find their own inspirations to help make the change,

May we find the courage to do the un-thinkable,

May we learn to live in balance once again,

The next part is up to us.

‘Learnings’ From the Sechelt AGLG Report

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The Auditor General for Local Government has finally released the long anticipated “Learnings From Local Government Capital Procurement Projects and Capital Management Programs – District of Sechelt”.

My first inclination, as a Councillor, was to be very relieved:  we can now talk openly about the issues we found at the District since taking office last December.

My second inclination, as a resident and citizen, was to be concerned about the potential for damage to the fabric of our community, as a result of the findings.

After all, our community has been through trying times, as exemplified by the divisive and passionate elections held in November 2014.

Accusations of wrongdoing and intrigue have become commonplace in our town, alongside aggressive mistrust of those in positions of influence: be it in businesses, non-profits, governments, or community associations.

With this in mind, I’m beginning with a caveat for my comments.

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Firstly, Public sector management, and local government administration is a very difficult endeavour.

Furthermore, it is a specialised skill, engaged by dedicated professionals that build a lifetime of experience in best practices.

Every one of us has done a wrong thing from time to time.  It’s a part of life: we do not always have the right information, or the appropriate perspective to respond accordingly to our situation.

Some of us do the wrong thing, for long periods of time.  Our world view can prevent us from learning from the cues, as we continue down an inappropriate path despite the warnings.

I have made many mistakes in life, and have had the great fortune to be forgiven for my inappropriate actions, and given the opportunity to learn from them.

If I had become a Mayor, without any previous Council experience, or public sector background, I can see how I could have made large mistakes.

This report is all about the ‘learnings’ to me, and that’s my focus in its release, not on any wrongdoings of the past.

I know much comment will flow from the content of the report, and we need to be open to that discussion, wherever it takes us.

However, in the wake of this release, I feel strongly that we have an opportunity to suspend our prejudices, and understand a better path forward for our community.

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The report itself has been received by critics as a scathing deconstruction of the administration of Mayor John Henderson and his supporting Council, that most recently held office from 2011-2014.

The report focuses on two major projects, as seen through the eyes of capital procurement and public sector best practices: The Sechelt Water Resource Center and the paving of Heritage/Sandpiper Road.

The report is required reading for anyone hoping to have an objective view, of either the specific circumstances contained in the report, or extrapolations to be applied to other departments and projects within District of Sechelt administration over the past few years.

The report is meant to provide an independent voice that we can use to check our own opinions against and improve our understanding.

Additionally, it provides the opinion of our peers at a Provincial level, and compares our administration to widely accepted best practices around the Province.

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My biggest ‘learning’ from the report is a profound respect for the dedicated professionals that keep our cities operating across the country, and very often for less pay than equivalent positions in the private sector.

First and foremost, we need to respect these people, and we need to listen to their voice in discussions with Council and community.  They have specialised skills and provide necessary insight for our towns to function.

Additionally, I’ve learned that public sectors can be extremely efficient administrators when given the appropriate management tools and Council oversight.

Governments are not like businesses in many ways.  As we engage in any structural reforms of government, we need to understand the ‘why’, so we can adequately assess where the boundary of good judgment is.

Lastly, as a Councillor, I’ve learned to value the input from community in a different way.  The community, as a collective, was aware of the risks identified in the report.

I will be constantly re-checking my own opinions to confirm what the community is telling me, as by some innate wisdom, it seems to know best.

Noel Muller

Why direct political involvement works

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During the recent Municipal elections I was asked many times what inspired me to run and be directly involved in politics at all levels.

I was never able to answer with a clarity that satisfied my reality.  I offered a few words in passing that scratched the surface, but kept looking for another opportunity to further explain.

The starting point for my involvement was the realisation that by the time my daughter became an adult, the ongoing environmental catastrophe of our age would be beyond the tipping point.

My basic truth is this: after going to many protests, community meetings, signing countless petitions, writing letters to my representatives, I became disillusioned by this ancillary involvement.

It wasn’t working, doesn’t work, and will continue not to work.

This basic truth needs to be understood by all those that seek to influence their political systems.

So what does work?

Direct involvement works

The political system is fundamentally geared towards two phases: election and government.

During an election, every politician and party is at the mercy of voters and campaigners.  There is no greater opportunity to propagate change than during elections.

During elections, the debate is fluid, public opinion is paramount, and people are more inclined to change their opinions and affiliations.

During elections, new ideas come to the forefront and real change can happen.

If you are looking to propagate change in government, look towards becoming actively involved at campaign time; it may be the only option to produce a lasting impact in our present world of political deadlock.

How to become directly involved

The first step is to actively support a candidate, party or campaign.

Decide what you want to influence and pick the team that best represents that.  If no team exists that represents your views, consider running as a candidate.  Watch out for those that will ask you to donate support strategically, make sure your choice really reflects what you want to accomplish.

Once you’ve decided who to support, join the campaign organising team.  Begin to share media in your social networks and identify active supporters.

Make sure you vote, but beyond that, consider volunteering, canvassing and donating to support your views.

You will be astounded by the impact you will have, simply by showing up.

Experiences on being directly involved

I am unable to convey to you how much influence is possible from direct involvement.  My own story of successes would need a novella to document to date, all accomplished in a very short period of time, and with little time and money.

I have been able to draft policy, lead public debates, become elected, overhaul a major party, and influence mainstream media, all the while putting immense pressure on elected officials, simply by being election-ready in a credible fashion.

The truth is: direct action during elections is what terrifies your governments most.  They don’t want to see organised teams of campaigners in opposition to their views, in their ridings, at election time.

Protests, petitions, even recall campaigns and the like, are simply minor nuisances in comparison to what direct involvement at election time can do.

Conclusions

If you are discontented by your current political environment, look to join a campaign team to change it.

It’s lost on the average person that most campaigns are run by small groups of dedicated volunteers.

You and a small group of friends can have a very real and lasting impact if you choose to be involved.

Suspend your disbelief that change can happen, and get out to support the campaign that best represents your views.

Organizational Review

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In the past few weeks the tone has shifted considerably at the District offices and on Council.  The new Council has now settled into its role and is actively engaging tasks as if routine.  The new committee structure has been set-up and Council liaison relationships have been established.  Sechelt’s new Council, in my opinion, is fully operational.

We spend our time dealing with the day to day issues that have arisen since the election, meanwhile working to improve administrative functions.  Many old issues exist, and some new have been brought forward, as the community responds to its new Council.

Bill Beamish has settled in as interim CAO and staff are responding positively to this change.  Mr. Beamish continues to provide an experienced, steady hand in this time of transition.

In the midst of all these daily activities, we are carrying out 3 major additional undertakings:

  • 4 year strategic plan
  • Finalising our 2015 Budget
  • ‘Organizational Review’

Together these projects constitute the clearest definition to date about where this council is headed.

What follows are my current perspectives on all three major undertakings for Sechelt in 2015.

4 Year Strategic Plan

An organization’s strategic plan is a vastly important document that outlines the broad trajectory of action to be undertaken.  The content of this document has wide-reaching implications, and consequently, I took its drafting very seriously.

Sechelt’s 2015 strategic plan is being facilitated by local consultant Mr. John Talbot.  Mr. Talbot hosted a session with Council on Feb 7 in which initial ideas were collated into themes.  I came with a ready prepared flow chart of my ‘best case’ for a 4 year outcome.  I presented my ideas to councillors, engaged in discussion, and continue to receive their feedback.

I have my own strong opinions about where we are headed and what progress will look like for Sechelt.  My position, as a voice for younger generations, has led me to focus on our inability to maintain current spending levels, exemplified by our structural deficit (~3.5 million annually).  For those unfamiliar with the term ‘structural deficit’, please consider the following definition offered by the Financial Times.

Future generations are going to need swift action from today’s council to address our ‘structural deficit’ if future service levels are to be as high as today’s.  I consequently focused my vision on a plan that will begin to address this deficit over 4 years, and hope to receive Council’s endorsement for an action plan aimed towards these ends.

Budget 2015

The budget process for Sechelt in 2015 has been uniquely challenging for both staff and Council.  Most of the budget outline was completed before the Nov. 15 election and has consequently needed much engagement of our new Council to work towards approval.

The current Council has chosen to go through a complete ‘zero-base’ budgeting process which refers to a ‘line-by-line’ approval of each item.  I have been a voice in support of this extended process and consider it the most appropriate route towards 2015 budget approval.

Additionally, I have found the extended budget process very helpful in my orientation.  I, along with other members of council, am now intimately familiar with every expense on the list.  I have an in depth understanding of where the money comes from and where it goes to in our community administration.  It is unlikely that we will need to go through this extended process in future budgets, but it has certainly aided our transition period.

After careful review, it is my opinion that the 2015 Budget Outline overspends current District of Sechelt resources.  This budget, after all, includes a structural deficit of $3,574,100 in 2015, and continues upwards to $3,609,841 over the following 4 years.  This deficit occurs in the context of Sechelt now having the lowest capital reserve levels in years, which I clearly see as putting our community at future financial risk.

It is for this reason that I am actively working towards an agreement among councillors to make diminishing our structural deficit a guiding principle in our upcoming ‘4 year Strategic Plan’.

Organizational Review

The ‘organizational review’ process is an independent audit of our organization and governance capabilities to be undertaken by Perivale and Taylor Consulting Inc.

Council has allotted $50,000 to complete the project and expects a final report in May/June 2015.

Sechelt has received an additional performance audit from the Auditor General for Local Government under the topic “Learnings from Local Government Capital Procurement Projects and Asset Management Programs”.  The results of this audit are expected to be made public in early April.

The final report of our organizational review will include perspectives contained in both our 4 year strategic plan and the Auditor General’s report, as well as our strategic planning sessions.  It will therefore be a comprehensive document that outlines our current state and potential future directions.

I see the review as being essential in responsibly charting a new direction for Sechelt, and voted for the project to proceed.

Summary

My quote from our initial strategic planning session sums up my feelings on the combined impact of all these matters:

Sechelt has an uphill battle ahead in maintaining daily service levels, while undergoing rapid internal changes”

We are currently still in need of a permanent CAO and Director of Development services, and we have many core policy and administrative projects to complete.  We also have a longstanding structural deficit and the need to rebuild our reserves over time.

Alongside the basic daily functioning of our District, these goals represent significant productive achievements for our community that we can be proud about.

If we can accomplish these changes, and additionally produce a working economic development plan in 4 years, as is our stated aim, I will certainly feel we have been successful as a council.

The challenges are large, but we are up to the task.  Thankfully, a clear path through this wilderness is becoming clear, and we are finding the courage to follow it.

-Noel Muller

New directions for Sechelt in 2015

IMG_6201In my first two months as Councillor it feels like we have travelled great distances in a short time.

We inherited many orders of business from the previous council that we were required to become appraised of, and act upon in a timely fashion.  Mayor Milne has kept us on track as a council, and we have not let matters lapse in our transition period.

Some of you may not know that under the Community Charter, Sechelt Council is what’s known as a ‘continuing body’ that has no pause or end as a decision making organization.  This requires us to bring resolution to whatever matters were in process, some begun long before our election started many months ago.

Along with the ‘day to day’ decisions of ordinary council matters, we have had major personnel changes and a lengthy orientation.

Most importantly however, amidst all of these major changes: it’s budget time at the District of Sechelt, and that alone could keep us all busy to no end!

The efforts of the hard-working and diligent staff at our District office in these times are truly what makes all this manageable, especially for a new councillor.

Appointment of Bill Beamish as Interim Chief Administration Officer

Bill Beamish was appointed to oversee District operations as we undergo the search for a permanent CAO in the wake of the departure of Ron Buchhorn.  Council has set itself a 5 month target to find a permanent CAO.

Mr. Beamish has lengthy experience in the role of CAO, both in Sechelt and in Gibsons locally, as well as other similar communities across BC.  He has more than 40 years of experience working with Local Governments and received a 20 year service award for Local Government Service.

Furthermore, Mr. Beamish has an excellent reputation in the community.  His name was put forward after careful consideration by the Mayor, and council ratified this recommendation unanimously.

We’re very lucky to have been able to acquire the service of Mr. Beamish in this time of transition.

Local Government Leadership Academy (LGLA) – January 13-15 Richmond BC

As part of our ongoing orientation package Sechelt Council recently travelled to the Local Government Leadership Academy (LGLA) hosted annually by the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM).

The event was an intensive three day conference held at the Radisson Hotel in Richmond BC.  The format was a mixture of information sessions and seminars on the inner workings of local government.

We were treated to a broad assortment of topics, including governance, municipal finance, and media engagement.  It was an excellent overview of the broad variety of tasks entrusted to local governments.

We were joined by councils from across BC, and had a great chance to meet our cohorts.  We had an opportunity to learn, share and debate ideas, and get a handle on emerging trends in each others’ communities.

Our own mayor was featured in a mentorship panel for new councillors.  Other highlights included a memorable keynote speech by George Abbot, former BC Minister of Health, on the ‘crazy river’ of life in politics.

I personally enjoyed the opportunity to meet a burgeoning cohort of newly-elected younger councillors, similar to myself, from communities across BC.  It was great to see that there are many others treading a path of political engagement in local government, and with similar viewpoints.

Sechelt Budget and Financial Plan 2015-2019

It is a credit to our financial team (led by CFO Victor Mema) that we are in the finalization of our Budget and Financial Plan many months ahead of our spring deadlines.

We have now discussed this budget many times as a council, and the community has had a chance for input.  Please note: there is still time for more input from the public, please send your comments through official correspondence for our consideration (council@sechelt.ca).

My main concerns so far in the budget process have been addressed towards Sechelt’s longstanding structural deficit.  In 2009 the BC Auditor General issued a new requirement for all Municipalities to list the amortisation of capital assets on their balance sheet.  We have been in a position of structural deficit ever since.

In short: our structural deficit is the result of our current inability to fund the maintenance of our infrastructure over its lifecycle.  In the future this will result in an infrastructure shortfall.

It is my personal view that we must find a way to fund this deficit over the coming years as a council.  At current service levels an increase in taxes would be required to overcome this deficit.

Our Structural deficit is comparable to other well run Municipalities in the Province, in fact we are in a better position than many.  However, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent: the infrastructure deficit is the single biggest long-term issue facing Municipal Governments everywhere.

Sechelt has an opportunity for leadership in addressing this challenge, and could potentially become a model for Municipalities across Canada.

My first two weeks as Councillor Muller

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It’s beginning to seem like forever ago that I started this project to become a Sechelt councillor.

I found the election itself to be exhilarating, and mostly enjoyable.  Upon becoming elected, I shifted gears towards my new role, and am now dedicating myself to my position as councillor.

Many liken the experience of being elected for the first time to being thrown ‘in the deep end’ and I have certainly felt that way at times over the past two weeks.  Sechelt has given me a rare opportunity to learn what local government is all about and make decisions on behalf of the community.  I do not take that endowment lightly.

Many of you may not know what the true responsibilities of council really are: we’re essentially executive board members.  The District itself is structured much like a corporation, with similar functions, duties, and designated relationships internally/externally.  The mayor is in the position of CEO, and chairs the meetings, serves appointments, and sets the broad direction of the conversation upon which council and staff act.

There are two main issues that differentiate government structure from business: the designated authority to administer bylaws and zoning, and the obligation of a political duty to serve the citizens as outlined in our Community Charter.

Changes afoot at the District

Our new mayor, Bruce Milne, wasted no time in defining a series of changes coming to the functioning of our District.  In our first meeting with staff, following our swearing in, Milne made it clear that we would be shifting away from a ‘business model’, towards a ‘public governance model’.  The reasons were clear: nobody chooses to pay taxes, therefore, as a local government, we have no customers.

Mayor Milne outlined a clear course of action (with a target timeline attached) for our first year:

  • An administrative and operational review of District operations (90 days)
  • Drafting and implementation of a ‘community engagement framework’ (180 days)
  • Economic development plan for the District of Sechelt (360 days)

One of our first orders of duty this week was to ratify the ‘end of service’ agreement of our Chief of Innovation and Growth: Mr. Ron Buchhorn.  Ron has served the District and our community with distinction and had a guiding hand in the drafting and implementation of the previous council’s strategic vision.  That vision was founded on a ‘business model’ of governance and Mr. Buchhorn made it clear that as we shifted away from that, he was likely no longer the best person to serve as the Chief Administrative Officer for this council.

In my interactions with Mr. Buchhorn he has been a consummate professional and showed a depth of understanding of the challenges facing daily administration.  He has earned the respect of staff, and I think, performed his stated duties in an exemplary fashion.  He leaves on good terms and I sincerely wish him well in his future endeavours.

In all my interactions with staff, so far, I have been duly impressed with their dedication and professional candor.  We have some amazing people working for our community in the District office.  They have gone out of their way to make my transition as a new councillor as workable and comfortable as possible.  They often put in long hours, staying late, arriving early, and communicating with council members around the clock.  We’re truly lucky to have such great people in our service.

Council Orientation

The new council was treated to a broad assortment of orientation presentations in our first week.

We were first issued, and then trained on our District iPads.   We were then integrated into the administration systems by staff IT specialist Beverly Ehlbeck.

We then received an outstanding 3 hour workshop on the upcoming 2015 budget from Victor Mema, the District’s CFO.  We received an overview of every department, and also had a presentation outlining their respective budget and duties by the manager in charge.  Councillors had many questions, which were clarified by staff in detail.  Special mentions go to Margi Nicholas, Ron Buchhorn, Connie Jordinson, Victor Mema and John Mercer for their excellent responses to our questions.

Next we received presentations from the various arms length corporate bodies that the district has an interest in, namely: Sechelt Community Forest and Sechelt Innovations.

Lastly, we received an overview of our legal obligations from distinguished municipal legal counsel, Don Lidstone, of Lidstone and Company Law Corporation.  We had many questions that where dutifully answered in what was a rigorous and informative session.

Our first orders of business

Many important items of unfinished business were on the table for new council to act upon immediately upon taking office.  As promised in my election campaign, I will provide a treatment of how I voted and why.

Vanta Pacific Resort – Development Permit Application

There were three primary reasons I voted for the issuing of a development permit for the Vanta Pacific Resort.  Firstly, I have long-held belief that we need to support the tourism industry on the Sunshine Coast, and part of that is providing top quality amenities for visitors.  Secondly, the developer has made a commitment to use local trades in construction, supporting our construction industry, which provides the backbone of our coastal economy.  This is a large project that will provide many years of well-paid work in our community.  Lastly, the biological survey included in the application, outlined the many measures this development had gone through to preserve biodiversity and lessen impact.  These were my three major criteria, but I must add, that the project was of a high design value, and fit within the surrounding landscape.

Open Air Burning Burning Bylaw –request for exemption

I had a much more difficult time deciding what to do regarding this item.  For me, it represents the externalization of hazards to the public for the purposes of private profit.  It is part of the applicant’s business model to burn ‘third-party’ green waste within the District’s air-shed.  The applicant’s request included a lengthy petition in favour, indicating both a community need and support.  In the end, I voted for it because the material was already on-site, and would have required costly re-loading and transport to any composting facility, imposing undue cost upon a local business.

Sechelt Community Archives Digitization Project

This item entailed releasing the funds to pay for the digitization of 5700 historical photographs from Sechelt’s history.  The cost was modest ($2,500 + $1,305 in kind), and was matched by the BC History Digitization Program.  For me, the loss of such a treasured collection of Sechelt’s earliest photographed history would have represented an abrogation of my duty.  Needless to say, I voted for the project to go ahead.

Ratification of ‘end of service’ agreement with RSB Solutions Re: Ron Buchhorn (in camera, now released)

I had serious reservations about the disruption to staff activities that could be caused by the departure of Ron Buchhorn in this time of transition.  Upon hearing that the agreement to end service was mutual, I decided to support the ratification of the agreement.  The reasons given by both the Mayor and Mr. Buchhorn indicate a logical approach rather than an emotional response to changes coming to our District.  Once again, throughout the proceedings I was impressed by the professional candor of our mayor and staff in negotiating this agreement.

-Noel Muller

Thank you Sechelt voters!

10171817_557535277710906_2083660958159629744_nWell that was an amazing run!

To all my friends and supporters: thank you for believing we could do this, and for all chipping in to make it such an outstanding success!

When I got started on this campaign some time ago, I was warned by a close associate that running in a field stacked with incumbents and former councillors/mayors, that I had little chance of winning.  We designed my campaign accordingly, because I wasn’t prepared to go ‘half-way’ towards a council seat in Sechelt.

We consequently set out a campaign geared towards topping the polls, but we internally prepared ourselves for a far less favorable outcome.  After all, I was running against 2 former mayors, 4 incumbents, and many vastly more experienced councillors, totalling over 25 council terms distributed among them.

To have topped the polls in this environment, as a first time candidate, speaks to the outstanding quality of our campaign team.  We outworked our counterparts and it showed.  Through their diligent work, my campaign team gave me a chance to win.  Thankfully, at the ‘all candidates’ events, I did not let them down.

After every ‘all candidates’ event my campaign shifted gears, and gained speed.  Heading into the vote, we knew that our message was being well received and were hopeful for a positive outcome.

In the end, the people of Sechelt showed their overwhelming support for my candidacy.  2629 individuals (a district record) took the time out of their day to go cast a vote for me, and I am incredibly honoured by that show of support.

Over the next 4 years I intend to justify, fulfill, and exceed your expectations of my term.

Sechelt is now turning a corner, and we certainly don’t know everything that lies ahead.  But rest assured that we have an amazing team at the helm!

I am deeply honoured to be among those that you have chosen to help lead us through the years ahead!

Thank you all so much!

-Noel Muller

Helmut Pastrick talks Sunshine Coast Economy: and my response…

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Recently, we had the great opportunity to listen to a distinguished economist, Helmut Pastrick, tell us about his economic forecast for the Sunshine Coast (linked here).  Pastrick is a serious economic heavyweight: he leads the analysis team for Credit Unions across BC and Ontario (no small matter).  He is also a former employee of CMHC, a current member of BC’s Economic Forecast Council, and a sought-after expert in the analysis of housing markets in BC and Ontario.

I felt compelled to issue my take on Pastrick’s economic outlook for the Sunshine Coast.  He presented his views as being ‘cautiously optimistic’ as we head towards a sustained recovery in 2016.

Investment economists, employed by banking entities, are often ‘cautiously optimistic’, after all their fiduciary obligation is to sell investments.  In contrast, a development economist, in charge of Government policy and budget oversight, needs to be far more realistic, and less prone to undeserved optimism.

For me, many clear downsides exist in the picture Pastrick presented.  Below, I discuss why I feel the numbers are worse than some believe, and what that means for Sunshine Coast residents, and our local governments.

Pastrick’s Model of Recovery

Pastrick is an admitted optimist and that is clearly presented in the slides; on nearly every key recovery determinant, he projects slightly higher than consensus.

For those of you unfamiliar with the inner workings of economic forecasting, a forecast is an economist’s ‘best guess’ about what will happen, and can often be wildly wrong.  Take for example that economic consensus missed forecasting the 2009 financial crisis, and thus were wildly off the mark as a group.

The model that Pastrick presents is quite orthodox, and is agreed upon in economic consensus.  A global recovery, if underway, will pull all economies upwards, and some above ‘zero-growth’, thus ending recession.  The world’s largest economies lead the way in any recovery, these being: USA, China, Japan, and the European Union.

In these terms, it can be explained that Canada will resume growth and be able to raise interest rates, but only if the global economy leads the way.  The BC economy is thus hinged on what happens across Canada, and the SCRD upon what happens in BC.  It’s a familiar picture.

There are, however, two plausible outcomes for growth in G8 countries after a housing crisis.  One is a pattern of renewed growth, spurred on by measures such as stimulus spending, interest rate declines, and improvement of exports.  The other is a pattern of repeating recessions, continued export weakness, and stagnant growth in the midst of inflation (stagflation).  This is the pattern exemplified by Japan after their housing crash in the early 90’s, where a ‘real growth’ pattern has not since returned to Japan.

Global recovery, in real terms, has not happened since 2009.  Even propped up by the lowest interest rates the world has ever known, the G8 countries have not responded with real growth patterns, based on rising exports.  If you were to push interest rates back up to levels seen in 1999, the current ‘marginal recovery’ would flounder nearly immediately. The pattern exemplified by Japan after their housing crash could potentially be realized in G8 countries, and persist unless some change occurs.

My take on the numbers

Slide by slide, Pastrick presented a very difficult pattern emerging for the Sunshine Coast.

Let’s take the following 8 local measures, listed in his slides, as exemplary:

  • Housing starts are at their lowest in 2 decades (page 62)
  • 4 years running of population declines in SCRD (page 39)
  • Dependency ratio projected to reach 80% within 10 years (page 6)
  • Large outflow migration of people aged 15-34 (page 41)
  • Less people now working within the SCRD, GVRD workplaces are growing in weight (page 46)
  • Declining employment in resources, manufacturing and construction (page 49)
  • Shift towards service sector (decidedly low-wage) in employment (page 48)
  • Lowest housing sales seen since the mid 1980’s (page 56)

Taken together, these numbers present a picture that I would not assume is ‘cautiously optimistic’.

Marry these numbers with the qualitative responses contained in the 2014 Vital Signs survey, where 75% of respondents indicated the state of the local economy was of concern and in need of attention.

It shows a story of very real weakness, decline and atrophy in the key areas of population growth, job creation and housing investment.

According to Pastrick, we need to see growth elsewhere, in the US and across Canada, before we’ll see any positive response in our local numbers.

In question period, I asked a pointed question, that I felt gets to the heart of the issue: “Since we’re waiting for exports to lead growth, this points to ‘current accounts’ deficit as the key determinant for recovery.  What plausible mechanism do we have in BC to improve this?”

In response, Pastrick shrugged his shoulders “we haven’t been able to get a handle on that for 17 years, and it’s a serious problem” and wondered aloud “perhaps LNG?”  (He’d already mused about the probability that BC LNG would struggle previously in his presentation).

I took it to mean that there continues to be no plan, at the very highest levels of economic thought, to improve our export base (beyond raw energy extraction).

This does not make me even cautiously optimistic that we’re headed for a sustained recovery.

What can our local government do?

For starters, all levels of government need to help ‘drive the bus’ towards better economic outcomes for everyone.  The picture painted by Pastrick is not one in which individuals will be able to have influence on their own; it’s not even a picture where individual governments have enough influence on their own.  We need governments, business, community groups and individuals to come together and focus on workable solutions for everyone.

We’re going to need a stronger community than we have now.  Local government can be a part of creating that: but in order to have a strong community, you need people that want strong community.

We need to recognize that we are in a period of austerity, and act accordingly.  We need to trim our personal spending, pay down debt, introduce cost saving mechanisms to government, and invest in education.

We need to prepare for future growth, but have systems in place that address the potential for downside: in this way we improve our resilience.

We need to open up the coordination of business and government, and support each other, with the primary focus being on employing local residents.

We need to focus on export growth, and the improvement of our trade balance.  Value added exports are of primary importance, and must be encouraged by all levels of government.

If we can do all that, I’ll certainly begin to be ‘cautiously optimistic’!

-Noel Muller